Suffering: A journey into the deep

{by Heather Spring Gilion}

suffering

People always say that tragedy changes you. It does. It has.

Fourteen years have come and gone. It’s been fourteen years ago today when I changed. I’m not the same girl I once was. Maybe she went underground when I buried James. I don’t know.

Most of the time it feels like an entire lifetime has passed when I stop and reflect on the Other Heather and the Other Heather’s life. And yet there are fleeting moments that it feels like just yesterday I was standing in my sister’s cute, little house in Calais, Vermont, pulling my hair back into a ponytail to get ready for another day as camp guide for a bunch of campers at Pathway Ministries.

I had no idea that the day would end with so many questions.
When someone you love goes missing…
When you wonder if you’ll ever see them again…
Surely you’re going to see them again? Right?

The fact is, when the life you’ve been living becomes a pile of ashes, there’s no going back. There’s no “undo” button to push for a do-over, as much as you might want one. It’s not an option.

Married one moment. Widowed the next. That was my story, and my sister’s.

But it’s been fourteen years. I never thought I’d be able to say that. But look at that!

{Last year on the anniversary I wrote on coping with hard days on the calendar: No-Good-Rotten Anniversaries. It’s been one of our most read and shared posts, so obviously there’s many of you out there wrestling with some of the same things we are. Feel free to go back and read it if that interests you.}

Holly and I have some new friends from Africa; two women, who are as close as sisters, who lost their husbands in the same accident this year. These widows are beginning their journey among their ashes, weeping more than they’re laughing, aching more than they’re sleeping, but trusting in a God that is near the brokenhearted. I recently got to Skype with one of these lovely beauties. We laughed. We cried. I listened. She listened. She reminded me of me. As I prepared for our conversation I thought, “What would I have said to me? What love was spoken over me in my darkest hours?” She made me remember my journey. She’s broken but she’s clinging. I’m proud of her. Oceans between us, but the hug felt the same.

She said, “I know the answer to this question… I mean, I know God is sovereign and good, so I know the answer to this question,” she repeated, “but… is it going to be okay?”

With tears streaming down my face, I could confidently say, “It will be.”

Today is yet another anniversary where I remember when everything changed. Over the last few days I’ve found myself in deep thought. So here’s what I want to say on today of all days… and I’m praying that it will be a blessing to some of you out there as you journey on. For those who have walked through tragedy, you’re going to get this. Whether loss, rejection, suffering, torment, warring internal or externally—however your “tragedy” may have played out, you began a journey into the deep. This journey would forever change you. In honor of my journey, I want to share a few key lines from a movie I just watched with my boys.

Noah is crazy about turtles. So after a “turtle” search on Netflix we stumbled upon—Turtle: The Incredible Journey.

It is the story of a little loggerhead turtle that begins life on a beach in Florida. The narrator takes you through the turtle’s life into the sea with all its perils and hardships. “But the odds are stacked against her; just one in ten thousand turtles survive the journey through the deep.”

On a side note, I paint as a hobby and I’ll admit, I originally turned on the movie for the boys because I had a pallet to paint. I was enjoying listening to the boys rooting for this turtle. But as I painted, I listened. The narrator may have been talking about the turtle, but I felt as though she began telling my story. Line after line, I took it in. I was rooting for her—for me.

And so she becomes an ocean traveler. Her flippers are made for going not staying.

There was a moment, wounds and all, that I moved into the waters. I was not made to stay. I was made to swim—to swim in the deep. But living after your life is wrecked is not the easiest thing to do. You want to shut down. You want to hide under the covers. You want to run to whatever doesn’t make you feel the pain… even if it’s for a second. But there was a time when I started swimming again, because that’s what I was made to do. I wasn’t made for staying. I was made for going. You were too. So you go. You may cry as you go, but you still go, for you are not alone.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” {Isaiah 43:2}

Time is for her to grow strong, for her shell to harden, for her skin to thicken.

I was growing and didn’t even know it. Obstacles would come, such as sleeping alone, making decisions, fighting off tormenting thoughts, serving others in need, grocery shopping by myself, getting a job, mowing my grass. All seemed like small, meaningless tasks, but God was using each to grow me up. I remember talking to a pastor who reminded me that when his son broke his arm; he obviously couldn’t use it for a while. He had to wear a cast for an extended amount of time. But when the time was right the cast was taken off and he started using it again. At first it felt awkward and a little stiff, but as time passed, he entered back into his normal rhythm of life—pre-fracture. He reminded me that broken bones actually grow back thicker and stronger than they were to begin with. His words gave me a small glimmer of hope. Could that be possible in me? Will it be okay? I mean, I know it will, but how?

