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

Battle Scars

🎶 These battle scars, don’t look like they’re fading,
Don’t look like they’re ever going away,
They ain’t never gonna change 🎶

We’re deep into 2020. This year has brought some of us to our knees. A song called ‘Battle Scars’ seemed fitting to me based on my perception of the current state of those around me. I rarely speak to a person who doesn’t feel damaged in some way by the way the year has played out.

But I wonder why this song spoke to me; why do I find the lyrics so captivating? Maybe because in life and in my work, I’ve met many people who think armoring up is the way to avoid pain.

🎶 Shields, body armours and vests,
Don’t properly work, that’s why you’re in a locker full of hurt 🎶

🎶Now you’re down on the ground screaming medic
The only thing that comes is the post-traumatic stresses🎶

“It hurts when I do. It hurts when I don’t”. Which is worse? It’s hard to say. In my line of work it’s often the emotional pain that has people afraid. Afraid to heal. Or having healed but fearing ripping the scar back open. Self protecting. Feeling delicate, Feeling “broken”.

Honestly, I did that thing too. It’s called avoidance; the idea of something we fear being too much. So we do everything we can to rid the thoughts from our mind, avoid the memories, and even the people places and things that remind us of the painful thing that’s got us stuck.

Unfortunately that’s the very thing that keeps us stuck; not getting help to deal with the trauma from our past. And that’s where the writer of this song was going when he speaks of being in the front lines. It feels like that sometimes, at least it has for me.

🎶A lover not a fighter on the front line with a poem
Trying to write yourself a rifle
Maybe sharpen up a song
To fight the tanks and drones of you being alone🎶

Grief and loneliness can be gripping. Terrifying. Seemingly Unbearable. And with all of the rules and isolation we’ve had, it’s just hard to go it alone. As humans, we’re wired for connection.

Perhaps life has taught you people aren’t safe. They always leave. You’ve got that abandonment wound. Or maybe they were there, but emotionally unavailable. If that’s the case, this part of the song might resonate.

🎶I wish I couldn’t feel, I wish I couldn’t love
I wish that I could stop ’cause it hurts so much🎶

Being vulnerable comes with a price. You legitimately put yourself out there. You’re authentic. You don’t hide your feelings.

And then suddenly, they’re gone, leaving you to declare “Never again.” Heart broken. Feelings raw. Now what?

I think it’s fair to say 2020 has a lot of fear in it. We HAVE to avoid actual things for our safety but the thoughts can still be dealt with. America got down to business this year in a lot of ways; shining the spotlight on racial injustice, and uniting over leadership for our country. That’s where one thing came into the picture and really resonated with me. Hope.

Light was always going to defeat darkness. It’s hard to see that this year especially and with this administration. We’ve had perhaps one of the darkest years most of us can remember, or will ever remember. And the battlefield isn’t in a distant land. It’s our country, our very doorstep.

It’s so hard. We’re in survival mode. The entire country is in crisis, and it’s not just the pandemic it’s our perception of democracy, it’s the fear of going backwards from all the progress we’ve made, and it’s personal. It’s so dark that it seems like everything is closing in on us at times. We may think there’s no way out. We may think we’re doomed. We don’t know what to expect. Some of us are scared and rightfully so. We have no control over the people around us and their actions. We’re thinking catastrophic! Is this the end? Why is this happening? And we aren’t getting answers.

On top of the pandemic, a handful of my closest friends have lost loved ones. Now I’m starting to regularly counsel on grief and other emotions that come along with a season where ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ is already bad enough.

It’s nearly Christmas. So many around me describe this year ending as a finish line of sorts. Even if we’re slo-mo working our way there. Not everyone we know got to make it to the finish line this year and that resonates with me, hitting me especially hard as a veteran, where I often think of the creed; a Latin phrase ‘nemo resideo’ or “leave no one behind”. Weren’t there people we lost this year that we would have literally carried to the finish line if that meant saving them? Life is so fragile and this year was an unpleasant reminder of that.

As a Christian the peace I find when I think about all the loss and uncertainty is this. God won’t abandon us. He’s with us through the battle, our scars have a purpose, and we already know the ending. He wins. Thank God for simple truths in difficult times!

