When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Some Thoughts on God, Music, and Hurt

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Some Thoughts on God, Music, and Hurt

*TW: Spiritual Abuse

It’s 4am and I’ve been awake for a little over an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. While 5 hours of sleep isn’t historically enough for me, my brain is awake. My head is full of all the things but clear. Does that make sense? Probably not.

I’m not sure what woke me up this morning, but I was very quickly in deep thought around the deconstruction of my faith. I have many thoughts on it and lots of stories. Christians have said some really horrible things to me/around me while invoking the name of Christ. Looking back, I’m appalled. How is that okay? How is that justified? I don’t know. Humans can justify anything, I guess. It pains me to think about who I’ve alienated over the years because their faith, or absence of, didn’t align with mine. All for what? The sake of being right? There are some dear people in my life who I’ve been able to talk to regarding comments or ideologies from my past. What about those people who I didn’t know well and who felt that separation or exclusion in passing? I hate to think about it, honestly.

They say it’s all to save people. God doesn’t need us to save people. He wants us to love people. He wants us to love them for exactly who they are and exactly where they’re at. And we shouldn’t need God to do that – and many, many people don’t. What He truly desires is to know us and be known by us. Did I just write a worship song? Probably.

Oh, worship music. I used to love it so much. There’s plenty I didn’t like and definitely made fun of – I’m looking at you Matthew West. “Modest is Hottest”? What the fuck dude? Even as a supposed “parody”, it’s horribly unfunny. Anyway, I digress. There’s so much worship music that I truly loved, though. I’ll probably listen to it again at some point. It will have to be good, though. It has to be vetted to weed out the misogyny, guilt, and shame. Eh, maybe I won’t go back to it. That’s a lot of work. I could just spend that time on my own music. But, see, I’m a musician’s musician. I love other people’s work – their music, art, poetry, writing, etc. I guess that’s part of deconstructing. You tear it all down, examine it, and reconstruct it with what feels right and true to you.

My tie to God has always felt true. I’ve always felt drawn to something bigger – a Creator. Some being made of love and compassion. Someone who knew me, understood me, and stood by me. That part hasn’t changed. Surely His ways are mysterious because our universe is mysterious.

Something that really struck me when I left my church was their performative “love”. When I left, I remained friends with 2 people from the entire congregation. These are women who I can see at any given time and pick up right where we left off.

The two pastors who I looked up to so much and, then, who had that “intervention” with me? They never reached out a single time after I left. Not once. And neither did their wives. One of their wives was in the meeting where they confronted me and I bawled my eyes out. That was nearly 5 years ago. I worked closely with them every single week for nearly 7 years. I had been in their homes and eaten meals with their families. That part used to be very painful. It still is a bit.

Now, maybe they were embarrassed by their behavior or felt bad, but were too proud to reach out. Or maybe it was mostly bullshit. I really don’t know. Either way, it was wrong. I know that now. But, even now, when I let myself think about how much I let them into who I was and know some extremely personal parts of my life, I get angry and sad. I realize now how manipulative that was, but it still makes me angry at times.

If I really think about it, though, had they reached out or pretended like they cared, I may not have been able to see the church as clearly as I do today. Looking back, there were so many signs or things that never really sat right with me. It’s good to see the truth.

I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but sometimes, when we take a second to look at the big picture, we realize that the hard experience, while painful, also healed other parts of our broken hearts. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but sometimes it is.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Thoughts Around Christmas

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Thoughts Around Christmas

*TW: Spiritual abuse

*Note: Only respectful comments will be allowed and responded to. Telling someone who is deconstructing that “not all Christians/Churches” are like that, is invalidating to that person’s experience. It is not helpful or respectful.

Here’s the truth: the holidays are hard for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. We struggle because of loss, Seasonal Affective Disorder, this Goddam Pandemic™ (going on two years strong), loneliness, estrangement (either by choice or not), and a million other reasons.

In the week leading up to Christmas, I’ve known 2 people to die from COVID-19. One person close to my family and her death will have a lasting impact on people whom I love very much. Another was someone my age, whom I’ve known most of my life. My heart aches over these people and their families. Wear your mask. Get vaccinated if you can. These losses have made Christmas extra hard this year.

