This Thing Isn’t Going to Last Forever

The subject line of her e-mail was: Please help me.

I read her words and my heart felt their weight. Just a few short years ago I was sitting in a similar place myself, reaching through the darkness for someone to give me something to hold on to. Her e-mail reminded me that there are so many people who need words of hope today. These are the words she inspired me to write:

I realized a few days ago, sitting in a cold white room, just how quickly everything can change.

I was reminded that fear is an intruder, he isn’t a gentleman. I was reintroduced to pain and brokenness, and let me tell you, they don’t always have the friendliest faces.

Not everyone realizes that I went through a long season held hostage by fear. Not the kind of fear that comes and goes; it was the kind that chains itself to you. You feel its breath against your neck every second of every day and it feels like there’s nowhere you can go that fear and his friends don’t follow.

It was a dark time, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t turn off the loud speaker in my head: the one that was dedicated to blaring that voice of doubt, fear, anger, and defeat. No matter how much I prayed, it didn’t seem to work.

The other day, that voice came back for just a moment. I promise you, I thought I was going to have a break down in the middle of Target (which is where I always seem to be when tragedy strikes).

And I did the one thing I knew to do… I picked up the phone. I dialed the number of someone that I trusted, and I asked them to help me silence the fear. I asked for them to tell me I was going to be okay and that this moment wasn’t going to last forever. I needed to hear that it was temporary.

It took me back to nights sitting in my bed, rocking back and forth. With my back pushed against the wall and knees pulled close to my chest, I would just sit there for hours and ask God over and over again to please, help. I wasn’t sure He was hearing me, but over and over again I would beg.

I just kept telling myself night after night, it can’t last forever. It won’t last forever. 

It didn’t feel true. Nothing about those words felt true. I had no evidence that my pain was going to lessen or that the fear would shrink. I had no reason to think those nights that haunted me would start to fade in my memory. None of it felt true, but I had to keep telling myself it was. It was the only way I knew how to keep going.

This is the thing I can tell you: you’ve got to keep believing. You have got to keep listening to God when he tells you that it won’t be this way forever.

And when you’re breaking down and you’re on the edge of causing a scene in a department store, sometimes you’ve got to pick up the phone and drown out that voice of hopelessness and despair, even if it’s only for a second.

One thing I’ve learned to be true is that the only way we get through the pain is to have those little moments of peace along the way. We need moments of refuge where we let God and let people speak louder than the fear and the brokenness. Even if we don’t fully believe the words, we have to give ourselves just a few minutes every single day to hope. To hope that tomorrow will be better, and that maybe even a few weeks from now we’ll find ourselves laughing again.

Hear me when I tell you that this thing isn’t going to last forever. You may never fully lose the painful memories, but they will lose their power over you, because goodness will come again. And goodness and love always win, they always overpower the darkness, hate, and violence.

Love is a blanket and it covers over the worst things, I promise you that.

I know you might not see Him yet, but Love is there, even if you’re still shaking from the cold. Love is still wrapping you up. Sometimes you’ve got to sit in that love for a bit before the warmth starts to seeps into your bones. You will stop shaking though, eventually you’re going to feel the warmth return to your fingers and toes. You’re going to unclench your jaw and finally breathe again.

Just keep holding on. Keep telling yourself truth, even if it doesn’t seem true today. And if you can’t hear God right now, pick up the phone and let Him use someone who loves you to speak the truth. Let His truth be louder than the lies, even if you can only do it for a minute each day.

In the long run, that minute will make all the difference. That minute of breathing will help keep you from drowning.

And know that you are not alone and this won’t last forever. 

It won’t. It can’t. Because fear and his friends aren’t powerful enough to win against a God who can never lose.

Life Is More Like Take-Out…

I started writing this from a hotel restaurant that overlooks the city, after a week could easily be classified as one of the most exhausting of my life.

I kept thinking back to a morning a few weeks ago. After waking up, I drug myself upstairs to find my roommate brewing a fresh pot of coffee and wiping down the countertops.

I plopped down on our little stool that sits next to the refrigerator and let out a deep sigh, “I don’t like my life.” I said it so casually, as if it were typical words for a person to spit out first thing in the morning.

She turned with a raised brow, “Why?”

I leaned my head on the fridge and closed my sleepy eyes, “Because I’ve let everything and everyone else build it.”

