It wasn't exactly what I had planned. I had planned a wonderfully relaxing vacation fishing, kayaking, gardening, grilling, driving to visit friends, and hiking. The weather was going to be unseasonably cool for the last week of July, and I was absolutely ready to leave my phone behind and get going.
That's how it all started out too. I was up early on Monday morning and started my usual walk with my dog Hank. Just two houses up from our house, we noticed a fledgling hopping in the grass. Hank and I kept strolling, not wanting to disturb the young bird's lessons from what I was sure was its nearby mama. Evidently we didn't stroll fast enough. Within seconds, a mama catbird came swooping toward us. Instinctively, I side stepped to protect Hank (I have a little Mama in me too, you know), and when I did this, I did not land squarely. My left foot rolled just a smidge, but that was all it took. My left knee hurt.
I continued the walk. I was an athlete in high school and--back then at least--the first steps when something rolls or twists are 1) See if you can bear weight and 2) Try to walk it off. So I walked, but the pain didn't go away. As I sat down to eat breakfast that morning, my knee throbbed. Sitting definitely did not help. I knew I was not going to have any choice but to go see the doctor.
The verdict at the doctor's office was I had strained my knee. I was given a brace, told to ice it, take some ibuprofen as needed, keep mobile, but not to do a lot of walking or pounding on my knee. And just like that, my vacation plans were altered...severely. Less than 24 hours into the break I desperately needed and everything seemed to be falling apart. I was down because I couldn't travel as far in the car with my knee bent for too long, so I couldn't go see my old friend. I couldn't go hiking with my spouse after they got off work. I didn't feel stable enough to go kayaking alone. I was going to get plenty of rest, I supposed, because I couldn't do anything.
Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother, Pema Chodron, once wrote, “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
The truth that I see as I look back now is that when I made room for everything to happen, I was the most content over vacation. I went fishing. My spouse drove me to meet my parents in Marshalltown to have pizza for my birthday. I could garden in short bursts. My sisters and my nephew came down for a surprise visit. We went to the Farmer's Market, I laid in my hammock, I detailed my truck, I canned pizza sauce with my beloved, I took time to watch a goldfinch out our front window. I had backyard campfires and my dog Hank was right by my side. I was sad over what I couldn't do. I was upset that some of the days felt wasted. I was renewed with the sense that no day is ever really wasted when I am present to it.
There's no great end to this story, and there's not great against-all-odds victory either. I went on vacation. I got hurt. I got rest. I found renewal, and I was sad. And all of it was good. And all of it was part of the sacred coming together and falling apart that happens over and over again in our lives. I didn't fall into that rhythm gracefully, but I fell into it all the same.
What about you? When was the last time everything fell apart for you? Were you able to make space for your hurt and your grief as well as your resiliency? Were you able to allow for pockets of both joy and sorrow? What do you think kept you from doing so? What would it take for you to let healing come from the room you create in your heart, mind, and spirit for these things to happen?
Making room for healing with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.