Thursday night, I sat in the third row of a packed sanctuary, surrounded by the heavy sadness, lingering shock, and deep sobs of an all-too-soon funeral.
Friday night, I dressed up, went out with my friends, laughed, and danced away the night at my college Christmas banquet.
It almost felt wrong. This sorrow lasted longer than a night.
Thursday, I listened to an agonizingly beautiful lullaby, played and sung by heartbroken parents over their precious 17-year-old daughter, now still, and felt the unspeakable weight deep in the core of my being.
Friday, as energy pumped through the hall and excitement ran high, that music felt dreadfully empty.
The permanence of death didn’t sit well. Isn’t joy supposed to come in the morning?
Thursday night, the ears of my heart listened in agreement as we talked of hidden pain, and depression, and the value of each voice speaking up and speaking out, breaking the silence in which the devil likes to do his dirty work.
Friday night, my mind wandered amid the motion as I couldn’t help but wonder why my secret battle ended after a few short months while hers ended her earthly life; and why a similar struggle had different outcomes, and why I don’t understand, and how it’s all just not fair.
Grieving is exhausting.
Thursday night, we talked about love. Fierce love. The fierce love of a mother relentlessly interceding for her daughter, and standing watch as she slipped away – escorting her from the arms of her earthly parents to the arms of her heavenly father with grace, and with the gut-wrenching acknowledgement that “This. Doesn’t. Feel. Well.”, but with the confidence of eternity in the presence of Christ.
And ofthe fierce love of the Spirit, who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
Thursday night, I sat directly behind a woman who played a huge role in my faith journey as a child – also a mother who has experienced the death of a child to different tragic circumstances. As we mourned, in our separate seats but as a corporate body, I watched her raise her hands as we proclaimed “from life’s first cry to final breathe, Jesus commands our destiny” and knew she really, truly believed that. And as we listened to words of the unconditional love of God, I watched Vivian’s mama stand to her feet as if to acknowledge that any ounce of strength still pulsing through her system was a result of that deep overflow of love.
Because we do not grieve as those withouthope.
Friday night, I did laugh. I did dance. Not in flippancy, or in ignorance, or even in happiness. But because in the shadow of the cross, there is deep hope. There are deep promises. There is deep faithfulness. There is deep truth. And in the midst of our deep sorrow, there is a God whose character runs deeper still. That does not undermine our heartache. That does not diminish our bereavement. But in the words of our pastor, “grace runs downhill”, and in that flowing grace is deep victory over death.
As we deeply grieve, Vivian is dancing in that victory.
I know I’m not around much. I know I keep saying we should go on another sibling date and don’t follow through. I know that I don’t do the dishes my fair share, and I don’t show up for all your events, and I’m not home for late-night chats and silly face competitions much any more. I know it feels like I brush you aside sometimes. I know my college life is almost as challenging to keep up with for you as it is for me. I know I don’t say it enough (as in…ever), but I miss you. And as I watch you grow up, albeit from more of a distance now, there are a few things I want you to know. Things I wish I would have known. Things people probably told me, but I didn’t listen to because those people were adults who were supposed to say stuff like that. But right now, I’m only sort of an adult. So, from the heart of your big sister who really does love you a whole lot, here goes.
1. I like you. I really actually do think you two are great human beings. I mean, you’re hilarious. Both of you. And smart. Like, ridiculously, unfairly intelligent and smart. You’re thinkers and doers. You’re not ashamed of what you believe. You are friendly, likable, entertaining, and witty. I have fun with you. Very few people can make me laugh as much as you two. You’re both different, and that’s a good thing. J, you help me understand how guys think (or, at least I try to understand), and B, you teach me how to be truly thankful for girls whose disposition is the exact opposite of mine. Both of you inspire me with your unique faith journeys, and the different ways you express who Jesus is to you and who you want him to be in your life as you learn to know him more. J, I like your style. B, I like your stories. I like your personalities. I like your hearts. I like you.
