untidy conclusions and the messy middle place

messy middle place

Written by Kelli Woodford

Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/).

October 21, 2013

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The first morning of the Great Darkness, I slid out the back door into deafening silence.

The door shuddered down the track and then glided closed again with a groan. I reached up, up – stretching my leg muscles with tip-toed feet in worn sneakers – then down past my ankles to brush the wet wooden planks of the deck with tender fingers. Sore hamstrings loosened as I cascaded down the steps and out toward the road. Feeling the eerie calm of pre-dawn slumber, I picked up pace.

The day seemed to be holding its breath, like it wasn’t ready to crest the horizon quite yet, even though the minutes were ticking by. There was a palpable haze thickening around me. And then somewhere to the northwest, a siren broke the last of early’s hush with her screams.

By the time I reached home again, the flickering red and blue lights of an emergency vehicle were more present than the sunrise. They were further down the road, but in the half-beams of early fog, their flashes turned surrounding mist into a very noisy silence.

And my spirit screamed with them.

It was an hour later when a farmer with gentle eyes knocked at my door. Even though we had never met properly, he called me by my first name and explained in the simple vernacular of a man who knows seed and tassel better than proper etiquette that my husband had been in a car accident less than a mile away. He had been taken by ambulance to the hospital, complaining of pain in his back. The farmer wrung his hat in his hands and looked at me with apology, “I’m sure it’s a lot to take in …” he mumbled, his voice trailing into the sidewalk with his eyes.

I know that I answered him. I know that somehow sounds formed themselves into words and stumbled from my lips. I know that all those years’ experience as a pastor’s wife probably kicked in and I numbly said the right thing at the right time. But my heart was not in it. I was still screaming on the inside.

And the screaming continued through the morning. So did the Darkness.

In fact, in spite of the broad light of day now upon us, I think it grew.

Both hands of the clock were straight up, pointing at 12 o’clock noon, when I swung our white 15-passenger van around the driveway in front of the Emergency Room doors and watched as my husband gingerly smiled and then stepped out to meet us. Oh, so delicate, his steps. He had suffered several broken vertebrae and was wearing a brace that wrapped his torso. And he greeted us with the news that he would be wearing it for the next six to eight weeks for his back to recover properly. He would also be out of work without pay for the same amount of time.

I felt the scream in my soul dissolve at his words. The blood rushed from my head and all beauty in the world seemed to go mute.

A question mark hung heavy in the air between heaven and my little swath of earth.

To say that I was angry at God at that moment would be an understatement.

… And all that was one week ago. I’ve been living the Great Darkness for seven full days.

Since the accident, friends have told me that “God is good.” They’ve quoted more translations of Romans 8:28 than I can count and I know they’re lovingly trying to shore up my heart. But what I sense in what they say is sometimes not the truth that sets free, but an effort (however well-intentioned) at trying to move me from where I am to where they think I should be. What I feel in their ever-ready answers is a valiant attempt not at the making of room for healthy processing, but at control. And I used to go along with it, letting people tell me what I should believe and where I should find hope and accepting that their experience is a template for my own. But I’m a little bit older now. So when I sense the presence of “helpers” who are really “fixers”, I dig my heels in deeper. Because the truth can be used as a key in a lock or it can be used as a weapon; it can be used to comfort and strengthen or it can be used to impatiently prod along toward where someone else thinks my story ought to be going.

Perhaps where I need to be is exactly the place where I am.

For now.

If I could feel safe enough with those friends to really bare all, I would tell them that a more terrifying fear than the possibility that God might not turn this all into good is the fear that God will not wait for me in these angry days. That He will wash His hands of me and count me among the defectors because I can’t pull it together and praise Him with my shattered heart. I am more anxious over letting God see the honest state of my soul than I am about where the money will come from or if my husband will need surgery. And what I need to hear from my friends in these days that stretch out before me as one long string of overwhelming need is that God doesn’t want me to be anything before Him but honest. He doesn’t want the numb answers I mutter at the farmer – even if they are the “right” ones. He doesn’t want me to cram my emotions into my theology, stuffing until they fit. He knows that I don’t need courage to face the lack of provision – I need courage to go through uncomfortable emotions, instead of some kind of misguided “short-cut” around them. I need courage for the process.

It’s dim and shadowy here, in this messy middle place. I still find myself both in Great Darkness and in deafening silence. But perhaps there are times when what grows best in the dark is what finally opens our eyes to the light.

And maybe that’s trust.

 

43 Comments

  1. Mary Brack

    I really appreciate how open and real you are in sharing your feelings, Kelli.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Thank you, Mary. It’s not always easy, but I consider it to be one of the great challenges of existence. Bless you.

      Reply
  2. Sandra Heska King

    Spellbound and speechless from the first sentence, sweet friend.

