It Won’t Be the 2nd Floor Apartment: Moving, Questions, and Short Seasons

The first few weeks I lived here I came home every night and watched the 2016 Olympics. I cried every time Michael Phelps won another Olympic medal. It didn’t really matter that I knew he was going to win before he jumped in the pool, the end of his career still stirred something in me.

I’m packing up my apartment and I knew this day would come. That’s the thing about apartments, you know they aren’t permanent. You know the end before it happens. You know you’re one day going to pack up all your boxes, take all the pictures off of the wall, scrub the cabinets, and try to figure out how to secure all the breakables.

Yesterday¬†I sat in the office of a friend, he crossed his arms over his white plaid shirt and smiled, “Whatever the next step is, it probably won’t feel like¬†a clear¬†yes at first, it will probably just feel something like¬†well, it’s not a no.¬†Then, you’ll just keep taking steps and asking questions. And you might always have questions, but somewhere in there, you will find a yes.”

Suddenly, I was sitting on that street corner again, looking at myself ten¬†months ago deciding whether or not to move to this city, rent this apartment, change my entire life. I followed that nudge, that¬†well it’s not a no. I kept asking questions, and in the midst of it, however short it turned out to be,¬†there was a yes.

There was always a yes. Nestled there¬†in the¬†crying in the kitchen, laughing at work, my plunger emergency, the literal¬†ceiling caving in, sleepless nights and exams, my beloved Chick-fil-a man, learning how to let go, how to stand up, nearly dying from a migraine, hosting the best Christmas party ever, my sister getting married¬†and then getting pregnant, having one of the most absurd¬†“define-the-relationship” conversations ever, forming unlikely friendships.¬†There was¬†a yes, there in the deepest part of my soul, even though I had¬†a billion questions.

“God didn’t allow this moment to make you weaker. Don’t let it make you weaker.”

His words were once again exactly what I needed to hear. Because questions can have that kind of power when we let them. They can make our knees feeble and our hearts weary, we can find ourselves doubting and uncertain that we’re on the right path, or that we ever got on the right one in the first place.

Having questions doesn’t mean you’re weak and it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong path. Sometimes it takes a person (who was a stranger just¬†months ago), whom you met at a place (that some might say seemed like a “wrong turn”), to show you that questions and short seasons often keep you right on track.

Stop feeling guilty for your questions, your short seasons, things that¬†didn’t work out like you expected, or for crying when MP predictably wins a medal or you predictably have to move¬†again.

This moment doesn’t have to make you weaker, guilty,¬†or fearful. There’s something ahead and it won’t really matter if it lasts for nine months or nine years. It will be the right turn, the right time, the right track. You’ll cry when it’s over and you’ll cry while it’s happening. You’ll gain and lose along the way, you’ll find the¬†yes in the middle somewhere and you’ll keep asking questions until you find yourself asking a question that takes you to a different turn.

And one day you’ll move your boxes to a new place. You will set up the tv, turn it on¬†and make a new memory. It won’t be Phelps at the 2016 Olympics and it won’t be Raleigh. It won’t be the 2nd floor apartment with the perfect sunset view or the closet that smells like Christmas. It won’t be right down the street from the Harris Teeter with the annoying kid who never stops talking. But it will be home again and there will be people there waiting to love you and people that you’ll hope to never leave.

But if and when you do, they are what you will know made this whole thing¬†the right turn. Even though it hurts and even though it’s a lot of logistics, labor, inconvenience. The women who laughed with you, prayed with you, let you vent and cry in the hard moments. The bosses who sat with you, heard your questions, processed your pain, valued your voice. The men who kept you laughing, whose comfort and encouragement reminded you that honor and integrity are worth whatever the cost, who cheered you on when you thought you might give in. When you’re packing it all up–questioning why and trying to understand it all–they are what and who will make you certain that thought it wasn’t what you expected, you made the right turn after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Is More Like Take-Out…

I started writing this from a hotel restaurant that overlooks the city, after a week that could easily be classified as one of the most exhausting of my life.

I kept thinking back to a morning a few weeks ago. After waking up, I drug myself upstairs to find my roommate brewing a fresh pot of coffee and wiping down the countertops.

I plopped down on our little stool that sits next to the refrigerator and let out a deep sigh, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt like my life.‚ÄĚ I said it so casually, as if it were typical words for a person to spit out first thing in the morning.

