Why do you seek the living among the dead?

I try not to be a person who makes sweeping statements or who makes everything into a drama, but I can say—with absolutely no exaggeration whatsoever—that 2017 so far has, in a word, sucked. Let’s even use two words and say REALLY sucked.

The year is young, only one quarter complete, so I’m hoping with everything in me that the trend will reverse itself. And by the very nature of grief, it must. Yes, it could get worse, but I’m going with the law of averages here and assuming things will ease as the months go by, and my heart will once again soar on a regular basis.

I haven’t posted anything on this blog for so long that it almost feels like starting completely from scratch. The past couple years were a whirlwind of activity and life changes that took everything in me to keep afloat, and every time I started to draft a post, I would find it irrelevant by the time I got back to it, months later. This blog has always been my “dear diary” of sorts, the most personal version of myself, and many of the things I began to draft were not the type of thing that could even be posted, because sharing what I was struggling with would have only hurt others . . . not that any of them read this, but I would rather err on the side of grace when I can (great advice given to me by a friend and coworker).

Last year was especially hard on many fronts, so I was looking forward to that magical fresh start that always comes with the turn of the calendar page to January 1. To be fair, January actually wasn’t so bad. It was full of determination, introspective moments, busyness, silliness, promise, and a few surprises. I had some new experiences opening up for me for work (both jobs) and for personal growth.

But then in February, I lost a close friend. Not due to a death, though it’s just as permanent. One day things were fine, and the next, the friendship was ripped from me with no recourse on my part. I spent most of the next month reeling, denying that this was my new reality and trying to make sense of it in my mind. It still seems unreal in many ways. The sadness of not getting my birthday phone call or texts that start with “I have this great idea . . .” out of the blue only cemented the oh-my-goodness-this-nightmare-is-real feeling.

All the while, life had to go on. I still had to work. I still had to love and take care of my family. I still had to get up each day and function because there was only one person, my bestie, I could talk with to try and sort it out, so the hurt had to be kept a secret. Talking about it hurt too much, and holding it in hurt no less.

I tried writing out my thoughts and it only made me cry more. And then it made me angry. And then cry again. Angry. Crying. Angry. Crying. What an awful cycle. Toss in a lot of bewilderment and disbelief, and self-medicating was starting to sound really good, though I didn’t go that route. I wondered if my former friend was hurting as I was hurting—as I still am hurting—or if it was a simple thing to dispose of that part of life, to dismiss it with an “oh, well.” In my worst moments, I wondered if the friendship was only on my end, and that our rapport was not what I thought it had been.

But the single phrase that keeps going through my head (and has been for weeks, in fact) is this: Why do you seek the living among the dead? Straight out of the Bible, that one. Luke, chapter 24. In that passage, angels at the empty tomb are speaking to the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ now-absent body. He’s not there, and the angels even tell them, “He is risen, just as he said.” I was struck by the thought once again as Easter approached.

Why do I seek where there is only empty space? Why do I seek joy where there is only disappointment? Why can’t I turn away from what is irrevocably gone and look toward the good things? There is plenty of joy around me, and I bask in it. And yet . . . why do I seek the living among the dead? Looking harder only reinforces that there is nothing to be found, and creates more of a downward spiral.

In my case, I am still struggling with the “dead” part of it. I am looking for a friendship that is no longer a living, vibrant, fun and active part of my life. I am looking for what once was, because I simply cannot believe it no longer is.

There is life all around me, and though I am enjoying it in a compartmentalized sort of way, the times when I’m tired or alone with my thoughts are still a huge battle. I sincerely appreciate the good things—and there are many, thanks to a spectacular husband, great kids, a bestie who knows all of it from start to finish and still listens to me, and wonderful coworkers—and yet I still feel the empty space. I replay conversations. I remember good times. And I get angry at myself that the good things don’t always feel like enough, because they are. In fact, they’re more than enough if I allow them to be. In fact, I have to allow them to be, because I have no choice; this is my new reality.

But I think it’s kind of like when you lose a child . . . something I’ve had experience with. There are the other children, and they are a great comfort, but it doesn’t negate that there is grief to be processed and someone is still gone. Those who remain are no less essential, but they don’t fill in the space and replace that which was lost. They can’t. Each space, each person, each relationship, forms a specific shape in a person’s life, much like a puzzle piece.

