Feeling the Sting

“Where O Death is your victory?  Where O death is your sting?”


That was the litany that wove itself throughout the worship service at my church this Easter Morning.

And it can’t have been an accident that it came as I stand staring down something I’ve wanted to avoid for a while:

A fear of death.

Friends and long time readers know that 7 years ago my Mom died of lung cancer.  And that it pretty much rocked my world. I was 24.  My oldest was four months old.  My husband was gone off and on just prior to her death and deployed for six months a month after.

I grieved hard and long.  Longer than many were comfortable with.  Some people told me that you have to get tough with yourself after about six months and not let it overwhelm you anymore.  Some people just intoned in hushed words that “they were very worried” about me.”

It took time.  Really, I find that grief is a lifelong thing.  Even if the active mourning is more or less over, I still have moments and days where I grieve her.  I suspect I always will.

All I know is that when she died part of my foundation was lost.  One of the anchor points of who I am had drifted out of the world.  As a dear friend of mine described it, I was “unmoored.”

One of the most important things I learned in that journey was that it’s ok to call a spade a spade.  Death?  Is bad.  Grief?  It hurts.  Sickness and pain?  It was not in the original plan for the world.  I became increasingly frustrated with Christian messages that told me to redefine the bad things that were happening to me as GOOD things.  I was supposed to wrap things up in a pretty little bow and say, “This was the hardest experience of my life, but it’s ok because I am stronger for it.  Isn’t God good?”  Or, “What a gift these trials have been to me because they have refined my faith.”

I could then and I do now vociferously get  behind the idea that God was in ALL of it.  That he was unraveling and unwrapping goodness even in the badness.  That he was using the ashes of my decimated soul to bring about a new and different kind of life.  That he could WORK all things for good.  But I could not get behind the idea that all things–losing my mother, watching cancer take over her body, the grief and loneliness that turned me inside out–were BY DEFINITION “good.”

Fast forward five years and there is a third baby on the way and I am a nervous wreck because months prior I’d lost a babe to miscarriage and there is a lump in my neck and the doctor has just had to wikipedia the diagnosis.

The physicians and medical journals dither and dally about how to classify the kind of tumor that I had, but it lands in the ‘cancer’ category eventually.  For the last two years I have been in various stages of living with the specter of paraganglioma.  Initially it was diagnosed and I was jumping through hoops trying to find doctors who understood the disease.  And then I was shuttled into a high risk group for pregnancy and told that labor could cause a hypertensive crisis and that I could not under any circumstances actively push my baby out.  And I had an amazing doctor and the most beautiful birth ever but it was rife with uncertainty and fear.

And then I had the surgery 3000 miles away at an amazing but foreign institution and parts of it were so hard.

And then I was grappling with life after and loose ends and extra questions.  At first they believed I had another tumor on the other side.  And we were ruling out genetic causes.  And one by one we crossed the questions that could be answered off the list until on this past Friday, Good Friday, in some capacity we could finally say, “It is finished.”

But still guardedness, caution, anxiety….  fear…  hang about me.  I want to be carefree and happy about the good news I have received, but the truth is.  I am still scared.  And I don’t want to be too happy only to find out that the journey isn’t over yet.

Furthermore, lately it occurs to me in a deeper way that I am a daughter–an only child–who lost her mother to cancer.  Who sat by her side as tumors ate away at her…  who watched the ugly stages of the progression of the disease.

And I am a woman who had cancer come knocking at my own door.

Stacked together, that’s really kind of huge.

My endocrinologist listens to me patiently.  Answers my long list of questions.  Affirms me for how much I have learned about my disease and how active I am in my care process.  He tells me, “I will be the objective one who realizes you are a patient who is scared of cancer and scared that this will come back.  We will talk things through together.”

I want to reject it outright and tell him that I have done my darnedest to be objective and to write my questions and present myself outside of that fear.

But I swallow hard and realize that he is right.

