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.

 

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.

It Happened and It Changed Me

A few years ago, I learned how to really cry.

I cried buckets of tears until I was drained. They stopped coming after that; the saddest songs and movies only caused a shrug of my shoulders and the shaking of my head. Nothing seemed to move me quite the same after those months that left me dry.

Then came New York City,

with her tall buildings, her strong coffee, her firm presence and undeniable strength. She made me cry again, she brought me face to face with my drought. And she brought freedom for me when I realized that there are some things still big enough to stir me, to remind me that none of us are immovable.

There now sits a memorial, a museum, and a tower¬†that knocked the wind right out of me. A reminder of New York’s own kind of Titanic. We never¬†thought it¬†could sink¬†and yet the walls fell. On that day, a lot of life sunk¬†beneath piles of debris and rubble.

In all of her stability and power, a strong part of her crumbled on that day. 

But there now sits a memorial, a museum, and a tower. They don’t replace what was lost, but¬†whisper,¬†there are still things we can build.

She taught me that. It’s not about replacing, it’s about rebuilding.

Because we won’t ever get back what we lost. It can never be the same again.

They didn’t try to bulldoze it all and pave over the loss, leaving no traces behind. What a betrayal that would have been. They left reminders, and¬†built beautiful things around it.

Sometimes it feels like a betrayal of myself to try and pave over the past. It happened and it changed me. Still, I’ve tried to just replace it all¬†and erase my memory.

But New York grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me hard¬†and said, “Build around it, girl. Build beautiful things around it and¬†let it push you to fight more fiercely for your freedom.”

She gave me permission and I didn’t even know that’s what I needed.

But when I stood next to that tower and watched¬†the people who still fearlessly get on subways, planes, and walk the streets alone, I knew I was being given an¬†invitation: it’s time to remember how to be free again.¬†

New York is¬†still loud, still loves bagels. She doesn’t apologize for her size, for the space she takes up.

She didn’t cut her hair, change her clothes, become someone new.¬†She just kept going, kept being herself, kept her arms open and her streets¬†full.¬†She didn’t have to convince anybody that she would be better off. She just daily grew¬†stronger and proved that freedom¬†comes through¬†rebuilding, in not letting the pain take the best of you.

It won’t be easy.

I’m figuring that out. Through tears and decisions, it’s been me and¬†some of my closest friends sitting knee to knee and saying, “It hurts to look at all the pain, to not deny it, to experience it fully and try to find some sort of peace with it all. “

What does it look like to rebuild? Where do we even start?

For us, we start with prayers, a cup of tea, and laying one brick at a time.

“We’ll get there.” That’s what we tell each other with bloodshot eyes¬†and runny noses. We’ll see the good things, they’re¬†closer every single day.

We’re beginning to rebuild and it will take time to see results, but I know we’re going to get there.

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.

I Didn’t Tell Anyone

I didn’t tell anyone that I felt paralyzed with fear that we would all crash and die. Or that if we made it, I wouldn’t have anything to say that’s actually worth hearing.

I was terrified that entire plane ride.

But I didn’t tell anyone.

When the flight attendant asked if I wanted something to drink, I just accepted a water and smiled. I could have told her I felt afraid. She was a stranger I will probably never see again. She had a compassionate smile, I think I could have told her.

I could have said something to the people next to me, the guy watching the movie or the girl working on spreadsheets. I think they would’ve listened.

I could have told them that I felt really small. That I was pretty sure I was going to epically fail to help the broken people around me, because I felt like all my strength was pointed toward taking my next breath. My entire life felt like it was falling to pieces, I was more broken than I’d ever been and I didn’t tell anyone.

I sat through a six hour plane ride in silence. I got off, grabbed my bags, and pretended that I was just an ordinary passenger on a trip she had been planning.

I didn‚Äôt mention how I booked my ticket the night before.¬†I didn‚Äôt tell anyone that I had not slept in over twenty-four hours, or that I had barely eaten. I didn‚Äôt admit that I was ashamed of how I’d cried in my friend’s arms earlier that morning when he instantly saw that something was wrong.

I feel weak asking for help.

And it seems pretty crazy to write that because I only said it out loud for the first time two days ago. Because in my eyes, the word ‚Äúhelp‚ÄĚ coming out of my own mouth has always sounded so disgustingly weak.

“It‚Äôs an amazing thing to ask for help.‚ÄĚ She looked at me, her eyes serious, and full of love.

She was referring to the shirt I was wearing, one that says: I’m capable of amazing things.

‚ÄúMaybe you are capable of doing a lot of things on your own, of figuring things out for yourself. But it‚Äôs an amazing thing to ask people for help. You can be capable of that too.‚ÄĚ

I instantly thought about that plane ride, and how I felt so alone, even though I was sandwiched between two beautiful human beings. I remembered how I just sat there beating myself up for wanting to cry.

Then I thought about lunch the other day and how I talked about the hardest thing that’s happened to me in a long time. How I discussed it so casually, as though it doesn’t daily rattle my rib cage and continuously shatter my heart.