On top of tragic loss and these expectations of magic and memories we put on ourselves, I’ve been deconstructing my faith. This has made Christmas feel very different this year. I know millions of people celebrate Christmas without any tie to faith at all. And that’s fine. Some use it to celebrate the origin of the Yule holiday, honoring the winter solstice and this time of change on earth. For me, I connect Christmas to the birth of Jesus. I know Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th and I know the traditions we have today around Christmas were based on Yule to help easily convert pagans to Christianity. Nevertheless, here I am, celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

My deconstruction journey started long before this Christmas season. The seeds were probably planted from the beginning, but my decision to really start to examine my faith came from what spurs most people to deconstruct from the church: Church Hurt. This is a story I’ve only told a few people I’m close with because I had so much hurt around it. There was shame for a while too, but that’s gone now. Shame is not an effective way to love thy neighbor, by the way.

I was part of a church and on their worship team for about 7 years. I loved it. I loved the church and many of the people there. I felt like I was part of a family – until I did something that was deemed “against God’s will.” I was moving in with my non-Christian boyfriend before we were married. I was immediately called into an intervention of sorts, where they tried to convince me that I was doing the wrong thing and that if I went through with this decision, then I would be removed from the worship team. They also tried to tell me that my boyfriend and I were “unequally yoked” – a phrase often weaponized in the church to shame an unmarried Christian into leaving their non-Christian partner. I think I attended one more Sunday service after that, and then promptly left. I stepped foot into that church 2 other times since then. Once to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t. And again to watch a friend be married. That was it.

I briefly attended another church, which I enjoyed. They were definitely more welcoming and honoring of their congregation. They loved people where they were and they were more charismatic, but the pandemic happened, which kept me home on Sundays. The 2020 election really fast-tracked my deconstruction for obvious reasons. Through this time, my beliefs were expanding. I realized that inclusive and affirming worship places were pertinent. God loves and honors all – gay, straight, trans, black, brown, white, atheist, agnostic, and everyone in between. He honors the things that make us who we are. I’ve learned that when people say “the Bible is very clear about x”, chances are, the Bible isn’t clear at all about that thing.

So I’ve stopped going to church altogether. I may never go back. I’m not sure. It would have to be a very open, welcoming, and affirming place. Where I live, that isn’t very prevalent. And that’s ok. The thing is, I’m not deconstructing from God. I’m deconstructing from the church. The church isn’t in alignment with God. I’m happy enjoying my life and building meaningful relationships elsewhere. There are people who stop believing in God altogether when they deconstruct. That’s ok, too. I respect that so much. I truly believe we all have a place in eternal goodness.

So where does that leave me this Christmas season? Honestly, I’m still stressed with present-buying and baking and holiday event hosting. I didn’t go to church for a candlelight service. I didn’t guilt myself into remembering the “reason for the season.” It is evident when I am with family and someone asks that I pray over the meal. It’s awkward when a very religious family member wants to “pray for/with me” or discuss theological ideas that I don’t subscribe to, which are many. With this being the second Pandemic Christmas™ in a row, though, it was much of the same. Do we get together with family? How do we stay safe? Is everyone healthy? Maybe it’ll be more evident when the Panorama is more controlled and things are more close to normal. Maybe. I guess we’ll see.

If you happen to be deconstructing and struggled through Christmas, please know that you are not alone. There are many of us out here trying to untangle the trauma we experienced from the church. We are unlearning the misogyny, racism, and patriarchal ideas that we taught with God’s supposed stamp of approval. We are healing from the trauma inflicted by people who we were supposed to be able to trust. We are learning to love ourselves again. You can love yourself again. You are worth it. You are loved.

How to Honor Your Mental Health

How to Honor Your Mental Health

With World Mental Health Day being this week, I’d like to share a story.

Exactly 4 years ago, on October 10th, I missed a cousin’s beautiful wedding to protect my mental health. Let me explain.

Four years ago, I was battling through my very painful divorce. During this specific time, in the 5 months between filing for divorce and our final court date, we had just tried to reconcile and it failed miserably. I was in a world of hurt – brokenhearted, angry, and just sad.

