When The Holidays Are Hard

Some days I am still in the kitchen looking for napkins at that Christmas party. I can hear the laughter coming from the back of the house, my heart swells with the hope as the background music fades to the next track.

I immediately smile as I hear the younger version of myself laugh. Nothing was untouched by the lights that year, anything and everything was possible. All our troubles seemed miles away.

What I didn’t know was that by the next Christmas all of that hope would feel long forgotten and it would take years to get any of it back.

Fast forward to last week when I got a handwritten letter in the mail.

It was from a dear friend across the country and her words were full of that same kind of hope, risk, excitement, uncertainty. I found myself thinking about that Christmas party and about the year that followed.

I replayed what it felt like to let my heart grab on to things that were never meant to be. I let myself be taken back to those twinkle lights and the cold winter air. I let my heart stir in that hope that built me and broke me. While I can’t say I regret that time in my life, the memory of it sometimes still feels heavy whenever the holidays roll around.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get all warm and sappy whenever I hear it playing over the speakers in the mall, or when it greets me in the car on a dark winter morning.

I wish I could go back to the 40’s and sip coffee with the writers, Hugh and Ralph. I would ask them to tell me about the day they pulled that crumpled melody out of the trashcan. I would ask about the stories that caused them to write those words and that tune.

Let your heart be light…

Around this time of year, I have to remind myself not to get weighed down. It seems so much easier to get heavy when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And there always seems to be so much pressure to get happier when the red ornaments come out and the big mugs of hot cider start getting passed around. The thick obsession with holiday cheer can weigh me down faster than anything else. I don’t want to miss it. According to every one and every thing, these are supposed to be my happiest months. I often feel rushed to get myself together before December slips away.

I’m figuring out that we need to learn to let our hearts be light, but that we don’t need to hurry it or force it.

Some days it is okay to remember the Christmas party that broke your heart and to grieve the chairs those people no longer fill. But then you have to let go of that weight, sweep the floors and make new invitations. Keep throwing parties and keep filling up those chairs.

Let your heart be light. Allow it to let go, allow it to hope for better years. Go and see the lights, sniff the fresh pine, watch all the best and worst Hallmark movies, help your grandmother decorate her tree, make plans to find the perfect wrapping paper. Let your heart be hopeful and expectant, even if there are hard memories and prior years that still bring pain.

Sometimes I feel like Dickens really got his stories mixed up. He really should have started off the Christmas one with that whole bit about how it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Because some days I’m still in that kitchen and I am heavy with the weight of what Christmas used to be, might have been, appears to be for everyone else. One minute, I am one pine-scented candle away from weeping in Target and the next, I’m singing Holly Jolly Christmas and flailing around in snowman pajamas.

Most days this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Still, Ralph and Hugh knew that there would be those holiday days we would need a melancholic song that would help us mourn, while simultaneously giving us a swift-kick-in-the-rear with a challenge like let your heart be light. 

I’m not sure if those guys knew it, but a different kind of Christmas light is the only thing that can help us with the heavy weight. That Light came in the middle of the night to a bunch of people on the run, who were probably crying over old Christmas parties, and whose lives looked nothing like Hallmark movies. He saw all the sadness, darkness, pain, loss, loneliness they were in and He came.

And when He took his first human breath, I think that was really the first time the world heard what are quickly becoming my favorite words of the season: let your heart be light.

 

 

Learning from Loneliness

I used to live in a house with some fierce women and we spent our evenings eating dinner in the kitchen floor while laughing, crying, yelling, or praying.

Now, I come home to a quiet apartment, to the hum of my refrigerator and the buzz of the light above my stove.

It’s cozy this time of year. I turn on my Christmas lights and wrap up in my chunky gray blanket. It’s quiet and peaceful; there is a lot of time to think pray. I do a lot of that these days, a lot of eating take-out food and talking out loud to the only one who can hear me.

There’s a lot of sitting with my own thoughts. I’ve learned more about myself in these months than maybe in my entire life. I’ve learned a lot about staying with myself, being patient, laughing at my quirky tendencies, forgiving my breakdowns, talking through my frustrations, trusting my gut.

It’s an interesting thing to see how you’ll react the first time you have to call someone from maintenance to repair something, or how you’ll respond if/when you accidentally forget to pay a bill. How hard you fight when everything starts pushing against you. You will surprise yourself and suddenly find out the kind of adult that the childhood version of you grew up to be.

