Remembering Emily

Recently earth lost a beautiful woman. She was only 19 years old but had the wisdom and the heart of someone much older. My dear friend Emily was killed in a horrible car accident and her death has forced me to deal with death and what I truly believe about it. It’s easy to rattle off the comforting things that people say around death until it happens to someone dear to you, especially when it’s tragic and too soon.

When someone dies, especially tragically, we don’t usually know what to say. What is there to say? I had to call one of my best friends to tell her that Emily had died and it was probably the shortest conversation we have ever had. How do you deal with that? How do you process it? What do you say? Those not in relationship with the person who died usually resort to things like “She’s in a better place.” I found myself saying that pretty immediately after I found out she died as I tried to comfort those around me. Even as they were coming out of my mouth I found myself questioning if I truly believed them.

I found out about the car accident during the staff weekend for a camp I volunteer at every summer. It’s a week long camp focused on Jesus and Christian community and it’s also where I met sweet Emily. Jesus and I had a lot of words during that week, some of them I would not feel comfortable repeating especially in a public space. But during the week I found moments of comfort in memories of Emily or visions of her worshipping in heaven, perfectly happy and content. She was doing what her heart longed to do.

I’ve had to wrestle with the idea of death and cry about it. Do I truly believe that she’s in a better place? Why didn’t God spare her life too, the others in the car walked away from the accident? Does heaven exist or is it just some nice idea that makes death easier to deal with?

As a Christian it felt wrong to question, yet I was. It felt wrong to wonder about death and dying, but I was. In her death I discovered that crying out to God with my doubts and fears and questions about death was where I felt most comforted. I struggled with this for a while, but I can with confidence say now that yes, Emily is in a much better place. Part of my confidence comes from my time spent in prayer and with the Lord; part of my confidence comes from the wisdom of those around me who reminded me of God’s goodness and love even as I cried; and part of my confidence comes from Emily’s own testimony of coming to terms with death when a dear friend of hers lost her life to cystic fibrosis. The result of all my wrestling and questioning is this truth: I believe in heaven and I believe that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death is not the end of the story. She is now in a perfected state worshipping Jesus and one day I will join her.

Emily’s death has brought a lot of head knowledge into my heart. I know that she is with Jesus and with Melissa. In something she wrote about Melissa she said “Selfishly, I want her here. But I would never take her away from Jesus in a million years.” That’s how I feel. Selfishly, I want Emily here. But she is where her heart longed to be: worshipping Jesus with Melissa.

As I looked around the church at Emily’s funeral I was awed by the number of people in the sanctuary, but not surprised. Emily loved people. She loved people so well. She constantly pointed people to Jesus and was unafraid to be herself. That church was filled with people who had been touched by her and by her faith. It was a worshipful experience that honored Jesus and honored Emily. Emily, through her example, always pushed me to love people better and looking around the church was such a clear call. Emily loved because Jesus loved her and she wanted to share that joy. My prayer is that I would do the same.

I love you sweet girl. I miss you. But I know I will see you again. It was such an honor to be a part of your life and you taught me more than you’ll ever know. Your life was incredibly God honoring and so many people will be dancing with us in heaven because you had the boldness to follow Jesus where He led you.

Emily and I

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10 Things Not to Say to a Recently Separated/Divorced Person (and 6 Things to Say)

I have realized that very few people know what to say when they find out that you are divorced or separated. They are trying hard to comfort you but if you’ve never been through it how would you know what to say? I want to help. Here are some things that people said to me (lots of times, all of these were said over and over again). If you said any of them, I am not angry nor do I hold a grudge, I do not even remember the people who specifically said any of these. I just want you to know that they are not helpful and explain why they are not helpful. I also offer some advice on what to say, how to be comforting and kind to someone going through this. These happened more at the beginning, so all of the responses are memories of how I felt when these things were said to me within the first few months. All of these things are said out of care and comfort, I just want to explain why they are not helpful.