My little cousin was getting married and it was going to be a beautiful day of family, friends, and nuptials. I was looking forward to it and dreading it all at the same time. After talking to my mom, sisters, and best friend, we all came to the conclusion that I probably should not go to this wedding. As sad as I was to miss the wedding, it was also a huge relief.

Had I gone, I probably would have gotten drunk and made some poor life choices. I was pretty good at that during this time. Not like fall-onto-the-stage-and-give-a-slurred-and-sappy-speech-drunk. More like overshare-personal-details-of-my-life-and-maybe-makeout-with-a-random-family-friend-drunk. Either way, not pretty.

During that time, my mental health was fragile. My heart was broken and I made plenty of bad decisions. But thankfully I had a tribe who was looking out for me and gave me permission to sit this one out. In fact, Facebook reminded me of what I did end up doing that weekend. I went up north with my best friend to her cottage to get away, drink a little wine, and break bread with my person and her family.

Honoring my mental health
The view from my best friend’s cottage.

But that’s not the end of this story. Fast forward 4 years and I am happily divorced, in a loving relationship, my career is thriving, I own 2 businesses, and I’m pursuing things I love. My mental health is in a much better place. I no longer have nagging thoughts of self-harm, which is something I have a history with. I don’t immediately reach for alcohol to numb my feelings. And I truly have respect for myself and my body.

It also hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows. I’ve had struggles just like anyone else. I made sure to take time after my divorce to heal. Healing has to be intentional – not rushed. Intentional. I chose to heal. I chose to face my pain, bad choices, and insecurities. There’s still healing that needs to occur, but I’m always working on that. If you choose to heal as you go, then it is so much less overwhelming.

Healing looks like therapy, reading, journaling, crying, laughing, self-care, exercise, self-awareness, prayer, acceptance, connection, forgiveness, and love. All of these lend to your healing. Healing takes work, but it is so worth it. You are so worth it. And your mental health will thank you.

Now I look back and my cousin has beautiful memories of her special day. No one even remembers that I wasn’t there or why. And no one especially remembers how I made a fool of myself after getting too drunk, because it didn’t happen.

Life goes on and gets better – mine did. Yours will too.

Divorce: The Best Decision I Made … In the Last 10 Years

Divorce: The Best Decision I Made … In the Last 10 Years

This post will probably rub many people the wrong way – especially my fellow Christians. Good. I hope it does. There’s a very important point to this, so keep reading.

First, let me make this very clear. Divorce is hard and painful. If I would have known my first marriage was going to end in divorce, I never would have gotten married. I’m sure that goes without saying, but I’m saying it. But I also believe that no time is ever wasted and God redeems everything, including time.

My first marriage was never what I would call “good”. Some people who know me might be surprised by this fact. Others, conversely, are not surprised at all. Perspective is a funny thing. There are several factors that play into this but I truly believe that even if we each would have made better choices, we would have eventually ended up in the same place.

Why do I believe that? Suffice it to say that I’m a problem solver and a fighter. I believe no situation is hopeless. That passion and perseverance were not reciprocated. A relationship like that will never last. And typically, after that pattern goes on long enough, there is a lot of resentment that eventually turns into an emotionally abusive relationship, at best.

In my first marriage, I became a person I didn’t know. Words that come to mind are weak, powerless, co-dependent, pessimistic, underachiever. Now, these words are far from the truth. They are lies from the depths of hell, but that is how I was living.

Here is the trick, though. I believed that if I tried hard enough or “gave it to God” enough, that it would get better and my marriage would be saved. I believed that if I pushed through and persevered that it would get better. And I honestly thought divorce would be the worst possible thing to happen. I wasn’t a quitter. And God is always faithful.

That said, God is always faithful – it just might not be in the way we want Him to be at that time. He works everything out for our good. We just may not be able to see it right now.

During the struggles in my first marriage, I had several well-meaning Christians give me advice.

“God honors marriage.”

“Give it up to Him.”

“God hates divorce.”

“God can redeem any situation.”

These are all TRUE statements. But I’m here to tell you something:

God does hate divorce, but not more than He loves you.

Let me repeat that for those in the back:

God does not hate divorce more than He loves you.

Our God is a personal, loving Father who loves you more than anything. He wants the absolute best for you. It breaks His heart to see His children suffer.

