The New and Good Year

I think most of humanity is in agreement about one thing right now: saying goodbye to 2016 will not break our hearts. I’m pretty sure that the guy who started the campaign to save Betty White is all of us right now. We all feel that nothing was off limits to the insanity of the year, and we’re all just ready to do whatever it takes to get to 2017 without taking another big hit.

That being said, 2016 was a year that I think I learned more than most of my other years combined. When I look back, I think I could fill an entire stadium with pages of lessons I picked up along the way. I’ll leave you with a little bit of what this year taught me. Through the good, the bad, the really bad, the unimaginably tragic, the incredibly scary, the weirdly ironic, and the unbelievably shocking, 2016 left me with some things I needed.

  • There’s a moment to grow up. You’ll know when that moment comes. You finally stop making decisions that are magical and start making decisions that are fruitful. You start realizing your decisions need to require you to think about other people, about investment. You learn that your feelings, your whims, your desires are not the most important things in the world. You can’t live for them or make your decisions by them because the consequences have never been and will never be worth it.
  • If living alone is possible in your single years, do it. It’s pretty wonderful to live in a house full of people laughing and splashing coffee all over the countertops, but there’s something invaluable about learning to grow into your own space. There’s something about coming home to silence and sitting with your thoughts. There are prayers you pray in that quiet that you’d never pray with other people running in and out of rooms. There are moments you can slide down and sit on the hardwood floor with tears in your eyes and without fear that someone is going to come barreling through the door. There’s just a peace and safety to work through all the questions in a real and raw way. I think solitude is one of God’s favorite medicines.
  • Your experiences are not always the truth. Your experiences are true because they happened, but what you believe about them and the stories you tell yourself may not necessarily be true. We fill in the gaps and the holes of our hearts with stories that make us feel better, and sometimes that’s the only way we know to survive. We tell ourselves the relationship ended because we loved them too much and they just couldn’t handle our love. We tell ourselves that our parents left us because they hated us, because we were never enough for them. We fill in those things left unspoken with stories, and the emptiness we sit with starts to feel less daunting. If I can figure out the story, I can craft a solution or write a really good ending. But sometimes, you don’t know what that story really is. Learning to accept that and letting go of the need to answer those questions brings a lot of freedom.
  • There is a fine line between conviction and stubbornness and one of them means standing alone. A convicted person knows that they do not stand alone, that they are accompanied by God and by truth. A stubborn person fights everything and everyone (sometimes including God and the truth) to be proven right. Whenever you find yourself in an argument ask yourself if you’re being convicted or if you’re being stubborn. And if you’re being stubborn, you’ll most likely end up standing alone.

  • There is no substitute for time. My sister told me this years ago and I think I’ve learned it more in the past few months than ever before. You cannot rush the process, you cannot shortcut your way to growth. There is no Miracle-Gro formula for your health. You can try all the juices, cleanses, whole30 diets, quick-fix fads, but the reality is that consistency will always be key. Time produces change, growth, and results. You can’t rush health and anything that pressures you to probably won’t work.
  • You become what you behold. God and I had a very serious conversation about this last night on the way to Target. I am a chronic fixer, and it is something we’ve been working on for quite a while now. I see pain in another person and bless my well-intentioned heart, I just cannot take my eyes off of it. I want to help them, to see them through that pain, to love them right on out of it. But what if I just started choosing to see the good in them, to call that out, to love on that part of them with such a fierceness that it grows and pushes out the pain? What if I really just believe that it’s light and Love that drives out the darkness, not my problem solving abilities? Because you know what I’ve learned? Focusing on the problems in other people just weighs me down with problems, but focusing on the good in and around them brings out the good in me. If we focus on pain, hate, differences, sin, heartbreak… that’s what we become. We become consumed with that very thing that we obsess over and it takes over our lives. But if we fiercely grow and water the good, it always overtakes the darkness. Love always wins. True, time-taking, good-loving, turning away and not focusing on condemnation love is always gonna win.

2017 is just around the corner. It’s going to have its problems, it is going to have its battles. There might even be moments when the Twitter and Facebook explode with some kind of disagreement that makes 2016 look like the year of child’s play. But 2017 will become whatever you focus on. This year, I’m praying to focus on the good and I’m praying that I’ll learn what that word actually means. Today it meant a hug from a stranger, a really good salad, and a walk downtown in a city that I would have never thought I’d end up in. There was good in 2016, and I hope for these last few days of the year those are the things I focus on.