To lose a friend is no small thing. Not if that friendship was real. That puzzle piece is as unique as God created them to be. And only God can fill the empty spaces where no other piece fits. He has allowed me to be broken in many ways over the past few years, and this is now one more addition to the list. Have I mentioned that I hate being broken? It hurts like nothing else, at times a physical ache that rivals the heart-hurt.

The good news is that God’s pretty decent at brokenness. He’s waiting for me to give it over to him—fully—and believe me, I’m trying because I need to move on and stop looking behind me. I’m trying. I really am. I’m tired of feeling broken and I’m tired of not being myself anymore.

But Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells me this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

In other words, he has given me a longing which nothing else can satisfy, except God. I can’t grasp his plan. I don’t need to. Because he knows me and is waiting for me to hand over what is dead so he can point the way to what is living.

Life lessons from Christmas movies

Our family owns a lot of Christmas movies. We began collecting our favorites when the kids were little and have gradually replaced the good ones with their DVD or Blu-Ray versions over the years, and we’re faithful about hiding them away after the Christmas tree comes down so we don’t get sick of them.

We’re not keen on all Christmas movies; there are some stinkers out there, and just because it has “Christmas” in or near the title doesn’t mean I want to own it. You won’t get me to even pick up something that has the words “The Christmas Shoes” on it, because that song was touching the first time I heard it and never again after that. Never. I don’t like Christmas “sequels,” either, like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year or Frosty Returns. Ironically, we own Frosty Returns because it came bundled with a bunch of other Christmas classics (because nobody would have shelled out for it otherwise), but no one in our house has ever wanted to watch it.

We have what I consider classics, both old and newer, ranging from A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Year Without a Santa Claus to Jingle All the Way and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Toss in the über-classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas and you’ve got a well-rounded collection to accompany the hot cocoa on a snowy night. I think we own somewhere around twenty-five Christmas movies (yes, we’re one of the families who considers Die Hard a Christmas-ish movie…on the fringes of the category, but still within the borderline), and we make it through most of them each December.

The other night, the whole family was home (a rare occasion these days), so we watched two movies back to back: The Santa Clause, followed by Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. As I watched Rudolph and the gang, the thought struck me that just about everyone in that movie is a jerk, including Santa. What kind of Santa tells a parent he should be ashamed of himself for producing a defective child? Indeed, what kind of parent forces a kid to hide whatever it is that makes that kid unique? The coach, well…no offense to nice coaches out there, but that guy reminded me of every gym teacher I ever had in school, belittling the non-conformists and encouraging others to do the same.

Hermey & Rudolph

I happened to have my laptop open at the time, so I posted a comment on Facebook about how the message of Rudolph’s tale seemed to be that it was OK to treat someone in an awful manner unless they could do something for you. I couldn’t believe how many of my friends felt the same way about this movie; more than one person admitted to never having liked Rudolph, and one person didn’t even like the singing snowman. Harsh. The sheer volume of comments and the varied viewpoints had me laughing out loud. Some of them are just too good not to share. I commented, “Even that dumb king on the Island of Misfit Toys is a jerk…Rudolph & Hermey say, ‘So can we stay here with you?’ and King Moonracer answers, ‘No. But when you go back, here’s what you can do for me…'” and this is what I got in return:

Moonracer was like a petty dictator of a failing nation. “Get off my land and come back with aid! You can’t use my country as a base but GIMME GIMME GIMME!” 

You can bet those misfit toys got nothin’ for air defense except a squirt gun that squirts jelly!

The entire “Island of Misfit Toys” is about what happens when people just sit around and bemoan their fate instead of striking out, as Rudolph did, to make something of himself. The toys were pathetic and just expected King Moonracer to feed them and shelter them until the Big Santa arrived with more handouts. 

I don’t believe the Misfit Toys ever asked to be placed on the island!! How were they to escape when the boat wouldn’t float??

Santa is like the Grand Wizard of the North Pole KKK. He was hating on everyone. I was waiting for him to berate minorities and the mentally disabled after tearing Rudolph and his dad a new one for having a red nose.

The abominable snowman still gives me nightmares.

As I was telling my husband about the responses, he began to imitate the whiny Charlie-in-the-Box, “‘Oh, boo hoo. My name isn’t Jack.’ Well, what the heck is stopping you from telling people a different name when they ask? Can’t your middle name be Jack, like C. Jack Box?”

I guess I’d never realized how many people don’t care for the Rudolph movie. I don’t think I’ll ever view it in the same way again. Maybe I’ll never even bother to watch it again, or will only put it on so I can make fun of it—sort of my own Christmas version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Now that sounds like fun.