My Birthday, Jack Bauer, and Fighting Back

My 24th year of life was somewhat similar to the tv show 24. Ironically enough, it was also the year in which I watched all eight seasons of the show and fell in love with Jack Bauer and also Tony Almeida. But not Sherry Palmer, she was legit the craziest person television has ever seen (except for Deb from One Tree Hill).

Anyway, my 24th year of life was like that show in that it was a lot of sleepless nights feeling like I had to save America. Except I am not Jack Bauer and I failed us because Marco Rubio is not President.¬†I tried, but my methods of coercion¬†are a lot less persuasive than Jack’s.

But as I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I’ve found that it was a year of fighting back. It was about finding some stability,¬†standing back up and dusting myself off. It was one of letting go, grabbing back on, and letting go all over again.

Fighting back came in the form of moving to a town where no one knew my name, my face, my history. We didn’t have strings, years of history swimming between us. It came in the form of solitude, getting rid of the voices that told me who I was supposed to be.¬†It took getting alone in a city of strangers to find out who I really am, who I always was, and who I am free to be.

I had to find my footing again. My voice. I had to hear God on my own, without the temptation of distraction. I had to find him in the silence, in the stillness between my own four walls. I had to learn how to stop being afraid of the darkness. I had to learn how to ask questions that ripped my heart to pieces. I had to weigh costs that and decisions that felt impossible to make. I had to learn how to open my doors to my home, to my heart, and risk that it may only be for a season. I had to believe it would still be worth it.

I had to learn how to make speeches that have been stirring in me for years. I was finally able to let go of the pain and regret of unsaid words. I prayed and I still pray that I learn from that pain and I don’t spend so much time in fear. I pray I’ve become the person to¬†take chances and say the things that are worth saying to the people worth saying them to.

I had to learn to laugh. To make plans. To finally plan a birthday that didn’t make me cry, to no longer feel obligated to make that one day a day of redemption and atonement for everything that goes wrong the other 364. I had to learn that boundaries are good and beautiful, that you must embrace and often welcome pain when it comes, but you don’t necessarily have to invite it.

I had to choose to see that holding yourself and others to unrealistically high expectations is rooted in pain and a fear of disappointment. Disappointment is not nearly as bad as your fear of it. The anticipation of everything is always so much worse than the actual thing itself. Worry and dread are the enemy. The results you can live with, it’s the turmoil of inaction that will nearly kill you.

Here at the beginning of 25 I realize that there is still so much I don’t have figured out, there are so many opportunities that sit in front of me and the ever present temptation to be overwhelmed by the options and possible outcomes. But if 24 taught me anything it’s that taking chances is worth it. Nothing ever turns out the way you imagine or anticipate, but it often gives you a gift that far exceeds your expectation. Life and God have a funny way of presenting the right people and places at exactly the right time, and so when you find yourself wanting to dive in, it’s usually got something worth offering to you.

Dive in. Sit in the silence. Weigh the cost. Fight back. Say the thing you need to say. Life is a gift, the opportunities and people in front of you are the best part and every time you let yourself grab onto them, you always find something worth holding onto.

 

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.

 

 

On becoming a cheerleader for the people who broke your heart.

My knees sunk into the carpet and I found myself crouching down in the tiny space between my couch and coffee table.

I broke in a way that life had not allowed until that moment. I broke for the younger version of myself, the one who became numb in order to survive the pain. I wept for my present self, for the person who was now overcome with years of emotion that she had hoped somehow vanished over time.

I was angry. I was relieved. I was a combination of every emotion imaginable and none of them felt acceptable. It seemed too late to feel it all; it seemed somewhat irrelevant to my life now.

But the initial pain had been so daunting and threatening when it first arrived. It had all come on so quickly and so strongly that I felt myself falling into a hole. Back then, I feared that I would never survive if I allowed myself to feel it all.

So now, years removed, there is safety to let myself grieve those painful conversations, lost years, absent friends, and dead dreams.

But when it all surfaced, I needed to know that it wasn’t going to kill me. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to drown like I once feared.

