But…

“He pushed me out of car,
But I was arguing with him.
I shouldn’t have ridden the bus that day
When he said I wasn’t allowed.
I shouldn’t have eaten that cookie
When the protein bar would do.
I shouldn’t have taken that selfie
With my makeup and hair done, too.

He sounds so cruel
When he tells me one day I’ll die.
But if I love him enough
I would stick around and try.

But he’s not a thug!
He’s white, his daddy’s rich,
And his mama says he gives good hugs.
Her baby would never hit a woman,
Not after he proclaims Jesus’ name.
He’s not a thug!
He tells me he love me
And that I shouldn’t give up.

I shouldn’t have let my phone die,
When my charger was in my purse.
I shouldn’t have cried out for my mother
When he said he’d put me in a hearse.
I shouldn’t have let Skype go down
When I accidently fell asleep.
I shouldn’t have protested at all
When he threw out my clothes into a heap.

He sound so mean
When he’s calling me horrible names.
But I know he’s sorry later
And maybe it was all a dream.

He’s not a thug!
He’s got a job, his daddy’s rich,
And his mama says he gives good hugs.
Her baby would never cuss a woman,
Not after he cries at the alter on Sundays.
He’s not a thug!
He apologizes and promises
I’m better than any drug.

I shouldn’t have read the private message
Sent to my Facebook DM.
I shouldn’t have been upset
When he hacked my email again.
I shouldn’t be too upset
When he locked me in the room.
He swears he’d never hurt me
So I stay here in my personal tomb.
He says my daddy is weak and
My mother is a liar.
And that my brother and sister
Only seek to conspire.
I should learn that he’s never wrong,
He has my best interest at heart.
He’s only protecting me from those
Other guys who only want one part.

He has multiple social media accounts
And threatens people from them all.
I should know better than to bring that up
Because it’s not worth a another brawl.
On Sundays he dresses up
And puts on the perfect mask.
He loves Jesus and his mama and me
More than anyone could ever ask.
He cries and says it’s my fault,
I put him under too much stress.
If only I’d stop being so friendly
And consider the way that I dress.

He’s not a thug!
He’s good looking, he wears a cross necklace,
And his mama says he gives good hugs.
Her baby would never hurt a woman,
No military man would.
He’s not a thug!
He needs respect and grace
And I need to not be smug.

I see the ‘me toos’ on social media
But I have to stay quiet.
It could ruin his reputation
And his wrath would riot.
I can’t even share my story
Because he would find me like prey.
He always said
No one would believe it anyway.

They say he’s not a thug!
His daddy’s rich, his mama’s well known.
His friends say he would never hurt me
Because he loved me to the bone.
He needs another chance,
Even one more will do.
He’s not a thug, they say,
Even though my scars and memories
Hold the proof…”

Hey…

Hey.

That sounds so empty after all that we have been through. We have been reduced to a mere word uttered with such trepidation and grief.  A word that was once so familiar has become so tarnished by panic. In a word, love has been replaced with hey.

Hey.

It is what you say when you do not know what else to say. I have so much to say to you, but I don’t know how to say all of the words. The words are floating around, jumbled, in my mind. Those same words get stuck in my throat and all I can come out with is hey.

Hey.

There was once a time we would show up at the same places just to say hello. We would alter our own plans to spend more time together. Now my biggest fear is seeing you at one of our old favorite places. Now I alter my plans to avoid yours. To avoid telling you hey. 

Hey.

If I see you in the grocery store or if I pass you at the traffic light, just know that there is still so much behind my simple greeting of hey.

Hey.

I would give just about anything to hear you say hey.

We belong to each other

I love Mother Teresa. I love her wisdom and her determination. So many of her words echo throughout my life. I have many that I like, but one in particular is my favorite: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I love to wear my “We Belong to Each Other” tshirt. Heck, I even have the phrase tattooed on my arm. It has changed my life since I began applying it to my day to day interactions.

