God Over Night…

happens over a lifetime

Broken but not a Coward.

Not long ago Chester Bennington committed suicide. The internet exploded with comments, prayers for his family, and even some judgements on his life. As I read through comment after comment one struck me more than any – some had branded him a coward. Yes, a coward. As that blanket statement infiltrated its way through my mind I had to ask myself, “Was Chester a coward? And if so, did that make my brother a coward, too?”

I wrestled greatly with this question. It was hard to even sleep some nights.

But, God gently reminded me of what I already knew. He even used my own words to do so. Below is a post I wrote not long after my brother took his own life. It also humbly reminded me to not place sweeping statements, or brand someone as this or that, without first truly knowing them. To define someone by an act of brokenness is a sad mistake. To define or label someone whom you’ve never walked life with is truly a horrible thing.

Ten Minutes In Life.
I was reminded today as I drove out to see my brother’s grave of things that I had forgotten. Maybe forgotten is the wrong word. I was confronted with tiny particles of life that I had pushed to the back of mind and disregard as valuable. My mind became a movie screen as I let the film play of all that I hold dear, of all the people who I love, of those moments that, at the time, seemed life-shattering to me. Soon though, the pictures focused revealed images I have gazed upon many times before, yet they seem entirely new to me; as if I’ve never been in that moment. Nothing had changed, yet, everything had changed.

Standing in front of his grave today I couldn’t fight the tears. I placed the orange, yellow, and white blossomed plant that I bought for him next to his headstone. I looked down at the ground that almost looks like cement and I let my mind wander. Naturally, my mind went to my mom. I thought of her sadness, her longing to be with her son again, of her need to feel like she made things better for him. We had a talk not that long ago, one that will stay with me forever. My mom’s voice was strained, and I could hear countless sleepless nights as she asked her weary question. We had been talking about being saved. We spoke of how Allen had come to know the Lord – which had just been a few months before he took his own life. My mom was worried, the echos of doubt concerning his salvation the elephant between us. Not because of a God that couldn’t save; but, because of her. My mom was consumed with guilt. She worried and fretted that she hadn’t gotten to Allen in time. A deep-rooted fear filled her, and I knew that she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. She was crushed by the thoughts that she could have, somehow, saved my brother.

I know my answer was lacking. It’s hard to explain to someone who needs that sense of control over a situation – that you have no control. There isn’t an “if I got to him in time.” I will forever remember the sound of her crying as I said to her that Allen had always been saved. He had always been a child of God, long before he realized it. My mom didn’t need to worry that my brother’s death had some how caught God off guard. Allen’s salvation did not rest upon her shoulders. After all, how many of our sins, yours and mine, were future sins when Jesus died on the cross? The answer is – all of them.

I know that people think that my brother’s life was tragic. He made some horrible choices in his brokenness. Satan took hold of his hand and he was hard pressed to let go. But, to me, that is what makes my brother’s life so beautiful; that God could see the person my brother was and draw him near anyways. The beautiful person inside that was full of laughter and love; the person he was without Satan’s grip. I find victory in my brother’s death. I haven’t always seen it, but I know through all of that darkness His light reached in a saved Allen. And that is beautiful; it’s beyond words. Allen’s past mistakes do not define him. His suicide was ten minutes of his life. That’s it. Ten minutes out of twenty-nine years of living. If you add up the sum of all of our mistakes, it doesn’t weigh more than the blood that Christ spilled for us.

I think the thing that I hope for the most is this: That he isn’t defined by this one tragic moment in his life. I hope that when the  sum of all of Allen’s minutes are gathered that those ten aren’t at the top, instead I hope that the sum will messured as him being a child of God. I hope that others will see his life as beautiful, the way that God saw it. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the glory of God being able to reach where no one else could – because we are not meant to carry that weight. I hope that Allen’s last ten minutes in life don’t become the remaining amount of who he is in the sight of God.

A letter to my daughter’s boyfriend

To my daughter’s boyfriend,

I’m about to say the thing that I’m not supposed to say. You see, as a parent who dearly loves her children, I’m expected to say that I don’t think you’re good enough for my daughter. I’m supposed peer down my nose at you and postulate that you only have bad intentions for her. I’m supposed to make you feel that you’ve somehow won the lottery because you have her favor. Society encourages me to put my hands on my hips and wag my finger, saying how much of a privilege dating my daughter is. However, I’m not going to tell you those things. Instead, I’m going to say the thing that I’m not supposed to say: you are good enough for my daughter; in fact, I don’t just believe it – I know it.

