The Shape of Grief

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A somewhat balmy and overcast Saturday morning, just a day or so before his twenty-fourth birthday. I shuffled through grass and sand, greeting and hugging those I hadn’t seen since the inaugural memorial fishing tournament the previous year. While sitting down and waiting for a few others to return from fishing, I mentally began going through the names of people that I hadn’t said hello to. Oh, I need to go say hi to Connor!

It was subconscious, and the reality hit me just as quickly as the original thought had come up. Connor was the reason we were all there, casting lines, reminiscing and taking in things that had been added to the garden. We were celebrating another year of his life, despite that he wasn’t able to celebrate here with us on earth.

Momentarily panic-stricken, I didn’t know whether to cry or merely shrug it off. The former would have been more than appropriate, but I felt guilty for wanting to do so randomly and in such a public place. Later on, I would feel guilty for not crying, but in that moment, I grabbed a Miller Lite (one of his beers of choice, if I remember correctly) and tried to see all the construction business taking place across the lake at my childhood home.

How has it been two years? A question repeatedly asked at Country Thunder, a rich summer tradition and the last place I saw him alive. I was adamant on staying for Luke Bryan, and raised a glass with the best of them as I was reminded I loved this music so much in the first place. I wanted to honor two great men that were taken from this world much too soon, who left an imprint on my life and memories I still recall to this very day.

It’s not just the bitter sweetness of birthdays, weddings, or long-standing traditions. It’s when your world, your perspective, your life as you know it has changed, but everything else around you acts like never nothing. You suddenly feel distant from those who haven’t experienced it, and truly the only way to understand it is if and when you go through it. The concept of not taking anything for granted and loving people while you have them—most of the time it’s just lip service until you’ve been wrecked to your shoes by a sudden loss or looked death in the face. Tack on the popularity of being savage versus sensitive, and that’s a whole other wall to break through.

It’s when you know you’re not the only one going through it, but feeling like you’re the only one willing to openly and honestly talk about it.

Reminiscing has been, and continues to be a saving grace. I didn’t get to do that at twenty-one, when a friend from high schooll was killed in a drunk driving accident. It helps me to see that living counts for something, even in the moments that made you angry or pissed off, but seem so small now.

There is no formula for grief; it is not linear, and most of the time it’s not temporary. Books like Option B and The Colors of Goodbye are helpful, but ultimately the best thing I can do is face the waves when they come. Sometimes I just bob with it, like when I randomly get the sniffles and goosebumps at work and can act like I’m fighting a cold. But if I hear Eric Church or Cole Swindell, it’s best to just hold me and let me cry it out.

I learned a long time ago not to be afraid of emotion, and the discomfort that often comes with it. I don’t know how to answer, “Why do I get my cat back but not my son?” (A miracle that is not mine to share), but I say without question that you do not tell a parent when or even if they should stop grieving the loss of their child (and vice versa) Don’t assume that talking about a lost love one always makes people sad or brings back bad memories; at the very least, it never hurts to ask. And while we all grieve differently, there’s a huge difference between doing so privately and full-out running away from it.

There is room for both joy and pain, particularly when it comes to navigating life after tragedy. It doesn’t have to be a blessing or a gift right away, nor might it ever be. Sometimes it just the unfortunate and painful reality that has to be dealt with.

I am grateful that Connor’s life has brought me closer to those whom I’ve known since I was a baby, and brought me peace with various situations that I’ve struggled with up until then. And I will always refer to our little group of siblings as the seven of us, nothing less.

He has given me a new appreciation for where I grew up, a place that I wanted to leave behind completely beforehand.

I am grateful for the garden created in his honor, a place that I can hopefully bring my future partner and children to someday.

And I am grateful for his spirit; a spirit that I will not apologize for trying to keep alive, whether it’s through the stories I tell about my life, or the motivation to give love and to love deeply.

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Take care of them, Lord.

Amen.

An Adventure For Champions


Do you have a favorite picture that you took this year? What was the story behind it?


 


My alarm went off at three o’clock in the morning, and I boarded a train by five. Every passenger was like herded cattle, where all the seats were taken up and I had to brace myself up against a wall in order to stay standing. The train ended up making only three stops afterward due to nearing capacity, so I made it to the city a lot quicker than expected. Right away I knew that this was one of the few days that Chicago collectively woke up before dawn. And being that this was my first time at any sort of sports-related championship celebration, I knew I had to be somewhat cautious. My mom had spent the days beforehand fretting about my safety, in which I reassured her that I had bopped around enough to where I had some idea of what I was doing. After meeting my friend inside the train station, we began making our way through the already-crowded streets toward another’s apartment. 

