"Everybody has losses - it's unavoidable in life. Sharing our pain is very healing." -Isabel Allende
"I want to take all that pain that I feel and celebrate and turn it around." -Stevie Wonder
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Sometimes, I write stories about hope and light and joy.
Sometimes, I write about pain.
Pain is an important part of life.
It teaches us,
It changes us,
It turns our hearts inside out.
It makes us new.
We often to try to avoid pain, but we can't. Sooner or later, we meet it face to face and have to deal with it.
And the best way to deal with pain is to share it. Because when we share pain with one another, we lessen its burden.
Now, this sharing must be done with thoughtfulness, with sensitivity, with tact. When I share painful stories, it is always my intent to protect those who are suffering, to tell their stories in a way that respects their struggle and raises them up.
Because when we tell them properly, our shared stories of pain can be transformed into stories of hope and light and joy.
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A young man lost his life last week.
That alone is enough to break my heart.
The investigators ruled it a double suicide - his girlfriend died too. We can blame their deaths on guns and depression and young minds clouded by drugs, and that is not wrong.
But the truth is that my young friend was killed by bad choices.
Now let me be clear: my friend's life wasn't a train wreck. Far from it. He was as happy and funny and kind and loving a person as you can imagine. Hardworking and outdoorsy, he loved to fix up old cars and play with his nieces and nephews. He had a deep mind and a powerful faith. He had a family who loved and looked out for him.
But all these wonderful things were not enough to save my friend from his bad choices.
So this is the challenge that faces all who cared about this young man: we will continue to love him for the beautiful person he was, and at the same time, we must learn from the ugly reality of his bad choices.
His younger sister brought those conflicting drives into perfect balance and clarity in her words at his memorial.
"My name is Grace, and I am Seth's only younger sibling of two years. Seth was always cool and popular and all my friends had crushes on him, but Seth was also sensitive and kind in the way that he never made me feel left out. Being the youngest of 10, we got each other in a way that only we understood, with inside jokes or a simple glance to know what each other is thinking. It was always me laughing at his witty sense of humor and impersonations, us staying up late goofing off in our shared bedroom. It was always us two together. We experienced a lot growing up through siblings getting married and moving away and our parents getting back together. He was the ring bearer and I was the flower girl in our own parents' wedding. Seth was really smart too. I wish he was told that more often. He had a lot of potential.
"And I want it to be made clear that Seth was so much more than the circumstances in which he ended his life. I want you to know that Seth died because of drugs. Death took Seth in a state of darkness that was not his own. Seth was full of life. He was funny and caring and genuine. And his life was cut short because of the choices he made. And I want it to be clear that each one of you has so much power in the choices you make.
"So if you are a parent, please pay attention. Give your children opportunities to flourish. Give them tools to succeed and help them to see their own potential. If you are a teacher, tell you students often that they are remarkable, especially the ones who are struggling, because they need it most. And all of us can learn to listen more intently, to be aware, and to be more intentional in preventing circumstances like this, to lessen gun violence and educate ourselves on substance abuse.
"Seth had a lot of great qualities that made him who he was. So honor his good qualities and his true and kind-hearted character, not his choices. Don't honor Seth by wasting your life. Honor him by working hard like he was. Honor him by getting an education or a job or new friends that build you up rather than drag you into darkness. Honor him by going home and loving your family. Honor Seth by being like him at his true self, by being kind and befriending the underdog and speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and honor him by making the choices he should have made. Each one of you has a purpose to live out. You all have remarkable purpose like Seth did. And you have the opportunity to live it out differently. There is a lot of power in that.
"I'm so proud to have been Seth's sister. I love him endlessly. I'll always remember him as my big brother and I hope I can be like him someday. I love you, Seth."
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It is my prayer and hope and fervent wish that we can learn from these beautiful words,
that we can be better parents and teachers and friends,
that we can encourage each other to make better choices,
that we can help each other stay alive.
And thank you, Seth, for leading us with your light.
All photos from Seth's Facebook.