So I sat this morning and I listened to my pastor say over and over again, “Where O Death is your victory?  Where O Death is your sting?” and I tried to find my place in it.  But instead I felt the fear.

I am a believer.  I believe in the resurrection.  I believe in the redemption of all things…  Of me and my heart….  The redemption of the ugliness of things like grief and death and disease.  I believe that I will see my mother again.

But death?  It stings me.  I have felt the raging ache of loss at my core.  I have cried animal like sobs and lain awake at night re-living my mother’s last days.  I know what it is to move through life with a gaping hole where she should be.

I fear death.  Though I know if it comes to me…  If any of the subsequent aches and pains that I have that scare me enough to go to the doctor, or if any of the scans that I have come back and read that this disease or another kind has come knocking at my door and this time I am not able to stave it off….  I know when the inevitable comes that I will be with Jesus and it will be the most glorious of glorious days.

But I also know my children will know the ache of life without a mother.  And I know that if I can anticipate it’s coming I will grieve the loss of time with them, with my family and time in this beautiful, aching world.

I know, though I haven’t wanted to look at it up to now, preferring instead to keep it in mental generalities and spiritual platitudes, that I AM afraid of death.

I’m just not sure what to do with that right now.   I want to say with Paul and the Psalmist and my pastor, “Where O death is your victory?  Where O death is your sting?”

Right now though I am grappling with the enormity of losing my mother to cancer and then staring it down myself.

Incidentally my other pastor preached the Good Friday sermon.  He asserted that as Christians, we are more free to allow ourselves to feel and express our grief, our sadness, our hurt, and our fear because we know in the end there is victory…  Because we know that what undergirds us always is Christ’s victory over sin and death.  We can feel it all fully because on the other side of that darkness there is hope.

So maybe, in some backwards way, if I let myself sit here where I am…  And if I give myself the chance to do the work and process it, I am still grasping firmly to hope.

In the midst of the fear and the grief and the hurt…  In the midst of the enormity of living on the other side of all of this.  In spite of the fear and the sting I DO feel it is the hope that will allow me the peace and the defiance to say those words to death.  Even if this Easter Day I feel the fear more than the victory.

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Aphrodite

It’s Five Minute Friday…  Where we write with Lisa Jo for the joy of words for just five minutes without over-thinking or over-editing or squashing out the joy of the craft.

I spent the evening looking at artists’ renderings of the female form.  Paintings of Aphrodite, of Venus.  Artists’ renderings of women reclining, or sitting, or standing.  (What?  How did you spend your Thursday evening?!)

After four months…  scratch that–a lifetime… of striving, counting, weighing, longing, and failing, I’ve had a break through.  I began to read a book called Healthy at Every Size.  I became cognizant of the lies I have believed about myself and the relationship that I have had with food.  Craving it, delighting it, using it to satisfy…  Hating it, measuring my worth and morality and value by it and the restraint of my consumption of it.

I’m done.  There is another way.  A more excellent way.  A way of love.  There is a way to pursue health, and life, and to taste the goodness of food and to revel in the beauty of who I am because of Whose I am.

I am not so unlike those artist’s renderings of Aphrodite.  I am curvaceous, voluptuous.  I am ample enough to be a vessel of life… of my husband’s pleasure.

To see this…  To begin ever so haltingly to own this is a gift.  A gift I’ve never known.

I am not a pants size or a number on a scale.  God does not look at me and see my fatness or thinness.  My husband does not require that I be a photoshopped, bony waif to delight in me.

I am Aphrodite.  I am ample life-giver.  I am beautiful.  I am created in the image of the Beauty that sustains all life….  That has created all life.  And I don’t want to spend another day shrinking away from the abundance that He’s given me in this skin that I’m in.

Evidence of Life

Five Minute Friday is here again already!!!  Sometimes it is my favorite thing all week.  This week’s word feels positively providential.

I cried a lot today.  It’s been that kind of week.

