My first boyfriend & I broke up. I was fifteen, he was sixteen, & we dated for about six months. He drove an old red Chevy truck, & it didn’t have a middle console so I could sit right next to him. We never went out on dates, but he came to all of my games, & I went to his, & we went to each other’s houses. The whole thing felt very grown up. He was my first kiss standing just outside the doors to school. We talked on AIM, & that’s how I learned it’s easier to tell someone how you feel on paper versus to their face. I was infatuated with him.

So it came as a shock to all when I broke up with him over the phone. (Lesson #1 I will give to my kids when it comes to dating is that you NEVER break up with someone over the phone. This is a jerk move like no other.) I had just come home from volleyball camp, & it scared me when I realized how much fun my friends were having together while I was just missing him. So in a panic, I ended it. But then when I realized how much I still liked him, we started dating again just a couple of weeks later. It turns out he only did that so he could return the favor & break up with me over the phone while I was having a volleyball sleepover. Good times, high school. Good times.

After he broke up with me, I cried so hard, I threw up, & then I cried until my eyes swelled shut & I fell asleep in my sister’s closet. All while the sleepover was going on. I am very excellent at keeping a party atmosphere alive.

Say it with me! “Every party needs a pooper– That’s why we invited you!”

I’ve known Brandon since I was ten. He was a teacher & coach at my school, & he was also the youth pastor where my family went to church. He was the older brother I never had. When everything felt desperate, my mom called him to get some advice, & I don’t know if she told me what he said or how I know, but his response has stayed with me.

He said, This may not seem like a tragedy to you, but it’s the biggest thing she has ever experienced, & it’s a mountain to her. 

It’s the first time I learned about comparison & empathy without hearing the words comparison & empathy. Because yeah, to an adult, a high school relationship may be laughable– but to that teenager, it’s everything. And that’s what matters.

We try to conserve our empathy. It’s like we think we’ll either run out or crack open if we give it out too much. We take outside circumstances & put them on our own scale to see how they rate. Then we make the judgment call of how we should handle it. I know I find myself doing that. But when we use our scale, we’re focusing on ourselves.

I have to remind myself it doesn’t matter what I think about the situation– at least not right now–  it matters what she thinks. So when we meet the sad teenager on her level & look her in the eyes & say, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, she doesn’t instantly heal, but she does feel solidarity, & that infuses strength back into her heart. Imparting wisdom is a gift, but instead of waiting for the right time, I think we hurry it along because someone else’s pain is unbearable for us.

Blake’s & my friend, Andrew, used to lead worship at a church when we were in college. One of the regulars experienced a death in his family, & when Andrew found out, he picked up a 6-pack from the gas station & headed to the guy’s house. They sat on his front porch, drank beer, & didn’t say much. I am so certain that was much more powerful than anyone trying to force words or give answers or distract the grief.

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

We have to sit in our pain before we can move from it. But we don’t have to stay in it alone. We weren’t created for long term isolation. Being broken up with during a party is the worst, but it meant I was surrounded by friends. I remember how sad I was, but I also remember someone holding my hair when I threw up & someone wiping my face.

The holidays are beautiful because of the hope we are given for what’s to come, but they can also be terribly lonely with painful memories attached. If this is you, I am so sorry. While you are certainly free to hold your grief close, I hope you don’t do it by yourself. I hope there is someone you trust to sit in the pain with you. Who doesn’t try to fix you but is comfortable with the uncomfortable.

My truest hope is that Joy finds you this Christmas. You are loved. You are worthy.

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