Thursday, July 25, 2013


Vulnerability. It is quite possibly my least favorite word in the English language. In fact, I often refer to it as "The Dreaded V" as if it were the evil villain in some super hero movie where the super hero actually dies and the villain, "The Dreaded V" wins. It sounds like a terrible movie plot. Nicolas Cage would probably play the villain.  Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability and trying to be better at practicing it.  No one likes being vulnerable and in some senses it's a taboo subject.  You have to actually BE vulnerable to talk about why you are afraid to be vulnerable and get to the root of your fears.

I like to think about what our world and our connections with those around us would look like if we stripped away everyone's fears.  I think we would connect with each other a lot more and we would find that most people share the same fears of vulnerability-especially in dating.

Vulnerability is about showing who we really are in order to more deeply connect with others. It is allowing people to see us completely - as each layer of baggage, or built up fears are pealed away, one layer at a time. Or tearing down the walls that we've built up around us one brick at a time.

But here's the thing. Sometimes being vulnerable hurts. Sometimes when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable there are a lot of tears involved. Things don't go quite the way you planned. But in the end, vulnerability also eventually opens us up to happiness we didn't know was there or even possible.  By not allowing vulnerability to take a front row seat in our lives, we are limiting the amount of happiness and joy we can experience. I've learned this the hard way and perhaps you have too.

Perhaps this passage from the book, The God Who Weeps, can help explain my concept better.

"This vulnerability, this openness to pain and exposure to risk, is the eternal condition of the Divine."

The rest of the passage talks about how Mary must have had more terror than delight when she heard she would carry the son of God, how Ruth must have been frightened to go unto Boaz, and Christ's Atonement. By being vulnerable to the Lord's will look at what they were able to accomplish and who they were to become. Sure there was great uncertainty, fears and perhaps tears in these situations, but on the other side of that they were able to accomplish great things and reach their potential.

I want to practice being more vulnerable. I've tried practicing in the past few months and I can honestly say it hasn't necessarily yielded desired results in job, relationships, personal goals, etc.  But, it has allowed me to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with people and God.

I still have my fears of being vulnerable in my interactions with others, but I'm working on it. There have been a few tears along the way, but I am now more aware of the vast amounts of people who care about me, as I have reached out to them and vice versa.

So let's all make ourselves a little more uncomfortable, a little more vulnerable, and reap the eventual great benefits of happiness.

I'm going to start by sharing a piece I wrote in order to help deal with the pains of grief.  This may not seem hard for me to share. I mean, I write this blog and I've written about my best friend before so you might wonder what's so different? But to me, this is a very personal piece I wrote for my own therapeutic release and for that reason I've only shared it with 4 people. Until now. For I believe we shouldn't be afraid to be who we are.