As I sat across from my pastor, earlier this week, spilling out all the things that had been held in for too long with no one to sit with me and catalog the damage, he told me some things that I needed to hear even though I didn’t really want to hear them.

He said my struggles were gospel struggles.

And he said my grief was real.

And he said my pain was real.

And he said they were good things and I was supposed to be feeling them.

I knew what he meant, but he worried that I would think that he was telling me it was good to be in pain.  I nodded that I understood that it was more about being in the process and being human and owning that humanity.

I clearly realized as I sat there that one of the things that I am feeling repeatedly right now looks something like, “I am in pain.  I am really in pain.  I don’t want to be in pain anymore.  Make it stop.”

I am impatient with my pain and with the feeling of these hard things.

Right now, all is tender….  I am alive to the ache and the pain of missing my husband.  I am alive to the grief and the deep soul cuts that came as a result of losing our church.  I am alive to the ache of worry and anxiety that come when tests are ordered and results are slow in coming.

I finally heard back on the MRI that I was awaiting news about.  After a day of being proactive and plucky, I learned that there was ‘no clinical significance’ for the abnormalities that were found.  This is good news.  A repeat MRI is indicated in a year and we’ll see if anything else comes out of that.

It’s good news, but I hung up the phone and cried for hours, and I do mean hours  For the tenderness, and the hurt of walking this without my love…  For the anxiety that has been held tight in my neck and my shoulders and behind my eyes for weeks now that seems now to have been in vain.

I am tender….  and I find that those things which indicate my aliveness…  Those moments of “I am in pain.  I am really in pain.  I don’t like it.  I want this to stop now,” need released often these days.

They spill over and I stand in it and I try to remember…

This tenderness, this teariness, this pain…   is evidence that I am alive.

Layers

So while I was driving today, I was thinking about layers.

It was a doozy of a morning around here.  My girls have decided to formally boycott getting up and getting dressed for school.  Every morning I wake them up a little before 7:30 a.m.  At 8 a.m. every morning (after a few prods and pushes), I let them know that they are running out of time.  At 8:20 every morning I start to panic and drill sergeant Mama shows up.  I yell and veins bulge and somehow… things start to move, but slowly…  at 8:40 every morning the panic mode goes into hyper-drive because we are now on the cusp of officially being late.  At 8:51 every  morning I look at the clock on the van and wonder how in the heck 11 full minutes have passed since the last time I looked at it because it shouldn’t take that long for two girls to finish up the last minute tasks of putting coats on and getting strapped in, and I hastily drive Carolyn to the student drop off spot because she doesn’t have time to walk to the playground from the school entrance connected to base housing.  At 8:51:30, I berate the children for us doing this Every. Single. Day.  At 8:52 I feel profoundly guilty especially at the gnawing feeling in my stomach which suggests that I have just set my daughters up to have the worst days of their lives at school by being Drill Sergeant Mama for a full 32 minutes and I soften my tone and remind them that I love them and that we’re going to be ok and we all can have a good day and that I’m sorry that sometimes I use a mean voice.  At 8:53, Carolyn arrives on the cusp of lateness which Carolyn tells me means that the bell hasn’t rung yet but all the kids are already on the rug.  At 9:03 Abigail and I arrive at her preschool, late for that one too, I hug her, I kiss her, and I marvel at all the together mothers who make my puddling mess of frazzled look so darned bad each and every morning and I try not to cry on my steering wheel again.

So yes.  I had that kind of morning this morning.

And then immediately after that morning, I hastily drove to the parking lot of my church where the pastor of our new church was waiting to meet with me because I had gotten to that point where letting things rattle around and bounce off of my insides over and over and over again ricocheting here and there around my head was simply too much to do.  And here…  before THAT meeting of vulnerable goo I had had a morning that nearly broke me in two.