She takes her place among the other travelers of the blue highway.

I wasn’t alone. I’m not the only one trying to survive. I’m not the only one fighting for my life. I learned who to “swim” with. But there were others in the waters that at times I couldn’t avoid. Unfriendly travelers I had to face straight on, whether I chose to or not.

The Blue Shark is here too. But the turtle is no longer afraid of her. Her shell is harder.

I remember the time I felt confident in my singleness. There was a strength within me that can only be attributed and explained as an anchor in Christ. A relationship with God had developed that satisfied my longing for a man to call me his bride. I was already “taken,” “sought after,” “redeemed,” “loved,” “cherished,” “His!” So when the enemies of the deep, a.k.a. my Blue Sharks: loneliness, bitterness, solitude, jealousy, anger, memories of my past—as they taunted me to give up or as they tried their best to swallow me whole, I was no longer afraid of the fight. For my shell was harder. I was ready come what may. I was confident that there was indeed One fighting for me, through me, and with me.

The storm threw her off course. But she is not lost. She’s never lost.

At some point within the first few years, new dreams would rise up. Dreaming again was a scary thing for me. To watch your world go up in flames and then to rebuild among the ruins was scary to say the least. But little by little, I would swim in one direction, only to have a storm push me around and seemingly thwart my course. Sometimes there were tears, wondering why I ever dared to dream again! Other times, there was a reassurance within my soul that nothing was lost, because He was in charge of my path. I could count on that. Reassured that He would never leave me or forsake me, I would press on. Pressing on by pressing my ear against His chest. Listening to His heart. Striving to follow His leading. I wasn’t lost. I was never lost.

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” {Isaiah 30:21}

The Loggerhead Turtle’s journey was emotional for me. But just as I finished painting the piece I was working on, I heard this line,

“If she had come here before now she never would have survived.”

I sat there for a moment, my paintbrush hanging on the last stroke. And ever so kindly, I heard God speak to my heart. “If you would have come here before now you never would have survived.”

I sat back and looked at my painting. It was one of those moments for me.

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It was all too much. He’s too much. His kindness to this loggerhead turtle is just too overwhelming. Most turtles die on their voyage. Why am I here? How did I survive? It’s not because I was strong enough or read the right self-help books, or memorized the right Scriptures, or sang the perfect songs for what I was going through… although God did use all of those things at pivotal times along the journey through the deep. I’m alive because of His great love for me. For HE knows the plans HE has for ME! I can only boast in one thing.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” {Galatians 6:14}

I know for me, today, I’m reflecting on my journey in the deep. There’s purpose in the deep. There’s purpose in the pain. There’s purpose in every leg of your journey. And at just the right time, you will be able to look back and see His hand along the way. This turtle’s journey into the deep has forever changed her life. I’m different now. I’m stronger. A little wiser. A lot bolder. I see life a little more clearly. I love differently. The Other Heather is dead and gone, but new life has risen in her place as today I celebrate the ashes He’s made beautiful in His time.

To my fellow turtles out there: swim in the deep. Your flippers were made for going, not staying. There will be predators that threaten your life. There will be storms that try to throw you off course. You will wonder if it’s worth the effort. But as one turtle to another—swim! Go deep. For He has plans for you… an unforgettable, purposeful journey.

____

Want to hear more of the story?
Holly and I wrote a book about our journey called Dancing On My Ashes.
It’s a beautiful picture of restoration, and recounts God’s faithfulness on every page.
Prepare yourself to weep and rejoice with us.

You can also watch our 3 minute story here.

P.S. Dancing On My Ashes is ON SALE for a limited time

when you order through us:

Paperback $9 {+ shipping/handling} & the first 100 ebooks sold are ONLY $3. Click HERE!

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7 thoughts on “Suffering: A journey into the deep

  1. Wonderful blog. Have been reading for awhile. A thought just occurred to me to sell your book. I get a daily update from BookBub to buy e-books. It might be a great promo avenue for you. Blessings and have a good “swim” today. 😄

  2. I lost my husband just 2 months ago. He was only 36 and had a massive heart attack in our home and he died in my arms. This was so inspiring for me and I just want to say Thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart!

    • Teresa, I’m so sorry to hear that! Praying for your heart right now. Our God is near the brokenhearted and those faint in spirit. Let Him guide you through the deep. Stay connected with us. We’d love to pray for you along the way.

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