Hurricane Michael blew through earlier this week, although by the time it arrived, it had blown most of its fury out. Still, when we saw the nightmare roaring ashore in Florida, we began to do things a community does to prepare for disaster: close down schools and businesses, pull in the lawn furniture, and buy all the gas and milk available–side note, I do not buy milk in the face of impending doom, and I don’t understand why it’s a thing.
Michael arrived overnight, and quite honestly, we slept through the brunt of it. Having endured the hurricane season of 2004 in Florida – Charley! Francis! Ivan! Jeanne! – we don’t feel compelled to listen to weird noises in the dark and worry about what it might be. If the roof blows off, my being awake to hear it happen won’t stop it from happening.
We were fortunate, us especially, but the community as a whole. Our power barely flickered overnight. Dawn found us on the front porch with coffee, watching the last of Michael as he blew out of town. We didn’t even need to pick up sticks in the yard.
As we sat together on the porch, the black sky turned to the deep blue-grey twilight of a stormy morning. Before long we began to see brilliant cracks in the clouds letting golden light spill through. The wind turned to battering the clouds rather than the earth and soon the last tatters streamed overhead and we were left with this:
Tears filled my eyes; I was mesmerized
Later I would look at this picture, which barely captures the sparkling brilliance of that sunrise and think, this is a picture of my life right now. This is where we are after a dark and terrible storm. We have landed. All will be well. I may have cried all over again.
I don’t think I’ve let myself believe, until now, that we are really free of the people and places which hurt us and still haunt us. Craig’s severance lasted until the first of October, meaning, in our minds at least, there was still a possibility of further harm. But even those weak ties are severed now and it is a new day, sparkling and clear.
We’re starting to talk about things now, to process what we felt and still feel, how we are changed. Usually, we talk until the feelings are too ugly to go on and then we step away a bit. Each time we dig a little deeper and it hurts a little less. Healing is a process, one we choose day by day, hour by hour, successfully and unsuccessfully. We’re each other’s therapist – dissecting and correcting when necessary, but mostly just listening to the other person’s heart, and feeling grateful that our marriage wasn’t also a casualty of our experience.
I remember the darkest moment of the storm for me. Lying in a ball on a hotel bed, in a town I didn’t want to be in, seeing a therapist I didn’t trust or even want to see, wondering if I would ever feel whole again. I remembering being brutally honest with her that morning saying if things fell all the way apart (because let’s be honest, I was already shattered) at my husband’s job, I was done with the church for good, and her saying, that makes me feel sorry for you.
At that moment I realized the enormous harm of church idolatry, a monster I could never survive intact. All I could do was buy time for us to find our escape, with no idea how or how long it would take, or if I could hang on through more months of plodding endurance. Survival is fine and even necessary sometimes, but when your whole existence is focused on the next explosion, shielding from the next hurt, there is no room for growth or thriving.
I remember a day a few weeks later when the first cracks appeared in the clouds and the light shown through golden and fleeting. Craig showed up unexpectedly at my work to tell me he had applied for a job. A job in town. A job which meant I could keep my own job, which I adore, but which also cannot support us. A job which might turn out to be the escape hatch we were looking for. I remember going back to my desk with tingling fingers and toes and a fluttering stomach. This is what hope feels like, I thought, I’d forgotten.
It wouldn’t be long before the clouds were pushed away entirely. First, there was the meeting where I was made to answer for a literal list of grievances recorded in writing over nine years (there were eleven individual grievances worthy of record, in case you are wondering), whether for control or posterity, I’ll never know, nor do I care to. There was the assurance that I would conform, assimilate and allow emotional and spiritual intimacy with a group of male leaders with whom I had no relationship, and no desire for relationship, whose priority was maintaining control of church property, namely me. And then there was a phone call late in the afternoon the next day, from my husband saying, I’m pretty sure they’re going to ask me to resign tomorrow.
Which is exactly what happened, and all I could think was, thank you.
Life is funny sometimes. The very day Craig signed his resignation, I started work full time, and we drove to the beach for a long-anticipated wedding. We woke up the first day of our new lives with the sun poring over us and the waves filling the air around us. Everything felt clean, crisp and new. It was a morning much like the morning after a hurricane, but it would take me six months to gain enough perspective to recognize the enormity of the gift.
Six months later, I’m starting to feel like myself again. Not like my old self, because some storms leave you fundamentally changed, but a more generous, more adventurous, more open, bolder me. What I’m finding in the storm’s aftermath is the same as so many have found before me: I decide how I will rebuild. There are so many new things and new possibilities I want to explore and experiment with, but there are also some parts of me that were buried, that I choose not to abandon. Like sea glass on the shoreline, I’m finding some of the beautiful parts of me are even more beautiful now with the hard edges are worn away. I’m still strong, but less sharp and brittle, bold, but more thoughtful and well-rounded. Given enough time, I might just glow from within.
I’m entertaining the thought that maybe I was wrong when I said I would never have anything to do with church again, but maybe I will be wiser in choosing my community. Or maybe I don’t need to label my communities with ‘church,’ ‘work,’ or ‘online’ but I can be my whole self in every gathering and love each of them as they are, with no agenda attached.
I’m learning to trust that given enough time, the sun will break through, and a new day will begin again, just as it always has.