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.

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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.

Fighting and Forgiveness

I spent Friday night weeping in the back of a room that knows me all to well. It’s a room that has seen my best and my worst.

If walls could speak, I think those could tell you the most about me.

That night, I finally came face to face with a certain reality that has taken me too long to swallow.

So, I just sat there for a bit, with all of it lodged in my throat. But then came Saturday night and those words that have been strangling me with guilt and fear finally came tumbling out.

And right then and there, I realized that I had some forgiving left to do. 

God told me that night that He was going to wash it away, that it was time for me to come clean. I told Him that I didn’t think I was ready. So, we just kind of stood there together; He let me throw my tantrum and I let Him hold me while I cried.

The weekend came and went. Monday passed with foggy vision, a fractured heart and a pounding head. This morning, I waited for it and I knew He’d come around

because Tuesday has always been mine and God’s reckoning day.

I never hold back punches and He never keeps quiet.

So, I drove to get a cappuccino because it was rainy and I knew what was coming. I knew I was about to have a bulldozer of truth crash into my morning. And as I expected, right before I got to the Starbucks drive-thru, He came barreling in and made His case.

“When you can’t forgive it is because you’re blind to your own faults.”

Cue the washing. His words were a shower over me, starting to remove some pretty tough stains.

I repeated the words back to Him and waited, knowing there was more to come.

“You’ve always wanted people to make the choice that you would make.

I sighed and waited for my coffee, getting a little defensive. But maybe it’s because I would have made the better choice.

I could feel Him smile (which is a strange feeling). He always smiles when I start trying to form my own case. He doesn’t even get annoyed; He just stays there, waiting patiently for me to get quiet again.

“You’ve made choices that have broken your own heart. You made the choices you thought you had to, even if it hurt others.”

He was right. Decisions have never been simple for me. There have been times when I made the only choice I knew how to make, and many times I’ve been wrong.

We all face some measure of difficulty that comes with the freedom to choose, and we all get it wrong. So, if and when others get it wrong, forgive them.

Even if their decision breaks your heart and ruins your plans, forgive them.

And sometimes they won’t do the same for you. Sometimes they won’t forgive some of the choices you were forced to make, but even so, forgive them for that.

When you can’t forgive, it means you let yourself forget. You let yourself forget how hard moments of decision are. You forget the weight that pushes on your shoulders when you are forced to choose. You forget how many times you’ve had to beg for grace; how many times you had to pray that people would understand, and that they’d love you anyway.

We have to stop letting hard choices push each other away. It’s time we learn to move on from the fallout, and realize that we are all weak, all broken, that we will all face seemingly impossible forks in the road.

Forgiveness is the product of remembering that at some points, we all end up with our head in our hands. 

We all get wounded in the battle of someone else’s decisions.

I think the world needs people who have been injured to come back, limping and wincing, but choosing to say: “I’m willing to fight next to you, even though it got really bloody last time. You are not my enemy, and I still remember all the years we stood fighting side by side. 

We all get hurt and we all drag our feet on saying “I’m sorry”. We all spend too much time nursing the wounds of people we love, whose choices hurt us in unimaginable ways. And in our pain, we all forget the times when our own decisions left behind trails of bodies and blood.

We’ve all stood on both sides of choice, and we all need some grace.

And if we don’t figure out how to give that grace, at some point, none of us will end up on the same side.

So, here’s to still not feeling ready, but choosing to let Him wash it away. Here’s to knowing that in the end, forgiveness is the only thing that will ever keep us from fighting our battles alone.

When Something is Over

“For me, when something is over, it’s over.”

She paused, taking a sip of her latte.  “I think we’re always looking for some kind of conversation that will tie everything up, but sometimes, you just have to make your own closure.

We just sat next to the window, staring at one another. Both of us instantly realized that those words were an earth shattering secret for growth.

You don’t always get the punctuation mark you want. Sometimes you don’t get the period (the final statement). You don’t always get the exclamation mark (the words that are worthy of everything you carried). Sometimes, you get the question mark. Or sometimes, it all stops mid sentence.

Still, you can flip the page, start something new and move forward.

And maybe you go back there one day. Maybe you finally get to pull that person, that time, that place back into your story. Or maybe it was always just a chapter to build you, grow you, teach you how to value yourself.

Her brown eyes looked dead at me and she said it so firmly, “You’ll know when you have to move forward.”

I threw up my hands and asked her a million questions. I wanted specifics, I wanted the location of the neon signs that would tell me when to let things go.

“You will know. If and when that day comes, let go and run for your life.”

She didn’t say it to scare me, but because her shoulders are well familiar with the consequences of carrying heavy things for far too long.

