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Friday, August 30, 2013

Friendship, Connections, and Those That Get Us

We become friends with people we've known our whole lives and we become friends with people we've known for ten minutes. Sometimes, it's the latter that we connect with on a level that we never connect with the former. Every once in a while, we're blessed with meeting that person that just gets us. That we can sit and have coffee with and say nothing. That can complete our sentences because our brains are on the same channel. Some friends we've known for years. We share holidays and memories and experiences but never truly connect. The older I've gotten (politically correct way to say this is "experienced"), I understand and appreciate quality over quantity every day.

Whether it's geography, relational connections, or life experiences, we all meet people we make an initial connection with. "Yes, my kid loves to dance, too." "You're from Alabama? Which part?"  "My son has ADHD. Is yours on medication?" "I loved that book you're reading!"  But we often find these connections never going beyond that initial level. We skim the surface conversationally and relationally when we speak to these friends. And they are friends. But not THOSE friends.

Those friends are the ones who cry foul when you say you're fine...and you're not. They just know. Those friends get as excited about your news as you are. They listen. And ask questions. Those friends don't get upset when you don't speak for nine months because their lives are just as crazy as yours. But when you finally do speak, it's as if time paused only seconds. Those friends know what you need without asking, and open the door when you show up with exactly what they need without asking. Those friends make you cry when they're hurting and laugh when they're happy.

My sweet Peyton is in 8th grade, which I can't believe. My baby girl. Middle school for her, as it is for everyone, has been the ultimate test of friendship. The innocence of younger years is fading, but in its place a sense of loyalty and sincerity is blooming. As she's painfully learning what a true friend is, she's understanding a truth beyond her years. I'm so proud of the choices she's making, while at the same time hurting for what she's gone through in pushing her toward those choices. I love--am grateful for--the fact that she has a couple of THOSE friends.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Loss, Friends, and Life Preservers

Once upon a time, I was a girl. A girl raised in rural Alabama, protected from all things sad and evil. Who grew up in a bubble of love and ideology. A girl who believed all things were possible. All people were good. And whatever you dreamed would come true if only you worked and prayed hard enough.

Once upon a time, I believed all friends would move Earth and time to be with you when you needed them. That you could close your eyes at night knowing that you would be surrounded the next day by the same ones who left you at the corner with a wink and "good night" the day before.

But life, and reality, cause a pause. Even when the timeline of our lives experience seismic shifts, those friends, our loved ones, remain calm. And in that calmness, we fail to understand that even in their silence, they love us. Loss evokes a kind of speechlessness that can seem insensitive but actually evinces an empathy beyond words. An empathy that sits and waits until it's needed. Instead of rushing and imposing itself.

Extreme loss creates a chasm that some are able to traverse alone. While others need someone walking beside them, guiding them through. In life. In family. In friendship, the key is knowing whether the person you love--the one who's going through tragedy--needs you on the bridge or on the other side waiting to embrace you and remind you of a life beyond loss.

In the two weeks since my mom died, I've experienced all levels of friendship. Levels of support. Levels of doing that either acted as a suave in their comfort or as pain in their absence. Initially, it hurt when people didn't meet the expectations I'd assumed. When you lose someone you love, you want every life preserver thrown to you. But I've come to understand that you don't need all the life preservers at once. Instead, you need them in increments. One or two at a time to help you get from the sinking ship to the shore.

Shortly after my Mom died, people surrounded our family. The overwhelming love and support carried us through the initial tough time. But then life moved on. It hurt me to leave my Dad and fly home because it seemed as though he was suddenly all alone in his grief. His new existence. I also was sadden that with a few exceptions, those closest to me had barely reached out.

Within days of being back in Pennsylvania, the life preservers appeared. One by one. Text by text. Call by call. Flower by flower. Hug by hug. I realized a new appreciation for staggered support. For saving some of the Calvary for the second, third, and fourth waves. Just when things settle back into normal and the aching hole of your loss creeps in, someone else reaches out. A simple text from Leslie, "How are you??" Or from Michelle C, "Thinking of you." Or from Kelley, "On my mind." These little things show me that people are thinking of us. Of my sweet Mama. And taking time to pause in their day to remember.

I'm grateful for this. And will remember for the future when my own friends experience deep loss, that being a friend isn't just about triage. It's about checking the wound. Helping with learning to walk again. Sitting in the peace and listening. And loving.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Jamie and I got engaged when I was 28 years old. I remember flying into Alabama for my 10-year reunion that year in July. Mom picked me up at the airport. She stared at the steering wheel and focused on getting through Montgomery. I thought, "Her only daughter just got engaged and she hasn't asked about my ring. And why is she lost in a place that she's driven through her entire life." It didn't register that she might be sick. She was only 49 years old.