I talked in this meeting and I poured out the grief that I still feel in such intensity over the loss of our friends and our family and our involvement  as a result of the loss of our church.  I poured out the stress and the weariness and fatigue I am feeling in the midst of this deployment and the anxiety and unease and overwhelmedness I still feel when I am processing this year post-tumor and the ways that medical surveillance will always be a part of my life, and the added anxiety and unease and overwhelmedness I’ve been feeling as a result of this “bonus” MRI and the somewhat unclear findings of it and the….  Waiting, waiting, waiting…  (We’re going on a fully 2 and a half weeks now) for my doctor to read the report and make a recommendation about an action plan.

As I was driving today I was thinking about layers…  I was thinking about the layers that I live and struggle in:  The…  Tired Mommy trying to get her kids off to school, trying to make sure I’m not too hard/too soft, trying to balance the attention that they need and the downtime I crave, trying to be a good Mom and the Failure feelings that creep in on all of us who are part of this profession of Mommyhood.

And I was thinking about the layer of being a woman whose husband is on deployment.  The tiredness of that, the sheer attrition of it…  The stress and the anxiety and the deep in the bones ache of longing for my love.

And the layer of medical anxiety past and present.

And the layer of loss of church and very, very real grief that doesn’t make sense to anyone, but is really, really real and must be felt and worked through.

There are these layers that I exist in and struggle in, in various degrees and at different times every. single. day.

I’m sure you have them too…  The every day life struggles and the normal struggles of relationships and the struggles of your deepest heartaches and fears and anxieties.

We balance them and juggle them and navigate them all every single day.

My layers were validated today and I needed that.  It was good.  It was necessary.  I was grateful.

But as I thought about my layers, I didn’t feel sorry for myself.  Instead I felt grateful.

In all of those layers…  those layers that when spoken back to me and laid out for me to see by someone else… With that outside perspective I can see their potential to be soul-crushing and I can understand why I was full to the brim of coping on my own and needed to find a safe place to lean it all on today.

But in all of those layers, I am still somehow sustained.  I am borne up under them.  It’s not perfect and it’s not clean and it’s not always pretty.  Often it is messy, frayed, shocking.

But I am borne up.  I am shored up.  And I am held as they pelt and lash like the winds and rains that whipped up around us during that drive of frazzlement that got the kids settled at school today.

In those layers I see my weakness.  I see my strength.  I see His light shining through the cracked-pot, crack-pot chinks in my armor.

And deep within me, somehow, I have to catch my breath for the beauty.

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He was there. He is here.

It’s Five Minute Friday again.  On Five Minute Fridays, we write, “For fun, for love of the sound of words, for play, for delight, for joy and celebration at the art of communication.”

I wrote for more than Five Minutes this time….  There was more there begging to be written.  The prompt today was “remember.”

I’ve been thinking about how, when I survey the past few years, I sometimes seem to repeat a litany of all that has happened.  I wonder if it makes people uncomfortable.  Makes them think, “Get over it already.”  It’s felt like waves crashing onto the sand, one event after another, after another, that left me gasping for breath.  I’ve beaten myself up about repeating it and looking it over so often, sure that people are tired of hearing it.

Recently it occurred to me:  God called the Israelites to REMEMBER.  He called them to remember the plagues, their time in slavery, their time in the desert.  He called them to remember.  Not to find themselves the victims of their circumstances, but to see how powerfully God came through for them again and again.  They weren’t easy memories to relive.  Lashings and hunger…  The terror of the plagues.  Blisters on their feet.  The thirst.  The uncertainty.  But God said, “Remember.  I was there and *I* brought your through it.”

So it strikes me, that maybe when I remember….  When I call up this litany, it’s not an ongoing pity party.  Maybe instead it’s my litany of remembrance.

(Pushing past the five minutes now)

When I remember all that has happened:  My Mom’s death, and illness.  A year of loss after loss after loss.  Deployments.  Moves.  New babies and the joy and challenge of mothering.  (There are joyful memories too!)  Postpartum Depression.  Miscarriage.  Paraganglioma.  And now at this raw place where I don’t yet feel healed from the latest wave–an unexpected deployment. When I look back at that, I kind of suck in my breath and go, “That was a lot.”  And then I let out my breath and go, “But God brought me through it.

