When I was 16, a good friend gave me a guitar. He had taught himself to play on this one and then gifted it to me when he bought a new one. I had a few other friends learning and I was excited to learn, too. I pictured myself sitting around campfires with my friends, strumming and singing. I couldn’t wait.
Except, learning to play guitar hurts. I was told I’d have to build up calluses on my fingers and they could even crack and bleed at times, but if I fought through, I would be playing in no time and eventually the pain would pass.
I willed myself to practice and even learned a few chords. A friend bought me a guitar chords book by one of my favorite musicians so I could play her songs right away. But, I couldn’t get past the pain. I never progressed farther than playing just a few chords because the harder I tried, the more it hurt. I didn’t want to do something that hurt even if there was a prize after the pain. I had a strong desire to play, but my fear of pain was stronger, and it won. So I gave up, and that lovely guitar sat and collected dust for many years. Years later I gifted the same guitar to another friend, hoping she’d have better results than I.
You know what? I bought a new guitar recently and started to play, nearly 20 years after I’d been given the first one. I’m well on my way to calluses, have learned several chords and a couple of strumming patterns, and when it hurts I press harder and dig in a little deeper. I’m not afraid of the pain anymore. 20 years sure gives you some perspective, because ya’ll- I’ve experienced pain. Physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I chose it (like giving birth to 4 children). And sometimes it found me, like losses of friendships or disappointments with people or church.Sometimes it was self inflicted because of choices I’d made. And sometimes it was just a hard hand dealt by life, like losing my big sister when she was just 27.
Pain has been a companion for more years than I would have asked for and I’ve learned something: it’s not actually going away. Yes it heals or changes so it’s not a constant, debilitating, life shattering mess each day, but it stays with me. I’ve experienced hurts and heartaches that won’t be fully healed this side of heaven, so I can try to live in avoidance or denial of the pain, or I can acknowledge it and learn to play anyway. The thing is, with guitar, and with life: I want to play. I want to play well. And I’m not embarrassed to say that I want the rewards that come from the hard work. I want the calluses if it means I’m making progress and so one day I had to decide that I’m not going to let the pain stop me. I’m going to build this life anyway. I’m going to play.
A few days ago, on what would have been my sister’s 38th birthday, I posted a status in remembrance of her. As always, you all flooded me with sweet words, but I was struck by one comment in particular: “Thank you for being so open with your pain. I know my tendency is to try not to think about the family members I’ve lost, because the pain is too real. Reading your post, it amazes me how alive your sister is in your heart and in your mind. I am profoundly impressed and quite personally convicted by the way you’ve embraced your pain. I cannot imagine losing my brother or sister, but I do know loss. And I hope and pray I can be as brave as you to embrace that pain and keep their memory alive in my heart, as you so clearly have with your sister. This is such a valuable thing, thank you for sharing Latrice.”
Here’s the deal: it doesn’t feel brave to share my pain. It simply feels NECESSARY. I don’t want the people I’ve loved and lost to be forgotten. I don’t want another guitar collecting dust. I can’t exist as if my lost ones never did and since the role God has given me is of a scribe and a writer and a storyteller, I write and I tell the stories of those I’ve loved and lost so that they are remembered. I have learned to play through the pain because avoiding the pain is a far greater cost than not. I want to play. I want to share their songs and their stories with the people I care about. I want the rewards that come from the hard work- like eating cake and ice cream with my kids on their Aunt’s birthday and answering questions about her and telling them how much she would have loved them. Like sharing stories with her son who was just 7 when she died, whose memory could start to fade but who will always have her pictures and her stories because our family tells them. Like reminding myself when I feel alone and like an only child that for 25 years I had a sister who loved me and cared for me.
I want to tell these stories. I want to play. I will strum with calluses on my hands and I’ll tell these stories with calluses on my heart and I’m not going to let the pain stop me. And you? My friend, you can play, too. The pain isn’t going away*. Might as well use it to play a song we can all hear.
*I believe God heals ALL things, even calluses on hearts. When I say the pain isn’t going away, I mean pain is a complicated thing and “in this world we will have troubles”. Take heart that if you are facing insurmountable pain today, God is a healer. He won’t leave you where you are. He loves you. So do I. 🙂