Over the past 15 years, I've watched my sweet Mama fold into herself like a house of cards. First, it was her personality. Then her empathy. Then her focus on anything other than herself. As a young adult, I didn't understand. I puzzled at what had happened to my sweet Mom that always gave of herself. The Mom that put everyone above herself. The woman that shared the free time she had to help her family and others.

In the recesses of my memory, I see her full of spunk. Full of a love that defied boundaries. I remember her tracking me down as I walked down our street at three-years-old. I'd left to find my brother, Derek, who'd started his first day of first grade and I was convinced that I could find him and bring him home. I remember her patience. Her understanding. Her love.

Her frontal temporal dementia stole her from us too young. This week, I've heard stories of her and what an amazing woman she was. How she refused to reject her morals to please her boss. How she held steady to her beliefs in the face of controversy. If she'd been able to stay with us longer, I know she would've continue to blaze trails. Speak her mind.

When Daddy and I planned her service this week, he wanted me to read something I'd written about her. In looking through things, I realized that everything I've written has been a snapshot. So I wrote a new piece. I thought about the one constant that threaded through her life. Even in the final stages of her disease. And that was her spirit. At the request of people at her service, I'm putting her poem below. She was truly a spark that even in the end stages of her dementia when her body lay still, you could see in her eyes:

Born into this world a spark.
Not a tiny, new flicker of light,
but an explosion of love.
A piece of Heaven carried to Earth,
in the heart of a child.

A childhood filled with barefoot summers,
and peppermint kisses from MawMaw.
Nehi sodas and bike rides down dirt roads.

A simple life.
An innocent life.
Her Daddy's shop out back.
The sweet smell of his pipe floating to where she sits in a tree.
Evoking home and safety.

A decade later, on a warm day,
she sees him.
Young, handsome, smiling.
His kind spirit shines in his eyes.
Months later, they become one.
Then three. Then four. Then five.

Through all of this,
the spark grows brighter.
It infects her husband,
radiates onto her children.

Her opinions are never silenced.
Her spirit tested but never broken.
Her faith illuminated in her ways.
Her love unwavering.

Daughter, wife, sister, mother, friend.
All of these while only one.
And the spark grows stronger.

The loss of a father young.
The loss of a sister soon after.
A son almost taken from her.
The other lost completely.

In all of this, she remains true.
True to herself.
True to her family.
True to her friends.
True to her God.

And even when her body betrayed her,
and her mind sought to destroy itself,
her disease stealing memories.
Pieces of her.
The spark does not go out.
For years, her smile, her laugher, her joy,
shines in her eyes.
Long after she could speak of it.

A glance into her eyes reveals the love lying deep within her.
Beyond the reach of time and disease.

What appears on the outside as an abyss,
an unreachable place,
is an illusion.

The spark, veiled only in its last moments,
bursts through.
As her last breath leaves,
so does the spark.
The explosion of love

It returns to Heaven on the soul of an angel.
To be missed here.
But never forgotten.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Confronting and Crushing Limits

After a full day, I sat tonight watching "Ocean's Twelve." I love the trilogy of the Ocean's movies. The quick dialogue, the humor, the chemistry. Brain candy that makes me smile. But tonight, as I watched "Twelve" for probably the fifth time, one of the lines of dialogue stuck out to me. Rusty, played by Brad Pitt, is discussing the latest "job" and whether it's doable. After laying out the parameters and problems, he asserts, "In the physical universe in which we reside, it cannot be done."

This hit me as profound. In this smart, edgy, meant-to-simply-entertain movie, I saw a challenge. Not in ability, but in mindset. Of course we all have limits of physical, mental, and emotional strength. But sometimes we set those limits without testing them.

In life, we witness the loss of dreams. We experience extreme loss. The loss of a job. The loss of a friend. The loss of a love. And in each of these moments, it feels as though life stops. Not pauses. But slams us to our knees in a way that we feel we'll never recover. Never be able to draw a deep breath and stand. But the power of our will, our spirit, pushes us to do so.

Today, I watched a new friend, Dayne, complete a workout. His second hard workout of the day. With only 90 seconds left, he dug deep and pushed. His hands bled. His arms cried "no more." He wanted desperately to lie down on the floor. But he dug in and finished.

Watching Dayne kill his second workout and push himself to  leave everything he had on the floor reminded me of the way we all get through the hard stuff. Whether it's working through tough times in a relationship. Or pushing ourselves physically. Or embracing and giving into the weight of something so big it drops us to our knees. We dig into our depths. Our souls. And find what we need to get through.

The quote from "Ocean's Twelve" and Dayne's determination reminded me that we don't succumb to the limits set by where we are and what we think we are. If we push through, we'll make it to the other side and find a limitless blue sky.