I will never tell someone that if their marriage is struggling, then go get divorced. Every couple and situation is uniquely different. But if the only reason you are still in your marriage is that you think divorce is a sin and you think you’re honoring God by staying, then I want to encourage you in knowing that God loves you more than that. I recommend you shift your heart posture from being sin focused to being focused on our loving, graceful Father.

But if you have a partner who is willing to really work from a place of love, then partner with God and He will honor that.

Remember, God loves you more than He hates divorce. I promise. God will choose you every time.

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My life is so much better since choosing divorce. I’ve let go of so much guilt and shame. I’m closer to God than I’ve ever been or thought possible. I am becoming myself again. Positive, loving, driven. And slowly but surely my big dreams are becoming a reality.

I know there will be people who vehemently disagree with this post. I’m good with that. I’m confident in God’s promises for me and that’s all I need. I’ve learned to let the opinions of others not affect me.

But I encourage you to really lean into whatever may be causing offense in your heart about this post. When something causes us to have an offended heart, it is usually God stirring up a wound that needs healing. So lean into that and ask God where you need healing.

Or you can call me a heretic. I’m fine with that too. While I truly hope you find healing, I won’t be offended if you disagree with me.

And for those of you in the tough situation of trying to figure out if divorce is your best option, I’m sorry. It sucks. But I hope you find it encouraging to know that God loves you and blesses you whether or not you make all the right choices. That’s why His grace is so beautiful. The decision is never simple or easy, but He will be by your side through it all.

Finally, for my fellow divorcées; I’ve been there. My prayer for you is wholeness. Full restoration and healing in your family are possible, even though that may seem impossible right now. There is hope and beauty and healing on the other side of divorce. I promise.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Always Look Like Suicide

Mental Illness Doesn’t Always Look Like Suicide

*Trigger warning: This post discusses difficult topics like drugs, alcohol, suicide, and self-harm.*

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Everyone has mental health. Just like we have physical health, like bone health and cardiovascular health, we have mental health.

Poor mental health runs in my family just like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease can run in one’s family. From the outside, that may not seem apparent. No one in my family has ever lost their battle with mental illness by suicide – at least none that we know of in recent generations. But plenty of people in my family have battled mental illness with food, drugs, alcohol, and work. As a result, many have died prematurely from heart attacks, complications from obesity, type 2 diabetes, stress, cancer, and what we like to call “hard living”.

We don’t talk about these things like mental health issues. We don’t say, “Oh, she really really struggled with mental illness, which ultimately took her life.” No, we don’t say that. We say, “Oh, she struggled with obesity her whole life, which led to a life-ending heart attack at age 60.” But what really happened is, she lived a hard life because she was raised feeling unworthy, which caused her mental health to break down. And because we don’t talk about the hard things in our life – the mistakes, broken dreams, the painful things done to us, and our lack of love for ourselves – it grows like a cancer inside of us. And because there’s a stigma around getting real help from therapy or just saying, “I’m not okay”, we medicate.

Food makes us feel better. Alcohol and drugs dull everything around us – the bad stuff and the good stuff. Work helps us ignore it. These medications aren’t initially seen as an issue because they are the things we would do in a healthy life too. No stigma.

We have to eat and work. These are essentials in our lives, so they can’t be that bad. Alcohol is something we use to socialize or unwind on occasion, but it’s not used every day or all day for the average person. They are socially acceptable.

But, the truth is, I come from a long line of people who use these things to feel better when our mental health is suffering. If left unchecked, we use them to the point of addiction – to the point of abuse. And I’m not alone.

Remember, mental illness doesn’t always mean suicide or self-harm. It’s not always that final or that obvious. In fact, it almost never starts there. It starts somewhere much smaller and less defined – in the gray areas.

This is why self-love is so important. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You must love yourself and take care of yourself. Take time for you. Take a walk, a bubble bath, a nap, a yoga class. Meditate, read, write. Visit a friend, take yourself out for coffee. Take a mental health day or a whole weekend! Tell people no.

And – encourage this behavior in others. Give people permission to tell you no, or to take a day off. Give them permission to have bad days and love them anyway.

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Let’s be advocates for self-love: for ourselves and for others.

How are you going to practice self-care this week? Let me know in the comments!