It’s not just a litany of hard things, though, they were indeed hard.  It’s a litany of thanksgiving and remembrance.  It’s an Ebenezer:  Thus far the Lord has helped me.  And with an eye to those things….  with an eye for all the places He was with me and all the places He led me through holding fast to my hand, I can look toward what’s coming.

My Mom had lung cancer.  And God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

My Mom died.  And God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

Two deployments.  God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

PPD.  God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

Miscarriage.  God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

Diagnosis of tumor when pregnant with Lainey.  God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

Lainey’s birth–snow storms and extra precautions and fear and then such beauty.  God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

Traveling to NIH to have the tumor removed.  God was there.  He brought me to the other side.

And now….  Wrapping my head around all that has changed and the things inside of me that have shifted.  Now getting ready for my love to deploy again.  God is here.  He will bring me to the other side.

It is a litany.  A long litany.  A litany of life, and a life not so unlike any other’s.  It is staggering sometimes to look at.  But HE WAS THERE.  And if he was there in ALL those places.  He is HERE.  He is God WITH me.  Emmanuel.  And that is why in the face of dread of this deployment, and uncertainty, and a heavy heart, and all that may come my way even after all of this I know that I can walk forward.  I know He is here.  Because all those times before.  He was there.  And He brought me to the other side.

Big or Piddly–Consider ’em All Joy

“Consider it all joy my brothers…”

You know the rest.  I know you do, “When you face suffering of any kind.”

Right…  Joy.  Right?

That’s usually my first response when yucky things happen.  Isn’t it yours?

Ok, I admit.  It’s not really my first response.  Often it’s not really even my second or third or fourteenth.  I’m a girl who has to whine and writhe a while before I can get to the joy stuff.  I just am.

I’ve had some suffering here and there of various degrees, but I don’t think it was until I thought about how this verse might apply to the ‘small stuff’ that I really started to get it.

Consider it all joy my brothers when you deal with health challenges, when your world is falling apart, when your child is sick, or your marriage falls apart, or, or, or….  It just sounds so hyper-spiritual in those situations that I almost don’t get it.  I mean, sure….  “Consider it all joy,”  Right.  But that’s what Mother Theresa does.  That’s for the giants.  And really it’s only supposed to be pulled out for the really, really big stuff anyway, right?  So…  When my family is healthy, my husband is home instead of on a boat, and we’re not dealing with tumors I can ignore Mr. James surely.

I don’t remember who I heard talking about this verse in ‘smaller’ contexts first, but it finally just recently hit me:  Well duh.  This verse doesn’t just refer to terminal illnesses, and car accidents, and absolutely terrible life circumstances.  It’s for the piddly stuff too.

It also applies when my kids are fighting and when I can’t find my keys for the umpteenth time.  It applies when I’m frustrated with my husband and want to yell at him.  It applies when my six-year-old argues with me for the 17th time that day and when my 4-year-old digs in her heels and refuses to get ready to leave the house for the third day in a row.  It applies when I’m trying to reign in my Mommy temper and not blow a gasket when those things happen.  It applies when I’m tempted to beat myself up for not doing a good job of that.

They’re all trials.  They can all be used by God for good stuff….  to refine me…  And in that, I can find the joy stuff.

The whole passage looks like this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Then it goes on to say:

 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

James 1:2-5

I love that.  The big stuff and the puny stuff are all  working together to develop perseverance in me.  And then that perseverance is going to help me to become mature and complete–not lacking anything.  On top of that, when I’m stuck….  when the perseverance is slow in coming I can ASK God who gives generously.  Oh, there I see the “joyful” parts.  At least glimpses of them.

