Monday, November 30, 2015

Best Friends For...?

     I don't know if this is still the case, but when I was in middle school and early high school, there was a big market for "BFF" products. Necklaces, key-chains, basically any practical object that preteen girls could imagine to let the world know that someone was claimed as their best friend, forever. But when you're that young, you don't really understand how long forever is, and the people you once honored with those sacred tokens eventually grow up and travel different paths. Sadly, the person or people you were closest too at one point can turn into distant acquaintances you rarely even talk to. At this point in my life, I'm not sure I believe that one person can be your best friend forever, because everybody changes as they grow, and no two people can grow in exactly the same direction at exactly the same pace. Even so, it's hard not to hope that maybe they can.
     For the first time since my early childhood, there is no person that I truly consider my best friend. It's very difficult for me to give voice to that statement, because it makes me feel like I'm giving up on someone. But I'm trying to learn the difference between giving up and letting go, and to remember that no friendship is going to be healthy and productive if one person is putting in the majority of the effort all the time. I used to think that I was really good at being a friend, but now I'm starting to think I'm just good at listening to people's problems while hiding my own, and especially good at giving people another chance when they repeatedly let me down. Now that I stop and think about it, that sounds more like a good pushover than a good friend. Loneliness is something I have struggled with on and off for a long time, and I will hold on to mediocre friendships for far too long because I'm afraid of having no friends at all. Right now, I'm at the place in my life where I feel like I'm ready to put the drama and uncertainty behind me and develop grown up friendships, and I'm trying to learn exactly what that means.
     I know I want to be friends with people who are just as invested in me as I am in them, people who don't make me feel like I have to jump through hoops to earn their friendship. As an introvert, I would rather have a few friends that I can have deep, honest connections with, than have a bunch of friends just to occasionally socialize and make small talk with. I know that these people exist, because as I write out these words, people who I already have in my life are already coming to mind.
    This is a subject that I've just started to think about, so it's hard to come up with a concrete conclusion. So, since this isn't graded and no one can punish me for breaking the rules, I'll end with a question. Think of a person or a few people who you consider your closest friends. What is your favorite thing about them, the reason they have been given the privilege of being your friend?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Now?

     Most of the time, each thing I write is an independent beast, my posts can be read individually without the reader missing anything. I don't usually have a reason to talk about my previous posts, but my last post felt a little different than what I usually write, and I don't want to move on without acknowledging that. People thanked me for writing it, which is excessively kind, and extremely undeserved. I wish I did not know how it feels like to lose a friend, but I do, and so I tried to use that knowledge in a helpful way. Since I wrote about such a serious subject that so many people seemed to relate to, it's intimidating to continue writing, knowing that not everything I write is going to impact as many people as that post. But I'm going to keep going, and ironically, talk about how to keep going.
     I noticed something Sunday in the choir room at church, a note about how they should sing a song "softly, and a little slow". Those words struck me as not only a way to sing a song, but a way to conduct life after a loss. I remember the days after Scott's funeral, when the official mourning was over but my personal mourning had just begun. I wondered how I would continue going to youth group and English class knowing that he would never be there again. I honestly don't know how I did, other than just getting up every morning and getting through the day, until eventually my grief became an intermittent sting instead of a constant ache. I learned to be soft with myself and others (which I am still working on), and to be patient with myself when I feel like I am moving through the various struggles of life too slowly.
     As our community continues with life after loss, many of us trying to understand why we outlived such a young person whose life was just getting started, I hope we remember to be soft always, not just in the few short days immediately following a tragedy. May we heal, but not forget the lessons we learned in our pain. In a few days, many of us will spend time with our families and focus on being thankful for all that we have. May we remember to pray for those who are missing someone in this season that is all about being with the ones we love, and always be thankful for the people in our lives, never forgetting that our days our numbered and there's no time to be unkind.