 

Wine: The Best Grapes Grow in the Rockiest Soil

Wine: The Best Grapes Grow in the Rockiest Soil

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A friend and I were recently talking and he asked me if I liked wine and I just looked at him. Yeah. Hi, my name is Morgan and I love wine. He laughed and asked if I knew that the best grapes for wine are grown in the rockiest soil. No, I did not know that.

He went on to tell me that Riesling grapes grow the best in the rockiest soil. Their roots have to grow very deep to find the nutrients needed to withstand the elements. So the roots of these vines grow deep and strong, and the result is producing the sweetest grape – perfect for wine.

What a beautiful metaphor for life. The sweetest moments in life are often born from the most barren situations or seasons. Those barren areas of our lives cause us to really dig deep for the good stuff – for the sustenance to keep going. We really have to be intentional about finding the good things during those times.

Often times, when we look back at the rocky times in our lives, we are able to see the difficulties in it all but the good parts shine brighter and taste a bit sweeter. Those good moments, like a refreshing sip of water, highlight our journey and give us the strength to keep moving forward.

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Sometimes our best fruit comes out of those rocky seasons. Whether it’s in losing a job so you can pursue what you truly love. Or losing a relationship so you find your true partner in life. Or receiving a blessing you can’t explain or didn’t earn – having a debt paid unexpectedly, or someone buying your dinner, or something beautiful being gifted to you.

Most importantly, though, the rocky soil in our life becomes a breeding ground for growth, truth, and life. We become the best versions of ourselves if we stay resilient and dig deep.

If you’re going through a rocky time in life, or maybe it’s just been a rocky life, and everything seems dead and barren, dig deep and find the good stuff. Dig deep and find gratitude for what is coming. Dig deep and be excited to know that the best grapes grow out of the rockiest soil.

‘Tis the Season … to Plan for Next Year!

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the new year just around the corner, now is the perfect time to gear up for 2018.

Okay, maybe now seems like a terrible time to be planning for 2018 because of all the hustle and bustle. But if you haven’t started planning 2018 yet, you’re running out of time. It’ll be here before you know it!

I am one to re-evaluate my goals often – roughly every quarter. So this falls right within with my timeline. I learned a long time ago that nothing happens by accident and what gets tracked gets done. This was not an easy lesson to learn and by no means comes to me easily, either.

The act of looking at my goals, readjusting, and replanning is quite relaxing and, simultaneously, invigorating for me. When I get things on paper, it empties my anxious thoughts out of my crowded brain. I start to really be honest about the things I want to accomplish over the next 3, 6, 9 months, and I start to get really excited. Excited at the thought of trying out new things – or retrying old things with new strategies. It gives me a fresh slate and shows me that I’m no quitter.

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At this particular time of year, I also don’t like waiting until after the New Year to get started on my new objectives. I actually start to form a few new habits right away so I’m not trying to make so many adjustments all at once. It’s also a little mind trick I play on myself so I feel like I have a head start in some imaginary race.

So in the spirit of accountability and giving you all some things to look forward to, here are a few things I am committing to in 2018:

  1. Weekly blog posts – Yay!!
  2. Eating clean and achieving a healthier body fat percentage – there are obvious health and cosmetic benefits that comes with eating healthier but also a potential health issue has come to light. As more information becomes available, I will be sure to share more.
  3. Becoming more organized – I will begin utilizing a weekly/monthly cleaning routine and sharing more about that journey.
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    Add me!
  4. Becoming more financially fit – including getting out of debt.
  5. Spending more time on Snapchat – I know. This seems a little indulgent, and maybe it is. I’ve really been able to cultivate some long-lasting relationships on Snapchat and I miss doing that on a more regular basis. So I’m giving myself permission to do it more and love it. Add me – @morganharrell85

While these are just a few, these are some lofty goals and I look forward to sharing my journey with you in the coming weeks and months.

Now it’s time for you to share – What are some of your objectives for 2018? Do you have a plan of action? Please share in the comments!

 

 

The Beautiful Winds of Change

On the slick drive from the chiropractor tonight, I decided to take the back way home because the roads are usually not as slick in bad weather on these roads. Another reason I love this way home is because of this spot on the highway that passes right along the shore of Lake Winnebago. There’s about a quarter of a mile that hugs right up alongside the shore and one particular place where the trees open up enough to see a clear view of the lake.

