Celebrating and the Weight of Grace

In the days after we celebrated, I spent most of my hours painting.

I am not a painter.

But that month my hands stayed stained with shades of blue, my shirts dyed, brushes dripping over the sink. I left my apartment only to grab takeout and steal from the sky another hue to replicate.

The secrets we were keeping were ones that I eventually realized my hands could not tell. No matter how many strokes I made with those brushes, the truth was still trapped inside.

A few weeks later I sat in the corner booth of an old Italian restaurant in my hometown. The person who sat across from me was the first person to ever really hear the whole truth, the terrifying, gut-wrenching, honest-to-God truth. Out of my mouth came the thread that threatened to unravel everything inside of me—the truth about how disappointed I had turned out to be.

Disappointment, that was a word I was so afraid to say. It felt so heavy, so dark, that was a shade, a hue that I’d refused to paint. Admitting disappointment felt like defeat. And even though I knew nothing would ever turn out the way I had once hoped, admitting disappointment for even a second had never been an option.

But the night with the strings of lights, sentimental words, and the seconds of forgetting the past flung me back to reliving that reality: sometimes we paint the perfect picture in our minds and wake up one day to realize that picture is never going to be possible.

I had to relive that over and over again, that the world I’d painted in my mind would never quite be the one God would paint on the canvas that is my life. Every time I celebrated another milestone, I would also wince at the bitterness I felt that God was using a shade, a tone that was different than the one I would have chosen.

Then came Room 176.

When the sweet lady with her yellow paper gave me that location, I never had the thought that it was going to be a place that would change my life. Four white walls, but that’s the place that God pulled back a piece of the curtain and said “I made all the colors and I mix them just right.” 

If I had gotten the life I tried to paint, I would have been standing somewhere else.

Those words are the hardest to swallow. As I now reflect on the greatest moment of my life to date, I break my own heart with the truth that God knows if He leaves us to work out our own lives, we will take away the greatest gifts He gives. Sometimes He breaks our hearts now to keep us from missing our dreams later.

I think of the moments when I’ve sat with God and told Him not to use that brush, that color, that shade; that I’m disappointed with His pace, His technique, His progress. I think of that day in the old Italian restaurant and my disappointment. I think of the birth of my nephew, the moment when I laid down my paintbrush and felt my knees buckle at the weight of God’s grace.

In these days we’ve been celebrating, I haven’t picked up a paintbrush. My hands have not been stained and I haven’t gone to that old Italian restaurant and cried in the corner booth. I’ve still thought about the promises we broke, the disappointment I’ve felt, and the picture I had in my mind. Honestly, I still thought about my favorite shades of blue and for a split second wished God used them more. But last night, I rocked that baby boy to sleep and started to fall in love with shades and hues that before those moments I’d never even seen.

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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.

 

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.

Lovely Letters: Stay In It

Dear Lovely One,

Yes, you. Do you know how rightly those words fit you? Like a chunky knit sweater, they were made to wrap around you and shield you from the cold.

And it gets cold, doesn’t it?

Life gets cold when loneliness comes around, after the day’s laughter has faded. We are left with our thoughts about what is, what could have been, what is likely to never be. And life gets painstakingly, teeth rattling cold.

But you, you are lovely and so worth loving and the world is better and brighter because you’re in it.

Stay in it. 

Those are the words I want to bundle you up in: stay in it.

Keep fighting. Because your bones are stronger than you give them credit for. Your heart is more durable than you’ve been made to believe. Whoever told you that you’re too weak to walk this thing out, that you don’t have any fight left in you: they lied.

Because I know that your fierce footsteps could change the world. You’ve got to keep walking.

It’s hard and we’re always bandaging scars, old ones that get re-opened and new ones that are just starting to form. It sometimes seems like we’re being put through a never-ending process of running to get bandaids and gauze: we’re looking for anything to stop the bleeding.

Let love and hope stop your bleeding.

There’s more here than what we’re seeing. There are things bigger and better than what tattered hearts and broken minds can imagine. I don’t always believe it, but in my gut, I’m certain that it’s true.

Because if things like sunsets, road trips, loud music, oceans, good friends and pints of ice cream exist, then there’s someone who made those things and He has even better up His sleeve. We haven’t seen anything yet. The best is yet to come.

But we’ve got to keep walking, keep fighting, keep grabbing for hope and love, knowing that it will all be worth it. Even on the days when we’ve hit rock bottom and are seemingly at our worst, holding onto hope and love will be worth it

You are lovely. In the simplest and truest way, you are lovely. And the world needs your light, your laughter, your dancing, for you to start dreaming again. You deserve to dream, to ask for better things for yourself.

You’re not alone. I’m here curled up on my couch with books and blankets, tear-stained face, all to tell you that we all feel the cold and that you’re not alone in that. Keep holding on. There is always light, always hope, always something beautiful to be made out of the mess. If you can’t believe that yet, then let’s make a deal: you believe for me & I’ll believe for you.

