The hand that sews time

August 28, 2017

One of the coolest pieces of history I own is a sewing box. I’m not all that into sewing. I admire those who have the patience for things like sewing, knitting and crocheting, but basic mending is about the extent of my skill in that realm. The sewing box is special to me, though, because it belonged to my great-grandmother, Violet. I never got to meet her–she died before I was born–but she and my mother were close.

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I love the glimpse of the past and of my great-grandmother’s life I see in this sewing box. 

I’ve had the sewing box a few years now, and for approximately the same amount of time, I’ve had a small box of clothes in need of mending. I finally decided to put it to use this weekend. As I sewed, I was thinking about a different type of sowing.

On the morning of Sept. 2, 2016, an article I wrote about a music therapy organization was published. I’d written about it four years prior, when it was still fairly new, and I was excited to reconnect with the organization. I was saddened by the reason for the article, though. The organization’s leaders were sorting through devastation brought on by flash flooding; the vast majority of their instruments and equipment were rendered useless. In the midst of the sadness, I was honored and optimistic as I shared their story. I had no way of knowing the storm that was about to tear through my own life.

The week leading up to that day, the email devotional I was doing at the time was delving into Ecclesiastes 3. If you’ve ever heard The Byrds’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!” then you’re familiar with the message: There is a season for all things. Again, I had no idea what was coming. It was only in retrospect that I saw a greater significance in these things.

I recently dropped off some things at Matthew 25: Ministries, an organization that among other things provides disaster relief. As I was leaving, I noticed their sign read, “Inhale the future, exhale the past.” It brought back a memory from roughly a year-and-a-half ago.

My grandfather was in and out of the hospital in the months leading up to his death. One night, after visiting him in the hospital, I literally fell asleep crying (I only know because Matthew woke me up, convinced he’d upset me somehow). I knew that he was near the end of his life, and as I was falling asleep I’d been thinking something along the lines of, “With each exhale, I’m letting go.” It wasn’t pretty, but it was therapeutic. And even though I still get the pangs sometimes of missing him, seeing it coming made it a lot easier to move through it and heal. Because Matthew’s death was so unexpected, I didn’t get that. I guess this past year for me has been kind of like what I experienced that night–letting go a little bit with each breath and each passing day.

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My mending included some stuffed animal surgery.

While I struggle to find the patience to sew, I have a little more patience with gardening. This too is something that requires work, and like sewing, it can take time to see the results. It occurred to me the other day that while you can plant in the fall, it can also be a time to prepare the ground for the next spring. Likewise, the things leading up to Matthew’s death–from mourning the loss of my grandfather to the verses and songs that came up to the example of strength and community in the music therapy program–were preparing me for that loss. And the year since has been preparing me for what is yet to come.

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Always where I need to be

August 21, 2017

The other day, I found myself wanting to kick the wheel of my imaginary time machine. Because in that moment, I wanted to be anywhere else but where I was. Take me back, take me forward, but I can’t stand this tension of waiting. Waiting for a day that brings back memories of a rising panic and lingering anxiety that made me feel like at any moment I might spontaneously stop breathing. Waiting for the hope of what lies beyond that. For as much as I preach patience and try to instill it in my daughter, I can’t stand waiting.

And yet, as I reflected on previous times of waiting in my life, I remembered how it was only toward the end or even afterward that I appreciated what these moments offered. Remembering how my mother encouraged me to stick with extracurriculars like dance lessons when, at 16 I insisted that working more took higher priority. Enjoying the freedom of kid-free life only as the self-imposed and agreed-upon time to start a family drew to a close.

It occurred to me then, that maybe instead of wishing my way through this time, I should focus on being present to do the things I need to do and grow in the ways I need to grow. Because as much as I have to look forward to, there’s a reason I am where I am right now. That truth is revealed in some weird ways that I don’t always understand. A former coworker recently reached out and asked me to stop by her son’s music therapy class once a week to give him a medication. The organization that offers the class–which I was familiar with from some news stories I’d written–doesn’t employ a nurse and therefore can’t be responsible to give him his medicine. The place is literally a five-minute drive from where I live, and since I work from home, I have the flexibility to do it.