Some nights you will get texts from other friends or see pictures online of everyone eating meals together and you will feel the sting of not being there. There are responsibilities you carry now: work, school, freelance, bills, groceries, laundry.

It will hurt. You will learn to sit with yourself in the pain of working through loneliness and it will hurt. You will reflect on all the times in your life when you weren’t alone. You will regret all the times you chose to be alone when you could have called on others. Because now you don’t always have the choice.

You will think about the movie you went to see by yourself years ago, how you bragged that you were so independent. You will think about the person who told you, I would have gone with you” and you will hate your youthful pride. The pain of wishing they could say that to you now will settle deep into your bones.

You will put up your first very own Christmas tree and it will make you squeal with joy. You will be proud of it. But no one will will stand next to you to share that joy. You will sit alone and you will learn something beautiful about yourself in that moment. 

You love Christmas. You love trees. You love making things beautiful. Beauty can and should still be enjoyed alone, you’ll learn that a lot. You will instantly remember all the times in your youth when you acted like Christmas and decorating was an inconvenience. When you had other things you needed or wanted to do and you will realize that you never want to be that person again. You never want to be the person who thinks celebrating comes too early and who hurries to get it over with.

Loneliness can be one of the best things and worst things to ever happen to you. I’ve found out that I am one of the funniest people I know. I am the worst grocery shopper on the planet. I hate laundry with a fierce passion. Washing dishes calms me. I am the kind of person who has a junk drawer. It is necessary to have 7 shampoos in the shower at once. Bonefish has really good Sunday brunch. I feel weirdly guilty when I use paper towels. I use a lot of paper towels. I like wearing tennis shoes. Every night get really sentimental and teary when I’m turning off all the lights and getting ready for bed. I enjoy myself. I’m learning to stay with myself and to fight for the person that I’ve become and am hoping I’ll turn out to be.

I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to come to that movie.
I really love Christmas.
I might be looking to hire someone to do my laundry.
You should all invest in stock in Bounty.
Sit with yourself, stay with yourself, fight to become the kind of person that sometimes only loneliness can teach you to be.

 

 

As all of America responded, there was only one word I could say.

I fell asleep before the final results came in.

But I already knew which candidate was going to be the next President of the United States.

I woke up this morning and let it sink in. I scrolled through my social media and didn’t move for a long time. I finally crawled out of bed and slowly went to sit on my couch. I sat for a long time in silence.

Finally, one word came from my mouth as I began to weep.

“Father,”

This morning as America responded, that was the only word I could say.

I knew from the beginning I would be disappointed with either candidate having a victory. I have already spent months grieving both a President Trump or a President Clinton.

So, I did not cry this morning because of the results.

I cried this morning because many of my Christian friends called this election a victory for the church. I cried for the endless posts that said “God heard His people’s prayers”.

I cried because what they told the world was that God didn’t hear or honor the prayers of those who did not vote for Trump and that they are not His people.

Whether they meant that or not, this morning, that was what many heard.

I wept for the women in my life who are in an identity crisis. For the women who think Clinton was a role model. I wept for the women who believe their suspicions were confirmed: that they have to fight dirty in order to succeed and that even then, they will lose.

I wept for those who woke up with a smirk on their face and prideful words on their tongue because their candidate won. I wept because many of them believe God has put his stamp of approval on this man’s anger and immorality.

I wept because though I understand a sigh of relief from those who were afraid for a Hillary presidency, I cringe at their exaltation of a Trump one. I wept because many of my friends said it “bothered them to vote for him and they were doing it hesitantly, but he seemed a better option.” I wept because when they rubbed it in people’s noses this morning, it did not seem that it was hard or that it bothered them at all.

I wept because “How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great.” (Bill Bennot)

I wept for the way that many of my Christian friends chose to walk with the broken this morning.

I wept because as a person who voted third party, I was condemned, criticized, mocked, rebuked, scorned, and belittled. I wept because I cannot even fathom what people on the other side have endured and will endure. I wept because many of these are people who claim to operate under a law of love and a Gospel of peace.

My heart broke at those who sincerely asked Christians, “How do you explain this to your minority, Muslim, LGTBQ, and disabled friends?”  I wept because I know that many of the Christians I know do not have those kinds of friends.