I started thinking about the last time I had to let go and move forward. What got me there? How did I finally empty my hands and pack my bags? I remembered it was a friend who handed me a permission slip by saying these words: it’s not on you anymore.

It’s not on you anymore.

I had done the thing—the hard thing. I had given until I was somewhere far past empty and well into starving and feeling gnawing hunger pains. But even so, I needed someone to look me in the eye and recognize that I couldn’t let go on my own. I’ve never been able to pull my aching fingers and white knuckles from things that I so desperately want to keep. I wanted to fix it, to leave things better that I found them.

So, when you’ve done all you can, grab hold of this permission slip I’m offering you: it’s not on you anymore and you can make your own closure. 

We try to make movies out of our heartache. We want the dialogue that cuts, closes, makes sense of the story we’ve been walking through. Don’t wait around for that. Don’t hold on and keep trying because it hurts too much for you to think that things could end this way. Don’t drag out any pitiful stories that become thieves of your joy.

I got a permission slip from God the other day. I was vacuuming the carpet when He reminded me of my blue rubber band. I first decided to wear it around my wrist for one specific purpose: to pull at my heart when I wanted to settle. Because I am known to do that. 

I am a chronic settler.

But I figured out that summer what I wanted. I realized what could be mine if I would hold on, work hard and wait for it. For months I wore it and on days when things felt impossible, when I wanted to settle for something less, that blue rubber band would dig its point deep into my heart. There’s still more. This isn’t all there is. Keep holding on.

God brought that back to me the other night when I asked him what He thought about the things I’ve been holding in my hands.

Make your own closure.

Three cups of coffee in and I knew that those would be words to change my life. You’ll know when it’s time to let go and when that times comes, don’t bleed yourself dry waiting for closing conversations, loose ends tied up nicely, apologies and best wishes. You should walk on toward better things, because tidy endings don’t always come.

Some Notes on Letting Go

It has been that kind of month.

The kind where your insurance gets randomly deactivated. The kind where you get a migraine so bad that your head is in the trash can. The kind where someone changes their mind faster than you can catch your breath.

The kind where you are stuck having conversations that you swore you’d never get close to having again.

Let it rain.

Put your palms out and throw your head back and stop trying to build makeshift umbrellas.

Welcome to the there’s-nowhere-else-to-run club. I am the ring leader and I’m here to tell you this: you are where you are and the faster you accept that, the easier you’ll start to breathe.

I was nine years old the year that Matthew Mcconaughey’s southern drawl became the nighttime lullaby for young girls everywhere. All my friends kept The Wedding Planner in their DVD player and let it play as they fell asleep.

And there was that part at the end where Mary starts throwing out all the colored M&Ms because Steve once pointed out that the brown ones had less artificial food coloring (because chocolate is already brown).

I think that line probably stayed with all of us. I’m convinced there’s a massive population of twenty-something females who think about that every time they tear open those little candy bags.

That scene has been on repeat in my head in the middle of the torrential downpour that is the month of June.

So, I’ve been taking inventory of the candy in my life—the things that seem to put color in my hands, but aren’t exactly the real thing.

You can’t always get away from that. I’m learning that sometimes, you’re forced to take a good long look at what it is that you’ve been holding onto and realize that you’re better off letting it go.

And in the middle of hugging that trash can, making toll-free phone calls, and sweeping old tile floors you will get soaked in the downpour of confusion, anger, hurt, misunderstanding. But, just slip off your shoes and sit down in the middle of it, realize that there’s nowhere you can hide from this storm.

But you know what? It’s actually a good thing, because the truth is, God knows there’s some dust you just can’t shake. Sometimes you need a thunderstorm to wash over you and to clean off the things that were never meant to cling to you.

So, let it rain. Decide that you’re done with whining, complaining and wishing for a change in the weather. Let it rain and look at the dark clouds knowing that they’re serving you far more good than harm. It might keep coming down, but it’s not going to sweep you away. You won’t drown, just know that.

So yeah, it’s raining over here in Georgia and artificial flavored things are flying all over the place. And there’s laughter and yelling and a whole lot of uncertainty, but I’m still standing. No umbrella, no rain jacket; just me watching the maker of the clouds rinse off the things that need to go.

I’m not here to tell you that I’ve mastered it—or found all the secrets of letting go. But I’m just here to welcome you, if you find yourself standing under these same kind of skies. Maybe you’ve been here before. Maybe you’re wondering how you found your way back. Well, you’re not alone, and we are not drowning. And God isn’t punishing us by sending this rain. We‘re here, exactly where we’re supposed to be, because it’s time for us to come clean. It’s time to be rid of the things we just couldn’t shake on our own.

So, welcome to the storm! Pull up a chair, I’m happy to loan you some notes of what I’m relearning about letting go.