My Mommom

My grandmother passed away yesterday… on Thanksgiving. This isn’t exactly the hook line you’re supposed to start with to grab someone’s attention, but I realize this is less about how many people read what I write and more about taking the time to honor a woman I love who didn’t receive much honor during her lifetime.

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I recently published a book and I only say that to say I wrote a chapter about her, about getting to know her later in life and how much I had grown to love her (you appreciate so little when you’re young). My plan was to give her a copy for Christmas. She lived a quiet life, often afraid she hadn’t done enough or loved well. She was my mom’s mom, which is why we called her Mommom. My Dad’s dad (we just called him Papa cause DadDad sounds weird) passed away just before Thanksgiving about three years ago. His death was national news, and while only certain groups may have known his name, his name was in the headlines, highways in Charlotte, NC were closed during his processional, and hundreds upon hundreds of people attended his funeral.

Sometimes I think Mommom felt inferior to my dad’s limelight side of the family, but she never said so. A lot of people say I get my stage presence from my dad’s side of the family, especially my grandfather- he had it (as well as my dad). But I know for a fact I get my witty sense of humor from my mom’s side- not only my mom, but as I spent more time with my grandmother later in life, I realized my mom got it from her. She was so funny, so witty, even at 97 years old. Just before she passed on Thanksgiving she reminded my dad to wait until the turkey was cooled before he carved it. When asked how she was feeling she said, “at my age everything hurts, and if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t working!” We laughed A LOT with Mommom.

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I mailed her pictures from when I got married this year and she beamed with pride. Josh and I went to visit her while back in South Carolina and she had our pictures proudly posted in her room. She called him my “lover boy” and said she was too short to reach his cheek so he’d have to bend down for a kiss.

With every visit we played cards and parcheesi and she was impossible to beat– at first it was like “go easy on her, she’s old,” but my siblings and I quickly learned she was ruthless and even in our best efforts to take her down in cards, she’d have none of that. I’ve only beaten her one time and I recorded it because I knew it would never happen again.

I wasn’t always as close with Mommom growing up. In fact it wasn’t until fall of 2015 that I really got to know my grandmother, as a friend, not just a relative. I’ve been going through old pictures and journal entries and I found this unfinished entry during that time…

Today I rubbed lotion on my grandmother’s legs. Prior to this I don’t think I have ever touched my grandmother’s legs, be it because that’s normal to not go around touching an older person’s legs or because I never thought I had a need to, it struck me as odd that at 32 years old I didn’t even know what my grandmother’s legs looked like before today.

When I think about it, I guess I do notice much of the older population tends to stick to pants when it comes to getting dressed for the day. I remember my little sister crying in her bed one night. Mom and dad came rushing in, “honey, what’s wrong? what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to get old,” she cried while my parents tried not to laugh, “why?” they asked. “Because then I won’t be able to wear shorts,” she cried, terrified of having old legs that needed to be hidden under pants. We still laugh about this incident.

I thought about that night as I rubbed lotion on my grandmother’s legs today. I noticed her getting fidgety in her chair. She was trying to take a nap in her lazy boy but she kept rubbing her legs as if they were aggravating her. She’s in her nineties and uses a walker to get around but the only places she gets to are the kitchen and the living room. She can’t hear very well anymore and doesn’t always feel great, but she credits much of that to a default of being alive for ninety plus years. She spends most of her days alone in the house as everyone is off at work, or in my case, finding something else to do since I’m visiting and don’t want to be cooped up in a house all day.

As the holidays have approached I’ve begun thinking about what I could do to help people, what could I do to step outside of myself? I’m better at helping people during the holidays, I’m not proud of it, in fact I don’t think I even realized it until I started writing this, but if I look at my track record, I’m much better at helping people during the holidays when everything feels all warm and fuzzy and the need seems to be more clear. It’s as easy as filling a shoebox with gifts or pulling a name off a tree, maybe showing up at a shelter to serve a meal.

Geez. I hate re-reading about my selfish nature sometimes, but at the very least at least looking at it helps me realize what needs to change. Things did change that Christmas. It was my first Christmas in two different homes as my parents divorce finalized. It’s still weird to process divorce as an adult, you think you’re supposed to be stronger than a child, not be as sad, but acting stronger doesn’t make you stronger, it wears out your energy until you’re weaker than you thought possible. Just let yourself be sad about stuff, it’s okay.

And that’s what I had to tell myself as I processed the death of a 97 year old woman that I knew was coming if for no other reason than age alone. But it doesn’t make it any less sad to lose a life, especially a life you didn’t feel got it’s due credit and that you waited much too long to know it’s value. I’m at peace with my Mommom and I’s relationship, I grew to love her probably more than she knew, but with death comes the thought, “if I had only sent one more letter or called one more time… I hope she knew how much she was loved.” More and more I want that for people, to know their worth and value, to know they are loved. I can’t be that person for everyone, I’m only one person and I’m still trying to figure out how to get good at it in my own family, but I still want everyone to know it to be true for themselves- you are loved. You are worthy.

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So today I honor my Mommom by sharing this chapter I wrote about her, because she’s worth reading about, whether by many or by a few loved ones, she’s worth taking the time to talk about, and perhaps that’s how I will let myself process my grief. Her death will not make national news, but that doesn’t make her any less important to those who knew and loved her. And I never got to tell her, “Mommom, I wrote a book, and you’re in it!” I’m sad about that too. I wanted her to feel a little bit of the limelight just once in her life, I wanted her to know her granddaughter loved and admired her.

 

“it’s called a spade” by JJ Barrows

My Mommom

We don’t have a Christmas tree this year. I suppose at 32 years old and with all that is going on in the world, it isn’t the biggest deal that we don’t have a Christmas tree this year. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal at all. Plenty of people either don’t have Christmas trees or have never had one, so who am I to complain?

And yet I’ve been thinking (shocker), if I can so easily dismiss my own feelings about not having a Christmas tree this year, I can just as easily dismiss someone else’s feelings about not having a Christmas tree this year, which is to say I can easily dismiss their story without a care in the world as to the reason why they don’t have a Christmas tree this year, or maybe why they’ve never had one at all (if they do in fact celebrate Christmas).

Perhaps it’s not so much about the Christmas tree as it is about the why behind it. As with many things in life that may seem like “no big deal,” perhaps the small things are a big deal because there is a “why” attached to those small things, a story unheard due to assumption.

I’ve always been obsessed with Christmas. I was the kid who was preparing for the arrival of December 25th the day after Halloween, and honestly sometimes even before then. My goal was to turn our house into a winter wonderland no matter how tacky everyone else thought it to be. I hung lights anywhere my mother would allow it and spent any extra money I had on decorations.

