I would wake to the throb, the sudden pulling. The jolt from contented sleep to wide eyed pain was disorienting. I would sit, careful to leave my sister undisturbed beneath the sheets next to me. Folding my legs and holding them close, I would work to loosen the embedded ache, to stretch and shift the pain away.
I wouldn’t notice the dark at first, I wouldn’t notice that it was hovering on everything I could not see. But once the murky blackness brushed against my tender body, I would call out.
The pain I could possibly manage, the dark I could maybe tolerate. But the pain and the dark?
She would be there, she would be rubbing my shins, her voice low and so much like mine now, “These are growing pains, they are a good thing. It means you are getting big.”
I would calm at the thought.
I am growing up.
She would kiss me where my hair and forehead meet, “There is nothing wrong with you, this is totally normal.”
She would shut the door again.
Soon enough, the pain would pass and sleep would win out.
And I grew, just as my mom had promised, my bones and muscles stretching and wrapping and sustaining — and these pains became a distant memory, a piece of childhood now past.
Now I was grown and growing a life of my own. My skin pulled hard and thin across my rounded stomach and even though I remembered to butter it most evenings, there were scarred whispers appearing at its edges, evidence that no piece of me would be undisturbed by the growing, living, rolling babe in my belly.
But I didn’t mind; it was supposed to be like this.
I would press my hand across my chest after a meal as the acid boiled under my sternum and I would swear off tomatoes and cheese once again. The worst was the nerve pulse that would burn through my back, hip, leg, the way my body would jolt as it worked to make a detour around the raw pain.
It is uncomfortable, this making space and making life.
I remembered her in these moments, that blonde girl with skinned elbows throbbing in her cool sheets in the dark, and those comforting words: these are growing pains, they are a good thing.
I would whisper the same words now to myself, with a small smile and the faint vision of this future babe, of this very good thing. I was growing the best thing and it was worth every ache, every burn, every pain. My body was by some miracle sustaining and protecting a whole new life and it was inconvenient, uncomfortable and the wildest honor.
On the best days, these pains gave me a sort of thrill because I knew what they meant.
I had expected this to hurt.
The pains I didn’t expect, the ones I don’t know how to treat or tritely reason away are the ones now taking place in my soul, after my childish body has grown into an adult one, after my adult body has grown and birthed three whole babes — now, this.
Now, my heart.
It aches unexpectedly when I imagine the short years left, all the things I’ve said too harshly, the dishes I’ve slammed on the counter, the days I’ve spent wasted in worry or rush.
It aches when I can see her at two, twelve and twenty in a single glance.
It aches when I imagine him navigating his first day in that building with a too big backpack and a too tender spirit.
It aches when I wonder if my baby is really, truly my baby — you know, the forever kind.
It aches when they ask about the future and death and how many bad guys are there actually? When I have to tell them that not everyone is safe, when I want so badly to insulate the world on their behalf.
It hurts as I slowly untether my sweet littles into their futures, apart from me. This is my task, to belay them down the cliff of childhood and adolescence without letting them fall too far.
How do I hold on to that tension without ripping my hands wide open?
There are days that I wonder if my heart has the capacity to let them fill it up to the brim this way and then slowly grow away. I see stretch marks forming there, on the edges of my heart, evidence it was once bursting with these long and ordinary days together, full of both wonder and exhaustion.
And lately, it throbs in a new and deeper way too, touching the very bones of my soul. I find myself excavated, at ground zero and thirty two. Where occupation, denomination and affiliation were once firmly labelled, there is only sticky residue: collecting dirt and dust, losing its power.
I feel stripped, desperate for a detour around this sort of alarming pain. In a season where my children are depending on me to lead with certainty I find that I am the least convinced, the least able to slap a comforting label on their backs, or my own.
Instead, I find myself asking the same questions alongside of them and wanting an answer as badly as they do. I study their joy, curiosity, their willingness to ask for the exact thing they need. I now find myself convinced that if I just hold my hands open, with all the faith I can scrape from the edges of my soul — that is enough.
In these wide open spaces, honesty has broke forth, a newfound ability to tell the hard truth. To hold my own while holding space, the end of fuss and flattery and putting a tidy bow on top of things never meant to be set in a box. It has been the cutting down to the very essence and realizing the sap running through—hidden, deep—was nourishing, lush and just sweet enough to survive on.
It is all a bit alarming, a bit liberating and a bit lonely. Until now, I have been the good girl: faithful, compliant, and correct. I have found pride in having most of the right answers for most of the big questions. And suddenly, I don’t know.
I never expected to wake in sudden alarm, to feel my heart stretch in an unfamiliar and shocking way. I never expected to lay in the dark, unable to make out the shape of anything familiar around me.
Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?
Will it always hurt like this?
Why can’t I stay the way I am?
I have my limbs and my littles as evidence that every growing thing takes time and every growing thing brings pain. But, my soul? I didn’t expect to have to place my hand there, hoping to bring it back to life, to comfort it as it stretches, pulls, pulses.
And now I notice the dark.
I ache for that low voice, for that whispering in the unknown: this is normal, there is nothing wrong with you.
I call out.
And I find that He has been right here the whole time, as I hoped. Just as constant and patient and kind as I had always known. He is not afraid of my questions, my honesty, my disappointment. He leans in, He places His scarred hands where it aches.
And although I didn’t ask for the burning, the loosening, the ashes floating within, I am grateful for the knowledge that something is growing and stretching and breaking free.
I will hold space for new birth here.