So, I’m starting to get it.  I’m starting to get it in little things.  In the nitty gritty day to day being a Mom and a woman doing her best at things ways.  Here’s a recent example that’s clicking into place: I’m reading (and re-reading) Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Made to Crave.  Yeah.  It’s a book about food.  And God.  And food and God.  In a paragraph where Lysa is talking about not giving way to her cravings she says she found that they could be avenues for prayer.  In her words,

“I used my cravings for food as a prompting to pray.  It was my way of tearing down the tower of impossibility before me and building something new.  My tower of impossibility was food.  Brick by brick, I imagined myself dismantling the food tower and using those same bricks to build a walkway of prayer, paving the way to victory.”

That made sense to me.  Oh!  So…  yes it stinks that I have made choices that dictate that for my physical and spiritual health I need to address my eating.  That’s a trial even if it’s not a ‘biggie.’  Yes, its’ frustrating that I don’t get to be like those perfect people who seem to be able to be effortlessly thin.  A trial, even if not a ‘biggie.’    Yes it feels unfair sometimes that I have to plan every bite of food that goes into my mouth these days…  Sure we can call that a trial too.  But…  Those are trials to rejoice in!  Those are trials that God is using IN me.  Those are Bads that when framed the right way I can see God is transforming into Goods!  Right in front of my very eyes.

This afternoon the kids were really being stinkers.  Not only were they not cleaning their room as instructed, but they were also bickering and fighting and all in all about to punch each other’s lights out.  And I wanted to yell.  And I wanted to eat a nice comforting bowl of granola.  Which, really…  is better than a chocolate bar or a plate of chocolate chip cookies, right???  But I didn’t.  I recognized my trial and I said–Ok….  Let’s dismantle this not so good wall and make it into something good.  And I prayed for wisdom.  And strength.  And peace.  And the supernatural ability to not devour granola or to scream like a banshee at my kids.

It didn’t feel immediately good.  But I didn’t eat the granola or scream like a banshee.  And I got a little more perseverance.  I used it as a bridge to talk to God about my weakness.  Aha!  That’s where the joy part comes in.

And then there are the “biggies.”  I had a similar aha a few months ago.  I found myself again battling depression.  It comes and goes for me and the seasons of bigness that have been going on around here helped to trigger it.  For whatever reason when I was really in the thick of it I picked up Mary Beth Chapman’s, Choosing to See.  Guess what?  She struggles with depression too and she wrote about it.  I found myself in her chapter about dealing with depression and I remember making a sharp intake of breath at this line,

Depression became my friend, in a strange and painful way, a pushy friend I really did not want.  But this strange friend made it so clear to me that I couldn’t just buck up and feel better, or try harder and do better. I was helpless.

I read that and kind of went…  Did she just call depression her friend???  And then I got it.  Because it *does* make you know you are helpless.  You can’t fix it.  Your friends can’t.  You can’t try harder to dig yourself out.  It’s not something you can control or snap out of.  You can’t “try” yourself out of it, and believe me…  You have no idea how much I do try to “try” myself out of it.  But that aspect of it, that reality, if you let it, can actually push you toward God.  He specializes in being strength in one’s weakness and in displaying His glory through broken places.  It’s another bridge.  Where my strength and trying stop, God’s begins.  It’s not about DOing anything to get to Him.  It’s just an avenue where I realize I need Him and then it becomes a touch-point for me to direct myself to Him.  Depression does end up being my friend.  And even in what seems to be the antithesis of joy, I find that that kind of suffering produces joy.  I rely on God (and with His help I get the help I need) and I persevere through the suffering and if I let it, it draws me closer to him.  And then, voila!  Joy!  No, not the rainbows and unicorns kind right away….  Instead it’s a reminder that I can’t do this on my own.  I can’t “handle” this on my own.  And I don’t have to.  I’m not supposed to.  He rescues me in it and therein lies the joy.

So as counter-intuitive as it is, I’m starting to get what James was talking about.  In the big stuff and the small stuff.  It can ALL be used to propel us toward Him…  to recognize our helplessness.  It can all lead to places of surrender and strength in weakness.