Two Dreamers

Two Dreamers.  That’s the best way I can describe us. Because two dreamers who can laugh until rolling on the ground and also pick each other up when there are no pieces left is too long of a title.  You and I dreamed of doing everything together. We were going to backpack around Europe over the summer and write a book based on our silly antics together. Then, we were going to raise our kids next door to each other and force them to be best friends – just like we forced our mothers to become best friends so that selfishly we could spend seamless amounts of time together. Most importantly, we were ready for anything, and everything that this world has to offer, as long as we were together.
            Never during those late nights we spent staring at the stars, chatting in the hot tub about boys and other small-town gossip did I ever imagine I’d have to learn how to live my dreams alone.
That morning I received the phone call feels like a distant memory that never happened. Yet, the reality of that one call is felt daily. It came at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.  My mother was on the other end of the line in tears. She didn’t know how to tell me.  She didn’t know how to tell me that you were gone. Of course, to the doctors and nurses you weren’t gone yet. They were going to try everything they could to save you. But, when I heard the words come out of my mother’s mouth I knew the truth deep down. I had lost you. We all had lost you. You suffered an asthma attack and were rushed to the hospital where you remained for two days until they concluded that your brain stem had been killed due to lack of oxygen. There was nothing more they could do.
 I received a follow-up call confirming you were gone while I was teaching. My students didn’t know what was wrong with me until that moment. I couldn’t be strong and hide it anymore. Slamming my body against the locker, I let myself drop to the floor, head in hands, while all 30 of my high school students, including my “tough guys,” gathered around me to listen and hold me. Their physical support was all I could lean on the rest of the school day.
After packing for my inevitable flight, I drove an hour and a half to the nearest Sonic Drive-In so that I could raise a toast to you, and your life. We spent the better part of our high school and college days talking over Diet Vanilla Dr Pepper from Sonic. I thought you’d appreciate the significance and I needed to feel closer to you and our traditions.
I felt helpless as I woke up that next morning to leave. In all my life, I never imagined that at twenty-four years old I would be on a plane bound for your funeral in our hometown, writing about you in my tear-soaked journal.  I didn’t want to relinquish a single moment we’d spent together. I tried to write everything down as fast as I could, ignoring everything else around me.  My hand was cramping from all the writing and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to feel it again, but it would be worth it so long as I could write down everything about us and not forget a single moment.
            When we landed at the airport, I didn’t want to move. I was the last one off the plane. I wanted to postpone catching a glimpse of anything that would remind me of us, and your absence. As I walked towards the security exit, head down, I looked up to see the sweetest sight in front of me – my dad. There he was waiting to pick me up and hold me for as long as was needed. My brother, Tom, and step mom were waiting in the car for me. I know this may shock you since one of your favorite pastimes was helping Tom tease me, but he actually has a soft side to him. He just sat there and didn’t say anything, no jokes, nothing. He simply held my hand the whole drive home.
            Early the next morning my mom took me to your house so I could see the whole family, my second family. I knew I’d have to be strong, as strong as you would have been. You always did seem stronger than me. The steps from the car to your front door were the hardest steps I’ve yet walked in my life. Feeling the weight of sorrow underneath me with each step, I attempted to think of how to provide your family comfort since I didn’t have any for myself.  Thankfully, I didn’t need to. In typical, selfless fashion they were ready to console me.  In fact, your dad pulled me aside, hugged me, and whispered in my ear, “Katie, our girl’s made it.  She lived a good life and she is now with God.  Promise me you will do everything in your power to continue to live a good life, believe in Him, and make good choices so that one day you two can be reunited. You know she loved you so much.” 
I promised him I would. I’m determined to keep that promise.
The next several days leading up to your funeral were filled with tears, celebration of your life and of course, laughing about our favorite memories. Everyone was in stitches as we recollected your favorite tale to tell of us. For one more laugh, this one is for you:
It was summer of '08. Mary, Rachel, you and I decided, in a lapse of judgment, to go to the Seven Peaks Water Park in Provo, Utah. It's sketchy and dirty at best. We rented a two man tube and a single tube. You and Mary had just made me go on the scariest ride ALONE and all I wanted to do was relax in the lazy river. Thus, I left you two and went floating, once again, ALONE. I'd been floating by myself for approximately ten minutes, with my eyes closed, basking in the marvelous sunshine, when I heard you and Mary cackling down the way. I opened my eyes to see what could possibly cause such uproarious laughter but couldn't get either of you to stop laughing long enough to tell me what was so funny. After about a minute of trying to get ya'll to speak through your tears of laugher, I looked down. That's when I saw it.  My cute, brand new, bandeau, giraffe-print swimsuit had failed me. My top had fallen down and I'd been floating the lazy river like that for a solid ten minutes. I was mortified. Who knows how many people had seen and not told me or how many family photos I am in accidentally flashing people in the background? We laughed and cried the rest of the day about it and I begged you not to tell a soul. You, of course, told anyone that would listen. Naturally, I was fine with it because that’s how our friendship was. I would protest about things and you would do it anyway, knowing I wouldn’t care. In the end, you knew it was either best for me or not as big of I deal as I thought it might be, so I needed to loosen up. By the end of that day, you had lovingly named the story "Seven Peaks a Boob." Thanks for that.
I guess, in retrospect, no matter how embarrassed I was, I’m glad it happened because it sure caused a lot of laughs that weekend I spent with your family, and we all needed a good laugh.
Your funeral service maxed out the chapel and gym at the church. You would worry about people forgetting you, but no one could possibly forget you. In fact, several of our friends from college flew out so they could be there for you. We honored your love of volleyball by all wearing volleyball pins with your number inscribed on them. I said the opening prayer and you would have been proud of me. I was strong, stronger than I ever imagined I was capable of. Your brother spoke and he read a letter from your other brother who couldn’t attend. They were followed by remarks from your husband. You’d only been married to him for eight months, but from the love in his eyes and the expression in his tone you could tell those eight months were just a beautiful preview of the eternity of love between the two of you. Then your dad spoke. It’s amazing how his pure words brought a comfort over the entire audience. Almost like he had just laid out a blanket over the whole room to warm our uncertain, sad hearts and give us hope that we would all see you again. I have faith that I will, but it doesn’t always make the pain of loosing you go away.
