I’ve experienced sympathy for the devil – actual, literal sympathy for the father of all lies. It’s a pretty weird and confusing feeling. More often, I feel a burning anger to a point that I hope for God to put me on the front line in battle. One topic that particularly fuels that fury is suicide.

I think I first became aware of it when I was pregnant and drove past the scene of what I knew was a suicide on the opposite side of the highway. I was saddened by the loss of life of a total stranger, but my impending motherhood also introduced a new thought process: Someone cared enough for you that she carried you for 9 months to give you life, and you’ve thrown that away.

Ultimately, my anger is not toward the person who has ended his or her own life, though. It’s directed at the fact that the devil managed to convince that person of the lies about who s/he is.

Despite my passionate feelings on the subject, this is not something I want(ed) to write about. It can be a polarizing issue, and there are many people whose lives have been touched by it. My own included. A cousin of mine killed himself when we were in our teens. A close family member attempted suicide a couple years ago. And I spent countless hours last fall doing everything in my power to pull one of my best friends back from that edge.

I initially considered writing on the matter when I read a news article last week about a school district temporarily pulling its copies of the book “13 Reasons Why” from library circulation following seven student suicides. But when another, more positive topic came to mind, I thought maybe I’d write about that instead. Then, Chris Cornell committed suicide.

I don’t often feel deeply impacted by celebrity deaths. I have sympathy for their families, and I recognize the loss of their talent and creativity, but I don’t know them personally. The news of Chris Cornell’s death left me in a pretty dark mood, though. Maybe it’s because his music played a big role in my life during some of my most formative years. Or because it was suicide. Or the fact that on at least one recent occasion, he had come to mind as one of a few musicians who seemed to have made it through what many of his peers succumbed to.

There are some things I’ve noticed over the past couple years in our culture and the way suicide is addressed that frustrate me. These two recent examples in the news shine some light on the positives and negatives of that discussion.

  • Suicide is active

Most of what I’ve seen published about Chris Cornell has been fair in acknowledging this fact. However, I’ve noticed in the past couple years a tendency people have to use terminology like “passed away” even when a person has ended his or her own life. I saw it a lot in reference to Robin Williams’ death, even after it was widely known that he had killed himself. In one blog I read, the writer argued that depression had killed him. He compared it to attributing a person’s death to cancer or pneumonia, when the literal cause of death is cardiac arrest or asphyxiation. The thing is, no matter how much an individual fights to the end or accepts his or her life is ending, these are passive examples. Suicide is not something that happens to someone; it is a choice.

  • Correlation does not equal causation

If you’ve ever taken a statistics or psychology class, you’ve very likely heard this phrase. In Chris Cornell’s case, his wife blamed Ativan. It was less than 48 hours after his death when she made this statement, and she was indubitably in a state of shock (and still is, I’m sure). I understand, too, the search for an explanation and the desire to protect a loved one who is deceased. But while Ativan possibly – perhaps even likely – influenced his decision to end his life, the drug did not kill him.

Similarly, from what I’ve read about “13 Reasons Why” (to be clear, I’ve neither read the book nor watched the show, but have read the novel’s plot summary and multiple blogs and articles about the show), there’s no mention of mental illness. Of course, it’s told from the perspective of a character who did end her life, who maybe is unaware or in denial of an underlying issue. But while it’s good to remember to be kind to people and that our actions impact others, the reasons given in the story are factors exacerbating a pre-existing mental state.

  • We are responsible for messages we put out

While no person bears responsibility for another’s choice to end his or her life, it’s imperative to consider the consequences of the messages we share and promote. Chris Cornell sang in 1994’s “Fell On Black Days,” “How would I know that this could be my fate?” Listening to Soundgarden, Audioslave and his solo music, paying attention to the lyrics, it’s quite obvious that he struggled with depression. And he chose to write those songs and to perform them, but a lot of people encouraged it, too. Myself included. When I read that he had died in an apparent suicide, I posted a link to the aforementioned song on Facebook.

There’s a reason why I don’t listen to Soundgarden, Radiohead, Candlebox and numerous other bands anywhere near as much as I used to. A lot of their music is depressing. It’s art, and art imitates life, and life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. But music written by people who are depressed doesn’t just have the power to be relatable, it can perpetuate those feelings. Chris Cornell chose to write and perform those songs, and he chose to continue touring and performing them. But we all applauded and sang along. I can only imagine what it would do to a person’s psyche to reinforce repeatedly to thousands of cheering fans that “Nothing will do me in before I do myself,” or “I wallowed in the blood and mud … and I learned that I was a liar.”

