Morbid Thoughts on Turning 31

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We are all running out of time. 

My sophomore year in high school I received a call from a childhood friend. I was living in a different state for over a year at this time, but she kept in contact with me fairly frequently to let me know how the gang was doing. This phone call was unlike any I had received up until that point.

One of my closest childhood friends died that morning.

Like many other mornings before, she got into the driver’s seat of her car with her sister in the passenger seat and they headed off to school. Less than a mile from her house, she came up over a hill and slammed into the back end of the bus we used to ride. My friend and her sister died on impact. We were told sun had blinded her vision that morning causing her to not see the bus.

I was devastated.

I still remember endless hours spent playing in her back yard and exploring her brother’s tree house. During the hot summer days, we’d swim in a kiddie pool her parents set up for us. When we wanted to get out of the sun, we’d go inside and watch “The Baby-sitters Club” movie. We giggled as we laid on her ruffled comforter talking about boys, as most little girls do, and would dream of the future and what it held for both of us.

If you would have asked us then, we would have probably told you we had a lifetime ahead of us to accomplish those things– to get married, start a family and complete our bucket lists. Turns out, lifetimes vary in length. 

It’s been 14 years since the accident.

Since then, I’ve lost others. Each one another reminder that I can never be sure how long I’ll have left on this Earth. This week alone we’ve heard of terrorists killing school children in Pakistan, terrorists taking hostages in Australia and our own local news reels reminding us of violent acts committed daily. There are people dying from terminal illnesses that sprung up just months ago after they had lived a fairly healthy life.

It’s all a mess and we’re all dying.

I had that realization 8 years ago standing over the casket of someone I love (still love) very much. I had a choice in that moment– how would I spend the rest of my days? Knowing that we aren’t guaranteed another breath, let alone another tomorrow, how would I choose to live my life? Now with another birthday on the horizon, I am asking myself those same questions.

Last year for my birthday, I wrote about what I would tell myself if I knew then what I know now.

This year, it’s a bit more simple.

Love more.

If this was my last blog post, that’s what I’d want you to know. That after 31 years, it boils down to love and how I want to give more of it away.

I wouldn’t be worried about what I didn’t get to cross off my bucket list– how I hadn’t stepped foot in all 50 states or how I didn’t get to ride in a gondola in Venice. Those things won’t matter in the scheme of things. Sure, they’ll make for great stories in the nursing home and your grandkids will make a fortune writing a book about you.

I’m not concerned about having my name in lights, I’m concerned with bringing Light into people’s lives.

Recently, I came across this quote by C.R. Bittar: “No matter how destroyed she was, she still believed in love.” That’s the type of woman I want to be. That no matter the depth of my brokenness that I would still choose to love. And love extravagantly.

Broken people become bitter people when they stop loving. I don’t want my brokenness to destroy me. I don’t want the circumstances of the day (or of my life) to dictate whether or not I love fully. I never want to second guess it or hold myself back in fear.

Whether I only live 31 years, or die at the seasoned age of 91, I want to be known as a woman who loved and who loved well.

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My Bleeding Heart: Eight Years Later

my bleeding heart

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Sometimes scars are left as beautiful reminders of something wonderful you once had.

August 25, 2006

“Holly, the doctors say he won’t make it the next 24 hours.”

“But they’ve said that before……right?”

“Ya.”

I hang up the phone full of faith and determination.

But God said he’d be healed. He can’t die. He won’t die.

A few weeks earlier, I’m sitting at his bedside in the ICU. His clear blue eyes locked on mine, we dream of our future together. I lean my ear close to his lips keeping his whispered words as our secret. My mind etches them in perfectly and my heart feels overcome with a love I’m sure I’ll never deserve. 

I’d always felt like I didn’t deserve him– that a man like him would never love someone like me. This insecurity led to so much wasted time….time I’d now do anything to reimburse. 

Thousands of miles away from that hospital, I lock myself in my room and throw myself down on the blue plush carpet. The tears flow unceasingly all day as I beg and barter with God for his healing. I remind God, as if He needs reminding, of prophetic words that were spoken over him. I make desperate promises. I even offer my life for his. “Just take me instead, God. Please.”

I fall asleep sometime during the early morning hours– my pillow stained with tears, my fingers clutched tightly around the edges. 

August 26, 2006

It’s early. The house is quiet. 

I pick up the phone and call his mom. She answers and I quickly apologize for calling so early, but my heart is frantic and I just need to know everything is ok. That he is ok, but she stops me mid-sentence…

“I’m sorry, Holly, he didn’t make it.”

Standing on my porch doing my best to stay composed, I tell her I’ll make arrangements to fly back and she promises to call in a few hours with the details. The call ends and I walk through the back door where my roommate is staring at me looking for answers, but all I do is collapse onto the floor.

I have no words. No air. Nothing but pain coursing through every inch of my body. She wraps me in her arms and we sit in a pile on the floor. 