“You look like a woman on a mission!” She was referring to the determined look on my face.  

“Well, it’s not every day we get to see the Blackhawks raise the Stanley Cup!”

 Granted this was the third time in six years, but not until now was I motivated enough to stand among thousands and cheer for it. The parade would take place first and then follow with a rally shortly after (we would only attend the second part because we had highly coveted tickets for it). Regardless, I felt like a little kid at Christmas, and was determined to be there even if danger was a possibility.

By the time we made it into the stadium a little before noon, both the temperature and humidity had risen a bit, and I was a little bit desperate for water. I’d chosen to forgo alcohol for safety purposes, and because I wanted to experience this with a clear head. I can’t remember how long we waited for it to actually start, but we did pass the time with people watching and eating french fries. 

It didn’t take long for the atmosphere to electrify, so much that at one point I simultaneously had goosebumps on my arms and tears in my eyes. It wasn’t just about winning or history; it was about being surrounded by well over thousands of people who rooted for and were passionate about the same team. Not to mention we were all crazy enough to be here in the first place. 

I felt happy. Alive. Absolutely alive is the only way to really describe it. And I knew right than and there that it was something I would always savor.

Call me a fair-weather fan or bandwaggoner, though I only avoided watching the playoffs because I get way too anxious. I’d like to think of it in the sense that sometimes you don’t appreciate something until you open your eyes and really look at it. 

I was beyond exhausted by the time I got home, but couldn’t even take a nap because of the excitement and adrenaline. I’m fortunate to have been able to experience something as incredible as that, particularly in the midst of such a crazy summer. 

My grandfather and I now have tradition of watching the games together (and yelling at the TV a lot). It’s one of those little things that make me light up. It’s competitive, it’s aggressive, but it’s also something that I can share with people that I care about. 

And that’s the best adventure of all. 

***

Four months later…..

I was too nervous to even have the TV on; despite my best efforts, I had resorted back to avoiding anything related to the game for a fear that I might jinx it. I put on the same jewelry that I’d worn for game six, poured a glass of wine, and held on to the rally towel as if it were a blanket. Please let them get past the first round, I prayed, at that moment realizing how much the Hawks-Blues rivalry made my blood boil. But unfortunately by the time it was over, our season had come to an end. When Mom yelled,”now it’s time for the Cubs to win a World Series!” I let out a string of curse words. I was that upset.

It was definitely a messy roller-coaster of a season, and one can wonder how I went from a lackluster hockey fan to acting like a complete nut every time they played. One of the things I remember after last summer was that I wanted to know and be present for literally everything involving the team. I tried to watch every game (along with wearing Patrick Kane’s jersey and drinking Angry Orchard), and had multiple apps to keep up with everything that was going on. I cried when they raised the banner, when I watched Hat Trick, for the first time, and couldn’t contain my emotion during every “What’s Your Goal?” video that I’ve seen thus far. (And the National Anthem at the United Center always gets me sniffling, regardless of how hard I try not to.)

As it goes with most sports I keep up with, I don’t quite understand the logistics of hockey, but don’t feel the need to frequently ask “what just happened?” like I do with football or baseball. I can tell you where I was when they won each of the three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons, but never paid attention to the names of the players that frequently came and went during salary cap trades. Feel free to argue what constitutes true fandom versus jumping on a bandwagon, but the bottom line is that I didn’t learn to appreciate the Blackhawks until this last year.

Winning is a highlight, but breaking records and dancing to “Chelsea Dagger” is only a small part of it. Through witnessing all the ups and downs, I saw something that is often hard to pick up on with other teams I root for: passion. The players are obviously passionate about what they do. The organization is involved in the community. The fans can be downright crazy. And being that I have BIG feelings and experience things on a deep level, is it any wonder why I became so invested? Sports in itself is what often motivates me to chase after my goals and dreams, more often than any pep talk from family members or mentors. And It is possible to admire athletes and still recognize their humanity.

I’m grateful to have something else to add to a growing list of things that I love; something that embodies a place that I love, and connects me to people that I love. Despite the abrupt end to the playoff run, I’m grateful to have been there for it.

