The last two months of exiting the Christmas season and ushering in the new year have been bizarre as they’ve been heavy with grief, inundated with joy, laced with bittersweetness, overwhelmed by loss, and saturated in tears. It’s strange to navigate the good and bad in tandem–to know joy and pain simultaneously. How do you sit in a place of grief but not forego joy thinking that choosing joy somehow makes the grieving not real or inappropriately out of place? It’s hard. It’s confusing and can feel impossible. But it’s the reality of being present. The present isn’t isolated to one event; it’s the merging of many which encapsulates the good, the bad, and the ugly. And when you know that the reality of the present is multiplied by the experiences of those around you, it becomes that much more beautiful, frustrating, and heartbreaking all in the same breath. Your loss is never just your loss; it affects someone else. Someone else’s victory also isn’t just theirs; it’s shared. So-and-so’s bad decision didn’t just affect them; it took someone else down too. We’re connected whether we like it or not.
These thoughts have gone through my mind before, but never as much as they have in the last two months. A couple weeks before Christmas, the Thomas Fires happened in Santa Barbara and Ventura County, and they were incredibly destructive. Our apartment complex was safe from the fire, but it was covered by so much smoke and ash that Dave and I left town, so that the kids could have clean air to breathe. We knew of people who lost everything and had absolutely nothing to come back to. To make matters worse, there was news about looters who were immediately going into homes as soon as people had evacuated. But yet, in the midst of the destruction, we partook in hope as life emerged from the rubble and the loss. We saw many willing to put themselves in danger for the sake of others, making room in their homes to welcome in the displaced, pooling resources for those who were now greatly in need, and communities joining together to pray and hope together. A resiliency in our community was unearthed. And it would soon be tested again.
Once the fires were over, some of those who had evacuated were able to come home, unpack and go back to a version of normal life. I say normal loosely because you could still smell smoke in the air for a while–a lingering reminder of the events that had not long ago taken place. And much too soon a couple weeks later, we got flash flood warnings for our area and there were both mandatory and voluntary evacuations set on certain areas of Carpinteria and Montecito that had been affected by the fires. Most of us in Santa Barbara were probably ecstatic that rain was coming to Santa Barbara since we need it but failed to remember how devastating rain would be after the wild fires. Huge mudslides came as a result of immensely heavy rainfall and filled homes with mud and wiped others off their foundations. Many people are still missing, and rescue efforts are being doubled in hopes of finding & saving as many lives as possible. While all of this is happening a few miles away from us, the sun is shining, the streets are dry, and people are seemingly going on with life as usual in our neighborhood where you wouldn’t even know it had rained in the last two days (If it weren’t for the internet, we would have no clue about what’s going on). That stark difference–the gap between both realities is jarring.
I keep finding myself say, “This is crazy” on repeat. I’m a feeler, and sometimes when things like this happen around me, I have a tendency to turn the feelers off as a coping mechanism because feeling it all is too much. I’m not so good with navigating the shared space where joy and grief live together; it’s messy. Then i’ll snap out of it and see beyond the mess and go into a place of weeping and feeling the weight of the affected around me. And moments later, i’ll see my baby boy do something for the first time and find myself weave back into a place where the awe of life is piercing and be moved by all of it at the same time.
The freshest example of the tension happened tonight when Dave came home from work; I knew he was incredibly burdened by everything going on. He came over to give me a hug and we just cried over the little 2-year-old girl who was rescued from the mud–separated from her parents (Aria’s 2, so it puts things into a very different light for us). We were experiencing the weight of what this little girl endured before being rescued, and that moment was intersected by Aria who was in her high chair laughing and squealing “Mama, Daddy, Mama, Daddy” in sheer delight. That place is raw–drenched with joy and equally weighed down by grief. I’m processing “out loud,” and i’m not even sure how much of this makes sense. I want to navigate this space well because that skill/ability will be crucial, so long as we’re on this side of Kingdom come. If the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those with a broken spirit and also rejoices over us with singing, that tells me that these realities–brokenness and beauty–have always co-existed and will continue to. There will always be both–sometimes right next to each other, other times one in front with the other close behind, and in some cases blurred together and impossible to separate.
I don’t even know how to end this because this is still very much happening as I’m writing. These thoughts are things i’m currently wrestling with, so I guess that’s where I’ll leave it.
“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” -Thomas Fuller
If you’re not a local and this was news to you, please pray for Santa Barbara. Restoration, rebuilding, and a respite from all of the recent events is much needed.
[Full disclosure: It’s been a while since i’ve sat down to write my thoughts out; I often start and don’t finish because it’s kind of like an emotional marathon in which I am too critical of myself, too concerned about what others will think, and partially debilitated by the fear of potential judgment or rejection. I’m learning to politely give that way of thinking the proverbial middle finger.]