I woke up early this morning because I couldn’t sleep. Again.
September is getting closer and as it does, I remember a friend who isn’t here anymore. I put new strings on my guitar yesterday and it made me think of him. He loved to play guitar. He was awesome at it.
I however, am still to this day, slightly inept. I’m thinking of working on that.
I’m writing this because for the past few years, I’ve struggled to really voice how much my friend meant to our community at church, at school, and to myself. The memory of how he passed left several painful scars on many of us. Talking to each other around the scars, however, is slowly becoming worse and worse, so I’m ripping mine open and letting it bleed.
September would have been his birthday.
Or was it November? Sadly some days I forget, while other days I remember all too clearly.
Instead of celebrating his 24th(?), I walk through parts of my day in a daze that this reality is so far from what I pictured for him, for us. I pictured being there for his wedding by now, and somehow myself already married. Instead I’m single, my guitar collects dust, and my heart collects tears as more people I know pass away, refuse to talk to me, or refuse to speak with each other.
As new friends come and go through all of this, I’m stunned by how much this does not impact them, and I struggle with being angry or slightly relieved. I can start over without all the baggage, but at the same time I want to open up my suitcase of grief and share it. I never want to burden others but trying to hold it all down or shoving it away just causes more pain. Ironically, the people who just tell me to move on have shoved their own suitcases away as far as they know how. Others simply do not really understand how grief works and that it’s okay. It’s complicated and it’s messy. It’s also really beautiful.
If your suitcase of grief is too full, it bursts open and there you are, bag and baggage everywhere. Memories and people and places and faces and events… it’s all there! It hurts like hell, but it’s there. It’s all still there. I love this about grief; how it makes me realize what is most important to me, so that I can make the best use out of the time I have left here, because most of the time I use it poorly.
I spend it in envy. I spend it in regret. I spend it in greed. I spend it in addictions, however popular they are. Anger gets the best of me, and bitterness knocks me down. And I can feel tired. Oh so tired. It’s no wonder I can at times feel like I never get enough sleep. My suitcase weighs a ton.
“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29.
In my high school youth group, I remember watching a video clip of a man with an incredibly large burden on his shoulders. As he was walking up the side of a mountain with a group of people, all ragged and tired looking, he stumbled. He couldn’t go any further because of the weight of what he carried. I remember how one man went back, took his knife, and slashed away the things that he did not want to let go of. There they went tumbling over the side of the cliff and splashed into the abyss of the river.
Afterwards the men cried. Other than learning that grown men really do cry, I thought back on this time after time only to see that the efforts other people make to get the man walking again were really flawed. All the beating and the kicking and the spitting ignored the weight that was obviously being carried on this man’s shoulders.
We do this to each other so much when we grieve. When we sin. We beat each other up, sometimes calling it accountability.
I don’t want to do that anymore.
Instead, I want to do the hard thing. The sharp thing. The only thing that I know that works. I’m going to step back from my beating, kicking, and spitting ways to give room for that crazy man running straight towards you with a knife in his hand and watch you cry with God. I know you need to. I need to too.
As the Holy Spirit cuts away all the baggage that you and I carry, I will try to remind myself that I am still honored to be called your friend, especially during this time. When that means space, when that means distance, when that means a phone call in the middle of the night, slushies at sonic or coffee at starbucks, when that means you never speak to me again for reasons unknown or I never speak to you for reasons I can’t bear, when that means hugs, when that means I get slapped in the face…
I will carry that with honor, trusting you will find God in the process and more of His grace.
I can’t be the one to slash at you with a knife. Only the Holy Spirit can come to you with that gleam in his eye and unburden you with His word. But I can let you watch me. I can let you watch me as I practice this thing called Surrender over and over again, as people and things get taken from me and I am forced to let go. I will let you watch me learn to remember what’s most important to me and forgive the copious amounts of hurt that has been thrown my way.
I will keep pulling out my dusty guitar and play worship songs with my clumsy fingers, because that’s what my friend would do when he hurt. I will keep pounding my anger away at my piano instead of pounding your door, because that’s what my aunt would do. I will keep making jokes about the past instead of bringing up the mistakes, because that’s what my gramps would do. I will listen to scripture in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep or I feel sick to my stomach or have nightmares, because that’s what my mentor Jo would tell me to do, and none of them are here anymore. They have reached the mountaintop.
I will let you watch me do these things as I struggle to climb further up the mountain, because these imperfect people let me watch them.
I put down my coffeecup. The silence in my apartment is intermittent with people waking up, starting their cars, and driving past the cemetery catty-corner to where I live now. Church is almost starting and my early morning insomnia gives way to the energy I need for the day, albeit mostly through caffeine.
Someday, I tell myself, I will put down the coffee for good and pick up more of God’s word to process my grief, but God is very patient with me and the things I often turn to. In my failures, His patience is constant. I know I feel like I have not come very far, but today I remind myself I am joining a church and so my August will have a celebration of sorts in store for me.
As I begin to process my grief daily, Jesus unzips my heart and peeks inside. I give him access to as much as I know how to and as we sort through the good, the bad, the ugly, the sinful, and the redemptive together, I am reminded that He was there long before this all ever started and that He never truly left. He never will.
I’m not sure if I like that knife, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God- but I know I need it. We all do. I feel oddly powerful and untouchable, knowing each time I break I somehow get up again when I didn’t think I could. When I’m weak I’m strong and it’s bewildering to me. God never leaves me the same, because He never leaves, and some days I hate that I love that so much, because my feelings often scream for Him to leave me alone when I don’t want to deal. I’m thankful God never listens to me when I’m like that.
Instead he waits until I’m ready. He waits and he waits and he waits. And as he waits, my heart is filled with more peace.
It’s almost September, and His love means I’ll be okay.