One Goal. One City.

Do you want to know what mine is? I’ll let you figure that out…

Ocean Wide


I wrote this is honor of my best friend, who recently began a new chapter in her life in the Peace Corps. May God go with you, sweetheart. 





Ocean Wide
I can easily recall the ocean of my youth
A child looking out, wondering about
 All the mysterious creation contained beneath the water
Sharks, jagged edges, and perhaps even mermaids
An over active imagination’s paradise
Yet I feared submersion
Of having my dreams dashed by the powerful forces below
So I stayed on shore as the rolling tide teased my ankles
Begging me to join
Ten or so years later
Fourteen, sixteen, teetering on womanhood
The adventurous spirit within me awakens
I am cautious, but I long to be free
A day trip in a beach town I break away from the confines
Gallivanting into the waves on my own
Diving in between to feel the sting of salt in my eyes and nose
Dancing against nature
Only to realize that I’ve wound up on the other side
But I went unpunished, and later basked in a palette of colors
Shades of blue and pink surrounding me
Realizing what made me feel alive
The way I felt back then
A mirrored reflection of how I feel right now
One moment I’m terrified of the vastness before me
Yet eager for the opportunities that lie ahead
We’re now at age where it’s considered normal, if not expected
To go off in directions
Anything can happen
And whether that’s good or bad is as unpredictable as a rising tide
Some of us will only be separated by a phone call
Others by a couple hundred miles
Perhaps for a select few
An Ocean wide
There’s no way to know how things will change
How we’ll grow and evolve
How we’ll look, think, or feel once we meet again
But let’s not let love be dependent on stages and places
Rather, unconditional faith and support in one another
Seeking to understand, rather than just be understood
I don’t know what the future holds. But I know who holds the future
Let’s hold onto that promise, along with each other
My friend forever

No matter how far



I Was Here


What did you accomplish?

Lord knows where I should start with this one. 2014 in and of itself should be an accomplishment, filled with tiny victories that are honestly still in progress. But there’s one thing that stands out above the rest: maybe some of you, Dear Readers, have been there. Maybe some of you have witnessed it, and multiple times over. I know that a multitude of loved ones were there, when I walked that stage and turned that tassel. For you it might have been anti-climactic, or so hectic and emotional that you might not remember it.

But for me, it was everything.

****
The recollection of that early morning is vague. You can recalling getting ready, slowly taking out our cap and gown and putting it near the edge of the bed so that you don’t forget anything The family starts pouring in as Mom prepares breakfast on your kitchen counter, and in a matter of minutes the apartment is bustling with people. Your sister, aunt, and cousin walk in and take a look around; this is the first and only time they’ll see the place. You take a picture or two while your hair isn’t messy and your make-up isn’t running. You’re too busy making sure that you know where you’re going once you get to the arena. 

It’s a very bright day outside and you’re surprisingly in an upbeat mood, mostly because you’re trying to focus on the fact over twenty people have come to see you today. Your parents ask you how you’re doing and you say, “it’s the end of an era” with a little too much emotion, despite being unsure of how you’re supposed to be feeling. 

“Do I look OK?” you ask multiple times before snapping a picture with Herky and then with your parents. The arena is already swarming with students and families who attended the first ceremony earlier, and it takes time to get to the entrance.  You don’t want the doors to open, but you know they will and you know you have to go.  

It’s time.

As you and Mom make your way to the main floor, you look over and realize that she is starting to cry, and that along with the Iowa Hawkeyes logo stretching across a min-jumbotron makes you choke up too. Do not break down! You tell yourself as the coordinator points to the front row, indicating where you’ll be sitting and that the formal procession will begin shortly. You’re glad you’re not walking down the stairs (how is that possible when you have to go quickly, and much less in heels), but being in the front row makes you feel uneasy. There were no rehearsals, so all you can do is hope you don’t look like an idiot. 

The ceremony begins as professors and students proceed down the stairs. The commencement speakers are teachers of either philosophy or theology, and one even encourages people to tweet his speech while talking. It was so long and therefore difficult to remember everything, but he touches on going out into the world and crediting parents for getting you all here,  which the crowd takes about a minute or two to applaud. He encourages graduates to ask for help, and the phrase “Hawkeyes stick together” causes you to well up with emotion all over again. You suddenly experience chills, an indication that something big is happening, and you better remember it. 