The event in Las Vegas this week broadcasted that phrase to the world. In those moments of terror, everyone belonged to each other. There were no enemies based on color, religion, beliefs, politics, lifestyle, etc. We all belonged to each other. I cannot help but wonder what went through the minds of the victims who passed away. Did they have words left unsaid? Apologies they desperately needed to hear? Hugs left ungiven? Time not yet spent? They certainly did not think that they would not see the sun rise. They were free, lost in the words of the music, and suddenly their lives were ripped from this world. Fifty-eight people who belonged to us are dead. Think of all of the people who loved them and will never get to tell them those words again. All of the people who admired them, perhaps had a crush on them, maybe even needed to ask for forgiveness from them. Thousands upon thousands of lives have been changed and no one saw it coming.

Yet we all live in a world where we don’t know when our last second will be. In a world where we don’t know which breath will be our last. We leave words unsaid and adventures left unpursued. We let egos rule the day and anger and judgement set the table. But when someone you love dies, those things become choking reminders of what could have been. Not many people wish for more time to hate and berate someone, rather we ache for more time to make amends and love more.

I want to live my life where people will know how much I love them, a life full of adventure, and a life where people know that “we belong to each other” is more than just works inked on a page and skin.

Because we belong to each other, my friends. Even when we don’t want to.

The human condition

Nine years ago my friend died. There really isn’t a nicer way to say it. She has been gone longer now than the number of years I got to spend time with her.

She believed in me in ways no one else did. She asked the questions that I had desperately needed someone to ask. She saw me when I had done an excellent job of trying to blend in. She pulled me out of my comfort zone when I was content to be mediocre. She was a mentor by action and not just words. She knew I could do the hard things. She promised that one day I would know it, too.

I have learned that it doesn’t really matter how many new friends you make either. While all friends are fiercely loved, nothing replaces what is gone. The same is such for everyone in life; a particular person-sized hole is never to be filled by anyone else. I think that was a purposeful design. We hurt and mourn for both those who are gone, whether by death or choice, to prove we are human. Many of us wander this earth yearning to be metallic and shiny, but the truth always rusts through: we are but deeply feeling humans. We carry pain and hurt and regret around like a cloak. Those emotions envelop us and become part of us. You can’t shed them easily.

Pride, anger, and betrayal are more like suitcases. They are packed neatly and organized by their handlers. Sometimes they are picked up and carried around, other times they are left like forgotten baggage at the airport. They can be shipped anywhere though. For a fee. Carrying around a suitcase full of pride, fury, and mistrust is never free. It too begins to wear you down and it too will begin to cost you things. Small things at first, but the price tag increases invariably.

Joy is free. So is love. It multiplies when you give it away. Not many things in life are capable of that. Why is it so hard to give away something that is free? We often give away the things that cost us; we tend to share anger, hatred, ignorance, assumptions, and pride. They are infectious and debilitating, but we gravitate towards them because we understand them better. We know them. We relate to them. After all, they are a part of us.

Those are the types of things my friend and I pondered. We never discovered the sole answer, but we tried to love people as best we could. We tried to open ourselves to accepting love as well. Sometimes it is harder to accept love than it is to give it. Do we as humans innately feel unlovable? Do we feel undeserving? I would wager that most humans do.

We talked about galaxies and the heavens. We talked about philosophy and medicine. We talked about sports and politics and religion. We talked about all of the things most people argue about. We certainly did argue at times, but mostly we enjoyed each other’s voices. Even in the quiet moments where one of us would nod off to sleep, a whisper would begin a new possibility. Mostly we talked about people.

I don’t remember what her voice sounded like anymore. I never thought my memory would fail me, but it has. Sometimes I will hear someone laugh the way she did and for a minute I will remember just like it was yesterday, but the memory is gone like a whisper in the wind. I wish my children could know her. I wish they could be loved by her. I wish they could let her into their lives the way that I did.

Humans get so caught up with the hustle and bustle of life that we forget who we truly are. Sometimes you just need someone to ponder the great mysteries of the universe with.

I am enough. 

I never felt worthy. 

