The Stranger In The Corner

“We’re ready for the check.” Hands folded gracefully, she smiled up at the waitress.

Picking up plates, our waitress grinned. “Someone already took care of it.”

Our eyes began to scan the room. We stared at one another wordlessly, realizing we hadn’t the slightest clue who would do such a thing.

Our waitress saw our expressions and leaned in, “It was the gentleman who was sitting behind you. He’s one of our regulars, he’s a really nice guy.”

I saw tears form in my sweet friend’s eyes and I felt the sting of them in my own.

We sat there, hands clutching our hearts, completely in awe. I had just spent the last hour venting about my frustration, ranting about all the reasons why I’m angry at a large portion of men in my life. I knew he heard every word and I wondered if it was this stranger’s way of pouring a little hope into my weary heart.

We grabbed our purses and slowly walked out of our favorite restaurant. We always go there, though it’s a luxury and above what my budget typically allows. We’ve never said it, but I think it’s a treat to ourselves and to each other. Going there is our way of saying, “You are worth extravagant things. You’re classy, legendary, exquisite, fierce and unstoppable. You should be celebrated.”

The truth is though, my friend can make anywhere classy. When you’re in a room with her, you feel like you’ve got the world on a string, everything you need in your pockets. When she’s around, you feel as though mirrors rejoice at the chance to catch all the loveliness you carry.

I think that’s who we were always meant to be.

I think we’re meant to light up rooms that way. I think people should feel like gold around us, they should feel celebrated, their heads should be held high and feeling like they’ve got the kind of greatness that stops people in their tracks.

I think the guy who picked up our tab understood that. I think he knew that sometimes you need to make someone feel special, give them something extravagant and not even stick around to see their smile. Do it for them, not for you. Give and shine and be the person who makes someone feel valuable, make them know that even in their difficult moments, they’re worth beautiful and selfless gestures.

I’m learning how to be that person, who isn’t afraid to go big for other people. I’m also figuring out how to go big for myself, to make strong decisions. It feels good to finally come to the place where you just square your shoulders and say, “Come hell or high water, I’m doing this thing. I’m in it and I’m going to shake the earth with the way I dig my heels in and change things.”

I think people need us to be able to do that. They need us to see value in ourselves and that will push and inspire them to believe and see their own. When we show them that we’re determined to make ourselves grow, to see ourselves go further than we were ever told we could go, it will be easier for them to see that they are born to do the same.

This is really all about how I’m realizing how valuable I am and how learning that makes it easier to see others that way. If I know what I’m worth, then I’ll see that nothing can lessen that and how showing others their worth makes us both richer.

I never expected the stranger in the corner to be the one to strengthen these knocking knees. I sometimes forget how simple acts lead to incredible change.

2014 is coming to a close and I can’t really say that I’m sad to see her go. There were difficulties, there were hard questions, harder answers and a grace to learn to live with both.  Changes are coming and I’m ready. Checks paid, faith restored, hope refilled and I’ve got a feeling this is just the beginning.

Where You’re Supposed to Be

Every weekend you could find us there.

We would be sitting in one of those wooden booths sharing pizza, we’d be laughing, crying, screaming, wondering if the days would ever change.

We were always asking those questions about where we would be in a year. When the glow of Christmas lights started to wrap around our worlds again, where would we be sitting?

As they go up this year, we sit on opposite sides of the country.

The girl with dark curls taught me how to laugh and I taught her how to cry. We were perfect partners for the see-saw of that season. When one went crashing toward the ground, the other could pick her feet up and fly toward the sky. It was a beautiful balance and worth late nights and the coffee addictions we developed to stay awake at work and school. Those nights were ours, to live and to learn about growing up.

I did it. I did the thing I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to do again. I used to ask her when we would curl up on her couch and watch the hours pass by: Will I ever feel again? Will I ever be able to open my heart? Will I let go of this and be happy?

It happened…slowly and all at once. The process of letting go of pain was long and grueling, but the realization of its absence was a sudden kick to my entire frame. I woke up and found that I was finally free.

Miles separated us on the day that God made my shoulders light again, and I knew she was proud. I knew she was cheering and saying this is it, this is what we waited for and prayed about while we emptied countless mugs of coffee and cried on the front porch.

When I drove around my little Georgia town with the phone pressed to my ear retracing conversations and painting out all the details, I knew that she loved hearing my laughter as much as she loves having her own.

That’s what friends do. Your victories are theirs, no matter where they find themselves on a map when the breakthrough finally comes.

I know because I feel that when she tells me that she’s learning to live fully again. I feel my own heart settle with peace when she says, “I’m glad to be in this new place…we couldn’t have stayed where we were.”

The sadness that comes with distance is thick in our voices, but we’re happy and we’re growing.

I went home for Thanksgiving.

Went home. It’s an odd thing to say because I didn’t ever really believe I’d leave home. This year, for the holidays, I get to go home.

Days into December, that curly haired girl and I will both go back home. We will giggle ’til late hours that fade into early morning, we will walk along the sidewalk in the cold winter air to wait for a table at that pizza restaurant. We’ll drink in every second it takes to catch up, to make new memories, to soak in how we’ve changed through these months.

