November 20, 2014.
My life changed that day.
It started out as a normal day—classes, conversations, chapel—until the phone rang.
My mom had called to tell me that my cousin had passed away earlier that day.
18 years old.
Brilliant, compassionate, and loving Tony.
He was gone.
I sat there in the chapel, unable to wrap my head around the reality that He was gone.
I would never again comment on the current I Heart T-shirt he was wearing.
I would never again decorate the thematic Christmas trees while having a theological and philosophical debate with him.
I would never again hear him play percussion.
I would never again listen to him discuss his fascination with a new animal.
I could not believe he was gone.
Honestly, my first response was anger. Mainly, anger at God for letting this happen.
I was a mess.
This tragedy shook up and challenged my world.
People would ask me “how are you doing?” and my first instinct would be to scream “How do you think I am doing?’, but I would simply respond, “I’m okay.”
I am okay.
I am fine.
These responses covered up my grief and put it on the shelf where I did not have to deal with it. Internally, I was grieving, angry, frustrated and incredibly devastated. Outwardly, I looked and acted normal. I put on a mask because I need to be okay. I needed to act like I had it all together, because I could not fall apart. If I was real with myself, I would acknowledge that I was mess.
When the thought comes and the memory surfaces, I immediately shove it aside. I cannot think about that right now. I cannot go there, or I will not come back.
I was not content simply being “okay” because that seemed unfair to Tony’s memory, but I could not handle the pain.
Outwardly, I had to be normal because that was the only way that I could function in any capacity.
One day, as I was laying in my bed, pretending to have my life together, my RD Kelly asked me “How are you doing?”
My generic response came out. “I am fine.”
She looked at me, really looked at me and said, “It is okay to not be okay. Grieving is a natural part of loss.” Or something along those lines.
I was allowed to not be okay.
At that point, all the emotions came rushing to me.
I was overwhelmed.
I was not okay then.
I am still not okay.
Tony’s death still hurts.
A few weeks later, I also lost my grandma.
The devastating feeling of losing control hit me again.
She would never see me graduate college.
She would never see me follow in her footsteps.
I would never again make cookies with her.
I would never again play scrabble with her.
I couldn’t handle it. My grief was messy. My grief still is very messy.
It still hurts a lot.
I will never stop missing them. Someday, the pain will dull, I will heal and rebuild myself around the loss, but I will never be the same again.
The crazy thing about this is that through the state of my grief and my life is messy. I’m remembering His love and how He covers me even when I make a mess of things (Colossians 3:3). I’m remembering that He is a God who is not afraid of our messes but who enters right into the middle of them.
Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, opts to sit in my grief and mess. He does not expect my life to be all put together.
He allows me to grieve and wrestle with the tough questions.
At first, I did not know how to be sad in God’s presence. I had been trained my whole life to approach God in search of some kind of uplift. Now, when I approach Him, uplift is not what I want. It isn’t desirable, let alone achievable.
It felt as though I needed put on a brave face for God, pretend things aren’t so bad. Like He was embarrassed by my pain. Like remaining sad in His presence was an affront to His goodness. God only wanted to see happy faces.
I felt like I needed to ask God to fix the situation. Once I reconciled myself to accepting myself in my mess and pain, I realized that God accepts my pain.
He sits with me in my pain and lets me grieve the loss of people and places without judgement or condemnation.
He ever expected me to be perfect.
Now, I continue to sit in my grief, slowly healing, God reminds me that my grief does not scare him.
My anger does not surprise him.
He continues to love me through the pain.
Ann Voskamp writes, “That no matter what’s happening or what’s coming up—the bottom line is God’s got you—so fear can’t get you. And He looks you right in the eye & hands you a bit of light: You have enough of Me & courage to do this hard thing. You have enough of Me & strength to not give up. You have enough of Me & love to keep on giving. You have enough of Me & Peace to know that you are carried. You have enough of Me to simply rest. You have enough of Me—and I am enough. You are enough—because the great I AM is in you… and with you… and for you.”
After my car accident, one of my favorite things about God was that he heard the cry of my heart. I could be shaking with sobs, no words in my mind, but He knew. He wrapped His spirit around me and comforted me.
Even now, when I get frustrated because I’m not getting better fast enough for my tastes, He meets me in the middle of my mess.
In the muddied water of my emotions, He meets me and comforts me.
When it appears that everyone else’s lives are moving forward and mine seems to be on pause, He meets me.
As I get frustrated because of my TBI symptoms, God dries my tears and reminds me that He has greater things in store. He can take something negative like a car accident and brain injury and turn it into something good.
My grief does not scare Him.
I simply need to have the courage to simply allow Him to love me in my grief and mess.