What Have I Lost Along The Way?

I was up to my elbows in household cleaner and water when God said something that nearly sent me to the floor,

“It’s good to see you in sweatpants again.”

It sounds so ridiculous, but I knew exactly what He meant.

I practically ran out of the building. My chest started pounding, my eyes were about to spill over. I drug the hem of those sweatpants through the mud and got quickly into my car.

The next two hours were spent with me driving, crying, and my ears filling with all the things that I’ve forgotten about over the last eight years.

All because I asked him one simple question this morning, “What have I lost along the way?”

I never expected Him to answer me. I never thought He’d come that close again, sound that sweet, I never expected him to not condemn my sweatpants.

That was one of the things that had gotten lost along the way: the belief that He would always come, and that when He did He would have something good to say.

I’ve been waiting for that exact moment for the last three years.

I waited for that moment in the darkest nights, in places I never should have gone to, with people that I don’t even know anymore. I waited for Him, I waited for one little sentence that I could have never formed on my own.

I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t waiting for some earth shattering revelation. I wasn’t waiting for the right things to line up. I wasn’t waiting for a person or a place. All this time, I was waiting for Him to talk to me about my sweatpants.

Because a few years ago someone stood in front of me and told me that it was a terrible thing to see a human wear sweatpants. They said it was lazy, unattractive, they said it made a person look worthless.

Though they probably didn’t intend for it to, that idea dug itself inside of me. Not because I have a love obsession with sweatpants, but because the words the enemy made me hear were, “it is a terrible thing to be comfortable with yourself.”

This was said to the girl who lived most of her life in jeans, t-shirts, with her hair pulled back. For me, it had never really been due to laziness. Honestly, I was just child-like for most of my life and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me exactly as I was. I thought I looked just fine. I thought I was pretty cute (and I was).

Even though sometimes I cringe at my bad haircuts, high-water pants, or rolled socks, I was a darling little child. I was innocent, pure, and beautiful, as all children are. I was unashamed of a plain face, I was unashamed of the clothes that I chose. I liked them and that was really the only reason I needed to wear them.

I let the enemy tell me that was a terrible thing, and that line grew until all the little demons whispered and said, “oh you, you have no value for yourself.” 

So, I stopped wearing sweatpants until about six months ago.

You should have seen the first pair I chose to put on. They are the most atrocious pants that have ever existed. They are frumpy, oversized, covered in paint, and an awkward length.

My friends (as they should have) told me they were terrible and I should never ever wear them again.  I waited for pain, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was laughter. I told them that I was going to keep them forever and wear them shamelessly.

Because it wasn’t about the pants. Even this morning, scrubbing that countertop, it was never about the pants.

It was about picking back up all the things that I’ve given up, that I once so deeply loved. It was about the years I spent changing myself to please someone else.

It was about that moment that I let someone try to make me a whitewashed tomb. That I let someone tell me my outside was more important than the inside.

It then became about the times that people told me to shut up when I spoke the truth; when people told me to skip past the pages with the Jesus who turned over tables.

It became about all the times that I believed sweatpants made me ugly or that telling the truth made me cruel.

God never said or thought those things about me.

While that shouldn’t have surprised me, it did. Though it seems like basic Christianity to know better, I had never realized it before. God never hated my sweatpants and He loves when I tell the truth. 

This morning, God did the thing I’ve been waiting for. He did a miracle, one He promised me years ago that He would do.

A bush did not catch on fire today. I did not walk on water. No lepers were healed.

But today, some things that were dead came back to life. Early this morning, a girl who’d been wrapped the grave clothing of expectations, condemnation, and words of hatred finally heard a loud voice. And He called her forth and unwrapped from her all the things the darkness tried to make her wear.

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The Road In-Between

God asked me the one question I prayed He wouldn’t.

It was a sweet moment, though my knees were knocking and my shoulders shivering. The winds were cold, the roads daunting, the trees sprinkled with fresh snow. I took a deep breath before I answered Him, not even sure what would come out of my mouth

But He knew my answer before I did and that was the reason He asked; He knew I had to hear myself say it out loud.

I leaned against the car, my back pressed hard against it, staring up at the mountains. She told me this would happen. This complete stranger, who when she looked at me, smiled like she’d known me my entire life, told me: “He’s going to give you perspective up there, when you’re standing on top of that mountain.”