Nevertheless, God protect Betty White.

 

 

 

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When The Holidays Are Hard

Some days I am still in the kitchen looking for napkins at that Christmas party. I can hear the laughter coming from the back of the house, my heart swells with the hope as the background music fades to the next track.

I immediately smile as I hear the younger version of myself laugh. Nothing was untouched by the lights that year, anything and everything was possible. All our troubles seemed miles away.

What I didn’t know was that by the next Christmas all of that hope would feel long forgotten and it would take years to get any of it back.

Fast forward to last week when I got a handwritten letter in the mail.

It was from a dear friend across the country and her words were full of that same kind of hope, risk, excitement, uncertainty. I found myself thinking about that Christmas party and about the year that followed.

I replayed what it felt like to let my heart grab on to things that were never meant to be. I let myself be taken back to those twinkle lights and the cold winter air. I let my heart stir in that hope that built me and broke me. While I can’t say I regret that time in my life, the memory of it sometimes still feels heavy whenever the holidays roll around.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get all warm and sappy whenever I hear it playing over the speakers in the mall, or when it greets me in the car on a dark winter morning.

I wish I could go back to the 40’s and sip coffee with the writers, Hugh and Ralph. I would ask them to tell me about the day they pulled that crumpled melody out of the trashcan. I would ask about the stories that caused them to write those words and that tune.

Let your heart be light…

Around this time of year, I have to remind myself not to get weighed down. It seems so much easier to get heavy when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And there always seems to be so much pressure to get happier when the red ornaments come out and the big mugs of hot cider start getting passed around. The thick obsession with holiday cheer can weigh me down faster than anything else. I don’t want to miss it. According to every one and every thing, these are supposed to be my happiest months. I often feel rushed to get myself together before December slips away.

I’m figuring out that we need to learn to let our hearts be light, but that we don’t need to hurry it or force it.

Some days it is okay to remember the Christmas party that broke your heart and to grieve the chairs those people no longer fill. But then you have to let go of that weight, sweep the floors and make new invitations. Keep throwing parties and keep filling up those chairs.

Let your heart be light. Allow it to let go, allow it to hope for better years. Go and see the lights, sniff the fresh pine, watch all the best and worst Hallmark movies, help your grandmother decorate her tree, make plans to find the perfect wrapping paper. Let your heart be hopeful and expectant, even if there are hard memories and prior years that still bring pain.

Sometimes I feel like Dickens really got his stories mixed up. He really should have started off the Christmas one with that whole bit about how it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Because some days I’m still in that kitchen and I am heavy with the weight of what Christmas used to be, might have been, appears to be for everyone else. One minute, I am one pine-scented candle away from weeping in Target and the next, I’m singing Holly Jolly Christmas and flailing around in snowman pajamas.

Most days this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Still, Ralph and Hugh knew that there would be those holiday days we would need a melancholic song that would help us mourn, while simultaneously giving us a swift-kick-in-the-rear with a challenge like let your heart be light. 

I’m not sure if those guys knew it, but a different kind of Christmas light is the only thing that can help us with the heavy weight. That Light came in the middle of the night to a bunch of people on the run, who were probably crying over old Christmas parties, and whose lives looked nothing like Hallmark movies. He saw all the sadness, darkness, pain, loss, loneliness they were in and He came.

And when He took his first human breath, I think that was really the first time the world heard what are quickly becoming my favorite words of the season: let your heart be light.

 

 

I have one less pair of pants and I now need to hide underground, but it will all be okay.

The ceiling literally caved in. I came home a few weeks ago to big chunks of my ceiling laying in the floor.

Then came final exams, a crazy list of things to-do at work, a roach in my bathroom, getting incredibly sick, and then accidentally and unintentionally stalking an old(ish) man.

Then came the world’s worst migraine that lasted for a week, which led me to an allergic reaction, which then led to me throwing my pants away (of which I have no recollection of).

Needless to say, my life over the last several weeks could have been a sitcom. I seriously think television networks could benefit from following me around.

In the middle of all of it, I found myself exhausted, terrified, frustrated, mortified, and amused.

But I also came to find out that the world didn’t end.

Somehow all the assignments that needed to be finished were completed, the speeches that had to be composed were written. The designs, deadlines, and e-mails were all taken care of.  I woke up this morning to realize that though I have one less pair of pants, and I now need to hide underground for a few years after the stalking mishap, that it is all going to be ok.

