death, faith, family, grief, gun laws, guns, hope, school shooting, sisters, suffering

Staring Down the Barrel

“Hope holds a broken heart together.”

~Ann Voskamp

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I am sitting in in the thick blanket of nighttime, listening to the steady rain beating the drum roll of its sixth hour on the hollow-sounding roof.  The intense piercings of a familiar pain keep me from my slumber, and I am delicate in my constant re-positioning and pill-swallowing to avoid waking the mounds of purring sleep close to me.  My bedroom started out far less crowded tonight, but as the starlit veil fell, came the padding of feet and the tiny, emotion-filled voices describing fear of the dark, tumultuous dreams, and loneliness that needed the quiet comfort of my presence near by.  So here we all are, their chests finally rising and falling with the rhythm of their dreams, and me wondering when things will go back to normal.

This was a headline week for guns.  A few state lines over, lives were shattered as another troubled youngster unleashed explosive fury on rooms full of unsuspecting  teens and adults, cutting short the futures of many who had planned on having more time.  All the articles and bar-room-conversations and social media statuses are blasting loud the positions and rules and amendments and movements that each are convinced will bring an end to this terror. All of this buzz about bullets and laws and security and the NRA, and all I can think is how will these kids face tomorrow?  Closer to home, how will my daughters face tomorrow?

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Just a few days after the most recent school shooting in Florida, my girls experienced their own kind of horror at the barrel of a gun.  My two, along with a roomful of other innocent, energetic young girls had come together to kick off the Spring season of cheer leading.  The room was full of ponytails, giggles, and camaraderie.  As they finished tying sneakers and warming up tight muscles, a new and horrifying ambiance sliced through the room.  My oldest daughter had slipped out for one last dash to the restroom before practice, and when she rounded the corner to go back into the gym, she ran right into him.  No one knew, so the coach opened up the door and let them both inside.  The next 90 seconds were so brief, but stretched eternally in the burning scars of terror that now streak the memory of everyone watching.  A few odd but indubious remarks were made to strike up a conversation with their coach as he positioned himself closer to the cash box where each parent had given the weekly dues.  Then, beneath his slouching hood, he grew expressionless and in the longest instant, the dark, round metal of a gun contradicted the innocence of the hairbows and glitter, and the giggles turned to a fear that would not be forgotten.  My girl, still the closest to him, tried to make a subtle move for a cell phone, but his instincts were fast and he tucked the metal box and dashed for the door.  Then the knee-jerk reactions of the coach slamming her shoulder into the door corner as she lunged after him, the instant tears of the little sister who felt the hysteria of watching her sister so close to a ruthless bullet, and the mayhem of the entire crowd as adrenaline was unleashed.

I am still incredibly grateful that this tasteless man had a thirst for money rather than for blood, and my girls got to come home safely that night.  What was no longer safe though, was their security and peace of mind.  Tears upon tears from the two of them and the best friend as they clung exhausted in an embrace of profound emotion in my kitchen that night.  Panic, flashbacks, sweating whenever they found themselves in a room too far from the safety of knowing a trusted adult was arms-length away.  An incessant need for the security of a cell phone pressed closed whenever they have to leave the house. Nightmares and sleep-screaming through the deepest hours of the night, peace divided by having to learn that sometimes these things happen for no good reason.

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Tomorrow my girls will face walking back into that gym.  My oldest will relive the details of his coat and his birthmark as she walks through the same hallway where he first cut into her memories.  My youngest will remember the powerful emotions of watching helpless, wondering if she was going to see her sister’s future rewritten.  They will have to come to terms with these memories and these fears, and I will support in them whatever ways that they need, but I can’t help but wonder… what about the kids who watched friends and classmates and teachers gunned down in front of their eyes this week?  How will they find the courage to walk back down those halls?  I truly cannot grasp it.

Everyone has an opinion about what needs to happen.  More guns, less guns.  More restrictions, more screenings, more freedom, less.  So many different points of view.  I have an opinion too, but I’m not going to share it right now.  Right now all I can think about is the downright brokenness of it all. The terror, the pain, the distrust and the loneliness that has gone down in irreversible ways.  The truth is, regardless of what decisions are made about whether or not guns are legal and what the process will be to get one, there is an issue at the foundation that is something we all hold the answer to.   This world needs people who care more for the hearts of their neighbors than about how their status will suffer if they are seen breaking bread together.  It needs hearts that can anticipate the needs of others, and read from the eye motions and the face lines when someone needs an extra dose of kindness.  This world needs people who are wholly committed to seeing each other for what they are; other humans who are hurting and struggling and trying to make it, and in desperate need of being loved, accepted, and understood.