I needed to feel it in a healthy and productive way. I needed a way to let myself process years of pain without becoming so overwhelmed that I laid down and never got up again.

I decided to process all the emotions in a way that produced something.

Because pain is a shovel and you can let it be used to bury you, or you can grab hold of it and break new ground.

So I went to Walgreens and printed pictures of the people and memories that are painful. I grabbed a pack of magnets and proceeded to hang them on my refrigerator. Around them I’ve begun to post prayers and promises. I pray for God to fill their hands with good and enduring¬†things.

And what I’ve quickly learned is that¬†real forgiveness looks like becoming a cheerleader for the people who broke your heart.¬†

It doesn’t look like sweeping things under the rug¬†or tucking them in drawers. It looks like not being afraid to look at the hard things, but teaching yourself¬†to pair¬†them with good and kind thoughts. Forgiveness means choosing to fight for truth over the current facts.

I’m not going to pretend that that first week¬†wasn’t¬†torturous. I woke up with an aching heart; the last thing I wanted to see through my bloodshot eyes was¬†a reminder of what I had lost.

But little by little, looking at those photos has gotten easier. And now each morning as I brew my coffee, I am slowly creating a pattern of no longer associating those names and faces with pain.

Because people are not the pain they’ve caused you. They’re worth more than that.

Believe me when I tell you that it’s becoming incredibly hard to hold back forgiveness. When every day you see someone’s¬†bright blue eyes surrounded by words of forgiveness and grace,¬†it’s hard to stay angry.¬†Something in you starts to change when you’re constantly saying good things about them over and over again.

Sometimes we think forgiveness is just this intangible process that happens over time. But forgiveness requires participation and action; it requires doing something productive and positive with your pain.

Print the pictures. Post them with notes with prayers of grace. Wake up, brew some coffee, and say a prayer. Then, please come back here in a little while and tell me about all the¬†ways you’re learning to love again.

You Don’t Have to Let Them Go

I’ve always been in love with the blue hour.

The blue hour is that little span of time before the sunrise and after the sunset¬†when the sun is sitting far below the horizon. It’s when the sky is trying to hold on to both morning and evening. It can’t¬†let go, but it knows it has no choice but to¬†change its position.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of letting go.

My inbox is full of people begging me to tell them the secret of how to get over it and move on.

I found myself drowning in nostalgia today. I was choking on these memories of things that I wanted to change and thinking about people that I haven’t learned how to let go of.

“Everyone says I need to let go, but I can’t let go!”¬†These are the words I told God as I gasped for breath and wiped my face with a pile of napkins I’d shoved in my console.

“There are some people that you’re not called to let go of. You can hold on; I’m telling you to hold on.”

I felt blindsided by His words, by this idea that letting go wasn’t the victory podium¬†after heartbreak.

You have to change the way you hold them, but you don’t have to let them go.

You¬†can hold people differently. When they can’t be the thing for you that they used to be, it doesn’t mean¬†you have to let them go.

What we’ve been taught about heartbreak and broken relationships is that¬†you’re healed when you can walk away.

But there will always be people that life, geography, and God, just won’t¬†let you walk away from. Because the goal can’t always¬†be learning¬†to let go. Sometimes the goal has to be endurance and learning what it means to stay for the long haul, years after what you thought should happen¬†is out of the realm of possibility.

Sometimes¬†it’s okay to carry them–carry them in your prayers, in your laughter. Hang them on your refrigerator. Keep their notes and gifts tucked beneath your bed.

Maybe that person or group of people can’t be what you once wanted them to be, but maybe you can still both be something the other needs. Maybe the test of growth is when you can shove aside the selfishness that says:¬†I only want you on my terms. You have to fit perfectly in all the places I once carved out for you.¬†

Sometimes growth is rearranging the space in your heart and figuring out how to fit someone elsewhere. Because it would be sad to spend your days without their contagious laughter or strong words of advice just because they no longer fit on that old shelf. You may have to let go of what you needed or hoped they would be, but that should not always synonymous with letting them go.

C.S. Lewis once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you. It’s the way you carry it.”

I think he’d probably agree that¬†the load could be people.

