Tag-Archive for » loss «

Wednesday, October 07th, 2015 | Author:
photo credit: Daydream via photopin (license)

photo credit: Daydream via photopin (license)

The dress is white, sleeveless, summery. The fabric is decorated with large, orangish flowers — daisies maybe — flowers painted in a way to give the dress more a sense of womanhood than girlhood.  It falls just below my knees, or at least it did the last time I wore it. I was 14, and I wore it to my sister’s funeral.

It was one of my favorite dresses in a time when 1) I hated dresses still and 2) I was expected to wear dresses still to church every sunday. This one felt like me, where all other dresses failed to. It was beautiful but not too cliche “girly.” I was a hardcore tomboy at the time, and struggling to find ways to express my femininity in my style. This simple, beautiful dress had colors that were bold, but not pink, had a short length (for the time), but was still allowed in my conservative household, and was lightweight, feeling like summer.

When I was preparing for the funeral, I couldn’t figure out what to wear. The only black dress I owned was a little more formal, more of a “Little Black Dress,” and I’d only worn it to ceremonies and celebrations like my 8th grade graduation. That felt all wrong.

I could wear pants, my mom said. It didn’t have to be a dress. That felt wrong, too, though.

So I looked at my clothes and I saw the dress with bright flowers that felt like me, and I thought, I wonder if this is OK. It was bright like me. It was fiery like Julie. And I was comfortable in it during a week that I desperately needed comfort. My mom said that would be fine.

I wore the dress as I stood at the pulpit on the lower stage of the church, looking out over a sea of black clothes and sad eyes and I read a poem I had written for her.

And I went home and took off the dress and replaced them with my tomboy clothes, which would shortly thereafter be replaced in life by clothes I’d inherited from my sister, which wouldn’t be replaced with my own clothes and my own struggling style for many years.

That day, the dress got put away in the closet, and stayed there. I have purged my life innumerable times by now. Every time I move, or every time I get sick of digging through my closet, I get rid of things. But I’ve always kept that dress. Because years later I still looked at it and saw something of me in it.

“I could still wear that again,” I told myself when I left for college and took the dress with all my other clothes down to San Diego. I’ve told myself that same thing with every move since then.

But yesterday, a donation truck was coming by our house here in Wichita and I was getting things ready for it the night before, and I saw the dress. The dress that I have never worn again. And I put it in the pile.

I think that dress was proof that I knew who I was then. I knew myself at 14. And I lost myself in the tumultuousness of grief and life change and influential people and more grief and more life change and through all of that I’ve been trying to emerge as someone who knows myself and lets others get to know me.

And while it’s taken 12 years, I think I’m there. Not in an “arrived” sense. But even in the little things. Like the fact that I often will post something on pinterest and one of my friends will see it, not realizing I’m the one who posted it, and send it back to me. It shows how well they know me.

Having been sure I’d found myself again, I was able to let go of the dress that had served as a lamp post, a guiding light all these years.

“I’ll never wear it again,” I finally admitted to myself, “it’s the funeral dress. Let’s be real.”

But that wasn’t the point all these years — the point was I was trying to find the girl who’d worn it the last time. The girl who, in a sea of black, wore white and orange. The girl who wrote about grief, and shared it. The girl who was herself in the face of the storm.

I found her. It’s taken over a decade, but she’s back. I’m back. I’m back.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 | Author:

It’s a weekend afternoon and I’m sitting out in the front yard, looking at my slack line slung between two trees while I write this.

I was just on it a moment ago. And again several moments before that. And again several moments before that. That’s how slack lining goes for me. I do several attempts to cross its length: Sometimes I make it, sometimes I fall after a step or four or ten. After several rounds of this my balance starts to suffer as my muscles and focus fatigue, so I go sit down and take a short break, and then I go back to it, and so on.

That’s the thing that slack lining has taught me. I put it on my birthday goals list this year to try slack lining before I turned 26. In between writing it down as “try slack lining” and getting the opportunity to try it at my neighbor’s in Denver several months later, I misremembered my goal as “learn how to slack line.”

Before I had ever tried the activity, I thought of those as being pretty much the same goal. Then I thought, like many things, it may just come easily and naturally to me. When I was young we didn’t have much money and I had friends who did gymnastics. I always wanted to do it, too, but we couldn’t afford it. So my dad made a “balance beam” for us kids to do our own gymnastics on. It was a 1×4 board nailed to a base. I learned how to balance really well by the time I ever got to visit the gymnastics gym for a birthday party and walk across their real balance beam. Turns out if you learn to balance on a 1” wide board, you can balance on the 5” balance beam without problems.

But fast forward 20 years and I stepped onto the 1” wide slack line and everything on my body, and the line itself began to shake uncontrollably. I fell off as soon as I let go before I could even take one step. But in my mis-remembrance of my goal, I committed to learning how to do this.

The biggest lesson was learning how to fall. The only time I got slightly injured while slack lining was near the beginning of my learning time, and it was because when I started to fall, I tried to prevent the fall by taking another step. My second foot caught on the wobbling line and I fell body first to the ground, no feet free to land with. I hit hard hurting my tail bone and my hip.

To fall well while slacklining, you have to be aware of yourself. Aware of your balance. Aware of your core muscles and your hands lifted high for balance. You have to be able to assess if you could try to salvage your balance or, if it’s time, to just give in to the fall.

Now that I’ve been doing it for a few months, I’m still not good at slack lining, but I’m great at falling. Each fall is an act of acceptance. Falling is part of it. I step into it now, feeling the fall starting, I just step down into a walking landing. I use my momentum of those exiting steps to direct me back to the end of the line, so that I can hop up and start trying again.

When I first started trying to learn, I would thud down heavy with each fall. Sometimes it would hurt my feet. Sometimes I’d try to stay on the line longer while I fell, not ready to accept defeat for that try. It is with the acceptance of loss, the acceptance of failure that I’ve begun to make headway and begun to spend more time on the line than off of it.

It’s a dance. On the line, falling, salvage it, falling again, I accept it, I take the step off while walking to the beginning and then I’m up, at it again.