Then after the holidays are over, she’ll board a plane and I’ll pack up my car. We’ll wipe some tears as we go back to the rooms that have our beds, the closets that hold our clothes, the towns we’ve claimed for the current season of our lives.

I already know that we’ll question everything.

Should we have stayed? Should we have ever left at all? Will we ever feel home anywhere other than those little neighboring North Carolina towns? Is it worth leaving behind these people who have such a special place in us?

There’s a pain in choosing to do something different, in leaving what you know for a life that will never be what you had.

But it’s worth it. Because we’re living and we’re changing. I’m learning to laugh again, to let people in, to love people who haven’t known me my entire life.

I’m learning to believe that it’s not a mistake, wherever it is that you end up. You were always meant to end up there. In some form or fashion, the world was always ready for you to stumble into the place you’re now standing. God knew, he always knew and he’s been planning things out and none of it was a mistake.

This is really just a blog about my friend, about how life changes, about how things work out… they really do work out.

So, wherever you’re sitting right now, stop questioning if you’re where you need to be. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. The second that stops being true, you’ll find yourself somewhere else, I can promise you that. Stop worrying about how you’re going to get there or what decisions you’ll have to make, you’ll get there.

We got here. We made it to different days under different skies and I can’t even really tell you how it happened. So, for now, I’ll look forward to those Christmastime nights and stop worrying about the weeks that follow. We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be and sometimes we don’t need to know anything beyond that.

[photo cred.]

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’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s 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.

Walking Down The Aisle Alone

Taking a break from Lovely Letters for a little bit, to bring you some new things. Hope you enjoy!

I’ve been afraid to look at tragedy.

I flip the channel when the news comes on. I close my eyes at dead bodies during tv shows. I leave conversations where these dark things are being discussed. I’ve been through such pain, that I’m afraid seeing even the slightest bit more will break me. I’ve created a world where I pretend it no longer exists.

So, I was in a wedding this past weekend for one of my best friends. It was the perfect setting for this fairytale world I’ve been living in. I was surrounded by such beauty, such excitement and joy. I was walking around inside of her childhood dream and it had some magical moments.

But when they assigned groomsmen to accompany the bridesmaids up the aisle, I looked around for the man they’d paired me with and he was nowhere to be found.

He couldn’t make it to the rehearsal, but they assured me he would be at the wedding.

So, when all the bridesmaids started doing their walk of honor, I stood at the base of the altar ready to make my exit and with no one standing next to me.

Mostly humored, I still felt the slightest prick at my heart. This pointed to pain I have been trying to look away from. It was messing with my imaginary world where there are no wars, no deaths, no loneliness, no shame, no insecurity…only happily ever afters. It put salt in wounds that are not quite healed.

Finally, my moment came. I took a deep breath and stepped forward, determined to walk that aisle with head held high and in laughter. I began to tell myself that all I needed to do was tweak my mindset. In this chapter of my perfect world, I was the independent, confident, strong, flawless woman who had enough flair to own that aisle. I was ready to show the world that I didn’t need anybody else.

Just as I put my game face on and took that first step, I felt someone’s arm lock with mine.

Someone had stepped in.

It was the father of the bride, a man whom I trust, who has shown me love my entire life. Without thought or provocation, he saw me in need and he did not turn his head.

Something about that moment impacted me and until this morning I couldn’t quite pinpoint it.

Stopped at a red light today, that scene played in my mind and I heard a loud whisper: be the person who steps in.

But you can’t step in if your head is turned away. You were born to step in. You were born to ease the pain of others by nothing more than showing up. There are going to be needs that you cannot meet, but you can still choose to stand up, lock arms with them and walk with them wherever they’re going.

I know it’s easier to believe that it isn’t happening or that it will take care of itself. But you’re standing right in front of a world of people walking aisles alone and you’re sitting in your chair, hoping someone else steps in.

Be the person who steps in.

You’re waiting for provocation or invitation, but there isn’t always time for that, you know. They’re about to make a move and if you don’t stand up and grab their arm right now, the moment will be gone. Don’t let them walk the aisle wondering if loneliness is all they’ll ever know.

I hope we start stepping in, showing up and locking arms. I hope we offer others some stability, maybe even do a little dance and make them laugh along the way. I hope it becomes as common as breathing. I hope that without hesitation and at every opportunity we storm the aisles with a fearless and reckless love that tells that person they’re seen and not walking alone.

I Won’t Take These Words Back

I think you’ve got to ask yourself. “Where does this pain come from?”

I think it’s okay to ask yourself where the hurt all started, and when you figure it out, let’s kick it to the curb.

You’re not afraid to let people see the tidy parts of who you are, but you’re terrified of the unfinished pieces. You keep quiet because you can’t entertain the thought of letting it all spill out. 

Baby, let it all spill out. Let it pour, let it splatter and run down the wood. Try not to go grasping for towels and mops anymore. Can you just let it drip, and gather in the corners? Let it settle into the cracks and crevices. I’m asking you to let it get a little messy.

Live a little, you know? And let other people see you for where you are. They’ll like what they see.

