Colder Weather

My brother died recently. Unexpectedly. Tragically. As a person who references the “Soundtrack of My life” regularly, I suddenly felt as though that soundtrack was frozen on pause.

My brother and I didn’t share a love for most of the same genres of music. Perhaps that is why, for one of the few times in my life, I struggled to find ANY type of song that was relatable. Sure, there are a lot of songs that “could” be appropriate. Probably many that even “should” be appropriate but surprisingly not one that seemed to be a perfect fit.

I asked a few of those who were close to him if they could guess his favorite song. No one seemed to know. Why didn’t I know? The answer will haunt me, I’m sure. I’d be willing to bet my brother loved music as much as I did. And he was an artist. So it’s possible we might even have shared some similar personality traits, but not to the average onlooker.

My brother was bold and unfiltered. I am reserved but equally as passionate. Although we were apparently close prior to beginning school (after all with only 18 months age difference, he was my first playmate), after that, he went one way and I went another. Still, I can remember his excitement over getting a new CD to play on our home stereo at maximum volume. It wasn’t a matter of if he would do this, but when. My brother and I got home from school before our parents came home from work. I’d usually choose to go to my room, but he often took advantage of no parents to blast some loud music downstairs. I’m not really sure what happened to that stereo we had, but the speakers were huge, and he made sure we knew their capacity.

Prior to my brother passing away, we hadn’t been close. In fact after my grandmother passed away and family stopped getting together for Holidays, a decade passed after leaving home since I’d seen him. A quick trip home, then nearly another decade. But in between the times I saw him, every so often, I used to send him a message and say, “Hey Aaron, are we ever gonna put our past disagreements behind us?” and I’d make an effort to try to connect with him; he would just say “F#ck you Renee” and that was that. After trying numerous times, The last time he said that, I just thought to myself “Maybe I’ll just wait till he gets older and calms down before I ask him again.”

I never got that opportunity.

About two weeks after the heartbreaking news, I flew back home for his funeral, then returned and tried to get back to “normal”. It was surprisingly difficult accepting the death of a brother I always thought I’d eventually have time to get to know. But then, this morning on the way to work I accidentally selected “shuffle stations” on my Pandora app, resulting in a random selection of the song ‘Colder Weather’ by the Zac Brown Band. Surprisingly, the floodgates opened and I just bawled my eyes out, listening to a genre of music that was probably more dear to his heart than my own.

I’d heard the song once a long time ago and it wasn’t relatable. This time it hit me differently; in grief I seem drawn to anything that reminds me of my brother, almost as a way to cope with a loss I hadn’t had time to prepare for. He was 47 when he died. Surely I had thought on many occasions that he just needed more time to simmer down -with age many men grow milder- maybe then we’d be able to become closer.

It’s hard to imagine not having the opportunity to grow old. I always envisioned the two of us being there to figure things out when we were the oldest 2 remaining in our immediate family. Suddenly, I was left as the oldest surviving sibling, feeling like I was frozen there, just holding a pile of question marks.

The song has this line that says 🎶 Im a rambling man and Im never going to change. 🎶 Now, I am personally not one to use the clichè phrase “People never change.” I don’t believe in it. As a therapist I see transformation and generational patterns broken on the daily. It’s almost magical when it happens. Aaron would have said it though. It’s possible maybe he even thought that about me, resulting in his continuous rejection of my attempts. I guess I will never really know. Maybe not in so many words, but he’d have said “This is who I am, if you don’t like it, tough.” That authenticity was something we could probably agree on, despite our many differences. The irony of it all is I don’t want to remember him any differently than exactly the way he was.

🎶Maybe tomorrow will be better, can I call you then? 🎶 It’s heartbreaking singing this verse of the song. I’ll never to be able to call my brother and ask him if we can finally resolve our differences. I saw his body in the casket. I remember thinking I was glad to see him again one last time. We all sobbed as the bugler played taps and the Army carefully folded up that flag that was draped across his grave. No parent thinks they will bury their son before they pass. Honestly even though my brother served in the military years ago, I realized I’d never considered after he survived his time on active duty that he could still die before he had a chance to grow old.