In the case of “13 Reasons Why,” there’s been much debate over whether the show’s graphic depiction of the main character’s suicide was more helpful or detrimental. A friend of mine said he didn’t feel the scene romanticized it, echoing the producer’s views that it showed suicide as an ugly, destructive act that hurts others. However, this is an adult male. As a teenage girl, I read and watched “The Virgin Suicides.” Based on what I’ve read about “13 Reasons Why,” it seems to have very similar plot devices: An attractive young woman (or women) who has been victimized and a wistful young man (or men) telling her story and trying to figure out the why. For a young woman who suffers from mental health issues and/or finds beauty in darkness, these things can romanticize suicide.

This isn’t just coming from my own experiences. According to mental health professionals, graphic depictions of suicide can actually have the effect of contributing to suicidal thoughts, especially for young people. I know the show’s producers thought they were providing an honest and unglamorous look at suicide and its impact. However, I also think there’s a responsibility there – not for the choices of an individual but to consider who their audience is, and if in trying to help some, they may be contributing to harming others.

 

My Mother’s Day gift yesterday was that my daughter took a nap. Or as I explained in a tongue-in-cheek message to my stepfather, “getting time to write and clean without feeling like a shitty parent for ignoring my kid.”

I don’t really think I’m a bad parent. I also count myself fortunate that my mother and maternal grandmother are both still living, that I have a good relationship with them and that I got to spend some time with them yesterday. There are many people who don’t have one let alone all three of those. But it was a bit weird to experience Mother’s Day as a mostly ordinary day, when I’m used to enjoying such days with someone who shared my joy in celebrating one another any chance we got.

For me, yesterday was a day to be grateful for the wonderfully amazing little girl I’ve been blessed with. It was a day to appreciate the Mother’s Days and all the other special occasions I did get to celebrate with Matthew. It also was a time to reflect on being a single mother and the dual roles it requires a person to step into.

I honestly might not have thought about this last one were it not for a friend bringing it up. I’m glad she did because it gave me an opportunity to think critically and constructively about it rather than simply focusing on what was missing.

While it might not have otherwise been at the top of my mind yesterday, I’m regularly made aware of this need to at least try to fill a role that previously was someone else’s. I recognize it when I drop my voice an octave in an attempt to remind everyone – from the defiant dog to the trying toddler – that I’m the boss of the household. I’m reminded of it when I can’t go to the gym first thing in the morning or make a random trip to the store without my daughter in tow. It’s heavy on my heart when I feel like I’m not giving her enough attention and I’m at my wits’ end, saying, “God, I don’t know how long I can do this.”

When I really thought about it, I realized that these are challenges I faced before becoming a single parent. Matthew adored Violet and was making more of an effort be part of her daily routines. However, I was responsible for the majority of her care as well as most household cleaning. There are multiple reasons for this, including an old habit of trying to do everything myself. As frustrating as it was at times, I now recognize that it helped equip me for the responsibility of being the sole provider and caretaker.

My upbringing helped prepare me for single parenthood, too. I saw firsthand from a child’s perspective how much work it took to raise not one but two daughters without the support of a husband. Walking in this role now, I have a much deeper respect for her.

Growing up with a single parent also revealed to me the significant and lasting impact of growing up without a dad. That has been one of the most difficult things for me to accept. I find some small consolation in being able to tell my daughter how much her dad loved her and that his absence from her life was not his choosing.

When the topic of single parenthood came up yesterday, I was flattered when my friend told me my daughter doesn’t show signs of lacking a father figure. Then, I realized that in my own experience, the impact didn’t become evident (to me at least) until I was older.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t wish I had a partner to share the joys, to relieve some of the burden and to help build into my daughter in the way that she needs and deserves. Single parents can do a great job, but one person is not truly equipped for fulfilling the roles intended for two people. For now, though, this role – or roles – that I’ve been forced into is teaching me, just as I’m teaching my daughter. One theme that’s been coming up a lot lately is this idea of receiving and giving out of the resources God gives us, rather than relying on our own. I’m only beginning to understand this concept and how to apply it, but I’m finding that when I do, I feel a little less weary and a little more peace and joy.

I recently was struck by a line in Sarah Jensen’s “A Perfect Union of Contrary Things.” In her biographical/autobiographical book about Maynard James Keenan, the Tool lyricist and singer references one of his early “mountaintop experiences” saying, “I let go of the need to translate these experiences to people.”

I see some irony in that statement, since the songs he and his bandmates create are in many ways reflections of his life, pieces of his story. But I also kind of get it. Like Maynard, I see myself as a storyteller, and part of me wants to share with others the breathtaking moments of my life that shape who I am.

I can tell you about the beauty of 1,400 women sitting down joyfully for dinner, guards let down, laughing and sharing their stories with each other. Or the glimpse of heaven gained from shutting one’s eyes and hearing those women’s voices blending in perfect harmony singing about broken chains and refusal to be slaves to fear. While my words might paint some picture of such experiences, though, it likely isn’t relatable unless you’ve experienced something similar.