    You are right. Sometimes we have to simply sit in the deafening silence, tiptoe through the shatterings, find safe space to feel the real, and let loose in lament. And your last two lines, I think, are so, so wise. I wish I could come sit with you. Much love.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Ah, spellbound is quite a word, Sandy. I’m shaking my head at such descriptions as that. 😉

      And thank you for being a blessing. I appreciate the grace I’ve seen in your writing and the space for processing I sense in your person. Thank you for being a woman who lives love.

      Reply
  3. Amy Hunt

    I’m smiling, Kelli. Because, I have been in Darkness for a few days, too. Struggling with my sin. But mostly, of facing Him with it . . . with me. Because I’m not good good enough and I feel it. And, yet, He takes me just as I am. A muddled mess. And He wants me. He pursues me. And when I struggle to accept myself . . . He allows it. He knows the ache and the tension and in the Here is where I find Him, not in the surviving. And He told me this morning “We are more than conquerors . . . ” and that meant more to me than anything . . . it’s about His love, and how we’ll never fall out of it . . . even when we doubt His love for us and we feel the shame for it. I’m hugging you in tears today over this thin place and nodding to say “I get you” and thank God that He gets us, too. Yes, this place, right where you are now, it’s important, it’s necessary . . . and you’re acknowledging it’s rightful place in your story is . . . indeed, rich, beautiful worship. {hugs}

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Amy, your wise and generous words do my heart good. Thanks for hugs sent over the miles. Love to you.

      Reply
  4. Christie Purifoy

    Thank you for sharing your story – especially the hard, ugly bits. We live most of our lives in the middle, and we desperately need wisdom from that place. Thank you for yours.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      YES, Christie. Exactly. Most of our lives.
      I think that’s why I decided to write this NOW instead of wait until the resolution came. Because we need signposts along the way to remind us we’re still on the path, no matter how dark it gets. Hopefully by sharing a little of my pain, someone else will be able to make it a few more steps …

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. As always.

      Reply
  5. HisFireFly

    in the dark
    He is there
    not pushing you to be anymore that who you are
    right.at.this.moment.

    no striving
    no trying to be
    you are
    enough

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Thank you for the sweet spirit I sense in these words, friend. Thank you for your heart laid out in their simplicity.

      Reply
  6. Paula Gamble

    Oh my goodness! You are writing my heart, too, friend! I am so with you, and you have taught me all of this as you have held space for me to be right where I am and let God speak to us even when all we see is dark. Even when we forget His love, His promises, and our hope fails. In those times, Jesus believes for us. When we lose hope, Jesus hopes for us. He is the One who brought you to THIS dark place, and He’s the One who stays there with you, until He decides to bring you out. He never leaves your side even in the pain, hurt, confusion, frustration – He remains faithful and nothing you feel inhibits His lavish love for you. You are His delight.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      I know you get the process of this, Paula. Oh, don’t I know it. We’ve been through some STUFF together, haven’t we? … And the journey ain’t over. 🙂

      Sometimes it helps just to know we’re not alone. Thankful for you, friend.

      Reply
      • Paula Gamble

        Yes, STUFF, indeed. lol. It helps so much to know we are not on this journey alone – God gives us companions to walk alongside us. Thankful to be companions on this crazy adventure we’re on together.

        Reply
    • PJ DiBenedetto

      That was beautiful, Paula! ♥

      Reply
  7. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Thank you, Kelli, for speaking what is true from the middle place, which can be very difficult ground from which to write. Friend, your pain, sorrow and questioning are palpable here, as is the offering of your humanity right where you are. It can be so hard for us to believe that good comes from the dark, but we see the tomb, seed, newborn, trust, as you say. I am deeply sorry for what you, Jason and your family are walking through and am grateful that you remind us of the importance of simply being in and abiding with those who lament. Prayers and love to you.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      It can be a difficult place to write from, Ashley, but I think in another way, it’s very freeing. I pray the honesty of this piece does more than cleanse my soul – but helps loose the chains of perhaps someone else who knows where pain lives.

      Thanks for your sweet words. You’re all heart, girl – you know that, right? All heart.

      Reply
  8. DeanneMoore

    I once thought, i have had my darkness, checked it off. But the middle is wide and really, it takes courage just to live. So thankful God understands that and goes with us in the fog, the darkness, the messy middle…Still praying for you and your family Kelli…what a hard day, and week.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Yes! Oh, Deanne, I really get that. I have thought that way, too – that now perhaps the darkness is past … And I believe in a day when it WILL be past, but I’m not sure it belongs to this side of things.

      Thanks for engaging here, friend. You bless me.

      Reply
  9. Karrilee Aggett

    Girl… I love you! I love your honesty and braveness to be all out here, right where you are… grace to you, friend! And this: “Because the truth can be used as a key in a lock or it can be used as a weapon; it can be used to comfort and strengthen or it can be used to impatiently prod along toward where someone else thinks my story ought to be going.” So Much Truth!