It’s a strange song to have resonated with me enough to blog about. The song is about a different type of relationship, but left me with the same feeling of longing for something more that the lyrics describe. I went from a little sister who sat across from my brother and mirrored everything he did to a grown woman who felt like she barely knew him; on the outside looking in.

I don’t currently live close to where he is now buried. We hadn’t had time to think out his gravestone but I look forward to the next time I get to visit. While others find cemetery’s morbid, I’ve always felt a strange sense of comfort and peace there among the headstones honoring the legacy of generations with the groupings of familiar names. Although I can visit his final resting place I’m left finding truth in a quote I heard over the years that never applied to me. Until it did….

What one thing resonated with me most during this experience? My brother had two Bibles he used and studied. When my Mother and I looked at them there were so many things underlined and highlighted. I’m not sure why this surprised me. I’m so glad even though I never anticipated this happening, that I did anticipate bad things would happen in life and prepare for it by devoting my life to a spiritual practice that provides peace during difficult times. It was comforting to see that he did too.


Inspiration: Zac Brown Band/Colder Weather https://youtu.be/oouFE51HcqM

More than Anything

🎶 Help me want the Healer, More than the healing 🎶

It seems like a natural progression to me now, but it didn’t back then.

My taste in music is generally pretty edgy. I like some depth. Some raw, live acoustic music. Throw in a raspy voice or deep inflection, some passionate lyrics, and you’ve got me in my happy place. But sometimes even I need a feel good song.

This is that song; ‘More than Anything’. I can hear it coming from a place of desperation, a place I’ve been before. Back in my totally clichè ‘Jesus take the Wheel’ days (translated, thats the “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here God, but I sure have messed things up on my own steam, PLEASE please help me.”)

That was the single Mom living paycheck to paycheck who’d just been laid off unexpectedly and bawled my eyes out when HR walked in and coldly gave us all our pink slips a week or so before Thanksgiving. I remember thinking “What the hell am I gonna do?!”

I remember later that night in a fit of chest seizing anxiety, drinking a glass of wine, looking into the mirror at my tear stained cheeks just feeling so defeated. I had been plugging along telling myself if I could just pay my bills, my rent, my car payment, buy food for my kids, I’d be fine. And then it just felt like someone pulled the rug out from under me. In that moment I prayed the desperate prayer “Lord why is this happening? PLEASE HELP ME!”

🎶 I know if You wanted to, You could wave Your hand
Spare me this heartache, and change Your plan.
And I know any second You could take my pain away.
But even if You don’t, I pray…🎶

I’d mentioned before about how I’d once been turned off by religion, but I know now it was the people that falsely represented it that actually turned me off. There in that very workspace a couple of years before, I’d encountered a coworker who walked it out differently. She saw my down trodden attitude and somehow identified a deep and hurting soul. Did she come to me and tell me I needed Jesus, or make me feel judged? Nope. She handed me a book entitled “Letters” of Mother Teresa. I remember looking at it and thinking “Hmmm, I vaguely know who that is, I think I heard about her on the news or something.” I thanked my coworker and said I’d take a look at it.

I opened up the book and started reading about a woman who surprisingly reminded me a little of myself. She had a deep need to help humanity but she felt so much emptiness inside her that it was nearly overwhelming. And she liked to write! Her letters reminded me of the poems I wrote as a teenager, where emotion filled every word. Compassion and Christian in the same sentence? I shook my head. This equation hadn’t been one that equated for me in the past.

That this happened was one of those things only God could have orchestrated, my coworker (now my best friend) refused to take credit, stating only that she was an instrument of God. Talk about goosebumps!

🎶You know more than anyone that my flesh is weak
And You know I’d give anything for a remedy
And I’ll ask a thousand more times to set me free today
Oh, but even if You don’t, I pray 🎶

Amazingly less than six months prior to the layoff I had begun therapy. And the only reason I had an ounce of hope that a therapist would show me compassion was due to one person showing me what that looked like. I would go on to find a community of others who thought and acted the same. And it just so happens that the therapist was a graduate of the Grad School I would go on to get my Masters in Counseling degree from.

