I have found a kindred spirit in the writing of my friend, JJ Landis. We have some similar experiences and she is part of this “Grace is Messy Tribe”. JJ gets it. After walking through hell on earth at a very young age, she has emerged a joyful, gracious, and encouraging writer and speaker.
I have been blown away by JJ’s story of love, loss, and living for real.
Thanks for reading,
“There’s been an accident. Mom fell asleep in the garage. She’s dead.” When I heard my father say those words, I stood motionless beneath his hand that rested on my head, wondering if he was truly talking about my mom. The reality soon set in, but the grief and healing were years off.
I was twelve when my mom killed herself. My parents were divorced. My dad was remarried and lived nearby. My older brother lived in his own apartment, so it was just me and my mom making our way.
She sometimes left me home alone when she went out drinking. I begged her to stay home, but she would only promise to be home by a certain time. My neediness was useless to change anything.
I slept at my dad’s house the night my mom died. More accurately, I moved in. A few blocks were all that separated the houses—a slight but infinite distance. This time the sleepover wouldn’t end. When the sun rose I wouldn’t have a home to return to. Home as I knew it had vanished.
When morning broke, I pretended to sleep. I knew if I got up, my mom would still be gone. I covered my head with the comforter and wanted to die, to sleep forever.
A few days later, after the initial shock of the death wore off, the afternoon clouds spilled rain. And heaviness clouded me. Moving and talking were hard. My skin crawled. I felt like I didn’t belong.
The need for escape gnawed at me. I grabbed an umbrella and headed out for a walk. I ambled aimlessly, splashing in puddles, all the time knowing that I was acting like a little kid romping in the water. But I wasn’t a carefree child anymore. You don’t get to be carefree when your mom commits suicide.
I felt the rain deep within me. I was cold and wet all through my insides, as well as on the outside.
On that dreary stroll I came to realize that my new life would be one of isolation. No one was ever going to understand what I had been through. This was it—my life. I resolved to be tough. To protect myself.
My armor remained intact for years. I decided I wanted out of my shell but was unable to escape. When the time came in middle school that I wanted to cry, I couldn’t. I poked myself in the eyes hoping to get enough tears so someone would notice my sadness.
How did I go from that empty, sad, guilty, depression-prone child to a healthy and joy-filled (usually) adult?
I took a magic Christianity pill and everything was fine! Oh wait. Nothing is ever that easy—you know that.
As a kid who didn’t feel secure, I started drinking alcohol, which progressed into drug use.
Lying, stealing, excessive dating, and casual sex followed. Then a pregnancy when I was 20. And an abortion.
I knew I needed help. For years, I knew I needed help.
But I was stuck inside myself, wallowing in muck and mire. Beating myself up for so many things. I assumed I had to clean myself up before I could ask Jesus to help me. I knew the truth about God; I had attended church off and on since my dad and stepmom had begun going when I was in fifth grade.
Even though I knew the path to freedom began with a prayer of submission to the Lord, I still thought He wouldn’t want me unless I was clean. There was nothing in me that comprehended that God could love me unconditionally.
Finally, when I was failing at life so badly I had no choice but to die or try God, I prayed out of desperation. I reached out to Jesus and asked Him to rule my life.
A vivid picture developed in my mind’s eye of years earlier when I was at the pit of depression and misery, crying and wondering how I could ever move forward. I saw Jesus there, sitting next to me on the side of my bed. He held my head, wiped my brow, and dried my tears as a parent might do for a sick child. I realized at that moment that He had been with me and had wanted me all along—just the way I was, broken and damaged.
He wants you too. He’s been by your side all along.
JJ Landis is a writer and speaker who enjoys discussing real life with others. She is the author of Some Things You Keep, a memoir about growing up after the suicide of her mother. She writes about parenting, marriage, and getting through the day at her blog Living for Real where she says: “Regardless of the shiny image we present to social media, family, church members, and neighbors, I believe we are all in need of some encouragement to relax, let things go, and be ourselves.” JJ is a youth librarian in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and three kids. Keep in touch at www.jjlandis.com
If you’re visiting from JJ’s site, welcome! Here’s a few more pieces you might want to check out:
If I had Spoken at My Grandfather’s Funeral…
It’s Easy to Love People: My Favorite Christmas Memory
Living Through the Aftermath of My Mom’s Suicide
Love will Never Vote You Out
Pastors and Suicide: What Should I Know?
Why No One Really Cares What You Believe
Jesus was a master at practicing empathy. Here’s why.
Missing Jesus: The Death of My Childhood Faith
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