Depression, kids fighting, delectable bowls of granola dancing before my eyes… the big, the piddly…  They really all can be considered joy when I let them pave the way to God and let Him develop my character through them.

Krystal

We didn’t travel in the same circle.  I was a ‘good girl’ a ‘smart kid.’  She was a ‘push the envelope’ kind of person and into sports.  Her life seemed to be kind of rough around the edges from the start, while mine was sheltered…  and for all intents and purposes, when compared with the early heartache of others, ‘easy.’ 

We were in the same Brownie Troop.  If memory serves correctly, her Mom took on the leadership of it.  We met in the smokey American Legion, and earned badges, and had Santa Claus come for visits, and we all sort of grew out of taking it seriously at once. 

We had adjacent rooms for our trip to Washington D.C.  in 8th Grade where we lived out our own Breakfast Club experience.  The ‘Push the Envelope’ crowd and the ‘Nerdy, Goody-Goody Types’ ended up hanging out, finding common ground, having a lot of fun together for a few days.  And it smacked me upside the head last night that I think I remember her taking too many pills one night, me wringing my hands in fear and wondering if we should get one of our sponsors, but for some (stupid) reason taking the word of her roommates who had evidently seen this happen more than a sheltered girl like me had.  All the same we laughed late into several nights.  We threw water balloons out our hotel window.  Just like in the movie, it couldn’t last…  completely.    Still, my heart was changed towards these girls who traveled in a different crowd, but weren’t as different from me as I once thought.  My heart felt more gracious to them.  I hope my actions were more gracious toward them…. 

She tormented a good friend of mine in high school….  And I can remember times when I laughed even when I shouldn’t have because even when she was being mean, she was funny (which I feel so guilty about still), and times when I stuck up for my friend. 

I feel all these awkward feelings thinking back on these relationships and the social rules that were writ large at our tiny little High School.  Still somehow our class ended up being tremendously cliquey…  But tremendously allied all at once.  We drew together when the cards were down.  We had our own cliques, but the biggest clique of all in some strange way was all of us. 

I wonder about how she felt in High School.  And how I felt.  I wonder if my ‘goody-goodiness,’ my affiliation with the Christian Fellowship Clubs, my early evangelical zeal caused her and others to feel marginalized.  I’ve always been quiet, and seemed aloof  because I really am a little socially inept, and I fear that came off as snobby or ‘too good’ for those in the ‘push the envelope’ crowd.  Mostly, I didn’t feel that.  Mostly I just felt afraid of myself being out of control, and intimidated by those who courted that feeling.  And mostly I just tried to walk the tight-rope of the high school version of ‘always do the right thing.’ 

She was unapologetically who she was.  Always.  But I can’t help but wonder if that was part of the pain she carried.

Last night, thanks to the quirks of small towns and Facebook, I found out that she died.  She committed suicide.  People are telling me she hung herself, and I keep thinking…  You have to really want it to go that way.  And that makes my heart hurt.

I’m shaken.  I’m sad.  I am feeling from the West Coast the incredible void now left in the midwest because she left us. 

I’m haunted by her pain.  I’m haunted by the loss.  I’m haunted by the questions that I have.  I’m haunted by wringing my hands wondering if I was one who made life harder for her or easier.  Brennan Manning says there is no neutral encounter.  We either push people closer to God, or farther away.  I’m unsure of those High School Days…  Which way I might have pushed people.

I was never a close friend.  I don’t want to invite myself into this grief in a way I don’t deserve and in a level of intimacy I haven’t earned.  But still I am shaken.  I am sad.

Most of all I’m sad that this beautiful, funny girl is gone.  That she felt so much pain that she knew no way out.  I know the distorted voices of depression and I’m so upset that no light was able to pierce through.   I hope and I pray that in God’s graciousness she is finding the love and acceptance that she longed for… that her pain is wiped away… that she is at peace.