As a preacher’s kid I understood “the reason for the season,” but as just your average kid, the manger scene was more of an epic center piece for Christmas dinner. I was grateful Jesus came to earth in the form of a tiny little baby, mostly because it gave us a reason to have Christmas- the ultimate birthday party.

When I was real young my gifts consisted of coupon books, ones that included free hugs, a three-minute back rub, being nice to my sister Betsy… stuff like that. When I got older the coupons got more serious; extended free hugs, ten-minute back rubs and kisses for the whole family even when I didn’t feel like kissing them. My mom still has the coupons.

In college my gift to my parents was my presence at home because like your average college kid, I was broke. But with my presence came my Christmas spirit and ability to decorate. I’d stay up late on Christmas eve (after the roles reversed and the parents were the first to go to bed) to clean the entire house, set and decorate the kitchen table for the Christmas meals, and prepare an overnight breakfast casserole to be served alongside Jesus’ birthday cake in the morning.

When I started working the presents came rolling in and without the excuse of being a kid, I lost complete sense of what Christmas was all about. I tried to make the day last as long as possible by getting as many presents as possible. The longer we all sat around the tree and opened presents, the better Christmas seemed. Maybe somewhere deep down it wasn’t so much about the presents, maybe it was just wanting my family to sit around together for an extended period of time in which they all seemed happy, and maybe without the presents, I didn’t know how else to make that happen.

The Christmas of 2006 was the worst Christmas I can remember, largely due to my eating disorder and inability to fix it with the Christmas spirit. I racked up a great deal of debt that season because shopping kept me from binging and purging on the Christmas cookies I made in abundance (because one batch of cookies is never enough for a bulimic). My old friend anorexia would sometimes come to visit and on those days I felt powerful and in control, but my newer friend bulimia liked the holidays more than anorexia, and so bulimia is who I spent more of my time with that holiday season. I tried so hard to make Christmas perfect that year, and all I can remember is how miserable I was.

After going off to treatment in 2007, it would be a couple of years before I returned home again for Christmas. In 2009 when I finally did go home I was unaware it was going to be the last Christmas in which my whole family would be together, my parents still living under the same roof. I was sick and slept through Christmas dinner. My boyfriend at the time had flown in from Chicago to surprise me but seeing as how I was passed out on the couch, he ended up spending most of his time talking to my grandmother, an often forgotten family member.

After moving to Portland, Oregon in the fall of 2010, I spent the following Christmases out on the west coast with friends. Friends are often easier than family and much cheaper than a round trip ticket across the United States, so my excuses to stay away from home were valid.

Last year I returned home for Christmas and it was the first time members of my family would be celebrating in two different houses due to my parents’ divorce. I didn’t know how to feel about it. I tried to “make the best of it” as I was advised to do, but what about the reality of it being sad that we weren’t one family anymore? I mean sure, we were, but we weren’t.

I didn’t think I would be back home for Christmas this year. It was not a part of my plan, funny how that works. I’ve been living in San Diego, California over the past year and San Diego is perfect for escaping life’s problems, except for the fact that you never escape life’s problems no matter where you go. After going on a trip overseas with my mom and brother, I returned to South Carolina with them. That was in October and I’m still here… at Christmas.

I’ve spent the last few months helping my mother move out of our family home of 35 years. The house is on the market and if ever there were an empty nest, it is that house. Day in and day out my mother, brother and I have stripped the walls and packed everything away, taking car load after car load over to my mother’s new condo. It’s been a slow process and I’m exhausted. “Make the best of it,” I hear a voice play in the back of my mind, and so I’ve been trying to do that- make the best of it, offer help, cook food, be present, be strong, be 32 and not in need of a Christmas tree.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the empty house by myself. I turned on Christmas music and I let it echo through the empty halls. I danced and I was happy. Then I sat on the floor of the larger than life empty living room and watched memories flash across the walls as if they were movie clips, and I cried. For the first time since my family split up, I uttered the words “I miss my family.” I laid on the floor and I cried as I let myself miss my family. “I wish we had a Christmas tree,” I cried, but I knew it was about more than just the tree.

It’s no secret I’m an advocate for feeling your pain, in part because I’ve spent a good portion of my life avoiding it. But as of recent I’m sick of feeling my pain to the point of not being able to see other people. I’m still trying to find the balance of feeling your feelings without getting stuck in them. And so while I’m bummed we don’t have a Christmas tree because my mom’s condo is too small, our old house is too empty and I’m still not quite sure who to spend Christmas with or how, this doesn’t have to be the Christmas that gets remembered as the one without the tree.

In the middle of all the moving and family drama and stress of holiday expectations, there is someone I overlooked along the way, someone I’ve overlooked along the entire way, as in the span of my entire life.

My mother’s mother. Mommom, we call her. My grandmother.

My grandmother still remembers that boy who talked to her at Christmas dinner in 2009. She asked about him the other day and when I told her we had been broken up for five years and he had been dating someone else for the last three, she responded with “aww shame, I always liked him.” I found her response to be funny seeing as how she met him only once, but at the same time I knew why she felt this way. She felt this way because even if it was just for a short while on a night five years ago, she felt seen and noticed and paid attention to. No one forgets that feeling.

I have spent the last couple of months getting to know this forgotten member of my family, my grandmother. She was always present at holidays, providing shrimp on Christmas eve, gifting us with at least two dollars for each kid so we could “treat ourselves,” and snoring on the couch in the late afternoons. I have memories of her in the background, but for the most part that is all.

One morning I was trying to figure out how I could do more to help other people, to step outside of my own selfish head and meet the needs of others. I knew I was limited as to what I could do financially, but relationally I had something to offer, which is sometimes the harder thing to give. Handing someone money or a piece of pie is often easier than sitting down next to them and trying to figure out what to talk about, especially in this day and age where everyone has to be so politically correct that people are afraid to talk anymore, not to mention the distraction of cell phones which has left this generation of teenagers crippled from being able to make eye contact.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just the teenagers. I see kids playing at the park while their parents scroll through their Instagram or check their email on a park bench. I myself will sit next to my grandmother with my head buried in my phone, clicking like on pictures of people helping people while I’m ignoring the lonely woman beside me.

And such was the case that morning when I was admiring others on social media for do- ing so much for others while I sat on a couch next to my grandmother who was staring at the wall. I immediately started to look up ways I could volunteer, especially over the holidays. It did not cross my mind that sitting beside me was a woman in need of love and attention and eye contact just as much as people in the nursing home or on the street. The ugly truth is, it didn’t feel as good to help or even love my grandmother as it did to help or love other people I had no history with who would praise me for my efforts.