I might not be able to adequately convey my thoughts and emotions on some things. But I can tell you that this weekend’s camping trip through which I experienced these moments was focused on identity. And I can tell you that when we accept our true identities, it requires us to let go of the ones the world puts on us or that we put on ourselves. That realization drove home three things I’ve been learning about letting go.

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This candy dish and broken lid have been stowed away since 2011.

  • Forgiving moves us forward

I was doing some cleaning last month and came across a decorative glass basket that was broken and a glass candy dish with a broken lid. Both items had belonged to Matthew’s grandmother and were passed down to him. They broke while he was moving in 2011. He hung onto these things for five years, moving them from one residence to another. I’m sure he intended to glue the pieces, but he never did. Some people might go ahead and glue them or repurpose the broken pieces in some cool craft. I threw them in the garbage but kept the unbroken candy dish. I found another of these relics in the garage yesterday – a ceramic duck with the head broken off. I threw that away too.

These things were perfect tangible representations of my own journey of forgiveness. When a person has any kind of care for another, that individual opens him/herself up to being hurt. Naturally, there were ways that Matthew and I hurt each other over the duration of our relationship. We thankfully worked through most of those hurts. However, there’s still some anger from arguments we had and related to his death that have required me to work on forgiveness. Because when you hold onto brokenness it can hinder and even hurt you.

  • Giving up control is liberating

In some ways, it might surprise people that I struggle with letting go of control. I’m a pretty easygoing person in a lot of ways. I earned the title of “most laid-back bride ever” when I allowed a hair stylist to cut bangs into my hair on my wedding day. And I’m generally pretty flexible on things like time, where to go or what to do when making plans with people.

While discussing my weaknesses with my sister a couple months ago, though, she mentioned that I don’t deal well with things going differently than how I expect. I guess I tend to see how I’ve grown in this area more than I see it as a weakness. But I began to realize that this is a manifestation of a desire to be in control. As are habits like organizing things around my home in very specific ways, making to-do lists and feeling like I have to be the one to take action in situations where maybe I don’t. I’m still trying to figure out the balance of keeping up with the house without allowing it to stress me out, making sure I remember what I need to get done while giving myself grace and recognizing that sometimes it’s better to let other people do things (like starting fires).

  • Letting go of dreams can remove limitations

I’ve mentioned previously how stressful it is to have a lot of possessions. One particular group of possessions that has gotten to me recently are baby clothes. I kept a lot of clothes after Violet outgrew them because Matthew and I planned to have more children. In fact, this is one of the areas where I struggled most with trusting God and giving up control. Even before Matthew and I were married, I knew I wanted two or maybe three children, and I wanted to have them, God-willing, about two to three years apart. Of course, things don’t happen exactly how we plan them. I feel overwhelmingly blessed just to have Violet. But the outgrown clothes in the garage are a reminder of a dream that was never realized and an uncertainty about what God’s plans are for my future.

I recently decided that I’m going to get rid of some – not all – of these clothes. Because when we lay our dreams down at God’s feet, we let go of limitations, of plans and expectations and trust that any dreams on our hearts put there by Him will come to fruition.

The past week-and-a-half has been full of what I like to think of as adventures. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the car with my daughter, dog and cat while strangers tour my (for-now) home. Sometimes we go to nearby parks. Or I might drive around trying to find unfamiliar places to explore while getting lost in whatever’s on the radio (this at times has a decidedly “Garden State” feel to it). If I have work or personal writing to do, and if my daughter is tired enough, I’ll drive just long enough for her to fall asleep, then park somewhere and write.

One of the most delightfully random excursions was last Thursday. My best friend stays with my daughter nearly every week so I can go to the gym. When a showing got scheduled for right around the time she was planning to come over, I sent her a text to adjust our plans a bit. Some people might just say, “That’s fine,” but she followed that statement up with, “What are you planning (during the showing)?” In the end, we wound up getting coffee and sitting in my car chatting because it was raining.

I occasionally mention this concept of “doing life” with others. I know it might sound like some kind of cheesy buzz phrase, but moments like this are what I think of when I use this term. In terms of friendship, there’s something to be said for a person who’s equally inclined to meet up for lunch, help haul boxes from your basement to your garage, celebrate a birthday or go to the grocery store with you.

I find great joy in the everyday adventures I share with friends who I see all the time. However, it was only through prompting by a friend while on vacation that I really started thinking about the benefits of these friendships and the experiences they produce.

  • You see things through fresh eyes

Part of doing life together is experiencing new things. Sometimes their mutually new experiences. Other times, it’s inviting the other person to take part in something new to him or her but familiar to you. While staying with friends in Temecula, California, we visited San Clemente, where we walked along the beach looking for seashells. I got to hear from my friends about different beaches they’d visited, and they got to be a part of my first time on the west coast and Violet’s first time seeing the ocean. Similarly, when we visited the San Diego Zoo, I got to hear about parts of the zoo we didn’t have time to visit, and they shared in my interactions with my daughter as I pointed out the different animals.