If you aren’t a Christian, that’s ok, God loves you no matter what! I like to think of a special verse I often repeat. I know that in life even the most loyal of all people may let me down, but I can rest in this.

Artists: Guy Sebastian, Lupe Fiasco

In The Air Tonight

🎶Well if you told me you were drowning,

I would not lend a hand,
I’ve seen your face before my friend,

but I don’t know if you know who I am,
Well I was there and I saw what you did,

I saw it with my own two eyes,
So you can wipe off that grin,

I know where you’ve been,
It’s all been a pack of lies.🎶

I was driving around listening to Pandora when the song In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins came on. Being one who can often feel emotion in music, I wondered why this song had never hit me like this before. I mean, I’ve heard it hundreds of times! A tear lingered in the corner of my eye as I imagined being the target of those words.

That’s SHAME! I instantly thought to myself! Heavy!

There’s just something captivating about how he sings the song into that electrifying sound machine too. Like it totally grabs you and hits you emotionally.

I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord.

Feel what? Maybe the weight of other people’s judgement?!?

Now it’s possible you could google song lyrics and discover exactly what Phil Collins was talking about in this song, but that’s not what my blog is about. I’m one of those “Soundtrack of my Life” people. You know like I’ve got a song that accompanies some of my most powerful encounters.

I recently discovered Enneatypes through a dear friend I share the same Myers Briggs personality type with, and FINALLY understood why music is such a big part of my life; I’m an Enneagram Type 4. So was Prince. No wonder I’m not like everyone else!!

I think this is a song that really gives a name to shame and how our society gets it wrong. Can you imagine seeing a person drowning and your first instinct NOT being to go try to save them because of something they did in their past?

But isn’t that what people do? People are “drowning” all around us. We find out someone died by suicide. Why couldn’t anyone see she was drowning? And that shame thing. What about the “invisible people” among us, the homeless that walk the streets that we won’t even make eye contact with when they stand next to our car with a sign asking for something, anything. He’s drowning.

It’s easy for us to look at these people as isolated incidents, not relevant to us, insignificant. But consider the story told in ‭‭Luke‬ ‭15:4-5‬:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders.”

He doesn’t say “That damn sheep has run off a million times, I’m just going to let him run off the side of the mountain and drown in the lake”. No. He goes after it.

I talk about this concept more in another blog:

Reckless Love

But it’s more than that. Ever thought about why that person even crossed your path today? Or why the same person with a shameful past crosses your path EVERY day? Maybe somebody you work with, a family member with an addiction, a neighbor, even, it could be anyone. I look in the mirror and there are days the enemy tries to remind me of shame from my past. I’d still like to think if I ever really needed someone’s help in a desperate kind of way like this song implies, that someone could look past what they know about me and still think I’m worth saving.

A pastor at a church I attended made a powerful statement to the congregation. He said ” It’s great y’all are here developing your faith. But if someone walks through that door who is lost, we’re dropping everything and helping them.”

How does that hit you? As Americans we like to think everything is about us. But sometimes it’s about them. The person or group out there that God is calling you to serve.

A common theme you’ve probably seen running through my blogs is that I find one of the most freeing things about being a Christian is that it’s not MY JOB to judge others. And I can’t love others if I’m keeping a list of their wrongs.

The gift I received when my shame was washed white as snow is a gift everyone deserves. Don’t let them drown!

Song inspiration:

Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

Let Her Cry

Hootie & The Blowfish just reminds me of a simpler time. 1994. A time when I sometimes wish I could go back and revel in all that simplicity. Then again, I was 18, and I’m kinda nostalgic. So the song was a natural selection for this blog title.

Let’s talk about the term “ugly crying”. You know, I really kinda hate this word! Saying that we were reduced to “ugly crying” implies that when we experience the most overwhelming of emotions i.e. sadness, that we can no longer be beautiful. I mean how many movies have you watched where a woman sobs and doesn’t ruin her eye makeup? I call BS, there isn’t even one of my most reliable mascaras that can survive a heartfelt cry!

