Day 6. Holding Fast


 “Hold Fast to Dreams” 11×14, oil on canvas, $150 [button link=”″ type=”big”] Buy Now[/button] SOLD

“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

When I started this project, I had a total of three out of thirty stories, and I decided I would do the project anyway, that the stories would come. And they have. Not overwhelmingly so, but each day I open my inbox to at least one, and yesterday I got two. All of them start with something along the lines of, “This probably isn’t what you’re looking for” or “I don’t know if you can use this” and then what follows is exactly what I’m looking for, exactly why I started the project, and exactly why I continue. I’m feeling better about the number of stories I’ve got hanging out in my back pocket, but I assure you I’m nowhere near thirty. If you’re thinking about writing, please do.

Jennifer’s Story

My friend Jen wrote me about a week ago, but her words hit me so hard I’ve needed a week to process them. Jen reminds me of Donna in that never-ending-font-of-wisdom kind of way. She is direct without being unkind, full of sentiment without being sentimental. In short, I’m a little in awe of her.

And I’ve found myself, at times, jealous. Not a raging jealousy, a quiet one. It’s not something I’m proud of. Jen stood by me through some of the darkest moments of my life and she was abundantly generous, supportive. When I had to move to the other side of the lake, she drove across the “big water” to visit more times than anyone. In fact, I’ve written about her before.

I often find myself wanting what she has.

And like Donna, Jen is a pillar of strength, someone for whom suffering is hard to imagine. Jen is a new mom, and in her e-mail, she describes her post partum depression, something in all our frequent conversations, I’ve never once picked up on. Jen lost her own mother long before she should have.

I remember bringing home my own newborn. My mom was with me as I labored, in the OR as I had the C-section I didn’t want, in my home that first night when he cried so much he turned purple and she was the only one who could soothe him.

Jen is surrounded by loving, supportive people, but it cannot possibly be the same, and I’m astounded at the unfairness of it. Sometimes, you need your mamma.

I’m having trouble summing up Jen’s story because her own words speak so poignantly:

“..I haven’t widely advertised to friends and family…just how severe my post partum depression was. This summer was probably one of the most difficult of my life, all the more so for the guilt I was suffering because I SHOULD have been happy. It was easy to get pregnant–guilt because of what [other friends went through to have babies]. My pregnancy was healthy–guilt. My baby was “easy”–guilt. Because I was in a dark place that I didn’t know my way out of.  Because my troubles seemed to be of my own making, something I have always despised in others. Because I was terrified that I might really be a terrible mother. Because I was convinced I didn’t deserve these blessings, and I would lose Marie. Because I felt like I had already lost myself.

Long story short, I am better now. I can look back on it and realize it was PPD at work and nothing to do with me. But this is the part of the story I wanted you to know: if souls have bones, then each of the times I suffered, one of my soul’s bones broke. It knitted back together, but not straight. My focus on “just get through today, worry about it tomorrow” only worked for the short term. It was always going to fall apart; there was no way for the center to hold forever.

Basically, it was Marie. Her coming re-broke every one of those old wounds. It meant I had to re-set them—properly, this time. It destroyed me in the most beautiful way, the way only God’s love can. It was a shattering. There’s that line in “Their Eyes Were Watching God”: “Set me down easy; I’m a cracked plate.” Marie threw me on the ground.

I learned in brokenness, there is healing. My suffering was not in my own hands, and neither was my healing. Now I can look back and thank God for the sheer devastation of His love for me, the way a flood or a forest fire is necessary for new growth…”

Bones breaking. I kept thinking about little bird bones, both capable of flight and devastatingly fragile. Since her e-mail, I’ve been reciting a Langston Hughes poem over and over again in my head and I’ve scratched it into the surface of this painting:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow

This story was hard because my friend was suffering, and I didn’t know it. Hard because I ache for her, she whom I’ve never really been able to conceive of as capable of struggle, even though I knew what she’d suffered. This painting is, I think, about frailty and beauty, brokenness and power.

The bird is flying because its wing isn’t broken but rather re-set. I’ve muted the colors of the background, made reference to tears.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we are all connected far more deeply than we could possibly imagine. To be jealous of my friend is like being jealous of my own good fortune. It’s the writer in me being jealous of the painter. My hand envying my foot. Your joy is my joy, your pain, my pain— Not that I’ve gotten there yet. Not yet close.


Potential for healing and growth is ever present in suffering. Of this I am constantly reminded in the stories shared with me.




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Denise Hopkins

September 7, 2014

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