Us holding these broken hearts is not the end of the story. Maybe we’re just at the part where the sad songs are playing and it seems like everything we wanted went slipping through our hands. But stay tuned, because there’s something good coming: I can promise you that. There are good things waiting for us, this whole thing isn’t over yet.

Stay in it and watch what happens…we are not going to be disappointed.

Lovely One: that’s who you are. Wear those words and own them, they are yours on any and every cold day that comes.

These hard times are just a brief breeze that will soon pass by.

Bundle up tight in love, and don’t let the pain steal your strength. Just a little further, and you’ll see that there’s so much better ahead than anything you’ve yet to see.

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.

That Was The Night That Broke Me

Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it out alive.

I remember that the sky was black, the darkest I’d ever seen it. One hand on the steering wheel, the other holding the back of my neck. I was screaming and sobbing. I was fighting for my life and at that point, I felt it could go either way.

The streetlights were blurred by the ache in my head and burning tears in my eyes. My vision went in and out of focus. There were moments when the pain pushed through me so fiercely that I’d find myself leaning over the middle console, praying from the depths of my soul. There’s no earthly explanation for how I kept my car on the road.

My tiny foot ramming into the gas pedal, I was racing down I-85. All I knew was that I had to keep going. With every mile marker I passed, the pain grew worse and fear tightened his grip.

My phone battery was blinking, just a few minutes and my phone would be dead. I turned it off, trying to save what little life it had left. I just kept telling myself to get somewhere safe: anywhere but there. If I could just find a safe place, I could call for help.

I remember pulling into that restaurant parking lot, picking up my phone and shakily dialing. “This is where I am. I’m in this town. It’s at this exit, please come.”

Immediately after those few sentences escaped my mouth, my phone died.

That was the night that broke me. I convulsively wept until I was choking and gasping for air. I waited. For hours, I waited and I cried. I slept a little in my car. Then, I went inside the restaurant and I ate yogurt, drank coffee, laid my head on the table and mumbled a prayer of very few words.

I’ll never get that picture out of my head. The image is burned into my brain: the look on her face when she got out of her car. The pain, the worry, the relief on her face when she finally grabbed me in a tight hug.

When my eyes opened the next morning, I only laid there in my childhood room and stared at the blank white wall in front of me. For hours, I just laid there.

There were a lot of mornings after where I did the same.

In the months that followed, I remember mostly one thing: everyone just kept telling me to move on.

I’d tell my heart, my limbs, my head to listen to them, to strengthen themselves and to get up, to move on. But they didn’t and I couldn’t. And every single time I saw those old friends again, they’d say the same words: just get up and move on.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about my ribs hurled over that console, my head screaming at my body not to stop fighting. I just kept thinking about how no matter how hard my foot pushed, I couldn’t go fast enough. I kept remembering her face, that look that said, I wish I could have gotten here faster. 

It took a while to recover from that.

But there was one thing that never helped, that never eased my pain: someone telling me to “just get over it and move on”.

Yes, I know they were trying to help and that it killed them to see me in such grief and pain. I’m not even saying they weren’t right, but the truth is it didn’t help. 

So, I’m not going to tell you to get over it and move on.

Because I wasn’t there.

I wasn’t there when you went through your darkest moments, your longest nights. I wasn’t there when you felt your deepest pain, gave your hardest fight.

And maybe you’re like me, and you have a story that only you, God and a stretch of highway will ever really understand. Maybe there are some things you’ll never find words for, moments you’ve lived that you’ll never be able to whisper out into the world.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to tell that story.

Because you don’t. It’s yours, to hold and to give. You get to be the one to hand out permission slips, invitations for someone to walk in and know the details of your pain.

But what I will tell you is that,  I hope the day comes when you let someone in.

In the core of my being sits this certainty that every little thing we’ve gone through has powerful potential. If we use them, they can bring light to someone who is now sitting in that same place of darkness.

Our songs may never be the same, but the fear, the pain, the fighting and the rescue all have the same tune. We all, in some ways, live ours lives hearing the same melodies. Sometimes, we just need to sit together and share the different words.

So, I’m not going to tell you to get over it, move on, let go. Because I already know that day will come. You’re a fighter and grace got you this far. I’ll just grip my coffee mug and clench my fists and pray that the same God who undoubtedly drove my car down the highway that night, also grabs ahold of you in your grief.

Sometimes, it takes weeks before we can walk again. For some stories, it takes years to heal. I’m not going to be the one to give you an expiration date for your pain.

But our stories, if we let them, have light to give. When people come broken, I don’t want us to simply tell them to get over it and let it go. My hope is that we grab ahold of them, and that for whatever stretch of time they limp, we let them lean on our shoulders.

May we be unafraid to tell our stories, and may we use them as a light. May we selflessly help others through the dark places in which we ourselves have already been.