We’ve Got Bigger Problems

My playlist landed on that song, it happened just as I was turning into my neighborhood in Georgia.

It poked at my heart, it nudged at some pain I’ve been carting around.

I turned it off and put it out of my mind.

This morning the same song came on, but its weight didn’t crush me. Today, I’ve got bigger problems. I’ve got bigger problems than sad songs that remind me of disappointing seasons and of people who didn’t turn out to be who I thought they were.

This morning he left. I lost an uncle. My family lost a father. The world lost a fighter.

Sad songs didn’t really seem like such a problem after that. The little heartbreaks didn’t really seem to matter when I thought about his life, the miracles he lived. The world seemed more gray this morning. The news felt like bricks breaking in an earthquake, I could hear the sound of crumbling clay around me.

The earth should shake when someone is no longer here. There should be breaking glass and falling objects when someone takes their last breath.

There are harder things than people who refuse to grow up and the problems they cause us.

Our lives should be defined by more than small obstacles, inconveniences, bad days and hurt feelings. These things are really not worth the time we give them.

If we’re going to value small things, let’s value the good ones. Let’s put our energy into falling in love with cups of coffee shared with old friends, long walks beneath cracking winter branches, take-out food with your family, and sweet memories of uncles who knew how to say i love you.

The rest of it, the little heartbreaks and disappointments, the days that are uneventful and the discontent seasons…let’s stop letting them keep us from playing a song we used to love.

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It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Blood shot eyes, I just sat there with my face soaked in tears. Hands beneath the table, I was clenching that elegant white table cloth, praying we could just get that meal over with.

No one asked.

I think that had to be one of the most monumental moments of that year. Sitting at a table in some of the deepest pain I’ve ever known, and the people I thought were closest to me never even asked.

He was gone. Not gone on vacation, not moved away. He was really gone and at that moment being prepared to be lowered in the ground.

I could have tapped my glass, stood to give a toast, and at the end tacked on: “and with this sip of water, I toast to the life of a childhood friend who isn’t simply moving away, but who no longer has breath in his body.”

I didn’t, thank God. My mother gave me the sense to know that doing those kinds of things wouldn’t have changed what had already occurred. Still, sometimes I lie awake and wonder if it would have been an alarm clock to a room full of people who claim to love me.

I want to be the person who asks, even when I don’t want to, even if it’s uncomfortable. I want to see brokenness and not be afraid of it. I want to love people so much that even if their arms push me away, I push harder to let them know that it’s okay to not be okay.

I think sometimes we’re just all afraid to dig deeper, to ask painful questions. We’re afraid of what could occur if we light a match next the pile of dynamite pain. I don’t want to be standing too close if and when this explodes. 

“I’ll let them come to me.” We tell ourselves, “When they’re ready to talk about it… they will.”

Sometimes that’s true, but most of the time it’s an excuse.

We sit at fancy tables with white table cloths and we just try to shield our eyes from the person dripping tears into their lap. This isn’t the time or place. Can’t they just get it together until the time is more appropriate? I’ll ask them later, when there are less people around, when I have more time.

We give them a little side hug, buy their food, a little pat on the back, but we steer clear of words and apologies. It’s easier just to not ask, to say a little prayer and hope that God handles it and we don’t have to.

We’re always waiting for better moments to love people. We’re waiting until we’ve changed into lesser clothes before we sit down in the mud with them.

I’m not sure when it became embarrassing or improper to not be okay. As though it were a choice, or as if it could be controlled. We treat it as though little bandaids can hold back the blood of gaping wounds. Just put this over it, put on a little smile until it’s more convenient, but don’t break, not here, not in public.

Sitting at that table on that Sunday afternoon where no one asked, I nearly bled out. While faces were turned and entrees were served, I felt almost everything drain out of me.

I wondered if that was how he felt. Had he been stabbed with that same feeling over and over again? Had he just sat in room after room, at table after table while no one asked? Did he feel inconvenient, weak, shameful? Is that what caused him to end his life? Did they watch him bleed out, never willing to put their hands on his wounds and call for help?

You can’t save people. Those words have been said to me over and over again, I know they are true. But I can scream, I can yell, I can make a scene to say that you are loved and you are not in this thing alone. I may not can save them, but I must be willing to push people out of the ways of trains, away from cliffs; to bring flashlights to them on dark paths where it seems like there’s only one end.

I can’t save people, but that can never be a reason not to fight for someone’s life with all the fierce love inside of me.

I want to dig my heels in and say “It’s alright if you make a scene, let it out, be angry or broken. You are not an embarrassment. I don’t see you as a fragile or useless person when you’re not okay. It’s okay to not be okay.”

Pain is not a gentleman. He pushes himself to the front of the line, knocks displays over, and wounds others in his way. He does not wait patiently on the porch. He bangs his hands brutally against your door and barges in before you’ve even had time to fix your hair.

Pain shows up and there isn’t always a warning, a phone call to say what time he’ll arrive, he shows up with guns blazing. Pain is not proper, so Love is does not wait for convenience.