After spending the day looking up good causes, journaling, praying and trying to “get right with God,” I decided I would go for a run at sunset. It seemed to be just what I needed. As I passed through the kitchen to grab some water before heading out, I noticed my grandmother trying to cut an onion. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was trying to make dinner. My mom wouldn’t be getting off of work until around dinner time and Mommom sometimes tries to cook on designated nights to help out.

Assuming Mommom wanted to feel like she was contributing, I let her carry on. I so often function out of assumption, I think we all do but I’ll speak for myself. I’m embarrassed to say it, but multiple times I have walked past my grandmother trying to chop an onion in the kitchen while thinking to myself “good job, Mommom,” instead of, “hey, can I help?” And I get it, not everybody wants help, some people want to chop their own onions and show the world or at least their grandchildren that they are capable of chopping their own onions, which is great, chop away! But I think asking if help is needed, which is just initiating a conversation if nothing else, is worth the risk of your offer being rejected.

I grabbed my headphones and running shoes and walked back through the kitchen. I sat at the table and looked at Mommom, barely five feet tall, her white bushy hair giving her an ex- tra inch, hunched over the kitchen counter trying to chop an onion. I watched her as I put my shoes on. She moved slower than I remembered. I lingered for a second, which is sometimes all the time that is needed to grab your attention.

I wanted to offer her help because I knew it was the right thing to do, but truth be told, in getting back to the basics of calling a spade a spade- I didn’t want to offer help because it got in the way of my plans.

I didn’t want to offer help to my own grandmother. And even if we weren’t related, an elderly human being. And even if she weren’t elderly, a human being! In that moment of hesitating to offer her help, the content of my character was revealed and I realized I didn’t actually want to step outside of myself and help people. I wanted to feel good about helping people so long as they didn’t interfere with my plans. I still wanted life to be all about me. No matter how many times I learn the lesson, my wayward heart sets itself on myself and I forget that people matter.

Sometimes I forget that I matter and I wear myself out in an attempt to do everything for other people. And once I’ve burned myself out I jump to the other extreme, forgetting that other people matter, writing them off in an attempt to only take care of myself. I struggle to find the balance between the two. The simple balance of all people mattering- other people and myself.

I watched my grandmother struggle to chop an onion. I stood up, picked up my iPod, took a deep breath and set it back down. “Do you need any help, Mommom?” I asked, honestly kind of hoping she would say no so I could still go for a run and feel good about offering help. She didn’t respond. Between my hesitant attempt to gently offer help and Mommom’s hearing aides not always working, I realized she didn’t hear me. “MOMMOM,” I yelled, “DO YOU NEED ANY HELP!?”

Mommom turned around to look at me, “did you say something?” she asked. I laughed a little to myself, “YES,” I yelled, “I ASKED IF YOU NEEDED ANY HELP!”

Mommom’s face lit up, “ohhhhhhhh!” she said excitedly, “wow-wee, that would be wonderful. I can’t move as fast as I used to. We might never eat at the rate I’m moving.” I laughed but I also felt a few degrees more horrible for not asking before then if she needed help. I knew I wasn’t going to get my run in that day, but I also knew something else mattered more, even if (for as much as I hate to admit it) helping with dinner didn’t feel like it mattered more in the moment. I am selfish through and through, to the point of it blinding me to help the old lady struggling right before my eyes.

For some reason it’s easy to dismiss helping the old lady when she is my grandmother, assuming she will always be there and she can hold her own. But there will come a time when she won’t always be there and she can’t hold her own anymore, in which case I have to ask myself, am I going to run away because it feels better, or am I going to step into someone else’s struggle… just because.

I began to cut the onions, mash the potatoes and set the table, all the while making jokes with Mommom and repeating them louder so she could hear me. As I helped with dinner that night I knew a friendship was being formed, as well as the realization that even when I think I have nothing to give, I always have a helping hand to offer and a really loud joke to tell that could bring a smile to a weary soul.

At 32 years old my friendship with my grandmother began. We’ve always been related, clearly, but we’ve never actually been friends, in part because I had the shocking revelation that I’ve never actually sat down with my grandmother and said “tell me about you.” I began to ask my grandmother questions, first over time spent making dinner, then over time spent having tea in the late afternoons. Mommom would talk about her own mother with a smile on her face and it was clear she loved her mother very much. It was the first time I saw my grandmother as someone’s daughter and not just a distant relative.

As I began to see my grandmother as someone’s daughter, I realized I could relate to her because I was someone’s daughter. The more I listened to Mommom’s stories, the more affection I felt for her. I began looking for ways to help her, going out of my way to ensure her comfort, not just because she was an old lady but because she was my friend.

I didn’t hear Mommom say “I love you” very much while I was growing up, which isn’t to say she didn’t love us, some people just never learn how to express love, or they learn and then somewhere along the way of life throwing a few heavy hits, they forget. The few times I remember saying “I love you” to Mommom were only slightly less awkward than her reaction, “okay, you too.” Some people don’t know how to receive love either, and after you hear their story, it makes sense as to why.

As my affection has grown for my grandmother over the last three months so has my ability to communicate my love for her. “I LOVE YOU, MOMMOM,” I yell (so she can hear me) before leaving the house. In the beginning she’d respond with her awkward quiet whisper “okay, you too.” Over time she progressed to awkwardly whisper “love you too,” as if she were unsure she could say it or not. Whether or not I got the response I wanted, I continued to tell her I loved her because I did, and it mattered less and less what the response was. I’d rub lotion on her legs, drive her to the doctor, carry her meal tray to the table, put a sweet treat on her plate and looked for little ways to not just say “I love you” but to show her.

Over time those little things have added up, and Mommom growing more and more into knowing she is loved and cared for has begun to liven up in a way I didn’t see while I was grow- ing up; in part because I didn’t really see her, and in other part because some of her difficult experiences in life added up to her being unsure of how to give and receive love. Now before I leave the house Mommom yells with confidence, “I SURE DO LOVE YOU, JJ.” I kiss her on the cheek, look her in the eyes and say “I love you, Mommom.”

Love is hard, and I don’t mean that in a cliche way, although maybe it’s cliche for a reason- because it’s true. When you really stop (really, stop) and think about living out the task of loving someone no matter what the cost is to you or whether or not you get it back, and you do it day in and day out all the days of your life… love is hard. We all know by now that love isn’t a feeling, and I know people need things to be defined so they call love a choice (since it’s not a feeling), and yes it is a choice, choosing to act out love even when you don’t feel it, but I think love is even more than a choice. I think love is so much grander than we could ever imagine or hope to express or receive that quite simply there isn’t a category to put it in or another word to define it… it just is. Love is what it is- it’s love. Love surpasses all understanding, all realm of thinking, all reason, all logic, and honestly, makes no sense.