She waited, like she always does, knowing I had so much more to process.

“I’ve lived most of my life basing my decisions off of other people. I live my life reacting to people and circumstances. I can’t remember the last time I made a decision simply because I wanted to and not because I felt that I had to!”

And she gave me this look, that without her even saying a word, I knew she was asking me “So, what are you going to do about it?”

All of that led me to this moment. This moment of eating fries in a hotel restaurant and making decisions that I’ve been afraid to make for a very long time.

I’m moving my feet and going places that I couldn’t have imagined because I woke up one day and realized that I needed to own my life and take responsibility for my decisions.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I am not a fan of making decisions. I am the person who thinks multiple-choice tests are cruel and unusual punishment. They are the one kind of test that continuously makes me doubt myself because it presents me with so many options, with things that could be right. But if I choose wrong, it could lead to utter failure.

And that’s how I’ve lived my life: like a multiple choice test. One of these four answers is God and I’ve got figure out which one is Him or I’m going to fail.

And I’ve been taking this test like a contestant who is always trying to phone-a-friend. Even when Regis is yelling at me and telling me that I don’t have any lifelines left, I’m over here trying to pawn this decision off on anyone but me.

Because choices and options have always made me bleed doubt. Life often feels like a big test where I can’t just write a paragraph based on what I know and possibly get lucky with a professor who will believe the nonsense I just presented. No, for me, life feels like this concrete question that is going to give me choices that are all close together and could be the right thing, but could just as easily be wrong.

 And so I’ve waited. I’ve waited for people and circumstances to happen to me so I could respond appropriately. I’ve needed a cause for every effect; I’ve needed a good and logical reason for every decision I’ve ever made. I will choose the correct answer once I’m able to rule all the other ones out, or until I’ve run out of time and am just forced to circle something.

But when you live that way, sometimes you just wake up and realize that you built a life compiled by reaction; a life that isn’t full of passion, drive, ambition, or dreaming. You stifled all of your dreams because they might have been the wrong answer.

I do it at restaurants. I have three or four options in my head and I wait until the waiter is staring at me and then I blurt out a decision. I rarely know what I’m going to choose until that moment. The only way I choose is because I am forced to react to a deadline, to a frustrated stare, to someone expecting me to answer.

But life isn’t like a waiter; life is more like take-out. You have to pick up the phone and make the call whenever you’re ready—no one is going to force you to do this thing, to decide who you are and what you want. When it comes to the big things, no one is going to scream in your face and tell you to let go, move on, or make a choice.

It’s like we’ve been waiting for someone to walk by with a script that will lead us to our happy ending. We just want someone to tell us what to say, where to live, what career to have, who to marry.

But this isn’t a multiple-choice test and God isn’t a teacher with a big red marker waiting to write an F on your paper. He isn’t a waiter who is glaring at you, tapping his toe with impatience while you wring your hands over chicken or steak.

God’s the one you call when you are ready make that decision. He’s given you a menu and He’s happy to recommend the best choices, but He loves you and will stay with you whether you choose soup or salad.

Stop waiting to see what everyone else is going to order. And stop waiting for God to force-feed you the better choice. The choices of life are yours and refusing to make them or putting it off are only going to keep you hungry.

Time and Space

We were talking about small victories, about the little choices we make along the path of finally moving on.

She and I both have our stories. We have our chapters where we had everything we thought we wanted, and turned the page to find out that those were the things we could not keep.

My fingers pressed the buttons and typed a sentence that I didn’t even know was true until after it had been said:

“I tried to make time and space my healer.”

I became the person who thought miles and state lines would be the medicine I was desperately seeking.

Sometimes I’m both the fight and flight type of person. When it comes to others, count on me to fight. But when it comes to my own pain, you’ll usually see me headed toward I-85. So, I learned the art of leaning into time and space. I put them on a pedestal and just knew that they would solve all my problems.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself crying over a bowl of salad and asking one of my best friends if we’d ever stop having this conversation. I begged her to tell me that one day I would wake up to find that the clock’s hands had finally been able to repair all the holes in my heart.

She didn’t promise me that because she knew better. Time and space had not repaired any more of me than the last time we sat across from one another, back when Christmas lights lit up our hometown.