There are also conversations about faith that I’ve been able to have with friends that I don’t think would happen if my circumstances were different. I’ve had times, too, when a minor delay or change in routine put me in a certain place at a certain time. Subtle but meaningful things, like hanging behind in the auditorium after a church service, then running into a friend as I’m leaving. Or running an errand on my way home and, at a point when I’m needing to feel known and be recognized, I unexpectedly run into someone I know.

I’ve recently started making time for more intentional rest in my life, and as part of that I’ve been watching a movie with my daughter every other week. I was delighted to share with her Labyrinth, which is one of my favorites. I watched it countless times growing up, but it had been probably 10 years since I’d seen it. As meaningful as it still is to me in some aspects and as much as I still love this movie, it’s lost a little bit of its magic even since young adulthood. Maybe because, like the film’s protagonist, I’ve grown up, and the themes I appreciate now differ from those that stood out to me in the past. One thing that struck me this time around was the line, “Quite often, young lady, it seems like we’re not getting anywhere when in fact…we are.”

Thinking of these things, my mindset shifted from, “I don’t want to be here,” to one of gratitude for where I am. Because even when I can’t see it or don’t understand it, my experiences are growing me and shaping me into the person I was created to be. And the reason I am where I am right now is because it’s where I’m supposed to be in this moment.

No domestic heart

August 14, 2017

Every now and then, there’s a musician or band whose music I can listen to at length without tiring of it. Two in particular who I’ve been really into recently are NEEDTOBREATHE and John Mark McMillan. While they both play contemporary Christian music, it’s not the cheesy saccharine or bubble gum kind. Don’t get me wrong–there are actually some of those songs that I like, too. But in general, that’s not life, and that’s not how I think God is.

I think part of what appeals to me about these musicians is that their music sounds like something you’d hear on a mainstream radio station. Much of their music is comprised of love songs. And NEEDTOBREATHE have a sound similar to groups like Kings of Leon, while McMillan’s music has a definite Bruce Springsteen influence.

It’s goes beyond accessible style, though. Their songs don’t shy away from Christian themes, yet rarely overtly mention God or Jesus. The result is a message that I believe reflects the character of God in a way that’s relatable for regular people. Here are a few of the things these artists have helped reveal to me about God’s character that we in turn are called to emulate.

  • Patiently persistent

A while back, I was struck by the word “relentless” used in a couple songs to describe God’s love. It’s a word that typically seems to have a negative connotation. Yet when attached to the concept of love, I thought, “Who wouldn’t want that?” One of my favorite John Mark McMillan songs that describes this kind of relentless love is called “Heart Won’t Stop.” It draws on scripture from Psalm 139 to detail how no matter where we go or what we do, God is there.

  • Strong but gentle

Maybe it has something to do with the lyrics or keys, but this element is captured beautifully in so many songs. Whether describing the kind of love capable of conquering death for anyone willing to accept grace or a love that fights through adversity, there’s also a sense of comforting and protecting. Which I guess makes sense if the ultimate example of love is someone powerful enough to create the world and everything in it, who also promises to “wipe every tear from their eyes.”

  • Wild

If I had to guess, I’d say that NEEDTOBREATHE’s music likely appeals more to women and John Mark McMillan’s more to men. Both possess a sense of strength, but there’s something a little more rugged about the latter that calls to mind the title of John Eldredge’s book, “Wild at Heart.” Regardless which I’m listening to, though, they convey a feeling of adventure. A “trust fall” or standing in the ocean with a big wave coming that I know will to knock me off my feet, but I know everything is going to be OK. Likewise, I’ve found that while God’s character is unchanging, the ways He shows up in our lives are often wildly unexpected and exciting.