This view is always gorgeous and always different. Every single day the view is different. The sun is shining, or it’s not. The water is a blue color, or green, or gray. There are whitecaps on the water or it’s completely frozen over, like today. As I was driving along, a truck was coming from the other direction and behind it followed a cloud of snow. This reminded of something that happens on the lake every year, twice a year – the hatching of lake flies. At the peak of the hatching, the flies swarm just like that cloud snow behind the truck. So thick, you almost can’t see through them. It brought me back to summer for a moment…

Anyway, I digress…. change…

This ride home always reminds me that everything is in a constant state of change and that change is beautiful. It may not seem beautiful at first. It may seem scary or uncertain, but a slight change in lighting or a twist in the breeze and it’s something utterly breathtaking. It’s all about your reaction and perception. The sun still exists on the other side of the clouds.

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A photo I took during one of the hardest times of change in my life. One of the most beautiful times, as well. (c.2015)

Fighting change will never go well, because everything must change. Tomorrow can never be exactly like today. Learn and grow from today so tomorrow is better than today. When I look back at my hardest times – the times that really challenged me and pushed me to my edge – those were the times I grew the most. Those are the times where I learned the most about myself, learned more about God and His mercies, and learned the art of not just surviving, but of thriving.

Today, if you are struggling through a change, know that you are not alone. Take the time to reflect, meditate, write, read, pray, observe. Do whatever you can to let this time grow you, mold you, and teach you. It will be worth it. It will get better. And hopefully one day you can look back and see the beauty of it all.

Mourning the Loss of What Wasn’t

A friend of mine who has a strong social media presence recently posted on Facebook about how we filter our lives on social media — the facade that is often put up to show how great our lives are. He made a point to say that while he aims to be positive, he is also real. Everyone has stressful days or bad things happen to them. His point was to say, “Hey, I keep a positive mindset, but shitty things happen in my life, too. You’re not alone.”

While I’m well aware of this fact about him, or any of my other friends on social media, it was relevant for me that particular morning. The previous night, my uncle passed away after a 10 year battle with colon cancer. I wasn’t particularly close to my uncle. Then again, he wasn’t really close to many people outside of his immediate family. But growing up, he was a fixture in my life. I spent summer after summer at his house hanging out with my aunt and cousins. My aunt doesn’t have any daughters, so I was the next best thing.

She took me shopping and let me wear makeup. I spent endless summer days at the ballpark watching my cousins play baseball and listening to my aunt and uncle scream, holler, and cheer. She took me to swimming lessons and let me watch movies my mom and dad would never let me watch – I promised I wouldn’t say anything (Sorry, Aunt Lyl! Secret’s out!)

All through these memories, my Uncle Wes is on the fringe. A few things I knew about Uncle Wes: He loved music and even owned a guitar, though I never remember hearing him play. But he had a classic sound system all the neighbors could enjoy. He loved his hair and his cowboy hats. One summer he taught me and my cousins how to play 5 card stud. He worked for “the union”, which, as a kid, meant we got tickets to see WWF or the CMA Awards dress rehearsals. And we got lots of free stuff from the trade shows that came through town. One summer we had an endless supply of fun sized bags of Spicy Doritos. Those are still a guilty pleasure to this day.

It’s always heartbreaking when someone close to you dies. But when someone dies who you aren’t that close to or you wish you were closer to, it’s a different kind of tragic. You no longer have the opportunity to learn more about them or build a stronger relationship. There’s always this time of mourning. But rather than mourning the loss of something you had, you’re mourning the loss of something you didn’t. You’re mourning the lost opportunity of what could have been. I’ve felt this particular sense of loss more times than I care to count. Another word for it: Regret.

Now, if I would have reached out, called more, or spent more time with my Uncle Wes, would we have been closer or had a better relationship? Honestly, maybe not. But, maybe so. Did we have a bad relationship? Not really – in fact, we had gotten closer over the last 10 years.

I guess my point is to spend more time with people you love. You may not have the same lifestyles or see eye-to-eye on things, but take the time to show you care. Make a 5 minute phone call or send a 2 second text – because you just never know when you won’t be able to anymore.