But for as hard as love is, I honestly believe it’s worth it. I believe that love is hard and life is good, and that love is good and life is hard. I believe that it’s both for everyone and that it’s okay for both to be good and both to be hard.

A few months ago I set out to travel and be adventurous and meet new people because to me that was the definition of life being good. Instead, I somehow managed to spend most of that time at home, my very definition of life being hard. But I found out that whether you are traveling or stationary, life is both good and hard, and wherever you go, there you are. While I haven’t traveled as much as I’d hoped these last few months, I did make a new friend I didn’t see coming- my grandmother, my Mommom. It has been since being at home that I’ve realized if you try to avoid the hard parts of life, you’ll end up missing out on the really, really good parts.

It’s not like everything is fixed at home, nor is it a Cinderella story of happily ever after, we still celebrate Christmas in two different houses, but it’s a hopeful story of no matter my circumstance or how hard life and love may get, it is well with my soul…

and well worth the journey.

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I actually say this when I’m performing and I mean it sincerely, I don’t normally “should” on people, but if you have elderly family members or friends, you should call them or go see them. They are way cooler than we think they are. It’s gets harder for them to remember things as they get older, so it never hurts to remind them that they are loved.

I’m so grateful for your life, Mommom, and I’m so glad I’ll always have your sense of humor and your stylish green sweater to always take with me. I love you. JJ

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The Tension of Life

There is a tension of dark and light, dust and divine breath.

There is a tension of good and bad, heartache and humor, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy.

There is a tension where I feel I don’t belong because there are no answers or quick fixes, no boxes or formulas, no way of knowing if I’ll ever make it out.

There is a tension everyone either wants to resolve, avoid or deny exists and yet it is in that very tension where life in all of its fullness is found.

It is okay to be both sad and happy, lost and found, hurt and hopeful.

We try to be one or the other and fix both ourselves and others if bent too close to the sadness. We function in the safety of our emotional comfort zone and expect others to function in theirs, meanwhile dismissing their pain and only prolonging the process of their feeling too stuck, too sad, or too lost to continue on this journey.

Life is messy, being a human is hard. I say that hand in hand with the belief that life is good, and being a human to be a gift. But some days, I totally forget. I forget the goodness, I forget the gift, and I struggle.

I struggle in the unknown of pain and sorrow that isn’t even circumstantial, just present, and I don’t know why, which makes it seem even worse. When there’s nothing to pinpoint your pain to, it feels hopeless.

It’s when we think the hopelessness is our ultimate reality, our final truth, the end of our story that we consider giving up. What’s the point anyway? If no person, place or thing can fix this and I will always feel this way somewhere deep down inside no matter how many accolades, awards and acknowledgments I receive, what’s the point? There will always be a void and I can’t avoid it.

The truth is, sometimes I still don’t know. Even as someone who believes in a Higher Power and the gift of life and purpose in the pain and God in the details, some days I still just don’t get it. “Only God can fill the void,” they say. “I know,” I say, and I do know, but I still just don’t get this God I believe in and this Life that He “gifted” us with. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a gift at all.

I don’t need pad answers, I don’t need declarations of holding on and Jesus loving me. I know the answers in my head no matter how much they disconnect with my heart. I need to live in the tension of life being hard and good, I need to affirm to myself and others who feel the same way that we are not crazy, or too lacking in faith, or lost causes. We’re human and there’s not only grace for our humanity but also love for it… love for our human selves no matter what state we find ourselves functioning in.

I have to admit, sometimes saying “hold on” isn’t enough, but I can at least say, “you are not as alone as you think you are… not in how you feel or in what you think.” Sometimes it just takes one person to voice their struggle for someone else to say, “Oh my God, me too,” and in that small spec of commonality is a glimmer of hope in the connection of our humanity.

It’s often in our isolated hopelessness that we go to extreme measures to rid ourselves of it by numbing out or checking out, not knowing the pain and sorrow we are leaving in our wake, hurting those we’ve left behind and out of the process, leaving them to figure out the pain on their own while we took the easier road of self destruction. Self destruction never seems easier in the moment, but it is always easier than dealing with the pain that life holds, having to be awake for it, alert for it, and gritty enough to actually work through it.

Today I do no feel gritty. I do not feel like making the choice to live in way that life matters. I feel like disappearing into the darkness that is my room and numbing out to Netflix, no bad thing in and of itself, but if I continue to make small choices to numb out every time something seems hard, I will have practiced living the kind of life that gives up when things get too hard.

And so, with that said, I acknowledge the tough day, I say hi and I sit with it for a bit. I live in the tension of feeling dark inside while the sun shines outside of my window. I sit just long enough to own my feelings, to sort though my thoughts, to figure out what is me and what is a lie I’m believing. Some of it I write out, as I’m doing here. And then, when I feel a little more free to be me, not me the entertainer who everyone expects to make them laugh, but me on an off day when I myself don’t feel like smiling, I set about to go outside and take in life in other places… grass, flowers, trees… there is evidence of life everywhere.

What better example of living in the tension than the flowers and trees that have to break though the darkness of the soil to get to the light and grow till tall.

With that said, it’s time for me to go outside.

To those who are struggling, you are not alone, I grieve with you. And to those who are doing well, that’s great too, I celebrate with you. Both are okay.

May you live in the tension of the fullness of life today, feeling neither like you have to fix everything, nor like you have to give up.

Life is hard and good, and you are more okay than you think you are.

 

Dust and Divine Breath

It’s been a weird two days. Life and death and everything in between. The other morning I woke up to multiple text messages from friends; some of whom I haven’t spoken with in years and some of whom are on my home team of life, you know, the thick and thinners, the ninth inning, the ones who are there for the whole game no matter what it holds. Though the familiarity with each of these friends was vast and wide, their messages were the same, “heard the news about Billy Graham, I’m so sorry, hope your family is well…” or something to that affect.

I had mixed emotions about the death of Billy Graham. To me he wasn’t just some evangelist who impacted the lives of many, wrote a bunch of books and preached a lot of sermons. To me he was “Uncle Billy,” and sure, more often than not he was a distant uncle, but given our family’s history, regardless of how I felt about what he and my grandfather did, I always understood him as Uncle Billy. I didn’t quite grasp the reality of who he actually was and the impact he had until later in life.

