The perfect way to make things worse

I blasted Janet Jackson’s “Again” in my headphones as I cried myself to sleep night after night after my first traumatic heartbreak, which came in the 8thsad-silhouette-1080946-m grade. I was mad at Ben. Mad at Bob. More than anything, I was mad at myself. I gave up a deep love with Ben for one passionate night of hand-holding with Bob at the YMCA lock-in. What I didn’t expect was Ben to show up to play basketball at the YMCA while I was holding hands with Bob, the cute guy from a neighboring town.

It was super dramatic. I remember running away from them both and bawling my eyes out in the locker room, surrounded by my friends who were trying to help me decide who I really “loved.” At the time it was the toughest decision I’d ever had to make: Bob or Ben?

In the end, it didn’t matter. Bob never wrote me a letter (the main way you communicated with your out-of-town boyfriend in 1994), and Ben wanted nothing more to do with me. I was heartbroken. Nothing had ever hurt more. My world came crashing down at the precious age of 14.

Obviously, this was but a grain of sand compared to the sandstorm of broken hearts I would experience later in life, but I really didn’t need to know that. I needed to grieve. As silly and insignificant the situation was to my life, I needed to be upset. You could have told me that it was a Junior High relationship, and that it was not a significant problem to worry about, but I wouldn’t have believed you.

f343c71f67ffa4bcfec8e4d37cccd994On Facebook a few months ago I saw a comparison of love memes and military photos. On top was a meme, no doubt created by a heartbroken high school girl whose boyfriend just dumped her. Phrases like, “When he’s all you can think about…” and “Being lonely is the worst feeling in the world,” accompanied by a photo of a sad girl by a tree or a lake or some other dramatic, lonely location. On the bottom of each was a photo that put the statement in perspective. A woman at the grave of her husband who was killed in war. A soldier wounded millions of miles away from home.

Ouch. Excellent point. Excellent perspective. I totally get it.

But there’s a time and a place for perspective. In general, this post going around Facebook had a wonderful point. However, if someone was suffering from heartache at the time and someone sent this to them to offer a little “perspective,” I think that’s incredibly insensitive.

Why force guilt onto people who are already struggling with something else? Not only that, but why tell people that what they are feeling isn’t valid, that things could “always be worse”?

When you’re upset or brokenhearted, the last thing you need added onto it is guilt. And yet I see it often. It’s basically non-sympathetic, forced guilt. It’s something people throw around way too often, in my opinion.

I’m quick to jump to the defense of the oppressed. I’ll open your eyes to the terrible living conditions I’ve seen in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya. I’ll give you a million reasons why your day wasn’t as bad as it was for most of the people in the world, but I try to make sure I don’t do it often, and I certainly won’t do it when you’re having a bad day or going through something that’s already hurting your heart.

I understand that we do have a responsibility to “keep it real” for our friends and families. Life isn’t flowers and butterflies all the time, and sometimes we have to speak up.

But… not always. There’s a time and a place for it.

Heartache is heartache. To put a degree of hurt on heartache is absurd, to me. You don’t know what that person is feeling or going through, to suggest that things could be worse or that it’s really not a big deal is incredibly insensitive and uncompassionate.

Can we just allow people to feel? Can we stop telling people that their feelings are invalid? If you can’t come up with a comforting word for someone who is having a tough time, or you feel their feelings really are exaggerated and ridiculous, don’t say anything at all. Don’t guilt them into feelings by reminding them in any way that, “things could be worse” or “others have it much worse than you do.” It doesn’t help.

Don’t agree with me? I think the Bible makes it pretty clear:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

Another early goodbye…

IMG_20130914_080640Four months ago when I went to pick up my friend Katrina at her apartment here in Uganda, I was greeted through the security gate by a precious little face and painted fingernails. I instantly fell in love with the little girl peering through the hole in the gate and snapped a photo.

“Who is that?” I asked Katrina when she got in the car.

“That’s Florence, our day guard’s daughter,” she told me.

Time went on. Katrina moved back the United States, and I ended up moving into her open room on the compound. I remember my first day going home to the new apartment after a day of teaching. I opened the gate and tiny little Florence came running towards me. You would think I was her best friend that she hadn’t seen in years. Behind her waddled Gideon, her little brother.

