The Plans We Make + The People We Keep

It has now become public knowledge that I recently left my job. But this blog is not about that.

This post is also not about the number of mornings or evenings I’ve spent crying in my kitchen floor this week, although I could probably release a few full length novels on the subject.

It’s more about sitting in a parking lot on a Friday afternoon and venting through a telephone line to my sister. I can’t even remember the question she asked me, but I remember the tears that stung my eyes and that every single fiber of my being rose to the occasion to answer it.

Nothing is constant.

I remember God telling me that when I lived in Georgia and was in the middle of panicking over something that would soon be just a blip in the rearview mirror. “Nothing in this world is constant, love. You’ve got me. I’m always here, but everything else changes.”

Part of me wanted to despair at His words. It seems like an awful¬†way to live, never being able to fully anticipate the future. But I felt a sort of freedom wash over me because it meant that few of my choices would be¬†set in stone. These things that get me so tied up in knots wouldn’t and couldn’t¬†ruin my life because they would never be a constant.

I never intended to take a job that I would quit in seven months.

I never intended to be left without a plan.

Believe me when I tell you I pretty much didn’t intend on anything that’s happened in the last week and a half.

And months later staring at a set of poorly trimmed hedges, I said something that I felt to be fiercely true: all we have are the people we choose to keep. Those words broke me when they came out of my mouth because they are the only thing that have been proven true in the instability of my life.

Plans change. Dreams change. Nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) ever turns out the way you intend. Jobs don’t work out. You fail classes. People die. Families get faced with unimaginable battles. You find in the midst of a world that seems so cruel and full of disappointment that the only thing you really have control over is today and the people you want to stand next to.

I am convinced that this is one of the million reasons Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow. Because tomorrow is not what you think it is, tomorrow always changes. Your emotions will be different tomorrow, your plans, your circumstances, and you cannot live your life based on those things. They are forever going to change and you cannot anticipate what they will look like.  When you live trying to plan for them, you will lose out on today.

I’ve missed a lot of really good todays worrying about tomorrow.

Today there are things and people in front of you that are there for¬†today and that’s what you know. That will be consistent¬†as long as you have¬†today.¬†I’m convinced that the only way to make a decision is to realize the fragility and beauty in that.

My job has ended, but the relationships with the people are what I will choose to keep. Just like when I moved away from Georgia, from home, from other jobs and places.

Because during a bad diagnosis, a failed dream, a deep loss, or a huge success, what you’ll be sitting shoulder to shoulder with are not the plans you made, but the people you chose to keep.

Last night I got in my car and drove to my best friend’s house. I came inside and we¬†covered up with blankets and just let all of the pain and frustration from the week come out. In the moment of being my best and worst version all I could think about was that line from earlier in the afternoon:¬†all we have are the people we choose to keep.

Our friendship has been one of distance, miles, phone calls, meeting in the middle, but it has been one of the best decisions of our lives. When it all starts falling apart,¬†my job isn’t¬†the place that offers me a warm bed, a cup of coffee, and a place to clear my head. My failed or passed class doesn’t sit with me in my pain, anger, uncertainty, or lack of clarity. The poster of dreams I drew up five years ago won’t look me in the eye and remind me¬†that I’m going to be okay, and that I’m not going to get stuck, there’s just no way God would let that happen.¬†The friend¬†we chose to keep in the inconvenience of circumstances, uncertainty of plans, and instability of emotions is¬†the person who sat with us last night and reminded us that¬†no matter what plans we make or change, we’re not alone.

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from one of those now former co-workers and she offered me a sort of invitation that stopped me in my tracks. She simply invited me to be a person she can choose to keep.

Even though my job changed. The circumstances are different. The constants I had planned fell through. I heard that sweet reminder again: all we have is Jesus, the people we choose to keep, and the people who offer us an invitation to be the same.

 

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My Birthday, Jack Bauer, and Fighting Back

My 24th year of life was somewhat similar to the tv show 24. Ironically enough, it was also the year in which I watched all eight seasons of the show and fell in love with Jack Bauer and also Tony Almeida. But not Sherry Palmer, she was legit the craziest person television has ever seen (except for Deb from One Tree Hill).

Anyway, my 24th year of life was like that show in that it was a lot of sleepless nights feeling like I had to save America. Except I am not Jack Bauer and I failed us because Marco Rubio is not President.¬†I tried, but my methods of coercion¬†are a lot less persuasive than Jack’s.

But as I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I’ve found that it was a year of fighting back. It was about finding some stability,¬†standing back up and dusting myself off. It was one of letting go, grabbing back on, and letting go all over again.

Fighting back came in the form of moving to a town where no one knew my name, my face, my history. We didn’t have strings, years of history swimming between us. It came in the form of solitude, getting rid of the voices that told me who I was supposed to be.¬†It took getting alone in a city of strangers to find out who I really am, who I always was, and who I am free to be.

I had to find my footing again. My voice. I had to hear God on my own, without the temptation of distraction. I had to find him in the silence, in the stillness between my own four walls. I had to learn how to stop being afraid of the darkness. I had to learn how to ask questions that ripped my heart to pieces. I had to weigh costs that and decisions that felt impossible to make. I had to learn how to open my doors to my home, to my heart, and risk that it may only be for a season. I had to believe it would still be worth it.

I had to learn how to make speeches that have been stirring in me for years. I was finally able to let go of the pain and regret of unsaid words. I prayed and I still pray that I learn from that pain and I don’t spend so much time in fear. I pray I’ve become the person to¬†take chances and say the things that are worth saying to the people worth saying them to.