1. “There are other fish in the sea.”

Most people who have recently gone through a separation and divorce are not looking to date immediately (and if they are, they shouldn’t be, but that would be a different post). My marriage just ended, I do not need someone to tell me that there are other options as if it’s no big deal. It’s as if you’re saying “eh, just move on. It’s not like that relationship meant anything.”

2. “Was s/he having an affair?” and “Were you having an affair?”

I cannot help but feel lucky that my divorce did not include an affair on either side. The feelings of rejection and hurt can only be intensified by an affair and I cannot imagine dealing with that. However, whether or not an affair occurred is none of your business. Ever. If it’s something that I want to process with you, I will. You do not need to ask (or gossip about it). Also, the pasta section of the grocery store is an inappropriate place to ask any questions about the divorce, especially these two.

3. “I never liked him/her anyway.”

Either you were lying the whole time I was in that relationship or you’re lying now. Either way, I do not want to be lied to. This makes it seem like it was a horrible choice to marry the person in the first place or that you knew this was coming from the beginning. This is not helpful. I liked my ex a lot, that’s why I married him.

4. “Thank goodness you don’t have children.”

Think before you speak. Yes, I’m grateful that we did not have children and that I was not pregnant. However, what if that morning I had found out that I was pregnant? How would your comment have made me feel?

5. “Aren’t you so glad it happened now instead of 10 or 20 years down the road?”

Umm, I’m not glad that it happened. I have no response to this question. I understand what you’re trying to say; it is just not comforting.

6. “I know how you feel. My cat died when I was three and it was so hard to deal with.”

Okay, this one is an exaggeration, no one said these exact words. However, plenty of people said something similar. These are not the same thing. If you haven’t gone through a divorce or something equally as painful saying “I know” is not helpful. You don’t know and I’m so glad of that for you! Please do not pretend.

7. “You’re so young!”

Yes. I know. Let’s move on.

8. “God hates divorce.”

Yes, and so do I. I do not think this was the plan. I think that it broke God’s heart that my marriage ended. However, God’s love for me (and my former spouse) is so much bigger than his hatred for divorce. I have never experienced the intimacy and comfort of the Lord like I did during the first 4 months of my separation. Please stop judging me. You don’t know my story.

9. “I wish you had married someone like my husband. He’s amazing.” Or “I wish your marriage had been like mine.”

I’m so glad your marriage is awesome! I’m so glad you married an amazing man! I’m so glad you’re happy! Please do not rub it in my face. This makes me discontent, not hopeful for my future.

10. Listing all of the faults you noticed about my former spouse.

This is one of the least helpful things. I was hoping and praying for reconciliation for so long. Anytime someone said “oh and he did this” made it that much harder to want reconciliation. It encourages bitterness. We all have faults.  I know he could come up with a very long list of mine. I tried really hard not to talk badly about my former spouse (and still try not to). By sharing what you disliked it was hard for me not to agree or over share. It’s just not comforting or helpful in the healing process to tell me how awful you think he was, mostly because he was not as awful as you are making him out to be.

 

When you are faced with a situation like this consider these six things to say instead.

1. “I don’t understand how hard this must be for you.”

Admitting that you don’t know can be super helpful. It’s okay that you don’t understand, I may just need to process or know that I have friends. Separation and divorce are very lonely.

2. “I’m so sorry, that sucks.”

It does suck. It is by far the hardest and most devastating thing I have gone through. Let’s acknowledge that and now we can move on in the conversation.

3. How can I pray for you and your spouse?

Often my answer was “I don’t know” but it was incredible knowing that so many people were praying for me and also for my former spouse. This is by far the most comforting question I was asked. After you offer, pray for both people.

4. If you need to talk, I’m here.

Allow me to dictate what I share with you. I do not need to process with 100 people. If I want to share with you I will. By saying this you allow me to make the decision rather than trying to force intimacy on me. Every time I tell my story it is exhausting. Please let me decide when I have the emotional energy to share.

