By Madison Garrett
“We have never been here before — and that’s holy.”
She draws in a long breath and sits with her hands gently pressing against one another with just enough tension to feel a stretch, but accompanied by a gentleness that speaks grace into the groan.
“We have never been here before,” she repeats, soothingly, “And that’s sacred.”
The room smells like essential oils. I smell vaguely of sweat and the frankincense blend the yoga instructor just smeared on my feet for balance. My body is exhausted after an hour of planks and forward folds and almost-but-not-quite reaching my toes and hamstring stretches and tree poses. It’s too early and the Sara Donuts placed cruelly next door is calling my name, but I remain in the tension of my Vinyasa flow, moving from Downward Dog, to a plank, to a Baby Cobra. My hamstrings strain and my core aches and we just keep going: downward dog, plank, baby cobra, downward dog, plank, baby cobra.
I have never been here before — and that is holy.
I want to memorize that, write it on my heart. Such offhand words from my yoga instructor ring true to me especially: I have never seen a season like this. I have never seen, and never really expected to see, myself practicing yoga with a bunch of middle aged women in my hometown. I never saw myself working for a fundraising company right out of college. I never saw myself living at home; I certainly never saw myself believing the lie that I am falling behind my peers, that my hard work was not enough, that I will be stuck, stagnant, ineffective, for the rest of my life.
I have never been here before, but it doesn’t feel holy.
It feels hard.
I never saw myself knowing the intimate effects of brain cancer. I never thought I would live in that place. I never thought I would see my dear friends fight that same battle and I certainly never thought that so many of us would know the beast so personally. I never imagined that the sight of four of my dear friends leaving to go white water tubing one early summer morning would take our mothers’ breath away- because all four of us have had cancer in their family. All four of us have fought daily for hope. And all four of us have found joy and escape in each other.
I never thought I would see cancer up close so consistently. Yet when I wake up, it is in bed drinking coffee with almond creamer, the windows cracking open with morning light. I see it in way my dad moves, in the cruel way that it tangles his independence and alters his diet. Cancer staggers my dad’s walk up the stairs, increases his trips to the bathroom, and steals his attention span, our conversations, and his filter. It fatigues him around one or two in the afternoon and puts him to bed early before the sun goes down.
This a place I have never seen before, but it does not feel sacred.
It feels broken.
It feels complicated and it feels demanding and arduous and fractured.
It feels unfair.
And somedays, it feels like I am in the rut of cyclical exhaustion, of early mornings and long days and long drives, of evasive joy and evasive rest, of a life jarringly unexpected in a way that does not feel sacred, but scary. It feels like stretching, stretching, and stretching without release. I’m breathing hard and deeply and wishing for a clock on the wall to tell me how much longer I must remain in this place. I wish class could be over and this season could be over and I could spryly hop to my next season, my next pose, my next mindset. This one is getting tired. This one has ceased being sacred and fun and now it’s just a fight. Discontentment takes root in my heart and grows a black and thorny flower: I have never been here before. Why do I have to be here still?
It’s that time-old tension:
This is not the life I thought I would have.
This is not the person I thought I would be.
And that’s hard and good and messy and complicated because every part of who I have always been wants to love who I am and the life I live. But nothing is what I expected it to be and loving the unexpected is a lot tougher than loving what is known.
I breathe in deeply and try to remember the words of my yoga instructor. We have never been here before- and that is holy.
Can I believe that new places are sacred again?
In the past two years, so many of my new places have been hard. They have been hospital rooms and surgeries and helping dad to the bathroom and new levels of physical exhaustion and new moments of grief.
I have never been here before; is that holy? I don't want to fight the tension anymore. I don’t want to fight the stretch. I want this to become a place where growth can begin anew. Maybe the best thing I can do these days is allow myself to sit in the tension and in the stretching and feel every feeling that comes to me. Maybe I need to feel the stress and the strain and the stretch, because the release it coming and will be so sweet. Maybe I need to lean in and stretch a little bit more because stretching in and of itself is worthwhile. Maybe I need to feel the stretch because the stretch in and of itself takes me to new places.
And now, as I think about it, we, as a family, are going to new places, places we would never have seen and ministries we would never have been allowed without the admittance stamp that cancer has given us. If pain is our passport, I am determined to use it until that little bound booklet is threadbare and falling apart, every page filled with every stamp allowed to me.
Maybe the Lord, in this season, did not give me a suitcase. He did not give me baggage that I now have to drag along behind me. He did not give me a story that will weigh down my heart and keep me from running full speed. He gave me a boarding pass, and a blank boarding pass at that. He paid for my ticket and I get to take this story wherever he leads as follow him with open hands to where He may lead.
The pain hurts. Hurting with hope still hurts. But pain and holiness are not opposites. In fact, they are my flight attendants that welcome me aboard as I travel to new heights and new depths that i would never have seen without the heartbreak I have experienced.
And that is what is holy. That stretching, that new place, feels hopeful rather than hard. This kind of stretching is new, but I must believe that it is holy. I must believe it is sacred. I must believe it is meaningful.
I take a deep breath, center myself, and stretch a little bit more.
I take another deep breath. If pain is my passport, then stretching my heart and my expectations are like preparing for takeoff. My heart is in the upright and locked position, my gaze set on the one who directs my steps.
I take another deep breath. I will stretch. I will keep going. I will not be afraid.