When Memories are Our God

I spent a good chunk of my early twenties regretting two days: an afternoon at a sushi restaurant and a night I spent alone watching Batman at the movie theater inside of the mall.

I didn’t realize it, but all those years I spent driving around my hometown arguing with God, I was trying to figure out a way to convince Him to turn back time. I knew if He would just let me do them over I could fix everything.

It wasn’t until last week with my forearms resting on a picnic table, young eyes and beautiful faces staring at me that I finally admitted the truth.

That day in the sushi restaurant and that night in the movie theater could no longer be my God. They could not be the thing I lived for–the thing that I leaned on to save my life any longer.

Later in the week I cried on the baking aisle at Kroger because I realized that until we decide to let go of those moments that we’re convinced changed everything, we will spend our entire lives making idols out of a day on a calendar that cannot offer you anything for your future.

Constantly looking at the past, at a moment, a hurt, a grief, a thing we cannot forgive–in ourselves or someone else– eventually makes it our God. When we obsessively expect or want something from it, analyze it in hopes for some kind of redemption or some kind of answer, we begin to worship it. When we obsessively believe that it will fix everything, if we get an answer or get “closure” from that moment, we make it our God.

Those two moments are ones I couldn’t forgive myself for. They are also moments I could not forgive someone else for. Within them were layered years of trust issues and excuses for why freedom was out of my reach. But anything that keeps you from freedom is your God. Anything that you are so locked into, given over to so fully, anything that has permission to take control of you without your ability to have yourself back–that thing is your God. 

For me they were my trust issues, that came with seeing that birthday bag hidden at the end of that table, and the words said to me when I was wearing that blue jacket. They became my God because I was so trapped in how they broke my heart. I gave them my mind, my heart, my trust. If they had gone differently, oh how my life would have turned out to be something else to behold.

When memories are our God, we give them our hearts, our best years of forgiveness and trust. Back when I was young and dumb, back before I knew that people were so cruel. 

We think our wisdom and better understanding of the world is what took our ability to just hand out trust and forgiveness, but really it was our idolatry of our memories. If we were honest, we’ve spent our years fixated, worshipping days of our lives, thinking that if we could get them back they would heal the deepest parts of our souls.

We have given credit where it is not due and thought if this day had not happened, I would be better than I am right now.

We exalt hours, minutes, or seconds; we worship the hands of the clock. We think it was moments that broke us, time that heals us, and will be at-first-sight seconds that save us.

But time is just a measure, a tool, a thing. If we could finally invent the time machine we’ve all been praying for, I’m convinced that none of us would be happier, healthier, better off. Because it would not change our hearts; we could change a moment, but we could not change what got us there.

Because everything that built up to that moment would not have changed. It’s cause and effect, my dear. That moment was built on a thousand other little things that made it what it was. The second you realize that is the second you might finally learn to forgive. Because the human heart is far more complicated that just one passing moment. We must stop holding it inside a prison of one split second, one long day, one complicated year.

Time and your memories are too small to be your God; they are too far gone to fix you, too fleeting to save you.

But if they hold your trust, have stolen your forgiveness, trapped your joy–you’ve made them your God.

If you’ve used words that sound something like: “But you don’t know what happened to me”, that moment, that sixty seconds, that day, that stretch of the earth spinning of the earth around the sun– that became your God.

It became the thing that you gave permission to break and name you. And if you’re honest it’s the thing you believe, if you could get it back, would be able to save you.

There’s a baking aisle in Kroger and it’s where I decided that the calendar wasn’t the thing I wanted to wake up next to every morning. I didn’t want to grow old with and give everything to a day or a year I had circled in red.

It’s where God became God again and time and its memories became a thing I finally stopped trying to change.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

You Don’t Have to Let Them Go

I’ve always been in love with the blue hour.

The blue hour is that little span of time before the sunrise and after the sunset when the sun is sitting far below the horizon. It’s when the sky is trying to hold on to both morning and evening. It can’t let go, but it knows it has no choice but to change its position.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of letting go.

My inbox is full of people begging me to tell them the secret of how to get over it and move on.

I found myself drowning in nostalgia today. I was choking on these memories of things that I wanted to change and thinking about people that I haven’t learned how to let go of.

“Everyone says I need to let go, but I can’t let go!” These are the words I told God as I gasped for breath and wiped my face with a pile of napkins I’d shoved in my console.

“There are some people that you’re not called to let go of. You can hold on; I’m telling you to hold on.”

I felt blindsided by His words, by this idea that letting go wasn’t the victory podium after heartbreak.

You have to change the way you hold them, but you don’t have to let them go.

You can hold people differently. When they can’t be the thing for you that they used to be, it doesn’t mean you have to let them go.

What we’ve been taught about heartbreak and broken relationships is that you’re healed when you can walk away.

But there will always be people that life, geography, and God, just won’t let you walk away from. Because the goal can’t always be learning to let go. Sometimes the goal has to be endurance and learning what it means to stay for the long haul, years after what you thought should happen is out of the realm of possibility.

Sometimes it’s okay to carry them–carry them in your prayers, in your laughter. Hang them on your refrigerator. Keep their notes and gifts tucked beneath your bed.

Maybe that person or group of people can’t be what you once wanted them to be, but maybe you can still both be something the other needs. Maybe the test of growth is when you can shove aside the selfishness that says: I only want you on my terms. You have to fit perfectly in all the places I once carved out for you. 

Sometimes growth is rearranging the space in your heart and figuring out how to fit someone elsewhere. Because it would be sad to spend your days without their contagious laughter or strong words of advice just because they no longer fit on that old shelf. You may have to let go of what you needed or hoped they would be, but that should not always synonymous with letting them go.

C.S. Lewis once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you. It’s the way you carry it.”

