Tend to the Beauty

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Bethany Suckrow -Tend to the Beauty3

A few years ago, I saw the artist Makoto Fujimura speak at a conference. My mother had died just eight months earlier and I could feel something slowly unraveling inside me. A second death, of sorts, taking place. I look back on it now and understand that my theology was rotting on the vine, exposing harmful messages that had taken root long ago.

Mako’s talk might have saved my life, I think.

He was talking about what it was like living in New York City before and after 9/11, how it changed the city’s creative community and eventually, our whole culture. He used the Parable of the Sower from Scripture to talk about faith, suffering, and creativity.

“The Parable of the Sower is not about the seed. Where the seed lands matters more. Soil is layers and layers of dead things—ground zero. Good soil has gone through many winters.”

Mako was speaking about creativity, but it held an enduring lesson for me, not just as an artist and a writer, but as a person coming to terms with death. Just as Mako and many New York artists created beauty and truth from the ashes of 9/11, shaping our culture in innumerable ways, I am learning, one season at a time, to cultivate my own beauty from the loss in my life.

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I turn 30 next week. I was looking through old photos of myself the other day from around the time I was 20. Young, bright, happy, determined. Yet I had an inkling of what lie ahead. (When your mother has a terminal illness, you’re never unaware of how short life is.) My mortality followed me everywhere I went—to college, all the way to Europe and back, through the early years of my marriage and career. I had the feeling of walking around like my outmost layer of skin had been peeled off of me. Whatever it was that made other 20-somethings feel invincible, it had been taken away at the same moment my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Even so, I had no idea what the next 10 years would hold; that I wouldn’t just be losing my mother, but many core beliefs and my sense of self.

If I could go back in time, what would I tell her?

What I wanted at the time was for someone to tell me that my worst fears weren’t going to come true, that God would hear my desperate prayers for my mother to be healed and everything would be fine. Or that if she did die, that it wouldn’t hurt as bad as I thought—-that I would feel sad, but that my grief would be assuaged by an overarching sense of spiritual meaning, like God had a good reason for ending my mother’s life.

A lot of people told me some version of that, but it turns out I couldn’t keep believing it. The abstractness of those platitudes felt like salt in a wound. What I really needed was an embodied sense of truth, something that acknowledged the realities of death and human suffering, something that reconnected me with the world.

Here is where Mako’s words breathed life back into me. He was saying, look at the world, at the natural cycle of death and rebirth. This is the very nature of God at work in your life! Yes, you will experience death. But the benevolent Love of the universe that exists in all things won’t let any of it go to waste.

Think of it however you want—theology, art, history, science—the universe and everything in it is all made of the same stuff, and we experience the same cycle of life. Is there anything more divine or more creative than that? It means that nothing is new and nothing is old. It means that nothing is useless or meaningless or dead forever. Everything is collaborative! Everything is transformative!

Our job as artists and humans is to tend the soil of our lives faithfully, to trust the seasons.

I feel like I keep saying this–look at my SheLoves archives or my blog and you’ll see that I’m just riffing on a theme. But it’s because this concept has been so formative. All of my theology was uprooted, and in a season of spiritual death, Mako planted a new seed in me.

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The autumn leaves are just beginning to ignite with color and begin their slow descent to the earth. It’s a good reminder as I close this chapter on my 20’s to let go let go let go. To be grateful for everything that’s happened and everything I’ve learned, and to accept what’s to come–another winter, another season of transformation. I don’t know what the future will hold, but my vocation is to tend to the beauty.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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Bethany Suckrow
  • You are cracking me wide open with your honesty and clarity. You have become such a force, my friend. I feel like we get to witness your rising … and I feel so honored.

    These words? So stunning.

    • Thank you so much, friend. All my love to you & the SheLoves team.

  • “Everything is collaborative! Everything is transformative!” Never really thought about it like that before and I love it so much. Thank you!

  • Trisha

    Oh how I can relate. My mother diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in my 20s. I miss her terribly. I am 60. I have always had this sense of mortality that I just now see happening on my peers as their parents pass. In a way a very painful raw maturity that was a gift and a tragedy- the ultimate paradox.

    • We are kindred spirits, Trisha. Thanks for sharing your story with me. Much love.

  • Makoto’s thinking and writing is such a force for good. God is using everything he has suffered and everything he loves to change the world.
    You, too.