Later, as I ran to get coffee, I found myself weeping again in the car. But this time, I wept because the barista told me that he liked my shirt that says PRAY. I wept because we are different genders, different races, and together we looked at one another in the eye and agreed that more than anything in these times, we need to PRAY.

I wept because God pulled me close and told me that He heard and hears my prayers. I am not a Trump voter, but I am His people and He heard and hears my prayers, too. 

I wept because though I am broken, I am thankful my hope was never in either of these candidates. I wept because I am thankful that I stood my ground. I wept as I told God that even though I was mocked, condemned, rebuked, I want to learn how to show others what it means to be a disciple who does not sacrifice their influence among Christians and non-Christians for an earthly government.

Today, I continue to weep because many voted for Trump believing he will help maintain their religious freedom. I weep because my prayer is that this freedom and their Christian influence does not become tainted by a pride, condemnation, or judgment of others.

Today, I weep as I pray that we have not pushed and will not cause those around us to say, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Today, I weep, but with hope that God is faithful. His grace is sufficient. I weep, asking for faith to believe that His true church will wake up and will be known for their love.

I weep today and I cry out “Father”. May He be merciful and forgive us in these times when we know and do not know what we do.

I have one less pair of pants and I now need to hide underground, but it will all be okay.

The ceiling literally caved in. I came home a few weeks ago to big chunks of my ceiling laying in the floor.

Then came final exams, a crazy list of things to-do at work, a roach in my bathroom, getting incredibly sick, and then accidentally and unintentionally stalking an old(ish) man.

Then came the world’s worst migraine that lasted for a week, which led me to an allergic reaction, which then led to me throwing my pants away (of which I have no recollection of).

Needless to say, my life over the last several weeks could have been a sitcom. I seriously think television networks could benefit from following me around.

In the middle of all of it, I found myself exhausted, terrified, frustrated, mortified, and amused.

But I also came to find out that the world didn’t end.

Somehow all the assignments that needed to be finished were completed, the speeches that had to be composed were written. The designs, deadlines, and e-mails were all taken care of.  I woke up this morning to realize that though I have one less pair of pants, and I now need to hide underground for a few years after the stalking mishap, that it is all going to be ok.

I think sometimes I forget that God works things out. He makes a way. Granted, I have to do my part sometimes, I have to be responsible with my time and my energy. I have to cooperate with wisdom, but it always gets done and works out. And even when I screw it up, His grace can and does still meet me.

I so easily take that for granted. I have a crazy and stressful week, I survive and then I just move on. I don’t always stop to mark the moment and say, the next time everything explodes and I’m a wreck of a human being who is staggering into doctor’s offices and beating a roach with a broom at 2 am, I should remember that God was with me this time and it all worked out.

I guess what I’m saying is that you’re going to be okay. Whatever the weeks and months look like for you right now, you’re going to make it and you’ll make it through the next time after that as well.

Think about all the times that you swore it wasn’t going to work out, you wouldn’t finish it all, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t be okay. You’re here, you’re breathing, you made it. Maybe it didn’t all turn out the way you thought it would, but the world didn’t end and you’re still moving.

Take a minute, just stop and remember that you can’t control it all and that you don’t have to. He’s got this. The one who is in control of everything has always and will always have you, and He will work it out. 

eat the cake and be thankful

My sister got married.

Which most days still seems like a sentence of fiction. It feels like this story that I’ve crafted in my mind about a day filled with coffee, flowers, shades of green, and warm hugs from the people who know me best.

The rhythm of the entire thing was joy and nostalgia, it was just the stuff Gary Marshall movies are made of.

Every time I think about that day, I stop breathing for just a second. It was the day I went from having my life and its people memorized, to seeing change come right before my eyes.

I don’t think I blinked the entire weekend of that wedding.

I kept telling myself to be present, put down the phone, take note of the perfect weather, laugh with my relatives, squeeze my out-of-town friends.

Because the story was happening. And I’ve always been one who doesn’t fully appreciate the story while I’m in it. But something about the wedding of the most important person in the world to you will shake you. It will make you stop dead in your tracks and think: don’t miss this moment.

Here’s what I learned: Eat the cake. Reach for the hug. Make eye contact. Make a toast full of words that you’ve held in too long. Pray. Sit up the night before, wrapped in a blanket, telling God that this was everything and nothing that you expected to feel.

