These past few months were filled with those kind of days that feel like cartoon robberies: dangled by my feet and shook hard until everything in my pockets fell to the ground. The bandits took my trash and my irreplaceables; nothing was left behind besides some scrapes and bruises. If you’ve ever experienced one of those seasons, you’ll know how you walk out of them in a haze, feeling that the only thing you are certain of is that you will never return to the person you were before. As the fog begins to clear, I’m realizing that my world has shifted, and I have with it. In retrospect I see so clearly some places where I took sanctuary for granted & other places that were merely illusions of safety. Both have helped me understand the absolute importance of friendships that function like sanctuaries and places that help you feel held.
Those places I’ve taken for granted were threatened this summer, and while God sustained some, others were taken away. The latter has taught me the persistence and inexplicable nature of grief. It ebbs and flows, as you deny and ache and forget and curse yourself for forgetting. As much as I hate this and I still struggle to accept life without the patriarch of kindness and valor leading my family, it’s my reality now. My family continues to day by day adjust to our new life of four, the pangs of grief still real and resurfacing. Each day is a new journey he won’t be there for, and the absence of his physical presence is incurable, something I hope I never get used to.
Another place I took for granted is filled with pine trees and a lake that plays the sunsets like a flute. I woke up in my days of grief to hear of a wild fire barreling towards my favorite place in the world, the GPS location I have most consistently felt the Lord’s presence. I felt paralyzed. Hume to me is something like a heaven on earth, a place that in no way means escape from problems, but in every way means a life full of hope in the midst of the problems. This was never a place I worried about losing, never considered its safety contingent on a lone lightening strike. For days, most I could do was incessantly check the camp’s website, feeling helpless and terrified of what seemed like the inevitable. The fire was a stone’s throw away from my place of refuge, and there was nothing I could do but watch. Ripped apart by my current grief, I barely knew how to talk to the only Being that could fix it, scared that one more prayer answered negatively would send me off into crippling doubt. All I remember saying to God was that I didn’t know how to pray, but that I couldn’t lose anything else this summer. I think he heard other prayers from people around the globe that felt similarly about this place, and the back burns worked. The Fire Marshall said the operation shouldn’t have held as well as it has, and called it a miracle. 30+ days into this wild fire, with 80,000 acres burned around it, Hume Lake Christian Camps has yet to have been touched by flames. What a testament of protection, that a place that has seen millions of lives affected in joyous ways would hold strong in a destructive blaze. That the safe refuge many of us call home would be kept and held just as it kept and held us many times before.
This sanctuary of mine was threatened, and in those days of holding our breath I began to understand how deeply I cherished this lake. Ever since high school I have gone dozens of times: to play, to work, to serve, to rest. There I have fallen in love, gotten my heart broken, found my hope again. There I have forged best friendships, redefined my faith, discovered deep refuge. Hume has seen the best of me and the worst of me, and still welcomes me with open arms each time. I feel this way because I feel the Lord’s love so tangibly each time I’m there, and it reminds me that love is present on the mountain as well as in the valley.
I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to rack my brain to figure out what about a place or a person makes it a sanctuary: and I’ve found the common cord to be acceptance. Acceptance of your strengths, your issues, your reactions to circumstances: nothing about you is annoying or unworthy of love. Safe places have open arms that bear no conditions. They don’t ask you to be different or better, they just encourage you to work hard and keep showing up. This acceptance goes hand in hand with belief, since those people that are sanctuaries believe in you and will fight for you. When you can feel safe to be you fully and unapologetically, then you’re on holy ground.
In this valley season, I have seen God’s tangible love not only in his protection of Hume, but in his provision of friends. The people that surround me, uplift me, and check in on me are the the kind of people that never expect me to be swimming strong but understand I’m simply trying to stay afloat. They give grace through back rubs and sacrificed mornings. They don’t have time to question if comforting me is the right call: its already been done without a second thought. They call me up out of the blue just to tell me they saw me really try, and that they want me to know I deserve the very best. They take me to a movie on a weekday afternoon just to distract me from my reality. They sit with me in my endless questions, they listen to my mid-day ramblings, they get more frustrated over my heartbreaks than I do.
But what about those refuges that you realize were mirages? How do you deal with those that you once trusted deeply that let you down?
A hard lesson to learn is that not everyone (or everywhere) is capable of being safe, because sanctuaries necessitate a selfless & open spirit: to be a refuge you must put another’s needs first. Defined by compassion and consistency, it makes sense that selfishness and inner dissonance can render you incapable. In order to accept someone else as they are, you must accept yourself as you are: this will take being kind to yourself and allowing others to care for you in your struggles.
I’m reminding myself that there heavenly places on earth, but they take a group of compassionate people spurred on by love to maintain. I’m reminding myself to invest deeply only in those that show they can match the grace I give them, being more selective with who I consider trustworthy. But more importantly, I’ve come to the realization that if I’ve become incapable of being a safe place for those around me, then I need to get to work on my heart immediately. There’s never an excuse for not caring, never circumstance so large that I am unable to extend grace to the people around me. If I’m whining that “Woe is me, I’m just too broken” then I’m fooling myself. I’m blinded to the grace I have been given by my Creator, and I’m hoarding the goodness he has invested in me. Putting someone else before me will heal those wounds and bring light to those circumstances that I’m using as an excuse; avoiding people that will force me to be more Christlike because I’m choosing to be selfish will get me no where good. It’s so easy to forget that pity parties are only fun for so long, and the festivities will soon exhaust those that are willing and ready to help.
Please be a safe place to someone today, and thank those that have provided shelter in the rough weather. God has sustained and protected these beautiful sanctuaries, sending us Samaritans in the wake of our muggings.