No one ever sat me down and looked me dead in the eyes and told me that I wasn’t worthy, but the feeling was there nonetheless. I guess I was born feeling not good enough. For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed with fear and feelings of inadequacy.  I have always felt small and insignificant. When I was a child, I was very small physically. I was always the smallest girl in my class and on my team. But I felt small in other ways, too. I felt unworthy of the praise of my teachers when they would tell my mother that I was smart and kind. It wasn’t that I believed myself to be unintelligent and selfish, rather the opposite, but I felt unworthy of the praise and mentioning of such attributes. My natural love language has always been “Words of Affirmation,” but while I crave praise and loving words, I have never felt worthy of them. 

Growing up a gypsy did not help matters; I was born into a military family and we moved around the country every few years. I do not regret nor wish away my childhood, but some parts of it were hard. I have never made friends easily. Not because I don’t like people, but because I like them too much. I feel too much. I crave their attention and affection and approval. Maybe it is my poet soul, but I feel everything more intensely than most people. 

While most people feel a few drops of rain, I feel the entire hurricane. 

My family generally provided me an umbrella though. My parents always told me that I could do anything I wanted to. “You want to go to the moon?” my dad asked. So he helped me learn about astronauts and told me about space. “You want to play for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke with the boys?” So he signed me up for basketball and told me not to let my height be a distractor. “You want to write poetry and be the poet who paints pictures in the minds of others?” my mom asked. So she bought me anthologies of the greatest classic poets and sent me to college to earn a degree in literature. “You want to open a Coffeeshop even though you don’t drink coffee?” Certainly my parents thought that I was crazy so maybe different times in my life. 

I have never lived a crazy, reckless life like some people. I never partied much in high school or college because I was too afraid. I was afraid of other people and myself. I have an extremely addictive personality and thankfully I understood that given the opportunity, I would easily become an alcoholic and addict. I knew that there were avenues that would numb my mind and heart so that I would not have to constantly feel so much. I knew those avenues well, but I suppose that is for another post. I did other things to numb the emotions, but thankfully I never relied on drugs and booze. I know too many people who sought refuge down those paths and never returned. 

I wanted to blaze my own path. 

2016 brought so many changes to my life. I have always done whatever it takes to make people happy, but this year I learned that I deserved to put myself first sometimes. That is a terrifying thing to start. I have always been a dreamer, but my feeling of inadequacy never let those dreams take flight. My dreams stayed nestled in tiny compartments that I painstakingly organized in my heart. Each in a small compact box labeled in looping penmanship never going to happen

One of those boxes was my Coffeeshop. I frequently added things to that small box. I would come up with something else that related to it, but I would quickly shove those thoughts into the box without opening more than the very edge. I had to move the now bulging box around to different corners of my heart because it kept growing. One day I dared to breathe life into by voicing its existence to someone else. All it once it was too alive to keep hidden in the dusty attic of my heart. It took flight. It became real and possible. 

Until the doubts crept in and set up camp. They took residence in my mind like they have my entire life. I did have some people in my corner who tried to sweep the doubts away, but even more people who fed and clothed the doubts. Not many people believed in me. Many people tried to talk me out of  it. Many told me that I was in over my head. Many told me that I would regret it. Many pointed out all of the things I was doing wrong. The list goes on and on. The doubts in my mind believed these people immediately. The doubts grew and grew and I went to many meetings with strangers beaten down and broken. But I kept on. 

My boxes of dreams were alive and could never go back to being silent. 2016 opened those tiny boxes of dreams and released those hidden dreams to the world. Along with said dreams, my inner demons were released as well. I was forced to confront things that I had stacked up beside the dreams. Unlike the boxes of dreams, the skeletons and demons were packed away haphazardly in broken and battered cardboardboxes hastily  shoved into the farthest corners of my soul where I hoped no one could see them. Not even myself. But 2016 opened those boxes and released everything restrained inside of them. 2016 was a year of freedom. I took dreams and made plans. I took those plans and set goals. I took those goals and accomplished them. 

My Coffeeshop not only exists, it is thriving. It has allowed my boxes of creativity to flourish. It has invited and held love that makes the walls burst at their seems. It has not been without heartache and blood, sweat, tears. It has required patience and forgiveness and trust. It has demanded more out of me than I ever thought I could give. 