 

 

 

 

I often write about lessons I’ve learned through parenthood, and I’ve shared some about leadership skills I’ve gained through work experiences. But I’ve noticed recently that journalism in particular has taught me some pretty significant things that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  • Ask questions

I’m a fairly curious individual. I like to learn about people and things, hows and whys. The great thing about my job is that I get paid to learn and ask questions that might otherwise come across as nosy. While somewhere between one-third and half of the work is asking questions, though, I sometimes need a reminder of this transferable life skill. In a quest for knowledge and understanding at one point last year, I found myself asking for truth to be revealed. The answer I got was, “Ask more questions.” Asking questions can also be a great help in carrying a conversation and conveying a sense of care and value in what others have to share. This again isn’t something I always do a spectacular job of when I don’t have a set of questions written out in front of me, but I’ve found that when I do, I learn a lot more.

  • Ask follow-up questions

I generally try to go into interviews with a prepared set of questions. Every now and then, I get caught off-guard. I’ve covered school board, city and township meetings where I’ve had to quickly come up with questions while making a beeline for a representative. Or I find myself coming up with questions off the cuff when in response to an email, someone calls me before I’ve considered what I need to ask. These sometimes wind up being great, conversational interviews, and I’m probably more impressed with my quick thinking in these instances than I should be. Whether my questions are written out or on-the-spot, I virtually always have follow-up questions. Follow-up questions can confirm details, buy time or get someone to elaborate on things they otherwise might not mention.

  • Ask questions in different ways

By now, you might be noticing a trend. Syntax can make a world of difference. Early on, while interviewing people for a student publication, I noticed that I got vastly different responses when I said, “What’s your name, please?” as opposed to “Can I get your name?” One woman actually wouldn’t tell me her name after commenting for a totally neutral feature highlighting a mall in Northern Kentucky. Sometimes it’s less a matter of setting people at ease and more about trying to get an explanation I can convey to readers. I’m not always familiar with the jargon that’s second nature to a village official or an industry professional. If I don’t understand it–and even if I do–I can’t always explain it to my readers. Likewise, sometimes reframing a question can help someone open up or better understand what’s being asked.

  • Silence isn’t a bad thing

It’s not unusual to have some long pauses during interviews, as I finish writing or typing a response. Even as someone who’s fairly comfortable with awkward silences, I find it tempting not to help fill in these pauses. It can buy time or make people more comfortable to offer assurance of “just one or two more questions” or to ask a less important follow-up question while I catch up. But silence can sometimes be used to the advantage of the interviewer (or listener). If I allow a pause before responding or asking the next question, chances are the other person will fill that silence. It shows you’re not just listening to respond, and it can be a great way to allow someone to elaborate or offer clarity without having to ask for it.

  • Pay attention

One big challenge when interviewing someone for a news story is taking thorough notes while not getting hung up on writing down every single word. When writing a news story, accuracy is incredibly important. Even in cases where a single word might not seem to make a huge difference, it could change the meaning of what was said. But listening well and taking in what’s being said doesn’t necessarily mean hanging on every single word. You have to pay attention for cues and be prepared to follow shifts in conversation. If you’re too focused on catching every word, you can wind up missing that one statement that perfectly underscores the main point of the story.

 

I’ve recently found myself relating on a much deeper level to the biblical stories of Ruth and Job. Big shocker, right? For anyone unfamiliar, both are individuals whose stories center on the loss of a spouse. In Job’s case, the devil actually took away everything good in his life, from spouse to children to livestock.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the significance of these stories before. I just didn’t connect with them on a personal level. It was more like, “Yeah, I like that story pretty well,” or, “What remarkable faith these individuals had in God to serve Him despite their loss.”

If you asked me a year ago to identify a theme, or themes, in these stories, I’d probably say “loss.” I might have said “faithfulness.” I don’t think I would have been as likely to say “restoration.” And I’m not sure I fully recognized or appreciated that these two individuals weren’t just faithful to God. God was faithful to them.

