Since I didn’t get married until I was 45 years old, I lived the state of single life for quite a long time. In my early years of college, graduate school, and young adult life, I had different and wonderful roommates. Starting in my 30’s and after moving back home to Kentucky, I lived by myself for 12 years as a single woman.
During that time, I was diagnosed with adult onset asthma—which was discovered due to chronic sickness in the form of very painful and intense sinus infections. Starting around 2012 until my sinus surgery in 2018, there were many highs and lows that were part of living with ongoing sickness.
Dark and Desperate Days
Around 2017 things were starting to look and feel desperate. There was hardly a time during the year when I was not on multiple medicines to control the asthma or another infection. I would have 2-3 months of health and start to believe that I was past it when I would get sick again.
During that time I was also healing from a broken engagement and immersed myself in things I love to bring encouragement to my heart.
The Life-Giving Art of Catholics
One of these was another semester in my Master’s program in poetry/creative writing. As part of my study, I became interested in other artists with a distinctly Catholic ethos in their work: the poet Dana Gioia, Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, writer Flannery O’Connor, and even singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen whose work was influenced by his early life in the Catholic Church. I remember talking to my professor about these people and ideas and he was wise to suggest I follow them and see where they would lead in my own writing.
Hope Bursts Through
One particular morning, I woke up feeling extremely sick and in much pain. When my face would hurt to the touch, my top teeth ache without end, my head pound with heaviness, and my breathing difficult, I knew that I had another sinus infection. It was often hard to know what to do living alone and being sick, but I always found the grace to call family or friends and ask for help. On this day, it was early and I was up. It was dark, cold, and raining. It was toward the end of a long winter and Spring was trying to come forth. I was sitting on my enclosed front porch waiting until the doctor’s office would open and I could make an appointment.
I felt terrible and was starting to get sickness-related depression after years of the same heavy cross. Here we go again, I would think. My misery is immeasurable. How long, how much more can I take?
But then I heard birds singing. I couldn’t see them in the dark, cold rain of a morning just starting to break through, but I knew they were there.
It’s hard to describe how Hope can suddenly burst forth in the mind and heart, but it can. And in my experience, it’s usually after a season of longing and lament. Did I mention this was also during Lent? How fitting that my small story would mirror the same story of our Lord during His own walk to the Cross.
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The Cry of My Heart
I sat in both darkness and hope at that moment and I wanted to soak it all up in my very weak and human condition. I felt despair and deep love at the same time. From that place, I wrote the following poem.
In the early morning rain when branches glisten with swollen bellies of water weighing them down and reach up as arms for a drink; or when singing birds echo each other as if it
were a warm sunny day, not weeks into cold that won’t yield to spring, making everyone groan for light and warmth—I try to speak, to explain what I see. But it doesn’t come out
right except to comment on the weather again. What I can’t convey is sadness that Judas has his part to play and Peter must be pruned. Wanting words I can’t remember but can’t
forget. Wishing the good country people of the world were not scattered, but together. That the crease in time, that birds and trees slip through despite the rain—tells me about a
world they can’t stop singing of, reaching for.
The Clarity of Hindsight
When I sat down to write this reflection, I annotated my own work as I reread the poem. What I noted when I was removed from this moment was a clear story God is writing with my life.
The good country people (thank you for the phrase, Flannery) are the Church and my desire for unity, community, help, and support.
The words I can’t remember but can’t forget (thank you, Bruce, for this phrase) is about my own personal memory with God. This is something I have built over many years, but at that time I could not access His faithfulness in a tangible way. I could not bring myself to worship Him even as I knew He deserved it, no matter the state of my own heart and mind.
The crease in time I wrote of was a tension that exists between chronos (chronological time) and kairos (the right, critical, or opportune moment). The birds were singing of another Kingdom. The trees, too, were reaching up to that Kingdom. In my understanding, they were trying to usher in Spring and singing of something not yet manifest.
The Rhythm of the Spiritual Journey
The spiritual journey is so often marked by purification, detachment, and dark nights. To experience that is normal and human, but talking about it can be difficult. Even though I am a few years past this hard place, I am asking myself how I can continue to be a bearer of such very good news, despite the hard times that come in a life of faith.
And so for you … where do you need to hear your singing birds and hold onto them? Do you need a minute to sit down and see the tree branches as something more—growing up toward the sun and giving praise to God? In other words, building your own memory with the King and His Kingdom, in every season.
These are our treasures. Sadness and struggle can be purified into a beautiful lamentation and God Himself is ready to pour out His grace for us in these moments. May you be blessed to sit down and receive and not wait until the pain is past to notice the nuance of love and hope moving in your own heart.
Jenny Richeson is a Catholic writer who is a lover of language and its mysteries. By day she provides speech pathology and cognitive intervention services to kids. Her main goal in life is to be a speaking stargazer caught up in wonder whenever possible. She makes her home in Kentucky with her husband Matt. Together they find God in gardening and all manner of outdoor activities whenever they can. Stargazing is a favorite pastime too. You can find out more about her here.