I think sometimes I forget that God works things out. He makes a way. Granted, I have to do my part sometimes, I have to be responsible with my time and my energy. I have to cooperate with wisdom, but it always gets done and works out. And even when I screw it up, His grace can and does still meet me.

I so easily take that for granted. I have a crazy and stressful week, I survive and then I just move on. I don’t always stop to mark the moment and say, the next time everything explodes and I’m a wreck of a human being who is staggering into doctor’s offices and beating a roach with a broom at 2 am, I should remember that God was with me this time and it all worked out.

I guess what I’m saying is that you’re going to be okay. Whatever the weeks and months look like for you right now, you’re going to make it and you’ll make it through the next time after that as well.

Think about all the times that you swore it wasn’t going to work out, you wouldn’t finish it all, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t be okay. You’re here, you’re breathing, you made it. Maybe it didn’t all turn out the way you thought it would, but the world didn’t end and you’re still moving.

Take a minute, just stop and remember that you can’t control it all and that you don’t have to. He’s got this. The one who is in control of everything has always and will always have you, and He will work it out. 

eat the cake and be thankful

My sister got married.

Which most days still seems like a sentence of fiction. It feels like this story that I’ve crafted in my mind about a day filled with coffee, flowers, shades of green, and warm hugs from the people who know me best.

The rhythm of the entire thing was joy and nostalgia, it was just the stuff Gary Marshall movies are made of.

Every time I think about that day, I stop breathing for just a second. It was the day I went from having my life and its people memorized, to seeing change come right before my eyes.

I don’t think I blinked the entire weekend of that wedding.

I kept telling myself to be present, put down the phone, take note of the perfect weather, laugh with my relatives, squeeze my out-of-town friends.

Because the story was happening. And I’ve always been one who doesn’t fully appreciate the story while I’m in it. But something about the wedding of the most important person in the world to you will shake you. It will make you stop dead in your tracks and think: don’t miss this moment.

Here’s what I learned: Eat the cake. Reach for the hug. Make eye contact. Make a toast full of words that you’ve held in too long. Pray. Sit up the night before, wrapped in a blanket, telling God that this was everything and nothing that you expected to feel.

Be prepared to literally feel the page of your life turn when you change out of that bridesmaid’s dress into your jeans and flannel.

But know that it shouldn’t just be weddings or noteworthy events that shake us. It should be the simple moments of our lives, the coffee dates with old friends, sitting alone on the porch, waiting in line for your morning bagel. Life, abundant life, is supposed to be this enthralling and enchanting thing that stirs you every single day. Days should not pass by in bundles without us having said, “Thank you God that I’m here and I’m alive. Thank you that I have a heart that fought to stay vulnerable, and still can’t make it through a wedding without crying. Thank you for this heart that begs to know more about love, forgiveness, and how to do things that matter.”

The days since the wedding have been filled with exams, my ceiling (literally) caving in, getting sick, trying to figure out a laundry schedule, battling a large insect in my bathroom at 2 am. Life hasn’t slowed, it hasn’t allowed me much time to really stop and be thankful for the goodness that comes in-between and in the middle of the mess.

So, maybe the point of this blog is to say, stop and enjoy the moment and realize that you have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also to say that you’re meant to live fully and abundantly. You’re supposed to be captivated and romanced by the reality that you have breath and a heart. Use them. Use them to appreciate your life and to live it abundantly.

Life is messy and hard. Sometimes you find yourself curled up on the couch crying from pain, right in the middle of one of the happiest times in your life. Sometimes you find that you still feel a coat of grief hanging from your shoulders, and it’s always reminding you of what could have been.

But stop in the middle of the mess, the grief, the questions, the celebrations, the busy schedule. Stop when you’re falling into bed, and can barely keep your eyes open.  Stop and say thank you. Stop and think about how good it feels to just be here. Stop. Eat the cake, say the things you need to say, and remind your heart not to miss being thankful for the biggest and even the smallest of life’s moments.

Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile on top of the hurt by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings. 

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper: Reach for a hug. Give a compliment. Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because it wouldn’t feel genuine. But he’d say it over and over again: Love isn’t just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is: it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else. That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it, it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love, the more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is more like a triathlon. It has different legs. You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root. Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret pouring a little salt in your wounds.

 

 

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.

The Days That Make up The Years

Fourteen years ago, sometime in the earliest hours of the morning, I was sitting on my mother’s lap when she said, “he’s gone.”

I’ve never forgotten that moment, never unlearned the pain of losing someone I love.