  • You get a different perspective

One thing I particularly appreciated while staying with my friends was the opportunity to get to know them better. I’d never had a chance to meet my friend’s husband, but it didn’t occur to me that in a lot of ways, I didn’t know her that well either. Aside from keeping in touch on social media, we’d only had a handful of interactions before my stay with her family. Over the course of two days, I found out a lot more about her upbringing, her struggles with chronic illness and her philosophies on education. I got to hear about her husband’s work as a musician, and I got insight from his previous work experiences into an aspect of debt collection I didn’t know much about. They shared with me about their church community and funny anecdotes about their daughter.

In addition to learning about them and gaining perspective on their everyday lives, I got to share some of my own, and I even learned a little bit about myself. As I talked with them about my dreams and career aspirations, they listened, asked questions and offered their own thoughts, helping to make the picture in my own head a little clearer.

  • Doing life with others is humbling

When you “do life” with others, it often entails asking for and/or accepting help or hospitality. When I took my friend up on her offer to stay with them, I had no idea what the setup of their home was like. I figured I may be sleeping on a couch, and I was totally fine with that. Instead, their 10-year-old daughter gave up her bed and her room for three nights for someone who was virtually a stranger to her. Because of this, I was more aware of her needs as a pre-teen girl and tried to give her space to be in her room during the day.

My friends also put up with a toddler running around the house investigating everything. They even supervised her on a couple occasions, so I could get some task or other done without feeling like I was herding cats (or in my case, a single cat on amphetamines). Receiving help is not only humbling but invites a degree of vulnerability for someone who struggles with a desire to be in control – all of which can facilitate growth.

  • Doing life together reminds us to be present

I have a bad habit of keeping myself busy. As a single parent working from home, I guess that’s to be expected in some ways. As such, it’s helpful to find opportunities to fit in tasks, like folding laundry when my daughter is taking a ridiculously long time eating. But often I’m so intent on making the best use of my time that I don’t allow myself to rest. When I do, my mind drifts to what I did or said yesterday, what I need to do tomorrow, next week, next month. I don’t know if my friends’ lives are as hectic as mine, but I know from my own experience that when I’m around friends – especially if they’re in my house – I tend to slow down a little bit and be a little more present.

In last week’s post, I touched on the topic of trust. What I didn’t mention is that when I sensed that God was telling me, “I’ll teach you to trust me in new ways,” I was as apprehensive as I was excited. Because when God teaches us things in new ways, it’s often through tests, trials and tribulations.

I’ve noticed that I often seem to face tests after making bold assertions or eagerly expressing my desire to follow where I’m being led. Last week, I felt like Sarah, in the movie “Labyrinth,” when she thinks she’s solved a particular riddle and exclaims, “It’s a piece of cake!” right before falling through a trap door.

I was reading in my devotional messages of peace, steadiness and not giving in to performance anxiety. I have a tendency to be critical of my own work. I’m more aware now of periods of my life where I’ve been more prone to anxiety. I don’t generally feel what I would describe as performance anxiety, though. And suddenly, I was. In fact, I was feeling immense anxiety in nearly all areas of my life.

It wasn’t totally unfounded. I was coming out of vacation mode, getting back to work. I also was trying to get the house I live in show-ready. In contrast with contentedly living out of a suitcase for two weeks, this task was a reminder of how much stuff I have. Some of it is by choice, and some is what I was shouldered with in Matthew’s absence.  This is a huge stressor for me and something that led to many utterances of posthumous forgiveness. There’s (at least) one other factor, too. A much clearer picture has been developing of some big things I want to do.

It might seem odd to include this last one. It’s something I’m actually quite excited about. Yet, it’s probably the crux of the stress because it’s where I want to be, but I still don’t know when, where or how exactly it will come to pass. All I know is that I’m not there yet, and for now I have to stay in place to grow in the ways that I need to.

Finally, the stress got to me enough that I started asking friends to pray about it. This isn’t wholly unusual for me, but a couple things stood out to me about it this time. I was reminded, for one, of something I’d read in Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – “It is the confession, no the priest that gives us absolution.” I was so struck by that idea that I’ve had it saved in a note in my phone since reading it roughly two years ago. Time and again I’ve found that taking the step of sharing one’s struggles is a big part of breaking the power of that stronghold.

The anxiety I was feeling didn’t totally dissipate right when I texted a friend about how I was feeling. But my frustrated monologues of, “God, I trust you, but…” turned to something more conversational: “Do you trust me?” “Yes.”