But it gave me a new lease on life. 

I still have doubts and I still feel tethered by feelings of being inadequate and unworthy, but I acknowledge them now. I name them and give life to my dreams that now fly too high to be anchored. 

2016 set the bar high for 2017. 

“In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know and care about the person you’re sharing with.” -Maya Angelou

My mentor passed away eight years ago. Some days it reopens up the wound created almost a decade ago, but most days the scar remains intact. I have become so accustomed to her being gone that I no longer hear her haunting voice in the cutting wind. There is one thing I will never forget though: the feeling of having someone listen to you with a piercing stare in their eyes and knowing they are truly hearing and diving into what you feel is reminiscent of an old sweatshirt, one worn with age, but familiar to the senses. A mentor is comforting.

I want to be that to someone else. It is a trying responsibility, but one I cherish. I have the privilege of spending a few hours every week with an incredible group of (pre)teen girls. Most times when we get together we just laugh. I am talking about insane, deep from the soul giggles. We share tears and smiles. I am talking about crack your face wide open grins from even the most solemn of girls. Sometimes we don’t even discuss theology because there is drama to sift through, someone’s boyfriend is being hurtful, and/or a new movie is coming out. We talk about any and everything. We also eat a lot of food because calories don’t count when you’re having fun. I have known some of these girls since they were toddlers. Some have only recently joined the group. Each one of them is precious. Let’s be honest, sometimes it is hard to describe a middle-school girl. I know, I was one at one time. Eons ago, according to them.

Me: “I didn’t have SnapChat or Twitter or Facebook when I was your age. Or whatever else you guys have now.”
Girls: “Oh! Because your mom wouldn’t let you?”
Me: “No, baby, because it didn’t exist.”
Girls (horrified look) : “What?!? How old are you??”

They say things that are either the deepest thing I have ever heard or the strangest. It is often a tossup between the two. They are the best people to laugh with because they are not yet to that stage where they are too cool to laugh at themselves. Not yet to the point where I am an embarrassment; I can still have lunch with them at school. They also are not too old to jump in my lap or too cool to play with my hair. They change lives everywhere they go and for some, that is worldwide. 2016 is quickly coming to an end and with that comes the flood of memories, both good and bad. In this new year there will be 365 days of opportunity. I do not want them, my girls, to waste a single second of it.

My precious girls,

Never cry with someone you cannot laugh with. Laugh a little every day. Laugh a lot some days. Find the joy in the small things. Realize that words are important and lasting. Hang on a little tighter when someone hugs you. Sing a little louder. Dance a little more wildly. Open up your heart a little wider. Stretch that love a little longer. Make sure others are taken care of first. Stop and smell the flowers that grow in the meadow. Watch the waves crash into the shore. Gaze at the stars and lose your fear of the night. Listen to the sound of the birds in the morning and the crickets in the evening. Linger in the moments that will one day make you catch your breath. Open your eyes darlings and only close them when the time is right. Let love in, but more importantly, give away love recklessly. Pray pray pray and then pray some more. Stay the course.

I love you all! ❤️ -J

 

But, but, but my child…

“My child would never do that!”

Been there. 

Actually having a child and being in the trenches raising said child will make you a liar. 

A big, fat liar. 

Of course the definition of “that” evolves over the years. At first “that” is a pacifier that your future child will never become dependent on. “That” will become your toddler sleeping in your bed. “That” will become your elementary aged child talking back and catching an attitude. “That” becomes an iPhone that your child will never receive in middle school. “That” will become a crime that your child will never commit. 

That that that that that.

I can remember many times secretly rolling my eyes when people would say that their child would never do or say something, because I and everyone else knew the truth: They were doing and saying all of that and more. 

I have only been a parent for (almost) six years, but I have heard people say that my whole life. Parents and non-parents alike. So, is it naivity, pride, or desperately trying to convince oneself of something? For me it was projection. I thought I knew it all because I had read every book I could get my hands on, I helped with my siblings growing up, and I babysat every day for years and years. (I know all of my seasoned friends are laughing by this point because there is no comparison to having an actual child. One that no book or second-hand experience can ever come close to.) 

