Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eighteen Years

Dear Jadrian,

Somehow, without really understanding how, you just turned 18 years old. Today. No offense, but there's no way you look 18. When I think of you, my mind pictures you as a 2-year old toddler. Me and you, hanging out in our no-cable-here low-income apartment. You dragging out every single one of your dolls and stuffed animals; me wondering how the hell I was ever going to buy food and pay the electric bill. You were always so smiley. So happy. So oblivious.

My birthday wish for you this year is that you make it a priority to be smiley and happy -- and that you will forever be oblivious.

Oblivious to the temptation of stress. Because, the truth is, you're an adult now and adults tend to get sucked into this vacuum of stress and anxieties. Too many of us forget how to let go and laugh things off because we've been convinced the way adults should operate is by being unbelievably neurotic when it comes to stress. And stress is not fun. It also accomplishes absolutely nothing. Unless you count high blood pressure and grey hair an accomplishment. You deserve only happiness and nothing less. Stress robs you of that. Stay away from it. In fact, stay away from anything that robs you of happiness.

Remain oblivious to the temptation of keeping up with the Joneses. You don't even know who they are and you certainly have no idea how they got the stuff they did, or how long they lie awake each night slamming antacids while they worry whether or not they'll be able to pay the minimum fees on their seven credit cards. Yes, their cars are nice and their homes are lovely, but true happiness lies in the experiences you have with people you love. No one ever laid on their deathbed regretting the day they didn't purchase that $87 tank top and the car that cost more than my house. 

Remain oblivious to the temptation of comparing your body to those you see in magazines. Your body will change as you age, as you have children, as you take different medications, even as you turn 40. It'll be okay. Yes, God gifted them amazing bodies but He also gifted someone else the art of Photo Shop. Besides, He has gifted you compassion, intelligence, kindness, humor, and sensitivity. Those things stay. Make those your priority. 

Remain oblivious to the temptation of living out a life that isn't meant to be yours. Too often we second guess what path we should take so we ask for advice. And this is okay as long as you're asking people who answer with "what is your heart telling you?" God will place the answer on your heart and yours alone. If He wants you to travel the world - travel. If He wants you to adopt orphans - adopt. If He calls you to be a truck driver, a teacher, an artist in Cleveland, a maintenance worker at Six Flags, then do it. Do it well. Do it with pride. Just don't ignore your heart because someone else thinks you ought to be doing something different. Those tugs on your heart you keep feeling? That's God. Don't ignore Him. No matter how ridiculous the masses might think you are. 

Remain oblivious to the temptation of time. See, for some reason we who know better keep asking you this singular question that lies to you. We keep asking, "so, what are your plans?" It implies that you should have an answer. That you should know absolutely without a doubt what you are going to do in your life from this point forward. And it's a lie. You don't have to know. See, that's the beauty of being 18. You do not have to know. Take a chance! Throw caution to the wind! Move to some city just because you like that name! You're 18. You have the whole world ahead of you. Don't shrink your world because you think you need to have the school/job/house/marriage/kids right now this second. Don't buy into the lie that you need to know everything right now. Go. Explore. Learn. See what the world offers you. You have all the time in the world!

18 years old. Man. I can't believe it. I want to wrap you up and buckle you into your car seat. Tuck you into bed. Laugh at you in wide eyed wonder when you ask about the Dalai Lama and hand you your sippy cup. 

Happy Birthday, Beautiful.
I love you more than pickles!

Photo credit: Photographer Emily Brewster

Monday, June 17, 2013

Another Day, Another Lesson in Grief

Grief can be so... ironic. I don't know how else to describe it. Only that half the time I'm left shaking my head wondering what just happened. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when I'm struck and left in a puddle of tears. People are left bewildered and I try to explain I'm just as shocked as they are, not to mention confused as to why now I'm struck, as opposed to the obvious time the other day when I should have been struck but wasn't.

Grief isn't like a broken arm that heals itself in six weeks. It isn't something you get cleared by a doctor and then come back to work. It isn't something where you set the timer and once it goes off you're done and ready to face the world. There is no magic off switch.

The pain and anguish from loss sneaks up on you, blindsides you at a sunny picnic and sucker punches you when you're walking down aisle 13 at Target.

I tell you this because I don't want anyone to be mistaken: grief has no end.

Sure, your grief today will be handled different than how you will handle your grief in the future, but it will still be there. Before, when you couldn't swallow a piece of toast, you will now find yourself sitting through an entire meal, laughing and smiling, talking with dear friends, while the whole time your brain is cognizant of the grief it holds within. As if every good thought, every smile, every laugh, will be forever wrapped in a sheer white linen. All the goodness is still there - but so is the grief.

This weekend was like an assault to my heart. Two families lost their sons. I was in one's kitchen a few weeks ago laughing hysterically over God knows what. I saw the other Friday afternoon as she wished me a good weekend.

Both families went about the normalcy of their lives, breathing in the summer breezes of a gorgeous, sunny Wisconsin weekend. Both families then woke up without. Both families were suddenly, without warning, one less. And I want to get angry at God and tell Him to stop allowing hurts to reach the families of people I know and care about and laugh with. I want to demand that He explains why the good people with the kind, compassionate hearts are the recipients of such anguish and sorrow, while the people intent on bringing hurt and being cruel to others seem to never suffer even in the slightest. How can that be fair? I want to scream.

The news of those two young boys brought everything back to me in a single second. It was like being asked to relive everything all over again, but this time in a house with no visitors and no ridiculous amounts of food gathering with each minute that passed. I wanted to stay curled up in my bed, forcing the hurts to keep away.

The last place I wanted to be today was at work. While I understand there is no requirement to provide any sort of emotional support at a place of employment, it would have been comforting to walk into compassion. I was dreading my arrival. And yet, it was during my early morning commute into the office that it suddenly hit me: without thinking and without analyzing what just entered my mind, I just saw what I needed to see. It took me several miles to sort out what had just flashed before me.

Jesus, standing next to God the Father, with tears in his eyes, asking God why it was taking so long. "You asked me to die for them, and yet, they're still there. When will they be able to come home and rejoice with us? When can we bring them home?"

I never considered that perspective before, but what if.... what if the hurt is worse from God's heart? Where I have lost just one child, God has lost so many. He's lost His children to stupid choices and egos and anger and retaliation. He's lost us to temptation and lust and nonbelief. He's lost us to hurt and disappointment and rage and the feeling of unfairness of it all. And He watches while we walk further and further away from Him; His heart breaking just asking us to turn towards Him. And there's Jesus, waiting. Waiting for us to all come home. Waiting while His Father's heart breaks.

And yet, where my heart aches, His heart swells. Where I say goodbye, He says, "welcome home, child." I picture him smiling, taking each child by the hands and saying, "we will wait for them together, you and I."

God did not forget me today. I received a message from someone I hadn't talked to in months saying simply I am thinking of you today. Then a dear, special friend of mine surprised me at work to give me flowers to brighten up my day just because. No, God did not forget me today. And the good news is, He didn't forget you either.

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