Time and space can sometimes be the tools in His hands, but they are not the one who can fix your brokenness. And the second you think they will, God will set them down and tell you that He’s not going to let you depend on them, you must learn to only depend on Him.

We keep thinking that age and life experience are the things that will save us. They’ll fix the pain and they will make us stronger, healthier, more reliable, less insecure. Eventually, we’re just going to grow up and get it together.

But we’re fooling ourselves when we tell ourselves that God is intimidated by our allegiance to time. We often think that if time doesn’t heal us, He’ll eventually just break down the door and say it has been long enough, I’m just going to fix you and get this over with.

We forget His patience. We forget His willingness to let us work it out and wait it out. God is not threatened or moved by our idolatry of waiting and growing up. He knows that eventually we’ll figure out that time and all its experiences don’t fix a broken heart.

He knows we will eventually have waited beyond what we can bear and will throw ourselves at Him once we finally remember that He’s the only healer there is.

Until then, we bury our heads in our work, our social lives, our gym memberships and keep telling ourselves that eventually we will feel better, be better. After some time we will have moved on and the pain will have lessened.

But the reality is, that the pain doesn’t lessen, we just get used to feeling it and it becomes our new normal. And in this new normal, we’re able to call ourselves better and healed not realizing that we forgot what it was like to live without it.

I’m sometimes glad God keeps me in front of my pain and heartbreak. That He rips down the altars that I build in front of time and space. He lets me cry into bowls of salad, and all the way down I-85. Because time doesn’t heal wounds, and when I think it does, I’ve made it my god.

And so, no… we’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly no longer feel the heartbreak. We are not going to just grow out of this stage of pain. We will either lean into Him as healer, or wear ourselves out counting on clocks that hold no power.

To Be Honest

My breakfast yesterday morning was a sleeve of saltine crackers in the Publix parking lot.

I woke up with a headache that could make a grown man cry. I swallowed three Advil before crawling out of bed and slapping Icy Hot on my forehead. That isn’t something I would normally do, but desperate times and all that…

I finally managed to take a hot shower, throw on my worst outfit and drive to the grocery store. I entered with wet hair, baggy basketball shorts, and a tight grimace on my face.

And then I went and sat in my car. I sat there pitifully eating a sleeve of saltine crackers, drinking a Coke Zero, and telling God that I had officially hit an all-time low. 

I haven’t figured out what it means to have order in my life. That’s just the raw and honest truth of it. There was a time in my life that I had order, I had peace, I had a schedule, a plan, a routine.

For weeks my phone has blowing up every five minutes with demands, questions, events, meetings, plans, and I’ve been on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I’ve realized I don’t know what it means to be honest.

Part of this comes from growing up in the South, where being blunt is somewhat forbidden (especially for little girls). It can often be labeled rude, and does not make you appear hospitable or agreeable.

You must aways find the perfect way to send your regrets, which means– the only acceptable reason for not going to something or doing something is because there is another life-or-death commitment/event that you cannot miss.

So, from a young age I learned not to say no because I didn’t want to do something, or do not have the capacity for it. I believed you must only say no if you’re saving orphans or helping old ladies at the grocery store.

And the church did very little to help me with this. There’s a notion of always having to do the Christian thing. There’s the right thing and then there’s what the church calls the Christian thing and they, I’m quickly learning, do not always coincide.

So, here I am, a bold and blunt individual who very clearly understands where she stands on most things, but who has been muzzled by “polite” southern culture and doing the Christian thing.

This is where chaos and being covered in cracker crumbs comes in. Rather than realizing that honesty will always trump presentation, I find myself making the dumbest excuses and telling everyone “I’ll get back to you” as a way to give myself ample amounts of time to figure out what the polite and Christian thing to do would be.

And then, begrudgingly, I will do that. Even if I hate it. I will inwardly whine the entire time. But at least I’ll have the false feeling of comfort that comes from believing that I did the polite and Christian thing (and knowing that Dolly Parton would be proud).

However, killing your honesty in order to make others happy is poison. One day, you’ll look around your life and see nothing but piles of perfectly formed excuses, all of them lies.

Saying I can’t or I don’t want to is not rude and not un-Christian.

This is a truth that I’ll probably wrestle with for the rest of my life. I’ve spent twenty-four years of believing the opposite, so it will probably take a while to re-learn a different way.