I couldn’t see it that day nor could I see it for a few months afterwards, but that layoff would change my whole trajectory. I’d go on to have a job that not only paid my bills but also gave me an opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do but didn’t think that I could. Most importantly I had internalized the sentiment mentioned in this verse.

From “LORD HELP ME” to “I’m so glad I have my faith, and a loving Father.” You don’t even know how much that’s helped me since Covid hit!

More than Anything Natalie Grant

It’s been awhile…

🎶It’s been awhile

since I could hold my head up high 🎶

That’s the opening line from the title song by Staind. I guess you might not expect a blog like mine to include songs with explicit lyrics. So if that offends you, I’m here to say that it’s possible the reason people don’t want to come within a 5 mile radius of a religious establish might be because they listen to songs with explicit lyrics and feel like that makes them judged as less than. And maybe nothing Christians are putting out there is reaching them because they just can’t relate. I’m all about meeting people where they are. That’s how God met Saul on the road to Damascus. Right. Where. He. Was. At.

Everyone likes to focus on the reformed Saul, the man who became Paul, an apostle known as one of the greatest of all Biblical messengers. But I think the thing I like the most about Paul was his humility. He’s the first to admit he was the greatest of sinners. In Paul’s own words:

That’s so relatable to me! I don’t see the need to hide all my past sins under a rug, even though I’m not proud of them. It doesn’t make me more relatable to others to act like I’m sinless, at least not to others who aren’t trying to look more perfect than they really are. Have I lost friends because I was authentic about where I came from and the kind of raw person that I am? Yes, on more than one occasion.

But Jesus cautioned against being fake and acting like you’re perfect when you’re not and he had major beef with the Pharisees who acted like they were perfect, yet who played an important role in his crucifixion. I don’t want to look like a hypocrite.

The other day I heard a song that went like this, “There’s a sign on the door that says ‘Come as you are’ but I doubt it.” (Truth Be Told -Song by Matthew West).

If you feel that way, I don’t blame you. I’ve tried to go to a church and be transparent about my past and found out I couldn’t. They were too legalistic. I felt judged, even excluded. If that has happened to you, I’m sorry.

You see, as a therapist, I feel like we’re all a bit broken. I talk a little bit more about that in another blog post here: Broken

I’ve definitely had days when I felt like I’d screwed things up way past the point of saying “I’m sorry”. As the song goes, there were so many times I felt like:

🎶 And it’s been awhile

Since I’ve gone and

F#%&$@ things up

Just like I always do

And it’s been awhile,

But all that s#%$

Seems to disappear

When I’m with you 🎶

Can you relate, trying to fill that void inside with a person? Somebody who makes you feel good and helps you forget your pain?

In the bridge of the song it says

🎶Why must I feel this way?

Just make this go away

Just one more peaceful day…🎶

You see, physically, I’m a weak person. I’ve really struggled with my health in recent years and just felt so un-usable by God. I just wanted the pain to literally GO AWAY.

I was wrong though. God can use me like this. Because maybe some people aren’t willing to meet you where you are, but God isn’t like that at all. Somehow through my weakness and loss of faith in some of the people and things in the world around me, an unexpected thing happened. My faith grew. Exponentially! People repeatedly let me down. I lost trust in humanity at one point. I became rather cynical.

Then I thought about it. God was true to his word:

All the people that let me down didn’t break me though. I learned to stop putting my faith in people; in relationships, fair weather friends, politicians, leaders. It might be hard to believe, but I can now think about the song “It’s Been Awhile” as me telling God how much I’ve screwed up and hear him say “That’s ok child. Nothing you can ever do will stop me from loving you.” Isn’t that what we all need to hear?