I knew she was right. Her words stayed nestled in the pit of my stomach and the whole drive up I just kept wringing my hands and shifting in my seat. He would be there, He would have something to say.

I saw and heard exactly what I hoped for and everything I prayed I wouldn’t.

I’m learning that’s the pattern of the road in-between. It’s a mix of hope and intimidation; something wonderful might be waiting, but the way there might require some uncomfortable and unnerving things.

The night before, I was in one of the most terrifying situations of my life. One of those moments where you choose to trust God, or to just lay down and give up. It was one of those moments where I wanted to run away; everything inside of me wanted to be rational, to make the safest choice and call it wisdom. But safety isn’t always wisdom. Safety isn’t always God.

And that’s never been my outlook on life. I’m cautious. I am cautious to the point that I make most grandparents look dangerous and reckless.

But cautious is not a synonym for right. I’m not always right in being cautious, I’m actually seeing that I’m more often wrong.

I made it.

And the next morning held my favorite kind of laughter, the kind that shakes your entire body, that leaves your eyes with tears and your gut in pain.

I’m realizing that’s also the way of the road in-between. It’s a lot of risk and praying. It’s a lot of crying out and holding steady, even when you just want to stop right there, and never move again. And you keep thinking there’s no way you’ll get through this and laugh again, but then somehow you do–somehow you get there. 

And it wasn’t safety that necessarily got you there, it wasn’t because you constructed the most cautious plan. It was because you did what you had to, you trusted, you prayed, you realized that your own cautious plans wouldn’t have ever guaranteed your safe arrival anyways.

Sometimes, you’re required to pry your hands from controlling the outcome of everything around you.

You can’t control it, even with all of your best and carefully laid plans. Nothing teaches you that more than the road in-between. You’ve already left where you were, you’re going somewhere else and you get three choices: stop and give up, turn around or move forward.

You’re already moving, you can’t change that. Once you move, you have to make some hard choices. The best choice for me was to move forward, even though everything inside of me shouted “turn back!” 

We shouldn’t always listen to that. Yes, there are times to trust your gut, but there’s also a time to shut it up, to tell yourself that your past experiences lied. Just because you’ve seen a road that looked like this before, doesn’t mean you’ll end up at the same place.

I write all of this, my bags still packed, my hair unwashed, my eyes stinging. I write this after just telling my roommates, “my experiences are my truth, that I have to make my choices based on past outcomes.”

But I knew on that mountain and I knew an hour ago, here in my living room, that to live believing every road lined with grass and trees takes you to the same destination is absurd.

The roads might have similar markers, but it doesn’t mean your destination is the same.

The road in-between isn’t easy for any of us, and it will likely require you to answer the hard questions and to choose to hold steady when you’re determined that the only way to survive is to stop or turn around.

But survival was never the goal in the first place.

And what would it matter if you made it back, but never got to hear the whisper that was waiting for you if you had just gone a little further.

Sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell…

I’ve been replaying this memory in my head.

A while back, someone walked up to me weeks after we’d met and said “You may not remember me…”

I was stunned, absolutely speechless. I just kept quiet and went along with it. The whole time this person was talking and reminding me of that first introduction (one that was relatively significant), all that kept rolling through my mind was, Do you… do you actually think you could be so easily forgotten?

Looking back, I wish I had grabbed their shoulders, stared straight in their eyes and said, “You are better than multiple introductions given with a shaky voice, and thinking someone wouldn’t remember your golden smile.”

But those aren’t things we say to people, especially not on our second interaction. We smile politely and ask about their hometown, career, or where they went to college. We don’t drown them in words of value from the first second. We just go through the motions and keep to ourselves all the things we immediately love about them.

We restrain ourselves. We’re always holding back. We’re always trying to do what’s proper, because reservation has become synonymous with dignity. But when did hesitancy and suppression become virtues? Who decided that it was unbecoming to exuberantly and extravagantly tell someone how wonderful they are as soon as you meet them?

I met some amazing people over the weekend and it shook me.

It happened after I was thrown into a room of middle-aged parents, people who are in entirely different stages of life than I am. And there I was, trying to hold myself together. I didn’t want to speak too loudly, express myself too extravagantly. I wanted to appear poised and collected.

