Friday, August 9, 2013

Hope & Pain & Telling Our Stories

When my husband and I moved to Memphis I didn't have a job and I wasn't looking for a job. We figured if we were going to be starting a family soon, it'd be silly to send me back to work only to quit and start my dream job of stay-at-home mom 9 months later. That, plus I reeeeeeally didn't want to go back to teaching. I needed a break from the stress of it all.

After a few months of hanging around in the apartment trying to find things to distract myself every other week (remember, my husband works one week on, then one week off), I decided it was time to look for something to keep me occupied, to help me feel like I was actually doing something meaninful with my days... 'cause babies didn't seem like they were coming any time soon. One of John's coworkers was looking for a math tutor for her daughter, so I decided to give that a go. It was at that time I also decided to join a local Jazzercise gym, to get my tush off the comfy couch at least a few times a week. When I filled out the initial paperwork at the gym they asked for my profession. To make myself appear hardworking I filled in "math tutor" and left it at that.

Several months later, the owner of the gym asked if I could tutor her son, Jim*, in high school math. By this point, I had accepted a position at our parish as the youth director, so my schedule was a little busier, but I could tell she needed my help. I decided to work with Jim, figuring since it was already April, I would only be working with him about a month, max. And that was exactly how it worked out.

I'm always anxious when I start working with a new tutoree. Are they going to be so far behind that the parents will hardly notice any improvement? Are they going to be rude or uncooperative? Are we going to get along? Lucky for me, my tutorees have always turned out to be easy going, academically strong, mostly hard working, and a pleasure to work with. Jim was no exception.

He was sweet, kind, shy, smart, capable, and just in need of a little encouragment. His biggest issue in Algebra was not paying attention in class, something easily fixed by some one-on-one attention. I really loved working with him because by the end of our hour together, I would see him go from confused and lost to capable and confident. I'd leave his house feeling like I'd really done something good, ya know? It was really a joy working with him.

After just a handful of tutoring sessions, final exams were over and we said our goodbyes 'til the fall. Jim's mom texted me a week later to tell me he got an A on his Algebra final! I was so proud. Like a proud tutor-mama. It made me grin ear-to-ear and look forward to seeing him in the fall so I could give him a solid high-five.

I'm so sad to say that as of this past Sunday, there will be no celebratory high-five.

Monday morning, I woke to some horrible news. Jim's parents had been away for a weekend at the lake and when they returned home, they found him. He had taken his life the night before.

My heart broke instantly.

Sweet, shy Jim? But why? What happened? Are we sure it wasn't an accident?

It wasn't. And he left nothing to indicate why he felt it was his time to go. No one will truly know why. And for his parents, losing their only son, this breaks my heart even more.

The funeral was this morning. The crowd was massive. The parking lot was full, as was the church. Family, friends, priests, teachers, classmates - the pews were packed. Though it was a morning of great sadness, one beautiful thing was clear... this boy was loved. If only he had known how much.

I tell you this sad news for several reasons. First, to give you a glimpse of my past week. Although it's been sad and somber, I'm not necessarily looking for sympathy or support. When loved ones die, I do my best to hold on to the positive and joyful memories of their life and to let go of the tragedy of the life lost. I also know that our Lord is merciful and surely taking care of all of them, including Jim, in His beautifully peaceful eternity. How can I be sad when I know Jim is in the most loving arms of them all?

Second, to encourage you spread the all-too-important message to young teens to be good to each other. This is the second teenage male I've known to take his own life. And I can't be certain, but I'm nearly sure that if they had just felt more loved by their peers, they would both still be alive today.

Third, and most related to my usual cause, I'd like to share with you two beautiful points made by the priest during the homily at the funeral. Though they were said to help those grieving the loss of Jim, they also helped me with some of the grief I feel over infertility.

"Faith gives us hope, but it does not take away pain."

I have hope. I have hope that my husband and I will one day (hopefully soon) be parents. I have hope that the Lord is leading us in exactly the right direction: toward Him. I have hope that one day we'll look back on all of this sadness over infertility and just say, "Ppffff, if only we had known back then what we know now," with great big smiles. This girl's got hope. Lots and lotsa hope.

But yet, I still have pain. Lots and lotsa pain. And I always thought, "What's up with that?!" Even if we can never ever have kids, shouldn't my hope of one day resting eternally with our Lord bring me enough joy to wipe all the pain away? Is there something wrong with me? Am I a bad Catholic? A bad believer? Am I too concerned with finding a life of happiness here on earth and not focused enough on the eternal joy that we'll find in Heaven?

So I took solace in this point he made today. It helped me to realize that although I do have hope, as every good believer should, hope is not a pain-eraser or a pain-fixer. Hope and pain can co-exist. And that's ok. Acknowledging that is a good step for me. It makes me feel a little better about allowing myself to be overcome with the pain of infertility sometimes. Because I'll still always have hope.

I'll have to paraphrase this next one. It's a bit longer.

"Some people like to read the last page or chapter of a book before any other part, to know how everything tying together, or to see how it all works out in the end. When we read the last chapter of Jesus' life, we see the resurrection. We see the beautiful promise of eternal life. We are filled with joy and everlasting hope. But what if we had opened to the middle of his story and read only that? We'd read about suffering, humiliation, loneliness, a desire to quit. We'd see his life only through his lowest points and we'd rest no hope in Him."

Right now, we're smack dab in the middle of our books. And we have no idea what is to come in the next 5 or 300 or 100,000,000 pages. Or how things will all tie together by the end.

Although I may be suffering now, I will surely not always feel this way. I can't remember where I read it (likely one of my fellow bloggers... hi!), but in times when I'm really bent up about my lack of babies, someone suggested repeating, "This is not permanent. This is not permanent," almost as a prayer.

We have to remember that our stories aren't complete. In many cases, our stories are only just beginning. There's so much ahead of us and so many opportunities for amazing things to happen. We need to keep having faith that this too shall pass. It will get better and more beautiful with time.

Ladies and gents, we're writing some awesome stories. Let's not be ashamed of or get stuck in the valleys. They'll just make the peaks seem taller and even more magnificent. When the whole thing is told, it'll be one enjoyable tale.

So though it's been a tough week, I feel like I've come out of it a little bit stronger, with more hope in what's to come and more trust in our Lord. It was certainly sad to say goodbye to Jim today, to know I'll never again get to boost his confidence with a few successfully solved math problems, but I'll cherish the time I had with him and remember the many good moments we had together. He wrote a good, albeit too short, story and I'm sure not going to let that be forgotten. RIP, young man. You are loved. You will be missed. <3

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of his loved ones. 


  1. So sorry to hear about your friend! How sad... You are so right, in the middle of suffering it is hard to see the bigger picture. For most of us in life we may never know how far the love people have for us goes... It is just not normal for people to daily flood your inbox with encouraging notes and the like. That is why I liked what you said about reaching out. That is soooo important!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. That's so sad about Jim :( how tragic. The homily sounded spot-on - the points you shared were great! Yes, hope and pain coexist ... yes, we don't see the ending of the story - although we trust in God's mercy that it ends with a wedding feast in heaven! I think the lives of the saints are really helpful here. You never know what's right around the next bend...

    1. Hoping and praying for good things for both of us :)


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