It’s become clear to me that success at this activity, and in life, has less to do with how often you fail and fall, and more to do with whether you fall well and continue to head right back to try again.

I’m 25, and after knowing the gut-wrenching ache of loss of the big things in life, I’ve begun to notice that when littler things go wrong, I hold everything very loosely. As my muscles get stronger and I get more focus, I can sometimes salvage the fall, I can sometimes correct in time to stay on the line, I can also see when it’s worth it to just give in to the fall and use the momentum to keep moving forward to try again.

I thought I was learning the art of slack lining, but I’ve learned that failing and falling and persistence are the art.

Success and slack lining are what come as a result of doing the other three well.


 

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 | Author:

I wrote this poem almost exactly two years ago about some of the people in my hometown. I have moved away now, but they are still people whose faces light up when they see me in town, who hug me and ask how things are and are willing to hear the honest answers. They have taught me more about grace outside of the church than anything within the church walls ever could. Seeing some of them recently reminded me of this poem from two years back, and about how true it still is.  They are the reason that I still love my hometown — these people feel like home even though the town doesn’t.

 

Pieces – An Ode To My Hometown (May 31, 2013)

We’ve worked for years to make a life together.

We’ve celebrated births and birthdays

promotions and graduations

holidays and everydays.

We’ve grieved the loss of

daughters sisters cousins,

brothers sons lovers,

the old and the young we did not want to let go.

 

We’ve sat in hospitals, backyards, couches,

church chairs and on the carpets at the altars,

in campgrounds and at lunch tables.

 

A blended family

merged by pain and memory,

by the act of rejoicing and grieving together.

A mosaic of broken pottery,

together it felt like home.

 

Then it broke again,

bitterness shot through wounded friends,

our hard-work mosaic burst like clay pigeons.

My shotgun blast of truth

was all it took

to ruin the life we knew.

 

And grace happened.

When one by one,

people picked up the shards,

swept up the dust,

and deliberately decided to put their pieces back in the pot.

They were some people, not a lot.

Their actions and their words

could not be unread:

“Life is broken, but no one’s dead.

Here are my pieces,

I’m willing to build again.

I’ll put in the work to

bring you back to life again.

Let’s make another mosaic

different than the last time.

I don’t know whose pieces you’ll have

but you’ll have mine.”

 

And they came back to the table

where brokenness is made whole.

Where shattered lives are mixed

where selfless love is bold.

A family was re-cooped,

where hard life is what we do,

where my life can be rebuilt

where I can be made new.

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 | Author:

There’s this thing about me (that everyone says, but I don’t believe everyone means it, or knows how to do it): I absolutely love to laugh.I love funny movies. I love funny books. And over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered the joys of stand up comedy. (Did you know you can listen to comedy on Pandora? No? You can thank me for changing your life later. Note: If you like “cleaner” comedy, I’d suggest creating both a “Brian Regan” station and a “Jim Gaffigan” station on there.)

I didn’t know about the whole pandora trick until I was in a very sad, lonely, and broken season of life. And something odd started to happen. As I listened to more comedy, I became funnier. Which was hard for me to see, because it was clear that it was the most broken, least joyful I’d ever been, but I could make people laugh. Soon though, the things I’d say that actually made me laugh, they were about my pain. About the ways my life had gotten derailed. About the crap that most people would say is too serious to laugh about.

And I realized something. As I laughed about it, it lifted the pain a little. As I laughed about it, it took some of the power away. I wrote about this a bit last week about laughing at the real memory of my older sister after she passed away — not the fake, funeral-story version of her. The real her was kind of ridiculous sometimes, and we would laugh at those things in life, why not in death? Because death is too serious.  So when we started to laugh at her memory again, it took some of death’s power away.

Here’s a confession, but don’t stone me before you listen: I love Hitler jokes.  This also came out of this sad and dark season of my life. It started with one Hitler meme I saw on Pinterest that I will include for your enjoyment.

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(Not enjoyable yet? read on.)

I saw this meme around Valentines day, and I laughed and laughed and laughed so hard. To think of Hitler as this twitter pated 6th grade boy was hysterical to me.

And then I realized something — it also takes away the power that his memory holds. The atrocities done at his command. The manipulation. The reign of terror. The blood of millions. The man that did gut-wrenching things that he fought so hard to accomplish and we fought so hard to stop — he becomes a joke. He becomes a human again who we can laugh at. I saw my laughter taking him off of his pedestal of cruelty and inhumanity, and placing him on a ground where he can be laughed at because he looks like a twitter pated 11-year old in this photo. (And now you can judge me. I understand, Hitler jokes are not up everyone’s alley.)

And I resolved to work to get to a place in my life where I could laugh at pain. Not at first, you need to feel it. Pain deserves and demands to be felt. There are real things that must happen because of pain.

But I think it’s a sign of healing, or in some cases, like with Hitler, a forceful display saying “I’m not going to let you have more power over me than you have to.”

That’s what I was saying to death when I started to find the freedom to laugh at the memory of my sister — about that time we snorted pepper to see if it would make us sneeze, and it made out nostrils burn with the fire of a dragon’s breath. Or the way she totally took advantage of my brother and I — borrowing money from our savings accounts to buy her first car, and then saying she’d drive us to go get ice cream if we paid for hers.

That’s what I was saying to the shame of my story when I started to make jokes like “Oh, you you don’t want to talk to awkwardly to that person you kind of know in the grocery store? Just be involved in a scandal. People will avoid you. Problem solved.”  Or laughing with a friend when recounting a first date where a guy was saying his mountain bike got stolen and it was “the worst year ever” and my friend says, “Did you say, wanna bet? Let’s compare.”

That’s what I was saying to the threat of cancer when I found a lump in my breast last year and the on-call doctor with no bedside manner said to me, “Well, you’re young, so it’s probably not cancer. But it might me. Come back in two weeks.” and I said to my friend, “This better not be cancer, because these little things aren’t worth that.”

Last night as I was searching for something to watch on Netflix, I saw that comedian Kevin Hart has a really interesting video on Netflix that I’d never watched before, called “Laugh at my Pain.” I’ve heard most of the bits in that particular stand-up routine online before, but I’d never watched the video.

