“Pain throws your heart to the ground. Love turns the whole thing around. No it won't all go the way it should, but I know the heart of life is good.” These lyrics played over and over in my head the day they buried Sarah, and I find myself coming back to them often. People leaving, whether through death or choice, is never an easy thing. It can leave you broken, distrusting, and with a hardened heart. Through out my life, I have been challenged to go against the grain. Instead of closing myself off, I’ve had to open up through the loss of people close to my heart and learn the power of tears.
My parents separated when I was three years old and were divorced by age four. First their business had failed, and then there marriage. Before the divorce was even finalized by dad packed up and moved three hours north in search of work. Once a month, my Mom would pull us out of bed early on a Friday morning, put us on a bus, and wait for our return late Sunday night. At age six, my Dad got remarried and established a new family with my stepmom and her two daughters. Four years later, another marriage failing, my dad moved to his hometown in Texas to take over his dad’s job. My dad was not around for all the things he should have been growing up. He did not celebrate my first lost tooth, learning how to ride a bike, or making the varsity cross country team. I am blessed to say I have an amazing stepdad, (or “Pop” as we call him) who never missed a beat. But at a young age, I was forced to cope with the loss of my dad, which only lead to a hardened heart.
In the void years between a dad left, and a “pop” found, my Uncle Wes stepped in. He often visited, letting me dance on his toes and steal the change that fell from his pockets when he walked on his hands. At the age of six, my mom did the best she could to explain to me the evil of cancer that had entered his body. Every night as my mom tucked me into bed, we would pray for Uncle Wes and this gross sickness he had gotten. Within a year, he had entered remission and at a delightfully young age I learned the power of prayer. Years passed and my uncle had the pleasure of watching his kids grow up into young men. The summer after my eighth grade year my mom explained to me that Uncle Wes was sick again. I did not cry, or get angry, or sad. I just prayed. After two years of surgery after surgery and treatment after treatment, that gross sickness took my Uncle Wes. My last words to him had been “Merry Christmas” and I was left with no goodbye. It was a Tuesday, and as I sat in the pews of the church I refused to let the tears come. I had to be strong and tears were for the weak.
Sarah and I had gone to school together since the sixth grade. We were not particularly close, but we shared similar friends and had a mutual respect for each other. At the end of our freshmen year, Sarah was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. I was devastated. I had watched this evil take over my family and my uncle, and now it was living in a friend and taking over her family and loved ones. Immediately, I began to pray and send Sarah e-mails weekly with encouraging verses and passages. Sarah battle the cancer her entire sophomore year, entering remission that next summer after a bone marrow transplant. Junior year came around, and she was enrolled in classes with us, ready to start a new year. A couple weeks into the school year, the cancer had returned and stronger. Chemotherapy and radiation would not do the trick, and the doctor ordered another bone marrow transplant. It was the week before Christmas break, and Sarah had been recovering from treatment when her kidneys began to shut down. We never lost hope, and neither did Sarah; She was a fighter. On Christmas morning, Sarah’s body failed her and she went home to be with the Lord. The day we celebrate the Savior’s birth, and our gateway to salvation, we said goodbye to a friend. Sarah never complained about being sick. She never asked “why me?” or questioned God’s plans for her life. And just like that, she was gone.
If it had been up to me, I would have swept this loss with all the others under the rug and walked away. Tears were not worth my time, and neither was dealing with it. Thank God that he had a different plan. Allison Rayburn was just another Young Life leader on a Monday night, but she saw the heartache I had buried deep inside me. She took the time to invest into my life, meeting with me over coffee and prying my feelings out. Teaching me the art of crying, and its healing powers. She walked through Sarah’s death with me and was a consistent outlet for prayer. I learned healthy ways to let my frustration and sadness out. God wants a real relationship with us, and that includes when we are mad, sad and angry. Running became my release, and time I could let out my frustration to God. Hiking was a time to enjoy nature and its healing power. I would even go and simply sit at Sarah’s headstone, talking to her and God and thinking through life and its complications. God used running, hiking, resting, and even serving as practical ways for healing.
After losing Sarah, I began to read through the Shack. I would hide away in my room, and let the tears come. Most times, once they started, I had trouble getting them to stop. Sunday’s became my crying days. After church I would cuddle up in my bed, reading the book, and letting my heart ache. William P. Young wrote, “Don't ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak." There is no doubt it has been a long journey, and far from easy. Some days I was not sure it was worth the work, but only God can take the hardest parts of life and turn them into something he can use.