This isn’t a day to be sad, you realize, but a day to be proud. It’s not about getting a formal piece of paper or proving anyone wrong. It’s about how you laughed, danced, created, kissed, cried, lost, hoped, prayed, grieved, rejoiced, loved, and savored. But you also found: God, friends, but most importantly, you found yourself again. 

And it was all in this beautiful place that some call college, others Iowa City, but you know that part of you will always call it home. 

I was here. Holy crap, I really was here. In this place, with these people. I did it!!!


You pay enough attention to walk up and get your diploma (holder), despite that your cap is slightly crooked and you probably blinked during the formal picture. You don’t quite get why the tassel turning took place in the middle of it all, but after every name is called and the Class of 2014 is presented, the arena erupts once more. 

And all you can think of doing is this: 


The family joins you on the floor for hugs, flowers, and well-wishes, but before you can make it outside you sneak into one of the private bathrooms in the tunnel, because you have to go that bad. After more pictures and congregating, your family drops you off near the business building to meet one of your best friends on a popular walkway; you didn’t get to sit together during graduation so you decide to make up for it by snapping a photo in front of the chemistry building. So many memories of this one little walkway, particularly when you were a freshman. Every block is a flash of something and by the time you make your way back to your apartment, you’re mind is starting to go numb due to sensory overload. 

The Pentacrest is a zoo, but you’re still hoping to run into someone you know. In this moment, you just want to be held. Ideally it would be by one person in particular, but how good would it feel for anybody to put their arms around you and just hold you there for about a minute. 

The celebration kicks off with an intimate family dinner at a (now closed) local Italian place, and you have a couple of hours to rest before the real fun begins. By nine o’clock you’re seated at one of your favorite hangouts, sipping cherry-lime long islands as you introduce your brother to your closest friends. You dance and drink and celebrate in order to remember, knowing that you’ll probably relive these moments in your head for years to come.

By the early hours of the next morning you collapse in exhaustion, but thankful not to have turned into a hot mess. Your body is tired but your heart is full, and the words keep repeating around in your head, that of which you recall today. 

I Was Here. 

Stepping in Different Directions





Decisions

What was the biggest decision that you made this year? How has it affected you?


On the outside, it didn’t look like that big of a deal because it was informal and we rarely ever talked at that point. But in my heart, cutting my first love completely out of my life was by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; perhaps not as a whole, but definitely this year. I didn’t want to, but there wasn’t much of a choice because everything involving him was starting to become unhealthy. Adding to that, it wasn’t fair to put my fears and insecurities onto others; if I was going to get past all of those, he needed to be out of the picture for good. There were no words exchanged, just deleting his number and making sure he could no longer see my Facebook profile. It was a relief, but also just flat-out-weird; I had no idea what to do afterward, and ended up going on a bit of an adventure for the next six months in trying to figure it out. I prayed, wrote, kissed, dated, drank, talked, and cried. Not only was I letting go of a special person, but the person whom I believed I would marry one day. 

Looking back on it almost a year later, I fully understand that it was for the best. It’s a pain in the heart when you’ve invested in somebody for almost eight years, but our relationship had become one-sided. I didn’t really know him anymore and I’m willing to admit that I might not have known him at all. But I wouldn’t trade any of the time we spent together for the world. 

Not many people are aware of this, but the whole reason we got so close in the first place was because I was going through a very rough time. My self-esteem was a roller-coaster in the midst of changing friends and distant family members, especially my parents. I should have gone to a pastor or another adult at my church that I was attending, but I didn’t trust adults back then. He supported me without judgment and ultimately helped me survive. He was the first person who ever told me that God loved me, and convinced me that cutting my wrists and popping pills wasn’t the answer, among other issues. I know there were those that looked at us with raised eyebrows, but the idea of having to explain that stuff to anyone else was unbearable. 

That’s why I choose not to be angry or hold a grudge; he took care of me in ways that I needed to be, but I had no idea how to articulate. I am not ashamed to say that it’s nice to be taken care of, regardless of all the crap out there involving self-reliance or what the true nature of a relationship is. While God should always be one’s true foundation, we weren’t put on this earth with others to walk through life alone. It took me a long time to get that, and I’m still learning. 