2. I’m not perfect.
Lets read that again: I am not perfect. That statement could not be more true. Maybe you don’t see it, maybe you’re sick of living in the shadow of your older sister who always does everything right, maybe I imply that I am by telling you how to do things all the time – but I’m not. I make mistakes. Sometimes I make intentional choices that are wrong. I hurt people, I’m not always compassionate, I don’t live out love very well, and I’m an incredibly self-centered person. Maybe from what you see, looking up to me, I have it all together. But I don’t. And here’s a secret…no one does. Not a single person. We’re all broken, and that includes me. I need grace desperately, and anything “good” that I do is by grace alone. Strong brother and sweet sister, I love you dearly, but don’t make me the standard by which you live your life. Look to Jesus. You don’t have to compare your actions to mine – instead, follow the example of Christ. He is the only truly perfect older brother you will ever have.
3. You have awesome parents.
Stop rolling your eyes, no one bribed me to say that. But you really do. Mom and Dad take their calling to invest in your lives seriously, and they probably know you better than anyone else. Know that while sometimes they make mistakes and can be frustrating and confusing…they walk by grace too. Be willing to offer them a little. They have life experience that you can’t even come close to claiming. They know Jesus, and in discipling you they are fulfilling a responsibility given them by God. You can trust them. You can share things with them. They are truly wise, they desire to see you walking in the truth, and they are willing to get their hands dirty in training you how to do that. They want to have a good relationship with you, but that has to go two ways, and for you to experience that blessing you have to be willing to put your effort in as well. Believe me, having a good relationship with Mom and Dad when you head off into the big crazy world is invaluable – and the time to build into that is now. Don’t miss out.
4. You don’t need to rush.
Yeah, that whole relationships thing. It’s a pretty big topic to tackle, and quite frankly, I don’t want to. But here’s what I have for you: it’s okay to slow down. What’s the hurry? You have your whole life ahead of you, and high school has enough drama of it’s own without the whole dating dynamic. Take it from someone who’s run the gamut of perspectives – I know the difficulty of having to be the one to end a relationship, and the hurt of being the one rejected; I understand a little of the ache of wanting there to be someone when there simply isn’t, and the peace of being confident in the decision to not “put myself out there”. Contrary to popular opinion, the fact that I didn’t date in high school was not because mom and dad had ridiculous rules (although boundaries they did have), it was because I intentionally chose that I didn’t want to deal with that scene at that point in my life. And looking back, I truly treasure that time. Honestly, sometimes a little part of me wants to go back to when it was simple and easy and relationships weren’t difficult to navigate because I didn’t have any self-imposed pressure to “find someone”. J, some girls are gonna throw themselves at you. Treat them with respect, dignity, and gentleness, but set your standards high and be strong in those standards. Constantly be in Scripture and learn to be open to the word “wait”. It’s not a race. There’s time. Let yourself mature as a man of God before involving the sacred emotions of another heart in your decisions. B, fall in love with Jesus before you let your heart focus on anyone else. You don’t have to be constantly wishing for what’s next, but instead enjoy every moment as it is given to you – these days are precious! You do you, girl, but choose to set your sights on things of eternal value. Honor your brothers in the faith. Surrender your relationship fears to Jesus. It’s not a race. There’s time. Grow into the woman God has called you to be and exuberantly serve him in whatever capacity he places you. And both of you are welcome to sit me down anytime and we can talk and pray through this whole crazy trust adventure together. I mean that.
5. People will fail you, Jesus will not.
Mom and Dad will fail you. I will fail you. You will fail each other. Your friends, employers, coworkers, professors, advisers, and mentors will fail you. Basically, people can be pretty stupid. Love them anyway. But don’t live your life for the purpose of impressing fallible people. Don’t compare yourself to the individuals surrounding you, because someone will always come up short. Don’t wrap your identity in the acceptance that you receive from other people, because it will never satisfy, it will never be enough. You are called by God and equipped with his Spirit to make his Name known and be a blessing to the nations – seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Pursue holiness. Walk in truth. Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. Seek the approval of Christ and walk in accordance with his Word. He is always faithful. He will never fail.
I love you, brother mine and sister dear. I really do.
Oh, and today I washed all the dishes, just for you.
I slid my meatballs into the oven, threw some spinach in with the sautéed mushrooms, sat back down to edit the opening paragraph of my Rhetoric essay, and exhaled slowly.
Why this weightiness? Why so heavy, heart?