A few days later, I sit staring at him in his casket praying he’ll stand up and this nightmare will be over, but he doesn’t. Instead, they close the lid and lower him into the ground. My heart buried with him, six feet below. 

August 26, 2014

Today marks 8 years without him.

2,920 days.

70,080 hours.

4,204,800 seconds.

I’ve counted every second. Every minute. Every day. Those are the moments I’ve lived through– the heartbeats I’ve felt since losing him. Each beat reverberating in my chest reminding me that I remain here. And he is gone. 

Where is the redemption in all of this I’ve repeatedly asked God. What good could possible be found in all of this grief? He hasn’t replied until recently:

You’ve continued to love despite having lost.

That may not seem like much to you, but in all of the sadness, lost dreams and brokenness there’s still this hidden treasure of hope. I love. I love deep and I love strong. I love even when it isn’t returned or reciprocated.

So, I’ll continue to remember. To grieve. To celebrate a life, a love that I was able to embrace for a season. And most importantly, I’ll continue to love.  

 

The Uncovering: A Memoir (Part 2)

Memoir Part 2

His body was silhouetted by the street lamp on the corner. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see the outlines of his tensed jaw. His voice eerily calm and seeping with rage. His clenched hands remained at his side.

“HOLLY!!! Get. Back. Here.” he yelled.

I stood barefoot in the middle of an unpaved road. My body covered by a thin night gown. Ruffles around the neck and wrist. I stood frozen for a moment. Silent. Shaking.

I turned and ran for the neighbors house. It was late and their house was dark, but my tiny fists pounded heavily upon their door. My mouth could barely form the word “help”, so I kept pounding until I noticed a light come on through the window. The door opened, and I scurried onto the front porch looking for sanctuary.

Moments earlier, I had been laying in my twin bed. Baby dolls and stuffed animals encircling my stiff little body. With each moment their voices got louder and words clearer. The thin adjoining walls did not mask the disagreement. I strained to listen as my heartbeat echoed in my ears. I held my breath to get a better listen. Would they kill each other tonight, I wondered. I repeated the name “Jesus” rapidly, almost inaudibly. It’s all I could get out before I bolted out of bed.

My physical body reacting to the turmoil and chaos in the next room. I’ve got to get help. I’ve got to find safety.

I may have been 5 or 6 years old.

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My neighbors had called the police. By time they arrived, my biological mother had made her way to us. I remember hearing the policeman ask what happened. I don’t remember responding. I sat in the dimly lit kitchen, watching her as she gave the report. I could tell she was angry with me. Her voice nonchalant, as if we’d just had a lovely evening.

We spent the next few days at my grandparents house who lived a few minutes away. We’d be back though. She always went back. The 10-minute car ride from my grandparents’ house to “home” were always done in silence. I’d watch as the familiar scenery passed before my eyes, and I’d whisper this prayer:

“God, I’ll do anything, please don’t make us go back. Please.”

Each return trip, stripped me of more hope. This was going to be the perpetual cycle. A few days, weeks, months of walking on egg shells before someone stepped on a land mine.

I know some of the disputes were my fault, or rather, they were because of me. Knowing this, left me feeling like a burden. I often wondered if I wasn’t there that maybe they’d be happy. Maybe they’d be less stressed about money. Maybe the drinking or partying wouldn’t cause so much strife.

The last fight I was present for was on Christmas Eve. I was 12 years old. I had been making comments about Christmas morning and opening presents and wondering about what I’d be getting from “Santa”. I knew full well there was no Santa (sorry kids!), but was just excited and full of anticipation.

I could tell she was tense.

I took notice, so I went to my room to play Nintendo. I still hadn’t saved Princess Peach, so I thought that might distract me and give my mother some peace. In the kitchen, I could hear my mother talking to my step-father.

“We don’t have any presents for her, J. What are we going to tell her?!”

I knew, even at my young age, that our family had financial troubles. For many reasons, my step-fathers drinking problem was only one of them, there just wasn’t a lot of money. I don’t remember that bothering me much. I always had clothes and food and things like that. Even the expensive FILA basketball sneakers that I needed to have even though I only played basketball in 8th grade and scored a total of 2 points. The only reason I scored those 2 points, is because the other team, realizing they would never win because we were ahead by so many points would toss me the ball. That’s another story though. I just knew that money caused a lot of conflict.

As their conversation got louder and angrier, I began mentally attacking myself. “You’re such an idiot, Holly. Why’d you even bring it up? You’re such a selfish kid. You don’t need presents anyway.”

As my internal dialogue continued, my step father walked into the doorway of my bedroom. I could see he had a cut on his forehead, and was bleeding slightly.

“Look what your mother did to me, Holly.”

The knife now in his hands. My mother still screaming in the kitchen. I didn’t say anything, my face obviously showing shock. As he walked away, I knew I needed to run. Again. The snow was deep that night, reaching my knees. I don’t remember putting on shoes, or boots for that matter, but I do remember how dark and cold it was as I ran down the hill.