Neglecting our health and sanity and refusing to be honest about where we are is what breeds chaos in our lives. We find ourselves unable to say yes and no to things because we sacrifice what is necessary for what is acceptable to others. We can frequently find ourselves lying, but convinced that it’s for “the good reason” of not hurting someone else.

I’m terrified to disappoint people, to hurt them, to let them down. I am terrified of being bad at commitment.

This became clear to me when I was in a season of attending three churches in the same day. I would go to a 10 am service, drive twenty-minutes and go to a noon service, and then eat lunch and then drive thirty-minutes and go to a 6 pm service.

This went on for months. I spent so much money on gas and so much time sitting on pews that it’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless and in a back brace.

All because I didn’t know how to disappoint people. I didn’t know how to accept my limits. I didn’t know how to be human. I didn’t know how to say I can’t…”

What I’m seeing is that running away, making excuses, and just being polite aren’t my only options and they’re certainly not the best ones.

Learning to be honest, humble, and human is what’s required of us. We are to be loving in our responses, but that doesn’t mean lying to spare feelings or to make others happy. It means sometimes simply saying, I can’t or I don’t want to and knowing that our reasons won’t always expand beyond that.

I’m also realizing that all the hiding and the time spent making up excuses will drain you from actually doing the things you need to do.

I’m trying to become a person who answers honestly. Knowing that it might not get praise, it might be disappointing, and it might not be agreeable, but I’m learning that loving people by granting them my honesty truly is the best policy.

You Won’t Outrun the Pain

The most frustrating part about my life lately is that God took running away from me.

He took the one thing that I was clinging to.

Which He should have, because I was clinging to something other than Him.

Because I swear, there were days at the gym that I’d be gritting my teeth and muffling a scream at the pain in my back and leg, but still pushing through. Just one more mile. One more. I was tough enough, I could do it.

When I finished I always felt invincible (which is just foolish to feel while limping all the way to my car). But I somehow convinced myself that I had shown the pain that it didn’t win.

That’s likely what landed me in the state I’m in.

Pain is there to warn us, to tell us when something is not as it should be.

Pain is not something to beat. It’s something to listen to. 

Tearing down the street sign doesn’t change where you are, and fighting the pain doesn’t heal you.

You won’t outrun the pain.

People are going to make it worse. They’re going to tell you fifty-million solutions for how to fix it and cure it. They are going to ask you a million questions. They’re going to tell you about their twice-removed-aunt’s-sister’s-cousin and how she miraculously recovered. And they will have the best of intentions.

But they are not you and this isn’t their pain to carry.

God didn’t cause your pain, but He allowed it. But He allowed it to be your pain, not theirs.

So while you can listen to wise advice and consider people’s opinions, you’ve got to make decisions for yourself and you’ve got to own those decisions. Then, you have to accept where God has you.

You don’t need to believe that He’s going to keep you or leave you there. But you have to accept that for whatever reason, He has you there now.

That isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t the defeat of your faith. Admitting reality isn’t lack of faith.

Faith is not denying your pain. Faith is not fighting your pain.

Faith is admitting your pain. Faith is remembering that you are not God and you cannot defeat pain. 

Faith points to the one person who did defeat pain, but did not deny its existence. If we deny pain’s existence, we deny His victory.

Pain is real, but it is temporary.

And the more miles you try to run through the pain, the longer you’re going to be sidelined when you finally break.

He took the thing I was clinging to. I’m frustrated, but I’m thankful. Because believe me when I tell you, the miles you run won’t be there for you when it all comes crumbling down.

In the end, I think I’d always rather be sidelined than clinging to anything but Him.

Stay, that’s the first step.

I thought I was doing really well.

I was settling back into life in Georgia and feeling pretty accomplished. I found a place to live, a job, a gym, a routine. I was running, I was working, I was doing well in school, I was laughing with my friends. I was set.

All at once, it came crashing down. A series of events in a few weeks took my carefully tailored life into a tailspin. The physical pain I began to experience in my back was growing increasingly unbearable. My mind was slowly bending to its breaking point. Pain can do that to you–it can take every bit of sanity you think you hold and slowly burn it to the ground.

I kept pushing through. I kept thinking, it will get better, push through. Just push through the pain.