I did go through and grow from a season of dating, but also made the decision to take a step back from that for the time being. Most of the dates were fine and I appreciated the experience, but a lot of the guys weren’t the type that I genuinely want to be with. I totally support giving chances when appropriate, but when your instincts are telling you that it’s not going to work, it’s best to listen to them. I often had a “down the road” mentality, where I thought I would find a reason to like a guy once I got to know him better. And while I believe that can and does happen, the chances are slim when hardly any of your values line up. But the subject of dating in itself is for another post. 

I’m not going to say that I don’t miss him at times, but more so I miss the affection and the sense of intimacy that we had. However, not having him around has been like a breath of fresh air: I have standards for a relationship that go beyond just being nice and the willingness to accept me as I am. And it’s not just about deserving better, but actually needing better. By looking at the bigger picture, I understand that I need so much more than what I thought I did at thirteen or fourteen. 

Knowing what I know now, I wish I hadn’t taken him for granted. But despite all that has happened, I think it all turned out the way it was supposed to. Just because something or someone isn’t forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. He does and will probably always have a place in my heart: not in hope or wishful thinking, but in gratitude. And that’s why I’m writing this; I choose not to be cynical, but instead thank God for that particular blessing and that special time. It doesn’t always make moving forward easy, but it makes it doable.

photo credit: letmebeyourswearword via photopin cc

A Letter To a Friend Above


Inspiration

What/Who inspired you this year? 

Rather than try to explain it all over again, I just thought I would share this. 

Dear Kevin, 

It’s been almost six months; in that time I’ve felt such a mixture of emotions that I had no idea how to explain it, and to this day I still don’t. But this is not about me, it’s about you. I feel like I’ve finally come up with a way to say thank you for all you’ve done for me, and all you continue to do for me. 

I hate that I can’t remember how we met exactly, but it what most likely from somewhere or through somebody in high school; maybe because you played football with my brother, or through a very mutual (and kind-hearted) friend of ours. We didn’t interact or talk much at first, at least until I was a junior and you were a senior. And when we did talk, you always made me laugh or make my cheeks turn red with embarrassment.  I sensed that there was something unique and special about you, like we were kindred spirits. It might have been the height factor or the fact that we usually had a way of surprising people. Either way, it was a different impression.

And we would become kindred spirits when you came to Iowa City during my second year of college. You introduced me to Spotted Cow beer and simultaneously made fun of me for being terrified to try whiskey (which I did eventually). The following morning, you serenaded me with Scotty McCreery and I thought it was so damn cute. I can only imagine you shaking your head at me for smiling at those memories.

And then of course there was the following night, which had me laughing so hard I thought I was going to pass out. But on a serious note, I’m beyond thankful that you helped keep me safe and calm when I was initially afraid of ending up in a bad situation. The whole reason I’ve never forgotten it is because two weeks later someone else would come up to visit and leave me in the hands of a creepy dude who probably intended to take advantage of me that night. So now anytime a friend is willing to walk me home or make sure I’m OK, I always take it to heart (in a good way). 

I wish with everything in me that I had invited you to come up for my twenty-first birthday celebration. I thought about it often, but in the end assumed that it would be too hard to travel and find some place to stay. Still I can’t help but wonder how you would have reacted at the sight of me drinking like a crazy person; you might have very well joined in at some point, or maybe just offered to carry me home. Not that it wasn’t fun as it was, but it would having you and the others there would have kicked it up a few notches.  That will always be one of my regrets about our friendship. 

The other one is not taking part in celebrating your life in the days and weeks after I got the news. I wanted to put my arms around people and just be with them, but I kept saying that I needed to talk about it. The truth is, I was suffocating emotionally and making bad decisions because of it. On top of that, I was being given the message that openly grieving was only appropriate for those that were closest to you. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about myself, it’s that I don’t have to be the best of friends with someone in order to care about them. And from hearing about all your acts of kindness for others, both big and small, I’m sure you felt the same way. 

Though you’re no longer here on earth, your spirit and your legacy have made such a profound impact. In the midst of the numbness I experienced, I began to take a hard look at what I was doing with my life; not just in terms of wisdom versus stupidity, but what my gifts were and the way I could use them to make a difference for others. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to, at least physically. But after talking with my therapist, I understood that everybody has their own strengths, and I just happen to have a knack for using words to show love and compassion. 

But more than that, whenever I think of you I’m reminded that life is to be actively lived, not something to just exist or survive in. To  make sure that the times I spend with my loved ones always end on a good note, and to not be ashamed of letting them know how much I care about them. I’ve been through a lot this last year, but I’m choosing to focus on the good instead of zeroing in on my anger and wallowing in pain. And above all, you motivate me to take chances because of how precious life truly is. It’s what keeps me going in my journey to become a published writer, as well as to have love in my life. I could go on, but you’re probably shaking your head at how sappy I’m being as it is!