I don’t think my grandfather would have ever imagined that such a little girl would carry a silly, wrinkled, ice cream obsessed man into even the smallest spaces of her life. But I did and I still do. I still think about him every time I see a peppermint, turn on a computer, or flip past the tv show Jeopardy.

Lately, my mind has been taking me back to the days when I thought God was big guy with dark black hair and a blue sash.

I thought He sat in a blue wingback chair and wanted me to be successful and smart.

But if you were to ask me what I believe about that now, I would pour you some coffee and tell you that I don’t really have the answers I thought I would have by now. That night, fourteen years ago, I would have hoped I’d have figured my life out by now.

If you were here next to me, I would tell you about a man who had a faith that I could see, but never got the chance to touch.

He never tried to offer answers, never in my childhood did I hear him trying to beg or convince others to believe. But he lived with a quiet, steady belief of a God who is not easily explained. I loved that he never tried to explain Him, and yet, somehow I always knew my grandfather believed.

I think even as a child, I knew that you couldn’t have joy like his or overcome the fear he’d battled without some sort of rooted belief that God was there, that He hears our prayers.

Welcome to the whirlwind.

The storm that will hit you when you finally have to admit to yourself that you don’t really have all the answers. When you realize that fourteen years later, sometimes your view of God is not as steady as it used to be, back when you thought He was the Big Guy in Blue.

Sometimes, He is quiet.  He rarely explains himself.

I’ve started to think He’s okay with the quiet parts of our faith. With the wrestling and wondering about how we got here, where we’re going, and where He stands in the middle of all of it.

My faith isn’t always loud, doesn’t always have words and I think He’s big enough to work with that.

I don’t think God is bothered by the fact that I ask so many questions. Or that sometimes I don’t have the strength to ask them at all. I think He’s okay with that fact that some days I just want to learn the art of a perfect latte, or walk aimlessly around department stores.

He never put pressure on me like I thought He did. He doesn’t sit up there waiting to use me if/when I become smart & successful. 

And days of wandering, smaller paychecks, and messy hair don’t make me a failure.

I think He can handle my mediocrity. I think He can handle the sigh I make when I slam the snooze button and pray to forget the hard things.

There’s a lot of change that has been happening and I don’t really know how to make sense of it. I don’t have any idea how to take some of the steps I’m going to have to takeIn this moment, I wish my grandfather could be here, so that I could ask him about what it takes to move on, about what it takes to swallow your fear and decide to keep walking.

If I could, I would make you a fort in my room, the way we did at my grandparents’ house. I would give you vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup, and pop in Beauty and the Beast. I would refuse to let us fill our time with worrying about how it will all turn out. We would just love the moments of our lives, not knowing that the day will come when people we love will be gone. I wouldn’t tell you that we might wake up fourteen years later with a life that looks nothing like we planned.

Because most of the time, God doesn’t want us to figure it out. He just wants us to live.

If He had told the nine-year-old me that my grandfather would die, I would move to a different state, and given me the daily contents of my life at twenty-three…I’m certain I would have panicked.

Because I wouldn’t have been able to see or know the good in all the other days. I wouldn’t have known all the people who have stepped in and taught me how to stand, the laughter that steals the breath right out of me, the plane rides that take me to places I never knew existed. I wouldn’t have known about the late night eating of cake, the long talks in the kitchen, the days when hope holds my bones together.

Because the fear tries to steal the joy. It tries overshadow all the goodness in our days.

We’re not going to figure it all out.

And I don’t think it’s worth trying. We just have to live life, enjoy it, wrestle through it, love the people around us fiercely. We have to realize that our lives impact people. That a 73-year-old man can be branded on the heart of a 9-year-old girl, and he can forever change the way she sees the world.

We have to stop demanding that God give us the answers we desperately seek. Because He knows our frame is too small to hold the knowledge of all that is in front of us.

We have to know that there’s goodness. Even though I know there will be sadness, pain, loss, days when I wish I could hold people that are no longer here. Still, there is such goodness ahead. 

We have to learn to be okay with quiet faith, with being human, with plans that might not make us look smart or successful. We have to learn to love the process, the days that make up the years, the joy we are privileged to hold when new babies are born, weddings are celebrated, autumn is welcomed once again.

We have to trust His goodness, even and especially in the unknown.

We have to know that God’s always had us, and He will always get us through. We have to trust that there’s joy and good living ahead of us.

If I would have asked my grandfather then, and I think even if I could ask him now, he would tell me this: I can bet on a belief that says there is so much goodness I’ve yet to see.