It’s 5:30 am, and I’m tucked under my favorite blanket in my corner of the living room, sipping black coffee while the rest of my house is still wrapped in sleep. It’s the first full week of the new year, 2020, and although I would like to tell you that I am looking forward to the year ahead, I enter it with a heavy heart, weighed down by the trials and wounds of 2019.
If you recall, about a year ago, my word for 2019 that the Lord had given me was “Remember”. I felt Him calling me to remember Him; His faithfulness, His goodness… to remember that He can bring beauty from the most hideous situations. But I fought to remember Him as darts were thrown at my health, and after many doctor visits and one very unwanted colonoscopy later… an Ulcerative Colitis diagnosis. I tried hard to keep the anger at bay as my marriage was tested in the form of financial stability. I battled the habit of shaking my fist at heaven, red-faced and frustrated, like a child, as I found myself sick with the stomach flu on Thanksgiving break – a break I had been anticipating with joy at the thought of spending time with family, but instead was filled with sickness.
Really, Lord? You can’t just give me this?! Choose to remember My goodness.
Just as the year was coming to an end, I was secretly excited to begin again. To put 2019 behind me and enter into 2020 with clear eyes and new goals. But nothing could prepare me for the impenetrable grief and fear that plagued my heart on Monday, December 23rd, 2019.
After watching my mother battle cancer and chemotherapy, I truly thought I had met devastation in the face. I was wrong to think there was only one type of devastation, and the devastation waiting to greet us on December 23rd held a new kind of darkness. One so vile and unjust that it quite literally knocked the breath right from my lungs as I gasped for air, questioning my reality with a vengeance. I sat with my mother on her bedroom floor as we both sobbed at the news of the unexpected death of a very dear friend. A friend that I had the privilege of being with during his last earthly weekend, laughing and talking about life. A man that had been in my life for nearly 20 years, a friend turned family marked by years of vacations, birthdays and sporting events. There isn’t a single memory of my childhood that doesn’t have him and his amazing wife in it. Fredericktown, Ohio isn’t home without Tommy and Mandy Craze. I can see his smile, hear his infectious laugh, and I can picture him sitting at my parent’s kitchen table giving my brother a hard time about something… because that’s what he did. He loved us like his own, and I know from the bottom of my heart he would’ve done anything for us. I have no other words except for how thankful I am to have known him, to have been on the other end of his jokes and light humor, and to have been touched by the selfless and generous heart that he and his wife carry. I will forever miss him, and I will forever look forward to the day when we all get to hug him and tell him how great it is to see him again. Because I will see him again.
Choose to remember My goodness.
The hole in our hearts, the emptiness where this loss has made its home makes everything else from 2019 seem like a joke. They were small annoyances compared to watching my aunt Mandy cry at the loss of her best friend and life partner. Isn’t it crazy how we don’t know how much the living have impacted us until they are gone? The beauty I take away from this disaster, as hard as it is to find it, is how much I’ve learned from the death of my uncle Tommy. My perspective has shifted in the midst of such grief, and Tommy, you are teaching me so much.
“You’re tender like your momma, but a fighter like your dad. You can do both.” That was one of the last conversations I had with our dear friend.
I used to strongly dislike that word, “tender”, especially if it was being used to describe me. Tenderness is a weakness, or rather, it was a weakness before it fell out of the mouth of a man whose death I will forever be marked by. He had no clue, but those words hit me so hard at that moment, and they are impacting me even more powerfully now. He said them with such love and with such pride as he was proud to say that I was both soft and strong at the same time. I was sitting in the middle of his funeral service when those words flashed across my memory, and that’s when it clicked. I will never be strong, I cannot be a fighter, without a love so deep that it makes me tender. I find it interesting that he pointed out my heart, before calling me a fighter. That’s the point; true strength doesn’t come from a smart mouth and a quick wit. It isn’t marked by how long you can withstand the pressure without breaking. It’s not about winning and losing, and it’s not about being right or just. Strength isn’t a sword you pick up only when you go into battle. No, true strength is marked by love, by tenderness. It’s not about closing yourself off and hiding behind this delusion of invincibility. It’s about opening yourself to love, to possibilities, to tenderness toward yourself and others. True Warriors ride into battle trusting Jesus with their hearts, and allowing Him to carry their vulnerabilities, rather than keeping them tucked away as if they aren’t there. I have learned through all of this that hiding my soft side is a sure way to harden my heart to the love of Jesus. It’s why I yell and get angry instead of crying and sitting at the feet of Jesus. My anger, most of the time, is how I disguise my hurt.
Choose to remember my goodness, has since turned into, Choose to trust me with your heart. I am stepping into 2020 refusing to withhold my heart. I am no longer going to wait in the shadows of mistrust and anger. I am choosing to allow Jesus to soften my heart and use it however He wants. I am choosing to allow myself to cry, to be sad, to be soft. I am going to try to do this fearlessly, but even Warriors get scared, and I am no different. I am stepping forward with sweaty palms and shaky hands, giving my full heart – weaknesses, vulnerabilities, fears – to the One who already knows. Why hide them from a God who already knows me fully? My heart aches with loss, and I am trusting Him with that as well.
Tommy, I am no longer angry. The Lord is using you to heal something in me that’s been broken for a long time. As awful as it is, and as much as this whole thing freaking sucks… you are teaching me that life is too short to raise your fists to heaven in anger. Since your passing, I have found it easier to love than to get angry. Will I have my moments? Duh, you know I always do. I will love imperfectly, and I will struggle to remain open and soft, but I will do so with a newfound purpose. I am finding it easier to press into Jesus rather than turn away with disgust and anger in the middle of this devastation. I am choosing to trust Him, and I am choosing to enter into a season of softening. That is what you are teaching me Tommy. This is the legacy you will forever leave in my heart…That it’s ok to open your heart and let others in. It’s ok to let them see your weaknesses, because you can’t find strength in the midst of false perfection and deluded invincibility. It’s ok to be both tender and strong. You only find strength in the presence of love. I know now that seeking love and vulnerability will only make me stronger and I am excited to see where this path takes me. I am anticipating a new year where trust will guide and love will take precedence.
Uncle Tommy, I’d say that’s a damn good legacy.