With every new friend I meet there is an awkward moment. It usually happens somewhere in the first week or so of knowing one another. The new friend casually asks where my parents live. I always take a breath before I answer because it feels like jumping into the deep end of a pool.

“My parents died when I was young.” {blink, blink}

“Oh, wow…How? I mean, wow…that must have been hard…I’m sorry.”

Pity eyes. I hate pity eyes.

I have lived without one or both of my parents for 21 of my 30 years. My father died of a heart attack when I was eight {he had a lifelong heart condition} and my mother in a head-on car collision a few years following.

Whenever I share their story, my story, our story, I feel the ache right in the middle of my chest.

To answer the question just under the surface- yes, I still miss them terribly. The scars remain, but my life is lived day to day as a continual learning of how to hold loss in one hand and the joy of life in the other. I’ve come to accept that it is a rare thing to find people who understand the weight of such a loss in a way that doesn’t involve big heavy pity eyes.

The average person hears my story for the first time and it can seem weighty and like too much suffering, too young.  We are all broken travelers with tales that are more or less heavy. I don’t need to be defined by my loss and I don’t need to define anyone else for their inexperience with a story like mine. Truth be told our stories are all unique and we have the privilege of cupping each others stories gently. Some of our stories are an armload.

There was also a desperate moment as a new mama when I wished with every fiber of my being my mama would come and clean my kitchen and make me a pot of vegetable soup. I mostly live my days and try to share as much of my memories of my parents with those I love as I can.

I’ve learned to walk with it like a rolling suitcase with a bum wheel, like that cart in the grocery store that you get every.single.time. that bumbles along clumsily.

In all things there is grace. I was raised by my maternal grandparents after my parents’ death and I recognize deeply the way God tethered my life to Himself. I’ve also been placed in a family all my own with a husband who has walked with me in a tender and life-giving way as I experience my story anew as a parent-less adult. My daughter has brought my mom’s death full circle and restored so much hope and joy to my own soul as a daughter. There is overwhelming grace in it all.

My story might sound unique, but I believe wholeheartedly it is no more unique than your own. My dramatic story of loss is no less precious to the heart of God then the tale of your life that he has been weaving since the day He made you, knit you together whole in your mother’s womb.

Somehow I made it through my childhood with only a few permanent scars. I reflect back on the million ways that I could have been injured beyond repair by circumstance and I see that by God’s grace that didn’t happen. I stand on the other side of the story and I know in all of my humanness that I would re-write it differently, but I trust God’s story is more intricate than my imagination could ever dream.

Now you know.

You know a big piece of what makes me…well…me. I’m an orphan. I am an orphan with a story and a hope the size and shape of Jesus. An orphan who was taken in by family, but discovered the family of the Living God is where home truly is.

Thanks for not giving me pity eyes and holding my story like the fragile gift it is.

Tell me your story. I promise to return the favor.