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Thank you for being here, Karrilee. I’m so glad this resonated with you.

      Reply
  10. pastordt

    Exactly, Kelli. Exactly. Feel the feelings, pour them out in angry prayer – you’re in such good company, you know. When hard things happen and we feel the darkness and the fear, the safest and best place to go with all of it is directly to God. And then to trusted friends who get it, never to fixers. Never. This is hard and it’s going to continue to be hard and no amount of quoting Romans 8:28 will change that. The only time for that verse is way down the road, when you’re looking back at this from a very different perspective. And maybe. . . not even then. Love you, Kelli. And I’m grateful for this honesty and this beautiful writing. Praying for all of you in the midst of unanswered (maybe unanswerable?) questions. And saying back to you, YES, this is trust. Yes. Feel free to message me on FB or write to me by email if you need shoring up at any point!! dtrautwein at gmail dot com

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      I seriously got that fluttery feeling inside and my heart turned to a grateful mush when I read your words, Diana. Thank you for reaching out to me. Thank you for strengthening the work of God – even in the hidden places – of people all over the web on a daily basis. I’m glad to be among them.

      All my love.

      Reply
  11. Thomas Mason

    Kelli, I liked this: “…trying to move me from where I am to where they think I should be.” Sometimes I think well-meaning friends rush the process of where ever we are in life. The hardest lessons are learned in the trenches.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      YES. You hit it, Thomas.

      Thank you for reading. And for your thoughtful comment.

      Reply
  12. Jason Woodford

    Great post. real is awesome!

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Well, real is what I’ve got. (wink)

      Thanks, Jason. Maybe someday you’ll write stories about me, eh … ?

      Reply
  13. PJ DiBenedetto

    I really love where you write, “I need courage for the process,”! ♥ I think we all need that, Kelli! I know that I do!

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Yes, PJ. Hearing ya, friend.

      Thanks for reading along.

      Reply
  14. Kathy Owens

    Yes! You get it, Kelli. “God doesn’t want me to be anything before Him but honest.” Like King David in the Psalms. Pour out your heart and rest in His freedom to be yourself, to feel your feelings, to know His grace and love even in the midst of the Darkness. You will never be the same. . .

    LOVE those pictures you posted in ::breadcrumbs:: too!! Such fall fun!

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      JUST like David. Amen.

      Thanks, Mom. Always love seeing you here.

      Reply
  15. Diane Bailey

    You words are hauntingly beautiful and you struggle in that middle ground. I love the way you craft your words, Kelli.

    And,I am praying …

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Thank you, Diane. For the prayers, for the kind words. You bless me big.

      Reply
  16. Amber Cadenas

    Oh sweet friend. My heart is quiet after reading this, holding you and your anger and pain in this darkness and silence. You are right where you need to be. I both ache for you and deeply thank you for refusing to accept what “fixers” hand you in their discomfort. I have lived in this middle place for awhile and know that fear of God being done with me… But I think we both know we’re tethered to him and he isn’t going to cut that line. I’ll be praying you know his full acceptance in a profound way, for as long as you are here. Love you.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Every time you write me a comment, Amber, I am so touched. Thank you for opening up a bit of yourself. Enough so that I feel the warmth of your gentle “me too.”

      Reply
  17. Kris Camealy

    Keep writing from the messy middle. It is the very best illumination of the wrestle of faith and trust. Praying with you.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Wrestling places don’t FEEL like good ones to write from, but there I go again, back to the “safe” corners …

      Thank you, Kris, for always being the kind of friend who encourages me onward and upward — even OUTWARD when I need it. 😉

      Reply
  18. Elizabeth Stewart

    I think I tend to be a fixer and needed this reminder that it might be best to just be a listener.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      Oh, Elizabeth – don’t we all, friend? Sometimes I think reminders are the biggest part of learning.

      Love to you and your soft heart.

      Reply
  19. Karen

    Kelli, you are so right about process. You need to be and feel what you do. Sending much love and prayers xx

    Reply
  20. SuperJae

    Fantastic post! Embrace the darkness. It is hard to hear that this is part of the Almighty’s plan when you are present with death or pain and holding someone’s hand through it.

    Reply
    • kelli woodford

      I appreciate your compassion, friend.
      And those wise words: Embrace the darkness.
      Yes.

      Reply
  21. DJ

    Some sufferers of dark times are so bound by the false teaching that faith means “Cheer up!” that they cannot even accept my deep empathy and identification with the realities of life’s ugly surprises. So glad that you’re writing out truth for the dirty parts of a devout pilgrimage.

    Reply

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untidy conclusions and the messy middle place

by Kelli Woodford time to read: 5 min
44