I say this because you are created in God’s own image. You, sir, have inherent worth.

I’m not saying that the path you choose will be the right way for her too. I’m not going to pretend that your actions will always be honorable; you are, after all, human. There might even be a time that I come to dislike you. But, please know, my dislike will not be because of your lack of worth; it will because I know your worth and I know that you can be more.

I hope that when you come to our home, you feel welcomed and invited. I hope that we make you feel like you belong. When you approach our door and raise your hand to knock, I pray that you feel like you’re knocking on your own family’s door; the crazy side for sure, but family all the same.

As I say these things to you – I need for you to understand a few things about her. Yes, she’s gorgeous! Yes, she’s talented! Yes, she’s amazing! However, she is not perfect – please do not tell her that she is. If you do, you will add so much pressure for her to stay a certain way; disallow growth as a person, and stifling lessons that come from making mistakes. Please know that she will let you down. There will be times when she may act selfish or moody…and maybe even a bit bratty. As her mother, I can guarantee those times will happen, but I ask you to remember: in as many ways as you are human – so she will be as well.

I hope that you keep in mind that we, her parents, are just as human; mistakes will be made along the way. While I’m not sure where your relationship with her will lead – I hope that no matter the outcome, no matter where your journey leads, when you think back to this time, you smile.

 

Sincerely,

The Parents

An Open Letter To My Daughters

To my daughters

Yesterday a million women marched for “Women’s Rights.” The streets of Washington overflowed with a kaleidoscope of colorful signs. The air was thick with the noise of protest – of the sound of so-called “change.” As a woman, I can see the alluring energy a march like this might hold for you. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something bigger than themselves? Who doesn’t want to be a part of history in the making?

It’s easy to look at these women, some of whom I’ve heard you sing along with in the car, and be caught up in the glitz and the glamor.
Yesterday a march was held, but today you will be asked to make a choice. These women will try to sway you; they will say that your value as a person, as a daughter, as a woman in the making hangs in the balance. And they’ll be right. The women you choose to look up to today shapes the woman you become tomorrow. Because of this, I ask you to see past the glitter, hear beyond the loud voices, and feel more than surface deep. All that glitters is not gold.

This world will tell you that your identity is your sexuality. This world will tell you that to hold values and morals is restrictive. They will bait you with the lie that feminist power is the freedom to speak with vulgarity and dress provocatively. They will teach you that being promiscuous is a virtue. They will tell you that your worth was based wholly on the convenience of another. I’m here, as your mother, to tell you they’re wrong.

Your identity is beyond whom you choose to engage sexually with. There are so many facets to your being, that to base who you are solely on a small fraction of your personhood – is to place restrictions upon yourself.

Feminist power does not come from your breast hanging out, or your vagina on display; feminist power comes from knowing your worth. You teach people how to treat you, but how you teach them is the most important aspect of respect. Respect my dear one isn’t given – it’s earned.
Feminist power is your ability to speak life into another woman, to speak life into the world, to build hope and a future for others. Feminist power is not found in your freedom to display every inch of your body to the public while demanding that others keep their eyes on your face.
Sadly, many women of today have taken what used to be a powerful message, voiced aloud by courageous women, and have turned it into
a watered down, worthless, and demeaning demand of “entitlement” – and labeled it “Women’s Rights.”

Did you know that:

Marissa Mayer graduated from Standford with fourteen job offers, including a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon Univerisity? She accepted a job at Google where she became the company’s first female engineer. In 2012 Mayer became the CEO of Yahoo!

Ursula M. Burns was raised by a single mother in the housing projects of New York City. She started at Xerox as an intern, worked her way up the ladder to become the first African-American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Malala Yousafzai is a champion of female education in Pakistan. She survived an attempt on her life by a gunman who fired three shots at her. One bullet entered the left side of her forehead ultimately lodging itself inside her shoulder. She is the youngest recipient of the Noble Peace Prize.