I carefully went through a mental checklist of the various aspects of my life: a college that I love, two jobs I enjoy, new friendships to build, old friendships to nurture, celebrations to share in, a supportive family, encouraging mentors in the faith – a beautiful collage of people and places and shaping experiences that on most days would have me feeling filled to overflowing. So why was today so different?
I narrowed the search in the database of my brain and deliberately outlined the specific events of my day: Class. Class. Class. Lunch. Homework. Class. Work. Homeward commute. Make food while doing homework. And that was that. Here I was.
I pulled out my planner to outline tomorrow’s schedule, and doodling in the margins, noticed one little box in today’s agenda that was still unchecked. A detail that had somehow slipped my notice as I was crossing off tasks on my way out the door this morning. An endeavor I had ignored as I was rushing through my very full, could-have-been-vibrant day.
Yes, in the wee hours of the night as I was scratching out the necessities of the forthcoming day, something in my soul had prompted the actual scheduling of surrender. And I, in my determination to enter each new hour fully prepared, had conveniently danced right around that responsibility – ignoring lingering hurts, stuffing some raw emotions, holding on to unconfessed sin. The result was an empty ache, a heavy spirit, and a confused heart.
In waltzing around surrender, what did I miss?
The joy of casting my cares on the Lord and allowing him to sustain me. (Psalm 55:22)
Partaking of the peace of God which transcends all understanding. (Phil. 4:7)
Receiving rest through offering up my weary heart at the feet of Jesus. (Matt. 11:28)
When we come thirsty, He fills us up. When we come lonely, He brings us into fellowship with Him. When we come with a humble heart and a loose grip, He gently takes the burden out of our hands. Surrender is the act of hauling our brokenness to the foot of the cross and proclaiming, “I do not want this anymore. You can have it all.” It is intentional. It is daily. It is beautiful.
I closed the laptop, checked the meatballs, and set distractions aside to let God do His freeing work in my soul. First thing on the agenda tomorrow? Surrender. I don’t want to miss out on this again.
How have you seen the power of daily surrender in your own story?
Where do you need to schedule surrender in your daily life?
On my run this morning, I saw someone who looks a whole lot like how I remember you. Same build, same white t-shirt, full head of white hair, with a fishing hat perched on top.
Mile one, I had to do a double take. Mile two caught me off guard again. And mile three, his stern face grinned at me and said “Mornin’!” with the same gruff tenderness that you would project over the breakfast waffles and bacon whenever I slept over.
I smiled back, and cried the whole bike ride home. I miss you, Grandpa.
I miss you a lot.
I miss going into your shop and “helping” you sweep up shavings. Or how you would give me scraps of wood and let me trim them with the saw, giving the firm instruction that I “just don’t chop them fingers off.” You could make anything you wanted to in there, and lots of times it would be for us- the little stinkers you called your grandkids. Sometimes, I just don’t like seeing the people who rent your shed now, because it’s almost like they’re interrupting a sacred space full of precious memories.
I miss watching you and Grandma together. How you cared for her so well through her hospitalizations. How you faithfully honored your vow of “in sickness and in health” and ultimately, after 48 years, “till death do us part.” How you made sure we respected her. Some of us couldn’t get away with half the sass she puts up with now if you were still here, that’s for sure. How sometimes you intimidated me so badly, but I still knew I could crawl up in your chair with you and you wouldn’t mind one bit.
I miss you stopping over to fix something up whenever you were in the neighborhood. I miss you telling me that I had my eyes open during prayer and how you would chuckle at the astonished “How did you know?!” look that would creep onto my guilty little face. You gave me lessons in how to properly swat flies. You told me stories about your time in the army. You would help with anything I needed and come up with all these ingenious ways to solve my seven-year-old dilemmas.
I miss how you would sit and listen to me stumble through my latest piano piece, or read my projects for school, and quietly shake your head and say “That Kristyn Grace…she’s somethin’ else.”
