Idaho: What Makes Love Last?

When I left for Idaho one of the things I was seeking the answer to was, what makes love last? How do people make it stick?

I kept crashing headfirst into the reality that it isn’t years that produce success; it isn’t stability that creates longevity. Finding out these were not the answers started to blow my world apart. I always believed these were secret ingredients that my millennial generation couldn’t grasp with our microwaves and fast-food upbringing.

Waiting to board my plane to Boise, I met a man with a bright red backpack; his stories had me leaning in with awe.

“I got divorced a few years ago. It took some time to get my stuff together after that, but now I just travel all the time.”

His pain was visible. I asked him what he did before he got divorced, before seeing the rainforest, kayaking in Belize, or racing motorcycles in the desert.

He once built beautiful homes that were stable and strong. He built one for his wife. I sat there willing to bet they had muffin tins. I imagined his wife baked dozens: blueberry, chocolate chip, and pumpkin. But after years inside that home, they still didn’t last. Now that house sits empty on acres of land. He told me that he doesn’t know how to let go of it. It is lonely and empty, but he can’t let it go.

I had plans to find him when our plane landed. I needed to ask him what he would have done differently.

But he was at the front and I was at the back. By the time we touched down and deplaned, it was too late. The man with the red backpack was long gone.

It isn’t the house. It isn’t the stable job and the keeping our feet on the same piece of land. That’s all I could think as the doors opened and Idaho greeted me with her sunshine.

It isn’t the muffin tin. Heaven help me, if there’s one thing I’m learning after my break down in Kroger, it’s that. Those aren’t what make it last. It isn’t the perfect life that we build and never move our feet from. It isn’t an illusion of stability that we can fit inside of cabinets and between four walls. That won’t keep us in the arms of another person. It isn’t just forty years of furniture and picture frames that keep it together.

So I set out on this restless adventure across what I anticipated to be the most boring state in the continental United States. And it was nothing I expected. It was an incredible mix of learning how muffin tins are not the answer, but they are not the things we can blame for why we fall apart.

I don’t think I found a secret ingredient or all the answers. Still, I found something I needed, but not until the trip ended and I was crying at the gate waiting to fly home.

I sat watching a man and his pregnant wife. He was so exhausted that he could not keep his eyes open. She was far enough along in her pregnancy that she could barely see over her baby bump.

She attempted to put her shoes on, but it’s not an easy task when you cannot see your own feet. Immediately, her husband slid to the floor and began to help her. His eyes so heavy, his mouth opening with a yawn. When he seemed certain that she was mostly settled and could finish the task, he slid back into his seat and shut his eyes. I could tell he was literally seconds from falling into a nap.

A few minutes later she exhaled with frustration, struggling as she reached to finish the final stretch of tying the last shoe. Almost there, but not quite.

He heard it. He knew the sound of her. Without even opening his eyes, he slowly slid back onto the floor without hesitation. When his knees hit the carpet, he cracked open his eyes. The sweetest and softest smile covered his face. He tied the shoe.

She giggled. He laughed. I cried.

I thought of my friend with the red backpack. I thought about all the trips he’s taken this year. I thought about how he is getting older and how one day he’s going to be sitting at Gate C2 and he will sigh because his bones will be aching.

Connie won’t be there to help him tie his shoes.

The big strong stable house might be standing, the muffin tins might be inside of the cabinets. The plane tickets might take him to all the places he resented his marriage and house for never letting him go, but they will not tie his shoes. 

We’re all looking for something to give our lives for. Something worthy of sliding onto the floor, digging our knees into the dirty airport carpet for: something worth the words and the fight.

A life that looks perfect and stable will not make us stay. Good jobs, paychecks, houses that have bay windows, and the years we spent building them will not be what make us stay in their arms.

Somewhere in the stretch of those few seconds that her husband almost fell back asleep, there was a building in my chest as I watched her struggle to put that shoe on. But when that man fell to his knees to help her, despite the fact that he had just been down there minutes earlier, despite his exhaustion, regardless of the ungodly germs on that airport carpet, that’s when I realized that it isn’t years, it can’t be.

It’s something more like not letting the years pass.

It’s realizing that sometimes only seconds pass before it’s our turn again.

I cried in that airport because I realized that I don’t always know the kind of love that takes another turn a few seconds later. The kind of love that doesn’t have to follow a perfect rhythm of give and receive.

Sometimes it all goes out of order and you don’t tally it up. Sometimes the clock ticks by and you don’t remember who owes what and why. Sometimes you’ve been the one to slide to the floor the last eight times. Sometimes you’re the one in the chair and their sleepy brown eyes are staring up at you. Sometimes you’re the one learning how to let go and receive the help your tired body needs.

Friend with the red backpack:  I hope that you will forgive yourself for the years in between. I pray you find people whose shoes are worth tying on airport floors and who will slide to the carpet when you can’t tie your own. That you come to find God and see the way He ties our shoes when we’ve taken our lives to gates where no one else knows our names. That you’ll come to know your loafers are worthy of a good double knot and that it might be time to let that old house go.

 

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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, “I don’t like my life.” 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, “Why?”

I leaned my head on the fridge and closed my sleepy eyes, “Because I’ve let everything and everyone else build it.”

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

“I’ve lived most of my life basing my decisions off of other people. I live my life reacting to people and circumstances. I can’t remember the last time I made a decision simply because I wanted to and not because I felt that I had to!”

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

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’t like a waiter; life is more like take-out. You have to pick up the phone and make the call whenever you’re ready—no 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.