J.K. Rowling took her love of writing and turned her stories about a young wizard into one of the best-selling novel series of all time.

Ann Marie “Ree” Drummond took her passion for food and became an award-winning blogger. She is a New York Times best-selling author, photographer, and television star who lives on a ranch in Oklahoma. She inspires women each day with her wit and passion for her family.

There are so many more women that I could name who used their intelligence, poise, strength, and drive to make a difference in our world -(some of them are just your average stay at home moms!)

These women are not perfect – no one is. But, the thing that I hope you see is that all of these women live in the same broken world we do; however, they saw an opportunity for change and seized it. And not one of them had to wear a vagina hat strapped to their head, or promise oral sex to do so.

I believe in you – you’ve got this.

I love you,
Mom

Just Another Winter Day in January – A Letter to My Brother

allen-copy-2

Two thousand and sixteen is the year I once desperately wished for; I practically willed myself to be here. Five years ago I sat in my house crying after watching not only my brother but my friend Sonya being placed into the ground mere weeks apart. It was then that I plucked some abstract date from the air and clung to it for comfort. This year was supposed to be the “miracle year” – it held, in my state of loss and despair, hope. I sat in my living room and imagined myself on a day in 2016 far removed from heartache.

Sometimes I feel my heart is breaking
But I stay strong, and I hold on cause I know

I will see you again, whoa
This is not where it ends
I will carry you with me, yeah, yeah

Time has taught me many lessons since that cold January day in 2011. One being that pain and loss are a lot like laundry. You can do your best to wash your clothes; you can do your best to get them pearl white; however, there will always be tiny pieces of the past that embed themselves within the fabric; naked to the eye but now a permanent part of the material. The pain of losing my brother still lingers five years later; as it turns out, 2016 held no special powers; while everything is different without him, somehow life is still the same as it was on that winter day in January when I clung to the hope of the future. I’ve also learned that there isn’t a magical earthly date when the pain of loss disappears entirely. I think this is because only the Lord can truly wash clean the pain of yesteryears and that doesn’t happen this side of Glory.

So to you my brother, my first friend, I say: ‘Till I see you again.

Til I see you again, whoa
‘Til I see you again,

Said goodbye turned around
And you were gone, gone, gone.

 See You Again lyrics were written by Underwood, Hillary Lindsey, and David Hodges.

Thirty Two

As the leaves turn from green to yellow, red and orange, then to a dead brown that will eventually crunch under my feet, I think of my brother. Autumn is my all time most adored season. My brother, my first friend, was an Autumn baby. With all of the colors and smells of fall it seems right that he was born in this season. It also seems rightly so that the cold hard hand of winter would be the season in which he went away.

For his previous birthdays I have written a blog post about him, these mostly focused on my grief and the hole that has been felt by his choosing to leave; but this year…this year I think I see can see passed his leaving. This year I can see more.

I love standing in my yard watching the leaves float to the ground from the trees. I breath in the sweet tangy  smell of fall and it refreshes something in me, it reminds me of something and for a while I cannot put my finger on it. But then the realization wakes in me like the dawn of a new day. It smells like life. Isn’t that odd given that this is a season of dying away? Maybe it’s because Texas winters are cold, wet and dreary and summers are like a hot skillet? Fall just seems to be the time in which our neighborhood comes to life with activity.

It is here in this moment when I realize that November 1st is approaching. I wait for the sting. I wait for the center of my chest to feel like it is going to cave in; but it doesn’t come. I’m taken back by this surprising non reaction for a moment. What does this mean? I search my heart for answer. I question my loyalty, the care I have for my brother, a million things. I’m still sad that my brother is gone but I can see the hand of God covering the ache I once felt. The pain no longer holds me captive because I trust that God had a million reasons for Allen’s passing. I trust that God searched my brother, perceived his thoughts and that there wasn’t a place that my brother could hide from Him – no matter the darkness.

It is in this that I have found freedom to trust, to let go, to breath and to live. I think of some of the lyrics to “How Can It Be”…


These hands are dirty
I dare not lift them up to the Holy one
You plead my cause
You right my wrongs
You break my chains
You overcome
You gave Your life
To give me mine
You say that I am free
How can it be
How can it be

I wonder to myself ‘How can it be? How can I have this freedom?’ It is because of Christ.