You were tough and gentle. Respected and kind. Simple and hardworking. You’re one of the biggest encouragers I can think of. You always cheered us on no matter what. When I was drum major, you would’ve been right next to Grandma at every parade. When I sang my first solo, you would have clapped the loudest. You would’ve been there at my high school graduation, given input when I bought my first car, been so interested in my trip to Nepal. You would’ve supported me all the way through taking a year off of school, but would be so proud that I’m starting college at the same place you did in less than a month. I learned how to change my oil last night, and for some reason you would have been ridiculously proud of that too. And whenever I end up bringing a boy home for Christmas, I’m gonna miss you announcing your unapologetic opinion of if he’s “the real deal” or not. But in all honesty, Grandpa, I’ve been finding myself hoping that whoever he is…is a lot like you. Protector. Provider. Humble leader.
Most of all, I miss watching you live out your sincere faith. And how you truly lived for the Lord and desired to please Him in everything you did. You walked with integrity and loyalty and honor. In your own quiet way, you sure raised the bar high.
It’s been nine and a half years, hasn’t it? I may not think about you as much now, but I think I miss you more. I can’t wait to hug you in heaven, and worship side-by-side again.
“Kristyn, why is you so sad?” The query of the darling three-year-old I nanny.
“I’m so sorry, sweet girl. I have a lot on my heart.”
She tilts her head inquisitively and then traipses to the other room to play. Moments later, her little face peeks around the corner and she smiles shyly.
“Don’t worry, Kristyn, you is so beautiful.”
Emotion runs over and I stand there by the bottle warmer with tears in my eyes.
The living room is a disaster in the aftermath of Fort-Building 101, the dishes are still dirty, the baby is screaming for no possibly known reason, and Miss Three is incessantly insisting that she needs a third cup of chocolate milk to match her age. As I am about to be unnecessarily harsh with her tender spirit, I receive a text from a dear friend.
“Read Matthew 10:42. It’s a nanny life, just replace “water” with “milky” :)”
I look it up.
“And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup if cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”
I bite my tongue.
Maybe all this – this changing your outfits for the 6th collective time today, this cleaning up your paperless watercolor experiment on the counter, this training you over and over again to use gentle words and actions – is teaching me.
Maybe as I hold you tight and walk in circles for hours to bring you calm, even though you aren’t lacking anything, I can remember that I serve a God who provides all I need, and still continues to carry me close to his heart.
Maybe as I help you wipe up that accident from the floor yet again, I can be thankful that my Jesus didn’t leave me on my own in my mess, but did the dirty work for me.
Maybe as I stir Mac n’ Cheese, change diapers, re-read books for the 16th time today, and prompt you yet again to say ‘please’, I can walk in the blessing of what a precious opportunity it is that I have – to invest in eternity by investing in your hearts.
Maybe these ordinary days… are the most fulfilling. The most beautiful. And filled with the most grace.
Maybe your two beautiful, innocent faces are showing me glimpses of my glorious God.
All through high school I thought I had the four years after graduation figured out. I knew I was generally expected to dive right in to college and I was determined to follow through. I knew what I wanted to study and knew the general location of where I wanted that to be. I knew I wanted to attend school loan-free and complete it debt-free. I knew I would be paying for my own education and that I would graduate at a younger age than the average student. I knew there would be challenges, but I was confident to face them. I was familiar with the idea of a gap year and at moments would entertain the possibility, but for the most part, I decided against it. I knew a year out of school would mess everything up. Yep…I had it all figured out.
Senior year brought a flurry of activity, and with it came that multitude of college applications, essays, forms, visits, and scholarship and financial aid paperwork (as well as the vast overabundance of mail and phone calls.) It also brought a growing level of uncertainty. After every meeting with an admissions counselor and every conversation with a prof, I would picture myself in that particular academic setting and point out all the things I admired and appreciated – yet my heart would be uneasy. I wasn’t nervous. Neither was I excited. Deep down, I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be there. Not “there” as in a specific school…”there” as in college itself. And I really did not want to accept that realization at all.
I had everything figured out, remember? It was all lined up. I wanted the challenge, the adventure. I wanted to share post high school experiences with my friends. I thought I wanted to live up to the cultural expectation of “college after high school because that’s just what you do.” It all made sense. Still, I had no peace. I was pursuing my plans instead of pursuing God’s will. That, my friends, is a dangerous place to be. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, “There are no ifs in God’s world, and no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety. Let us pray that we may always know it!” So gently, firmly, and with oh-so-much love in His voice, God began to impress these words upon my heart:
“Stop. Stop the pursuit. Stop forging forward. Rest in me. I have so much more I want to share with you. So many ways to reveal myself to you. I want your full attention. I want you to know me closely, personally, intimately. Stop.”
