I Was Cold

I was camping out in a tent, during the first frost of the year on a weekend trip to Maine. I lied in the sleeping bag, wide awake, as my body tried to shake the cold and my mind tried to shake the memory. Grief is persistent, though. There is no way to distract it and there is no shaking it – especially when it emerges suddenly from the deep, hardened, carefully chosen place, where you thought you were a safe distance from it.

I was cold.

Despite the multiple layers of clothing, along with hat, scarf, flannel sleeping bag, and the tent sheltering me from the twenty-eight degree night outside, I was cold. It was then, as I plunged further into the sleeping bag, secretly hoping for a warm pocket, that I saw Jess’ face. 

It was a moment so sharp and poignant that it reawakened my heart to the sadness and pain of grief and death.

It didn’t take more than the cold air for my mind to flood with images, sounds, and memories of the last time that I had talked with Jess. I had been sitting at the Night Shelter Manager desk when he came up to ask me for some cough syrup. In his genuine and calm nature, I remember him standing there telling me how he was tired of being sick. The next morning, as he exited the church, we had one more brief conversation – one that we had routinely – as to whether he would be able to stay at the shelter again that evening. I reminded him, as I always did, that as long as he came back by evening check-in that he would have a bed. With his cowboy hat on, he said ‘thank you ma’am,’ and he walked out the door. That was the last time that I saw him.

My heart paused as I recounted arriving at my midnight shift, where I read the note that Jess had died of hypothermia – police had found him sleeping outside at a gas station. He had died cold and alone.

The wound began to open further, as I recollected the memory of attending his funeral. Sitting in the very last pew of an unfamiliar church, I watched and listened as several people – family, friends, and coworkers – shared kind words, stories, and memories of Jess. I remember choking back tears as they talked of a man that I had come to know as a friend. I remember the pain that surged throughout my chest as I grieved the reality of an unfair world. I remember the ‘why’s’ that disturbed my consciousness and evoked an uncomfortable anger. Why were all of these people here now but not then? Why had he not come to the shelter? Why did he die alone? Why had the world failed him? Why, God, why?

On a cold, fall evening, I, once again, found myself grieving for Jess and the injustice of a homeless man dying at the expense of a broken world. The journey exposes us to overwhelming glimpses of darkness and we may, very well, spend our whole lives asking: why? However, amidst the pain, grief, and loss, a powerful light pushes back – casting new hope, new perspective, and new strength.

With resilient hearts, fragile faith, and kindred connectedness, we thrust forward into a broken world, alive with the pursuit of a restored Kingdom.

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A Love Letter to my Body

Dear body,

We didn’t always have a bad relationship. In fact, there was a time when I didn’t think twice about you.. You were just, well, a body; a vessel for my childhood energy, adventure, and spirit. It never occurred to me that you could, somehow, be inadequate, awkward, undesirable, or flawed. You were what you were and things went along alright for us.

It wasn’t until the voices of my peers swirled around me with echoes of their own bodily criticisms, that things started to change. Their words illuminated my own consciousness and awareness, and, suddenly, you were exposed. It was as if you had been lying to me all of these years; not letting me see who, and what, you really were. I was naive. You betrayed me. With innocence lost, our relationship changed, and I became your worst critic.

I called you ugly.

I’m in elementary school, sitting in PE class, when a classmate comments that I must be part monkey. I cringe, offer a joke, and make my way to the opposite end of the gymnasium, ashamed at the dark, French hair of my heritage. At home, as I take in the coarse, black plague that sprawls across your arms and legs, I decide that I will make things right with a razor and some shaving cream. I vow to shave away your ugliness. Why must you make things so difficult for me?

I labeled you useless.

Running across the soccer field, I plant one cleat into the ground and extend the opposite leg as I lunge to challenge for the ball and defend. Audible snapping and popping sounds emerge from below. An intense, stabbing pain engulfs my ankle. I desperately try to shake it off and continue play, but your ligaments are sprained, and I crumple to the ground. You don’t even grant me a prideful walk off of the field. Instead, coaches carry me to the sidelines – the ultimate defeat. Tears of pain mix with tears of anger. You are pathetic; useless; damaged. How could you give out on me?

I called you fat.

I am standing in front of the mirror, an overweight sophomore in college, and I can’t hold your reflection for more than a few seconds. The tears blur the image slightly, but there is no mistaking the stretch marks on your bulging, inner thigh; the uncomfortable – not unnoticeable – soft, weak, rolls defining your midsection; and, the thick love handles that hang above your hips. I pinch fat. I suck in my stomach. I hold my breath. I close my eyes. It’s no use, though; the person in the mirror is just as flawed when I open them, again. I stifle a sob, twist my face in disgust, and turn away. It’s too much…you’re too much. Why are you all wrong?

I deemed you weak.

The toilet bowl, in its innocent sinfulness, stands before me, as I am seated – full of shame, guilt, and self-loathing- on the bathroom floor. I catch a glimpse of myself in its porcelain body. Vacant, defeated eyes stare back and I am numb. My stomach is tender, my esophagus, burning, and my knuckles, red. I binged and purged…again. Emptiness and depression swallow me up in the tiny bathroom and I become conscious of my hatred for you. Last time was supposed to be the last time. Where is your strength?

 

I pinched you, I criticized you, and I shamed you, time and time again. You were either too much or not enough. I never befriended you or got to know you, did I? I never truly saw you. That is, until now.

 

Now, I see your strength.

Standing atop a mountain, I feel the adrenaline that surges and pulses through your legs. The muscular calves and thighs that I once cursed and mocked, have once again propelled me up the trail to indescribable elevation and beauty.

Now, I see your resilience.

Sitting in the Opthalmology clinic, the doctor’s words, matter of fact, yet, dreamlike, finally register: your eye is healed. For seven exhausting and debilitating months, you battled pain and blindness, but, you did it. You survived. You reconstructed a cornea. The scar left behind, a representation of your perseverance, strength, and brilliance.

Now, I see your purpose.

Amidst the beautiful chaos of my evening shift at the homeless shelter, I am reminded of our interconnectedness as human beings. As I hug one of the guests, I feel my arms wrapping around Jesus, himself. I listen to story after story and my purpose becomes clear. I understand my mission; I am meant to serve alongside the marginalized. Thank you for this perspective; this reminder of grace, compassion, and community.

I see you, now. I know you, now. I am thankful for you, now. So, for all the years that you deserved more, please accept my genuine apology. I promise to treat you generously. I promise to treat you well.

 

Dear body, you are loved.