Saturday, July 30, 2016

The picture that never made it to Insta... and the text that changed so much (A Journey in Grief - Part I)

It's been over eight months. I walked into church alone that morning. My man had taken a day trip, and I don't normally go to church without him, but I needed to be there that morning. I had gotten the text on Friday saying that she was on life support and to pray. My heart had been heavy ever since. I wasn't sure how to pray. Part of me just knew there would be another miracle, just like that test showing her blood free of the cancer cells had been a miracle, just like the transplant of bone marrow from her brother had been a miracle.

They had thrown a party that day, the day of her transplant. They called it her new birthday. There had been cake and games and so much joy and thanksgiving. Four months had passed since then.

I had been with her just a month ago. Made a special trip into town because I missed her. We had coffee together. Her body ached. I knew something was off. She never complained, not ever, but that day she couldn't sit still. I could see the weariness in her eyes.

As always she talked of God and His faithfulness. Told me that the whole point of life is to see the majesty of God and that if we aren't seeing that, there is no point. How she's made it an exercise and was teaching her daughter to do the same. But for the first time, I could see her fighting. Up until then, she had made the battle look almost effortless. She wore that Armor of the Lord like a second skin... like her true skin. She did always say that she never felt like her "earth suit" fit quite right, and I could tell that day that it all felt even less right. And it threw me off.

I've never really forgiven myself for that... for not knowing how to respond to her pain. For asking her to leave the comfort of her home and meet me. For telling her about my own struggles right there in the midst of hers. I know that's how she wanted it. She loved me. She loved pouring into my life. She lived to make Him known and she made Him known to me every time we were together. If we hadn't gotten that time, we would have missed so much, so maybe it's time I let that go and just give thanks.

I cried when I left her. As I dropped her daughter off at their house after we saw that musical together, the one about spoonfuls of sugar and shooting stars, she asked me when I would come back. "Whenever you want me to," I replied. "Be careful what you say... I'll hold you to it," she smiled. "I hope you do." I hugged her one last time. I remember feeling like I might break her if I wasn't careful. I got in my car and pulled out of the driveway. That's when the tears started to fall and I hoped she didn't see. Moving, planning a new life, leaving your friends. It's all so hard.

So yeah, a month later, I walk into church. The choir was singing that morning. I pulled out my phone to take a picture. I was going to post it on Insta with the caption: "When things look their darkest, that is when we must sing the loudest. Worship is always the answer to our heavy, burdened, and broken hearts. Eucharisteo always precedes the miracle." I thought about how this is exactly where she would want me to be. This is how she taught me to live. The way that God taught me to live through her.

I never did post that picture. Because that's when I got the text. I'm sorry to say that she passed away this morning. My heart plummeted and the tears rose. I was out the door of that sanctuary so fast.

It's been over eight months since she died. And I'm still not over it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

How Do You Spell Hope?

In a box somewhere in the guestroom closet there is a journal filled with words from 18-year-old me. I think of it every so often. She inscribed it to me before wrapping it in brown paper and tying it with string (a la Sound of Music, of course!). A single word and her initials. "Write."

A single word can be prophetic, and hope can be spelled so many different ways.

It's funny how I can look at the cover of a journal and be transported to an entirely different season of my life.

That's the one I used to write notes about youth group sermons and notes  to my friend in the pew in front of me.

That one went with me everywhere in high school in case some brilliant, poetic inspiration struck me, whether in class or at lunch.

That one traveled with me to China and tells the story of God making a way for a dream to come true.

And then that one... That one she gave me for my birthday two years ago along with the Chinese silk pillowcases because she loved to feed my obsessions. And in some bittersweet irony, its final pages contain the outpouring of my grief over her death.

These bound pages have surrendered themselves to my ink and my tears and the depths of my heart. They have been my constant companions. Paper and ink can somehow chase away clouds and take down demons. Slay dragons and remind me how to breathe. Stem the flow of tears and tear down the walls that confine me.

I spell hope with five letters: W-R-I-T-E.

I read an article the other day about "high-functioning anxiety." In it, the writer lists all the things she does to combat her anxiety.

It’s always looking for the next outlet, something to channel the never-ending energy. Writing. Running. List-making. Mindless tasks (whatever keeps you busy). Doing jumping jacks in the kitchen. Dancing in the living room, pretending it’s for fun, when really it’s a choreographed routine of desperation, trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in your head. 
I so wished that she could see me applauding her on the other side of the screen. I wanted to tell her that those outlets are pure gift. They don't have to be "a choreographed routine of desperation;" they can be a blessed dance of hope, steps toward freedom, declarations that you have the power to control your emotions and your anxiety and your depression and everything else that tried to beat you down and bind you up. It does not have to rule you, at least not all the time. You can rise above, one step at a time.

So if you have found something that lifts you out of your depression or anxiety, even just a little bit, go forth and DO IT. Own it. Don't be ashamed. Be intentional about making time for it. Find a friend to hold you accountable when you're feeling an "episode" coming on. Don't view the outlets as a crutch or a sign of your weakness. View them as keys to the door of freedom, and use them!

If it's dancing in the living room, do it. If it's reading a book, do it. If it's playing with needles and yarn or canvas and paint, do it. If it's solving a puzzle or baking a cake or serving a homeless man lunch or running through your apartment complex or jumping in the pool even though you can't swim or putting words out there into cyberspace for anyone or no one to read... DO IT.

Embrace your outlets with a brave and risky intentionality. Because the God of Peace can speak in a million different places and hope can be spelled a thousand different ways and you can find it.