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.

 

Don’t Lose The Good Parts

If I hadn’t decided to become President of the United States, I’m quite certain I would have settled on becoming a professional boxer.

I once asked for a punching bag for Christmas. While in hindsight, that probably should have been cause for concern, it seemed perfectly normal at the time.

I’ve always been a fighter.

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fighting something: injustice, pain, grief, feelings, God, people…

Lately, I’ve been trying to put my gloves down; because it seems my fighting has sometimes caused more problems than it’s solved. Fighting is my gut reaction; it’s always been my default answer, how does a person get rid of that?

God caught me in my car today. I was tightening my fists on the steering wheel, my shoulders were tensing and I was thinking of all the things I want to say or do, the things I wish I knew how to handle right now. I tried to shove it out and down. I kept telling myself, stop fighting, you’re not allowed to be a fighter anymore.

‚ÄúYou‚Äôre just fighting the wrong things‚Ķ‚ÄĚ He said it so calmly.

My grip eased, ‚ÄúWhat should I be fighting?‚ÄĚ I asked.

Fight the fear. Fight the insecurity. Fight the walls you build.

Stop fighting the people that intimidate you, tear you down. Stop fighting the people that you’re desperately seeking approval from. Stop fighting people and start fighting the problem.

Fight the need to be right. Fight the fact that you hate to be weak. Fight the laziness. Fight the apathy. Fight your perfectionist tendencies. Fight the need to prove yourself. Fight the lies that have been stuck to you since you were little.

 It seems that God hasn’t been trying to take the fighter out of me, but now He’s showing me the right things to fight.

We don’t escape who we are; we can’t run from it or push it down. I’m a fighter and I’ll always be one. And sometimes that serves the world in beautiful ways. So, I’m learning how to overcome the weaknesses that accompany that, without losing the good parts of who I really am.

Whatever those things are that often seem to weigh you down and create pain in your life are likely something that God put in you for a really good reason. Those parts of you that you can’t shake, those glaring weaknesses, maybe it’s because they also have the potential to be some of the best parts of you.

Don’t lose the good parts. I think that’s what I’m getting at. Don’t throw out the good just because everyone (including you) is so disheartened and fearful of the bad. There’s no part of your weakness where¬†God can’t show up with His strength.

Fighting and Forgiveness

I spent Friday night weeping in the back of a room that knows me all to well. It’s a room that has seen my best and my worst.

If walls could speak, I think those could tell you the most about me.

That night, I finally came face to face with a certain reality that has taken me too long to swallow.

So, I just sat there for a bit, with all of it lodged in my throat. But then came Saturday night and those words that have been strangling me with guilt and fear finally came tumbling out.

And right then and there, I realized that I had some forgiving left to do. 

God told me that night that He was going to wash it away, that it was time for me to come clean. I told Him that I didn’t think I was ready. So, we just kind of stood there together; He let me throw my tantrum and I let Him hold me¬†while I cried.

The weekend came and went. Monday passed with foggy vision, a fractured¬†heart and a pounding head. This morning, I waited for it¬†and I knew He’d come around

because Tuesday has always been mine and God’s¬†reckoning day.

I never hold back punches and He never keeps quiet.

So, I drove to get a cappuccino because it was rainy and I knew what was coming. I knew I was about to have a bulldozer of truth crash into my morning. And as I expected, right before I got to the Starbucks drive-thru, He came barreling in and made His case.

“When you can’t forgive it is because you’re blind to your own faults.”

Cue the washing. His words were a shower over me, starting to remove some pretty tough stains.

I repeated the words back to Him and waited, knowing there was more to come.

“You’ve always wanted people to make the choice that you would make.

I sighed and waited for my coffee, getting a little defensive.¬†But maybe¬†it’s because I would have made the better choice.

I could feel Him smile (which is a strange¬†feeling). He always smiles when I start trying to form my own case. He doesn’t¬†even get annoyed; He just stays¬†there, waiting patiently for me to¬†get quiet again.

“You’ve made choices that have broken your own heart. You made the choices you thought you had to, even if it hurt others.”

He was right. Decisions¬†have¬†never¬†been¬†simple for me. There have been times when I made the only choice I knew how to make, and many times I’ve been¬†wrong.

We all face some measure of difficulty that comes with the freedom to choose, and we all get it wrong. So, if and when others get it wrong, forgive them.

Even if their decision breaks your heart and ruins your plans, forgive them.

And sometimes they won’t do the same for you. Sometimes they won’t forgive some of the choices you were forced to¬†make, but even so,¬†forgive them for that.

When you can’t forgive, it means you let yourself forget. You let yourself forget how hard¬†moments of¬†decision are. You forget the weight that pushes on your shoulders when you are forced to choose. You forget how many times you’ve had to beg for grace; how many times you had to pray that people would understand, and that they’d love you anyway.

We have to stop letting hard choices¬†push¬†each other away. It’s time we learn to¬†move on from the fallout, and realize¬†that we are all weak, all broken, that we will all face seemingly impossible forks in the road.