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Allow me to explain…

My Grandfather was Cliff Barrows, the choir director for Billy Graham since the very beginning. As I understand the story, my grandparents were on their honeymoon in North Carolina when they heard a preacher was looking for a musician because his choir director got sick. My grandmother (Nana) played the piano and my grandfather (Papa) had a booming singing voice and was well versed in multiple instruments. They both offered up their services and the rest is history. That preacher was Billy Graham and he and my Papa have been best friends since they were in their early 20s, even started the crusades together.

 

I used to avoid saying I was the granddaughter of Cliff Barrows because of my own issues with family and faith and trying to figure who I am and what I believe as an individual outside of all of the influence; but in this day and age with new generations who’ve never heard of Billy Graham crusades and the Kardasians actually being a thing to follow, I figure it’s not actually as big of a deal as I’ve made it out to be, it’s just my own stuff.
 My Nana and Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) were best friends and for a time my mother not only worked as head of the women’s ministry for Billy Graham (well before meeting my father), but was mentored by Ruth as well.

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My mother used to say Ruth was her role model and she wanted to be just like her. She’d try and try and end up feeling frustrated that she wasn’t more like Ruth, more pleasant, more gracious, more kind, more loving, etc… My mother told me one day she was so sick and tired of trying so hard to be the perfect example she chucked her bible across the room and yelled out “that’s it, I can’t do it, God! I can’t be Ruth Graham, I’ll never be Ruth Graham!” In the stillness of her room she heard a quiet voice, a very gentle response from a very loving God,

“Good. Because I already have a Ruth Graham, I don’t want another one…

I want my Lydia.”

It was then that I realized for as good of an example as Billy and Ruth Graham may be to many people, as faithful and spiritual and generous and all that stuff, it doesn’t make them any better in God’s eyes, and I don’t have to be like them for God to value me. That was huge for me. Growing up in a sort-of limelight, a preacher’s kid in a small southern town and granddaughter to a music evangelist who prayed with or sang in front of numerous presidents since Harry Truman and even alongside my own personal favorite, Johnny Cash, my understanding of God for a long time was that I had to be good for God to accept me.

 

It’s not that those were the words that were spoken to me, but it’s sort of what I saw or experienced… Nana always in pearls and smiling, family get-togethers meant no crying or arguing, and as long as you had Jesus you could smile at the storm. While it might have been well intended, some of it just didn’t resonate with me. I understood that Jesus was a Savior, but nobody talked about what they needed saving from, other than the generic title of sin, which is a word I’m still wrestling with sometimes.

For me, that’s what my faith has been, a form of wrestling, of asking questions I wasn’t supposed to ask because I was somehow already supposed to know the answers as a preacher’s kid, or like I had a better understanding of God because of my family connections. On top of my own process of exploring faith, there’s the whole issue of a traveling evangelist and the fact that if he’s impacting the world, who’s at home with the family? While Uncle Billy may have been America’s preacher and my Papa America’s song leader, their own families didn’t really know them that well. I know later in life they both expressed wanting to do that part over if they could, and so I don’t say that to come down on them, but certainly to be real about the fact that not even America’s preacher got it all right, and not even his kids were perfect. Sometimes kids just need to figure things out apart from who their parents are.

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So the family connections run deep and I have spent time thinking I was cool, growing up going to crusades and meeting DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and all my favorites in the early 90s, to growing older and wishing I wasn’t related at all due to the pressure and expectation that came with it. For a long time I resented my Papa and his “job” that seemed much more important than his family, especially when people praised him for it.

Last year I got to speak at a women’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia and I shared about growing up in the family I did, the affects it had on multiple family members and learning to come to peace with it. When the conference was over a woman came up to me and asked if she could share a story about my grandfather. She proceeded to share that when she was little her father was a raging alcoholic and used to beat her mom and the kids. He would take apart the television set during the day while he was gone so they couldn’t watch it and put it back together at night when he came home.

One day her mom found one of the pieces he had hidden to the television set and figured out how to put it back together. When the television set turned on that first time there was a Billy Graham crusade on and they all sat in the living room and watched. She said she watched my grandfather sing and lead the biggest choir she’d ever seen. One day it was nearing dinner time and my grandfather came on and introduced a woman named Ethel Waters, an African American woman, which back then was controversial to have onstage leading a song.

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Ethel and my grandfather sang “His eye is on the sparrow,” and it was the first time this woman had ever heard the song. That night her father came home and found them trying to take apart the television before he got inside. He grabbed her mother and she screamed for the kids to run. The woman and her siblings ran out to the nearest field and hid. She said they could hear her mother screaming and together her and her siblings quietly sang “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.” She said they just sang that line over and over again and she kept saying to her siblings, “God cares about the sparrows and he cares about us, He’s watching over us, it’s like they sang on the television.” She said she never forgot my grandfather after that.

It was unfortunately a long time before her mother eventually left her father and the foster care system got involved, but she said every time trouble happened they just sang to themselves “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.”

She hugged me with tears in her eyes and said “I know you’ve had your own issues with your family and I validate that, I’m sorry there were times they weren’t there for you, but please know it wasn’t for nothing. We had to have faith for a long time before anything happened, but I truly believe we were given hope through that song we heard your grandfather sing.” I hugged her and thanked her for sharing her story, that I needed to hear it. I was grateful to have a glimpse from the other side, from someone who wasn’t related or personally affected by his absence.

“I know you may not want to hear this,” she continued, “but in the best way possible, I see a lot of him in you… you draw people in, you hold their attention, and that’s what he did, he was gifted… and so are you.”

 

 

For the first time in a long time I felt proud. My grandfather had recently passed away at this point and I didn’t get a chance to communicate that to him, but in my own heart and mind I made peace with him and the beautiful mess that is my family. It’s not that everything got all better, but I wasn’t so affected by the way things were or allowing resentment to dictate how I lived my life or responded to people.

At the end of the day, for as great of men as Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows may have been, I think they would be the first to say they were just human… men who no matter how hard they try, still fall short… we all do. No exceptions.

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I say this not to minimize their impact, but to address some of the negative comments I’ve heard swirling around the death of Billy Graham; some of them vile and hateful from strangers with opposing views, some of them with a more subtle sting from friends who have their own similar issues with their families they have yet to come to peace with.

I totally understand given the faith aspect and Billy’s sold out devotion to God and the Bible being ultimate truth, a lot of people not only disagreed with him but didn’t like him. We live in a day and age where it’s almost forbidden to have an opposing opinion, especially as a Christian, a word that doesn’t have the best reputation and I get why. I personally am sold out to Jesus, truly believing the way Jesus loved people is the way we were meant to love, but even in that I have a hard time associating as a Christian because of the awful things Christians have said and done in the name of Jesus. I think even Jesus is heartbroken over it.

