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Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 | Author:

story of jo - Not OKphoto credit: i’m not okay. via photopin (license)

We were sitting in a smaller room in the back of the church and I had made fajitas for my volunteer staff of youth leaders for the middle school youth group I ran at the time.

It was during the students’ Christmas break, so we had put the youth group on hiatus for 2 weeks to give our volunteers a break. I’d made this dinner to thank them and to get together to just get some honest critical and uplifting feedback from one another about how the past semester had gone.

We went around the room and affirmed one another in what they brought to the table. I was caught of guard with a lump in my throat when one of the volunteers said about me, “You make them know that it’s OK to not be OK.”

I’d never thought of those words before, but that has been a life mission of mine since then in all that I do.  I want to be someone who affirms people that it’s OK to not be OK. It’s also OK to be OK, if you really are. But that night was the first night maybe in my life where I realized I was doing something right. I was being who I wanted to be to the world, even though my world at that time was only about 20 middle school students.

A few years ago, I was really good at being honest and open with my story about the grief and grappling after my older sister had died. I think, and hope, that I was able to be someone who could reach out to those in grief and let them know that very truth — it’s OK to not be OK.

But in the more recent couple of years, since my life has changed and truth has been revealed about those darker, secret, shameful parts of my story, it’s become a current part of my story. No longer a “my sister died, and for a long time I wasn’t OK,” past-tense thing.

I still have many moments and days where I am not OK. I am doing really well, comparatively.  I’m telling my story with more ease. I mostly enter social circles without trepidation. I have stopped apologizing to everyone I meet for parts of my story and for who I am. I have the freedom to be known and to know others again. And it’s actually fan-freaking-tastic.

But I still have days where I’ll see something and will text one of my trusted friends things like, “just came across this. Well, F—.”

I still have days where I’ll send out the cry for help.

I still cannot enter my home church building without being paralyzed with hyperventilation and uncontrollable sobbing (which is really not pretty or fun, FYI). Realizing this when I went there last, in November, made for a very not-OK Christmas Eve night as well, as I for the first time in my entire life did not attend the service there, and I sat at home being not OK as my family went (which they should do and I wanted them to do… don’t read weirdly into that).

I still am wary of new people. I still have trust and commitment issues.

In a lot of ways, I’m doing great. But in a lot of ways, I’m still not OK. And I’ve just not been willing to lie about that. I’ve not been willing to pretend to be OK when I wasn’t. Which is new for me.

And what’s happened in the broadening not-OKness of my journey is that it’s enabled me to lead by example, not just to people in grief, but to people in all sorts of not-OK areas of life.

And while maybe that’s a depressing thing to be able to lead by example in, I don’t care. Because sometimes life is hard. Sometimes things just suck. And yes, there can be hope, and growth, and newness, and OKness once again. But what I find in my own life is that I have to admit I’m not OK before any of the rest of that ever comes.

And that is something that most people are not comfortable with.

Positive spins are many people’s security blankets. I just can’t do it this time around. You won’t find me sprinkling glitter on the crap of life. Other people can do that.

But for me, I want to tell you who are hurting, you who are ashamed, you who feel trapped, you who feel depressed, you who feel anxious, you who feel stuck — it’s OK to not be OK. Sometimes, healing starts with letting yourself feel the pain.

__  __  __  __  __

One of the bands that I enjoy, Abandon Kansas, just released a new album that has a lot of that hurt and grappling, specifically with self-examination and questioning of the church and of pain, of addiction and seeing that we’re not as we want to be. When they were making the album, they did a kickstarter campaign and the main songwriter, Jeremy Spring, wrote, “I’m just going to let it hurt for a while.”

That’s what it takes sometimes. I read that sentence from him, and thought about all the times and ways I’ve had to just let it hurt for a while — all the times I’ve said, I’m going to be OK with not being OK right now — over the past two years, and I wrote this poem.

Let me hurt. (April, 2015.)

Just let me hurt for a while.

Don’t choke me out

trying to tie a bow around it.

It’s a wound, 

not a present.

I’m broken,

not wrapped.

I’m bleeding out and you

used a ribbon as a tourniquet.

Don’t do it.

Please, let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

F*cks, hells, and shits

punctuate my language.

Pain leaks

into my sentences.

Because when I’m honest, sometimes

my brokenness still feels fresh.

I didn’t know grief could be

so violent without death.

Don’t demand a positive spin.

A silver lining won’t fix it.

So please, let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left. 

I wonder how long it will be 

before I can breathe through the memory.

Because right now, to remember

still feels like drowning.

Because right now, in my hometown

I still feel like an enemy.

Someday there will be more, but

for now this is my story.

So just let me hurt for a while — I’m sorry.

It’s all that I have left.

I’ve barely started 

to trust again.

But I’m afraid of myself 

in the end.

I don’t totally know

how to get around this bend.