What caught me off guard, was that the whole first 20 minutes or so is a documentary style piece where Kevin Hart goes back to where he grew up in Philly, and he tells some of his story. In it, his old managers also talk about how he came into stand up comedy, and one of them recalled sitting down with Kevin and being like, “You’re funny. You’re a funny dude. But are you you when you’re up there? Do you leave people know you, or anything about you?”

It was with that admonishment that Kevin started to incorporate some of his real-life, real-story things into his stand up act. His manager remembers that as being where he turned the corner, where he started to really shine. So in the documentary part Kevin tells the viewer about how his mom kicked his dad out when he was four because of his addictions. And he points on the step on the stoop where she made a rule that his dad was never allowed to come past. He tells the real story, he shares the real pain.

And then, the second half of the film (which is explicit, so don’t watch that part if you’re not into explicit comedy), his whole standup routine is about those same things. It’s about what earlier was the painful remembering. And he is able to laugh at it, and invite the audience to laugh at it too. I had heard all the jokes before — but thinking about it in those terms, coming from just watching him tell the real stories, I have never enjoyed his comedy more.

As I said last week, I will teach my children this thought, and tell them to use it on bullies (never the innocent. If they’re the bully, they will be taught a FIRM lesson). But if they’re being bullied, I’ll teach them to laugh at the bully. They may get beat up, but certainly, there is no bully on earth who can stand being laughed at, because they know — it takes their power away.

The bullies in life like death, abuse, illness, divorce, disaster — they do beat us up. But there is some joy in being able to laugh at it. Whether it’s while we’re the kid crumpled in the corner of the school hallway bleeding when we laugh to our friends who rush to our side: “I fall really gracefully, right?” Or whether it’s later on, as we’re healing, when we recount how we swear his fist kind of smelled like Chanel #5 before we blacked out. It might not take the pain away, but it takes the fear and power away.

And there is some humor, because we all have been bullied by something or another. We all have pain. And while it’s important not to minimize pain. It’s also important to not let it rule our lives.


 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, March 03rd, 2015 | Author:

Eleven years. It’s been 11 years since she died. My older sister. Julie.

Two years ago on my birthday, I wrote a column about celebrating even when it’s hard, and I talked about when my sister died, and the birthdays that followed. In the piece, there was this line: “When my older sister passed away, the timing was really terrible.”

We were at dinner — my older brother, my parents, and me — when I read them my column for that month. When I read that line, they all laughed. I laughed a little when I wrote it. Because it’s true, it was horrible timing when she died. As if death ever comes at a good time, but hers was particularly bad timing.

She died 3 days after her 21st birthday. Two months before graduating college. Three months before her one year wedding anniversary (they’d just purchased a cruise for the occasion). And in the first month following her death we had to celebrate my dad’s birthday, her husband’s birthday, my brother’s birthday, and Easter.

But I was glad that my family laughed at the line. Because that’s what I have begun to see as a sign of healing — being able to call things what they are. Being able to say that the timing was horrible and laugh at how irreverent it sounds and how true it is.

It took us several years as a family to know what to do with our “Julie week” of her birthday and anniversary of death. It was hard to talk about her for a long time. We each processed at different paces, and while some of us wanted to remember, it was too hard for the others. And visa versa other times.

Eventually, though, we ended up creating a sort of tradition when we were all living near one another (I’m the one that lives elsewhere some years, like this year). We get together and go out to dinner at the Olive Garden (her favorite — but give her a break, she was a 21-year-old broke college student/piano teacher. The Olive Garden was a splurge to her) and we tell stories to remember her. Not the stories that were told at the funeral. Those were too nice. Too kosher. For a long time, that’s all we or anyone would do — tell the funeral-appropriate stories. The ones where she seems so much more lovely, and so much less like the girl we grew up with and loved indefinitely not even despite, but with her flaws.

It took several years to find the freedom to remember her more accurately. To laugh at her precociousness, her sometimes judgmental nature, her infuriating stubbornness. To admit that amidst her mounds of talent, she was deeply insecure. To remember her harsh exterior that came out quite a bit, not just the softness that existed underneath, too. To remember the way her long red hairs got EVERYWHERE.  It was literally over a year before I stopped finding her hairs woven into the fabric of my clothes from the laundry.

Again, I think it’s a sign of healing, of acceptance, to be able to laugh. I have this theory that I will teach my children if they are ever bullied — laughing at something takes it’s power away.

And I think for our family, when we were able to finally laugh again at the memories of our sister, it was a sign that we were taking power away from grief. We had to let it run its course. That’s not optional. But finally, we found our way to a place where we could remember what was true.

And with that allowance, it is a double edged sword, because remembering the real Julie, means acknowledging the realness that we loved that we don’t have anymore. It means acknowledging the loss, not of some idealized saint, but of our very real sister who we very real-ly loved.

I think we learned this from my mom. We grew up hearing what I would name the “rascal boys stories” — stories of her and her two brothers while they were growing up. But in the stories, there were two brothers, and in life when we were hearing the stories, there was only one brother. We were missing an uncle. He died before I was born. I only know him from the stories.

But the Uncle Randy I know was deeply troubled and deeply loved. He was a lovable little boy. But he had a lot of problems socially and relationally. He got into trouble. He lived a rough life. But in the stories, I could hear him laughing. I could hear him crying. I could see him be tricked by his brother. And blamed for something his sister did. And I could see him yelling. I could see him getting arrested. I could see him dancing at his wedding. I could see him hitchhiking across the country to his new home in New York. And I could sense how much my mom and her family loved this very real, imperfect man.

I’ve never met him, but because of the stories, I know him a little bit. A non-idealized, real version of him. And because of that, he’s never felt like a story character — he’s felt like family. Real-life, living and breathing, blood and guts family.

That’s my hope as we move onward in this life and we carry the loss with us. That we will continue to choose to tell the stories of real-life Julie. That we will remember her as she was, and laugh at what needs to be laughed at and feel for the things that need to be felt. That we will love her in death the way we loved her in life. Real-ly. Because she was real, and our love for her still is. It is good to remember.

