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.

I am Tired of Praying for Things

“It matters where you stand.”

Ironically enough, I remember exactly where I was standing when God said that to me. I was about to go into a meeting that had me wringing my hands and fidgeting with loose threads.

I had no idea that meeting would alter the course of my life. I was also entirely unaware of how that one sentence from God would continuously save me over and over again.

“You are a person who gets what you pray for, but not without a cost.”

When a friend said those words to me, I knew they were the truth. I’m always asking for bold things, for specifics, and many times God grants them. But then He shows me what all the things that I’ll have to say “no” to in order for Him to say “yes” to that thing.

There’s a price for big prayers. It isn’t because God is punishing us, or because His love isn’t free. Answered prayers aren’t proof of God’s love or affirmation, they’re just a door that leads our heart to see how much we have always been loved.

I wish I’d understood that when I asked Him for that one thing. He gave it to me, but only for a season. He didn’t give it to me because it was the best thing for me, but because it would break my heart in a way that would cause me to become the best version of myself I’d ever been.

It was never about the thing, it was about the process that led to a permanent and beautiful change.

It’s not about the thing.

We want all these things, all these blessings, but it’s not about the thing.

It’s about who we are when we get the thing, while we have the thing, and when we lose the thing.

Believe me when I tell you, it can never about the thingBecause things are just things, they aren’t stable, they aren’t constant. They can be right in the winter and wrong for the spring.

Things change.

The way a heart beats,  the weather, the strength of your bones… they all change. Nothing stays the same here on earth. The thing you’re so desperately begging God for, if it’s a thing, it won’t last.

Maybe you’ll have it for eighty years. Maybe you’ll have it for a day. But at the end of it all, the thing was and can never be the point.

What it points you toward, how you grow, the person you start to become, your focus: those are the point.  The thing is just the door that takes you to those rooms, that shows you why God ever gave you breath to start with.

How that thing builds love in you, and the truth it helps you echo, that was always the point.

I don’t always get what I pray for, but either way, I’m learning to pray less for things and more for processes, for truths, for God to make me who I need to be. As far as the things, well it seems best to let God choose the ones most suited for the process.

It matters where you stand. Maybe you’ll get some cool shoes while you stand there. Maybe you’ll have good stories about what passes by. But those things will never be the point. It matters where you stand simply because of who you’ll be if and when God asks you to stand somewhere else.

 

 

I Didn’t Tell Anyone

I didn’t tell anyone that I felt paralyzed with fear that we would all crash and die. Or that if we made it, I wouldn’t have anything to say that’s actually worth hearing.

I was terrified that entire plane ride.

But I didn’t tell anyone.

When the flight attendant asked if I wanted something to drink, I just accepted a water and smiled. I could have told her I felt afraid. She was a stranger I will probably never see again. She had a compassionate smile, I think I could have told her.

I could have said something to the people next to me, the guy watching the movie or the girl working on spreadsheets. I think they would’ve listened.

I could have told them that I felt really small. That I was pretty sure I was going to epically fail to help the broken people around me, because I felt like all my strength was pointed toward taking my next breath. My entire life felt like it was falling to pieces, I was more broken than I’d ever been and I didn’t tell anyone.

I sat through a six hour plane ride in silence. I got off, grabbed my bags, and pretended that I was just an ordinary passenger on a trip she had been planning.

I didn’t mention how I booked my ticket the night before. I didn’t tell anyone that I had not slept in over twenty-four hours, or that I had barely eaten. I didn’t admit that I was ashamed of how I’d cried in my friend’s arms earlier that morning when he instantly saw that something was wrong.

I feel weak asking for help.

And it seems pretty crazy to write that because I only said it out loud for the first time two days ago. Because in my eyes, the word “help” coming out of my own mouth has always sounded so disgustingly weak.

“It’s an amazing thing to ask for help.” She looked at me, her eyes serious, and full of love.

She was referring to the shirt I was wearing, one that says: I’m capable of amazing things.

“Maybe you are capable of doing a lot of things on your own, of figuring things out for yourself. But it’s an amazing thing to ask people for help. You can be capable of that too.”

I instantly thought about that plane ride, and how I felt so alone, even though I was sandwiched between two beautiful human beings. I remembered how I just sat there beating myself up for wanting to cry.

Then I thought about lunch the other day and how I talked about the hardest thing that’s happened to me in a long time. How I discussed it so casually, as though it doesn’t daily rattle my rib cage and continuously shatter my heart.