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(a little humor always helps)

I don’t have all the answers, I just know that people are people. People are people… broken and beautiful, messed up and put together, dust and divine breath. We’re all made up of both, yet we’re so quick to point out the dust in others and divine breath in ourselves that we completely miss each other. I think it’s okay for there to be differences among us, we don’t have to make sure everyone gets along and feels good all the time, but we can still communicate our differences in a loving way, valuing the person even if we disagree with their choices.

Some of the comments were so horrible I didn’t think they were real because saying them to any human, especially in regards to their death, seems inhumane to say the least. The naysayers are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but the conditions of their hearts are being revealed and they are acting out of the very hate in their own lives. Some of them may truly believe Billy Graham was an evil man and I understand they are speaking out of their conviction (in the same but very different way Billy spoke out of his own conviction), but they are revealing their own evil by their response to him.

A person at peace with themselves, with God, with the world, a person who truly loves because it naturally pours out of them and not because they need to be loved back, that type of person doesn’t wish, hope or pray evil things upon another human being. That type of person may have a strong conviction about the life a person lives, but they still see the person as a person and value both the dust and divine breath within them.

Hate does not conquer hate.

Hateful comments toward or about a person making hateful comments doesn’t make you an activist, it reveals that you’re just as hateful and vile, only in a different way. People are standing on opposing sides of politics, religion and bathroom usage and using hate to communicate, which means no one is really hearing anyone because no one responds well to hate. On top of which, half the stuff people are arguing about isn’t even the point.

People are people. No matter how different your view, people are people, no matter how rich or poor, isolated or well known, religious or atheist, vegan or Texan… people are people.

We all started as someone’s kid, some of us had bad things happen to us, some of us not. We all have a story, a reason we act, think, function the way we do. To a degree we are a sum of our experiences but they don’t have to define us, we can choose how we respond to them and to the world. We don’t have to hate on people in the process, even if they hate us. So while I hate the things that have been said around Billy Graham’s death, I don’t hate the people who said them. I see very broken, hurt people who are responding out of their own lack of love and their blindness to it and I feel sad for them.

The crazy part to me is, it’s not like Billy Graham was known for hate speech. He may have had his own opinions on ways of living because of his faith, but he didn’t hate the people. He may have had to wrestle through some of his own understanding of God’s word and what it meant to him, but he didn’t hate the people. He was a huge force in de-segregating black and white audiences and refused to speak to any crowd that was segregated. He agreed to meet and pray with every president that would have him even if he didn’t see eye to eye with them politically, because even the President of the United States he saw as a person in need of being loved, which let’s be honest is no easy task.

If humanitarians, Christians, activists, feminists, whoever wants to say status doesn’t matter then let it not matter, don’t compartmentalize, let it not matter… from the poor to the president: love people… all people. Disagree all you want to, but show love and kindness toward the human. Dare I say it’s not so easy.

For me personally there’s something I highly value and respect about Uncle Billy that goes well beyond all the accolades; in this world where everything is about self gratification, sex and scandals, that man stayed tried and true to the woman he loved since his youth. I know they didn’t have the easiest marriage with his schedule and travel and the time and attention of five kids, but there’s not one scandal to his name regarding his marriage and devotion to his wife. He faithfully loved her not only to the end of her life, but to the end of his. She mattered too, and he knew it.

 

And while I think that is so, so beautiful, it’s also sad because of just how rare that is… faithfulness and doing well by the one you love, even when it doesn’t feel as good as the day you said “I do.” That man loved people, and not just in word, but in action. Believe me, if anyone understands that some people didn’t feel loved by him or his ministry, it is I! I get it, they didn’t do everything right, I’m speaking as someone who feels personally affected by it. But I still truly believe that this man and my grandfather were just two humans who tried the best they could with what they had, and again, no matter how great some people saw them, they would be the first to say they were still in desperate need of a Savior.

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I suppose that’s the difference between some of us who believe in a Savior and those who don’t, we are aware of the brokenness, able to see what needs to be mended. It’s not that hate is beneath me, it’s that I can see my own humanity and the vileness I am capable of, bring it before my Jesus and say “help me. I don’t want to live like this.”

I don’t want to be a person who hates the people who hate people, I would only be adding to the hateful masses.

To Lauren Duca and the humans full of hate out there… While you’ve made your dust abundantly clear, I choose to see the divine breath within you, cloudy as it may be, it’s in there. You were made to love, even if you don’t know it yet. It ain’t easy, but I love ya!

And love wins.

chop and rage

I am the bi-product of a bad marriage. Part of me hates to say that because I love my parents dearly, but I’m learning in life that you can love people while still telling the truth, even if the truth is messy and hard.

I’ve lived most of my life convincing myself and other people that things were fine when they weren’t, that everything was okay when it wasn’t. In a card game it’s called bluffing, and I’ve become quite good at it. If I’m dealt a spade, I call it a heart and I smile while doing it. The problem with smiling while bluffing is that it not only hides the truth, it feeds the lie… the lie that things are fine when they aren’t, the lie that everything is okay when it isn’t. And the more you feed the lie, the more the lie becomes your reality, making it harder and harder to see the truth, the truth that you need help.

And the problem with bluffing, whether you are smiling or not, is that it not only isolates you in your hidden struggle, it eradicates any sort of hope for something greater, something better, something (at the very least) different from your current situation. Pretending my parents’ marriage or family situation is good isn’t going to be what improves it, and maybe calling it what it is isn’t going to improve it either, but it at the very least frees me up to find hope somewhere else instead of expending all of my energy into putting on a performance that becomes less and less convincing as time goes on.

As evidenced by my blog title, my life motto has become to “call a spade a spade,” to say “here’s what I’ve been dealt… I won’t lie, it kinda sucks, but how can I play it well?” I’m learning that it’s a process to learn how to play your cards well. Just when I think I’ve mastered the game, someone else appears to be coming out on top, to be winning, and the temptation to bluff sets back in, along with my pride and my smiles and my abuse of the Christian F-word: FINE, everything is just fine. While being “just fine” might make you seem like good company, someone who won’t cause any drama, ruffle any feathers or spill any milk, it also makes you seem pretty boring. As I’ve recently thought about what people might say about me after I’m long gone, be it from a room or life in general, I would hate for someone’s description of me to be “JJ, you know, the girl who was just fine.”

