One Good Phrase: Hännah Ettinger (You are held)
I’ve been aware of Hännah Ettinger (and her blog ) for the past several months through Twitter, but I’ve only recently come to know her and her story. It’s only been since then that I’ve spent time reading her blog. Hers is one of those blogs I’m kicking myself for not following sooner. She’s a gifted writer with a gentle spirit and she is my newest addition to my Reader. So grateful she’s willing to share her story here.
When other bloggers were picking their “one word” for the year, I was sitting alone in a dark basement apartment, crying and marathon-watching Doctor Who to try to keep from calling my husband and begging him (again) to change his mind.
I’d seen all the blog posts about this “one word” thing—I’d followed the trend since it started and 2013 was the year I planned to pick one and jump on the bandwagon. It seemed like a really neat way to go through the year, with the word as a touchstone, a point of meditation, and an inspiration for self-examination.
But nothing went as planned, and instead of picking a word for 2013, I had to pack up my things and move out (the first of many moves this year). Lying in bed with insomnia until winter’s end, I would often turn over words in my mind, trying to decide what my word would have been if things hadn’t gone this way.
I could never pick a word.
My husband bailed on our marriage after Christmas, and by New Year’s Day it was evident that I had to be the one to move out.
Sometime in February, after weeks of crying, insomnia, shock, and total silence from God, I was sitting at my desk in someone’s spare room, trying to journal. And the phrase “you are held” came to me, like a friend’s hand resting softly on my shoulder. I put the phrase in my pocket for later, unable to connect to it or feel anything. But it wouldn’t go away.
I was a vagabond, moving (out of necessity) seven times in eight months. I lived with friends, strangers, extended family, and in-laws until I finally saved up enough to move into my own apartment. But when I had only been there for a month, I came out of a depression-induced fog and realized that I needed to quit my job to keep my sanity. And with every change, that phrase kept coming back and bouncing off the walls of my mind.
You are held.
You are held.
You are held.
I would touch it like a worry stone in my pocket, smooth and hard and quiet, after I’d finished crying myself out over each new change. What now? I’d think. You are held would be the answer.
After some scrambling, my choices were clear: I could stay there in DC (I city I have never loved), move to Richmond, Va (where my family lives), or I could try for the more radical approach and go home to California, where I left my heart when my family moved out east in 2000. And so I boarded a plane with my suitcase and my cat, having left all my books and kitchen things (the last remaining vestiges of my “settled” life from my married home—all the things that I depended on to make a space mine), and landed in LA, unsure what would happen next. All I knew was I was supposed to be here and “you are held” was holding true.
In the flurry of all these changes, I’ve had a spiritual rebirth of sorts (or, at least, I feel like I am working toward one) as layer after layer of heavy things has been stripped away. I am Eustace in the pool, and the lion is tearing deeper. But for every chunk of me that’s fallen to the ground and been lost, that phrase has stayed, no louder than before, but stubborn. You are held.
Church has been the most stable and healing part of my life (for once). While I can pray only in old prayers, pouring myself into their mold and laying myself out there, I have felt heard and cared for by the folks there in ways that are new and wonderful to me. I’ve been writing more, too, finally getting through layers of self-numbing that kept me from my fiction project for a couple years. I’m waking up in new ways and it feels strange and bewildering and right.
And every time I walk up the aisle for communion, I feel more real than I have in years, bare and barely there, stripped of all certainty except: “you are held.”
With each wave of abrupt change (and accompanying pain), it’s been true. I have been met with friends, provision, space, rest, and kindness when I needed it most. I have not been abandoned, and God has held me in all of this.
Even now, with my fears that I won’t find a job in CA in time or that I won’t be able to afford to move my car out later this month, little things keep happening that show promise that I will have what I need when I need it, though not in the way I would have planned or when I would have hoped for it.
I can’t say in all honesty that I’m a Calvinist anymore. But I still believe in God’s intimate care for my life and his ability to provide for me, despite everything. I can’t say I’m really charismatic anymore, either, though I believe in God’s ability to transcend human situations and break through our small-minded bubbles with his presence. And since everything started falling apart, God has been silent (to use the language of my childhood faith) but for that one phrase, which has always visited in the worst and weirdest moments: “you are held.”
But that phrase has stayed with me in the midst of all this loss, and it’s become my “one good phrase” for this insane year.
He says to me, “you are held.”
And somehow, it’s true.
Hännah Ettinger is a writer, editor, and collector of stories. She lives in LA with her narcissist cat and blogs at . Nevertheless, the city is also known and loved for its grand old colonial-era buildings, its traditional write my essay street food, historic sites and archaeological excavations, vibrant annual carnival celebrations, and diverse nightlife