And then suddenly, sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell, “Where did you come from? You are my people! You’re amazing! I love you!”

For a second, I felt exposed and childlike. I felt like I had just belched at a banquet table in The White House.

Until their faces spread into the widest grins. They laughed and both gave me strong, lengthy hugs and words of equal affirmation.

It was then that I realized that no other words could have been more valuable, more remarkable. I had in one swift outburst, burned the bridge of detachment that I had always been told was mature and professional upon meeting someone.

I immediately went back to that memory I’d been mulling over and whole-heartedly wished I had handled it in that same manner. I wished that I would have grabbed that person, the one who had put on a name-tag that said Stranger. Oh, that I would have excitedly pulled them in and called them Known.

We keep letting people in our lives label themselves Stranger. We wait…sometimes months, sometimes years. After numerous surface-level interactions, we might then graduate to a casual compliment or vocally acknowledge their value. We give nods and half smiles, feeling uncomfortable to go beyond that. We don’t know them, after all. It would be weird to say something of actual consequence.

But how odd it is that we have to give ourselves pep-talks to interact with people we see daily, weekly, monthly. Isn’t it disheartening that using terms of endearment for other humans takes years, when using them for pets is an instant reaction.

We generously use our most meaningful and affirming words on puppies or kittens, but hold them back for years from the people across the street or down the hall.

Our craving to appear impressive and eloquent leads us to being neither. I’m learning that there’s nothing impressive about my holding back from others my pure and joyful adoration for them, the delight I feel when they are simply themselves. Even if I’ve only known them a few short moments.

The world has enough dignified people who paint inside the lines, fold their hands, and craft their words. What the world really needs are the finger-painters who might make a mess, but whose words are ones of love unrehearsed and love unreserved.

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.

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.

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.

Sorry Shakespeare, No One Was Born Great

She said it so matter-of-factly, “I’ll never change it. I can’t change the world.”

For me, everything just stopped. She believed them, she really believed those words that just came flooding out of her mouth. Her eyes were glassy and her posture resolute; I could see that in regards to world changing, her heart was settled.

I didn’t know how to respond, mostly because that thought has never gone through my mind.

How did she know that greatness hadn’t chosen her? Could she really be so certain that she wasn’t woven with all the threads of a world changer?

Her words just sat with me for the rest of the day, but late that night, wrapped up in my covers and staring at the ceiling, I heard something thick with truth:

Greatness doesn’t choose you, you choose greatness.

You don’t make a difference all because fortune fell into your lap.

Shakespeare may be considered brilliant and many of us have heard these words: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Well, I think Willy and I disagree on that. Some are born distinguished, wealthy, seen as important, but that doesn’t make them great. Greatness is our choice and often it comes through the things thrust upon us.

You’re going to hit hard times and it’s what you do with them that makes you great. It’s your choice to keep laughing, to say hard things, to choose love when you want to choose bitterness, to step in when someone is in need, to be willing to be a megaphone for the things that really matter.

Greatness is walking with your head held high, knowing that the only thing that could ever make you inferior is the choice to play a minor role in the world you’ve been given.

I’ve never believed I can’t change the world. I know that I have the ability to work just as hard as anyone else. The people that have changed the world never had anything on me, even if they had extreme intelligence and wealth.

Hard work makes you great and enduring character sustains it. You were born with all the same threads as the people in history books. You can work just as hard, believe just as mightily, persevere just as long.

You can choose greatness, it’s always an option for you.

But know that greatness isn’t chosen for selfish reasons, for arrogance or conceit. True greatness is chosen when someone isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, lose cool points or risk being rejected. People who make a choice for greatness do it because they believe people deserve bigger and better things than the world before them knew how to fight for.

If you’re convinced you aren’t enough, that you don’t have what it takes or that it was easier for people who came before you, you’ve got some things to learn.

World changers, fire starters, page turners never had it easy. They walked through fear, were knocked around by cold shoulders and stood front and center of the you’ll-never-amount-to-anything lineup.

Fear didn’t stop them, ridicule didn’t break them, courage and determination were the shoes they chose to wear every single morning.

So, whatever you’re afraid of, bitter about, indifferent to, whatever it is that makes you lazy or passive, those are the only things steering you away from the road that leads to the corner of Greatness and Change.