The question came back when the anxiety rose up and each time, the response affirming my trust. It reminded me a bit of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples who I happen to have an affinity for because I identify with his bold eagerness (which often led him to eating his own words). Paired with this, I began to create somewhat of a mantra out of a bumper sticker I saw in Phoenix that read simply, “Everything will be OK.”

I also began learn some things about myself and about trust.

  • Spiritual strongholds are often connected

I realized that my difficulty trusting God is deeply rooted in relationships, going back to before I was even born. More than that, my struggle to trust God is incredibly connected to my struggles with forgiveness and letting go of control.

  • I’m a lot like my daughter

We tend to ascribe a child’s characteristics to their parents. But so often, when my daughter is having a temper tantrum, I hear myself saying to her the same things I feel God is saying to me – “Trust me” and “Do you know how much I love you?” – and I can’t help thinking that I must look to Him a lot like she does to me.

I sometimes imagine what my daughter will be like when she’s older, and it’s typically pretty general, centered around what career she might take on, or thinking of her getting married one day. While praying for her the other day, though, I asked for God to develop her into what He created her to be – be it a warrior, teacher, pastor or any number of other things. It occurred to me then that by that logic, He’s developing me in the same way.

It’s been nearly a decade, but I still clearly remember one of the first times I understood the feeling of freedom. I was coasting down a hill by a park near my house. I had a quarter of a tank of gas or less in my car, and I was pretty much broke, but I didn’t care. I realized that freedom doesn’t mean living without limitations, but recognizing and accepting your limitations while not letting them rule you.

I have a little more money now and way more responsibility. I can find freedom wherever I am and through any circumstances, but I still feel it most in the car. It was a feeling I desperately needed to be reminded of. The refresh it provided was only one thing I took from my experiences over the past two weeks, though. As I’d hoped, I learned a lot about God, myself and my daughter while traveling to the west coast and back. I’m still sorting through some of those lessons, but here are a few of them.

  • Listen to your inner child (or your actual child)

I have two tattoos, one of which is a symbol that translates roughly to “childlike.” I was very specific, when I looked up the symbol in a kanji dictionary, to select a symbol that translated more closely to “childlike” than “childish” – the idea being that I strive to maintain a sense of wonder and faith regardless of my age.

I think I’ve done a pretty good job of holding onto this perspective, but sometimes life wears on me. Thankfully, my daughter provides constant reminders to be more like a child. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding me to address basic needs – a cough that tells me she needs a drink of water and reminds me that I should hydrate myself, too. Other times, it’s her lack of inhibition and fear. Every child has his or her own personality, but by and large, kids seem to invite adventure; it’s how they learn. We went for three decently intense hikes. Every time, we would start out with my daughter in a toddler carrier, and every time she expressed a desire to get out and walk – even when that meant climbing up and down mountain trails.

  • Life is meant to be experienced with others

I can be a pretty solitary person in some ways, but I need interaction with people. Fortunately for me, I have an adorable kid who elicits conversation virtually everywhere I go. Even so, there’s a difference between exchanging pleasantries with a stranger in a grocery store and connecting with other people in a meaningful way.

I was happy to be on my own as I headed out west. I’m grateful for the things I learned on the way out there and heading back. But after three visits with friends in a four-day span, the contrast of being alone was significantly more noticeable on the return trip. The visits were fleeting, but each interaction offered its own unique perspective and an opportunity to get to know friends better, while also processing my journey.

  • Things happen the way they do for a reason

I very intentionally kept a flexible itinerary while traveling. However, this trip was a true exercise in rolling with things when they don’t go according to plan – and realizing that sometimes that’s a good thing. I originally hoped to get to St. George, Utah and go for a hike at Zion National Park on the same day I left California. Between having to wait for a phone repair shop to open, waiting for my screen to be replaced and stopping in Las Vegas to grab a bite with a friend, I didn’t make it to St. George until after dark. But that meant my daughter and I were pretty much the first people at Zion the next morning and got to enjoy a beautiful and quiet hike.

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Early morning at Zion National Park

On another occasion, I couldn’t help thinking it would be nice to have someone over the age of 2 to talk to during a long day of driving. Yet, in that solo driving time, I noticed some little things I might otherwise have missed. Like a house built into a hill. Or the way the strings on The Last Bison’s cover of “Midnight City” seemed to match up so perfectly with the turning blades of the massive windmills around me.

  • Less tangible acts of faith yield deep growth

Sometimes God prompts us in ways that call us to action. Other times, He puts on our hearts to express our faith less tangibly by exercising qualities like patience and trust. I’ve found these seemingly less active expressions of faith to be some of the most difficult, but I also believe God rewards obedience in these areas.

