The Land of the Living

In honor of the tenth anniversary of Red Tent Living, we are featuring a monthly legacy post written by one of our regular contributors from the past decade. Kelsi Folsom joined the Red Tent writing community as she and her family were living on a small Caribbean Island. Her perspective as a young wife and mother filled a much needed voice. This post originally appeared in May 2018.

The boulder in my yard was rather large, covered in ferns and lichens. It rested beneath a mango tree, residing in my periphery as I toiled over hand washing clothes and pinning them up to dry in the sunlight. It perched just shy of a conversation amidst the brush, iguanas, and wildflowers, holding its breath while the butterflies darted about.

The leaves of that mango tree saw many tears fall and gather in the dirt. They seemed to freeze between compassion and ridicule as they observed an unbelievably desperate woman breaking under the needs and expectations she believed she could never meet.

Do you know what it’s like to dream in silence and hope the walls don’t witness your demise? To hide in plain sight from your screaming children who are inconsolable from the brunt of your own rage, breaking the bridle you so piously placed over your mouth wide open? To fight against reality, biting the arms that used to be your constant companion, day in and day out, but now give the best of themselves to pen, paper, and lecture slides? To eat the food of neglect and ration, to persevere when you just want to die?

I do.

“For better or worse, till death do us part” didn’t seem as far away as it used to. Anger, hopelessness, and pain were squeezing the life out of any good thing growing in my spirit. Maybe soon it could all be over…

On a bright sunny day, I stood still, stuck to the cool tile beneath my feet. I tried to breathe, but the air was so heavy, thickening in my nostrils, turning to cement in my lungs. Everything I had endured over the past few years caught hard between my breastbone and sank me inside a dream of impossibility.

I can’t live like this anymore.

All at once, I imagined the garden around the tomb that held Jesus for three days. I saw Mary Magdalene sitting, grieving the death of one of her best friends. Was she just sad, or was her despair darker, wondering if life was still worth the struggle…if maybe the boulder would be a good place to jump, catching on the limbs of the mango tree and hanging her sadness to dry.

All of a sudden, I heard a name. My name. I froze, choking on a sob as I felt my worth bruising each rib, desperate to be freed. I knew for the first time in years I had not been overlooked. At the base of my humanity, sitting in the dregs of my broken dreams, was the kindest man I had ever known. A man who truly saw me. A man who could kiss the cheeks of a jaw that clenched readily with anger, and who could resurrect the ugliest of broken things.

Psalm 27:13 says, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

The first time I held onto this verse was in sixth grade after a heartbreaking move from Florida to Texas when I left my best friends, and what felt like the entirety of my identity, behind. I couldn’t imagine feeling known and happy ever again. But this verse lifted me from the pit and set me back on the path of hope.

On that sunny July day, I once again recalled these words. I felt hope rise—first, welling in the corner of my eyes; then, the start of a grin; and finally, a wide smile, as relief washed over me.

Once again, the beauty and kindness of Jesus pulled me back from the grave.

Solace is not death’s prize. The wound of agony finds its salve in the wounds of Jesus, who knows every second of our impossible suffering. We wake up to hope every second the soul meets its worth. Every morning since that dark day in my own garden, I have cried out for the love song of Jesus, calling me enough; calling me beloved, sending me light and faithful care in the work of the day and the darkness of the night.

Kelsi Folsom has essays and poems published in Motherly, Coffee and Crumbs, Grit and Virtue, Momma Theologians and elsewhere.  She is the wife of a medical student, and mom-to-four, navigating marriage and motherhood with black coffee, her library card, and whole lot of prayer. She is the author of Breaking the Jar (Finishing Line Press 2022), Buried in the Margins (Finishing Line Press, 2020) and poetry chapbook, Words the Dirt Meant to Share (Desert Willow Press, 2018). She enjoys traveling with her family, connecting with friends, and occasionally putting her B.M in Voice Performance to good use. You can find her on Instagram, her monthly newsletter Shamless Beauty Digest and at her website, here.