Retrieve Lament: Natalie Murphy's mourning story

Throughout this week that we call Holy, I've invited a few friends who have companioned in suffering with Christ and His people to share a bit of their stories with us. I've been watching today's guest walk, run, climb, fall down, and get back up again for more than nineteen years. Her tenacity and commitment to love challenge Brian and me, and make us glad to be her parents. Last week, our family read together the Scripture passages for the day which included both Psalm 22 and Jeremiah 29. I asked Natalie how she felt about the lectionary's pairing of the suffering and hope in the psalm and Old Testament passages. You can consider this story Natalie's response to the question.

Packing up and cleaning out the dorm room.

Packing up and cleaning out the dorm room.

Retrieving the lament of giving up a dream

Maybe I shouldn’t, but for the value of being honest here I will admit; I have a least favorite bible verse. It’s the verse. You know, the one on every good Christian girl’s Instagram bio, and home good decorations, highlighted in her bible, tattooed on her left shoulder blade.

For I know the plans I have for you.

The Lord declares it to His people through Jeremiah. He seals it with a disclaimer. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. He even provides a neat and tidy ETA. Plans to give you a future.

If you had sat me down when I started high school, my acne-free fifteen-year-old self would have looked you dead in the eye, confidence in her shoulders, and told you I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. I could have laid out for you the five year, ten year, maybe even twenty year plan. After high school, I’d leave Texas for a new city, enrolling with scholarships to a four-year best friend machine of a university. My new city BFFs and I would have a house to our own, filled with memories made and a home good sign over our kitchen table that reads Jeremiah 29:11 in hand-lettered script. After graduation, I’d leave my college with teary goodbyes, probably from the podium at my graduation, since of course they’d want to put the poster child for the perfect college years at the mic. But don’t worry, the sadness wouldn’t last too long, because I would have a shiny ring on my finger and a husband who’s training to be a youth pastor, or a missionary, something like that. We’d get married in June. Our apartment would be covered in hand-painted scripture, but that Jeremiah 29:11 sign would be the centerpiece, of course.

The day after graduation I was ready to put my plan into action. Everything perfectly in place, I packed my bags for Philadelphia, a place I was convinced I needed, but more importantly, needed me. I was ready to be Queen of College! And I was going to rule all by myself, thank you very much.

Fast forward, January 17, 2017, one day before the beginning of the Spring semester. I’m back in my dorm room, which is stale from a month of no residents and the yogurt I accidentally left in the fridge. I am sobbing uncontrollably on the dusty, linoleum tile floor.

This is not what I want anymore.

Maybe it was the silence of waving goodbye to my father as he drove away in our minivan. Maybe it was the sight of my world map, fallen off it’s esteemed place on my wall and crumpled on the ground, that perfect symbol of my deflated heart after a semester of crippling loneliness, long anxious nights, and cafeteria sponsored weight gain. This was not the plan.

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment a dream officially dies. I know this because I still wake up each morning expecting to find myself living the super excellent fantasy life so clearly laid out in Natalie’s Plan to Be Good at Everything and Take Over the World, Probably. The Dream I once put my whole life’s purpose in is gone, like losing a friend whom I once turned to for comfort every day. The Dream was the one who woke me up and said ‘you can do it! I believe in you!’ Now when I wake up in my twin sized bed in my parents home, with no plan or purpose for the day, the Dream isn’t there to greet me. So I slide out of bed and pour a cup of coffee, my bathrobe hanging from my shoulders like a shawl of disappointment.

How do I lament this loss? How do I bury this lifeless thing I never really had? How do I explain, when asked by well meaning people making small talk, that I am taking this year “off,” not doing anything in particular, but thanks for asking. How do I grieve when I am so well taken care of? How do I explain my deep sorrow while having a perfectly lovely home, warm food, and generous parents who show me sacrificial love every day? Do I dare complain?

These days, the promises Jeremiah gives in his book don’t seem quite so pretty anymore. I hear the Lord’s declaration and say, “Sure, I’m glad You have those plans all figured out, do you mind emailing me a copy? Because I’m a little behind on this one.”

The mourning isn’t over. Actually, I’m unsure if it’s even begun. Instead, I’m left only with a promise of goodness and hope, and a shield from harm. What comes next, I don’t know. But I do know what comes last, I do know the final destination for this nomad heart of mine. And for now, today, that is enough.

Zion, I’m coming soon // To where you are

‘Til then my love’s with you // Though worlds apart

This will take much longer than I had planned

But I will wait to see you // And hold your hand

--  Zion, by Kings Kaleidoscope



Natalie likes to write about Jesus, camp, and where she's at. She claims New York, Texas, and Connecticut all as her home, but really she's a keeper of the Kingdom. 

Once, ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl for you all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now? So many have long since disappeared or been disowned.

That’s what you had to come for: to retrieve the lament that we omitted.
— Ranier Maria Rilke, "Requiem For A Friend"

(You can read all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here.)