I miss you so much; you’re a wonderful human being and a great friend, and I hope that I was able to do the same for you. I love you and cherish the memories I have of our friendship, and will never ever forget about you. In fact, I think I owe you a proper visit; while I loved talking to you at random moments as I’ve watched the sun go down, it’s about time I paid my respects. But regardless, thank you for what you’ve taught me and what I’m still learning.You will always be my pal, Otis, and have a special place in my heart.

Love Always, 
Alyx

Update: I also wrote a poem in his honor as well, and rather than post both links separately, I’m including it here

A Bright Light


The Right Stuff

What went right for you in 2013? (Prompt credit: Kat Mcnally) 

In hindsight, 2013 was a bit of a bleak year for me, but I do my best not to look at it that way. In the midst of the loss and grief, there were a lot of good moments; This was mostly due to having finally become totally comfortable with the friends that I have in my life right now. And not that I didn’t have them in previous years, but this was the first year that I wasn’t terrified of being vulnerable with them. I didn’t have to hide or sugarcoat anything, but more importantly, I felt like I could be myself because I’ve finally begun to accept who I am as a person. 

The following excerpt is from a larger essay that I wrote about healing, which I read at my first literary reading last night: 


Reflecting on these last three and a half years has been similar to looking in a mirror; so much change has happened in one place, where I barely recognize who I was during freshman year. My mom used to ask me, “What happened to that happy little girl who would make up stories about fairies and princesses all the time?” She was still there,  but had been buried underneath a lot of layers, and I needed to be in a healthy environment to find her again.  I’d like to think that the core of our being never really changes, but just takes on different shapes as one goes through different seasons of life. This is particularly true for seasons of hardship and suffering. But just because there is pain doesn’t mean that there can’t be joy, especially when you’re surrounded by those that mean the most to you. 

I see that healing is not a destination that must be reached in order to proclaim that all is OK. It’s a daily process of forgiveness and facing reality head on, along with surrendering what I can’t control. Above all, its all about choosing to actively live, rather than just exist or survive. And I don’t think I would have learned any of that without those who first became my friends and eventually like a second family.

 They’ve heard my stories and seen my scars; those etched into my wrist as well as my memories. They know when I’m happy based on my giggle and laugh at how I tend to recall the most random facts or events. They’re aware of my independent spirit, but remind me that it’s important to ask for help. They see right through my attempted perfectionism and shower me with grace and acceptance.  Some drive me crazy, but that doesn’t mean that I care for them any less. And there are also those who motivate me to stay grounded and be a better person.

 I feel that I’ve been at a crossroads lately: there’s making peace with the past, while accepting that there’s going to be stuff that I’ll never completely get over. As I write this, there are a lot of changes that are beginning to take place, which is a breath of fresh air and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m now an adult and realize that moving in new directions is inevitable, but it’s still a little scary when your future is full of unknowns. I have my own dreams and ambitions, but am unsure as to how to make them a reality. My biggest fear is getting caught up in the chaos and losing sight of how far I’ve come; even more so, that I will lose myself all over again.

What I can do is rest in the fact that God has a way of  bringing everything together the way that it should be;  that the people that are meant to be in my life will always be there, even if it’s just in the doorway for a little while. Nothing will ever be exactly the way I envision it, but that doesn’t have to influence how I see myself. And that’s what real healing is; learning how to live somewhere in the middle of what is both bitter and sweet. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m not completely broken either. I don’t always make the best decisions, yet I choose not to wallow in regret. For the first time in a long time, I can say with confidence that I’m starting to feel whole again. I still have a ways to go, but I’m grateful knowing that I don’t have to do it alone.

Amen.

photo credit: -Reji via photopin cc

Sentiments Behind The Song




Music 

What is your favorite song from 2013? 

This year was a great year in music, and I love sharing new songs/artists that I find through my “Music Monday” series. From “Sunny and 75” by Joe Nichols to “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, it’s so hard to choose just one. But if I had to pick a favorite I would say….