I’ve never known how to really say things that might make me appear weak. I can tell you hard things, but I’ve learned how to edit them, make them sound bravely vulnerable when the reality is that it requires nothing of me to share them.

To share something that hasn’t quite healed, or that I cannot figure out an answer for is rarely something I willingly do. If it comes out, it’s usually through a clenched jaw and with tightened fists. It’s usually in anger. Because for a long time, I didn’t think anger was weak.

“It’s a gift, to help another human being and you’ve been withholding that gift from everyone you claim to love.”

Being the lover of gifts that I am, those words snapped the last string holding up a lifetime of pride. Because if my bank account was bigger I’d buy everyone in my orbit a vase of flowers, a box of cereal, and a ticket to somewhere that would make them come alive. Gifts are precious in my world.

I used to cry every time I’d see a kid accidentally let go of a balloon and lose it to the strength of the wind and the height of the sky. I never knew why it was one of the things that could instantly draw tears.

But its because I know the pain that cuts you when a gift is stolen, broken or lost. And the thought that I have done that, am doing it, and could continue to do it makes me want to take a sledgehammer to every wall that says: DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN LOOK WEAK.

So, maybe that hammer gets its first swing here. I guess its a first step in saying, I’m sorry that I keep taking away chances for you to get the joy of stepping in, of giving, of offering me answers that you got with your own blood, sweat and tears. You’ve got some things to show me that I can’t figure out on my own. You’ve got things worthy of being heard, arms that I don’t want to push away when you offer to help carry the things that weaken my knees.

People are a gift in the times of pain, questions, and carrying heavy things. I’m learning that not letting others give you their hearts, hands, lessons learned and words of truth is really pushing away something amazing…something you could never be capable of getting on your own.

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.

7 Billion Reasons for Grace

I am pulling out mixing bowls and measuring cups again.

If you’ve been on this journey with me for a while, then you might remember my baking phase after Apartment G .

I’m back at it and I find myself inviting Grace back inside my home to do her thing. She showed up a couple of weeks ago, right after a rain storm and reminded me of late nights at diners and long Carolina car rides.

“This ain’t us.” She told me. I was shakily holding my phone and Anger was fiercely holding me. Grace didn’t force me to do the right thing, she just stood there, holding the door and offering me a way out.

I had forgotten the rhythm that Grace and I had once gotten into, back when she showed me how to live with less. She once taught me that there’s good in everything, sometimes it just takes time to find it.

And in your pain, Grace will tell you to keep going. She will ask you to choose to do the things that feel like salt on the wound; she knows that the things that hurt deeply can often times help you heal. She’ll show you how, and she will pull you low, teaching you how to whisper thank-you’s for that pain.

She will pull you out of bed when your eyes sting and your head pounds. “Come on, there are people waiting for you to show up.” She’ll take your hand and lead you into rooms with people who are aching to hear that they’re going to be alright. She’ll give you the words to say, ones that you could have never come up with on your own.

And when others cry, whether it be tears of joy, sorrow or relief, she will pull you close and hum: “Didn’t I tell you there was more? Oh, don’t you know that you’ve always got 7 billion reasons to climb out from underneath those sheets?”

Because Grace won’t make you a schedule that has very many spaces for yourself. She’s got some breaks for you to breathe, but she’s blocked out most of the slots for people in grocery stores, strangers covered in dust and quite a few for the people who handed you back your own heart covered with bruises and deep cuts.

So, when she hoists herself up on your kitchen counter and says things like, I’m sticking around for the long haul” you’ll wonder why you ever let her go, locked her out, didn’t stay in touch. Because that’s all you’ve ever really wanted anyway, those words to be next to you when you realize you can’t do this whole living life thing on your own. We all want something and someone who stays, who doesn’t let us hide beneath those covers and forfeit the places we were born to stand.

“I never gave up on you, you know.”

When she tells you those words, they will carve themselves into the very marrow of your bones. So when the time comes that one of those 7 Billion Reasons stands there trying to give you excuses to walk away, you’ll just pull yourself up onto their counter and say, “I’m in this for the long haul.”

I didn’t know how much I missed her until she came knocking on the door of a little room hidden in the halls of a quaint church. I met her at the door, thinking that she was going to shake her head with disappointment at the time I had let pass. But instead, she tackled me with laughter, steadied my weak knees and walked with me to a place I could have never found without her.

She and I bake in my kitchen, my bare feet relearning how to dance on hardwood floors. I realized that though she pulls me to painful places, pushing Grace away was what led to the most unbearable agony of all.