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Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers this week as her birthday is this Wednesday and the anniversary of her death is Saturday. 


 Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon     www.storiesbyJo.com

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below
Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 | Author:

Story continued from last week’s Part 1 post. (read here) 

Some names and identifying circumstances may have been changed for the sake of those involved. (If you don’t read it all, scroll to bottom for the most impactful photo project I’ve ever been a part of.)

Three: Uncovering more debt

In the middle of the week, we had this morning where we worked with a horse for equine therapy. (For the record, I felt like it was B.S. I still do.) You go into a corral with a horse, and based on how you interact with the horse, your group – it’s group therapy – and a couple of therapists kind of pry and make suggestions about “oh, do you ever respond to your wife/husband/father/etc the way you just did to the horse?” I didn’t want to do it because it felt fake, like a fortune teller.  Before I stepped into the ring, I knew they were going to conclude that the horse was John. I was extremely closed off and defensive before I even began.

At the end of my time in the ring, I was facing the horse, petting him with one hand and had my other hand on him as a “boundary hand” as the trainer had shown those who’d gone before me.  You’re supposed to use it when the horse starts to lean into your space — you push him back to show him that this is your space.

So I was petting him, and quickly he started to step toward me. I pushed back with my boundary hand, but before I knew it, someone had grabbed me and yanked me backward. I looked at the trainer and yelled “what the heck!?”

“You were about to be trampled because you wouldn’t let go!” She said in a harsh, scared way. I could tell she was shaken.

But I was pissed because I hadn’t been trying to pet him, I was trying to use my boundary hand to push him back. And I told her so. She was still flustered, and I was defensive and emotionally absent, so she had me be done. I went to the edge of the ring, and there my therapist and group members were waiting, watching.

“Would you be willing to hear some observations your group has?” My therapist, Jim, asked. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say because I already knew it would be B.S. stuff about John… but I said “sure.” So I listened, and that’s exactly what it was. The only response I could feign was: “Thanks. So am I done now?”

Jim said, “Sure,” and as I was turning to leave the ring, he just said, “You sure looked small there standing next to that horse.”

And without missing a beat I said, defensively, “I don’t feel small!” and I threw up my hands in a kind of “bring it’ way like I was going to fight him.

And I’ll never forget this. He said, “Wow, maybe that’s the problem. Let me rephrase. You sure are small next to that horse.”

And then the tears came as the full weight of that realization settled onto me.

It was later that afternoon that I recalled the first time John had later told me he’d first thought, “I’d like to kiss Jo.” I was 16 and we were on a mission trip. I’d remembered this admission a couple months before. But it was in group room 4 in a small town in Tennessee that I realized that the night he thought “I’d like to kiss Jo” was the day before he changed the dynamic of our relationship forever. We’d been talking about love languages, and he’d said he thought mine was touch.

“Yeah, I could see that, but it’s never come out as my top one on the test,” I said. He was convinced it was touch — “that’s what we’re doing the rest of the week!” He said proudly in front of my friends, “guys, we’re gonna help Jo embrace her touch love language.”

I distinctly remember sitting in the middle seat of a front bench seat in the truck, with John on my left driving, and one of my younger guy friends to my right. John grabbed my hand, laced his fingers through mine and instructed my friend to do the same with my right hand. I squirmed incredibly uncomfortable, but everyone in the truck was laughing like it was a funny joke, so I laughed, too. “I’m not going to let go until you like it,” John said. While my friend let go of my hand as soon as we got out of the car, John continued to hold mine tightly as we went into Starbucks, as we drove to the next stop, as we went into a store. And that was it. The beginning of it all. He didn’t stop until I liked it. One night he thought, “I’d like to kiss Jo,” and the next day he changed the entire dynamic of our relationship.

When I realized this, I was livid. It was the first time I could see how clear the answer was to the question I had asked myself over and over through the years “How did this happen? How did I get here?” The multiple therapists from multiple places were right in what they’d told me all along. I could finally see it. I was groomed.

For some reason, I have never realized that I am small. I was 16 when this started with John. And I look at other 16 year old girls now, and I think, there’s no way I would hold them responsible for this. I look at other 23 year old girls and think the same.

But I’ve always carried myself like I was big and strong. I’m sorry to myself, to his family, to everyone that’s been hurt in this that I didn’t recognize my weakness and vulnerability.

As a result, I played the part I did in allowing for this to continue for as long as it did.  I am endlessly sorry for that.

I never thought to run away or yell for help. I thought I was big enough to use my boundary hand and push back.

I was not.

_____________

To admit that I had been taken advantage of, that I was a victim, it deflated me. It made me so angry, and so full of grief to accept this reality. But it wasn’t until I could do that that I began to make significant steps forward in my healing journey, and also in my forgiveness journey.

I went into Onsite feeling like my life had shattered and that I’d lost all of the broken pieces so I had nothing to rebuild with. I came out of Onsite feeling like I had found enough shards to start rebuilding something new.

But first, I had to get angry. Really angry. And distrusting. As I was healing and moving forward in many ways, I was also uncovering more and more of the ways that John had hurt me, duped me, manipulated me over the years, and the more I demonized him. This commenced months of nightmares with him as the star villain.

Come the fall of that year, people started to ask me if I had forgiven him. “No,” I’d always reply bluntly. I was not willing to be challenged on the matter. I’d forgive the mother-fucker on my time frame. Not theirs. And I refused to play the “Ok, I forgive him, Oh wait I’m so hurt and mad again, ok I forgive him again” dance for ages. I would be firm in my un-forgiveness until I was certain that it had arrived, that I had summited that large mountain I’d decided to climb.

Then came the “You need to forgive him,” comments once in a while, “if not for him, than for yourself,” which I respected, but still disagreed with. “I’m not ready,” remained my answer.

I’d talked with God a lot over the course of the year, especially as I was alone much of the year. God and I, we have really honest conversations. I talk to Him like I talk to anyone. And I’d asked Him to be gentle with me, to help me, but that ultimately, I knew I’d need to forgive John at some point, but that I just wasn’t ready.