Every protest and excuse and struggle that I spewed forward fell flat (of course) and the deposit day came and went without a place for the next semester reserved in my name. My files were put aside for potential future reference. My years of careful planning were completely gone within a couple of months. I was left with two things: absolutely no idea what I was doing in the fall, and a whole lot of peace. When the Lord of the Universe calls you by name and desires a deeper relationship with you, cultural expectations pale significantly in comparison.
What is it that I believe? What do I stand for? How do I live it? In what ways can I serve? Most importantly, who is the reason I’m seeking answers to these questions, and how do I know Him? Really know Him? This is the ultimate purpose of my gap year. To make use of the space, take time to listen, step back and learn who my Jesus really is.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11
The time when many of my friends set out to begin or continue their college adventure and I, well, don’t.
Trust me when I say that it’s been a journey of reliance and surrender for me to accept that college is not where I am supposed to be right now. And that the month of August is especially hard because it seems like all anyone ever talks about (minor generalization) are class schedules, move-in day, and last-minute important details ~ conversations in which I cannot fully participate.
However, before you get the idea that I plan on sitting around moping all year, waiting to figure out what to do with myself for the rest of my life, let it be known that while some uncertainty still remains, I am greatly excited for what The Father has in store for me this year! It has been so much fun coming up with ideas and making list after list of ways to fill my time, and it has been wonderful seeing certain details fall into their pre-ordained place. I’ve begun to envision my main goals for this year and I am quite literally thrilled to begin experiencing them! So without further ado…five ways to thrive when your friends leave for college.
1. Engage in community.
Simply because you aren’t in a situation where you are “forced” to meet new people and make new friends, doesn’t mean you have to sit around hopelessly longing for the good times with all the people who are away at school. It just means you have to take a little more initiative! Having a community of peers and mentors who will uplift and encourage you in your walk with Christ is oh-so-very needed as you grow. Take a step out of your comfort zone and attend your church’s young adult ministry, get involved in a Bible study in your area, organize get-togethers with co-workers, start corresponding with out-of-state acquaintances, go out for coffee with an older woman you respect, really take time to get to know your siblings, you fill in the blank. Sure, it may take a little extra effort on your part, but the relationships and experiences gained will be well worth the process!
Take this opportunity to look outside of yourself. How can you meet the needs of other people? What is the best way you can serve this year? In what ways can you exemplify the love of Christ to the people in your everyday life? And how can you use the gifts God has given you to uplift the body of believers and show grace to those who need it most? Look around, and be willing to involve yourself and get your hands dirty for the kingdom of God.
3. Tackle your bucket list.
Maybe you won’t be able to tour Europe or find the cure for cancer, but I’m sure some smaller “yes-this-needs-to-happen” moments can easily be accomplished with both a little strategic planning and a healthy sense of spontaneity! After all, who doesn’t want to pay a strangers tab at a restaurant or bake in the middle of the night for no reason at some point in their life?
4. Linger in God’s presence.
Has your heart felt anything like mine recently? Pressured, stressed, overwhelmed and pulled in twenty-seven different directions at once? Are you craving peace? Do you have deep desires that can only be fulfilled by the Lover of your soul? Make time to learn, listen, and sit under the teachings of God himself this year. Develop a desire to be with him, digging deeper, allowing him to draw your heart ever closer to his. Take time to stay in his presence. He will satisfy.
5. Keep learning.
School and learning aren’t synonymous, believe it or not, and you can continue broadening your horizons without a full-time class schedule. Finally pick up guitar! Get started on that stack of books you’ve wanted to read or spend hours giggling with children! Develop a hobby, intensely research something completely random, or adventure outdoors! Intern or job shadow in your fields of interest, work on your DIY projects, and ask lots and lots of questions! Even if you aren’t any closer to those fancy letters behind your name, you’ll have succeeded in doing a whole lot of living. And hopefully had your share of fun doing it as well!