I had to learn to laugh. To make plans. To finally plan a birthday that didn’t make me cry, to no longer feel obligated to make that one day a day of redemption and atonement for everything that goes wrong the other 364. I had to learn that boundaries are good and beautiful, that you must embrace and often welcome pain when it comes, but you don’t necessarily have to invite it.

I had to choose to see that holding yourself and others to unrealistically high expectations is rooted in pain and a fear of disappointment. Disappointment is not nearly as bad as your fear of it. The anticipation of everything is always so much worse than the actual thing itself. Worry and dread are the enemy. The results you can live with, it’s the turmoil of inaction that will nearly kill you.

Here at the beginning of 25 I realize that there is still so much I don’t have figured out, there are so many opportunities that sit in front of me and the ever present temptation to be overwhelmed by the options and possible outcomes. But if 24 taught me anything it’s that taking chances is worth it. Nothing ever turns out the way you imagine or anticipate, but it often gives you a gift that far exceeds your expectation. Life and God have a funny way of presenting the right people and places at exactly the right time, and so when you find yourself wanting to dive in, it’s usually got something worth offering to you.

Dive in. Sit in the silence. Weigh the cost. Fight back. Say the thing you need to say. Life is a gift, the opportunities and people in front of you are the best part and every time you let yourself grab onto them, you always find something worth holding onto.

 

Adulting: It’s Not a Thing (or a Verb)

Let’s be honest, we’ve all laughed at a good¬†adulting¬†meme¬†that so adequately describes the difficulties of trying to¬†be a grown up and do the responsible thing.

I will be the first one to admit that the majority of the first half of my twenties has¬†been a complete train wreck. I didn’t own a rain coat for most of it. A rain coat. Even small children own rain coats. I also literally did not understand the phrase¬†take it with a grain of salt until like two weeks ago. So you know, there’s a lot that I have yet to master about adulthood.

But I have become so incredibly annoyed with a generation of people who keep complaining and making t-shirts about how hard it is to¬†adult. Adult is not a verb. It is an adjective. It describes the stage of life that you¬†are in and will continue to be in. You don’t get a choice about that, my friend.¬†You are an adult. You will never be a child again and it is time that you just get past that fact and accept that this, in all its glory, is not a choice.

Your adulthood is just a fact.

When we treat adulthood like a choice we create a lifestyle of really horrible habits. We justify and make jokes about our¬†really poor choices because¬†adulting has become a thing we do or don’t do¬†today.

I love you enough to tell you this because I was the person doing it like eight and half seconds ago.¬†Eating doughnuts for breakfast every morning and watching Netflix until 2 PM in your bed when you’re in your twenties is not cute. It is not worthy of a “like” on Facebook or Instagram.

Being a¬†human is hard sometimes, but the hard parts about it are not your laundry, making your bed, or taking a shower. Difficulty is not¬†looking at your bank account and being sad that you can’t buy more Starbucks.

When we say it out loud, I think we can see how selfish it is: I’m feeding a culture that says life is hard because¬†I¬†want to be able to eat Oreos and not gain weight, or have the luxury of walking into Target¬†and spending $200 on pointless stuff.

We are a product of our choices, the things we do and the things we say. If I keep telling myself that the struggle is real at Target and everyone spends this kind of money because adulting is hard and budgets are hard when I wake up without any money for my future, at least I can laugh about it. I can post about it on Instagram and get a few hundred nods of approval.

Those things are not the hard part about adulthood and if you¬†actually believe that they are, you live in a very small world. You live in a bubble known as¬†entitlement and it’s a really dangerous place to stay. It’s a dangerous thing to joke about. It feeds bad habits. It’s a bubble that I’ve known well and it has caused more grief in my adulthood than maybe anything else.

You know what I love about my grandmothers’ generation? Those women got out of bed every morning, got dressed, took on the world, and sometimes never left their own home to do it. They’d wrangle seven kids looking like they just stepped out of a magazine. I never understood it and I actually thought it was incredibly pointless. But throughout the years of listening to¬†their stories I finally started to understand why.

They did it because getting out of bed, looking presentable, making breakfast, and¬†getting things in order is¬†good stewardship. It¬†is being thankful. It is loving themselves and others well. It is taking care of what God gave them. It is living a lifestyle of worship, of having a grateful heart. It is saying to God: I love and cherish this sweet life that you’ve given me and it is way way more than I deserve. I’m going to take care of it, I’m going to treat it like the gold that it is.

That’s not to say that some of them didn’t have careers. Both of my Grandmothers worked. They showed up for themselves, their kids, their husbands, and worked outside of their homes. They kicked butt (am I allowed to say that about my grandmothers?). They were moms, wives, business women, workers, church members, community members, and more. They were not¬†adulting,¬†they just accepted the fact that they were adults. Most of their generation accepted this a lot younger than¬†I did.

The point of all of this is not to say that we have to be perfect. I will have times of rest.¬†I will also still have some days where I wear sweatpants and watch a few hours of Netflix.¬†I will have times of eating pizza and wishing that it didn’t have so many calories. But that’s not an acceptable daily lifestyle and it’s not a culture that I want to encourage.

God handed me adulthood, sometimes it’s hard, but the fact remains that I don’t get a choice. But how I honor this gift of life¬†and how I choose to respond my¬†God-given responsibilities is entirely up to me.

 

 

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.