She turned with a raised brow, ‚ÄúWhy?‚ÄĚ

I leaned my head on the fridge and closed my sleepy eyes, ‚ÄúBecause I‚Äôve let everything and everyone else build it.‚ÄĚ

She waited, like she always does, knowing I had so much more to process.

‚ÄúI‚Äôve lived most of my life basing my decisions off of other people. I live my life reacting to people and circumstances. I can‚Äôt remember the last time I made a decision simply because I wanted to and not because I felt that I had to!‚ÄĚ

And she gave me this look, that without her even saying a word, I knew she was asking me ‚ÄúSo, what are you going to do about it?‚ÄĚ

All of that led me to this moment. This moment of eating fries in a hotel restaurant and making decisions that I’ve been afraid to make for a very long time.

I’m moving my feet and going places that I couldn’t have imagined because I woke up one day and realized that I needed to own my life and take responsibility for my decisions.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I am not a fan of making decisions. I am the person who thinks multiple-choice tests are cruel and unusual punishment. They are the one kind of test that continuously makes me doubt myself because it presents me with so many options, with things that could be right. But if I choose wrong, it could lead to utter failure.

And that’s how I’ve lived my life: like a multiple choice test. One of these four answers is God and I’ve got figure out which one is Him or I’m going to fail.

And I’ve been taking this test like a contestant who is always trying to phone-a-friend. Even when Regis is yelling at me and telling me that I don’t have any lifelines left, I’m over here trying to pawn this decision off on anyone but me.

Because choices and options have always made me bleed doubt. Life often feels like a big test where I can’t just write a paragraph based on what I know and possibly get lucky with a professor who will believe the nonsense I just presented. No, for me, life feels like this concrete question that is going to give me choices that are all close together and could be the right thing, but could just as easily be wrong.

 And so I’ve waited. I’ve waited for people and circumstances to happen to me so I could respond appropriately. I’ve needed a cause for every effect; I’ve needed a good and logical reason for every decision I’ve ever made. I will choose the correct answer once I’m able to rule all the other ones out, or until I’ve run out of time and am just forced to circle something.

But when you live that way, sometimes you just wake up and realize that you built a life compiled by reaction; a life that isn’t full of passion, drive, ambition, or dreaming. You stifled all of your dreams because they might have been the wrong answer.

I do it at restaurants. I have three or four options in my head and I wait until the waiter is staring at me and then I blurt out a decision. I rarely know what I’m going to choose until that moment. The only way I choose is because I am forced to react to a deadline, to a frustrated stare, to someone expecting me to answer.

But life isn‚Äôt like a waiter; life is more like take-out. You have to pick up the phone and make the call whenever you‚Äôre ready‚ÄĒno one is going to force you to do this thing, to decide who you are and what you want. When it comes to the big things, no one is¬†going to scream in your face and tell you to let go, move on, or make a choice.

It’s like we’ve been waiting for someone to walk by with a script that will lead us to our happy ending. We just want someone to tell us what to say, where to live, what career to have, who to marry.

But this isn’t a multiple-choice test and God isn’t a teacher with a big red marker waiting to write an F on your paper. He isn’t a waiter who is glaring at you, tapping his toe with impatience while you wring your hands over chicken or steak.

God’s the one you call when you are ready make that decision. He’s given you a menu and He’s happy to recommend the best choices, but He loves you and will stay with you whether you choose soup or salad.

Stop waiting to see what everyone else is going to order. And stop waiting for God to force-feed you the better choice. The choices of life are yours and refusing to make them or putting it off are only going to keep you hungry.

When My Neck Is Sore and My Feet Are Tired

The whole thing started on a blue piece of construction paper. I was sitting in the lobby of one of my favorite places and furiously scribbling for my next blog post.

I kept getting distracted. Something that has been grabbing at my heart lately kept pulling on me. I would write a sentence, pause and let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was playing a long and tiring round of “what if?”

Suddenly, I would remember that I was supposed to be focusing.

I leaned my head back against the wall, “Did they look down, God?”

I was thinking about The Wise Men. The ones who had direction, but no details. They knew what they were headed toward, but they didn’t know what it would take to get there.¬†Follow the star and you’ll find the one who will save your life, that’s all they’d really been given.

Did they look down? I wondered if they ever got tired of holding their heads up and looking at that star.

“Did you use it, God?” That was my next question to Him.