We don’t need gun laws, whether for or against, in order for this to happen.  We simply need to look up, and look around, and reach out with everything we’ve got in order to say, “I see you, and I know you’re hurting, and I’m going to walk you through it.”

We all just want to be seen.  Have you ever stopped to think that maybe you are part of the answer?  What is it that’s holding you back?

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daily graces, endurance, family, hope, joy, suffering, trials

Bits and Pieces

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I have this blank canvas to scribble my thoughts, but lately I have let them recycle, tumbling unsorted in the confines of my mind, timid of what people will think if I speak out loud.  Someone told me not long ago that I should try writing about something else.  I took it to mean people do not want to hear the confessions and wonderings of my soul; they are probably rolling their eyes and turning off their screens.

After talking with a close friend about what else to write about, I came to the conclusion that I don’t want to write about something “else,” and I don’t know how to.  The reason I write about what I do is that it flows quite easily when I need to release and process difficult things.  It’s therapeutic for me to free up some space in my thoughts by unleashing the tangle of words and emotion that sometimes becomes difficult to find space for.  Part of me also supposed, in the beginning of this place, that someone else would find hope and strength in the raw processing of the journey of my life.

I have been learning more lately that it is okay to let every experience, good or bad, shape who I am and how I view things.  Let’s be real; life is never going to be all rainbows and bubblegum, so if we are going to become something other than tainted and bitter, we are going to have to figure out how to filter through our ups and downs and pick out the important growth-inducing bits, and let the rest hit the shredder.  That’s what I’m trying to do here; sift through the daily barrage of twists and turns and cling to the slivers of truth that will deepen my character and make me a softer, wiser human for the other people on this expedition with me.

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Think back to the last hard, life-changing thing you went through.  It might have been the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a difficult diagnosis, a traumatic world-event… you know how you had that numb feeling for awhile afterwards?  Thankfully we all have this mechanism that only lets us take in what we are capable of at the time.  Our simple minds and hearts would simply explode if the full force of things hit us all at once.  So we take it in little by little, in easily digestible chunks that we can begin to process and break down.  That movement happens in the telling of the story.  Each time you share your story, your mind is able to handle a little bit more and apply a greater understanding than it could the last time, until eventually you can boldly tell your story, maybe still with some tears, but with a confident and understanding boldness that has replaced the initial shock and bewilderment.  That is my place here.  I will keep on sharing the plot twists of my life as I continue to find deeper meaning and healing in the new details I understand every time I brave it.  And if in doing that some of you are able to pull out the important truths, the pieces that make you bold and brave and inspired, then even the more reason to keep shouting it loud.  My story.  My unbelievable, true, heart-breaking, beautiful, hope-giving story.

Will you share yours too?

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faith, grief, suffering, trials

Look Up

It was 4:00 in the morning when I left the hospital, and as I hit the first traffic light, the dam that had been holding back all of my fear, anger, and desperation crumbled into a million broken pieces. Tears coming from a depth beyond understanding carved slick rivers down my neck and pooled in my shirt.  I was aware my car was drifting between the painted lanes of the empty interstate, and I glanced for blue lights that would assume I was drunk.  My voice scraped raw as I screamed my questions to a moonlit sky, daring His promises to be kept.

Knowing my other little ones were tucked sleeping in a quiet house, and needing to do something tangible that felt productive, I pulled off into the only store open at this desperate time of morning.  Despite trying to slow my heaving sobs in the parking lot, hot drips still occasionally seeped from my stinging eyes as I wandered the empty aisles.  I chose a few items mindlessly, that I thought at the time would bring comfort, and I trudged my way to the lone check out stand with a flickering light.  A slight embarrassment prickled over me as I became aware of the frightening sight I must be with my blotchy face and swollen eyes.