Trust is one in particular that I’ve noticed coming up a lot lately for me. Hiking a mountain trail with my daughter in Phoenix, I felt a sense of duty to set an example of this. Guiding, coaching and encouraging her as we climbed, I reminded her to hold my hand, to allow me to go ahead or behind her. When she seemed apprehensive, I explained to her that I was trusting God, and I needed her to trust me.

My phone died multiple times, too. Not a big deal, right? I didn’t have a cell phone for half my life, and people have gotten by and traveled for years without cell phones. But I use my phone for GPS, so I had to rely on my familiarity with a city I’d been in for all of two days finding my way back to a condo where I was staying. Then, relying on my directions off my laptop screen in Temecula, California, trying to find a repair shop after my phone’s screen got busted. And finally, trusting that I’d be OK to go for a hike in Zion National Park and could make it back to the highway before my phone had charged enough to come back on.

It was during this walk that I was praying out loud and asked for God to guide me back to the path if I strayed from it (in a metaphorical sense) only to find myself off the trail in a literal sense about 15 minutes later. Aside from getting a laugh out of the irony, I took a couple things from the experience. One was a sense of God telling me, “I will teach you to trust me in new ways.” The other was the idea that while God will guide me back to the trail, it’s not always the one the world would create for me, and it’s not always clearly marked.

Roll away your stone

April 11, 2017

Fun fact: Jesus isn’t the only person who ever rose from the dead.

A friend of mine suggested I write about Easter this week. As with Christmas, my perspective on this particular holiday has shifted quite a bit in the past few years. I previously didn’t think much about it – the name we use in reference of the day (which stems most likely from the name of a goddess of 7th century English monks), the candy, people dressed up in bunny suits. I knew what the holiday meant in relation to my faith, and I could give or take all the weird traditions that have become widely accepted ways of celebrating the day. I’m sure there’s plenty of material to write a blog about all that. But I thought I’d go back a bit to an event leading up to what I prefer to call Resurrection Day and what it means for me.

The references to Lazarus started about a week-and-a-half ago. I start most days with an interactive devotional app on my phone. The app includes a section where users are presented with a chapter or so from the Bible and instructed to select which verse stands out to them and explain why. Sometimes, there are verses that seem to speak clearly and directly to things I’m experiencing. On this particular day, none of them did, but I selected a verse related to the death of Lazarus, whom Jesus restored to life after four days in the tomb.

At the time, the best explanation I had for why the verse stood out to me was that it specifies that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was troubled and moved by the sisters’ grief. But there’s so much more to the story that makes it complex and intriguing.

Jesus knew Lazarus was ill yet waited to go to him (In the New International Version, it reads, “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, then he said to his disciples ‘Let us go back to Judea.'”) Jesus knew Lazarus was dead at that point and intended to raise him from the dead intentionally so people would recognize his power and believe that he truly was the son of God.

Then there’s the famous two-word sentence, “Jesus wept.” Why would he weep, when he knew Lazarus would be brought back to life? The assumption is it’s an indication of how much he was/is moved by the sorrow of those whom he loves.

This miracle also was a turning point leading up to Jesus’ death. The book of John specifies that the Pharisees began plotting to kill Jesus after hearing that he had brought Lazarus back from the dead.

Just as there’s more to the story in the Bible, there was more to its significance for me. Later, the same day the verse about Lazarus came up, I heard Mumford and Sons’ “Roll Away Your Stone” on the radio. The song, to the best of my understanding, is about the grace received through giving one’s life up to Christ and denying the devil the satisfaction of conquering one’s soul. While the rolling away of the stone is, of course, an allusion to the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, a stone also is rolled away from Lazarus’ tomb in the story.

That same evening, I sat down to hang out with my daughter for a few minutes, and her children’s Bible was either open to the story of Lazarus, or I opened it with no effort to that story.

That was when it really started to occur to me that there was something more for me to take from the story, but I still wasn’t sure what. I began to think about it a little more and came up with somewhat of an idea of what it meant for me, but after a day or two, it drifted to the back of my mind. Until I heard a song on the radio last week, called “Glorious Day,” by Passion, featuring Kristian Stanfill. The song puts the singer in the role of Lazarus, saying, “You called my name, and I ran out of that grave.”

Now that I’ve had some time to think about all these references, there are two main points I’ve taken away from the story.

  • God is my help

When I first realized there was something more I was supposed to be taking away from the story, I did a little research and found out that the name Lazarus translates to something along the lines of, “God is my help.” At the time, I was desperately in need of a break that was nearly within reach, loaded up with work and cleaning, and I knew I couldn’t get it all done on my own. Reminding myself of that phrase helped get me through it, getting done what needed to get done and not worrying about the rest. Over the next few days, I would remind myself of the phrase when I faced challenging situations.

