“The truth is something you already knew deep in your own bones: Your ship is sinking. The life you lived before is the life you live no longer. Your life feels like a funeral, because there is part of you that is actually dying.”
Jonathan Martin How to Survive a Shipwreck
Joe arrived at my door dressed in khakis and a black polo shirt with the Mayflower logo. He slipped his shoes off as he entered, even after I said it was fine to leave them on. He began the process of explaining the quote, “First, I want you to know I’ve already set things up to avoid having your goods go to storage, so no extras fees will be charged.” I told him I was grateful and he replied, “No matter what else is true, moving is always hard. It is the end of something and people really need extra care and attention.”
I chose Joe because he was attentive, generous, and intuitive. My heart needs these things because it is the end.
Seven years ago, on a hot sticky Memorial Day, we gathered with friends in Texas and while eating burgers and watermelon we tearfully shared the news that we would be leaving. Mark had started looking for jobs in other states. It was the day we officially named the reality of something ending and the hope of something new beginning.
The complexity of holding both was challenging. The day the moving truck loaded our belongings, people came to be with us as we parted with the home we’d lived in for over a decade. Life and death mingled together, down to the bitter end.
We moved to Michigan on sheer faith and hopeful hearts.
We didn’t move anticipating the seven most difficult years of our lives.
Recently, a friend stood in our kitchen and asked how I was feeling. “Sad, disappointed, relieved, hopeful, grateful, aching, and empty” was my reply. He took my words in and said, “You guys have been through hell. I don’t know how any of you even step foot in a church or want anything to do with God.”
I would agree. It feels supernatural that our faith is still intact.
In his book, The Healing Path, Dan Allender says that betrayal is the breaking of an implied or stated commitment to care. Trust is built not on the absence of betrayal, but on the willingness of each person to repair any breach of trust.
The end of our time here has brought me face to face with betrayal all over again. Sorting through the house surfaced unexpected things: a birthday card written to Mark from a youth pastor who betrayed us in unspeakable ways, boxes of unused sparklers for our daughter’s cancelled wedding, and notes from ministry friends who no longer speak to me.
Early last year I found myself using the word “tsunami” to describe what had hit my family. I began weekly therapy. As my counselor waded into the dark currents with me, she became curious about my resistance to death, which seemed to go beyond a heartfelt belief in the resurrection power of Jesus. She said, “Tracy, it seems you believe you can raise the dead.” She named how my belief in my own strength, coupled with a deep sense of responsibility, had produced a wave of energy that was not about the power of God.
“You cannot continue to flail your arms, beat against the sea, and damn the waves. You have to let yourself go all the way under – into the depths of God. You will have to linger at the ocean floor, where the sea monsters live, and confront everything in you that you’ve constructed a whole life out of avoiding.” Jonathan Martin
The arrogance of my heart was exposed and sorrow over the losses began to more fully wash over me. This opened the door for change, and change brought another layer of loss because I had invited others to believe I could raise the dead too. As I honestly named the truth and stopped my ungodly energy, some people were disappointed and it was easy to blame me.
And now we are at the end.
It has been eerily quiet and empty at our house.
Our circle of trust has become small, occupied by those who have engaged in the healing process that is necessary for trust to remain and grow. Their companionship has preserved our faith in God.
These friends have become family, because when death comes and the end is near, your family gathers close, enters the grief, and holds your heart.
I’ve had several breakdowns over the past two weeks—moments where I’ve just wailed. A friend flew in to help me pack. She held the space of death and grief with me as we worked our way through the house. She noticed my tears, often had tears of her own, and then mercifully she’d make another box and start packing again.
Nichole Nordeman’s music gives words to what my heart has felt, here’s her song “Hush, Hush” on the album “Every Mile Mattered”.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). She is the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for 30 years, she is mother to five kids. After a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. She writes about her life and her work here.
Such stunning truth, my friend. Praying for your sweet family and the resurrection of goodness to come.
Thank you for your prayers Christine.
Betrayal is a heartache that isn’t easy to capture with words. Yet your words bring beauty to pain. Thank you.
Sharon, indeed betrayal is hard to capture with words, thank you for hearing me.
Excited for what is to come, and the redemptions and glories in store. Your courage and hope is a tidal wave of inspiration. Thank you for writing your guts out. Much love to you and your family in this transition ❤️
You know the ground of transition quite tenderly right now. I too am hopeful for what is to come for your sweet family and for mine. ❤️
Thank you for sharing and wrapping words around what so many of us have also felt in our lives and particularly in our churches.