Many people in the U.S. saw some kind of impact twelve years ago from Hurricane Katrina. Lives were lost. Homes were lost. Those beyond the Gulf cities saw the impact as displaced individuals took up residence temporarily or permanently away from their former homes. In the years since, many have donated services or time to help rebuild what was damaged or destroyed. Some of you probably know I’ve been blessed to get to be a part of that. Some of you even helped make that possible.

One thing that might not immediately occur to people about disaster recovery is that before you can restore and rebuild, you often have to add to the destruction. Whether it’s stripping a building down to its bare bones or razing it, some degree of demolition is necessary. I first traveled to New Orleans in 2008 or ’09 and helped renovate a house. However, when my mother went a year or two before me, her team contributed to demolition efforts.

It’s the same way with personal “disasters.” Over the past year, I’ve seen God take a sledgehammer to brokenness in my life that goes back before I even knew Matthew. I’ve experienced a breaking down of my identity, behaviors, attitudes and where and in whom I find my value. Through these things, I’ve also experienced healing.

In addition to Ruth and Job, I’ve long identified with the Hebrew people who Moses led out of Egypt, where they’d been enslaved. I recently was challenged to come up with a personal name for God, in a similar vein to how the Hebrews knew Him: The Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. Almost immediately, the name came to mind: God who restores.

I know that just as this past year has had its share of pain and challenges, the coming month will have its share of difficult moments. I know, too, that everything’s not going to be magically all better even once I move beyond that one-year mark. But I know that the restoration is coming, and in that I can find peace, joy and hope.

I mentioned a while back that sometimes right after making assertions, I find them being challenged. It doesn’t just happen with assertions. Sometimes these trials seem to hinge on my thoughts. Some might argue that this is the result of me psyching myself out. And maybe to a degree that’s true. But these challenges often come from a place of what I would consider spiritual attack.

Another topic that’s come up in previous posts is anxiety. I suppose the reason it stands out enough to write about is because it’s unusual for me. I can recognize periods in my life when I’ve struggled with anxiety related to specific circumstances (stress at work, pregnancy, etc.), but they were just that–circumstantial. But Matthew’s death set off something like post-traumatic stress, triggering deeper and longer-lasting anxiety that’s not always clearly tied to specific situations.

Thankfully, even this anxiety has improved over time. And it’s never been to a point where it’s debilitating. I’ve always been able to function, to push myself through it. I’ve talked to friends and family members who have been so overwhelmed by anxiety they couldn’t perform everyday tasks or even leave the house. I was thinking last week that I couldn’t imagine what that must feel like. And at risk of sounding ignorant and insensitive to those who do suffer debilitating anxiety, I wondered which is worse–overwhelming anxiety, or the exhaustion of struggling through high-functioning anxiety?

I guess I was already fighting it off for it to have been on my mind, but after considering how fortunate I’ve been, it ramped up. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, struggling to fall back asleep. During my waking hours, my heart was often racing. Even when it wasn’t, I had a feeling in my core of something being off. The worst came later in the week, though, after most of these physical manifestations had calmed down. While taking a break from work to focus on some personal tasks, I was overwhelmed with a crushing feeling urging me to give up, to give in to the desire to shut down. However persuasive that might have been, that’s simply not an option. So instead, I prayed for strength. I’d love to say everything was great after that. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but the crushing feeling did go away.

The upside to being challenged or facing spiritual attacks like these is that they offer opportunities for learning and growth. There were two things I was reminded of in the midst of this struggle.

