on bravery, honesty, and the thestral staring me down on the playground

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Yesterday I did something I almost never do. I volunteered to speak to a crowd of people.

I'm not shy, not even a little. But I am not a public speaker. Some people use nervous energy to propel them forward and excel on stage, but not me. I stand there, dry-mouthed and stuttering, forgetting my point and doing my best to just make it stop. All the same, yesterday I offered to tell a story to a group of women I've grown to love, a local moms group I joined in January. Because yesterday was the first time words have bubbled to the surface, and a language for the story I need to tell began to take shape.

The theme for the group this year is bravery. The call is to step up, to do something you wouldn't normally do for the sake of being true to who you are. As I listened to another mom share her "brave" story, mine suddenly crystallized. All at once, I knew the bravest thing I did this year was to tell the truth.

After my baby nearly died, I wanted to feel overwhelming joy and gratitude that he was okay. I wanted to praise God publicly, to look at my son's face and feel soul-bursting happiness and contentment, knowing I get to have more time with him. We got to walk away from that day with our son healthy and whole. Most of the time, that doesn't happen. I witnessed a resurrection, and I wanted to be able to revel in it.

Instead, I felt fear.

Debilitating, gut-wrenching, paralyzing fear. I wasn't happy my baby was alive. I mean, I was. Of course I was. But I didn't feel happy. I felt terrified. I spent my days counting my children's heads, over and again. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. If a toddler wandered outside while I was rotating laundry, I hyperventilated. Taking them in public was a nightmare, because I could never keep four moving targets constantly in my line of sight. We stopped going to the zoo or the park. Swimming was not even an option. I wanted to be happy, thankful, joyful at what God had done. Instead, I was just scared.

Do you remember the thestrals in Harry Potter? Remember how, after Harry saw death, he could suddenly see a creature no one else knew existed? I too could see this thing that nobody around me saw. All at once, I could see that our babies can die. They can just ... die. All around me moms were living their lives, pushing kids on swings and scheduling playdates. They had no idea a ghastly macabre creature stood silently beside them. But I knew, I could see. And I had no idea how to live the rest of my life with a thestral staring back at me.

So I went to therapy, and I told the truth. The embarrassing, confusing truth about how I felt. When acquaintances asked how I was, I did not give the answer they wanted to hear. When anger overwhelmed me, I spoke that hard truth to the people I needed to tell. When things weren't okay, I stopped pretending like they were.

And I got better.

It was weird. Uncomfortable, unnerving, somewhat isolating (who stares at thestrals all day, anyway?), and it led me in a direction I did not expect to go. Still, I did it. I told the truth.

I told the truth, and I waited. For healing, for my world to right itself, for reassurance of God's presence. I waited to feel normal again, I waited to feel like a normal parent again. I waited, sometimes patiently, sometimes not. But I waited as one who had hope.

In time, hope came.

Like a baby, hope grew for months at an imperceptible rate, then all at once, it was here. I slowly stopped counting four little heads, and playgrounds became tolerable again. I could find a toddler wandering through the back gate and still breathe evenly. Those thestrals stayed with me - we can never un-see them, right? - but they stopped staring so hard. And now, I can look at my boy and feel the gratitude I wanted to feel all along. I can say out loud, "My baby almost died," and finish with, "But thanks be to God, he's completely fine." I can finally feel happy and relieved and thankful to spend his childhood with him. What I'd wanted to feel all along.

Because I told the truth. Sitting in our group today, it occurred to me most of the moms I know will thankfully never have the experience of finding their child dead on the side of a pool. But all of us know that gap between the way things are and the way they should be. We all have had the experience of wanting to feel one way, when we really feel another. When we step into the gap between the way things should be and the way they actually are, when we let go of the image others have of us and live our actual lives instead - we are brave.

So I will offer to step up and share my "brave" story too, even though I really hate public speaking. Because sometimes the bravest thing any of us can ever do is to tell the truth.



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