And maybe it’s not always just the people that broke you, maybe¬†it was also the way you carried them.

Maybe all the expectations you stacked on them, the misunderstanding you layered them with, maybe that wore you down even more quickly.

But maybe they’re your God-given load, for better or worse, maybe they are your people and you’re going to have to carry them.¬†So, when that is the case, learn to carry them differently.

I’m figuring out that the¬†victory podium isn’t for the first one who figures out how to shove someone out of their life and heart. The real victory belongs to the ones who learn how to throw out the expectations, unforgiveness, demands and conditions¬†in order to¬†make room for the people who were always meant to be there.

 

The Freedom to Forgive Yourself

I always go back to the summer with tennis courts and milkshakes. That was years before the pride and silence broke our hearts.

I remember¬†the day we drove to get¬†sushi and the rhythm you nervously tapped out¬†on the steering wheel.¬†You said something about dogs, I pretended to laugh. My mind was blank that day. I wrung my hands and stared out the window. I didn’t have the words I needed.

All these years and I¬†can still never find¬†the right words and that’s coming from someone who has filled up pages and pages of journals¬†in her lifetime.

I’ve never had the right words for you. And by now, I think I’ve apologized for that a million times.

But you can only say¬†I’m sorry¬†to someone so many times before you realize that what you’re actually¬†looking for is the freedom to forgive yourself.

You think you’re looking for that person to tell you¬†it’s okay, but even if they said it a million times over, you would never hear it. Your constant need to keep going back to say¬†I’m sorry comes from the fact that you have not¬†stopped punishing yourself for being human.

You’re human. You said you were sorry. You meant it.¬†You are allowed to live.¬†

Stop punishing yourself.

You don’t have to sit in misery,¬†unmoving, afraid to live, and waiting¬†for that person to forgive you, or waiting for them¬†to apologize for their part.

You can’t pay the debt you owe each other, so stop trying. Stop thinking that eventually you will have¬†served your time and¬†that’s when everyone gets to be free.

And stop making others serve time. Learn how to quickly say, “I’m choosing to let it go.”

Sometimes, saying and being sincerely¬†sorry is¬†all we humans have. You can’t change the¬†past between you and that person, and you won’t make up for it by ruining your own future or¬†asking¬†them to postpone theirs.

You get to live. Not¬†after¬†everyone serves time and suffers for the hand of hurt they played. You get to live freely when you’ve offered your truest and most sincere apology, when you’ve extended your heart in all the ways you know how.

And maybe the other person isn’t willing to let go.¬†Maybe they’ll never be sorry. Maybe they’re still trying to pull levers and cash in¬†on the years of guilt they’ve thrown on your shoulders.

But eventually, you’ve got to stop digging in your pockets and giving them¬†all the things you’ll ever hold. Stop handing over your present and your future to the unforgiving¬†people of your¬†past.

You said you were sorry and you’re released. Stop trying to pay it. You can’t change it and you can’t go back to days of tennis courts and milkshakes. The blueprints for the life you tried to build just don’t work anymore.

Stop living in the past. Pack up the memories of beach houses, early summer evenings in the kitchen, the table by the window, eating peanuts in old wooden chairs, the regret of never having the right words.

God’s not up there trying to figure out ways to make you pay it all back. Offer your apology, offer your heart, and give¬†God¬†the rest of the debt. He’s the only one who could ever pay it back anyways.

And whatever others may owe you, whatever you think you need from them, just know that God’s in the business of wanting to pay off their debt too.

We’re all just humans in need of a God who owns it all and is so¬†incredibly¬†generous.

He really is the only one who could ever make up for all the words we never got to hear and for the ones we never quite knew how to say.

It Happened and It Changed Me

A few years ago, I learned how to really cry.

I cried buckets of tears until I was drained. They stopped coming after that; the saddest songs and movies only caused a shrug of my shoulders and the shaking of my head. Nothing seemed to move me quite the same after those months that left me dry.

Then came New York City,

with her tall buildings, her strong coffee, her firm presence and undeniable strength. She made me cry again, she brought me face to face with my drought. And she brought freedom for me when I realized that there are some things still big enough to stir me, to remind me that none of us are immovable.