I think he’d probably agree that the load could be people.

And maybe it’s not always just the people that broke you, maybe it was also the way you carried them.

Maybe all the expectations you stacked on them, the misunderstanding you layered them with, maybe that wore you down even more quickly.

But maybe they’re your God-given load, for better or worse, maybe they are your people and you’re going to have to carry them. So, when that is the case, learn to carry them differently.

I’m figuring out that the victory podium isn’t for the first one who figures out how to shove someone out of their life and heart. The real victory belongs to the ones who learn how to throw out the expectations, unforgiveness, demands and conditions in order to make room for the people who were always meant to be there.

 

The Freedom to Forgive Yourself

I always go back to the summer with tennis courts and milkshakes. That was years before the pride and silence broke our hearts.

I remember the day we drove to get sushi and the rhythm you nervously tapped out on the steering wheel. You said something about dogs, I pretended to laugh. My mind was blank that day. I wrung my hands and stared out the window. I didn’t have the words I needed.

All these years and I can still never find the right words and that’s coming from someone who has filled up pages and pages of journals in her lifetime.

I’ve never had the right words for you. And by now, I think I’ve apologized for that a million times.

But you can only say I’m sorry to someone so many times before you realize that what you’re actually looking for is the freedom to forgive yourself.

You think you’re looking for that person to tell you it’s okay, but even if they said it a million times over, you would never hear it. Your constant need to keep going back to say I’m sorry comes from the fact that you have not stopped punishing yourself for being human.

You’re human. You said you were sorry. You meant it. You are allowed to live. 

Stop punishing yourself.

You don’t have to sit in misery, unmoving, afraid to live, and waiting for that person to forgive you, or waiting for them to apologize for their part.

You can’t pay the debt you owe each other, so stop trying. Stop thinking that eventually you will have served your time and that’s when everyone gets to be free.

And stop making others serve time. Learn how to quickly say, “I’m choosing to let it go.”

Sometimes, saying and being sincerely sorry is all we humans have. You can’t change the past between you and that person, and you won’t make up for it by ruining your own future or asking them to postpone theirs.

You get to live. Not after everyone serves time and suffers for the hand of hurt they played. You get to live freely when you’ve offered your truest and most sincere apology, when you’ve extended your heart in all the ways you know how.

And maybe the other person isn’t willing to let go. Maybe they’ll never be sorry. Maybe they’re still trying to pull levers and cash in on the years of guilt they’ve thrown on your shoulders.

But eventually, you’ve got to stop digging in your pockets and giving them all the things you’ll ever hold. Stop handing over your present and your future to the unforgiving people of your past.

You said you were sorry and you’re released. Stop trying to pay it. You can’t change it and you can’t go back to days of tennis courts and milkshakes. The blueprints for the life you tried to build just don’t work anymore.

Stop living in the past. Pack up the memories of beach houses, early summer evenings in the kitchen, the table by the window, eating peanuts in old wooden chairs, the regret of never having the right words.

God’s not up there trying to figure out ways to make you pay it all back. Offer your apology, offer your heart, and give God the rest of the debt. He’s the only one who could ever pay it back anyways.

And whatever others may owe you, whatever you think you need from them, just know that God’s in the business of wanting to pay off their debt too.

We’re all just humans in need of a God who owns it all and is so incredibly generous.

He really is the only one who could ever make up for all the words we never got to hear and for the ones we never quite knew how to say.

We Break and We Build

I specifically remember the day we stopped fitting into each other’s lives.

We never got that back. Its been years now, and sometimes I think, from now on we will always be strangers. We will always find ourselves unfamiliar with the shelves and cupboards of one another. I won’t know if you still like peanuts and you won’t know that I don’t own that floral shirt anymore.

I guess that’s how this whole thing works, sometimes people stop fitting in your life. One day you realize that you can’t find spaces for them to slip back into.

I never said “thank you”, but I’m saying it now.

I was angry. I was hurt. I firmly believed you were out for blood–that you were punishing me the only way you knew how.

Maybe you were. Maybe pushing me out of your life wasn’t supposed to be a favor, maybe you never intended for me to see it as a good thing.

But then one day when I was sitting in your shoes; I suddenly felt grateful that you taught me when to let go and how not to walk away.

When it was my turn, my first reaction was to do exactly what you did. I wanted to just disappear and I had good reasons for that. But in that moment, I remembered how it felt to be on the other end. You gave me the fortitude to properly say goodbye when you refused to do that for me.

I’ve learned that a lot of people treat others the way they’ve been treated. If their parents were mean, they’re mean to their kids. If they were bullied in school, they lash out later in life. If someone leaves them, they leave others. Too often we become the people that hurt us most and in our pain we justify it. 

But in that moment, when I wanted to do the wrong thing…I remembered all those years ago and even in my anger, I couldn’t wish that hurt on someone else.

I’m learning that’s what determines our character–what we make of our pain.

When it comes to our past, we can either be broken by it or built by it. It can either be the reason why we learn to love people or an excuse to hate them.

Running, disappearing, leaving people to wonder where things went wrong–I think people with integrity would call that cowardice. I’ve never heard them listed as attributes next to the name of someone who’s brave.

Sometimes we have to walk away, draw lines, set boundaries, move forward & move on. I’m learning that. I’m learning that not every relationship can be healthy, that there are some times when you just have to shake hands and part ways. But I’m learning that it doesn’t look like folded arms and slamming doors.

There are two types of people in our lives: those that we thank for teaching us the right way, and those (if we choose to be forgiving), we can grow from them showing us the wrong way.

The thing about that is, we also get to choose what kind of person we will be for the people around us.

We’re all going to eventually have to say hard things, we all have to make choices that might hurt others. But we get to decide what we say, if we say it, how we say it and if whether or not we help break or build them.

 

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.