I don’t totally know

if I’m good at being a friend.

When I tell the truth,

I’m afraid I will offend.

I want vulnerability.

I want to mend.

But just let me hurt for a while —

it’s all that I have left.

If you’re not OK, I hope you can find the freedom and the safety to know that that’s OK.


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 31st, 2015 | Author:

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He must’ve been about 6 years old. His head full of blondish brown curls. He was tall, lanky, apparently even the “slim fit” pants would fall down because of his narrow width.

I was a toddler, about three years old, with baby-fat chubby cheeks, big blue eyes, and blond hair bleached blonder by hours spent outside in the sun. I wore solid colored shorts with elastic bands (as is common for toddlers), and I’d always pull them down to the lowest point possible on my hips. (I don’t know if you knew this, but I liked hip huggers before they were cool. I was pretty hipster.) And I was a hard-core 3-year-old subscriber to the idea that barefoot is best.

Usually though, when I was doing things like riding a bike (with training wheels, because hey, I was a toddler and this is a true story) or a scooter, or rough and tumble things like that, I was required to wear my shoes.

One of our biggest activities as siblings was to climb this big mulberry tree we had in our back yard. We also loved to jump out of the tree. I was allowed to climb the tree barefooted, which really helped feed my desire to become Pocahontas when I grew up, but I was not allowed to jump out of the tree barefooted at this age.

And the same was true for the swings.

My brother Jason and I had this game where we would swing, and instead of just jumping off the swings like children of average talent, we came up with a more elite, challenging twist: One of us would jump off the swing and just as they jumped, the other would yell something that the jumper had to act out before landing.

Example: Jason jumps. I yell, “The Sun!” Jason puts his hands up to his face jazz hand style to display the sun mid-jump, then he lands. Somehow many of the shapes/things we acted out involved a very similar display of flaying arms and legs out to our sides and/or jazz hands. OK, maybe we weren’t above average ability like we thought, but our denial was strong.

One day Jason and I were out swinging barefooted in the afternoon sun, and I suddenly jumped off the swing. “Joanna!” he yelled. Which was weird, because I didn’t have to change my shape at all because I already was a Joanna before I landed.

“What?” I asked once I landed my jump with olympic precision. “Why’d you just say my name?”

“You know you’re not supposed to jump off the swings or out of the trees without shoes on,” he said.

“But I hate shoes.”

“We can play the game, but you have to go inside and put shoes on first.”

“Fine,” I said.

So I went inside and put on my saltwater sandals, knowing that option wasn’t up to par, but thinking I’d try it anyway.

I went back out and said, “Ok, ready!”

“Little girl, those aren’t shoes,” he responded, giving me that sideways glance that big brothers can give, even when they’re skinny bean poles with floppy blond curls.

“But, these still protect my feet,” I retorted.

“Fine, next time you have to wear shoes, though,” he relented.

“Yes! Ok, you jump first!” I said, full of glee at my triumph. I hopped on the swing, and pumped my legs as hard as I could to get up to speed with him.

“Flower!” I yelled as he jumped, and he kept his legs straight like a stem, put his arms out wide with splayed jazz-hand fingers for leaves, and made his face cheery like a flower while he landed.

———————

I’ve always remembered this instance, because it’s the perfect summation of who my big brother has always been to me.

He’s always been my friend and my playmate. But he’s always been there to protect me without inhibiting me as well.

But while he is there to be a voice of reason, a voice of caution, the most important part is the stableness in the fact that he is there.

In the aftermath of my life falling apart, I had one afternoon where I was sitting in my car, up on a hill overlooking the town and the railroad tracks. And it was the only time I have ever legitimately had both the desire and the will to run away. I saw the train coming in at a slow chug, and I thought, “This is it. Just leave your phone, your keys, your purse, everything. Just jump on that train and make a new life from scratch.” I used all of my willpower to force myself to stay in that car until the train passed, because I knew if I opened the door, it would happen. I would run.

As I told my brother and parents about this day about a year later, Jason came to me and hugged me, and said, “I’m glad you didn’t get on the train. I would’ve had to go and search and find you to make sure you were alright.” He said it with a veil of joking in his voice, but his message was real.

Note that he didn’t say he’d have to go find me and bring me home. He said he’d find me to make sure I was alright.

Jason has never tried to dissuade me from one of my various adventures or antics, but he occasionally does voice the helpful thoughts like, “You can jump off the swing, but you should wear your shoes.”

His protection is always selfless. And that’s a trait I have yet to find in anyone else in the world.

I know it’s not easy to watch people you love go off and traipse around the world, and have adventures that will probably turn into crazy stories, but that also have to potential to go wrong.

I know it’s not easy to be the big brother to the fearless three-year-old who will jump from the highest branch, or the galavanting 25-year-old who blows about with the wind. But he does it. Consistently. And he does it well. He has mastered the art of being a loving, protective big brother, while also letting me fly free and being happy for me as I go.

