>> Monday, December 14, 2009

I stare out my bedroom window, propped against pillows, wrapped in down. The bare branches of the lilac bush bow deeply, face to the ground, bent heavy by the weight of a dense snowfall.

The tree heaves with burden. The branch would break were it not for the gift of bending.

: :

When tragedy struck close enough to home to rattle my walls, I rubbed my eyes and looked hard at life. Shaking off the excess, I found the core. I saw what matters and shed the rest, layers falling away, dropping to a heap at my feet, where I stepped over them and set off on a path, fresh.

It’s hard to learn, change, adapt, evolve in the face of despair. The weight threatens to pull you down, to break you. But if we orient ourselves toward hope, growth is possible. Clutching hope, we bend until the the burden lightens, and we rise up, arms extended, face turned toward the sun.

: :

Only months ago that tree bloomed fragrant bursts of purple, a fresh breath wafting. In the beauty of the blossom we didn’t see it coming, the naked branches, the brewing storms. (Do we ever see it coming?)

But for everything there is a season, and the hope of another bloom hides beneath the weight of snow.

: :

Hopelessness takes on many forms, Despair shape-shifts.

Cancer. Abuse. Divorce. Natural disasters. Stupid choices. Sometimes we mess things up ourselves, and other times the mess drops in like a winter storm, dumping piles, sitting heavy on our hearts.

I’ve wondered if what I’ve witnessed over the last few years is unusual, an extraordinary degree of tragedy, a pileup of unwanted phonecalls and too many afternoons dressed in black.

Or maybe I just started paying attention. My mother-heart feels an empathic despair that I didn’t always know. War, floods, homelessness, sickness, freak accidents. I think of the parents faced with moment-to-moment crises response, the kids without comfort, health, or safety; and my stomach knots and tightens, sick with angst for these families, be they strangers or kin.

The last few years have been rough for many of my most-loved ones, drop kicked by pain and suffering, betrayal and loss; they have walked through darkening days, seasons slowing to a standstill in the cold winters of their lives.

: :

The holidays spin with images of joy and cheer. But they also pull back the shroud, juxtaposing pain and loss against the glitter of the season. Amid the cheer, they’re there. Burning candles, waiting for the return of the light, celebrating the birth of a baby-king; with empty chairs or hidden bruises or dark, black secret pain weighing down their hearts.

I’ve been touched by the concentric circles of tragedy and grief that ripple outward, but have been lucky to be mostly on the periphery. From where I sit, I can see the hope that sparks, that waits for the fan of the flame.

: :

There is hope in the branch that will bud, hope in the candle burning, hope in the turning seasons, in the return of light. There’s hope in rescue and redemption, hope in humble beginnings with great promises. Hope in a baby's birth.

I want to live hopefully, to raise it like a little candle in the dark of winter. It’s easier to do from where I sit; the trick is learning how to hold on to it no matter the weather.

: :

Hope is knowing that you can bend pretty deeply before you break, that when that snow melts or you find the means to shake the burden from your branches, you will snap back, arms raised high, face to the sun, reveling in the weightlessness of a burden gone.

The seasons change, bringing storms and sunshine. But for everything, there is a season.

: :

That tree out my window may have weathered a hundred winters, but each time the storm hits and the burden bends branches heavy and low, it must wonder, how far can I bend before I break?

When you're bent deep with burden, face to the ground, it's hard to know hope.

But I hold my spark tightly, cupped in palms through the dark and through the light shining, through the cold, heavy snow and the fragrance of lilacs that wafts in on a breath of wind.

* * *

Linking up to Blog Nosh Magazine for their holiday blog carnival sponsored by the Tide Loads of Hope program. Please click over to read about this unbelievably worthwhile cause and to find other stories of hope. Have your own story to share? Visit Blog Nosh Magazine for details and link up.

And per Tuesday tradition, please visit Chatting at the Sky for Tuesdays Unwrapped.


Jo@Mylestones December 14, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

Wow. Such a beautiful, striking word picture of bending, not breaking, of hope. Love it!

Jillian Livingston December 14, 2009 at 2:47 PM  

What an incredible description of pain and hope.

I too have three boys and felt the need to check in with another mother gone crazy!

thegypsymama December 14, 2009 at 3:16 PM  

"Despair shape shifts" - what a powerful line. Yes, so true. So hard.

semicrunchymama December 14, 2009 at 3:40 PM  

I don't think I have adequate words to describe just how much this touched me.
This: Clutching hope, we bend until the the burden lightens, and we rise up, arms extended, face turned toward the sun. Beautiful.

Sara Joy December 14, 2009 at 4:18 PM  

I have been struggling with hope, and I have decided it is a choice. When bent to near breaking we can choose to hope, or we can wither under the snow.
I have been bent, and I choose Hope.

Kristen December 14, 2009 at 5:39 PM  

Just exquisite. I am sorry for everything that you and your loved ones have seen and felt in the past few years.

This line especially rang in my heart with its truth and clarity: "My mother-heart feels an empathic despair that I didn’t always know." Yes. Yes indeed.

Lindsey December 14, 2009 at 6:05 PM  

Oh, this is gorgeous. Just breathtaking, heartbreaking, and true. Having kids just took a layer off of me. This evokes that in a visceral, tremendously moving way.
Thank you.

