Short Sermons

I’m feeling profoundly grateful tonight for the space to breathe and be…

I’m rediscovering parts of who I am, and even better–why I like them the way they are.

And I’m thinking that two of the best sermons that my heart has ever soaked in weren’t sermons (though they were both delivered by pastors), and didn’t sound terribly uplifting at first blush.

The first set of words were spoken right after my Mom died, when my husband was deployed, and I was soaking my pillow each night with grief and lonesomeness, and emotional exhaustion.   I would walk up to my mother’s grave (I was staying at my Dad’s at the time) and look at it and stare and not recognize my life.

And not want my life.

And hate my life.

And hate myself because I hated my life and life was a gift and how dare I?

This pastor that I went and spoke with only once looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s ok if you hate your life right now.”

Something in me shook loose at those strange, almost  blasphemous words.  But upside down though they were, somehow they gave me the faith I needed to take a halting step back towards God.  Because he still wanted me even in the rawest, messiest truth of my emotions.

He was still in that.  Profoundly wrapped in it.  Not wasting a single shred of the pain, but allowing me to be in it, unabashedly.

A similar sermon, again one line was delivered to me this week by another pastor hearing a spill of my heart and my journey.  I was reflecting on my thoughts about feeling the sting of death.  I mentioned that it troubled me that as a Christian, I was having a hard time getting my heart on board with the feeling of victory over death when I have felt the sting and the fear of it deeply.  And this pastor told me that it was ok to be there.  To not be on board.  To tell God that and then to tell God, but that’s ok.  I love you.  I trust you.  I’m WITH you.  I’m just not there yet on this.

I’m a girl who needs space to own her feelings.

I’m a girl who feels deeply, thinks deeply…  and more than I think I let myself realize most of the time, does life deeply.

I need space to BE where I AM.  To not be shoulded into the easy answers or the theological imperatives.  I need space to acknowledge the reality of heaven, and glory and in the same breath and space to acknowledge the hurt and pain of death and decay in this world.

When the hard, rough, messy parts are embraced, I find that somehow a little piece of my heart goes free.

And I step forward, and lean into the God who sees and knows it all.  I rest into the God who created me and trust the knit-purl pattern of my life.

I breathe with permission for the hurt and the healing begins to trickle and sometimes flood in.

It’s funny how sermons can be so short and sound so upside down and yet set you free.

But it’s those short, raw sermons for which I am grateful tonight.

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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.

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.

No Way But Through It

The night before surgery was long and agonizing.  It was a night of trying to sleep while facing down giants.  It was a night where it was clear there was no turning back.  This was going to happen.  And while I wanted the tumor gone, surgery validated it’s existence…  made me feel vulnerable…  caused pain even while it caused healing.  I got news that night that I had a UTI–and that was on top of the ruptured ear drum a few days before and other ‘minor’ but very poorly time ailments of the week prior.

To make matters worse, they told us that Andrew and Lainey couldn’t stay.  Why I hadn’t planned for or thought of this contingency I’m not sure.  He headed back for a sleepless night at the lodge, pacing back and forth with Lainey who was used to having Mom right there to nurse her back to sleep, and I gulped back tears as he walked out the door to follow the adamant orders of the nurses who had to follow their policy but seemed to be missing the patient shrinking and scared and just wanting the comfort of baby and lover by her side before facing down the giant of surgery.

I lay awake that night wondering what would happen.  I wondered about the bright lights of the OR and how it would feel to be laid out on the table and positioned to be cut into.  I worried about the pain afterward.  I worried about what the doctors would find and what would wait for me on the other side of surgery.  A small part of me that I tried to keep tucked away wondered about things like side effects…  and worse…  whether or not I would make it through.  My surgery wasn’t a lifetime movie high-stake surgery, but knowing the twists things can take in this world, the fear was there.

I remember it being dark.  I remember the room feeling so foreign.  I remember not wanting to have to do the next day but knowing that I had to.  There was no way but through it.

Counting down the days that are all too short until Husband leaves for deployment…  I have to stop myself from saying, “Don’t Go,” more than a handful of times a day.  He has to go.  It’s his job.  It’s what we do.  There is no way around it.  But to be honest I Want so desperately for us not to have to do this again.  The first time he left I remember sobbing and sobbing and sobbing and yelling at God that I wanted him back right now and knowing that it just wasn’t possible.  I know the importance of his job and it’s not that I don’t want him to do it.  It’s just that while we do what we do willingly, it always feels like I’m  losing a vital part of my heart and being during the time that he’s gone.  The same sucking vortex of emptiness happens each time he leaves.  We know he’ll be back and we do life as normal  and I try to avoid the sobbing and screaming these days, but that same feeling is there.  There’s just no way to go, but through it.  

