Mountains and Valleys

This has been the longest week ever. I’m convinced that there is scientific evidence out there to support my observation. Monday, January 10? When was that? Wasn’t that three weeks ago? No. It was only four days ago.

Until the researchers have had time to analyze the data, we’ll just take it as cold, hard fact that January 10-15, 2016 was, indeed, three weeks long.

This weekend, the husband and I are headed out of town for three days and two nights to be with friends in a cabin. This may have contributed to the slow drag to Friday. The last time Brandon and I were out of town together without some kind of work commitment and without children was Lost River, West Virginia, back in June 2012. We’ve gotten away here and there since then, and they have been good trips, but they’ve all been tied to weekends where Brandon has to work, or I’m at a conference, or we’ve had the kiddos with us, which are also all good things, to be sure.

But there’s something about a full weekend with each other with no obligations. None. Nada. This weekend feels absolutely necessary to me. When I met with my new counselor about my mom’s cancer diagnosis last week (last week? wasn’t it last month??) she talked about managing sub-losses along with coping with anticipatory grief. Sub-losses are areas of our lives that can rot without our realizing it, that feel unrelated to the primary loss/grief. They extend from sleep and appetite to marriages and relationships.

I’d like to avoid as many sub-losses as possible. This has felt like another long valley season in our topographical marriage map of valleys and mountains for me. I have been trying to figure out the quick and easy fix to whatever disconnect we’re experiencing, but I think it’s just one huge tangled knot of everything: football season, lack of direction in this new phase of life, frustration over thumb surgery’s slow healing, frustration with kids and listening issues, and winter doldrums for Brandon. For me, it’s lack of exercise, lack of time budgeted to write and/or relax, some physical symptoms that make me wonder if I don’t have some hormonal imbalances, feeling like I’m trying to manage too much (the Super Suit Syndrome), and of course my mom’s cancer diagnosis. It’s a mad scramble of emotions that make me quick to anger and slow to listen, quick to shut down and slow to show love and forgiveness.

Marriage is hard sometimes. Love is hard sometimes. In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis says,

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

I don’t want my heart to become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. I want to love. The temptation when things get tough, like they seem to be right now, is to crawl inward and shut down. I am good at that. I am safe here, in my casket. But to crawl into that casket is to be buried alive. I don’t want to be buried alive.

And so we are going out of town. We are going to drive two-and-a-half hours one way and sing songs we love that mean things to us. We are going to maybe see each other again, more than in passing glances and flung remarks. More than in silent texting and nighttime TV series watching. More. And maybe it will be healing, a few steps out of the valley, to the mountains again.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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