Life can sometimes pull the rug out from under you without any warning or notice. Just when you think you are going along the course of your life that is meant for you, you suddenly realize you are lost with no clue of the destination, must less how to get there. I had an experience that I feel compelled to share, but first, let me share where the journey began....
You make known to me the path of life Psalms 16:11
These past three and a half months have been the hardest of my life. The love of my life John, my fiancée, suddenly passed away on April 30, 2017, at the age of 38 from a heart infection we all were unaware of. John and I were first loves since we first met during summer vacation in South Carolina when we were only 13 years old. Over the years that followed, life took us in separate directions; fortunately, we reconnected four years ago, during a time in my life when I needed him most, after getting out of an abusive relationship.
John reminded me of who I was long ago before I had gotten lost in the abuse and manipulation; he represented safety and made me feel secure. He made me laugh and smile and ignited a fire inside me that I thought was gone. John was a huge part of my recovery and taught me not only how to love again, but how to receive love and more importantly, how to love myself. He made a huge impact in the recovery for my three children who he loved dearly and began to raise and nurture as his own. John placed me on a pedestal and showed out children how a man was meant to love and treat a woman. When he came into our lives, the children and I were all broken, yet he loved us so much, that it overpowered the pain we experienced from the abuse.
Since John's loss, I began the long journey of grief, loss, trying to understanding it and adjusting to our "new normal" and life without him. I often told John that sometimes, in order to find something...you have to lose it. Little did I know, I would have to loose him and so much more. I was on that path of trying to find meaning in his loss and find myself again until I suffered another loss.
Two months after I lost John, my little brother Kareem was violently shot on July 7, 2017, by two police officers and he sadly succumbed to those injuries on July 10, 2017. Once again, I was lost in a sea of confusion and questions to God and His timing. My brother was only 30 years old with four children (one of which was only several weeks old at the time he passed away). I am still trying to make sense of such a senseless loss.
The loss of a life partner and loss of a sibling, are extremely different losses but equally as painful. I was numb and weak and extremely angry and confused as I questioned God and all that He allowed.
A dear friend told me "Your heart is so broken and you can't receive God trying to speak to it [your heart], however, He is patient and He will wait until you are ready to hear Him"
I was still trying my best to catch my breath and maintain my sanity during the chaos, and I felt I was losing; so I definitely could not hear or receive Gods message. The waves of grief were drowning me, and I was losing my connection with God and myself. It was at this time that I was learning that loss and grief come in many forms- loss of life, loss of self, loss of love, loss of peace, etc. It can cause us to lose our way, our faith and our trust in God and ourselves.
"Grief wakes you up and forces you to look at life through a different lens; despite the pain, there is a lesson and peace to be found/ gained in the ashes of the loss."- M. Phipps
Ironically, I was surrounded by the love of many family and friends, yet I felt so alone; I felt the need to pause and find peace in the direction that God was leading my life. Since both losses, I had a desire to be closer to nature. My soul was desperately urging me to make time for myself and I listened. I disappeared to a place in the country called Hocking Hills about 2 hrs. North of home. I rented a little cottage all by myself deep in the woods. It was quiet and peaceful. There was no TV, barely any WiFi and not any cell phone signal to make or receive calls. It was kind of scary being so cut off from the world but peaceful at the same time.
My time alone gave me a chance to "unplug" from the world and all my distractions, It gave me an opportunity to cry loudly and pray hard; I had heart to-heart conversations with God, John and my little brother that I will always cherish. I sat out on the back porch on a wooden swing, with a glass of wine, surrounded by nothing but trees and all of Gods beauty. I sat and talked to John like he was sitting next to me and I felt his presence in the silence.