I’ve never known how to really say things that might make me appear weak. I can tell you hard things, but I’ve learned how to edit them, make them sound bravely vulnerable when the reality is that it requires nothing of me to share them.

To share something that hasn’t quite healed, or that I cannot figure out an answer for is rarely something I willingly do. If it comes out, it’s usually through a clenched jaw and with tightened fists. It’s usually in anger. Because for a long time, I didn’t think anger was weak.

“It‚Äôs a gift, to help another human being and you‚Äôve been withholding that gift from everyone you claim to love.‚ÄĚ

Being the lover of gifts that I am, those words snapped the last string holding up a lifetime of pride. Because if my bank account was bigger I’d buy everyone in my orbit a vase of flowers, a box of cereal, and a ticket to somewhere that would make them come alive. Gifts are precious in my world.

I used to cry every time I’d see a kid accidentally let go of a balloon and lose it to the strength of the wind and the height of the sky. I never knew why it was one of the things that could instantly draw tears.

But its because I know the pain that cuts you when a gift is stolen, broken or lost. And the thought that I have done that, am doing it, and could continue to do it makes me want to take a sledgehammer to every wall that says: DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN LOOK WEAK.

So, maybe that hammer gets its first swing here. I guess its a first step in saying, I’m sorry that I keep taking away chances for you to get the joy of stepping in, of giving, of offering me answers that you got with your own blood, sweat and tears. You’ve got some things to show me that I can’t figure out on my own. You’ve got things worthy of being heard, arms that I don’t want to push away when you offer to help carry the things that weaken my knees.

People are a gift in the times of pain, questions, and carrying heavy things. I’m learning that not letting others¬†give you their hearts, hands, lessons learned and words of truth is really¬†pushing away something amazing…something you could never be capable of getting on your own.

When Something is Over

‚ÄúFor me, when something is over, it‚Äôs over.”

She paused, taking a sip of her latte. ¬†‚ÄúI think we‚Äôre always looking for some kind of conversation that will tie everything up, but sometimes, you just have to make your own closure.‚ÄĚ

We just sat next to the window, staring at one another. Both of us instantly realized that those words were an earth shattering secret for growth.

You don’t always get the punctuation mark you want. Sometimes you don’t get the period (the final statement). You don’t always get the exclamation mark (the words that are worthy of everything you carried). Sometimes, you get the question mark. Or sometimes, it all stops mid sentence.

Still, you can flip the page, start something new and move forward.

And maybe you go back there one day. Maybe you finally get to pull that person, that time, that place back into your story. Or maybe it was always just a chapter to build you, grow you, teach you how to value yourself.

Her brown eyes looked dead at me and she said it so firmly,¬†“You’ll know when you have to move forward.”

I threw up my hands and asked her a million questions. I wanted specifics, I wanted the location of the neon signs that would tell me when to let things go.

“You will know. If¬†and when that day comes, let go and run for your life.”

She didn’t say it to scare me, but because her shoulders are well familiar with the consequences of carrying heavy things for far too long.

I started thinking about the last time I had to let go and move forward.¬†What got me there? How did I finally empty my hands and pack my bags?¬†I remembered it was a friend who handed me a permission slip by saying these words:¬†it’s not on you anymore.

It’s not on you anymore.

I had done the thing—the hard thing. I had given until I was somewhere far past empty and well into starving and feeling gnawing hunger pains.¬†But even so, I needed someone to look me in the eye and recognize that I couldn’t let go on my own. I’ve never been able to pull my aching fingers and white knuckles from things that I so desperately want to keep. I wanted to¬†fix it, to¬†leave things better that I found them.

So, when you’ve done all you can, grab hold of this permission slip I’m offering you: it’s not on you anymore and you can make your own closure.¬†

We try to make movies out of our heartache. We want the dialogue that cuts, closes, makes sense of the story we’ve been walking through.¬†Don’t wait around for that.¬†Don’t hold on and keep trying because it hurts too much for you to think that things could end this way.¬†Don’t drag out any pitiful stories that¬†become¬†thieves of your joy.

I got a permission slip from God the other day. I was vacuuming the carpet when He reminded me of my blue rubber band. I first decided to wear it around my wrist for one specific purpose: to pull at my heart when I wanted to settle. Because I am known to do that. 

I am a chronic settler.

But I figured out that summer what I wanted. I realized what could be mine if I would hold on,¬†work hard and wait for it. For months I wore it¬†and¬†on days when things felt impossible, when I wanted to settle for something less, that blue rubber band would dig its point¬†deep into my heart. There’s still more. This isn’t all there is. Keep holding on.

God brought that back to me the other night when I asked him what He thought about the things I’ve been holding in my hands.

Make your own closure.

Three cups of coffee in and I knew that those would be words to change my life. You’ll know when it’s time to let go and when that times comes, don’t bleed yourself dry waiting for¬†closing conversations, loose ends tied up nicely, apologies and best wishes.¬†You should walk on toward better things, because tidy¬†endings don’t always come.