  • Anxiety attacks the here-and-now

Although the reason for anxious feelings may not always be tied to specific circumstances, they generally stem from worries related to the past or the future. For me, the approaching year mark of Matthew’s death is a major source of stress. I know it’s illogical, but I don’t want to face that date. I’ve relived that day plenty of times in my mind, and I know that no future occurrence is going to change what happened in the past. But as impossible as it seems, I can still look at pictures from “one year ago today” and see images of everyday life as it was. I guess there’s just something about that passing distance of time that forces me to acknowledge the past as it is and let go a little bit more. Regardless why I might feel anxious or how normal it might be, though, I can’t change the fact that the date will come and go any more than I can change what happened on that date nearly a year ago. And stressing out over it inhibits my ability to experience the present moment.

  • Anxiety distracts from what’s important

Every now and then, there are things that seem to capture everyone’s attention–fads, something a celebrity said or what have you–that make me pause and ask, “What’s going on right now that this is distracting people from noticing?” Similarly, I’ve found that when anxiety really gets its claws in me, it has a way of distracting me from what’s important and what I’m supposed to be doing. As I was regaining sight of that last week, I noticed that as I shifted my focus from my thoughts and feelings to the bigger picture around me, those distractions were pushed beyond the periphery.

Two doors to choose

July 17, 2017

What if you were faced with two different options at a pivotal fork in the road of your life? One of those options would seemingly promise security and stability, but the other holds a sense of freedom that your soul desires. Both would require hard work and patience in different ways, and you can see how God would be at work in either circumstance, but you sense that He prefers one over the other. This is the basis of a text message I sent a friend a few months ago, seeking input on a major decision I was faced with. I chose the path with the sense of freedom, and I believe it was the preferred option.

I’ve come to see my life over the past year very much like the archetypal “hero’s journey.” And I believe each individual is on his or her own hero’s journey. Three things I pray nearly every for myself and everyone on my prayer list are strength, courage and trust to follow the path God has set before each of us on these journeys. As I’m faced with decisions big and small, I’ve also been unpacking what these three things mean for me.

  • Strength

Sometimes one more more big changes happen, with clarity coming through or doors opening. I’m finding that as much as I need strength to walk through those changes, I also need it for the in-between waiting phases. Right now, I have some big letting-go milestones coming up, but I’m also in a keep-hitting-the-nail period. Both can seem daunting, and I’m faced more often than I like to admit with the temptation to withdraw from everyone and shut down. I wrote a while back about drawing on internal sources of strength, but I can’t overlook my daughter’s role as a motivator. God equips different people in different ways to handle their own unique challenges. For me, there are times over the past 10 1/2 months when I would have been much less likely to make sure my own needs are met if I didn’t have someone depending on me.

  • Courage

I told a friend back in May that I felt like I was at a point in my journey where I had to face some major challenge I could only face on my own. I’m still in the midst of that, and it can be difficult, frightening even. But I know that there’s transformation and triumph in facing the things I’m afraid of, whether it’s a difficult conversation or sharing about my weaknesses and shortcomings.

  • Trust

Based on my own experiences and conversations I’ve had with friends, I think trust may be the most difficult of these three things and the one that most often holds us back. Sometimes events happen that make it clear which direction to take. Often, the answer isn’t perfectly clear, and I eventually have to move forward trusting that the direction I chose will get me where I’m supposed to be. It can be hard not to get stuck waiting for that clear-cut answer, though. While praying about trust a while back, I began to recognize a similar repetition to a story in the Bible involving Jesus and Peter. Because of a detail I’d recently learned about Jesus and Peter using different words for “love” in the story, I began to wonder if there similarly are multiple Greek/Hebrew/Latin words to describe “trust.” From what I found, that doesn’t seem to be the case. However, while researching the Greek word for “trust” (pistis), I read something that registered in a way it never had before. Trust is an action based on faith, and faith is a gift. Because it’s a gift, faith cannot be earned. We can’t grow in it of our own will; we can only ask for more of it. Maybe then, if trust is an point of struggle the answer to growing in it is to ask for more of it.

I appreciate that there are technical qualifiers for what makes art (be it song, literature or visual) good or bad. However, I believe that the measure of quality in a piece of art to a large degree lies in its ability to evoke emotion. The emotional response may be positive or negative; if it inspires the listener/reader/viewer to feel something on receiving its message, it’s done its job. If it leads the audience to dwell and ponder on it, that’s often a sign that it’s well-composed.