Corinne December 14, 2009 at 6:58 PM  

This is going to sound mildly simple, or maybe ridiculous, but I've had that song "this little light of mine..." stuck in my head since last night, and this post fit perfectly with the mindset I've been in while thinking of the song. It's like you're in my head, lady! Hope is everything. I think tragedy has always been there, but like you said - it's the "mother heart" that makes us more aware, feel more deeply. Well done my friend (and sorry for the novel of a comment...)

Dawn December 14, 2009 at 8:49 PM  

have i told you that i love your words? i do. i especially love the way you string them all up... making them mean something to my heat. hope... it is a beautifully fragile thing... and hanging on can be tough... but oh so necessary.

Bon December 15, 2009 at 12:21 AM  

i have been that tree, one December, four years back.

hope of another year kept me bending. i am ever grateful.

your words are beautiful & i am glad to make your acquaintance. :)

Heather of the EO December 15, 2009 at 7:24 AM  

Beautiful post, lady!

I too have wondered if there really is more and more tragedy and pain around me, or if I'm just paying more attention. Maybe both...

and buried in the rubble is hope, always. Somehow. It's miraculous.

Grumble Girl December 15, 2009 at 8:59 AM  

Oh, my love.. isn't it amazing how the mother-heart opens you to a seemingly bottomless pit of love and anguish all at one? Le sigh. I love your words. Great post. Just lovely...

Graceful December 15, 2009 at 10:20 AM  

Wow. You are a truly phenomenal writer. This is just beautiful. A gift unwrapped for all of us reading it.

Deb December 15, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

You speak with a gift. This, this is everything:
Hope is knowing that you can bend pretty deeply before you break, that when that snow melts or you find the means to shake the burden from your branches, you will snap back, arms raised high, face to the sun, reveling in the weightlessness of a burden gone.

I'm glad you added this to the carnival, thank you!

togetherforgood December 15, 2009 at 11:57 AM  

How I need to bend. I fight it. Bending is so humbling-- admitting that the burdens are to great for me to bear with high-stretched arms and straight back. But the humbling-- and the bending-- are gifts. Thank you for the reminder.

I am waiting for the snow to melt so I can stand tall again.

Beth December 15, 2009 at 1:23 PM  

I just sat here at my desk enthralled by your post, ignoring a student asking me a question about her final exam. (bad me.) All I can say is, this is beautiful, and much needed, and so, so true. Thanks.

deb December 15, 2009 at 4:19 PM  

I've started to read this I don't know how many times, but I keep getting distracted and could tell it needed full attention. The soaking in it merits.
It is bittersweet , the loving, the mothering, the community that binds us all in our precarious lives.
But you articulated it so well.
Thank you for writing what I so often feel.
And it can feel like a burden of silencing deep, but when the sun comes.... oh how wonderful.

Mamma December 15, 2009 at 4:20 PM  

There was a time in my late 20's/early 30's when I felt I was at the center of the storm. But as you say, births and age taught me that I do have the ability to bend. While there is still plenty in the world that scares me something fierce, I know approach it all with a little less fear for the knowledge of my flexibility.

Ann's Rants December 15, 2009 at 5:12 PM  

It's so funny Elizabeth--just yesterday I looked at our horribly bent, snow weighted-down once-burning bush and saw a cozy little snow cave. A little respite for a bird or boy.


Kimberly December 15, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

This moved me beyond words. Thanks for sharing.

~love December 15, 2009 at 11:09 PM  

one of my very favorite posts. anywhere. ever.

AllisonO December 15, 2009 at 11:15 PM  

Elizabeth, what gorgeous writing and clear imagery. The tragedies all around feeling has occurred to me too lately. I think you make a good point about motherhood and the awareness that comes with it.

Please never stop writing, m'kay?

HisFireFly December 16, 2009 at 8:02 AM  


I shall pray the the grace to bend.

Bonita December 16, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

Wise words that I needed to hear today as I'm bent over in burden.

Melissa @ Breath of Life December 16, 2009 at 1:00 PM  

You have no idea how much this post spoke to me today. Thank you.

3xthejoy December 16, 2009 at 2:26 PM  

Thank You. this was beautiful. My Aunt who is only 55 lost her husband of 35 years to cancer on Dec 2nd. I sent this to her and I think she needed hope.

Jennifer Fink December 16, 2009 at 8:53 PM  

I needed this today.

There were so many beautiful lines, but one that really spoke to me was: other times the mess drops in like a winter storm, dumping piles, sitting heavy on our hearts.

Thank you.

Jane December 17, 2009 at 8:54 AM  

Beautifully written. The past 5 years have been unbelievably hard. We have had deaths, cancer, accidents and many other losses. We are humbled for God's love and faithfulness to us. We are content.

Maggie, Dammit December 18, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

So late to the party, as usual, but enjoyed the timelessness of your words just the same. xo

Richella December 18, 2009 at 6:34 PM  

This is just lovely. Absolutely a joy to read. And a wonderful reminder that we can bend much further than we knew.

imoomie December 18, 2009 at 10:05 PM  

Beautiful post...I hold the hope of spring in my heart.

Erika December 22, 2009 at 9:01 AM  

Your prose is poetry. So glad to have added you to my reader.

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I'm a realistic optimist who relies on raw honesty and plenty of humor to navigate the boystorm that is my life. I am mother to three and wife to one. These are my stories.

Finding clarity in the chaos since 2009.
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