But one day in October (10 months after confession sunday), I was out running and I had thought about seeing if one of my friends wanted to hang out when I came into town the next afternoon, which led to me thinking, “Wait, maybe she’s busy because of helping with the youth group.”

Which led to, “Wait, does she even help with the youth group any more?”

Which was a thought that hit me like an arrow to the chest. I used to be the pastor of that middle school youth group and I didn’t even know if one of my old best friends helped there any more. I sat down right on the paved path and hung my head. “This is so hard, God,” I breathed heavily.

And then it hit me out of nowhere: “I bet John doesn’t know what’s going on in the youth group either.” And that thought broke my heart for him. I’d been demonizing him and hating him for months, and out of nowhere I had this pang of sadness for him and his probable disconnectedness from the youth group he’d pastored for a decade. After a moment, I realized that I was sad for him, and I brushed the thought away, and looked up to the sky, and thought, “God. Stop it. Step back. I’m not ready for this.”

But it was too late, with that one surprise moment, I felt my heart start to soften for him as a human again.

And then, two days before Christmas, he wrote me a letter that absolutely ruined me. It opened up new chasms of grief that I didn’t even know were there. For a man who had only ever written me one Christmas card, and one sticky note in the 12 years of knowing him, I received an 8-page typed letter.

And it said everything that I had written in my version of the letter I’d written through tears at Onsite — the letter I had accepted that I’d never receive.

To be completely honest, when I first read through it it both pained me and outraged me. I won’t share all the details of why, or what all it entailed. But I was bitter and ready to spew my pain back at him.

I sat down on Christmas eve for a couple hours with the intention of trying to just get down my scattered thoughts onto a page to organize later into a letter. But what emerged was a long, unrelenting letter. Along with apologizing and asking for forgiveness for all of the things, he had extended an offer to give a window into my life those days. I was not going to spare him the details, because my life was still very dark, very lonely, very muddled by the fuckedupness, even a year after confession sunday.

“I’m hesitant to write to you for many reasons. 1. I don’t forgive you…” I began.

And I went off on him in bitterness at first. But what ended up coming out of me was sharing what I’ve shared here: what happened at Onsite. How I first found myself mad at him, hating him. How I first realized and admitted that I’d been taken advantage of. And what I’d learned about forgiveness, and the way we’re prone to want to do it too quickly, without adding up the debt we’re canceling.

And in the process of writing all of that out, I found my heart softening in mounds toward a man I had once considered family. Once I had gotten to the end, I let it sit for a few more days.

Then Sunday, January 5, 2014 after church one day short of the exact one year mark from confession Sunday, I sat at a Starbucks in Rocklin, California, and I added an addendum to the letter:

And true forgiveness has to involve adding up the debt so that we can know what we’re agreeing to cancel.

This past year I’ve been becoming more and more aware of the debt of pain you’ve cost me.  And as new parts have been uncovered, I’ve added it to the ledger. I have been consistently forgiving you for new parts, but discovering others.

With this letter, though, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of the debt out onto the ledger.  And I’ve found forgiveness for you for the things I’ve listed here.  I don’t trust you. And forgiveness doesn’t erase the pain or the cost in my life. But it means I’m releasing the fact that you owe me anything for them.

I am hesitant to say I forgive you, because I am certain I will continue to discover new parts of your debt.  As I am in relationships with men and sorting through my dysfunctions and insecurities. In my marriage as I struggle with trust. In the church if I ever get to return to ministry.  I’m sure I will continue to stumble upon undiscovered corners of pain for years to come.

And knowing this is the case, this was the reason I planned to write to you telling you that I forgive you for the things so far, and I’ll continue to work on forgiving you as I know more in the future.

But as I sat there writing it, I just had a wave wash over me, a wave of visions of years from now, all the times I’ll stumble on new parts of the debt, and I realized I didn’t want to think of him in those times. I didn’t want him to owe me for those times. I was ready to move on and accept whatever pain I find later without any ties to him. And just like that, while the barista was walking by with the dust pan to go clean the bathroom, I let go. I forgave him for it all. Because that’s how forgiveness happens in my experience — in the un-monumental moments in the midst of real life. The decision may happen at an altar in a church service, or in front of the perpetrator. But the realization that forgiveness has come — that, wow, I’m finally at the top of this large mountain I’ve been climbing — it comes when it comes, it comes when its ready.

I forgive you for any future pain and discomfort or closed doors or lost relationships. I release you.

And for the first time, I think I know exactly the weight of those words, and I know that I mean them.

___

As I was telling a friend about the letter, and about the way I’d found myself unexpectedly forgiving John before I thought I’d be ready, I heard myself say this: “I’d been hating him for a long time, but I felt God start to soften me before I wanted him to. It’s been a year, and I’ve come full circle. Which is weird, because I thought I was just moving forward.”

I think forgiveness, like grief, is a path, a journey with many stages, and we have to walk them all, even if where we end up — at forgiveness — is where we tried to start. We have to walk through it all. We have to not simply decide to climb the mountain, we have to climb the whole damn thing.

*I asked a photographer friend of mine to take photos of me last year while I read parts of my letter to John aloud. Since I couldn’t deliver the letter in person, I wanted something to help me remember what it was like to be in that space – something other than a letter in the mail to capture the moments I found myself at the sad mountain summit where I both forgave and said goodbye.

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Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 | Author:

If I’m honest — which I am — homesickness is the cause of my current wandering-life phase. I’ve been saying that I’m searching for a place that feels like home. I didn’t know of any that still existed for me until one night not too long ago.

I was staying with my parents in my hometown one night, but I was coming in from an appointment in the next town over. I had a lot on my mind and I was just driving on autopilot. When I had arrived and parked my car, I went to reach for the handle to get out when I realized where I was — I was at my old apartment.

An apartment I haven’t lived in now for a year and a half. I have lived 4 places in 4 cities since I left that apartment.

It was the apartment I moved into when I had graduated college and moved back to my hometown. It was the apartment where I first paid for my utilities, where I first learned where I got the best reception with my TV antennae, where I first furnished and decorated a home from top to bottom on my own.