Friday, November 20, 2015

On Losing a Friend: What I Wish I Had Known

     When I was seventeen, I lost a dear friend that went to Sunday school and youth group with me, and who I sat by in English class. He was one of the kindest people I've ever met, and one of the most genuine friends I've ever had, even though our friendship was short. On a normal Wednesday, he said "See you later" after class and went to gym as I went to French. That was the last time I ever saw him.
   When my friend died, I wanted an adult to explain it to me. I wanted my pastor or my parents or teachers to give me a reason why my friend had died, I wanted an answer. The thing about loss is, no one has an answer. Even though I can't give you an answer, I can tell you what I learned through losing my friend. If nothing else, I want you to know that you're not alone.
     A few months after Scott died, someone asked me when I was going to "get over it". That question made me feel awful. I felt like I was being over dramatic and annoying, when what I was really doing was grieving. I have since learned that the death of a friend is not something you get over. You learn how to live with it, but it is always there. Sometimes in the middle of youth group, usually right after I laugh about something, I suddenly feel devastated that he is not there laughing with me, even though he has been gone for three years and probably would not still be going to youth group if he were still alive. Youth group is something that I always associated with him, and I have learned to allow myself to sometimes still feel sad that he isn't there. Don't ever criticize yourself for missing your friend, because missing them means you loved them.
One day, maybe months from now, maybe sooner, you will catch yourself laughing at something, and you shouldn't feel guilty about that. A moment of happiness does not mean that you have forgotten about your friend, or that you have stopped grieving. I have learned that grief is a process that can coexist with happiness. I no longer actively feel sad about my friend's death throughout my daily life, but sometimes when I drive by the football field on Friday night, or something funny or exciting happens that I wish I could tell him about, I feel just as sad as I did the day he died.
     I have learned that you can never love your friends too much. When I was in the early stages of being a teenager, I thought that it was weird to tell my friends, especially girls, that I loved them. A few weeks ago, I automatically told my friend I loved her before I hung up the phone, and I realized how much I have changed, mostly due to losing a close friend. You never know how much time you or anyone else has left, so it's important to love everyone as much as you can right now, and there's nothing weird about making sure they know you do. Life is shorter than you think, so take time to have fun. Laugh a lot, hug people, and stop worrying so much about things you can't change. Try not to hold grudges or have petty arguments.
     The greatest way to love someone is to make sure they know Jesus. When you're young, it's easy to think that death is something that only affects the elderly. My friend was young and strong, very athletic, and always smiled. I guess I thought he was invincible, but no human is. Because I know what he believed, and what I believe, I know that I will get to see him one day. I can't imagine how hard it is to lose someone if you aren't sure about that.
     I'm sorry you have to go through this, losing a friend is one of the worst feelings in the world, no matter how old you are. Let yourself feel sadness, allow people you trust to be your support system. You will get through this, and you will smile again. You are loved.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Greatest Is Love

     As I begin to write this, it is Sunday night, and I have just come home from being out of town all weekend. It was a refreshing time, a nice change of pace. But even on vacation, the real world was not completely shut out. During my group's breakfast at the hotel, even though we were in good spirits, we were not unaware of the T.V.s that were tuned to news channels that spoke of violence, or the Charlotte skyline that was lit up in specific colors in support of victims of that violence as we drove by at night. As a blogger, it would probably be a smart "business" move to take a political stand on a world event that has gained attention in the media because it shows violence happening where we don't want it to happen. I could write an edgy piece about how it seems that France is for our fancy vacation photos, and we as a society are particularly shocked by this tragedy because we associate acts of terror with far off, third world countries, not glamorous travel destinations. We forget that acts of evil do not conform to our social ideas, evil is everywhere and will be until the world ends. Yes, I could jump on the bandwagon and continue this rant, it would be a good flashback to my high school journalism days. This is what I would be tempted to do, had I not discovered a new role model this weekend, who taught me the importance of a more quiet response to the world and it's trouble.
  To my own surprise, visiting the Billy Graham Library was one of my favorite parts of the trip I was on. I became fascinated with his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, when I picked up one of her books in the bookstore and felt like I was meeting a kindred spirit. She wrote in such a conversational way, as I aspire to do, that as I read her words, I almost feel like I am sitting down with her and having a discussion over lunch.  She often wrote about staying home while her husband was away preaching all over the world, and how she felt it was her job to support him by keeping things running smoothly at home. She revealed that "Divine service will be conducted here three times daily" is a quote that hung above her kitchen sink. At first, I was disgruntled over the fact that this poor woman had to stay home and wash dishes while her husband traveled the world. She wrote that she had always dreamed of being a missionary, and my first reaction was to be sad that she never got to answer that call because she was making it possible for her husband to answer his. But as I read about her, and read some of the things she had written, I realized that she was a missionary all along. She wrote about her faith with a deep wisdom that inspires me and many other people. She never got to share her faith verbally in foreign lands, but her voice has traveled the world through her writing. Her husband spoke in a loud voice in packed arenas, as some are called to do. He stood toe to toe with doubters, with a response always ready. She stayed home, raised children, wrote poetry, and washed the dishes. It would seem at first glance that she got the short end of the stick in her marriage, and in her life.
     But as I return from my weekend adventure, and come in from the cold and often cruel world that we are inhabiting, and I see my mother standing at the kitchen sink, I feel at peace because I have discovered a new truth. The world has always been a turbulent place, and always will be. But in this damaged world, there are people who quietly carry out their divine service, not by standing in a pulpit shouting King James Version scriptures, or using political platforms to cast blame on someone else, but by steadfastly continuing those mundane acts of love, no matter what. They wash their dishes as they watch the evening news, on the victorious days and the tragic ones. From their example, I have learned that it is not our job as Christians to explain away every evil thing that happens using complicated theology. We do not have to have all the answers, there is not going to be a final exam we have to pass. It is simply our job to love everyone, period, end of sentence.
     God never told us to help him fix the world, but he did tell us to love everyone, even our enemies. This blog post will probably not become a viral piece of current events commentary that everyone shares all over the internet, and maybe that is a missed opportunity on my part. Maybe I am naive to provide such a simple response to the many violent things that happen in our world, but right now, I don't feel called to debate. I feel called to love.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Heavy Package, Lift With Care