  • God wants to give me life

It’s funny that I heard the song “Glorious Day” because when I initially began recognizing that the story of Lazarus was coming up a lot, I started thinking about whose role in the story I most identified with (Mary, Martha, etc.). This song, I believe, was the answer to that question. Jesus knew what he was doing when he raised Lazarus from the dead, and I’m sure he knew what it would mean regarding the Pharisees and his own soon-approaching death. But he loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus and wanted other people to understand and believe who he was so much that he called him out of his tomb.

It wasn’t just Lazarus, though. We all have our tombs, and he’s calling us out of them. There’s a concept in Christianity that because Christ died for our sins, we also die to sin when we accept him into our lives. I think this might be confusing for people in some ways and could in part be the basis for people accusing Christians of hypocrisy. But being dead to sin doesn’t mean that you don’t sin, but that because of grace, sin loses its power over you (and as a result, your life, while not perfect, begins to look different). I’ve heard numerous times that being Christian means you die daily to sin. But if Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave following his death, that means that his followers are similarly called to do the same. I don’t believe that only applies to an afterlife but to the act of rising daily and living.

I shared a bit last week about a book I’m working on, with an excerpt from it. This week, at the suggestion of  a friend, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned through this project.

  • “Chapter” endings are difficult

When I began writing my memories of Matthew, I found it was easiest to organize my thoughts chronologically. They likely won’t follow the same order in the book, but for now I’ve stuck with that method, grouping the memories by year with others thrown in here and there as they come to me.

Lately, I’ve been covering about a year of memories in a month’s time. This means that I typically wrap up a year in memory with the ending of a month. At first, it seemed daunting. I knew that finishing the book would be a significant piece in moving forward with my life, and part of me wanted to rush through that. Sometime around January – or 2012, in terms of memories – the gravity of that started to set in, though. It occurred to me that with each anecdote I write, I’m closer to not having any more of them to write. That can be a hard reality to face, and it’s one I face most when I’m wrapping up a month/year.

  • I have more memories than I realized (yet fewer than I would like)

I’ve always had a pretty good memory, but it still seems remarkable to me how much I’m able to recall. At times, it’s felt like for every memory I’ve written I’ve remembered three more. But when you lose someone dear, you suddenly realize you didn’t have anywhere near as much time as you would have liked, or feel like you should have had, with that person. Part of the reason the ends of years and the approaching conclusion of my memory-writing are difficult is because I wish I had more of them to write.

  • Retrospective emotions can seem incongruous

I recently was talking with a friend who also experienced a significant loss in the last few months about how fickle emotions can be. You don’t always know how what’s going to hit you or how.

Sometimes, I manage to find the humor in a situation that previously pissed you off. Other times, I’ll think of a funny or silly memory, and it makes me sad because I won’t have any more of those particular inside jokes or mirthful glances exchanged while suppressing laughter. At one point in January or February, I found myself over the span of a few days crying every time I thought of an exchange where I’d gotten short with Matthew over something stupid.

  • Perspective varies by person

When we learn about history as kids in school, what we learn depends largely on geography. Similar to the idea that “history is written by the victors,” memories of a situation can be totally different, depending on who’s sharing them. Of course, when memories are shared between two or more people, those people may share a similar emotional response. But the experiences are still unique to the individual, and something that stands out to one person may not stand out as much to someone else.

My memories of Matthew are written from my perspective. While I think I’m pretty good recognizing and acknowledging all sides of a story, I didn’t realize until I began writing how much my memories are focused on my role in a situation, or simply the fact that something happened. While I have hundreds of memories of Matthew, the ones that really paint the picture of the person are those that describe interactions, not just experiences.

 

I’m a writer not only in trade but at heart, and memories are like treasures to me. It’s probably not surprising, then, that pretty recently after Matthew passed away, I set to the task of writing every memory I had of him. I wanted to have that record for myself and for my daughter as a way to know her father.

I began writing letters to Matthew not long after, as a way of coping and reconciling thoughts and feelings related to him, his death and my life in the aftermath.

At some point, it occurred to me that I could combine the two in a book – memories juxtaposed with letters of loss and healing. My hope is that it could be not only cathartic for me and a record for my daughter but might actually be helpful for others in similar situations. For the next two blog posts, I thought I would focus on sharing a little bit about this project.

The following is a letter I wrote to Matthew a little more than a week ago. The letters typically are prompted by some event or thought I’m trying to work through. This one was preceded by a dream I’d had (I have further thoughts on the reality of such dreams, but I don’t want to be too wordy. However, I’d love to exchange thoughts on the subject with anyone interested and willing.):

Dear Matthew,

You know when you have a dream, and you’re starting to wake up, and you can begin to control it some? All you want is to finish it up the way you feel like it should end. Or maybe you just want to get back to an earlier part of the dream, to just stay there.