Love Remains The Same

Valentines Day is coming up. If you’re a romantic, you might be thinking flowers or even LOVE SONGS! I think love songs and my brain automatically reaches back into the vault and cues up “Soundtrack of my Life” song title Love Remains The Same by Gavin Rossdale.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has that “Soundtrack of My Life” in my head?!?

It’s been said that after one becomes a Christian, it’s impossible to listen to any love song and not be able to relate to it like a love song between the listener and God. The old me, circa 2008 would have thought that was pretty hokey!

That’s what happens to me now, and it’s funny because when the song first came out, I might have claimed to be a believer but I didn’t understand what it is to have a RELATIONSHIP with God. As I’ve mentioned, somehow what I got out of being a Christian from a young age was believing in God so I wouldn’t go to Hell. I thought that was it.

The truth is that none of my relationships in real life had really had that much depth, so I couldn’t even contemplate how it would be possible to have a relationship with a God I didn’t feel, that I couldn’t see, or hear, or touch.

My entire concept was grounded in…. human relationships. God seemed like someone who was to be feared, and how do you have a relationship with someone like that? It seemed kind of unrealistic, that whole concept of unconditional love. Sadly, I don’t think I grew up feeling like love WAS unconditional. I only felt like I could be loved if I was perfect and since I clearly wasn’t, WHY would the almighty God want to love me unconditionally?

This line:

🎶 I,

never thought that I,

had anymore to give 🎶

Maybe you can imagine how that verse resonated with me when I started hearing this call from God to follow him. Up until that point, I really felt like I was so pathetic that any Christ followers who approached me probably just felt really sorry for me.

At this point I was divorced, living in a town I barely knew my way around in, trying to do the single Mom thing with 2 little boys, one with autism, and I was EXHAUSTED! I felt like my life had really been a string of unsuccessful relationships and this is what I tied my worth to.

Not entirely sure why, I started calling around to churches for months trying to find one that had a place for my son with special needs. I’d leave messages and not get a return call, or be told there wasn’t anything for him or find out the church had a Sunday school class for people with disabilities, but it just sounded like babysitting. I got discouraged and gave up.

But less than a mile from my house was a bookstore I’d never heard of called Mardel. I decided to go there to look for a gift for my mother. Turns out it was a Christian book store, and they had a really cute kid’s section with cushioned benches and a big tv they played Veggie Tales movies on. My son might have had Autism, but he sat still and watched with obvious joy while I shopped. It became a place we went weekly. One day, we went and the front door had a poster on it for a concert at a church I hadn’t heard of called “Crossing’s Community Church”.

I looked them up online and was amazed they had a whole department for kids with special needs. I felt the pull. What I didn’t know was how God was going to pull it off. On the weekends I had the boys, we started attending. Then I went alone on the weekends the boys were with their dad. It was nice to have joyful people around me.

🎶 Half the time the world is ending,
Truth is I am done pretending 🎶

I’d like to say it all clicked with me and immediately made sense. The truth is I’m stubborn and it took me awhile and a whole lot of self discovery to realize that living in the world had been my focus. I HAD been pretending. Pretending I had it together, pretending that I could carry the weight of the world on my own shoulders. No wonder I was exhausted! My hope is that someone may read this and feel that same pull to stop trying to do it all on your own power.

Now when I close my eyes and hear these familiar words, it’s God I am thinking of:

🎶 You make me wanna run till I find you
I shut the world away from here
Drift to you, you’re all I hear
As everything we know fades to black 🎶

I’m so glad I have that kind of “safe” feeling now when I think about God. When the world gets crazy, I just want to run away like a child, shut the door and tune out the world and get into the WORD!

This verse and picture in particular come to mind when I think of the effect the world can have on us…we want to bundle up to protect ourselves from the cold cold world. It’s inevitable…

That’s like God saying “I got you, no matter what!”

So there you have it. Any song can sound like a love song I sing to God in thankful praise for THE GOOD NEWS that his son Jesus Christ died for my (and your) sins. Not only that but that His LOVE REMAINS THE SAME, you don’t have to worry about His love for you ever changing!

Song Inspiration Love Remains The Same – Gavin Rossdale

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