I love resolution and happy endings, but it seems like often the works that aren’t so neatly concluded are more likely to inspire this ongoing analysis. I recently finished reading James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Stacked against the last three books I read, it evoked a markedly different emotional response. Where the others inspired a sense of almost unbearably deep longing, emphatically thinking, “That’s what I want,” this one left me frustrated.

I suppose what’s most vexing to me is the reality of it. He spends years infatuated with a girl/woman, yet he never pursues getting to know anything more than the concept of her. Why? Is he simply too shy? Is there something he’s waiting for from her? This seems to be implied in a recollection of spending time at her house: “At certain instants her eyes seemed about to trust him but he had waited in vain.” Does he not know how to pursue her, what to say? There’s somewhat of an indication of this in an encounter at the very end of the story.

Another possibility–perhaps the one that bothers me the most–is that he would rather live infatuated with the concept than risk disappointment. I may even find these ideas more frustrating because I understand them in a way. Isn’t that the way it is? It’s so much easier to identify things we don’t like about ourselves when we see them displayed through someone else.

However, while I can be shy and awkward, wrapped up in my own thoughts and perhaps sometimes see what I want to see, I’d rather know another person and experience love. Disappointment is inevitable. Human beings are flawed and by virtue of this let one another down. But it’s by being vulnerable, making sacrifices and compromises, jumping in the water and taking risks that love transcends infatuation to become love. It’s messy. There are arguments, often about the same two or three things. In some passionate moments, you may even feel like you hate the other person. In between, there are many boring moments. It’s hard work. And there’s pain because in giving and receiving love, you’re giving someone else power over you. As scary as these things might seem, they have potential to yield immeasurable beauty and joy. And that, I believe, is worth the risk.

Sometimes I get as much out of lessons geared toward kids as those for adults. Case in point–while watching a movie with my daughter this weekend, I found myself identifying with a 16-year-old mermaid who leaves home and finds her voice (that’s right, guys; I’m a defiant teenager who says things like, “You just don’t understand!”).

Voice, language and understanding are themes that seem to be coming up a lot for me lately. I volunteered as a pre-school teacher at church yesterday. In so doing, I got a bonus second message in addition to what I heard attending the service. The kids’ lesson was about the Tower of Babel, and it struck me in a way it never has before. As we discussed the story, it occurred to me that social media can be a bit like a modern-day Tower of Babel. It has potential to be an excellent unifier, keeping us connected with people we might otherwise never have known or would have lost contact with. It also has potential to feed vanity and breed misunderstanding and confusion.

I recently backed way off in my social media use. It’s not the first time I’ve done this. I don’t generally go to the extreme with it or broadcast that I’m doing it, but every now and then I need to disconnect a little bit. This time more than ever, a few things stood out to me.

  • Disconnecting is difficult…then contagious

When getting on Facebook has become a habit, it can actually take discipline not to type it in your browser when you’re bored or distracted. I got rid of the Facebook app on my phone a while back for a similar reason. It’s too easy to forget why I picked my phone up in the first place and hit that button instead of texting the person I intended to or searching for whatever information I needed. It also can lead to some anxiety, a feeling that you might miss something important by skipping a whole day on Facebook. However, once you get used to it, you realize it’s not so bad. And if you’re like me, you might start to notice you don’t even feel like getting on social media for a few days.

  • Social media is persistent and pervasive

Social media outlets like Facebook are incredibly targeted and marketed. When I type “www” (I realize this is typically no longer necessary) in my browser, Facebook is the top suggested website. I’ve long since turned off email notifications, but I still get updates letting me know how my professional page is performing from one week to the next. And since I’ve been on there less, I’ve started getting emails trying to entice me to get on to see what I’ve been missing, with things like, “Did you see Jessica’s comment on Susie’s picture?” Then there are the the ones listing the number of messages and notifications since the last time you got on there. These are almost humorous to me. Since interaction on social media is generally “You get what you give,” a bunch of notifications three days after your last post typically means numerous strangers have posted things on pages you follow.