Be prepared to literally feel the page of your life turn when you change out of that bridesmaid’s dress into your jeans and flannel.

But know that it shouldn’t just be weddings or noteworthy events that shake us. It should be the simple moments of our lives, the coffee dates with old friends, sitting alone on the porch, waiting in line for your morning bagel. Life, abundant life, is supposed to be this enthralling and enchanting thing that stirs you every single day. Days should not pass by in bundles without us having said, “Thank you God that I’m here and I’m alive. Thank you that I have a heart that fought to stay vulnerable, and still can’t make it through a wedding without crying. Thank you for this heart that begs to know more about love, forgiveness, and how to do things that matter.”

The days since the wedding have been filled with exams, my ceiling (literally) caving in, getting sick, trying to figure out a laundry schedule, battling a large insect in my bathroom at 2 am. Life hasn’t slowed, it hasn’t allowed me much time to really stop and be thankful for the goodness that comes in-between and in the middle of the mess.

So, maybe the point of this blog is to say, stop and enjoy the moment and realize that you have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also to say that you’re meant to live fully and abundantly. You’re supposed to be captivated and romanced by the reality that you have breath and a heart. Use them. Use them to appreciate your life and to live it abundantly.

Life is messy and hard. Sometimes you find yourself curled up on the couch crying from pain, right in the middle of one of the happiest times in your life. Sometimes you find that you still feel a coat of grief hanging from your shoulders, and it’s always reminding you of what could have been.

But stop in the middle of the mess, the grief, the questions, the celebrations, the busy schedule. Stop when you’re falling into bed, and can barely keep your eyes open.  Stop and say thank you. Stop and think about how good it feels to just be here. Stop. Eat the cake, say the things you need to say, and remind your heart not to miss being thankful for the biggest and even the smallest of life’s moments.

The Only Way I Can Vote…

I took a walk this morning to grab a cup of coffee from the cafe across the street. I noticed that the air is getting colder, the leaves are slowly changing. This morning was the start of a perfect autumn day.

But I found myself frustrated, clenching my fists, telling God that this whole election thing has got me in knots. I know what everyone is telling me I should do, but I don’t know the right thing to do.

Just as I prepared to cross the street, I heard him whisper,

“You are not accountable for your nation, you are accountable for yourself.”

Instantly, all of my frustration fell off in the middle of that street and I knew what the right decision for me is:

I cannot vote for either of the main candidates in this election.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wrestled over this. I have prayed, sought counsel, listed the pros and cons. I have not made my choice without weighing every single possible outcome.

Here’s the thing: yes, maybe my country is seemingly going down the toilet. Either way, it’s likely that both candidates are going to make some detrimental decisions for this country. But I am not going to answer to God for those things. 

I am going to answer to God for the state of my heart when I stood inside of that voting booth. 

He will know whether or not I was pure in my choice or if I violated my conscience. He will know if I stuffed down all of the truth that stirs in my gut every single time either of the candidates speak.

He will know if I am compromising my Godliness for my Americanness.

He knows that I am not trying to be reckless in my decision, He knows that I simply cannot violate my own heart by bowing down to those that tell me I have to choose “the lesser of two evils”.

He will not hold me accountable for the decisions of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He will hold me accountable for mine.

I will vote. I will honor the lives given for that right. But I keep in mind that their lives were given so that I could make the choice I believe is right. Not the choice that the church tells me is right, not the choice CNN or FOX tells me is right.

At the end of the day, I live with my choices and mine alone. My ability to look at myself in the mirror is worth more to me than the White House. My personal conscience is worth more to me than the Supreme Court.

I love this country and I care about its future. Whatever the outcome, I will pray for my President. And I will continue to believe that God honors those that honor Him. So, in this decision, I will do what my conscience says honors Him.

I will write in my vote and it will count. The name I write will not become President, but it will count because I did not deceive myself into thinking it’s noble to sacrifice my conscience and the truth for the “better of my country”.

They say we have to save our country, right? We have to gain back its greatness, don’t we?

“But what do you benefit if you gain America, and lose your own soul?”

 

 

 

Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile on top of the hurt by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings. 

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper: Reach for a hug. Give a compliment. Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because it wouldn’t feel genuine. But he’d say it over and over again: Love isn’t just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is: it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else. That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it, it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love, the more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is more like a triathlon. It has different legs. You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root. Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret pouring a little salt in your wounds.