No child is perfect. No adult is perfect. No person is perfect. Can we all just agree on that one phrase? No one is perfect! I cannot stress that enough. We have to stop thinking that our children are perfect. First of all, it just ain’t the truth. Secondly, we are projecting unrealistic expectations on them which can ruin their lives. Third, it makes you look ignorant and out of touch. The list goes on and on. 

How do we combat that? Grace. Forgiveness. Mercy. Unconditional love. Prayer. Those are just a few. 

I will never claim to have all of the answers in this adventure of life. All I know is that I love my children, imperfections and all, and will never claim that they are incapable of doing and saying “that.” Whatever “that” may be. I can do my very best to impart love and kindness to them. I can try my hardest to steer them in the right direction and instill morals and good judgement into them. However, at the end of the day, it is all their choice: I cannot fight their battles or make their choices for them. (That makes me think of God and how He must feel about all of us, but that if for another blog post!)

 

Forgiveness is not for the weak 

I forgive you. I do. 

I do not believe you will accept that forgiveness, but it is there regardless. 

Forgiveness is not for you. It is for me. It is for my heart. For my heart to move on. For my hands to metaphorically release your hands from my neck and to also let go of yours. I do not believe we will have a relationship any time soon. Honestly, the friendship we had was never one of love and trust. I enabled you. I listened as you gossiped and slandered others in the hopes that you would like me. I am not better than you. In fact, I am worse. I listened as lies and injustices spewed forth from you and instead of reigning that in, I gave you a safe place for your storm to rage. If I had been more selfless, I would have stood up for those who were not present to defend themselves. I should have been a defender and a protector of those, but I failed them. I should have encouraged you to seek help for your inner demons, but I selfishly thought I could heal your past trauma with a listening ear and an expensive college degree. For that, I failed you, too. 

You may not forgive me. I understand that. I backed away and buckled under the pressure of being your friend. It taxed me. It became too hard. I should have gotten you help, but I chose to ignore the problems. In doing that, I ignored the real you. 

You need help. You do not want help, but you need help. That is now on you. I hope you find the help you need and surround yourself with people who can and will help you. Forgive me, because I cannot be one of those people. 

I forgive you. 

I forgive you for lying to me and about me. I forgive you for shouting at me in your hurt. I forgive you for deflecting your pain and anger. I forgive you. I truly do. 

I forgive you. 

Grief looks different…

Where would I be if I did not begin this post with a scene straight out of Grey’s Anatomy?..

“Lexie: [narrating] Grief may be a thing we all have in common, but it looks different on everyone.Mark: It isn’t just death we have to grieve. It’s life. It’s loss. It’s change.

Alex: And when we wonder why it has to suck so much sometimes, has to hurt so bad. The thing we gotta try to remember is that it can turn on a dime.

Izzie: That’s how you stay alive. When it hurts so much you can’t breathe, that’s how you survive.

Derek: By remembering that one day, somehow, impossibly, you won’t feel this way. It won’t hurt this much.

Bailey: Grief comes in its own time for everyone, in its own way.

Owen: So the best we can do, the best anyone can do, is try for honesty.

Meredith: The really crappy thing, the very worst part of grief is that you can’t control it.

Arizona: The best we can do is try to let ourselves feel it when it comes.

Callie: And let it go when we can.

Meredith: The very worst part is that the minute you think you’re past it, it starts all over again.

Cristina: And always, every time, it takes your breath away.

Meredith: There are five stages of grief. They look different on all of us, but there are always five.

Alex: Denial.

Derek: Anger.

Bailey: Bargaining.

Lexie: Depression.

Richard: Acceptance.”
Something happens to your body, to your mind, when you lose someone. It is something internal that nobody else can see, but the toll it takes on your mind and body is undeniable.

You begin to see things differently. You see people in a different light. Sunsets look different. Flowers smell different. Food tastes different. The warm breeze on your skin feels different. 

You do not know the feeling until you know the feeling.