And so I’m calling it, my spade, the one that says I am a bi-product of a bad marriage. I know that is not who I am, but it is a part of my story, and calling out the bad allows room for the good to come in. I can’t talk about all of the healing and restoration God has done in my life if I don’t say what it was that needed to be healed and restored in the first place. For much of my life I have struggled with the lie that I am not worth it. I can pin-point it precisely, back to an old relationship. Before I understood addiction, I asked my boyfriend at the time why he wouldn’t quit drinking for me if it was hurting me.

His exact words were, “because you’re not worth it.”

And while he apologized shortly after, and years and years have gone by and I’ve sought my own healing, been in and out of a few relationships since then, and he probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, those words are the words that haunt me most to this day. I remember exactly where I was in the moment those words broke a sound barrier, piercing my eardrums as they seeped into my being and rooted themselves deeply into my mind and my heart. I know the Lord’s heart broke for me as much as my own heart broke in that moment. He knew the battle I was going to have to face to un-do that lie, and as a good Father, His heart broke at thought of His daughter going to war. And still, as a good Father, He has held tightly to me since then (and well before), refusing to give up on me and letting me fall victim to the lie that I am not worth it. I know my Lord’s heart broke because the enemy danced a victory dance that night, and though the Lord loves dancing, He did not reserve dancing for the enemy. The enemy danced because he was given enough fuel in one moment, in one sentence, to attack me for a long time to come. Please, chose your words wisely, they carry so much weight.

When my parents separated and later divorced I was sent through a shock wave. I was already barely able to keep bluffing my way through life, going through the ending of a relationship, a community, a job, an identity. When “comes from a good family” was taken off of the table of things I thought I had to offer, I snapped. While I knew well before my parents’ divorce that my family was dysfunctional, I banked on no one else knowing, hoping people wouldn’t know I had enough baggage to go to Iceland for a year or two. I figured people could or would fall in love with me first and then I could yell, “SURPRISE! I have more issues than VOGUE MAGAZINE, but at least you love me!” My fear was that if people saw all of my crap before getting to know me, I would never stand a chance. And I’m not quite sure what I wanted to stand a chance at, I didn’t want to get married, in part because of my experience with my parents, but I still wanted to be sought after, loved and valued. Even as a self-proclaimed independent woman with a black belt in Beyonce, I still want to be sought after, to be desired, to be “worth it.”

At twenty-eight years old, my world was ripped out from under me as the truth of my parents marriage was exposed and the one identity I felt like I had left to cling to, “I come from a good family,” was not only shattered, but broke my heart in the process. And I know, I get it, as a Christian, my identity is to be in Christ, but that’s just it, when you bluff your way through the game, “everything is fine,” it makes it harder to see the truth, “I need a Savior.” If it’s possible, I would say that up to that point, part of my identity was in Christ, while saying that all of it was. But I don’t think it’s possible for part of your identity to be in Christ, I think it really is all or nothing, but I couldn’t see that while I was bluffing, and so seeing as how it wasn’t all, since I was priding myself on the family I came from, I crashed when my parents’ marriage did.

My parents are not responsible for my crashing any more than I am responsible for their divorce, so I am not blaming them for what I went through then and what I continue to go through now as a result of it, but I often avoid talking about it in fear that it might be interpreted as blame, either by them or others. But even more than fearing mis-interpretation is the overall general fear of man and woman… fear of what people think. Perhaps this fear set in at an early age when my Sunday school teacher was disappointed that as the pastor’s kid I did not have my Bible verse memorized, and so as not to disappoint again or mis-represent my father, I set about to strive for the sake of being accepted. Perhaps the fear grew in middle school when I was told that “pastor’s kids are the worst,” and so as to be liked by the kids my age I set about to rebel because that’s what pastor’s kids do. And perhaps the fear of not being accepted for who I really am became a reality, or so I perceived it to be a reality, when six years into a relationship I was told that a bottle of alcohol had more worth than I did.

When I came to learn the story behind my parents divorce my anger at God increased to a level I never thought possible. Divorce in and of itself is hard enough to stomach, no matter what the story or situation. When I was handed the revised version of my story and my family’s history, I wanted nothing to do with God and His way of writing. I couldn’t fathom why He would ever even bother to bring my parents together in the first place. I remember yelling at God one night and asking Him how He could allow two people to go through so much pain, as there are two sides to every story, and both sides of my parents’ story broke my heart, and continues to do so. I remember screaming at Him and through my sobs I yelled out, “and if it’s because you wanted me here then I hate you… because I’m not worth it!”

And I truly believed that. I truly believed that my existence was not worth what my parents went through to bring me into this world, and I felt guilty for being alive. And again, the enemy danced as he watched me forget the truth and believe the lie that I wasn’t worth it. And again, my Lord’s heart broke as He pleaded with His daughter to just hang on, to not give up, to believe in His love for me despite what I felt. I look back and almost have a vision of Jesus weeping over me, weeping harder than I wept, hovered over me, begging His Father God to have mercy on His child.

I look back and I see Jesus being good to me, holding me tight, crying with me as our hearts broke over the same thing, but I couldn’t see it in the moment, not did I even try to. I couldn’t imagine anything good coming from the situation I found myself in, not even a hug from Jesus seemed good enough, or even worth it for that matter.

I under went a dark season of guilt, mainly for being alive. For as crazy as it might sound, I walked around believing that it was my fault for my parents ever getting together in the first place, for them having the story that they did. I felt guilty for their pain and I felt helpless because I couldn’t fix it. I was already here, walking the earth as a bi-product of a bad marriage. I felt responsible to make sure they didn’t hurt anymore and so I mostly kept quiet about the pain and guilt I felt, along with the anger at both myself and at them. I thought as long as I lived my life in a way that pleased them, they wouldn’t hurt as much. And at twenty-eight years old, after all the recovery I had gone through in my own life, I forgot most of it and set about again to be perfect in every way possible, ignoring the fact that perfection is impossible and perfect people don’t need Jesus.

I kept in touch with God, mostly to ask Him not to wake me up in the morning, “please,” I would sometimes cry at night, “please, don’t bother. I can’t keep up.” Taking my own life seemed to be the opposite of trying to help my parents not hurt anymore, and so in the confines of my own mind I decided not to take action, but I longed for the Lord to make that call for me. Since I had no control over eternally checking out, I took control by striving for perfection, hoping that maybe if I was good enough in this life, I could make my parents’ story worth it.