Love doesn’t care if her dress is wrinkled or her eyes are bloodshot. Love doesn’t mind weeping in public or knees hitting the carpet. She doesn’t really care what the onlookers at the restaurant think of her or the one she holds. She doesn’t keep a watch, doesn’t wait for quiet, isn’t afraid of words or silence. Love has no expectation, no requirement, no desire to wait for a better time. 

Pain will surely come, most times in a loud and unruly manner. When he does, may he be met with Love, who never minds a mess and isn’t afraid of making a scene.

Exchanging The Grief for The Good

My friend died.

And I remember the exact spot where my knees hit the hardwood floor of my house as soon as I read the words that no fifteen year old expects on a Monday morning.

That was the beginning of a series of stories that no matter how many times I tried, I never knew which shelf to place them on. I also didn’t know then that I’d spend years shoving and shuffling them around. I just knew that I wanted to keep them in plain sight.  It felt so wrong to just put them in the closet, or in an old wooden box beneath my bed. 

I never would have known after that first loss of the sweet blonde- haired boy, five more would follow.

Since then, I’ve never really known how to knit their names into conversations. I made their stories a piece of decor in my life, but I never know how to explain them to new guests.  How do you explain these books of loss that sit there in the center of your mantle, a focal point of your home?

“Well, these are the six people I carry in my heart and on my sleeves. I keep them close so that how they left never becomes casual. So that I don’t forget how important it is to use words, to look people in the eye, to plant myself and not run away.”

I spent years asking God to fill each of my limbs with as much love as they could hold, but every phone call that came after that first one, gave me reason to pull the plug and let the good spill out.  

The weight of love, along with the heaviness of grief, became too much for me to carry.

I thought I needed those books of grief to be front and center. I needed to remember, to make it all matter, to find some sort of higher meaning in the how and why. I needed them to be there, to remind me to find the answers; to be the one to carry the candle.

I exchanged love and living for grief, because I thought it would give their deaths some kind of meaning.

I put my laughter, my joy, and my peace in boxes that I stored in an old dusty attic and quickly forgot about the way that burnt orange leaves and the yellow lines on the pavement give me a sense of adventure. I lost touch with the way that the shades of blue in a sky, a shirt, or a set of strong eyes can stir my heart.

I think I lost myself when I lost them…and I’m starting to see how that was never a noble cause.

So, I’m learning how to take them off the mantle and put them into boxes. I’m learning that it’s okay to pack them away. It’s not wrong, or unloving, or failure to replace them with pictures of laughter at baseball games and birthday parties. It doesn’t make their lives less. Nothing could do that.

I never even let most people read those stories, because I knew if they did, they’d see the evidence of my tears on those pages. I knew they’d see the stains of my own doubt and fear scattered throughout. Those stories brought out the worst of me, the parts that I thought, if ever seen, would cause a person to leave.

I’m learning that this loss shouldn’t be the center of my story. Those aren’t the books I want others to read when they come over for coffee and a game night. I want them to hear lullabies of laughter and about stories of “fudgery almond” ice cream and to watch the fullness of joy that has come, now that I’ve decided to pack away the years of grief.

There will be times, when strangers become friends and then become family, and I’ll occasionally take them to that attic. I’ll pull out those dusty books and I’ll show them the stories of those people; the faces of the kids who made me better. The ones I miss, and the childhood we shared and how they made me laugh, called me great, played footsie with me, picked me up and swung me around. I’ll tell them about the car crashes and the weapons and the choices so dark that I’ll have to ask them to bring a flashlight, because I might still get a little afraid.

I know these stories will always be around. They’ll always stay somewhere inside these walls, that’s the price we pay for love. But I can’t keep them on this mantle, on the shelves of this living room. Because they are books that have will always questions that I can’t answer, and pages that are blank and that I wish could have been filled. But there’s just no more to be added, there’s nothing I could say or write to change what they were, what they are.

It’s another Monday morning, and I’m now seven years older. I’ve finally let God lift me up from the floor, I let him help me pack these boxes.

I’m letting him bring down the ones I took up there a long time ago, the ones that find life and joy in the good things like colder weather, sunsets and stories that aren’t so sad.

I finally see how that’s perfectly okay and it doesn’t make me selfish and it doesn’t mean I love them any less or that I won’t let it remind me to  use words, to look people in the eye, to plant myself and not run away”. 

But this life…it’s for living, for laughing and for loving. Yeah, sometimes we find ourselves losing, but I don’t want that to be the center of my story.

I’m learning that it’s brave to live on, to live fully, when you’ve lost people you love. That it’s not heartless or reckless, or careless to pack the sadness away.

In our monkey bar and sandbox days, we lived in the moment and laughed without fear. I’m seeing now that’s what we always wanted for each other, and those are the memories of them that keep me strong. I’m not sorry that I felt their loss, that I let it make me cry, but I’m sorry that I let the grief outstay the good.

So the good things are what I’ll keep in plain sight and I’ll let God pack the grief away.

Their stories were beautiful, but this one is mine and I think it’s time that it become stronger, braver, and the laughter-filled kind.