And while I live in different cities and states (and sometimes countries) from him, I still value the times we do get to do life together. Because he was my first best friend, and he’ll be one of my best friends until the end. And there’s something extremely valuable about someone who both tells you to put shoes on, and then jumps off the swings with you. Someone who would track you down when you ran away, not to drag you home, but to make sure you were OK. Someone who loves you like he does.

Happy birthday week to my dear big brother who I squabble with in love, talk to as a friend, and who takes up much more than his share of the couch when we’re watching a movie together as a family. There’s no one quite like you. I love you, Jas.

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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

 

 

Wednesday, January 07th, 2015 | Author:

“We need to talk,” she said to me in a serious yet conspiring tone.

We walked with rushing feet to our personal conference room — the Children’s Church room at the back of the church where we’d hang out before church. We were two rambunctious 8-year-old girls who got to church early with our parents when they had to do something or another for the service.

Once within the confines of our private scheme-building room, we stood in the middle of the room, near the wall with the old piano that I’d play for us sometimes.

We stood facing each other, and I was not nervous as adults are when someone says to them, “we need to talk.” — I was eager to hear what was so important.

“Did you hear that his parents are getting a divorce?”

“I know,” I said, looking down, not knowing what that really meant or entailed, but knowing it was bad. “My mom told me.”

He was a boy in our grade who we’d known for the past few years. He was our number one enemy. His life goal was to annoy us. And our lives’ goals were to make him look like a fool by pulling pranks and such. This was the essence of most of our friendships with kids of the opposite sex, as seems to be the norm. But he and one other boy were our particular enemies and we paid each other more mutual attention than we paid the other kids.

medium_301168593photo credit: rolands.lakis via photopin cc

“I think we need to be his friend now,” she said to me, the decision already made.

“Yeah. I think you’re right. That would be good,” I replied. I hadn’t thought of that, or realized it was needed until she said it. But once she did, it was decided. Third-grader conference of the year over.

It was one of the most important, efficient, and impactful conferences I’ve ever been a part of, and the decision stuck. We started that day at church. We didn’t drop the enemy act, but we had changed our heart toward him, and he changed his toward us. We continued to be frenemies all through high school.

When we were in junior high, he gave me one of the best christmas gifts I’ve ever received — he bought, with his own money, the movie Princess Diaries for me on VHS. He knew I loved it, and that was far above the $1-5 gifts we had sometimes exchanged in the past. He told me I couldn’t tell anyone he had gotten it for me because that would show that we were friends, so I didn’t, but we watched it together nearly weekly for about a year until we moved onto other fixations.

I’ve seen him a couple times this past year, and each time, I’ve thought how much I enjoy him as a person and a friend. But I may not have been friends with him had she not pulled me into that children’s church room and presented her idea for what we needed to do.

She saw disaster on the horizon and proposed a plan of action. I just followed.

We were in high school when her parents divorced as well. I was still friends with her, but in the of-course-we’re-friends way, not in the I-am-here-for-you-in-daily-life way. Our paths had started to take us in different directions, and I’m sad that I didn’t have a conference with anyone, declaring “we need to be friends with her.”

The truth is, a lot of people stepped away from her in that painful time. The girl who intentionally stepped in at 8. The girl who recognized the severity of the pain of divorce before she’d ever felt it. The girl who put aside sacred cooty-laws and annoyance-wars to be a friend. She was pushed to the outskirts and left alone in her time of pain.

It is a hard thing to see and recognize that you do not always reap what you sow. Mean people sometimes prosper and good people sometimes get left. At least it feels that way sometimes.

But the thing is, the girl who has heart enough to decide to be friends with a hurting enemy at 8 years old, she will be a woman who will live life well. She will be the type of woman who has deep friendships with people she’s met in passing. She will be a friend even when she is in pain. And some of those relationships will give back to her as well. The humility that lets her put aside childhood feuds also strengthens her to reach out to people who need a second chance in her life.

And that gives me hope about life and about the world. Because, almost two decades later, I still remember her as the girl who decided to be a friend when she didn’t have to be, and she got me to do so too. And the woman I know her as now still has that same understanding, supportive, caring heart.

I don’t know about the whole reap what you sow thing, because life has dealt her a crappy and painful hand several times.

But I am confident that when you have that goodness inside that she does, that everything will be okay. That you will continue to make a life worth living. That you will continue to build friendships worth having. That you will continue to find your way, and choose your path. That while life may be ugly and painful and hard, you will be the type of person that responds, that works through it, and that decides to love life again.

And that is really what matters above all else. You don’t always get to choose what happens to you or those around you in life, but you do get to choose how to respond. When pain shows up, will you step in? Will you give up or keep trying. Will you choose to love life again and again and again?

Life may not always be easier for good people, but it is more beautiful and more worth loving when you’re the type of person who steps in.

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