It’s the apartment where I first lived alone. Where I first made all my meals for myself – no dining hall, no cafeteria, just me and my printed out recipes.

It’s an apartment down the street from the jail, with sketchy neighbors who are on parole, and some parolees whom I had gotten to know and become friends with. It’s an apartment with security screens on every door, with the cops coming by several times a week for some call or another.

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It’s an apartment with blue walls in one room because I painted them that way. With extra shelves in the closets because I built them myself. With a doorknob that I bought on the front door because I locked myself out and had to have the locksmith come and drill the lock through and replace it. With a small exposed nail on the front of the kitchen sink where the tiling had broken off before I moved in. I used that nail as peg to hang my pot holders from.

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It’s an apartment with a view of Table Mountain and the Oroville O, with a view of the trains that chug by in the distance. It’s both walking distance to the Oroville forebay where I learned to sail as I was moving in, and to the Feather River, where the stone picnic tables served as my desk as I journaled through some of the hardest thoughts of my life.

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It’s 1.3 miles from the Youth Center I helped open, and 4.4 miles from the church I used to work at and belong to. It takes 7 minutes to drive to my parents house from this apartment. Always. It is a 2 minute drive (including the time to walk down the stairs and to the car) to the nearest Red Box at 7/11, allowing me to watch a rented movie until 8:58 before I had to pull it out and leave to return it before I got charged again.

It’s the apartment where I first defined home as being anything aside from my parents house. The town was always my home, but in terms of within Oroville, it was the first place of my own that I meant when I said “I’m going home now.” The dorm rooms of college had just never felt that way to me, and I’d been intentional about my vocabulary — I don’t know if my college roommates ever noticed, but I never referred to those dorm rooms and college apartments as home. “I’m going back to the room,” I’d say, or “Are you at the apartment?” Never, never, “I’ll see you at home.” Because home was somewhere in a podunk town in Northern California. Period.

And this apartment, this afforded me the chance to both be an independent adult with a home of their own, and to still call my hometown home.

But then life changed. Old normal in that Oroville life feels like a long lost memory. I’ve sold most of my possessions that filled that old apartment.  I’ve had different jobs since then. I’ve moved to different cities. I go to other churches. I rent movies from different Red Boxes and I have different people sitting in my apartment during movies and game nights.

 

But in the midst of getting lost in my thoughts as I drove, my internal compass took over and led me here. It led me home. Only it wasn’t my home anymore.

And while I have felt homesick for a couple years as my life changed so drastically, this moment as I sit in the parking lot in my old usual spot looking up at really the only last remnant of my old life, I feel sad. I feel more homesick than before. Because there it is, my home, in the most literal sense of the word. The place where I lived and slept and cooked and bathed and let me body and mind and heart rest and take shelter from the world.

And I hadn’t realized that my heart, that my internal compass still believed that, still missed that. But here I am, and it’s not my home anymore. It’s someone else’s.

I take a few moments to just look up at the front door before I turn the car on, back out, and drive away, tears rolling down my cheeks, grieving another loss — this time of a place I didn’t even know I missed.

Because the reality is that the places where we do life — where we share moments and let our hearts settle in with our bodies to a place we embrace as home — those places mean something. They’re just a place, but they’re the setting where our lives unfold.  And when the rest of life may change or be gone, you can still accidentally “drive home” and end up in those old places. It’s like visiting the grave on a chapter of life once it’s passed. But sometimes it’s good to have those monuments.

Maybe that’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world — that the land itself keeps on existing — despite our times, despite our pains and gains — it continues on, one of the only constants available to us.

Grief for people is of course the most powerful, the most full of agony and meaning. But grief for places — places we lose, places we leave, places we see change — that is still grief in it’s own right. It’s taken me a lot of life to realize how true that is.

As I’ve been back in Oroville this month for the holidays, it has been hard, and feels foreign in a lot of ways, but it’s also been healing to drive the streets that I know well enough that I know every curve, every pot hole and patch where it floods. To be in the place where I know which post office to go to for what things. The place where I know someone everywhere I go. The place where I walk into a hamburger joint I’ve been going to since I was born and they ask “Where have you been? We haven’t seen you in a while!” and the Mexican restaurant where they know that I’m the one in the family that changes up my drink order every time while the rest stay the same.

It’s a place that I love. While the sense of home is gone, the memory of it in this place is not.

 

I’m beginning to understand that in the Christian tradition, the meaning of Christmas isn’t just about the fact that God so loved the people in the world that he sent his son, Jesus.

God so loved the world — the place too. He could love us from afar, but only in a physical place could he walk with us, cry with us, touch us, heal us. The fact that the birth of Jesus happened in a place – in a feeding trough, in a stable, at an inn, in Bethlehem. And that while time and the world have changed, the place remains. That is a holy thing. And it is a human thing. Because places are the stage where the intermingling of our hearts and bodies and lives and time all take place. And that means that places matter. To God and to us.

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And the story says that some day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and if that comes to be, I hope to walk with God down my old street by the jail, and to say, “that, that right there, that’s where my home was,” and I imagine he’d take my arm, and let me rest my head on his shoulder as he sadly, nostalgically says, “I know, Jo. I was there with you. I know.” And then like the other night, we’ll turn away and keep walking toward the hope of a new home someday — except that someday will have arrived.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling myths & cliches: Everything Happens for a Reason

“She’s not going to die,” she said to me, her eyes wide, her hands on both of my upper arms, desperation and edge in her voice.

“What are you going to say to me when she does?” I wondered silently.

My sister passed away the next day.

That was just the first of the misguided things people said to me in the wake of her death. But my absolute least favorite thing that anyone could ever say in the wake of death or disaster is this: Everything happens for a reason.

The reasons are that pain and sickness and sin and death exist in our world. Not because it was part of God’s plan. Not because God needed another angel. Not because this was something that me or my family had to go through for us to where we ended up. Not that our story needed this plot-twist.

When my older sister died, I was 14 and I was devastated, but I remember daring God on the day she died, thinking he wouldn’t be able to come through: “If you can, show me one good thing that comes from this.”