Thats an example of how we don’t see crying authentically represented in media, so when we do see someone ‘legit’ crying it’s labeled “ugly crying”, Something referred to in the same vein as something you’d rather not do in public (like use the restroom when you’re a guest at someone’s house).

I actually read an article thanking an actress (Jennifer Lawrence) for having the courage to ugly cry in a movie (specifically The Hunger Games – Mockingjay – Part 2). We consider it being brave to do something that is just natural, but has been shamed so much people are afraid to do it.

People have to stuff their emotions for fear of “ugly crying”. Young girls are made fun of for ugly crying. Boys who cry in public have it even worse I think, though. Any type of crying a boy does is generally countered with dismissal of their emotions and a stern, “be a man.”

The attitude that boys shouldn’t cry or that it implies they are less than a man or feminine is insulting to both genders.

Further, not validating the emotions of a boy who is sad results in a man who can’t regulate his emotions and may be the reason we see so many angry men.

Every child, male or female, relies on their parents to teach them how to regulate their emotions until they can do it themselves. This is done by acknowledging what we see the child is feeling. For example, “I see that you’re feeling sad right now” and letting them know it’s ok to be sad or cry, and that they can take the necessary time to let that emotion ” just be” without someone handing them a tissue or telling them to “stop it”. It works the same for adults.

And just let her cry, if the tears fall down like rain, Let her sing if it eases all her pain 🎶

Kinda reminds me of this verse:

When crying makes us uncomfortable, we still don’t have the right to squash another person’s emotions. And research shows that being allowed to feel and process emotions without shame results in the development of a healthy human being.

Carrie Underwood even takes it a step further in her new song “Cry Pretty”. She talks about how you can fake a lot of things but you can’t cry pretty. So, the word “can’t” means physically unable to do something. Maybe I’m taking it too literally, but tears aren’t ugly when you see them on a baby, so at what point did we decide tears make this transformation to being ugly?

Personally I see the expression of emotion as a beautiful thing. But then again, I’m the person who can see the beauty in scars like my c-section scar that means I’m a mother, or stretch marks that mean I nourished 3 babies.

Well how about this? It’s ridiculous that we judge how someone looks after crying as ugly. It’s just how we look after crying. I was just thinking about the word ugly and how it’s such a dumb word. When is the word ugly even necessary in conversation except to be hurtful or judgemental?

My inner geek had to know, what is the origin of the word ugly? Because if you search for the word “ugly” in the KJV of the Bible, you won’t find it. The root of the word ugly first began as a word more often used to describe something that’s appearance brought fear or dread, something more along the lines of being morally offensive. An abominable sight. It’s sad that we now have so many people attaching this word to themselves or using it to make others feel less than.

But in our culture, we introduce children to the word “ugly” at a young age. Ever read the classic Hans Christian Anderson nursery rhyme from 1844 “The Ugly Duckling“? You have to laugh really, isn’t it funny how such a deep message can be turned into a story for children? Then again “Ring around the Rosie” was a thing when I was a child, and that’s supposedly about the Bubonic Plague!

You might be reading this and thinking “Geez just put on your big girl panties and deal with it! It’s just a word”! But is it? Vulnerability is about being brave, and isn’t that what you are suggesting?

I listen to the song and I like to think Darius Rucker knew about Emotional Intelligence before it was a thing. Chances are, you know somebody like he mentions in the song. Wouldn’t today be a great day to reach out to them and see how they are doing? ❤️

She never lets me in,

only tells me where she’s been

When she’s had too much to drink

I say that I don’t care,

I just run my hands through her dark hair

Then I pray to God you gotta help me fly away. 🎶

Song Inspiration: Let Her Cry – Hootie & The Blowfish

Old New Blue Jeans

Recently I put on a pair of jeans that I bought probably 3 years ago and had never worn. I bought them without trying them on and when I got home I discovered that even though they were the same size as the other pair I DID try on, and made by the same designer, they were a slightly different cut. So rather than return them, I said “I’m going to fit in these jeans one day so I’m not going to return them”. I think I might have tried them on another time or two, they still didn’t fit, and then life happened.

