I grew up near the city; tight, one-way streets, traffic, long bus commutes, and steady gentrification in the surrounding ‘burbs was my norm. Camping, canoes, and mud were not. But as part of my high school’s annual “grade bonding” trip for ninth and tenth grades, brave school faculty and campground staff shepherded nearly 60 teen girls onto campsites miles from running water, TVs, cellphones, and (then popular) AIM chats.
The sophomore-year version, unlike our ninth-grade trip, added an extra element: the trip started with a multi-mile canoe ride out to each campsite island for the trip’s tenure. Lucky for me, my team was paired with an irreverent-but-resourceful guide named Jay (note: names were changed for this essay). Jay was a 6’3”, walking-Carrot Top impersonator who somehow managed to be simultaneously ashy and sunburnt. He gave us an overview of basic canoeing motions and rowed with us to the campgrounds.
Once on sweet, dry land, we unloaded our hitches, set the necessary animal traps, pitched our tents, and settled into our temporary home for the next three days. Besides no showers and the occasionally burnt s’more, camping—even with Jay—was a beautiful, peaceful experience. Things were going fairly smooth until Friday morning, the day we were set to decamp and head back to the mainland.
As sunlight grazed the camp shore’s edge, we steadily packed up our campsite, ate a quick breakfast, and began our row back. But an hour into the return journey, we hit a major problem: someone (cough, cough, Jay) forgot to check when the tides roll in and wash out. Knowing that information, along with the start of sunrise, would ensure that we’d have enough water to row in while it was light enough to see.
We did not.
For several hours, in the rain, we treaded through the muddy ocean floor… Splosh, push. Splosh, grunt. Pant, pray. Oh, the irony of being drenched by rain but praying for water.
After a quick team huddle to consider whether we should wait for the tide to roll back in or keep at our current efforts, we silently prayed and pushed our canoes until the waters were deep enough to row. Eventually, with enlivened vigor in our tired arms, we made it to shore, thankful to call family members and tell them we hadn’t become another Unsolved Mysteries episode. God’s sovereignty—and humor—gave me a perfect metaphor for post-trauma healing decades before I would ever need to glean for those comparisons.
During the first phases of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the days and months following my child’s early delivery, I sploshed through the haze of odd family dynamics, survivor’s guilt, anger, relief, and depression. Some days were calm and steady between Zoom meetings and breast pumping. But many days were cruddy and painful as my body healed and my heart grieved the space between what I’d hoped my first birthing experience would be and the truth that lay before me.
I silently judged myself for not being stronger and more “prepared” given my professional background in public health, and I learned that others who were meant to love me judged me too. But the realities of taking care of a newborn left little room to freeze and sulk. Life, including life with a baby beyond the NICU, needed to move on. In between therapy sessions, calls with trusted friends, tears, fasting, praying, and listening, I stood and fell in myself often.
Splosh, push: These old habits and frames of self-doubt had to change.
Splosh, grunt: R.I.P. anger, as I learned my husband had been stealing money from our shared accounts and seeing other women.
Pant, pray: Goodbye, old friends who no longer fit the healthier version of me I was trying to become.
In American society, self-care is often glamorized as expensive spa trips, eye masks, and laser hair removal, but healing and self-care is the mud’s work—especially with complex PTSD and depression sparked by health emergencies, abuse, consistent infidelity, and now divorce. When your life’s canoe is heavy, it’s a daily grind just to not give up; there is no way to make that sexy.
Splosh, push. Splosh, grunt. Pant, pray.
In recent months, I have learned to appreciate the necessity and hidden beauty of the healing process, especially as it has allowed me to see elements of God’s grace and kindness in ways I didn’t envision before. Both in the creation narrative (Genesis 2:7) and in the healing by mud of the man born blind (John 9: 6,7), the Bible illustrates a portrait of God that is intimate with the mud. Steady and meticulous in both scenes, God (both as the sovereign Father and as Jesus) is unfazed by the messy medium.
God is unafraid and nonjudgmental of the dirt in our lives, whether it was caused by circumstances within our grasp or before we were even born. So, as I navigate these new waters of healing—through health challenges, co-parenting, career pivots, and divorce—I am reminded and steadied by the One who has always helped me row and push my canoe.Leave a Comment