I thought it was because I was new, but as it turned out, that’s how I was greeted every single day- with love and hugs from two of the cutest kids in all of Uganda.

IMG_4757I quickly learned that Florence loves to dance. She would twirl for me, hop around, sing and dance for as long as I would watch. And she would always say, “Look!” in her little Ugandan accent, which actually made it sound like she was saying, “Luke!” She spoke very little English, but enough that I could tell her every day that she was beautiful, and she would reply, “Yes!”

Florence loves having her picture taken, and she especially loves being in videos. We’ve had fun with my camera and computer just being silly. She’s been the first child here that’s made me think, “I get it. I now know why people come here and go back to America with a child.”

But Florence isn’t an orphan. She isn’t without a family. She’s got a mother and a father who have gone through the very worst in order to do what’s best for her and Gideon. I learned recently that they are refugees from Congo. They arrived here on foot. They have seen two children die already. They’ve been through things we can’t even imagine.

On the worst of days, and I’ve had my share of them here in Uganda, Florence has been the shining light that makes me smile. Today, Florence and her family leave to return to Congo.IMG_20131116_002418

To say that this breaks my heart is an understatement. Not only am I sad that I won’t be able to spend time with her, but I’m horrified for the family’s safety. The worst part is, I’ll never know what happens to them. I’ll never know if they make it back to Congo safely. I’ll never know what happens to them if they do make it.

My initial response to the family returning to Congo was one of shock. Why on earth would they return to such a war-filled country? They escaped! Why return? I was somewhat relieved to learn today that apparently things have been peaceful for a few weeks now. Also, they cannot afford to send Florence to school in Uganda, and in Congo, she will receive an education. If that’s what’s best for Florence, I am all for it.

The compound is going to feel really strange now. I know I’ve only been here a month but I’ve grown to love Florence and to always look forward to her smiling face. I’ll even miss Gideon, even though he was prone to peeing on our front porch. It’s hard not to love that little ball of goofiness with a smile that melts your heart.

Please pray for Florence, Gideon and their parents. Pray for their safety and that the move is what’s best for the family. Pray that God will provide them with whatever they need to live a happy life.

And pray for the rest of us who will miss their glowing faces and their giggles that once echoed throughout the compound.

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Is the new diet a broken heart?

“Wow she’s lost a lot of weight,” I thought. “She must be working out. Must be eating better. Maybe she’s on Body by Vi.”

Not the case at all. Some people’s stomachs are tied directly to their hearts. Their hearts break, and it’s like their stomachs do the same.

There are a few women in my life right now who have recently lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. Not because of eating habits, not because of exercising, but from simply not being able to eat because of a broken heart.

Unfortunately, none of my broken hearts have caused me to lose weight. Recently I had my heart broken, but I didn’t think, “Boo. I hate food.” I guess the good thing is, I also didn’t think about buying out the entire section of Ben & Jerry’s at Kroger. Needless to say, I’m clearly not an emotional eater.

These women who have lost weight look phenomenal, but it’s not healthy. It’s really got me thinking that the new diet is a broken heart. And I find it difficult to tell them how great they look when they lost the weight in such an unhealthy way.

My recent experience with a broken heart led me to join the YMCA and start working out. But to me that’s a healthy way to handle heartbreak. I figured out that working out was how I would deal when one day I was upset, went to work out anyway, and afterwards I felt AMAZING. It was like I didn’t even care about what had upset me earlier.

I hope my choices continue to be healthy. Maybe it’s an age thing, a maturity thing. Dealing with heartbreak as a 32-year-old is definitely different from dealing with it when you’re 23 (whoohoo let’s get drunk!). I just hope these ladies know that once they get back to actually eating, they will gain the weight back unless they make some lifestyle changes.

A broken heart is sad enough as it is, ladies. Don’t destroy your bodies by not eating, or by excessive drinking or any type of drug use, just because of a breakup or some other heartbreak. Get through the heartache with prayer, exercise, and surrounding yourself with great people.