Having Grace While Your Heart Explodes

Since November I have started (and stopped) writing a dozen separate posts attempting to capture the struggle that the past year has been for me. Writing has always helped me solve problems and generally, airing my grievances to a faceless cyberspace that feels no obligation to awkward-hug me is an enormous relief. But I just haven’t been able to manage it. Not before, and especially not since John.

Words sprint ceaselessly through my head but I’m too close to make a sentence of them. Too enveloped to see the edges. And attempts to find meaning in suffering have sunk in the vast, salty expanse of my personal inadequacy.

Thank Thor’s Hammer for chocolate.

Chocolate that I have attempted to counterbalance with Jillian Michael’s “30 Minute Abs”. Its been a dark and confusing time. While intermittently eating and exercising I have thought a lot about John’s and Bryan’sĀ families- trying to think of ways I can help, simultaneously working through my own sadness. I’ve thought a lot about the meaning of my life- about my daughters- particularly one daughter, who suffers from a combination of anxiety, pre-teen hormones, and a penchant for world domination. I’ve thought about our relationship- how hard I try to be a good mother and how I constantly fall short. I’ve thought about my own parents, my own childhood anxieties. I’ve considered my religion and my relationship with God- my idealism and how to let it go so that I can finally be happy. And I’ve pondered all this as Jillian shouted through the TV screen, “Have a little grace while you’re heart explodes!”

Because my heart is exploding- for tragic circumstances that I cannot change. With deep love for my friends and pain for my inadequacies. With grief and frustration that despite my best efforts I have been thus far unable to help my daughter. With renewed pain that my parents could never help me. Confusion and resentment that the God I love sometimes appears so distant in my moments of desperation. Exploding with the realization that all I have chosen and sacrificed for seems beyond my grasp. I don’t know if everything is going to be OK. And no matter what I do I can’t take away the grief of losing John. No matter how hard I try I can’t avoid being misunderstood and criticized by people who don’t understand me. I am exhausted.

“No!” I have thought, pushing myself to go faster, “It is possible! If I just try harder. If I just sacrifice more. If I can just be more patient. If I can get up earlier. Make prettier cookies. Have more energy. Be softer. Be stricter. More confident. More normal. Make myself into a better person. A better friend! A better mother!” Falling heavy onto the sofa, trying to catch my breath, Jillian and her empty-eyed cronies burpee on.

“Why does my best suck?” I plead with them, answered by the steady beat of their shoes against the gym floor-

It sounds a lot like: failure, failure, failure.

“Why did I think I could do this? I’ve been failing since elementary school- failing to adjust, failing to make friends, failing bubble tests, failing to fix my parent’s marriage, failing my driver’s test, failing to get into a university, failing to keep a job, failing to protect my sister, failing to communicate with my mother.”

failure, failure, failure.

“I try so hard to be good. I pick up litter. I’m polite to waitresses and cashiers. I drive slowly through residential neighborhoods and don’t judge people who think and believe differently than I do.”

failure, failure.

“I apologize when I make mistakes. I read to my kids. I don’t complain when my husband leaves his clothes on the floor. I go to church even when its inconvenient. I only swear when necessary.”


“OK, so I sometimes take those Zimbio tests on Facebook. And I pretend like I can’t hear my children yelling for me to resolve their ridiculous Barbie disputes. I sometimes lose my temper and rant just like my mother used to. I procrastinate. I have a stash of chocolate no one knows about. I could not care less about the Science Fair. I want nothing to do with fund-raising or crafts or committee meetings. And I should’ve taken B to a therapist for her anxiety a long time ago. I should’ve realized I was ill-equipped to handle this myself. I should’ve done things differently all along- if I had maybe we would have a better relationship. Maybe neither of us would feel so out of control. Maybe if I try harder, sacrifice more, be more thoughtful, more patient. Maybe I can rewrite history. Fix everything. Why can’t I do that, Jillian Michaels?”

This is what the kids call a downward spiral. And I have ridden it further than I usually do to a point where I have sincerely begun to question whether my children and everyone else would be better off without me.

I have prayed. I have talked to Andy. I have talked to my brother. I have talked to my bishop. I have read C.S. Lewis and Steinbeck, listened to Pink Floyd and The Cranberries- expecting nothing, but receiving the same answer over and over: You don’t have to be perfect to be good. You don’t have to be perfect to be loveable. Life doesn’t have to be ideal to be worthwhile. And while it makes sense on paper, I am still waiting for it to reach the wreckage of my exploding heart.

I’ve never been graceful. But there are some rainy days I can awkwardly put my frustrations into perspective. Regardless of how hard we try, life is unpredictable and difficult. Life is painful. Life is hard. There is a rumor circulating that if you’re living life RIGHT then you will feel content and happy, the sun will shine, the dishwasher will never break, your children will love you, your loved-ones will not die. The only problem is, its hippy-dippy bologna. Nowhere in nature is there any evidence of development without obstacles, of success without effort, of trial-less victory. Wind strengthens trees. Fire promotes new growth. Life cannot be sustained without death and rain. And neither can we grow without obstacles, effort, and the unsavory elements. The truth is, I’m not ready for the kind of happiness I crave. How can I be content struggling for breath in the middle of my storm? I am not content and yet I can see glimpses- this is challenging and strengthening me- painfully carving me out for gratitude and eventual joy.

Or failure. But only if I give up.

I may not get what I want. What I think I need. But today I choose to have faith that whatever God has in store for me is better. And I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to keep getting up because anything worth having is worth breaking my heart over. And over.

And over.

  1. Note: when I say I want nothing to do with fundraising I’m referring specifically to school fund raisers, and not the Be Awesome Fest. Just thought I better clarify!

    Diana 3 years ago Reply
  2. Diana, I can’t promise you it gets better with age. Some things do, some things don’t. But you do get better at handling the crap life throws at you. As Jack Colton tells Joan Wilder in “Romancing the Stone,” “You’re gonna be all right. You always were.” Despite the crap, despite the mess, despite the chaos and the yelling and the hair-pulling, you’ll be all right.

    Jane 3 years ago Reply