As I set about for perfection, trying to earn my right to simply walk the earth because I had forgotten the simplest of truths that I learned as a young child, well before I was ever lied to about not being worth it, that Jesus did and does in fact love me, I slowly began to disappear… again. Being perfect meant I couldn’t be JJ, and since JJ wasn’t “worth it” I set my sights on perfection instead of He who is perfect, and I managed to kill off JJ while believing she was alive and well. I killed off 23 pounds of JJ as I shrank into a bone structure that wasn’t strong enough to hold life in it. I hid under large clothes, tired eyes and weak smiles, never letting on that I hurt as much as I did, in part because I was too weak to hurt, another added bonus of disappearing. The lie that I wasn’t worth it became my truth, and surviving became my way of living as I tried to redeem the pain my parents’ had to go through in order to bring me into the world… “maybe if I’m a good enough daughter it will have been worth it… maybe I’ll be worth it.”

While I might have questioned my parents’ love for each other much longer than I care to admit, I never questioned my parents’ love for me, so it’s not a pressure they put on me to be perfect, or a situation they asked me to redeem. I don’t think they know the depth to which I have wrestled with the Lord over the matter, if for no other reason than practice makes perfect, and when bluffing is a regular practice, you get really good at it; so good that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible for a twenty-eight year old brain to get as confused as I did, to have access to so much truth and so much love and yet still miss it. Part of it I think is pain, pain confuses things. Part of it I think is saving face, saving face confuses things. Part of it I think is memory loss, memory loss confuses things. And most of it I think is the enemy taking those parts, along with a handful of other parts, and making a great case for why you should be God instead of God being God.

Next week I turn thirty-one, and while I still might not have all my ducks in a row, I know for sure that God does not spell His name with two Js. I cannot claim to always understand Him or the way He works, I cannot even claim to always agree with Him or the way He writes stories. I don’t understand why His writing is sometimes perfectly legible and sometimes as scribbled as a two-year-old’s. I don’t know why I hold the cards that I do in life. I don’t know why some people seem to have better cards and some people seem to have worse cards. I do not understand this God I serve any more than I understand the game of life. There is so much I still don’t know.

But I do know this… I am worth it. I am worth the air in my lungs and the heart in my chest. I am worth the effort it took to bring me into this world no matter how painful the process. I am worth more than a bottle of alcohol. I am worth the life of a Man named Jesus, who saw a little girl trying desperately to be who the world told her to be, even when it wasn’t who He called her to be, and instead of scolding her for not listening to His voice, He picked her up, time and time again, and He laid Himself down in her place, taking on her shame and her guilt so that she might be able to experience the glory of being called a daughter of the God Most High… a title, a role, a claim on her life that wasn’t earned, and therefore can be taken away by no one.

My parents are still divorced, and their story has not changed, but my perspective of God and the way in which I live out who I believe Him to be has. I no longer carry the guilt that I once did for being alive, in fact, I feel so set free from it that the thought seems silly to have ever had in the first place, but it was as real a feeling as the feeling of freedom I now feel. And so I suppose that’s it, I had to be real about how I felt in order to be set free from it. I had to call a spade a spade. So long as I was pretending I was fine, it kept me in bondage, drowning in my own shame and guilt, unable to be me while killing off any of me that tried to come up for air.

I don’t need to earn my worth, or redeem my parents’ story. I don’t need to be perfect, or make sure everything is okay. And I don’t need to curse the Hand of God when everything isn’t okay. Cursing the Hand of God only gives the enemy more room to dance, and I refuse to continue playing a role in letting the enemy enjoy the pleasure of dancing. He has danced long enough in the name of my family, which goes back much further than my upbringing. I’ve given into his lies for far too long, waging war against God and my own body. I am reclaiming that territory, the territory that God deems worth claiming and calling His own, the territory that is my body, heart, mind and soul. I’m calling the enemy’s bluff, that I’m not worth it, and with the truth exposed, the healing can begin. Where there is healing, there is victory, and I’d rather live victoriously with battle scars and war stories than tell the generation that I raise up that I didn’t really need Jesus because everything was “just fine,” especially when it really wasn’t.

A few weeks ago I was given a tee-shirt by a friend who didn’t know where I was at in life, but she knew I needed a tee-shirt (“needed” is a strong word). While I try not to collect too many articles of clothing, there was a story printed on the inside of the tee-shirt that left me clinging to it. For as silly as it may sound, it was as if God was saying, “take off those lies you’ve been wearing and put on this story.”

The story was titled “CHOP AND RAGE,” and it read as follows:

“Don’t stay out of the water. Don’t decide to only let the waves collide against your thighs. Don’t stop pushing out when your heart starts to thump in your throat and you realize how cold the ocean feels when you can’t touch the bottom anymore. Don’t stop swimming when you peer back and find the shore you’ve always known to be a stranger, a line of interchangeable ants along the horizon. Don’t stop slicing through the sea when your arms like twirling swords get tired, even when the water goes from green and curling and foamy to heavy and hearty and black.

You won’t die. And even if you do, so what? The world was created to be explored, even its tides and storms. The chop and rage will turn a heart to stone, but even stone can be moved, formed, and reshaped. The heart, if unable to do anything else, was created to be refined until it can’t beat anymore. Take it into your soaked and wrinkled fists and poke your head above the churning water. Hold it high and scream for help. If you want it bad enough, you will always find a lifeboat upon the surface.”

This is the story that I will relay to the generation that I help raise up, be it to kids of my own by birth or adoption, or kids of others, by loved ones or strangers. I will tell war stories that involve sunken ships, fallen trees and fierce storms so that the weight of restoration, redemption and resurrection can be understood. I will reveal my bruises and scars and I will dance in my imperfection instead of hiding it. I will let them see me cry so that they will know I mean it when I smile. I will admit that sometimes the bottom of the ocean seems safer than the storm raging above, but so long as I believe in the One in whom even the wind and the waves obey, I will face my demons, shake them out and I will never, ever, ever give up.

I may be the bi-product of a bad marriage, but the “badness” of my parents marriage is not what determines the “goodness” or the worth of the people in the family.

I am worth it… and now it is I who dance, crushing the head of my enemy with each step.

My prayer for you is that you know this to be true for yourself.

No matter how or why you got to be here on planet earth, you are here by no coincidence or mistake. It is with great reason and intention that you have breath in your lungs and a heart in your chest… should you find yourself ever doubting that, don’t hide your doubt while appearing to be “just fine.” If Jesus conquered death then He can handle your doubt… call it out, name it, expose the darkness of it to the Light, and then scream for help.

I don’t know how and in what way help will come, but I know that it will.

Just. Hold. On.

You are so incredibly worth it.

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“chop and rage” can be found at lovenailtree.com