5. “I don’t understand.”

This was one of the best things people said to me. Thank you for not trying to assume you know why my marriage ended. I still don’t fully understand and I was one of the two people present for every moment.

6. “I’ve been there. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you are going to be okay.”

If you have been through a divorce or a painful time you will know when it’s appropriate to say “I know.” These two words are so comforting when shared well. Share how you have found comfort in Jesus or offer to talk. I will caution you to not over share. In the early stages I cannot be a comfort to you if you are still processing your own divorce.

 

You do not need to have anything profound to say. Sometimes a hug and a listening ear is all that a hurting person needs. The simplicity of recognizing that someone is hurting is often all that it takes. Just love the person. Do not try to pick up juicy gossip or satiate your curiosity or make sense of the situation. Just be kind and please, think before you speak.

Growth Through Pain

Pain sucks. Being hurt is horrible. Having to face your own brokenness is hard and can feel impossible. But it can bring so much beauty and life.

I love the idea of “growth.” I love the images that it paints in my head. Sometimes I can see my personal growth and my growth in my relationship with Jesus as a flower. It starts small, pops out of the earth, and slowly becomes something more. It starts beautiful, a simple bit of green among the earth, and with work (the plant takes an active role through photosynthesis) grows more and more beautiful.

Growth through pain gives me a completely different image. I think of an adolescent going through a growth spurt. As a short girl I never experienced this kind of soreness and ache myself, but I can only imagine what it must feel like to grow several inches in one summer. A crisis is like the starting point of the stretching that happens as bone, muscles, ligaments, etc. all work together to make a person grow.

But when the stretching is done, you stand taller.

My intense spiritual and emotional growth spurts seem to be slowing down. I’m thankful for the opportunity to rest. I’m thankful for the opportunity to dwell in gratitude for what the Lord has done. I’m thankful for the time to process everything I’ve learned. I’m thankful that I can stand taller, more confident in my relationship with Jesus and myself. I’m thankful for everything I’ve learned.

I’m thankful for the intense growth spurt. I’m thankful for the pain. In so many, many ways, I am thankful for the pain.

Tears

Tears are amazing. They can be incredibly therapeutic and useful for processing so many emotions on many ends of the spectrum: from sadness to joy, depression to hilarity. I’m so grateful for the ability to feel strong emotion and to express it in such a tangible way. Tears are an excellent release of feeling, sometimes multiple emotions at once (especially for teenage girls, as my sisters teased my thirteen-year-old overly emotional self: “why don’t you cry about it? Now laugh about it. Now cry about it. Now laugh about it.”). 

I’m a movie crier. I cry in pretty much every movie I watch: Disney movies to action to period pieces to comedy. It doesn’t matter what kind of movie it is, I’ve probably cried in it. I suppose it’s because I’m overly sensitive and empathetic. Last December I stopped crying in movies. Processing my own pain, I cried a lot. I could barely squeeze out a tear in the saddest of movies (unless I was already crying about something else). I suppose I didn’t have the emotional energy to cry for the people in movies. Honestly, this scared me, I couldn’t verbalize it at the time, but I was scared that part of me (my empathetic side) had disappeared.

There are randomly things that remind me of how far I have come in my journey of healing, even in only 10 months. I am happy to report that my movie crying self has been restored. This probably sounds silly and trivial, but I cried during “Gravity.” Actually cry is an understatement. I sobbed, the kind of sobbing where you leave the theatre with swollen, ugly, puffy eyes and everyone looks at you funny wondering what movie you were watching. And I wasn’t crying for myself. I was crying for the characters. I was crying as I imagined her fear, her pain, her emotions. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it. I’m a sucker for stories with a strong, female lead and character development (thanks Mom and Dad!). I thought it was very well done. And I cried. A lot. So it will always have a special place in my heart as the movie that reminded me that my empathetic, movie-crying self still exists. It’s the little things in life I suppose.