That was my deal, my plea to God. One good thing. I didn’t believe that even one good thing could come from such tragedy.

I realize now how naive I was, because God is big, and good, and the way the world works, redemption can come forth, and when you press into pain it changes you and reveals you in ways that would’ve taken years otherwise.

I don’t even know who I’d be today if my sister hadn’t died. I can see how much things changed because of her death, and I can see all kinds of growth and beauty that has come forth in my life as a result of walking through that valley of grief and loss.

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So why do I still want to give people nose bleeds when they say everything happens for a reason? Because it’s too easy. It’s too easy to minimize the devastation of tragedy if we choose to believe that it was somehow some part of a divine or cosmic plan. The puppet master at work again, killing off characters for character development of another player. No.

There is a very real aspect to tragedy that demands the admittance that this was never supposed to be this way. That is what our souls cry out, and that is what we silence when we do not let that truth breathe, but try to console ourselves with cheap consolation of the cliche’s “it’s Ok. It’s in God’s plan. It’s supposed to be this way for some unknown reason.”

No. I know a God who cries out the same thing. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE THIS

WAY. I know a God who weeps with me over the loss of life, over the breaking of hearts, over the destruction of what was good, over the abuse of the innocent.

And while my naive dare to God was really a “F— you, God” challenge, He was faithful. He has shown me how much good he can bring forth from the things that were never supposed to be this way. He has proven faithful to bring beauty of our ruins. But I don’t for a moment believe that it had to go this way. He could’ve developed me another way. I could’ve had other paths in life that were different, perhaps better than this one. There were other ways.  I don’t believe my sister’s death had to happen for a reason.

I don’t believe that death, divorce, abuse, disaster, devastation happen for a reason other that this world is not always good. But I have come to trust that God is good when the world isn’t. God weeps with me while trying to make beauty rise out of the ruins. That’s what people confuse — they think that everything has to burn so beauty can come from the ashes. Which is as nonsensical as saying that fires happen so that firefighters can be heroes. We see the result and we call it the reason.

I am heavily shaped by my experience with grief. I grew up much sooner, and knew grief much deeper than I would wish on any teenager. And the good is that it has deepened my spirituality, my emotional capacity, and my maturity in mounds, I am positive.

But I would give all of that to have my sister back. To have my family whole again. To know what it’s like to experience 9th and 10th grade without the devastation of pain and depression. To not know that gut-wrenching acid of grief in the back of my throat, to not know the loss that weights you like lead in your bones.

This is not how it was supposed to be. It didn’t happen for a reason. There have been some beautiful results that have come of it. But at the end of the day, I am accepting of the way life has been, not accepting that it’s the way it had to go.

This is not how it should be, but this is how it is, and once I grieve that I can begin to see the ways that life can be beautiful again.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Author:

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photo credit: Flickmor via photopin cc

This is hard for me to write, even though I’ve been saying it with my actions and body language for more than a year now.

I don’t trust the Church.

And that breaks my heart.

Like the admission, “I don’t trust my husband,” or “I don’t trust my father,” it hurts to admit because one, it’s true, and two, I wish it weren’t.

I have always loved the Church — my home church and the greater Church. I grew up in the church. The rough brick hallways and the green and purple faded carpets have known my touch, my presence since they were erected in the first couple years of my life. I have spent a massive percentage of my life within those walls.

My home church looks kind of like a prison from the outside. All gray cement blocks and massiveness in the middle of a large parking lot between two barren and vast fields of dead grass. It is lonely and unwelcoming in presence and stature. But it was home.

People said that, about it looking like a prison, and I could see what the meant, but I had personally never seen it like that. It was the place that held all of my dearest people in the world. People who had known me since I was born. People who had seen our family through some of the most trying times, including my mom’s severe illness with Lyme disease, and the sudden death of my 21-year-old sister. These were the people who had been there through it all. Not just at the church — in our homes, in our backyards, in camping trips and missions trips, in the schools, at softball games — but in the church, too. That was our common home, and I was there more than most.

Now when I drive up — which I don’t do often — I see what they mean. It looks like a prison. A prison full of beautiful people who know how to extend grace and how to love one another, mostly. But a prison none the less.

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photo credit: .brioso. via photopin cc


When I enter, I feel like I’m entering the prison. I walk through the foyer, down the aisles, and into rows of seats and I get stared at (or intentionally ignored) the whole way, like a prisoner walking down the cell block, being eyed — plotted against, sized up, respected, scared of — but being eyed none-the-less.

I take my seat and rely on the word of the warden-pastor that I am welcome there, of course. And though I know he wants it to be true, it’s not. I am not welcome. I am tolerated by most, judged and unwelcome by some, and greeted by a few (who really mean it).

The stares, glares, looks of, “Oh shit, how do I respond?” are palpable and, I am certain, mostly unconscious and involuntary.

I have a few friends who make conscious and great efforts to welcome me — to show that they won’t just tolerate my presence there, but align themselves with my presence there. They seek me out to hug me and chat, or even greater, they come and sit next to me. That’s how it was nine months ago at least. That’s the last time I could bring myself to attend a full church service there. I went one time since then, just for the worship portion, when the lights were down, and I wept and had to leave before the rest of the service continued. I wept because I so wish I could trust the church. I so wish it was still my home. I still love those people who bristle at my presence — and I love them dearly — but I know that I am not a part of them any longer. I wish I could be, but the welcoming hands and eyes of maybe 20 in a crowd of 500 is not enough. I can’t belong to a home where I am tolerated at best by the masses. It is better to be unknown.

But this is the thing, yes, that’s just one church. But that was my church. And I know those people — they are good people. Real people. People who have been through the mire of life with me. And they stiffen when I walk in, unsure if they should even look at me. Because they are human.

And the thing is, the reason why the stiffen, why they bristle, why they stare, is because they’ve been hurt by something that involved me. The reality is though — I was hurt by something that involved them.