There now sits a memorial, a museum, and a tower¬†that knocked the wind right out of me. A reminder of New York’s own kind of Titanic. We never¬†thought it¬†could sink¬†and yet the walls fell. On that day, a lot of life sunk¬†beneath piles of debris and rubble.

In all of her stability and power, a strong part of her crumbled on that day. 

But there now sits a memorial, a museum, and a tower. They don’t replace what was lost, but¬†whisper,¬†there are still things we can build.

She taught me that. It’s not about replacing, it’s about rebuilding.

Because we won’t ever get back what we lost. It can never be the same again.

They didn’t try to bulldoze it all and pave over the loss, leaving no traces behind. What a betrayal that would have been. They left reminders, and¬†built beautiful things around it.

Sometimes it feels like a betrayal of myself to try and pave over the past. It happened and it changed me. Still, I’ve tried to just replace it all¬†and erase my memory.

But New York grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me hard¬†and said, “Build around it, girl. Build beautiful things around it and¬†let it push you to fight more fiercely for your freedom.”

She gave me permission and I didn’t even know that’s what I needed.

But when I stood next to that tower and watched¬†the people who still fearlessly get on subways, planes, and walk the streets alone, I knew I was being given an¬†invitation: it’s time to remember how to be free again.¬†

New York is¬†still loud, still loves bagels. She doesn’t apologize for her size, for the space she takes up.

She didn’t cut her hair, change her clothes, become someone new.¬†She just kept going, kept being herself, kept her arms open and her streets¬†full.¬†She didn’t have to convince anybody that she would be better off. She just daily grew¬†stronger and proved that freedom¬†comes through¬†rebuilding, in not letting the pain take the best of you.

It won’t be easy.

I’m figuring that out. Through tears and decisions, it’s been me and¬†some of my closest friends sitting knee to knee and saying, “It hurts to look at all the pain, to not deny it, to experience it fully and try to find some sort of peace with it all. “

What does it look like to rebuild? Where do we even start?

For us, we start with prayers, a cup of tea, and laying one brick at a time.

“We’ll get there.” That’s what we tell each other with bloodshot eyes¬†and runny noses. We’ll see the good things, they’re¬†closer every single day.

We’re beginning to rebuild and it will take time to see results, but I know we’re going to get there.

That’s Not Where We’re Going

She sent me this photo and said she is starting to see the beauty in her past.

What she didn’t know was that while we are in different states and living different lives, I’ve also been constantly looking¬†in my rearview mirrors.

So,¬†when my eyes fell on that picture and her words about the past being beautiful, I took a deep breath and realized just how much time I’ve actually spent¬†looking¬†at the past.

I haven’t¬†just taken a few moments to glance back to get perspective, I’ve set my gaze there. I have been so determined that I’m not moving my eyes until something good comes from it.

She’s moving forward.

The girl who sent me that picture and those words.  I could feel it when I read the words on my screen.

And I could feel this overwhelming feeling that¬†it’s time for me to look forward.

When you keep looking behind you, you miss everything you’re surrounded by. You waste your present and you ignore the future. You lose so much: you lose your hope, you lose your dreams. You lose your joy¬†and let me tell you, it’s a shame for the world to keep spinning without your laughter.

Eventually you will¬†start to veer and if you don’t turn¬†your eyes forward, you’ll go off the road and things will likely spin out of control.

We can’t keep looking back. That’s not where we are going.¬†

And we can’t keep hoping that something or someone else is going to come along push us forward, move us from this place, redirect our gaze.

We have to choose.¬†We have to decide that¬†we can’t just keep staring back there and¬†wishing that things had gone differently.¬†

And we can’t let other people steer the car for us. We can’t depend on other people’s ideas, advice, or dreams to take us where we’re meant to go. We can’t just blindly follow someone else because we’ve lost vision for ourselves.

We’re going places. We’re still here and breathing. There is more ahead. Though it’s painful to think that you may move so far forward¬†that you will never see a beautiful sunset¬†paint over your past,¬†move forward.

There are still sunrises ahead of us in the mornings to come.