You have blessed me with your bravery and authenticity. Thank you.
Laurie, it is both sad and true how the themes are steady for any who enter the realm of serving and working inside ministry. Bless you as you continue your own journey.
That you can continue to breathe life in the midst of the today’s flood is stunning. Inviting us into the flailing is as well. Your heart is beautiful. The song is amazing and just right. It embraced me where I needed it. Thank you. And thank you for not penning a bow to end your ache ‘tidily’. Its that kind of raw truth that invites me to stay. I will be praying for unexpected gifts on your sea floor.
Timi, thank you for kindness. I have so loved that song, it has the words I couldn’t find on my own. I’m grateful for your prayers.
“I will hold Hope for you, while you dig,” my deceased beloved AA sponsor, Marge, would say to me. I have held her words so close to my heart as I’ve walked through the searing pain of death and burial of dreams shattered this last year. No, I cannot raise the dead either, but I know the One who can and will and is. My heart and prayers are for you and your family’s future, Tracy. I have and am holding Hope for you all.
Your love and prayers mean so much Melayne. I believe you are holding hope for us, and I am truly grateful. Thank you for your steady presence.
I hear you.
Sue, I want you to know that those three words are perfect, simple and powerful in this space for me. Thank you.
My heart feels heavy for the grief you have laid out in this post. You have honored yourself and your family and your readers by calling the death by name and refusing the Christian tendency to rush to resurrection. It sounds in so many ways like a dark Saturday, I pray it might be a Holy Saturday that in time, gives birth to beauty and life.
Indeed Lindsay, I too pray that we will be able to speak about it all as a holy Saturday, and there are tastes of that now. Thank you.
The image of the battered, wrecked ship on the shore coupled with your words makes your grief and sorrow so tangible. I’m so, so sorry for all that has been lost.
Jenn, I know you have felt deep loss and the sense of being wrecked, your words touch my heart deeply. Thank you so much. ❤️
This piece is so courageous and raw Tracy. I am so grieved to hear all that your family has experienced…too much for your hearts to bear. You invite us to feel the powerlessness of being shipwrecked in our deepest losses. Thank you for writing about something that is still so very tender…
Yes, the powerlessness…so painful and scary. Thank you for seeing it and naming how tender it is.
“Ungodly energy” – such powerful words on the backdrop of such a humbling realization. Thanks for your brave step of faith.
I’m so sorry for the losses you’ve experienced and pray God’s hush of delight and goodness overwhelms you.
Natalie, thank you for noticing those two words they were important for me to name and it felt good to read your response and know you saw that. And, yes to God’s delight and goodness…I pray that too.
Yes. Such deep loss and pain. I feel it in your words as I connect to them that children were being grown and formed and parented during those seven years, as well. Time waits for no one. I grieve that the call of faith and hope led you to seven years of hellish loss, and yet (there is always the “and yet”)I am so grateful for your faithful, hopeful, queenly, warrior heart that reached out to me to offer life even as you were drowning. May the “God of the Seven Year Shipwreck” continue to calm and hush your heart and bring healing and restoration. Thank you for continuing to show up with honesty, kindness, courage, and tears. Blessings, Dear One.
Julie, thank you. Your words about the children brought tears to my eyes. There is the reality of the both/and, while it was so painfully difficult there was also much goodness that occurred and I remain grateful for that. The story that brought us to Michigan is a good story, th complexity of it all is a lot to hold.
Tracy, oh my. Your truth telling is good, lovely and hard. You are a woman of hope and life and to walk with you during this death and fracture of home and what was and what is not was hard. I have been sitting in Saturday with you for awhile. I trust the wailing and movement forward is an expectant dreaming of what is to come. Icons, dear ones, someday I want to look and hear about our icons…. This will one day not be where you are: “I’ve had several breakdowns over the past two weeks—moments where I’ve just wailed. A friend flew in to help me pack. She held the space of death and grief with me as we worked our way through the house. She noticed my tears, often had tears of her own, and then mercifully she’d make another box and start packing again.” Shit. Love you. Hope and new life is ahead.
Becky, you have been a kind presence in the Saturday of it all, thank you. I look forward to that “icon” day with you. Love you too.
Oh my dear friend…
No words. 💜
Your face and your heart are always enough my friend. Thank you.
Your absence resonates loudly. My heart feels empty today. You will be missed by me💜MJ
You spoke, and it is perfect. To say the words in the midst of it all is so very hard. That song…wow. The dissonance puts sound to the emotions of your heart perfectly. I love you.