I was elated to discover as a newly remarried mom of two boys that I was pregnant again. I had a suspicion this was true when I went to a crawfish boil and the smell and idea of eating crawfish repulsed me even though normally I would have loved the opportunity. Later at my May birthday dinner, I passed on having a glass of wine but wasn’t sure why. A few days later a pregnancy test confirmed the reason and boy was I sooo sick. I was so moody and just really had zero energy which was tough because at the time I was enrolled in a Graduate degree program.

I decided not to immediately announce my pregnancy, and in the back of my mind I had a bad feeling. A few weeks later when I started spotting, I was taken back to memories I had when a similar thing happened with a pregnancy resulting in miscarriage. I went to see my OB and had an ultrasound; I was still pregnant but it was unsure if the baby was developing. I was experiencing every pregnancy symptom while facing the unbelievable possibility that this pregnancy could end. I had to keep going in for ultrasounds to check the progress. Although the gestational sac was growing the OB said it was 50/50 whether the baby would start growing. She said she’d seen the exact same thing with another mother who was now over 20 weeks along. I was so hopeful but also so anxious and scared.

At 11 weeks the doctor gave me the news I dreaded hearing, the fetus was not developing. I waited and nothing happened. The doctor described it as a missed miscarriage. I’d have to have a procedure done. It was around the Fourth of July now, a holiday that I couldn’t even begin to think about celebrating.

After the procedure I began feeling much more moody, and depression and grief set in. I felt so alone and sad. I began struggling to even want to get out of bed. I’d go to my Assessments class and couldn’t even process what the instructor was saying. The class was a tough one; I began to realize that I might not be able to pass the class and my school had a policy where you weren’t allowed to miss any classes. Finally I decided to talk to my Director and decided to drop the course so I wouldn’t fail it. I sat there in tears considering whether I even wanted to continue in the program because by now I was about 6 weeks in to a serious phase of hopelessness. All I could think about was trying to get pregnant again because of the gaping hole that loss had left.

Unfortunately I wasn’t seeking help or getting the support I needed. Since I hadn’t told anyone outside of my husband and best friend about the pregnancy, other people around me didn’t know what was going on and didn’t reach out to me or even seemed to reject me. I felt isolated and alone. Things might have continued to spiral downward until in late September I got another positive pregnancy test.

I was so scared I couldn’t even be happy about it. I feared it would end the same. The timing wasn’t the best; I had just started the internship required for my Masters degree. With the dropped class and now this, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to complete my program. If it weren’t for my best friend speaking prophecy into me that this baby would grow and develop into a strong and healthy baby girl, I don’t know what I would have done. Every day of that first trimester was an uphill battle as I was still dealing with depression and lack of support.

Around that time it occurred to me I wasn’t trusting God to help me deal with any of the intense feelings I was experiencing. I walked into Mardel Christian Books Store one day, and on the featured books table was the book “Whispers of Hope” by Beth Moore. It was a daily prayer devotional and at that moment God spoke to me and told me “Give it a try”.

As a counseling student, I knew that 10 weeks of journaling about hope could be very beneficial. So began the process of me burrowing in and this book ended up becoming my survival guide. Literally all I was doing was surviving though. I was so worried my emotions would effect my unborn child. I prayed every day for her protection. At the same time I fought a daily struggle to not drop out of my degree program. My heart and soul just felt like it was being crashed against a huge rock every single day, and I just fought to keep going, always just reaching out for hope. To be honest at the time I’m not sure how I got through. Looking back It felt like that line from the Footprints in the Sand poem; clearly God carried me!

The next year and a half from my daughter’s birth to now seemed like I was climbing a steep, steep mountain. When I came across those unworn jeans, they still had the tag on them. Since my skinny jeans had recently become loose on me, I had a suspicion they would fit and they did.

The funny thing is, I had to look back at everything that happened between then and now and ask myself if I was really happy about being able to fit in those jeans now. The person I was then would’ve used it as a measure to some sort of “success”. The person I am now just looks in the mirror and thinks “they’re just jeans, but look at the person I’ve become inside and the ridiculous amount of clarity that has been unveiled by faith that could literally move me up and down a mountain!”

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