“When their heads got tired of looking up and they felt the need to make a plan, to figure out places to rest, to find food. When they stopped trusting and tried to figure it out, did you use it?”¬†

When trying to figure out the timing of their journey and when they would arrive, did God factor in all the stops along the way? Did he plan for all the moments they’d get in an argument about whose turn it was to feed the camels?

My mind was all over the place and and I was feeling really guilty because I knew that if I had been on that journey, I would have tried to make maps and schedules. 

I would have tried to make sure all our needs were met, the camels were rested and fed, the path was safe, the other guys did their share of helping out.

I wouldn’t have always believed the star was enough. I would have looked away to draw my maps and make my plans. I get so easily distracted because I so desperately want details.

“Do you use it, God?”

Do you use¬†the moments that I think your¬†guidance seems vague and distant? The moments where I’m just stumbling around out in the desert and trying to figure out if I’m¬†actually any closer than I¬†was yesterday?

“I knew the men I had chosen.”

Suddenly, I felt really free. I didn’t feel Him scold me to rip up all my plans and maps. I just felt Him smile and let me in on an ancient little secret.¬†Yes, He uses it.¬†He uses even my distractions, my moments of distrust, the days that I get tired of looking up at the star and complain that my neck is sore and my feet are tired.

Though wise, those men were not perfect and God had always known that. He didn’t choose the The Perfect Men. He chose the¬†worshippers, the ones who were willing to seek Him out, those willing to¬†offer Him something they valued.

And when they left, God made sure He told them which way to go. He gave them a dream, He made sure they heard Him.

He knew the men He had chosen.

The Wise Men weren’t just wise because of their title, or even because they perfectly followed the star. They were ultimately wise because when God needed them to change the path, they were flexible to change their plans, they were ready and listening. They didn’t just trust the star,¬†they trusted the One who put it up there in the first place.

He chose you and He knows you.

Just come, exactly as you are.

With your arms full of maps, schedules, poorly wrapped gifts.¬†Just come. With your¬†holiday frustration, your to-do list, the feelings that the star isn’t enough and that you’d like a few more details. Come, just as you are and bringing whatever you have.

Just come looking for Him. Keep coming, even if you yelled at Balthazar this morning for not brushing the camels.

Keep walking even without all the answers, and know that the proof of your trust is not in your perfection, but in the way you keep coming.

Change Will Come When it Comes

A lot of things have changed since I first moved here.

Friends have left. Some have gotten married. Birthdays have come and gone. Furniture has been replaced. Walls have been painted, planes boarded, road trips taken, tan lines made and faded.

Laughter has been sung throughout the house and conversations have been paused for weeping and prayer. Leaves changed colors, fell, died and then life bloomed again.

All the while, we have all been saying one thing: I don’t want to wait until it’s over¬†to realize what I’ve got.

I want to savor each season.

There are moments happening right now that you are going to miss someday.¬†You’ll look back with a fondness and think to yourself, I wish I would have known how glorious that time in my life was. I wish I would have loved more fiercely, gave more generously, appreciated the people who made me laugh until I cried.

That’s the challenge my house has¬†been giving each other: appreciate this¬†time as much as you can and¬†don’t wish it away.

This week a lot of people have sat in front of me and cried. ¬†All of them¬†afraid…of moving forward, of being hurt, of finding out¬†that they put their¬†heart and soul into the wrong thing.

Don’t fight the tide: the thing you can’t change.

You’ll just get frustrated. Because the water will rise and recede and there’s nothing you can do about it.¬†You’re not in control of how far the waters reach and when they decide to change.¬†

So, just enjoy the ocean.

We’re always wishing things away. Wanting change, looking for escape routes, trying to figure out timing, running at the first signs of pain.

But to savor is to enjoy something completely.¬†Every part of it.¬†Even the parts that make your chest pound and your hands shake.¬†I want to learn¬†to enjoy the unknown of the remainder of a season, even if it’s hard and even if it seems slow or like my dreams are being delayed.

Find some things to delight in, things that make you feel alive. 

“Don’t¬†just put your head down in survival mode. If you can’t find anything to truly enjoy, then change¬†the things you can.”

My roommate knows what she’s talking about. Sometimes, I think she’s nearly mastered the art of savoring a season. Even when things are hard, I’ve seen her simply just sit down with a spread of watercolor, her pad and make something small and beautiful. It doesn’t¬†change the circumstances of her life and it doesn’t¬†give her answers about her future. But it makes her happy and lighter.

And it reminds us that sometimes joy requires just a simple act of doing one little thing that your heart loves.