Body hurts? Push through! Heart hurts? Suck it up! That’s the only way I’ve ever known. Survive and push through.

It took a hefty combination of extreme physical and emotional pain to break me.

My doctor stopped himself at the door and turned back to look at me straight in the eye, “You’re feeling pain,” he said.

I nodded.

He shook his head firmly. He wasn’t speaking to just my ears anymore, “You are feeling pain” he said sternly.

Tears in my eyes, my shoulders fell and I looked back up at him and whispered “Yes, I feel pain.”

I’ve realized there’s something to be said about learning to own your pain, your exhaustion, your desire to stop feeling alone. Not to push it all down, run, deny it, let it make you feel less.

There’s something to be said about learning how to stay with yourself. To realize that it won’t always be this way. To wade through your mess and realize it isn’t unlovable and it doesn’t mean you’re defeated.

Don’t wait until you’re grimacing through tears and agony and a stranger is having to force you to admit it.

Admit there’s pain. Your pain doesn’t make you unsightly or worth leaving. Your pain isn’t why people left in the past (and if it was, it doesn’t mean you deserved it).

Most of us know the sounds keys jingling and of doors slamming.

We’ve memorized the sight of taillights that don’t turn to brake lights.

Most of us knowing what it is to be left.

So, the thing you need to learn is that being left doesn’t say a thing about who you are or what you’re worth.

So stop blaming yourself and thinking that you’re so bad, so scary, so worthless that no one could ever carry the kind of love it would take to stay with you.

You’re not that powerful, that you could push away something as strong as authentic love.

We all want to hear the words “you are worth staying for”,

but first you’ve got to learn how to stay with yourself. You’ve got to stop running from yourself. You’ve got to stop covering up the hurt. You’ve got to be able to unclench your jaw and say, “Yes, I feel pain.”

Learn how to stay with yourself. Get acquainted with loving yourself even through the worst of it, even when you feel entirely weak and wrecked.

Slowly, you’ll start to see that your value isn’t diminished by your weakness, by your pain.

Stay, that’s the first step. And one day you’ll look back and realize that you didn’t actually need to hear the words “you’re worth staying for” from anybody other than God and yourself.

Plastic Plates and Celebration

I turned my head at just the right moment.

The couple next to me, maybe in their mid-sixties picked up their styrofoam cups and toasted to one another.

She called him darling and he helped her clean her plate.

A casual Thursday lunch. They were simply celebrating life and enjoying each other, as if it were the most normal way to spend your day.

My eyes stung with tears as I continued to wipe down the table next to them. I didn’t have the nerve to tell them that it was a rare kind of thing to see people who carried such a simple appreciation for the person next to them. Few people could throw an elegant celebration amongst old tile floors and dark wood paneling.

I pulled myself together and put all my feelings on the back-burner of my mind as I finished my shift.

Afterwards, the day became tangled with errands and tasks, processing life and working through my own issues that I forgot all about them.

But as I settled into my bed last night, I remembered those two cups in the air and the smile on her face and I found myself finally letting those tears finally fall down my face. I wished that I had leaned over and asked “Whats the secret? What’s the secret to having a life that leads to saying ‘cheers’ and rejoicing over hotdogs and sweet tea?”

Because I think we wait for special occasions and days circled on the calendar to really stop and say, “Life next to you is a joy and doesn’t need clanking glasses and rounds of applause. This styrofoam cup will do because your familiar laugh, the wrinkles around your eyes, and the way you’ve stuck with me through the years can make these plastic plates and ruffles potato chips look like the finest banquet.”

Life on its ordinary and unremarkable days should be celebrated. The people who show up in our lives day after day deserve more than a birthday card and occasional word of gratitude.

Maybe there’s no secret. Maybe it was right out there in the open for me to plainly see. It’s laughing in the monotony, and learning to be thankful in the midst of weekly routine. Maybe it’s looking up from our phones, our plates, and really seeing the person across from us and saying: I still like you, even after all this time.

Maybe it’s not letting the disappointment in our own lives stop us from fully and outwardly admiring the strangers who show us that even the dime-a-dozen days can remind your tired heart that the world is still full of breathtaking goodness.

Tell someone you’re thankful for them today. Make it a habit to make ordinary days full of grand and not-so-grand gestures.

The secret is simple after all: celebrate your life and the people in it.