Forgiveness is the product of remembering that at some points, we all end up with our head in our hands. 

We all¬†get wounded in the battle of someone else’s decisions.

I think the world needs people who have been¬†injured to¬†come back, limping and wincing, but choosing to say: “I’m willing to fight next to you, even though it got really bloody last time. You are not my enemy, and I still¬†remember all the years¬†we stood fighting side by side.¬†

We all get hurt and we all drag our feet on saying “I’m sorry”. We all spend too much time nursing the wounds of people we love, whose choices hurt us in unimaginable ways. And in our pain, we all forget the times when our own decisions left behind trails of bodies and blood.

We’ve all stood on both sides of choice, and we all need some grace.

And if we don’t figure out how to give that grace, at some point,¬†none of us will end up on the same side.

So,¬†here’s to still not feeling ready,¬†but choosing to let Him wash it away. Here’s to knowing that in the end, forgiveness is the only thing that will ever keep us from fighting our battles alone.

We’re all fighting battles.

I take pictures of people. Engagements, weddings, families, birthday parties…you name it and I’ll photograph it.

And whenever I sit down to edit them, the tears always come. I find myself a complete mess, grabbing tissues and trying to click my way through my usual process. It’s quite a sight to behold.

I cry because there’s a story. Sometimes I know little pieces of it, but I weep because I will never know the price they have paid to get to this point. I cannot ever understand what it took for them to get to these moments, to hold these dreams. It’s clearly beautiful, but heartbreakingly mysterious.

Dinner parties, books, letters in the mail, phone calls, coffee on a Tuesday: I hear stories in these ways, and I feel deeply about them.¬†But I will never fully understand the load they’ve carried, what it took to carry it the way they did, how many nights they stayed awake asking God to change things.

No one can understand that for someone else and as much as I’d like them to, no one can understand those things about me.

It’s okay to cry. It’s perfectly acceptable to lay silently in the floor and refuse to move until you can breathe a little easier. It’s alright to write until your hand cramps and your head aches.¬†It’s okay to remember the depth of your story, of how you got here.

But it’s not an excuse. It isn’t a permission slip to throw a pity party, to isolate yourself, to pat yourself on the back and say, “I don’t need anybody else.”

Your stories are a badge. They are what you can clench with your fingers when someone ignorantly says something to break your heart.¬†When they poke at the raw places and unintentionally¬†say,¬†it was not¬†enough and you don’t deserve whatever you’re waiting for or what you’ve finally found.

You can grab that medal hanging on your chest and know that they simply don’t know the blood, sweat and tears you’ve tasted.¬†Even if they try, they cannot¬†see every card you were dealt.¬†That’s not license to attack them back, but rather one for freedom to let those words fall beneath your feet.¬†

There will be days when others will see you on a platform of victory and they’ll want your story. They will ask how you got there, for a road map on how they can come to the same place.¬†You’ll try to tell them, only to realize they’re really just looking for a shortcut.

Don’t be angry. Remember that we all beg for them when we’re in the middle of a tough fight or when we’re trying to avoid one entirely. Remember to be grateful that you haven’t always been given the easy way out. Let it infuse your victory¬†with an even sweeter taste. Know that you cherish it as much as you do because you fought for it.¬†Pray for extra grace, loads of patience, handfuls of strength for that person to endure their own battles. Love them through their own wars because in some ways theirs may turn out to be tougher than yours.

We’re all fighting battles and we’ve been fighting them ever since we exhaled our first breath. I can’t know another persons and they can’t ever fully know mine. That’s painful, beautiful, mysterious and that’s what makes each of us our own kind of brave. I don’t have to tell you that you’re¬†brave because you’re still moving, you’re still pushing through and that speaks louder than I can.

Carry your load well.¬†Because you know it’s been said, “It‚Äôs not the load that breaks you down, it‚Äôs the way you carry it“.

Carry it so that other people’s words aren’t thrown on the pile. It gets heavier, it gets impossible to bear when you put offenses, discouragement, anger on top of the things you’re already fighting for.¬†Carry it so that those things can just roll right off.¬†Carry it not as your proof for pride, but rather a badge of honor.

You’re here and you’re doing this thing called life. Bloody knuckles and you’re still pushing and still throwing punches and you’re not alone in that.¬†I can’t know, I can’t fully understand where you are right now, but I’m here fighting in my own ways. Words, people, pain…can’t take your victory. They can’t take who you’ve become, the character you’ve built, the strength your hands now have. From where I’m standing,¬†these battles are making you into something fierce.

No one has to fully¬†understand that except for you. You’re enough and it’s time you believe that for yourself. Stop letting things discredit your own struggles. And carry your own stories in a way that gives you compassion for other people in a battle of their own. It’s time you let it be what makes you both unique and strong in your own way, but that it’s also what makes you just like everyone else. ¬†It’s time we all have a¬†mutual understanding that you can never fully know another’s pain, but you can sit next to one another¬†in a kind of love that doesn’t isolate, but has a¬†mysterious knowing that being a fighter is what makes you one-of-a-kind, but not alone.