That brings me to my next point. What does grief look like? The picture of grief in my mind is a weeping woman dressed head to toe in a draping black scarf and veil. She is in a dark room, hidden in the corner, wailing. 

But that is not grief. 

Grief is like a giant slash across your belly that can be hidden by a shirt. No one has to know that you are wounded; you are not dying, but it hurts like hell nonetheless. Oftentimes we hide it on purpose because we do not want anyone to see us bleed. 

Grief is weird. Really weird. 

Grief is being ok, actually ok, and seeing someone in the grocery store who mentions the name of a friend who has been gone for a year and suddenly your eyes well up with years on aisle five. Grief is opening up a Coffeeshop and seeing a coffee mug with a blue butterfly painted on it and suddenly your chest feels right and it hurts to breathe for a few seconds. Grief is walking down the renovated hallway of your old high school and suddenly your head starts to spin. 

That is how it looks for me at least. For others it does resemble the wailing woman. For others it is a gallon of icecream and a pizza. For others it is staying late at work. For some it is never leaving the house again. 

Grief looks different on everyone. 

DABDA: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The abbreviation makes it seem like it is something final, where Acceptance is the goal and life will be normal again. I do not believe it works that way. DABDA is a cycle, a lifelong cycle. 

Grief looks different for everyone. 

Don’t say nothing 

“Don’t say nothing!” Jen Hatmaker wrote a post on her social media and one of my friends shared it. I glanced through it and the more I read, the more I hurt. 

There are people, faith professing followers of Christ who embodies love, saying nothing at all. Is saying nothing worse than what some of these so-called followers are saying, yes and no. I refuse to comment on some of those posts because I know the Jesus I follow is not the Lord of their hearts that slew such evil rhetoric and pain. Anyway…

“Those who profess to follow Christ should never be outshone when it comes to loving others. The silence from some of Christ’s followers is deafening.” 

I strongly believe that if Jesus walked this physical earth today, He would be right there in the mist of this tragedy. He would be handing out water, giving blood, hugging those broken hearted people who fled the scene, encouraging the first responders, surgeons, dispatchers, ambulance drivers, nurses, etc. If that does not kickstart your heart, I just do not know what else will. Love. Love. Love. People died. People suffered and died horrific deaths. Agonizing deaths where they begged for their lives and for the lives of their loved ones. How does that not rip your soul out? Have you read the text messages from a grown man texting his mother moments before his death telling her that he loves her? Have you heard the stories from the surviving victims who not only have emotional and physical trauma, but they hate themselves because they survived when their friends and families did not. Did you hear that the bodies that were cut down were left in the club while investigators took photographs and combed the area for survivors, meaning that the cellphones in the pockets and surrounding areas of those bodies rang incessantly, calls from frantic loved ones searching for any shred of hope that their brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, spouse, best friend, etc was alive. Do you know how many families from all over the world received a call from some one other than their loved one that would confirm their worst fear? 
My God, as a mother myself, I cannot take that! My soul hurts. 

Ok, I get it. You do not agree with the lifestyle that some of those people in that particular club engaged in. And? Your point is? Do you honestly think they deserve to die for something that does not affect you in anyway? Do you think that their lives mean less than your own? You truly think that this kind of tragedy will not ever happen to you or occur in your little corner of the world? Certainly none of these people got dressed up thinking that this night would be there last night on earth. These are people, once living, breathing people that spilled the same color blood that you and I have. How are you any better than anyone else? 

When you say nothing at all, the silence is more deafening than you realize. Beth Moore spoke to my heart when she tweeted the following: 

My family and I have been planning a vacation to Orlando for weeks now. We leave at the end of this week and now we have other things placed on our calendars. Yes, we will still embark on the typical Disney park adventures, but we will also lay flowers at the makeshift memorial where the slaughter occurred. We will also throw our arms around the people of the community who hurt far deeper than those of us who have only seen images on the new stations. 

Be reckless with your love. Jesus was and still is. Search your heart; I hope you find the real Him. Remember, as the fabulous Bob Goff lives out: LOVE DOES! Love is never stationary, love does.