When Your Childhood Dies

I still remember listening to Purple Rain on cassette tape. When Doves Cry will always be one of my favorite songs. When Stevie Nicks sang a tribute to Prince at her recent concert in Dallas, I was surprised at how much I was moved. (And for those of you who know me, I realize me being moved to tears should come as no surprise.)

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I also remember having a childhood crush on Carrie Fisher. Well, the crush was more realistically on Princess Leia, but Carrie brought her to life. Although as an adult I have appreciated her advocacy regarding mental health and addiction issues, I always thought of her first as a strong female character.

One night during high school, I was falling asleep with the radio on. I heard the words, “Ground control to Major Tom,” for the hundredth time, but really listened and paid attention for the first time. I was amazed at the way David Bowie was able to tell such a gripping and telling story in such a short time.

When a celebrity dies, a little piece of us dies with them. As humans, we seem to have this impression that the memories, and memory-makers, of our youth are somehow immortal. Each loss is a reminder of our own mortality. Each loss is a reminder that we are no longer that 8 year child going to theater to see Return of the Jedi; we are no longer that middle schooler dancing to Careless Whisper; we are no longer that young adult who appreciates the old musicals and still dances along to all the songs in Singing in the Rain.

As the shining stars of our youth go dim, a little piece of us darkens along with them.

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Two people from my church family passed away this past week. They were both kind and gentle people. I was not particularly close to either one, but have many mutual friends. One of them is a grandfather to some of the children in the youth group I volunteer with. As those families gather for funerals on the same week most of us celebrated Christmas, there is a hurt, a loss, that will forever change those who mourn.

When people that we know die, it creates an emptiness. Something, someone, we are familiar with is no longer physically present. Even simple things like regular greetings at church or occasionally bumping into one another at the grocery store aren’t going to happen anymore. Those events we took for granted because we always banked on “next time” now take on a new meaning.

As the people we know die, a little piece of us is lost and we are forever different.

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When it comes to celebrity deaths, 2016 has been a terrible year. Just this week has seen three stars (two of them mother and daughter) pass away. People have been mourning the loss of their childhood heroes from Severus Snape to Carol Brady; their sports idols from Muhammad Ali to Arnold Palmer; their musical angels from Merle Haggard to Leonard Cohen; their historical giants from Elie Wiesel to John Glenn.

It seems that each week has brought a new spotlight to one of those childhood memories; those thoughts of days gone by. And now, the person associated with the memory is gone. And we mourn. Maybe not so much because we knew them, most of us never get a chance to meet the celebrities we adore, but because of what they unknowingly meant to us.

At the same time, all of us have endured the loss of loved ones throughout the year. And we are navigating through the pain that brings.

In addition to that, there are thousands of others who have died this year that we know nothing about. We never knew them. They never made the news. They passed on and our lives kept moving as if nothing happened.

And all of that is okay. Because each loss—whether of a close friend or a person associated with a memory—brings an end to part of ourselves. This isn’t selfish. This is a gift we have received. We have been granted…something: a token of kindness, a refuge through song or stage, inspiration to face insurmountable odds, a relationship. Because we have been given these gifts, when the giver leaves, we mourn.

So as this calendar year draws to a close, mourn. Be sad for the parts of your younger days that you have lost. But also be grateful. Be grateful that you were the recipient of a gift that only you can fully understand.

Tomorrow, I will gather with other mourners and extend my sympathies to a husband who is burying his wife; a daughter who is burying her mother. I will mourn. Yet I will also be grateful as I continue reading stories of this person’s students who remember her fondly; whose lives have forever been shaped by the love she poured into them.

We lost bits of ourselves throughout this year, but we are who we are because of the gifts we have been given. So let us grieve. But let us also be thankful that we have reason to grieve.

When Your Christmas Isn’t Merry

So there has already been a time when I feel like my life was falling apart. And I wrote about it. And I asked for prayers about it. And I went to meetings about it. And I found some clarity and acceptance about it.

So why do I circle back around to feeling this way again? Why can’t this be resolved?

This coming February marks two years since I fell into a mild depression. I like to call it a funk because that makes it seem less serious.

This coming Sunday marks the (observed) anniversary of the arrival of our Savior bringing joy into this world.

So why does the funk outweigh the joy?

I think one of the biggest challenges we face in dealing with our lives is that we are not living a television show. We are so used to resolutions. We are so used to quick fixes.

But it isn’t just television culture that does this to us. We do it to ourselves. And to each other.

We spend so much time hiding what we are actually going through that people look at us and think we have it all together. And we look at them and think they have it all together. And the end result is instead of sharing our hurts and struggles with one another we have this need to show one another how put together we are.

And then we wake up in a funk the week before Christmas and can’t figure out why.

Because, after all, what is Christmas except a momentary celebration with lights, wrapping paper, carols, movies, and an extra church service or two? We get a couple extra days off of work or school and spend much of that time complaining that we are bored or surrounded by too many people.

But it is to that funk that Christmas specifically speaks. The message of Christmas is that life does indeed go on. And that means all the pain, all the struggle, all the frustration will still continue. That means there will still be sickness. There will still be death. There will still be broken relationships.

But into all of that, Jesus enters.

Are you hurting? He will hurt with you.

Are you doubting? He will listen to your questions with no judgment.

Are you lonely? He wants to comfort you.

Have his followers messed you up? He will not pull any punches with them.

Are you so lost that you think he doesn’t care about you? He still comes. Every day. Because he loves you.

So for the next few days, my funk will intermingle with my joy. I will have doubts, questions, and fears. And I will sing songs loudly with a smile on my face. I will wonder why things cannot get any better. And I will feel joy when family members get excited about their presents. I will feel sorrow when I think about the people who are not celebrating with us this year. And I will feel a sense of awe and wonder as I gather to worship the Savior.

My funk may or may not go away. And even if it does, it is likely to come back. But that is okay. Because I am not walking through it alone. So my Christmas may not be as merry as it could be.

But it will still be the source of my joy.

Hoping to Hope

I so desperately want to hope.

I hope for peace.

I hope for being able to provide for my family.

I hope to remain sober another day.

I hope for people to quit being stupid.

I hope for pain and suffering to end.

I hope for answers.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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One of the things I heard early on at AA meetings was, “You don’t have to believe; you just need to believe that we believe.” Early on in AA’s history, its members realized that not everyone who started the journey of sobriety believed in a Higher Power. Instead of making belief a prerequisite for attending, they told people to come. The message was, “If you want to be sober, come.” They knew the purpose of AA was sobriety so they shared it with everyone regardless of belief.

What people need when they try to live a sober life is hope. They need to know that today can be better than yesterday. I need to believe that. I need to have that hope.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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On the Christian calendar, this is the season of Advent. It is the time of preparation for the coming of Jesus. It is a time of waiting, a time of longing. It is a four week season acknowledging the darkness of the world while hoping for the light that is to come into that darkness.

And this first week is supposed to be a week of hope.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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This is supposed to be a great time of year. So many decorations. So many lights. So many songs. So many movies. So many great parties. So many times of worship and fellowship.

But it does not feel great. I am nervous. I am unsettled. I am angry. I am feeling inadequate. I am bordering on despair. How can the world be the way it is today? How can all the things that have happened still happen in our world? How can there be so much hate? So much violence? So much close-mindedness?

I want so badly to be hopeful and believe that the world can be made right.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.

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The hope of Advent is that light is coming into the darkness.

It means we are in the darkness. It means we may not be able to see any light. It means we may be overwhelmed by dark.

The Light is coming.

But some days, I have to hope to hope.