"Whether we grow from our suffering or succumb to it, lies primarily in whether if we can find a spiritual lesson in even the most excruciating circumstances. Searching for the lessons is the search for wisdom and the search for wisdom is the search for peace." ~Marianne Williamson (Tears to Triumph)
The Uncommon Path
On my second day at Hocking Hills, I had plans of going to see the falls (Cedar Falls) that all the tourist flock to see. I had never gone hiking but was feeling adventurous and eager to be of nature. I confidently set out on the path as though I knew where I was going. From what I could tell from the map, the falls were close to where I parked; yet I still managed to go the wrong way (2.5 miles to be exact). I went up incredibly steep hills; I was out of breath, sweating and hot and I was unprepared for all this and I didn't even have any water because I had not planned on going quite this far! There was a point on the trail that became extremely dark because there were so many trees covering the sunlight and I was a little afraid for my safety.
Half the way up the path, I started to turn around and go back...yet something urged me to keep walking and I'm so glad I listened to that inner voice. Once I came out the other end of the trail, I came to the most amazing view...a huge lake. I just stood at the top of the hill with a look of amazement and pride for all it took to get there.
As I stood there and enjoyed the view and all Gods beauty, I reflected on how well worth the journey was. I had not planned on it, I had no expectations, so it was even more of a beautiful surprise to see. I completely forgot about the falls!!
There was one single bench that was sitting off to the side of the lake, as though it was waiting for me. I sat there for a long while and talked to God and my guardian angel John as though they were right next to me. I enjoyed my peace; I admired the beautiful blue sky and the warmth of the sun on my face as I watched fish jump up out the water.
At one point as I was sitting on the bench, I imagined John sitting next to me holding my hand. I began to say how much I wished he was there and how much he would have loved the view. Not too soon after I said it, I felt what seemed like a hand touch the middle of my back. I jumped up and turned around because it scared me! There were no other people at the lake but me. I stood there trying to rationalize what I felt as I kept turning looking all around me, behind the bench and down the path. Just as I could not explain the wrong turn I took that led me to this beautiful lake; I knew there was a higher power at work. I sat back down still shaking my head in awe, knowing I was not alone. The familiar presence that I had come accustomed to feeling since John had passed was there too. I will always and forever cherish that experience because I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt it was my dear John, trying to let me know he was already there with me enjoying the view.
On the way back down the trail to my car, I saw the signs for the falls that I had originally set out for as my destination. How I missed it I don't know, because it was right near my car!! Since I was so close, I decided to go see the falls, (after all, it was the reason I came). The falls were nice, but there were loud and noisy kids playing in the water and tons of tourist; it was nothing compared to the peace and joy I found at the lake and the conversations and encounter I had with God and John.
"I had lost my way and yet found myself and learned it's where I intended to be all along! ~Marica Phipps
The Lesson in the Journey
My journey was one I will always remember, I walked away enlightened with more peace than I came with. God used His beauty of nature to teach me several valuable lessons. However, I firmly believe our journeys are not only about us. A good friend once told me "the path is not just about you, it's about the lessons you will learn along the way and bless others with."
A few lessons from my journey I want to bless you with...
1. It wasn't until I finally reached the falls, did I realize that the destination I had never planned on (the lake); had so much more to offer with more beauty that made the sacrifice for the climb, worth it.
2. We may have a destination in mind, yet God can send us on a detour that leads us to a place that far exceeds our expectations.
3. There is so much we miss when we take our path vs. the one that God sends us on. Looking back, the view and the sights I witnessed on the way to the lake were nothing like the view on the way to the falls. There was so much more gained on the harder path than the easier one.
4. The path that's chosen for us is not always easy, it's hard to climb, and we feel unprepared, yet God will always provide us enough and sustain us if we trust Him.
5. At times it's hard to breathe, and the journey can leave us feeling alone, afraid and like we can't make it; yet if we just keep going..the destination and the surpasses anything we imagined.
Of course, I am still in the throes of grief and the journey out of the darkness, yet I am committed to mastering the balance of honoring the suffering while making a simultaneous commitment to surviving the experience of the uncommon path.
PEACE "It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work;
it means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart" ~ unknown