Jesus in the garden…  just before He is handed over to be interrogated, whipped, and crucified.  He is so troubled that he sweats blood.  He pleads with God to take away His cup of suffering.  He begs to not have to go through with it–for God to find another way.  And we know the rest of the story.  He says, “But ultimately God–May your will be done.”  The only way he can go is through it.  Even Jesus, who is as much God as He is man, had no way but to go but through it.

It strikes me that we go through many Gethsemanes in the course of life.  Don’t get me wrong, the ‘cups of suffering’ of surgery or a deployment are NOTHING like what Christ endured for us on the cross.  The darkness of that moment when it seemed like God turned His back makes our cups of suffering look like thimbles full of water.

But the cup comes, and we drink of it.  We go through it.  There is no way around it.  We take up our cross and with Christ, who understands the way of suffering and of difficult and of hard…  We go through it.  We see it through, most often because we have no other choice.

He is there…  And in some way it seems to me…  we get to be there with Him.  We get a glimpse into that suffering.  We know that He understands us because He walked the dusty roads of earth as a man.  He comforts us.  He is a great high priest who was walked in our shoes.  But in some little way…  WE get a glimpse into Him and the path He walked.  In some way it’s almost as if we get to be with Him in His suffering.

Just as beautiful is the thought that God doesn’t waste suffering  He doesn’t waste any of it.  He works all things for the good of those who love Him, which…  doesn’t make all things by their very definition good, but instead means that he can redeem all things for good.

Something about that preaches to me.  It speaks deeply into the hard experiences of this world.  It gives meaning to even the small burdens I carry and the roads I walk when there is no way but through it.

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.

What’s the Story?

At 29 years old, while I was 16 weeks pregnant, I was diagnosed with a paraganglioma.  So begins the most recent “story” of Val, right??

To be honest, the story part feels stuck.  I have felt strongly lately that God is calling me to use my words and to tell my stories.  In written word, in voice, I’m not sure yet.  Every story-teller loves a good twist in the plot,right?  And surely this has been a pretty big twist.  This has been the biggest happening in my life for over a year now.  God has walked me through each and every facet of the process.  He has been there.  And even though I don’t have answers to why or how or what will come next I know there was purpose to all of it.  This I know.

But I don’t know what the story is.  I can’t tell you what I’ve learned.  I can’t condense it all into a talk to give in 30 minutes or less.

And it bugs me.

I should have something to say.  Getting a tumor when you’re 29–having the invincibility that we all possess shaken up irrevocably….  Having all of that happen with a babe in my womb and two other beauties to care for….

There should be a story there.  There should be words to put forth.  I should be able to tell you what God taught me through the experience, what the unexpected blessings were, and where I found goodness in the midst of it.

God did teach me, there were unexpected blessings, and I did find goodness in the midst of it, but I don’t know how to put words to any of it.  I can’t even concretely tell you about any of those things.

And it bugs me.

Part of it is that I don’t feel like my story is enough in the face of more difficult journeys that I’ve heard about.  I discredit my status as a survivor telling myself it was all really ‘no big deal,’ and I guess in doing so I rob myself of my own story.  Regardless of how it compares to the travails of others, it is still MY story and a part of who I am.  Maybe it’s because I’ve robbed myself of it, but still I’m not sure what the story is….

And it bugs me.

I can’t distill it all into sound bytes or make it palatable for certain audiences, but I CAN inform you until you want to smack me upside the head to get me to shut up.

I can talk til I’m blue in the face about the details of my disease and the nuances of the tumors involved with it.  I can really and truly bore people that way, and I probably do too often.  Still, I just can’t formulate a take-away point or a main idea or a higher-purpose for the pain sort of message.

And…. it bugs me.  Can you tell?

I’ll keep on looking and keep on living in my story and hopefully one way or another learn to own it and stop comparing it to the story of others and maybe one of these days I’ll be smacked upside the head with some profound realizations to share for the edification of others.

Until then, I’m just a girl, looking for her story and playing with her words in the meantime.

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.