I moved to Georgia a year ago, lugged my bags into this old brick house, not knowing if I’d ever see her again. But she is always knocking, sometimes it’s so gentle that I’ve got to get still and quiet to hear it.

I told her that I’m planning to keep her around this time. She’s helped me see that the world is much better off when I invite her to stay.

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.

If Given the Same Chance…

I feel as though I’ve lived that exact moment a hundred times.

This place I’ve been standing recently is one that tastes so familiar. If I went back to old journals, I think I’ve got hundreds of pages filled with maps of walking this pathway.

“Haven’t we been through this already?” I asked God, not expecting much of an answer. He knew I felt frustrated, thinking I would never learn whatever it is that He has apparently trying to drill through my thick head about this kind of pain.

“You know, it doesn’t mean you failed to learn the lesson last time. Sometimes, you come to the same circumstance in order for me to show you that you are not the same person you used to be.”

I took a deep breath and leaned my head back, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Because you always hope, if given the same chance, you would make better choices than you did last time.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” 

If you’ve lived long at all, you’ve probably uttered those words. But can we ever really be sure of that?

It’s hard to be sure when our hearts get so tangled in the edges and curves of faces that figure out ways to paint themselves into the lines of our days.

But sometimes, you get a chance to find out.

All over again, you get the moment of reaction, the choice of how to carry it, and to tug from grace what it takes to nod and graciously walk away.

Sometimes, you get to see that you’re a far better person than you used to be. And maybe it was that gruesome mountain you walked up last time that gave you the strength to more easily scale the one in your present.

I smiled at God, “We’ve been through a lot worse, am I right?”

I felt him smile and then we went on talking about how I have horrible coordination when it comes to vacuuming.

I told Him last year that I was finished with picking up disappointment.

I’ve given her a ride too many times in the last twenty-three years. She is a demeaning back seat driver and she will eventually push herself behind the wheel. When she does, she will take you to a place that a simple GPS could never get you out of.

When I saw her the other day, thumb taunting me from the side of the highway of my heart, I locked the doors and let my foot press harder on the gas. There’s no room for you here, I thought. You’ve taken up far too much of my time and ruined way too many of what could have been beautiful miles.

So much of what we go through really has less to do with other people and more to do with us. It’s about who we decide to be and how we keep a balance of grace and principle. About learning to be steady in the places that used to rattle our bones.

Keeping disappointment out of the car takes realizing that the only control you have is over your own choices. You can’t change or anticipate what others will do, but you can commit to a better response, one that refuses to settle for going back to the person you used to be.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, that you’ll enjoy looking at these same monsters in the eye.

But what I will tell you is that when you realize you can stare back at them without blinking, without shoving them back behind those closet doors, you will be grateful to be standing in places you prayed you’d never stand again.

Growth is the thing that keeps us moving and opens doors to bigger and better things.

It’s only by being confronted with all those fears and the battles that once bloodied your elbows and knees that you find out just how far it is you’ve really come.

And I hope each time we do, we find that we’ve actually come a lot further than we ever could have imagined.

Can I Tell You a Secret?

Some days, it feels like we’re all just lost in the woods.

Like we’ve been dropped out here and that we’re supposed to figure out how to make it home. We’re looking for that thing, that moment when we’ll reach the right door. We are waiting for a place to wipe our feet, a place that’s safe. Something entirely our own.

We’re all looking for home and some of us don’t even know what that means.

Would I know it if I found it? This thing, this person, this place where I can rest my head, take off my shoes, finally be myself? I’ve never known that kind of life, but they tell me it exists.

It mostly seems like a race, a competition, a challenge. Who can find home first? Who gets out of the woods first? And can they help everyone else find the way?

So we read books, blogs, articles. We watch tv, movies, youtube videos. We’re all looking for someone to tell us where it is and how they found it. How was it that you found that thing I so desperately desire?

Can I tell you a secret?

No one knows how they got out. They can give you advice, practical answers, steps they took. They might can point at a path, but they can’t really tell you what got them there in the first place. We get there. The questions of when and how are up to God and the choices we make.

What I can tell you is to work hard. Do that thing in front of you. Be the best grocery store clerk that exists. Sell bagels with more joy and love than a person can carry out the door.

Stop being the sum of words they put on your tiny shoulders. Because we all have them, those things that have followed us around like the little nursery rhymes and song lyrics we never forgot. There are the things that always sit with you and yet, make you feel so alone.

Let them go. They were never yours to carry.