Mirrors, by Justin Timberlake


Call me an old-fashion romantic, but I’m a sucker for love songs, and this is about the closest thing to one this year (at least within the pop genre). I don’t consider them a lost art, but I tend not to hear them very much now a days. While I’m not sure if I’m believe in the notion of a “other half,” I can get behind the idea of two people complimenting each other. More so, they bring  out the best in each other and make their lives better, which is part of what this song is about. 

I’ve never admitted this before, but listening to it reminds me that love does exist. Despite what I’ve been through and what I’m still working through, I don’t need proof in numbers or success stories to know that it’s possible. It’s just a matter of being open to it and having the right attitude. 

There is a very powerful music video for this, but unfortunately was unable to find it on Youtube.

And yes, I would one day like to slow dance to this!


Life Lately: In Seasons





It’s no secret that over the last couple of years, fall/autumn has become one of my favorite times of the year. While nature begins to slowly change and the air starts to chill, it’s also a time where I feel incredibly close to the people around me. I’ve taken to calling in the “wrapped in a warm blanket” type feeling. Everything is just warm and cozy and comfortable.

These special (and somewhat sentimental) occasions are what keep me sane when the homework load gets heavy, or I experience a bout of senioritis like an overnight flu bug. My friends and I have celebrated a plethora of birthdays, went to an orchard/pumpkin farm and indulged in everything relating to pumpkins and apples (with a semi-photo shoot to boot), cried over the Cory Montieth tribute while watching Glee, and other memories that seem insignificant to the rest of the world. However, they mean the world to me.

As I look back on the fall season as a whole, I’ve noticed that it’s when a lot of wonderful, crazy, and even life changing events have taken place. In the span of four or five years, I’ve met and found many of my closest friends, grew deeper in my faith, and learned how to deal with painful aspects of my history. And it suddenly occured to me that while some seasons are better than others, life truly does happen in seasons of love. 

It’s not always deep conversations over wine or hot chocolate. Schedules are hectic, and there are weeks and days where prayer requests and “thinking of you” via text takes the place of bear hugs and face-to-face interaction. While I do believe in not letting to-do list’s and school work dominate quality time, I’m beginning to understand the other side of the coin: it’s not a matter of whether or not you want to, but whether or not you can without reaching the point of exhaustion. Right now I’m walking a thin line of packing so much in all at once. It’s frustrating because on one hand I feel like I’m on a race against time, trying to make the most of every moment before it all runs out. On the other, that’s all you really can do; appreciate the time you do get with people, even if it’s small and insignificant when it’s happening. 

That’s where I’ve learned to appreciate random run-in’s, where all you can do is exchange a hug and “how are you?” that lasts all of five minutes before you have to go to class or run to catch up with whomever. That’s where I’ve not learned not to focus on what place somebody has in my life or try to be best friends when every person that I know. I’m not going to obsess over who has treated me right and who hasn’t. It’s just not worth the energy, especially now. 

Leaves turn. Things happen. Don’t just measure good by what you have or what you can give, but how you grow.

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Through The Rain

I knew that he was gone when I saw faded glimpses of lightening flash behind us, followed by the low roar of thunder. It started to drizzle slightly, upon becoming a torrential downpour as the four of us made our way out of the concert arena and into the impossibly crowded parking lot. At one point the rain was coming down so hard that I had to shut my eyes in order to ease the sting of sweat, make-up, and water that were now seeping from my eyelids. I clung desperately to my mother with both hands, praying that I wouldn’t slip or get knocked over or lose my glasses. Don’t let go! Just get to the car….


In a way, that is how life has been for me,  particularly in the weeks and months after my friend’s passing occurred. My lack of experience with loss was almost like walking in complete darkness. The inability to mourn and grieve freely caused both my mind and body to go into autopilot; after my family had gone to sleep, I would sit in my pitch black room and cry as quietly as I possible, or read the stories that were posted on his memory page until my head ached from staring at the computer for two hours straight. This went on for a week and a half until I got back to campus, the day of the funeral service.

I believed that once I could get away from my hometown, I would feel better. And in a way, I did; I had more people to talk to about it, but I can’t remember how much we actually talked about it at first. And while it wasn’t often because of busy work and summer class schedules, down the line I kind of started to hate rehashing the same thing over and over again. I wanted to move on, and yet the mere idea of it felt like betrayal.