At this time, we had been living in the unfinished house my step-father had been building for us. It sat on top of a hill that he had cleared, with his parents house sitting below.

My grandfather was the only one home at the time. We was awake, sitting in his electric recliner. He suffered from MS and was unable to get to me. I yelled in to the living room, letting him know I was there as I called my other grandparents for help.

The rest of the night is a blur, except for a conversation I had with my mother’s father. I was in his living room, only the light of the TV shone as I stared at it replaying the evening in my mind. There was a wooden TV tray table next to the chair I sat in, and my grandfather threw down 6 crisp hundred dollar bills.

“I hope you’re happy,” he said.

My eyes clung to the TV screen. A tear running down my face.

It wasn’t about money. Or presents. Or any of that. More than anything, I longed for some peace. Some silence.

“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.”

Ya. Right.

This was my hell. I fell asleep praying, asking God for a miracle. I guess I got it, because a year later, I was living in a new house with a new family and things were very much full of peace and love.

(To be continued.)

The Uncovering: A Memoir (Part 1)

The Uncovering Part 1

Your story is the key that can unlock a person’s prison. Share your testimony.

-Unknown

Most people don’t know much about my childhood. That has been by design. Very few people have been allowed into that darkness because I have locked it up and buried it away. It’s not a pretty sight. People, in general, don’t like things that are ugly or awkward or difficult. They will quickly avert their eyes and keep walking. I’m no different. Pain comes with remembering and I don’t like to hurt.

I’ve been tight lipped for years fearing that if I voiced my disappointments, struggles, memories that someone would come along and tell me that I didn’t have a right to feel the way I did. That fear materialized a few weeks ago, on an early Saturday morning. After 7 years of silence, I heard my biological mother’s voice on the other end of the phone telling me how I “over-dramatized” my childhood. That things really weren’t that bad and that I was just a selfish kid.

I’m not trying to make myself out to be a martyr, or her a villain. I just want the freedom to express in hopes that in these words there will be freedom for my own soul and possibly for yours too. There are more prison cells to unlock, more memories to shine light on and it is my intention to do just that.

Many of my memories are triggered by an event, a smell, a voice. This past week, the bible school I attended, held its graduation ceremony. Looking at pictures of cap and gowned friends, instantly transported me back to that same event, 9 years earlier. The morning of I got ready with friends while my heart raced with anxiety knowing both my biological mother, her boyfriend and my step-dad would be in the same room at the same time.

The last time this group gathered was at my high school graduation. At one point it had me escaping from my own party to hide in my sister’s room to cry. My step-father had arrived at the ceremony with the stench of beer on his breath. This should have been no surprise since he drank all day, everyday for as long as I had known him. He refused to stay for my party because of others who would be in attendance. The others, included his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Things would have turned explosive if he hadn’t retreated. He not only drank, but without warning would transform from the life of the party into an angry, abusive, scary man. My biological mother lavished me with expensive gifts in an attempt to make up for our lack in relationship. At 17, I remember feeling sorry for her. She thought my love could be bought. At this moment, I was her shining achievement. Those feelings were book ended with me being the shittiest most ungrateful daughter– so it was difficult to enjoy “the moment”.

I had been determined that my college graduation would be different. That there was something amazing to celebrate. Three years of working two jobs and endless nights of studying now behind me and exciting new adventures on the horizon.

My class gathered in the hallway of the church where our ceremony would take place. Just us, together, one last time. My eyes filled to the brim with tears, not because of joy and excited anticipation, but because I was afraid. My heart was frail and I feared the conversations and conflict I knew were going to take place. My mom (the woman who took me in at 13 to raise as her own) came and found me. Somehow she just knew I was in turmoil and that at that very moment I needed her love and her hug. I was standing in a small huddle of friends, taking pictures when I saw her walk through the closed double doors. My heart gave a heavy sigh of relief, as the tears flowed. For the moment, I was at peace.

She hugged and kissed me, whispering in my ear about how proud she was of me and how much she loved me. We snapped a picture and she went back to the auditorium and I went back to my friends.

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The day progressed the way I knew it would. My step-father showed up late and watched the graduation ceremony from the sanctuary doorway. He hugged me as the class processional passed him. After which, he retreated to his girlfriend, his truck and a nearby steak restaurant. My biological mother played her usual part as manipulator and gave the day a familiar shade of shame. This accomplishment of mine seemed like a waste to her and my next-step plans didn’t sit well with her, either. Her slyly veiled jabs winded me, but I was able to endure like I had so many times before– with a tightly shut lip and a look of resignation.

I’ve journeyed on in silence. Resolved that maybe my silence would make me a better daughter. That silence would make me less of a disappointment. That silence would make me less disgusting in their eyes. Less repulsive. But my silence has kept the poison bottled in side of me and its time to flush it out.

(To be continued.)