Cradling coffee cups in our hands, I watched the world slow down for a minute last week.

I rested in the thought that it would be okay if I decided to be janitor and never do anything else. Because I could be the most committed, dedicated, loving janitor in the world and that could change things. I realized that it’s not about what we do, or the amount that we do, it was always about how we do it. 

It’s about who you are, never about what you do.

You are enough, right where you sit. If you never moved, you would still be worth loving.

But you will move, because you’ve got fire in your bones that pushes you to keep loving people and to make dents in the little corner of the universe you’re standing in.

So whether you do that with a mop, a headset and a bag of fries, or at a Fortune 500 company, you’ll always be worth the words i love you and you’re enough.

It’s easy for me to forget that when I’m out in the woods, looking for that next big thing, the next temporary avenue to joy.

There’s really no special secret to getting out of it, to finding your way. I don’t think that’s really the point. I think the point is learning to be the best traveler you can be, so that wherever you arrive you have something firm and steady to offer.

And if I get steady things by mopping floors, selling fries…give me a bucket and pass me an apron.

You Will Learn to Dream Again

I got it all.

I had written my dreams on a white piece of poster board. I laid it all out there and decided to believe it was possible.

In just a few short days, I got it all.

It happened exactly like one of those end-of-the-movie moments. My dreams all started coming true and I felt alive in every limb and ligament. Finally, so much of my life made sense. All the years of pain, preparation, prayer. It had all brought me to that perfect moment. 

My time had finally come.

To be honest with you, it was just as glorious as I had always imagined, maybe even more so.  It was like everyone had gotten a copy of the script I had spent years writing in my wildest dreams; all were playing their role so perfectly. Never before or after have I experienced such an incredibly unblemished season.

Still, I tiptoed carefully. I could never shake wondering if it could really last forever? 

It didn’t.

Sitting there with a table full of everything I could want in front of me, the tablecloth was ripped off and I watched everything crash to the floor in slow motion. I wasn’t prepared. (But you can’t ever really prepare yourself for that moment, that instant second when all oxygen is barricaded from your lungs and your heart is drained of every last drop of hope it ever held.)

There are many days when I’m still sweeping up those crumbs. It has been a lot to clean up. There had been nearly nothing left on that table. And every single dream that had survived the pulling of that tablecloth was eventually stolen while I was down on my knees scraping up the remnants of those messy conversations.

It’s hard to dream again after that. It’s hard to get back up in that chair, pick up that menu and try again.

For a while, I tried. I decided to stay at the same table. I kept trying to order those same dishes. Maybe if I just kept trying, I could get it all back. But eventually, those things I always wanted stopped being an option; they were taken off the menu.

So, I moved on. I changed restaurants, outfits and opened up an entirely different menu. Soon I realized that I still couldn’t order. I couldn’t just decide to get a new dream, not after knowing that it could all so quickly be taken away.

Having your dreams become reality, getting everything you want, having your every desire fulfilled isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Because no one can promise you that those things will stick around. They aren’t guaranteed and they don’t come with a warranty. Believe me when I tell you that you can’t just get a new one. You can’t just “pick something else”. 

I thought I could, I thought for a while that it would be that easy. But it’s never going to be that simple.

You’ll get your heart set on something and when it’s suddenly removed from the menu, you won’t know how to be content with anything else. You won’t know how to settle for just picking something else. 

You’ll get that job, or that degree. You’ll find that person. You’ll move to that country. And for as long as life allows, you’ll be over the moon and you’ll sip thousands of cups of peppermint tea and be so incredibly thankful. 

Because this isn’t a Charles Dickens’ novel, or a trick, or a Hallmark movie. Things aren’t taken away from you only when you aren’t grateful or because you took them for granted.

Sometimes you love something with every cell of your being, sometimes you work hard and with unwavering loyalty. Sometimes you say thank you a thousand times a day for just a few seconds of having something so incredibly wonderful at your fingertips.

Sometimes you lose it anyway.

Just know that I don’t have answers about such questions and I finally gave up checking the back of the textbook for them. I don’t know how to solve for X on that equation. 

But believe me when I tell you that you will get hungry again. You’ll start wanting new things, but sometimes it takes a while. It might be years of perusing thousands of menus, only to find yourself disappointed that nothing seems to appeal the way the former things did.

Even so, there will be something that eventually plants itself under your nose. One day, you’ll look down and you’ll realize that right there in your line of sight is something that sounds incredibly inviting and it will be worth ordering, worth trying, worth wanting. You’ll smooth the napkin in your lap, ask for what you want and you’ll risk the tablecloth being ripped off all over again.