And as I think about joining a new church, trying to find a new body of people to belong to — I have met many groups of people who are full of grace and acceptance. But I am still distrusting because while they welcome me now, I have been welcomed before. I have been known before. I have been carried through the trials of sickness and death and grief before. But then there came something that was too much, and everyone stepped away. And I was left. Unwelcome where I was once loved. Tolerated where I was once celebrated.  A threat where I was once a servant.

Not just by a few. Not just by casual church attenders. But by pastors, board members, and life long friends who I called family.

It’s not that they’re just bad people. They’re not. I know them. They’re hurt people. And hurt people hurt people.

So I’m distrusting of churches. All churches. Because they’re all made of people who have the ability to be hurt, and then to hurt.

I’m distrusting of pastors more than of churches. So the pastors that are big on grace, I’m suspicious of because it makes me think they KNOW they need grace, because they know of their depravity, and it scares me to think of the people they have hurt, or do hurt with that grace-needing depravity.

And the pastors that tote punishment, I’m wary of because, truly, I believe in grace.

And the pastors that talk of prosperity and hope, I don’t feel that they can understand the depths of the brokenness that I have drowned in.

The only ones I trust are the ones who talk honestly and openly about pain and brokenness and the God that is with us in that. But actually, in real life churches, I have yet to find those pastors.

The reason I don’t trust churches is because I don’t trust people. It just breaks my heart that it was church people who taught me to be distrusting. And it breaks my heart that I’ve taught others to be distrusting, too.

So this is me saying I’m fledgling right now. I’ve been drowning for a long time and am trying to find my way to the surface again. If you’ve got your head above the water, if you trust people and belong to the church and feel welcomed, don’t follow me.

But if you’re drowning too, if you’re distrusting and hurting and it breaks your heart, I’m trying to find a way up, and you’re welcome to come along. I can’t promise that I’ll find the most direct route, but I’m searching, and I’m trying to be honest about the journey.

And if you’re distrusting and it doesn’t break your heart, I hope it will some day. I’ve lived on both sides of this line now, and while this side feels wiser and more enlightened, the other side is more fulfilling indeed. It is a beautiful thing to trust people, and to have them be trustworthy in return.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling Myths & Cliches: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

50 MPH speed limit. That seems fast for this road. But OK. I’ll go 50.

Shoot this hill is long. I hear my dad’s mantra: “Don’t ride your breaks. They’ll burn out.” Ok, I’ll keep it near 50. 53. 54. 55. 54. 53. 54.

Green lights all the way.

Intersection.

Large truck turning into our path. Going fast. Too fast. We’re going fast.

Break. Break! BREAK! My foot can’t move that fast.

This is it. We’re going to die.

I see the panic on the blond girl’s face through the passenger side window of the truck.

My world goes black as I hear the deafening sound of metal colliding.

Silence. I am gone.

I come to in a car filled with airbag dust. I look, horrified at the passenger seat. What will I find there?

I see Kate. Her eyes like deer in headlights. Staring at me. Alive. Conscious. In shock.

I see smoke starting to fill the car. More and more. I’m still looking into Kate’s wide eyes. She does not blink.

I look around at the smoke, and back to her. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW!” I order her. Movie scenes of cars exploding in flame race through my mind. No.

“GET OUT OF THE CAR!” I say again.

Our doors open. I step out of the car and struggle to stand. Something is wrong with my foot. I hobble to the median of the broad intersection. It is at Kate’s side of the car. She is there already.

I slump down. People flood to our sides. Are we OK?

What’s my name?

Who can we call?

I don’t know. We don’t live here.

Where are my shoes? I get up to walk. Can’t. You, fireman. Can you find my shoes? Where is my phone? Can you find my phone?

Ambulance. Kate and I laugh lots of shocky laughs that make us cry out from the pain of moving. Emergency Room. Exams. Long, painful night.

Two years ago I was in a head on collision at around 50 MPH. I broke my foot, and suffered what we later learned to be a concussion which began giving me daily migraines.

My foot healed within 8 weeks. My migraines, though I have made MUCH progress, still punctuate my life several times a month.

It is one of only two times that I was certain that was it, that I was going to die.

But we didn’t.

__________________________________________________________

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

No. I don’t accept that. That’s BS.

After my sister died, after my car accident, after my life imploded, after I moved because of a bad living situation — people told me I was so strong. And I’m starting to see that they were right. But I thought that they were saying these things were making me strong (some did say that). And deep down I knew that wasn’t true. These things, they were testing me, sometimes they threatened to destroy me. They weren’t making me strong. I was strong through them, not because of them. Those life obstacles were revealing to me the depth of strength that I had to find to survive those times, but they were devastating me in the process.

Pain doesn’t make you strong. It reveals your strength. You don’t actually need the painful things of life to be strong. But sometimes you don’t realize how strong you are without them. It’s the revealing that has value.

We should be honest that pain sucks. Bad things suck. That there are things that we wish we never had to live through.

It’s not about the positive spin. It’s about the true revealing of who we are so that we can go forward as the person we want to be or become.

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photo credit: mcandrea via photopin cc


But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is false.

The first person to ever run the distance of a marathon was actually running to the city of Marathon from the battle field to tell that the battle had been won. He ran the whole way, and the myth says that he died immediately after delivering the message.

Many strong people run marathons all the time now, but marathons don’t make you strong. Actually they temporarily damage your body, having pushed it so far. But they reveal the strength you’ve built up in training.

In the wake of the things that are destroying you, it is OK to not feel strong.

Sometimes, the strength that is revealed doesn’t feel like strength, it feels like taking one ragged breathe, one faltering step at a time, one after the other. And we slowly move forward. We slowly discover how much strength there is in us. And undoubtedly, we all have times where we feel too weak to carry on, and we have to sit down and take a break, or sometimes collapse and weep. But then we discover that we might have another morsel of strength. So we continue.

That is the true strength that is revealed when we think we might just die.

Marathon runners make it to the finish line, and their body takes a toll.

Broken bones, when re-healed, still ache sometimes, even years later. Strong people walk through the ache. But when they walked without ache, they were just as strong.

Our lives would be better without conflict. But the conflict reveals us to ourselves. And when we live as revealed people, we use the strength we’ve always had more fully.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

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