Years ago, I could not wait to turn eighteen, graduate and leave the childhood home I grew up in on Sycamore Creek Drive. I wanted a fresh start and I never wanted to look back. I had many happy memories in that place but my inability to deal with my grief as an adolescent left a lot of those happy memories in the dark shadows of the ever looming grief I kept beneath what I believed to be was a tough-girl exterior.
And for a few years after high school ended I was able to make a fresh start for myself in a new place. I moved my life to Kentucky, attended school, started my first job, met my husband and got married.
However, I still held my grief beneath a tough-girl exterior. I was able to numb myself with positive things during my years in college and the early years of marriage. Things like an over-achieving course load, good grades, and countless activities and all around busyness which was a step up from the numbing drugs I had chosen during my days in high school; troublemaking, chasing boys, skipping school, drinking and a severe addiction to mixed cassette tapes- the fast-forwarding, flipping over to the other side, the rewinding- all to orchestrate the perfect anthem for car dancing from the from seat of my purple Dodge Neon.
Either way I look at how I tried to bury emotion and grief, whether it was the accolades or the vices of addition, I found myself severely attracted to things and tasks and extremely disconnected from people. When I acknowledge where I am tender I can see that I have completely lacked deep emotional intimacy with others.
Relationships are such a tricky, tender place for me and as I follow up on my last post, Changing from the Inside Out this past year I discovered this one sentence in a beautiful book on vulnerability,
“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
When I was a child, I remember singing an old Girl Scout song with my mom while I wore the prestigious brown brownie vest laden with colorful patches, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
And over time as my arms outgrew that brownie vest and my mother passed away from breast cancer when I was a freshman in high school it became extremely difficult to listen to happy songs or think about how precious people are because I had lost something so dear and so precious. My heart hardened in my grief and this childhood song along with many others became distant whispers. These are the happy moments I lost in the shadows of that looming grief. And this is the place where relationships became a tender place for me.
I had friends. The Lord has blessed me with so many amazing people in my life. So many more than I deserve. But in burying grief, ignoring it and not wrestling through it I completely lost the ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.
Years later, as an adult I was introduced to the God of the Bible. The verses from scripture seemed to go from words in an old dusty book on a shelf to God’s words to me, His redemption story of the world and how my life was a tiny thread in all of it.
Even though I had heard stories from the Bible before and sat in mass almost every Saturday night I had never read the Word of God for myself; but once I read them, it was like the piece I had been searching for underneath the empty accolades and addicting vices was finally sitting right in my lap. I had ears to hear God and a heart prepared to receive His perfect peace.
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9
One of the very first verses that brought me so much joy and freedom was from 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, The old has gone, the new is here!
In Christ, I believed I could start over completely. This is what I had wanted for so long. To separate the old from the new. To just be new. To start a new book for myself entirely. I wanted to forget the dark shadowy places, completely. I misinterpreted this to mean I could completely let go of the person who I was before I had those ears to hear.
The young girl listening to Girl Scout songs, the sad motherless girl, the troublemaking-disconnected teenager and the over-achieving sorority girl. I was given a new life and the freedom to start new.
My first few years as a new Christian I experienced a major identity crisis. When starting my new story, I had no idea who I actually was anymore.
And then. After so many years of running away, God called me back to a place not too far from my home on Sycamore Creek Drive. Just sixteen-point-three miles away to be exact.
And after eight years of living sixteen-point-three miles away and thirteen years of reading that verse from 2 Corinthians, I have discovered that God wasn’t leading me to start a new book but simply a new chapter. That my whole life, my entire story is bound together in the same book. I can’t just forget about who I was or dismiss it completely. God was writing a story for me from the beginning and my story is incomplete if I leave out the moments I left in the shadows on Sycamore Creek Drive. The highest peaks and the lowliest shadowy places are all apart of God’s work in my life.
This past year, as I looked my grief in the face and decided I would not be defined by it I was lead to a rediscovery of relationships with the people who I left back in those early chapters. The people and the relationships I have worked at restoring have been like neat little bridges to the stories of my past.
Some of those bridges which I believed to be the strongest have collapsed for reasons in which I can’t explain or understand. But many of them, even with all my running away, even in the dark shadows, by God’s grace those bridges remained sturdy and strong enough to step on, to walk on. Those bridges left in the shadows have had a foundation that was strong enough to walk towards someone else on the other side of it.
It has been terrifying to walk on those bridges. But it’s been a journey back to who I really am.
Some of the bridges have collapsed completely while I was standing right in the middle of them.
Some of them have needed desperate repair.
Some of them were shaky but the person on the other side met me so much more than halfway across and walked alongside me all the way back.
Because it sucks to face the dark places of your life. It is scary to face the ugly parts of yourself. But it is good to have others help you gather up the happy places and uncover them from the shadows.
And as I have been walking on those bridges back to who I used to be I have been thinking about that song. The one about old friends, new friends, the silver and the gold.
New friends are silver. They are precious but more easily tarnished simply because of the newness of the relationship. But the ones who make it through without tarnishing are precious.
Both relationships, old and new are valuable.
But the old relationships. Those relationships are gold. Like gold, the old relationships, the ones where the bridges have surprisingly stayed intact in the shadows, those relationships are gold. They are solid.
The laughs are still the same. You can tell your horrible jokes safely because your sense of humor is known and (mostly) unoffensive.
Those old relationships like gold have been portable, I’ve been able to carry them with me, they have made me who I am.They cannot be counterfeited, they do not perish and those old relationships are much more rare.
I have been surprised that I could come back to where I came from after so many years of running away from it. But in walking those bridges I have found precious, rare treasures.
And as I walk these bridges to my earlier chapters I am discovering that the gospel frees me to be vulnerable and emotionally intimate with others. That God is making me new by peeling back my layers of grief and He doesn’t want me to forget the old chapters but to see them with a new lens.
And I have not completely arrived in the area of emotional intimacy with others. I am still very much scratching the surface.
“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
C.S Lewis, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
But in Christ, God is making me new. He is calling me to uncover the shadows and walk bravely in His love. That the God of the universe knows the early chapters completely and in His redemption of me I am fully known and deeply loved.
The more I discover the people who knew my dark-shadowed times will still laugh with me and rejoice with me and the more I walk in the truth that you can be fully known and deeply loved- these things free me to grow confident in my emotional intimacy with others. A cure is beginning.
Even though I out grew that Brownie Vest, the song is still true. It necessary to make new friends but just as necessary to keep the old. Both are the bridges to all of our chapters in all of our stories. One is silver and the other is gold.