You will learn to dream again, I promise you that.

But there’s a lesson in the losing. There’s something to be gained from your months or years of scraping things up off the floor. Those things aren’t and could never be permanent. That may turn out to be one of life’s harshest realities, but it is true nonetheless. Nothing is permanent. But we can’t let that keep us down with our knees in the carpet, cleaning up yesterday’s messes. Eventually, you’ve got to get back up.

That’s life: dreaming, winning, losing, fighting, forgiving and starting all over again.

So forgive the ones who ripped off the tablecloths, the waiters who told you that they no longer serve that dish and decide to try something new. Wipe off what you’ve been trying to scrape back onto plates, long after the five-second-rule expired. You are free to dream and try new things. When you are once again hit with the reality that dreams are temporary, you’ll learn to also see it as a chance to do more and see more than you first could have imagined.

Maybe you were never meant for just one dream. Maybe sometimes losing one simply leads to gaining so many more.

The Fight You’ll Never Win

I wish someone had told me back then that love is not a competition.

I wish someone had come to me and said: “If there ever comes a time when you’re thrown into the ring and told to fight is to prove yourself, to prove your value; if you feel the need to make people think you’re something different than you are, that’s the time to throw your hands up and bow out.

Maybe then I would have known I was throwing and taking punches in a fight that never crowns a final winner.

Growing up, I was too skinny. My curly hair was out of control. My thick, but beautifully arched eyebrows were called unruly. These days, those attributes are coveted. Everyone wants to be skin and bones, every woman I know owns a curling wand. The new trend is for girls draw in thicker, more full eyebrows than what they already have.

The rules are always changing. That’s something I wish I had known.

Just when you’ve finally saved enough for the right pair of jeans, or have hit your “target weight” or have perfected your beachy waves hairstyle: all the rules change.

Decide now, just to be a rule breaker. Because your jokes are funny. Your hair is perfectly fine the way it is. The size of your jeans won’t make the world stop spinning.

Know that there will always be people who slide on their gloves and taunt you to get in the ring.

There will be people who will kick you with insults that are wrapped beneath a sticky sweet condescending smile. They will steal your jokes, your witty one liners and sign their name at the end. They will be better than you at volleyball, dancing or baking, and they’ll make sure you and everybody else knows it.

But they can’t take anything from you. No one on earth can put their feet in your shoes and go the exact distance and route you’ve gone. No one could ever be better at being you.

So, stop apologizing for the things that make you weird, or the things that nobody has ever complimented. Stop trying to be a competitor in a contest that seeks to make us all look and act the same.

I spent years trying to throw those defining words away.

Like those leftover mashed sweet potatoes that stayed in my fridge for far too long, like the junk mail you never remember subscribing to, like the tree limbs that fell in last week’s ice storm.

I. Wanted. To. Be. Done.

I wanted to be done with syllables, sentences, paragraphs, that had been tossed toward me like I was dog begging for scraps. Words that someone else used to tell me who I’m supposed to be.

And if I’m not careful, I’ll start carrying them around again. 

Back then, I learned how brace myself like I was a balloon in the hand of someone whose other hand held a needle; he made me think that he held the power to drain me of all my worth. Be the best. Speak softer. Have less opinions. Look prettier. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be the pick-of-the-day.

But I never saw how he carried his own disappointments like a wildfire, until they nearly burned me to the ground.

Breeding defeat and disappointment were his specialties and I ordered them every single time.

Believe me when I say that I paid for it, over and over again. It took months on top of months until I maxed out and finally heard PAYMENT DECLINED. That day, I fell to my knees and prayed for the next person who would someday get in over their head in his kind of debt.

Someone should tell you that love does not require repayment. It doesn’t send out itemized statements, rules, or lists of demands.

The envelopes that hold those bills are the personalized stationary of Misery and Selfishness. You need to consider an address change the first day they stamp and mail something your way.

You don’t have to compete for love. Your fight isn’t one to prove you’re enough. You don’t have to be anyone or anything other than yourself. And people who take swings at you, or try to measure your worth: know that those people are burning in their own disappointment. Chances are they’ve had their share of people use harsh words to tell them who they’re supposed to be.

Figure out your own standards. Don’t let others become your measuring stick, the thing that says whether or not you’re enough.

Know who you are and stop apologizing for it. Learn to love all the parts of you, even if each one of them breaks all the rules.