The checker grabbed my things and began swiping them across the counter without looking up.   “How are you today?” he beamed. “I’m ok.” “That’s good,” he replied.  He continued to ring up my things and take my payment without ever making eye contact. As I grabbed my bag and turned to leave, he swung the hammer one last time.  “Have a great rest of your day!” 

If you have spent much time around me, you may have noticed that often when someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t ask the same question back.  It may come across rude.  It is not because I don’t care though, it is the exact opposite.  I don’t ask because I either know that that person was just asking to be polite, and they don’t really want the true answer from me, or because I know that I am not at a time or place I can truly give thought and caring to their answer.  I ask how someone is doing because I sincerely want to hear their heart, and not just the glossed over “I’m fine, how are you” that we all are guilty of giving sometimes.  I’ve learned to pick out the people who honestly want to hear how the real me is doing, and the people who would be completely uncomfortable if you let them see beyond the surface.

When I am standing in line at the grocery, I know that there may not be the time for me to be a listening ear to someone’s bad day, but on the other hand I do not want to ignore the person in need of some encouragement. If I notice a rude or grumpy employee, I will leave them with an “I hope your day gets better.”  They didn’t have to share what is weighing on their mind that day, but they will know they are seen and given validation.  I will not ask you how you are doing or how your day has been unless I authentically have the heart to hear the good with the bad.  I’m ok with you taking the time to tell me what you are struggling with, and will not make you feel ashamed for not finding the good in a new day of life.  The truth is that life is hard, and we should stop conditioning each other to put on a brave face and pretend everything is fine. 

I challenge you to stop your robotic motion and your scripted lines, and look up.  There is a world out there of hurting people.  People who in the sticky messes of their daily lives may not need you to spend an hour listening to their problems, but need to know that they are not invisible, that their pain is not ignored, and that we are all in this together.



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faith, family, New Year's, suffering

Hoping for More

A year of dreams and magic and smooth sailing, less struggle and more blessings; that’s what we’re all hoping for, right?  I imagine we all felt the same at the beginning of this year too; high hopes for 12 months without conflict or illness, but then not too far in, we started facing disappointments and hurts, and before we knew it we were scraping by the months, just trying to survive, determined to make it to the fresh start of a new year. Suddenly we are at the end of a string of long, hard places, clinging desperately to the fray and looking up for a stronger, longer rope, just to realize that our safe passage isn’t guaranteed.  That those hopes to slip through unscathed are just that, hopes, and the days ahead of us have just as much potential to leave us burned as the barren months behind us did.

 To be honest, I held my breath for it too.  For the clean slate, the fresh start; the promise of a year filled with goals and newness and such determination for good, that surely this would be the year to whisper about, the one that brought great good.  Well I shudder to admit, but as we rounded the corner of the end of December, 2016 kicked us in the gut before we even crossed the threshold.  Or maybe it was 2015 getting one last punch in. Either way, we already know this year isn’t starting with the expectations we placed on it.  In fact, I flat out didn’t even want to celebrate it; dreaded this night and the tears and the pain and the reality that once again we stand in a place where we have no control over our lives.

But you know what… hanging onto to our own ability to control our lives is what sets us up for heartbreak.  I have held too long. Even when I know I can do nothing to help myself, I have been hell-bent on self preservation.  That’s not what our Father asks of us.  He asks simply, gently for us to open our hands… to surrender our lack of faith and trust that even when the weight of the world threatens to crush us, He will never let go.

There are no guarantees for this year to come; our dreams may crumble, our relationships disappoint, our health fail, our people leave us, but we don’t have to be sure of the future to be sure of our security through it.  So lean with me, press into whatever is coming, walk into this new year with a brave heart and a determined faith, because we don’t need to know what’s ahead, only Who is behind us.

I knew tonight I would be standing at the edge of this new valley, looking out over the unknown, watching from the outside as everyone else was sharing the joyful moments of ringing in their new year, while I stand holding broken pieces.  I know I have a choice to let fear and sadness overwhelm, or to trust that I can free-fall into the unknown with the confidence that I will never hit the bottom.  Never.

I can be thankful for all that has happened, because in the end, that’s what my faith is made from.  I know that whatever is hard in 2016, He will work for good.

So happy New Year, my friends.  Let Him make your broken so, so beautiful.

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