 After I returned to the east coast to try and carry on with life, I spent the next several months wracking my brain in an attempt to answer the questions, What can I do to not feel this pain anymore? How do I dream without you? Who am I without you?
I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone for a while. Subtly, I pushed people out. I mean, I still had friends I spent time with, but I felt a physical barrier blocking me from really letting them in.  Being vulnerable and trusting people has never been easy for me, you know that all too well. That comes as a surprise to others, but you knew why. I trusted you with everything. Not only did I trust you with everything, but I also knew you got me.  You understood where I was coming from because you knew my life, my history, my fears, and my excitements. I didn’t want to have to explain those things to people who didn’t understand, it seemed too exhausting. What if I opened up to people and then they left me too? No. It would be easier to just get to know others, but keep everything else inside of me and pretend everything was fine.
I became really good at not feeling anything, which also meant not feeling pain. I quit teaching because I didn’t know how to help my 90 students if I didn’t even know how to help myself. I made sure I was never home because if I was home that meant I’d have to think about things. I found that it helped if I always kept myself busy doing something new and exciting; I called it “the next best thing syndrome”. I was gone as much as possible traveling here and there, going on road trips every weekend, seeing as many Broadway shows as I could afford, spending a few weeks in France with my relatives, taking a hot air balloon ride, and living life in fast forward.  Sundays were always hard though. I’d go to church and things were quiet and quiet meant I’d break down.  Thus, every Sunday for a lot of Sundays, I did just that. I’d lie in the bathtub with the shower head turned on letting the water fall over my body secretly hoping the water would wash the pain away. Monday would come and I was back on my feet running away from my life as swiftly as possible.
I thought all of these new life experiences would help me, but I soon realized that the problem with living life in fast forward and escaping pain and feelings is that it also limits the happiness you can feel.  It is possible to numb feelings altogether, but it is impossible to block pain without also blocking happiness. I wasn’t happy.  I was doing these amazing things that I was grateful to have, but I could barely appreciate them because the moment I turned the corner I was off to try something new to replace it. Pretty soon I would run out of places to run and eventually - after I’d run out of places to run to, I learned how to run.
I've never been a runner, and you know that. I've never had an interest, nor did I think I would be very good at it.  However, I knew I needed to face this and pick up a hobby that cleared my mind while also allowing me to process my emotions. I needed to do something that made me focus so hard that I could learn how to re-gain focus in my own life. I started to run.  On March 24, 2011, the day before my 25th birthday, I ran my first half-marathon. I was four miles to the finish line when I didn’t think I could do it anymore. And then, like a small miracle, Jesse McCartney’s “Leavin” played through my headphones. I hadn’t been able to listen to it because it reminded me of you. When it played that day though, something was different. It was as if I could see you next to me doing one of your little dances to cheer me on. I knew I could finish the race. Never in my life did I dream I would do something that. I did it because of you.
            After that, I started learning how to open up again; not all the way, but more than I’d been used to. I soon became overwhelmed by the number of people and opportunities I’d had in my life that helped me realize that although life is difficult, we can work through the difficult things together to become stronger. I took small steps to let people in again and it felt good. I was beginning to feel happier.
It wasn’t until more than a year had passed, that I was visiting your graveside, as I always do when I come home. There was so much I wanted to tell you about my life that I’d missed out on sharing with you - boys, a new job, hopes for the future, new experiences, and much more. I was used to sharing everything with you, my best friend, and I hated not having you a phone call away. I started to get angry that you were no longer here and that's when it hit me.  In that moment, I realized that just because you weren’t here with me physically you were still living my life with me. Your life, and now your absence, had become a significant part of who I was and still am today. So much of who I have become is due, in large part, to your passing which in turn continues to make you a significant part of my life and my dreams for the future.
            There are aspects of my character that you have helped shape over these past couple years.  You have helped me to become braver and to remember that I will feel pain at times, but that pain can heal through faith. That with that faith, I am capable of overcoming things I never imagined I’d be capable of doing.  That makes me braver.  You are still a very real, influential part of me.
            You have helped me to remember to express my love for my family and friends more fully and to forgive them and serve them more quickly, although I always have room for improvement.
            You have helped me to have a greater passion for life. In fact, thanks to you, my new life motto is “Live with Passion”. You had this drive that showed in everything you did from playing volleyball to receiving your Master's degree. You could walk into a room and make friends with anyone there because of your friendly, bubbly personality. You cared about your friends and family and were constantly doing heartfelt things for them. Whether it was making a blanket for me with all our inside jokes on it, or staying up for 24 hours straight to help me write my final 60 page paper for college, you took the time to really understand, care for, and love your friends. I want to cultivate more of your traits in my life.
I realized, standing there at your grave, that I had the answers to all my questions. I can miss you and
I will feel pain occasionally, but it doesn’t have to be as deep because you aren’t really gone. 
Certainly I’d love to hear your voice and laugh with you again, but you are, and always will be, a part of me. When I dream about my life and my future you are still a part of that for you have shaped my 
life. We started out as two dreamers and we will continue to be two dreamers. I am still me and you 
always will be my best friend. I love you Amber."

1 comment:

Shannon said...

I just stumbled across this while looking at some old blogs. What a beautiful post and heartfelt, touching tribute to Amber. Thanks for sharing. You're a beautiful woman, KY!