Thirty One

I wasn’t going to write this.  I set my mind to it early this morning not too. But, it feels like the elephant in the room so I must.

Today would have been my brother’s 31st birthday. He would have stepped firmly into his thirties today. It’s not like when you first turn the big 3-0 and you can kind of look over your shoulder and see a number that starts with a two in front of it. No, today – thirty would have been on both sides.

My brother died at Christmas time but oddly enough the day he died isn’t the day that quickens my pulse, it isn’t the day in-which, when thought of, I try not to think about. His birthday is the day that gets me. I wonder why that is? Maybe it’s because today there should be celebration. Today should be a day of laughter and good humored jokes at his expense. I’m supposed to be able to tell my little brother on this day that he’s becoming more and more over the hill. But today is just filled with sadness. It’s a reminder of a short life. A ghost has lived in my house today. Memories come flooding back and they replay on my walls. They fill the reccesses of my mind and they echo what could have been.

Did you know that my brother was the only one to help Travis and I move into this house? Did you know that I was the first person he told that my nephew was on the way? Did you know that he and I used to play in the vacant lot next to our  house and pretend that a tree was a general store? I remember the time that he burned his hands on my dads muffler, oh my how it blistered up…but he wouldn’t cry in front of dad. No, way.

My brother was sweet and kind and took everything to heart. He could be easily wounded. He had a warped sense of humor and was a pro at making fun of songs; some of his Saturday Night Live impersonations I have stolen. Man, I remember when we would get into it though. He was my pesky little brother and my first real friend. As he grew up he remained sweet and kind but he had his demons and they were hard pressed to let him go. I think deep in his heart he used humor as a way to make through the day. As someone who suffers from anxiety myself I know that mask well.

So today, on your 31st birthday Allen, I will make the birthday wishes for you. I wish that your life could have been different. But mostly – I wish that I could have different in your life. I wish that I kept pushing. I wish I had been the sister you deserved.

Tell the ones you love that you love them. Make right any wrongs no matter who’s at fault. Forgiveness is meant to be given while living after life is gone – it’s merely a wish.

Image

Thirty

Today my brother would have been thirty. He was on the cusp of a new decade, a fresh start and a new page of life. It’s been ten months since he took his own life and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him. As I look back over the time he has been gone I think of how fast it has passed; and then I think of how slow the time might have past for him. I don’t understand the demons that plagued him fully. I don’t understand the fear or heartache like he understood them. But then again, people don’t understand my fear that he needs a blanket because it’s cold outside. People don’t understand how fresh this is for me. How absolutely profound his death has been to me; and how he did it has left me staggering and nearly broken beyond repair. I could not imagine being my mom and holding him as his life blood poured out and soaked her clothes. Being the one that had to undress my mom later as she screamed and wailed that the dried blood on her was him is something I will never get over.

I think of how turning thirty held such promise for me. I felt that it was the beginning of being a settled adult leaving my “kid phase” behind. You’re old enough to know better and old enough to understand taking responsibility for your actions. My brother will always be the one who died in his twenties. That sound so young to me. It is young, the previous decade prior to his twenties he was going through adolescents. How did this happen to him? How did satan grab ahold of him so tightly that he could take his own life? I don’t know. I just know the story he could have had. I think of the testimony he one day could have given…maybe in his thirties.

I think back to his 29th birthday that I missed. I think back to his 28th birthday that I missed. I think this is where the real pain comes in. That gut wrenching feeling of loss. He will no longer age but I will and with that lapse of time will go memories that I cannot remember anymore. I was reminded of this fact as I lay in bed the other night and Travis asked me about the time that we all went to this haunted house in Fort Worth together. It took a while for me to recall it, it made tears fall down my face as I realized that all I have left of my brother, I’m forgetting.

So I’m going to sit here for a while and I’m going to stare at this screen and wish that things were different. I’m going to sit here and cry and beg God for another chance for him to turn thirty. I will sit here as it goes unanswered, because it cannot be so, hold down the bile in my throat  and then I will pick myself up and move on for the day. I will bring flowers to his gravesite, I will comfort my mom, act like I have it together and I will thank God that he lived. I will thank God for the 29 years he had here and pray that John 10:27-29 truly applied to him.

He could have been thirty today.

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