I know because I like what I see in you.

And I’m not going to be afraid to look you in the eye. No, I choose to see you. I’m learning to not be so quick to turn my head at this generational awkwardness of acknowledging another human being. I want to show you that you are worth my gaze, you are enough to make someone look your way. I choose to hold your eyes as long as you’ll let me because you’ve got a lot to offer.

You are worth untangling. You are worth time spent and meals shared. You are worth hearing words that are meant and not just spoken. You are worth being forgiven, even though you’re a master of breaking hearts and bruising dreams. You are worth being heard. I wish you really believed these words. I wish you’d soak them in, even when they are hard to hear. Even when you want to throw them in the trash along with your trust and all the times that people took these kinds of words back. I won’t take these words back.

So, I’m learning how to turn the car around and do the things that scare the heck out of me.

Because you are worth that, though I don’t really know all that much about you. But I know the way you’ve taught yourself to steer clear of the disappointment. I know how you require yourself to always have the upper hand. I know it seems easier to recover from your own failures than it is from those who you fail you.

They tell me you’re the hard nose, the stiff neck, the one who just can’t seem to smile, but I won’t believe it. You’re entirely knit together of hope and heart. I don’t care how much you iron that plaid shirt, I refuse to believe you’re made of stone.

So, stand there and act like you don’t care if you’re noticed. Go on and keep pretending like you’re not worried that nobody seems to be watching. I see the way you wait for them to cross the room and come to you. I see the way your eyes follow the laughter, the way you’re looking for someone to say it…

to say, “you’re enough”.

Well, I’m saying it. Over and over I will shout it from the rooftops if that’s what it takes for you. If it takes me dancing down the highway and making pit stops at every McDonald’s along the way, I’ll keep packing these bags. I’ll come and buy you a cup of coffee and let you wade through what it takes to let another heart love you. You were made for love, for being loved, for learning how to live in it and from it.

It’s not because I’m so brave, but mostly because that’s what this whole living thing is really about. And I think we’ve got to learn to live a little. To stretch ourselves, to do what’s different. I think we’ve got to go places that never seemed exciting and dig in the dirt to find the treasure. Few will go far to find it, but as for me, I love a good adventure. You’re a destination where I’m choosing to stop, a beautiful sight that I’m aching to see. So, let me tell you that you’re quite enough. You’ve got something that makes me want to see what some people seem to have missed.

So this is a letter to you, the most misunderstood one in the room. I’m here to say you’ve met your match. I’m ready to kick these buckets over and have it all spill out. I’m quite certain we can paint a portion of the world with a beautiful mess like you. 

 

You Can’t Let It Take the Best of You

You’ve done everything you can.

I need you to hear me on that. If love were water, your hair would be dripping and your boots would be filled. You’d be choking on the gallons flowing out of your mouth. I’ve watched you love when it meant ripping your ribcage wide open. I’ve watched you toss out handfuls mercy like a kid on a newspaper route. You’ve thrown them time and time again, they’ve hit a lot of closed doors, but you continued to deliver. Even when they piled up on the porch and you knew no one was going to come out and get them, you kept on pedaling.

You’ve felt guilty. You have thought there MUST be more. There must be something else I can say, one more letter I could write, one more strategy I could try. There has to be something I can do to make it better.

I’m sorry. You just can’t fix it and I’m so incredibly sorry for that.

It hurts in the worst way, to stand there, knee-deep in someone else’s pain and unable to mend what’s broken. It’s hard to watch them writhe in misery. It’s hard when all you can do is stand with your hands shaking and your throat filled with questions that will have no answers. You may not get any answers, and you can’t let it take the best of you.

And I don’t say that casually or without feeling. I don’t press those keys in ignorance.

I know what that takes. I know the strength it takes to pry clamped fingers and white knuckles from something you’ve gripped so tightly.

I know they say that silence is golden, and maybe there are days when that might be true. But I think you might find treasure in giving someone else the chance to sit across from you and pour some love into the cracks of your heart. I think your heart needs to hear that you are not standing on your own, that someone’s got your back, that your words and values matter. I think hearing that makes it easier to walk away from the people and things that douse the fire you’re meant to carry.

Walk with those who will help you carry your torch. The people who will stand with you in the battle, those who will fight for you when you can’t stand. Spend your birthday weekend with people who make you wheat pancakes and let you nap on their couch. Dry your eyes and block out the sounds of the closing door. Choose to celebrate with those who will dance with you at the breakfast table and who bring you flowers and boxes of your favorite cereal.  Don’t waste your tears on something or someone who is senseless or selfish. There are certain things that are far too shallow to deserve the grief that comes from depths of your precious heart.

You’ve done absolutely everything you can, so it’s now or neverChoose now. Wipe your hands off, get up off of your knees and allow yourself to be happy, allow yourself to stop sitting in the pain. Decide to plant your feet in places that cause you to grow, not places with hands that pluck your petals. 

There are such great things out there for you, things that are going to make up for the sorrow that has dug itself into your gut. You just have to let yourself find it.

And it’s hard to find all the things you deserve if you sit around crying about the things you don’t.