Sunday, May 15, 2011


In my first two decades of life, one thing I have been oddly free from is the face of death.

Two nights ago, my grandfather on my dad's side-- my Opa-- flickered out and went home. I am trying to learn how to process it. I know exactly how I should be feeling and thinking. I outline it like a story with a script in my head. But I don't have the energy to follow the story. I barely feel at all.

I have two very vivid memories of my Opa that have been playing through my head over and over again. The first is from years ago, when I was 12. Around Christmas that year, my mother found a poem printed on a page on her desk. She asked where it came from, if someone had copied it out of a book. I was scared at first, wondering how I could have been careless enough to drop it. Eventually I admitted that I had written it.

My mother liked it enough that she put it in the family newsletter. I found this slightly embarrassing and quickly forgot it. But a few weeks later, I got a phone call from my Opa. I was baffled. I had never been specifically called by a grandparent before.

My Opa told me that he wanted to be sure to tell me how beautiful my poem was. He wanted me to know that it displayed a wisdom that seemed unbelievable from a 12-year-old. He wanted to tell me to keep writing.

I had been writing poetry for 4 years already then, and it would take me 5 more years to find my voice. But that was the first time I believed my poetry had any value. I had never believed it was worthwhile before then.

The other memory is stronger. I was 16, and we were gathered as a family in the mountains in north Georgia to celebrate my grandparents' 50th anniversary. I was at the height of the dark summer, the one with a story I still don't tell. I didn't talk to anyone. I spent hours wrapped in my walls of notebooks and pens. One morning everyone else was busy. I was sitting alone by a window, drawing and writing poems. My Opa came quiet behind me. He said hello and gently rested his hand on my shoulder. "You're a good girl, Mary," he said gently.

I would cry about it later, because I didn't understand how he could say that. It wasn't true, and I knew it. If he had any idea where my heart was, I have no idea if he would have offered those words. But I do know that the words stayed with me, written deep in my memory. In some of my absolute worst moments, he thought I was alright. He told me I had value.

These are the things that I remember. There are much bigger things my Opa did... a German raised in China who spent his entire life devoted to serving his Savior, teaching all over the world. His voice echoes in so many places. My siblings and I carry an incredible legacy. But I think right now, I'd rather remember the quiet moments... the gentle times, the small words. They are what I will hold onto as I say goodbye.

And I know there are many stories like this, stories that will be spun somewhere between laughter and tears over these next few days as family gathers to lay him to sleep under the grass. These are the things that are important now.

Switchfoot has a song titled Yesterdays. In this song they offer the simple phrase "every lament is a love song." And this means for me that maybe telling these stories, grieving, even shedding tears... it is a way of loving, of saying his life was beautiful.

I will write a song about him, soon. There is no melody yet, just half-formed words, but it's already pressing against my skin. A lament. A love song.

I am remembering, even if I don't yet understand. And I will tell his stories, the stories that will last long after the service on Wednesday. The stories that say something about the value of life, even if it carries the terrible weight of goodbyes.

- Elraen -

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Monday, May 9, 2011

One More Year

I have now completed the simultaneously best and worst year of college thus far.

When I chose The Shadow Proves the Sunshine back in November as my theme song for junior year, I had no idea how accurate it would be. The contrast has been absolutely intense.

There have been primarily shadows for a long time now, with a few moments of quick and short-lived radiance like a lighter fluid fire. And yet, unusually, school has not been the problem. School has instead been almost a refuge. The steady rhythm of work and return has been a wonderful constant. While I’ve struggled with stretches of apathy more than ever before this semester, it’s been overcome.

Most of all, my school feels less dangerous to me now. Not that it doesn’t still feel like a cage; that’s what it is, so it will always feel that way to me. But now it’s a cage that I have accepted and learned to live in. I am not sure whether this is bad or not, but I have found that there are some good things in the cage with me that I hadn’t noticed before because I was so busy trying to pick the lock. Notably, there are a few people in here with me who are incredible. I have had a group of friends at school who I actually feel comfortable being around for the first time. I get the distinct impression that they actually want to be around, which is odd to me because there’s no reason for it. But it has been an incredible comfort to me to know that there are people to talk to at college events, to sit with, to go to shows with, to watch movies with, to stay up late talking to… these are things that I have never had before. My “social life” barely counts as such by normal standards, but just the fact that there are people around who know my name, who know the music I like, who and are willing to talk… that is mind-blowing and baffling and thrilling to me.

I think one reason why I’ve hated school so much less this year is that in the midst of everything outside of school, school has provided something that makes sense. I know exactly how to handle school. It’s a wonderful cause and effect situation. There is a fear of failure, it is true, but there are obvious ways to overcome the failure— I can simply work harder and the failure goes away. In the rest of my life, I can’t do that. Everything I have tried to do over the past few months outside of school, I have failed. No amount of work or striving ever makes any kind of impact.

I have slept less this semester than at any other time since my final semester of highschool. For long stretches of time I’ve been getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night... sometimes less. This is not always due to homework. It has made focus incredibly challenging. I have my own room now for the first time, which helps. Most nights I am alone in my room for 7 or 8 hours at a time before going to sleep. It is the only way I stay sane.

I am still sorting out the tangles of another year, and it is hard for me to say how God will use the things that have happened. But one thing I have learned is that sometimes, even despite the shadows, there is joy to be found simply in knowing sunshine exists. Even if you can’t see it or touch it or taste it. Sometimes I forget that my friends who live far away exist. Then they do something to remind me, or I look around at the pictures stuck around my room, and I am reminded. Even if I am not given the things that I need now-- friends close by, a hope for a future, even sleep-- I know that those things are real. Just the fact that these moments of joy and hope exist is enough to be sustaining, even if I cannot see them. I have had to learn more than ever before how to believe that God is still speaking even when I cannot hear Him.

I have one more year. One more year to learn to enjoy the things I have here instead of mourning all the things I have lost. One more year to learn to quiet my own voice enough so that I can listen. One more year to accept whatever path God has already set in place in front of me.

And maybe it’s too soon yet to hope for a change... there have been times this semester when even the word “tomorrow” has seemed like a hopelessly, impossibly brave idea. But there is something in me that is beginning to reach again for the idea that maybe this really is only the beginning.

Peace to you.
- Elraen -