Self-medication became the norm; when I wasn’t with my friends, I tended to go out on the town alone, sometimes multiple nights in a row. It wasn’t so much about the drinking as it was just being around others, even if a lot of them were strangers. I did meet quite a few of them, but rarely anything went beyond the dance floor, save one guy who got my number, texted me an hour later, and hasn’t contacted me since then. It was the darker side of Cinderella, except I went to bars instead of a ball and walked out with an empty heart rather than a missing shoe.

But the levee gave way soon enough; during the first two weeks of August, I could barely function without something triggering a tear-fest. There were periods of time where I would just sit on my couch and cry, not knowing the reasons why or how to stop. In a way, they were the tears that I should have cried at home or even at the funeral.  At the urging of my grandparents, I finally made a motion to talk to one of the group leaders of Intervarsity; up until then I had gone out of my way to not talk to pastors or anyone involved in the organizations that I had been part of, at least regarding everything that was going on. I was terrified that I would just be met with a bunch of cliches about how my friend was in a better place, and that if I just kept praying, went to church, read Bible verses, etc. all the pain would go away. I didn’t want any numbing cream with a Jesus-approved sticker, and I didn’t want to risk the rejection. Unfortunately, I had gotten to where I couldn’t keep silent without it eating me from the inside out.

It was a long and exhausting conversation; it didn’t automatically make everything better, but it was the start of setting myself free from this emotional prison that I had kept myself locked in for weeks. Spiritually, I was practically bone-dry. I didn’t know what to pray about exactly, but I did read the Bible and write when I felt the need to. On a very random morning,  I came across a verse that has practically spelled out where I was at: when my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then you knew my path (Psalm 142: 33).

It has been almost four months since, and I am not going to deny that I am a changed person because of it. I have a love hate/relationship with alcohol and I occasionally get angry when others seem to put getting drunk before their own safety or that of others. However, I do try to make the most of the time that I have with friends, and I feel like I’m getting better at figuring out what matters and what doesn’t.  Looking back, I now have a deeper understand of why I felt and reacted the way that I did:

The very idea of knowing I could lose a loved one in just a span of a few hours (or moments) was absolutely terrifying. After the news was confirmed, I reached out to multiple friends as a way to keep myself calm; I didn’t care that it was two in the morning or that each text was somewhat long and sappy, I needed to feel connected somebody. In the days that followed, I wrestled with whether or not I just have waited to absorb it before telling anyone else, particularly those from college.  While I don’t regret telling that I care for them, I am sorry that they might have been uncomfortable about it. Nothing done with the intention of showing or giving love should not be felt in shame.

The root of my pain wasn’t solely in the tragedy, but also in the disconnection from my friends and family afterward. I understood that there are appropriate places and settings to grieve, yet I felt like I couldn’t even do that in my own home. I spent so much time and energy putting the needs and feelings of others above my own, and I paid for it later on. As I mentioned in an early post, I feared being called selfish or undeserving.Back then, I would have rather been alone than to risk being looked down on, even though both make me miserable.

And I know everyone deals with this kind of stuff differently;  More specifically, “being strong” may work for my parents or my siblings, but it doesn’t for me, at least when something had happens. I can’t pinpoint the reason though, considering they all seem very reserved in that regard. Comparing pain levels (i.e. someone always has it worse then you) does not make it diminish or disappear.  While that may be true to an extent, everybody is hurting in some way. There are other phrases to use in order to put it all in perspective without denying another person’s (or your own) pain. 

There is such a thing as feeling before you can feel better.  For those on the other side of the fence,  It may be personal nature to go into problem-solving mode, but that’s not what the grieving person needs. They need to be held. They need to be loved on. They need to be given the space to just let it out. When you don’t know what to say, those are the times when actions will do more than words ever will.

It doesn’t take much for me to care about a person. I don’t have to see or talk to them all the time in order to learn to love them. Being observant as I am, I can learn to do so in one night. Hence, it is possible to make a list of things that made my friend so special, despite our lack of conversation and interaction. Along with that, it is possible for one act of kindness to impact my perspective on someone. Not just in our friendship, but for other friendships as well. 

When I reflect on that rainy night, I was literally holding onto my mom; looking at this from a spiritual standpoint, it all seems like a metaphor for what I’ve been through and how I’ve grown since then. Realistically, I haven’t been holding onto my parents, or anyone else for that matter. In the times where I can’t see, where I’m blinded by whatever is going on in my life, there’s only One that I can hold onto.  

Then again, maybe I’m not holding onto Him; rather, He’s holding onto me. 

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