The change will come when it comes, exactly when it’s supposed to.¬†So,¬†don’t spend the time in between sitting in fear, and wondering how it will all turn out. Don’t stew¬†in impatience, wishing away time and wanting it all to just be over with.

There’s good in the season, things you’ll want back when they go away. Figure out what those things are and throw your heart into them. Sit on the floor and laugh with people who love you¬†exactly as you are. Have pizza on the patio with friends who are content to let you fully be yourself. Paint rows¬†of evergreen trees and pin them to your wall. Take a drive at sunset, see where you end up and watch the world as it yawns and begins to fall asleep.

It¬†doesn’t mean that you won’t cry, or that you won’t feel frustrated, or sometimes ache for a change.¬†But you can’t keep fighting the tide, it has its own schedule and¬†rhythms¬†for¬†lows and highs.¬†

Savor the season; change what you can and stop trying to control what you can’t.

And don’t wait until this season is over to realize¬†all the good you¬†have.

I Thought That Was My Moment

If anyone else had been there they would have written down our words, a description of the weather, and told Nicholas Sparks to drop it into a novel.

The perfect song was playing on the radio.

I thought that was my moment.

I could not have written the whole scene better myself. I was proud, proud of myself for taking a risk, proud of God for giving my story such a perfect little paragraph.

So, when I ended up with my face in the carpet a few days later, it’s safe to say¬†that I was disappointed¬†with¬†myself and with God.

I laid still, wishing I could force tears to come. But I was numb, I was tired, and I just wanted to forget the whole thing.

That wasn’t my¬†moment. I thought to myself, the toes of my running shoes¬†digging into¬†the floor. ¬†It was always too small. I know¬†that wasn’t it.

Whether I wanted to admit it or not, that perfect moment could have never been enough. I’d been aching for so long for a moment, something¬†that would cause me to¬†see the color of the trees again. I needed something to pull me out of the dull gray fog that had blanketed my life.

I thought I had it, and it rivaled every movie moment I’ve ever applauded. But it was still too small to compete with¬†the fire that once sat in my belly.

People are not God.

That’s the thing I’ve been trying to say, the words I’ve been searching for since I was eight years old and lying on a trampoline, studying the hues of the sky.¬†

They will not make us whole.

They can’t¬†fix three years of broken friendship. They can’t¬†see the¬†years of dancing, praying and crying we did next to barren white walls. They could never keep you from crumbling¬†when you get the seven¬†phone calls to put on a black dress and say goodbye. They can¬†never be what makes you whole, and the moments they give us won’t paint our colorless worlds.

It took a ten minute conversation in my driveway for me to realize that a few perfect moments would never be the things to convince me to get out of bed in the morning. They would never be worth living for.

Because moments fade and perfect songs end. ¬†We go back to the grind of life and soon realize that we’re still looking for more, craving¬†something that lasts longer than a few hours, weeks, years.

People can’t fix you.¬†

No matter how many times they tell you how beautiful you are, how far you can go, how special you were born to be.

People are never going to fix your ache. They’re never going to pull you out of the darkness, never going to have the kind of love that will help you put one foot in front of the other. They might give it their best, but¬†it could never be enough.

Don’t put that on them. Don’t put it on someone else’s shoulders to make everything okay for you.¬†They will let you down, even if they make every promise not to.

Sometimes, we get the perfect moments.

The thing we hoped would happen. The job we worked hard for. The keys to the house we dreamt about our entire lives. The wedding we planned for at 10 years old. But it will never be enough and the people next to you in life can never fully fix your broken heart.

When the day settles and you are left with just your own thoughts and an¬†ache that digs at the deepest parts of you, He’s there. Even when you think He’s left you.

Stay there.

Maybe you’ve never been the kind to stay, but if you’ll just dig your feet in, there’s something beneath the ground He’s got you standing on. Stay with Him.¬†He didn’t let you get to this place without a purpose and He didn’t leave you to figure it out on your own.

That thing you’ve been begging Him for, that you don’t have, it’s not because He is cruel. But it’s because He knows it won’t fix it and that what you’re asking for isn’t really the thing you want.

What you really want is to feel whole again,¬†so¬†you don’t actually want Him to give you anything¬†but Himself.

When Something is Over

‚ÄúFor me, when something is over, it‚Äôs over.”

She paused, taking a sip of her latte. ¬†‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre always looking for some kind of conversation that will tie everything up, but sometimes, you just have to make your own closure.‚ÄĚ

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.