"One of the main themes of To Kill a Mockingbird is Scout's loss of innocence when she becomes aware of prejudice." This is the answer I gave to a question in eleventh grade English, which caused the girl next to me to turn to me and say "Why do you have to be so arrogant about everything? You think you're so much smarter than everyone else, and you're not." Those were her exact words, I remember them vividly because they were the beginning of a turning point in my life, a turn that led me down a lonely road that it took me years to reach the end of. This was the moment when I perfected a defense mechanism that I had already been practicing since the beginning of the bumpy road that was my high school experience. I stopped talking in that class, and many others, because I figured out that people can't make fun of what I say if I don't say anything. This strategy served it's purpose, and I didn't get made fun of in English class anymore. I also kept a lot of good answers inside my head, and didn't learn how to stand up for myself.
     But that was four years ago, and I've changed a lot since then. I've learned that it is not arrogant to be intelligent, and that it's actually not the end of the world if some people don't like me. I'm still working on accepting that, but I really do believe it. Now that I'm a little more confident than I used to be, and I'm finding that there are people who genuinely want to hear what I have to say and don't think I'm arrogant, I've realized that things I don't need anymore are still taking up space in my mind. I am still carrying around a defense mechanism I no longer need, and a lot of other bad memories that don't serve a purpose to me anymore. That mean comment from a math teacher in middle school? That's not getting me anywhere as I try to pass the necessary math classes to get the degree I want. And remembering that comment from someone who said I just wasn't applying myself when I tried to ask for help isn't doing me any good when I know I am applying myself in my classes now. Remembering rumors about myself from years ago is silly when there was never any truth to them in the first place, and the people who started them probably forgot about them a long time ago. There are things I've been carrying around for far too long that I'm finally ready to let go of, and I'm so glad I don't have to lift them anymore, because that was making me tired. What heavy things have you been carrying around with you that are only slowing your journey down?

     To high school junior me, you were right about the theme of that book. That book has a lot of themes, as you already know, and you will have a great time talking about them with your English professor your first semester of college. She doesn't think you're arrogant, she thinks you're bright. You won't want to stay quiet forever, because there will be people who will actually want to hear what you have to say. They'll care about what's important to you, and you'll do the same for them, because you're not arrogant and you know how to be a good friend. They will remember days that are important to you and ask you how those days went. They will want to spend time with you, and you won't have to remind them of the plans you've made, because they'll value you enough to remember them. They're called friends, and you will have them. As for everyone else, don't waste your time lowering your own standards to meet theirs. You need to love everyone, but you do not need to convince everyone to love you back. You're going to be just fine, I know because I'm you.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

You're Not Alone

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
     Recently I've been working on writing something, not for this blog (although maybe I'll post it here after it's done), that involves talking about my experiences as a patient at CHKD. I'm excited to be doing it, but it is at times difficult to relive memories that I've intentionally showed to the back of my mind because they are so painful to remember. The hard part about those times in my life, and the process of reliving some of them as I write about them, is that there's no one I know who has had those exact experiences. Even if I felt like I had a best friend to talk about it with, they wouldn't be able to relate directly to my situation. But even as I type those words, I remember the many people who were there for me during those times, and who gave me so much encouragement even though they had never been through what I was going through. They helped me know that I wasn't alone.
    Sometimes, when people tell me that I need to use my experiences to help others, I brush it off because I'd rather forget about the past, and I don't always see how hearing about my bad moments could help anyone who's not living through those exact moments. But today, I realized that you don't need to have the same experience as someone else to recognize their pain. We've all had seasons of deep fear, loneliness, and loss. Those are universal feelings that we all have experienced at some point in our lives, even if it's for different reasons. Maybe, like I once did, people just need to hear that they're not alone, and that someone else has felt the way they feel. So, instead of worrying that I will seem like I don't know what I'm talking about because I haven't lived through the same things as everyone else, I can identify with those who are going through painful times of their own, simply because I know what pain feels like. I have felt pain, and survived it, and I remember it. I am qualified to be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, because I have learned how from others who have been those things for me. I can't yet confidently say that I am thankful for all of the bad times I have been through, but I am thankful that they have taught me compassion for others, and that because of them, I can understand the struggles of other people.
Friends, you're not alone. I have felt pain too.

The picture on the left was taken after I had an allergic reaction during a surgery I had several years ago. I asked my parents to take pictures of the whole experience, not knowing that I would have such a traumatic reaction, so that's why this picture was taken. The second picture was taken a few weeks ago, on a random Sunday when everything was fine and I was happy.