Like many of you reading this, I stumbled across TWLOHA several years ago, at first due to the coolness of their T-shirts and close association with some of my favorite bands. A quick search on the web led me to its origin story, and Jamie’s contagious love for a friend resonated with me in a way that was sadly unfamiliar. I had friends, even best friends, but I didn’t grasp the selflessness that shaped those words. From that first read, I sensed the deep importance of what TWLOHA was doing, even if I didn’t understand it on a personal level. Yet.
Around the same time, my wife and I were going through the process of becoming foster parents. As we learned about all that some children struggle through, the lens I used to view the world around me developed a noticeable crack. I wasn’t so insulated that I could deny there was sadness and pain in the world. I was even willing to admit that this darkness could be found in communities around me. The problem was that I always looked at that cloud as being someone else’s problem. As long as my family was cared for, I was doing my job, right? If my family could avoid the pain, I felt I was doing something worthwhile. That was my lens.
It cracked the minute that “someone else’s problem” became my family.
It shattered the moment I first held my foster son.
“Someone else” became “someone I love.”
For the next several years, my wife and I poured our lives into learning about the incredible challenges that foster children face, and we became vocal advocates for children in the foster care system. Our family was incredibly blessed to be part of the lives of several children who had been deeply wounded, yet still possessed incredible potential for love. We learned that the situations facing foster children could lead them to experience depression, PTSD, addiction, and even suicidal thoughts at an alarming rate. While my family and I couldn’t completely heal these children on our own, we began to understand their cries and desperation. TWLOHA’s message began to sing a little louder. I hummed along, not realizing that the song would soon be louder than I already thought possible.
Last spring I received a text from my parents that we needed to talk and it was urgent. Existing plans were cancelled, phone calls were made, and my parents let my brothers and me know that our teenage sister had been quietly struggling with depression, and it had reached the point that self-harm was involved. I was blindsided. Someone I love was now battling the things I thought only happened in “someone else’s family.” Depression and self-harm were topics I’d only heard when strangers shared their stories. This was all too real. The hardest part was that none of us knew how to help her find a path through the pain. I had majored in psychology in college, but reading case studies is one thing. Sitting across from my little sister and seeing the shadows of fear and helplessness cloud her beautiful blue eyes was something gut-wrenchingly different. She seemed lost, and her compass was spinning like a top. Those of us closest to her realized we had always taken True North for granted, but had never needed to point anyone toward it.
But in our helplessness, we found an unexpected truth: Love doesn’t always know the way out of the dark. Sometimes love means holding tightly to each other and looking for the light together.
Through these experiences, I’ve come to a realization that is critical to making a difference: the people who cross our paths aren’t there by accident. They’re part of our story, and we’re part of theirs. Whether they’re complete strangers or close family members, every day affords us the opportunity to see them as so much more than just “someone else.” We have the chance to let them know they matter, that they are loved. This is a beautifully terrifying opportunity. You see, if it’s just “someone else” struggling with heavy issues like depression and addiction, you have the option to look away. When it’s someone you choose to love, you’re forced to respond.
Love demands action.
Love makes the difference.
I don’t know what will make missions like TWLOHA’s move from your head to your heart.
All I know is how it happened for me.
It got personal.
Some of those who hold a piece of my heart are hurting. Struggling. Searching.
I don’t have all the answers. I never will.
What I do know is that I want to add my voice to the choir of hope begging them not to give up.
They may already bear the scars of the fight.
I am one of those who holds a pen, looking for one more chance to write love.