  • Social media breaks = increased peace

Health benefits are part of the reason I now desire to be off social media for days at a time. I’m more content, less anxious, and I’ve even lost weight (just kidding on that last one). I’ve talked to multiple people recently who have been noticeably and negatively affected mentally and emotionally by social media. In some cases, it’s a matter of self-worth, comparing oneself to the images of success and happiness projected by others. For others, it’s a fear of missing out or feeling misunderstood, rejected or ignored. Some of these things may be lessons in humility, not comparing oneself to others and not seeking happiness and fulfillment in other, flawed human beings. But sometimes it’s easier to learn those lessons when you take a step back and give yourself the time and space to do so.

Changing all my strings

June 26, 2017

I recently came across my trumpet from my days as a band student and set about the task of finding a new home for it. It’s a bit bittersweet. Despite my passion for music, I was neither the most talented nor enthusiastic trumpet-player. Though private instruction helped me get a decent rating in contest, I never advanced beyond second-to-last chair.

While I hadn’t even opened the case in years, though, that instrument represented hours of hard work and memories spanning fifth grade through freshman year. However, I’m thrilled to think of some other kid getting an opportunity to play.

Thinking about my trumpet changing hands reminded me of another change I recently saw through music. Last year, in the aftermath of losing the two most important men in my life, I gained something–a new song for each of them.

Music and memory are deeply connected in my mind. As such, it’s not uncommon for me to associate certain music with specific people or periods in my life. A shared appreciation of The Cranberries and Fleetwood Mac lent itself to some of my early conversations with Matthew. But above all, the songs that I attached to him and my grandfather were the songs to which I danced with each of them at our wedding–Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” for my grandfather and The Swell Season’s “Back Broke” for Matthew.

When my grandfather passed away in early 2016, I’m sure I listened to “Wildflowers.” But the song that kept playing in my head that week was Phil Wickham’s “This Is Amazing Grace.” After hearing it mentally for almost a whole week, it was one of maybe four songs the worship band played in church. It’s an upbeat song, probably not the first that would come to mind when thinking about loss. Yet, its celebratory nature seemed well-suited for a soul gone on to be in the presence of God after serving Him here. And the words “You laid down your life that I should be set free,” are fitting. He served his country as a Marine in the Korean War, then went on to help start a family whose happiness he put first. And he taught that family and so many others about the one who ultimately laid down his life to set us free.

I didn’t have a song in my head following Matthew’s death later that year. I honestly didn’t have much in my head beyond doing what I had to do and surviving each day. In the midst of that, I found myself at church two days after he died, singing along with a song called “No Longer Slaves.” It’s a beautiful song, but then more than ever what jumped out at me were the lyrics, “You split the sea, so I could walk right through it; you drowned my fears in perfect love; you rescued me so I could stand and sing, ‘I am a child of God.'” I knew that the only was I was standing there in that moment was because God was splitting (and would continue to split) the sea in front of me.

The chorus of the song–“I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God”–resonated with me in its own way. Ironically, when I was 18 and relatively new in my faith, I expressed a sense of peace at the thought of death. Not that I expected my life to end any time soon at that point, but I was aware that unexpected things happen. I professed that while I didn’t desire to die, it wasn’t something I feared. Fast-forward a few years, and that changed a bit. Maybe it’s a deepened awareness of mortality that comes with age, but I was thinking about death more than felt normal, and I had grown to fear it. Having made it (by faith and with support) through more than I would have thought myself capable, many of my fears have diminished. And while some fear of death persists (and, I believe, is normal), knowing that these two men have gone before me into that unknown territory gives me a little bit more courage to one day face it myself.