I dreampt of you last night, and it was like that. I was in some building, like a hotel, and I was headed toward a room where you were supposed to be. I knew something had happened, and I was apprehensive of how I would find you – that you would be dead and/or gone, taken away by EMTs. But when I got to the room where you were, I was pleasantly surprised. You were there, and you were fine. You were among other people, but I don’t know who because you were all I was focused on. You looked as you did in that picture on the bus to New Orleans in 2013, and you looked happy. I started crying, and you asked me why. As we hugged, I told you it was because I missed you so much.

This past week, I felt really good, and I felt like I’ve reached a new place in my grief. I think there are a couple reasons contributing to this feeling.

First, I had kind of a breakthrough in my mindset related to your death. I found myself dwelling on how it happened and on the permanence of your being gone from here. I realized these aren’t the things God wants me to focus on, and in response to that realization, I jotted this in my journal: When you get hung up on imagining the details of how bad things have played out, thinking about how horrific it might have been, you are allowing your focus to be taken from the healing and restorative work God is doing. In retrospect, I might add the word redemptive to that, too.

I also talked with Steve and Sherri to let them know I cannot buy the house from them (or don’t think I should). It was a difficult conversation, and I felt like I’d let them down. But I know it was the right decision, and as a friend pointed out, it was a part of me establishing myself, making a big decision on my own – a decision that previously would have been ours to make together.

I think the dream last night was an extension of these two things. I saw you restored and joyful, unbothered by the troubles of this world, and I was reminded that while I miss you and will see you again, I can’t stay where you are right now. I have my own journey that will bring me to that place.

I miss you, and I love you.

Roxanna

 

Letting go can present itself in so many different ways. One particular opportunity to practice the habit came up recently, as the result of a pretty big decision I made. Or chose not to make, depending on how you look at it.

After praying and weighing for months whether it was right or not, I decided not to purchase the house I live in. It’s not a choice I made lightly. Because it involved family, and because in the midst of making up my mind I’d begun taking steps in a direction that seemed to indicate I intended to buy it, I had to have a really hard conversation. I fully believe that both the homeowners and I will prosper more in the long run, but it’s still hard to feel like I let people down.

I ultimately chose the path I did because I believe it’s where God is leading me, and I don’t think I’m prepared for the financial obligation of home ownership just yet. On another level, I’m not sure I can stay long-term in a place that held a sense of “ours” when Matthew and I moved into it in late 2015. I’ve made plenty of changes over the past few months and made it more “my” home (in terms of residence, not ownership). But in spite of that, and even though my memories of this house go back well before Matthew and I lived here, there’s very much a piece of “us” here.

It’s not something I’m trying to run from, and I’m not rushing to leave. To the contrary, I’m grateful to be able to stay here for now. I don’t really want to move to an apartment, which is likely what I’ll have to do temporarily when the time comes to leave here. To be honest, I’ve developed some attachment to this house, too. And as far as Matthew, he and my memories of him will always be a part of me; there will always be reminders of him, from pictures to mementos to my daughter.

Living in a house that’s on the market will have its own challenges, too. My assurance was that I would make it look homey, but not lived in. Despite having a toddler under my roof, I manage to keep my living space relatively nice-looking and clean. If there are going to be potential home-buyers coming through, though, relatively isn’t going to cut it; it will have to be immaculate. I’ll also have to depersonalize it a little bit, which means taking down some pictures and things that are special to me.

I had a couple friends over for a small group meeting last week, and one of them stayed to help with clean-up and my daughter’s dinner time. As I helped my daughter clean her room (which is to say, I was busy putting 98 percent of her toys away), I chatted with my friend, who was replacing some alphabet blocks on an antique radio in the living room. I explained that even though I’ve changed things and gotten rid of plenty of things, there are some I haven’t been able to change yet. It’s different for everyone, and you don’t always know what’s going to be difficult to take down or let go of. For some people, I’ve heard that throwing out a loved one’s toothbrush can be hard. That wasn’t one that hit me particularly hard. But the blocks are one that I’ve kept the same.

To say I’m “particular” in the way I arrange things would be putting it lightly. There are certain things that always go back just so. Books arranged by size, clothes organized by color and the blocks stacked in steps. Always with a block picturing a frog and one with a moose on top and in descending order below MS, RS and VS. If someone messes with them and doesn’t put them back that way, I rearrange them.

I don’t think it occurred to me to look at how my friend had arranged the blocks until the next day. I’d heard her messing with them for a while, and I had the impression that, like me, she had arranged them in a specific way. The animal blocks, including the moose and frog were facing out in two columns on each side. There was only one step. The initials were still there, but they were arranged with the VS at the top and RS and MS in descending order. At the top, above my daughter’s initials were the letters LF. For as intentional as she was about how she put the other blocks, I can’t help but think there was some meaning behind the letters at the top. I haven’t asked her about it (yet), but I like to think it’s an abbreviation for “life.” And for once, I didn’t rearrange them.