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.

 

 

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.

 

Breaking Up + Building Home

I just got back from Georgia and it felt a lot like seeing an ex for the first time since a break-up.

It was all the nervous tension and trying to figure out how to act and how to feel. At first it was this bittersweet mix of formality and familiarity. We’re used to do everything together, but it’s been a while and everything is different now.

I lived there for two years and made that place my home. It’s comfortable and easy. It’s laughter and inside jokes. It’s not having to tell the back-story or swim through all the surface stuff.

I miss being known and knowing where I belong. I miss being pulled into a hug and held there. I miss someone just showing up at my door. I miss someone reading my thoughts from across the room. I miss the things that took so much time to build.

It’s hard coming back to that.

You’ve moved on, and you know it was the right thing to do. But when things ended on good terms, you can easily fall back into those conversations and into finishing each others sentences. Then it just gets painful. Life, time and geography tell you that you can’t sit next to each other anymore.

And let me tell you, Georgia looked good. He looked real good. His build was strong and his hair was perfect. His green eyes were playful, he wore a well tailored suit, and brought a lot of sunshine and memories of some of my favorite times in my life. He was confident and steady.

As for me, I was a mess. I was not what you imagine or hope to be when you run into that former love. I was not a glamorous picture of success with perfect windblown hair and a five year plan. I was a sleep-deprived mess of a woman who had just lived out her own real life SNL skit involving a flat tire and three police officers.

For some reason, I came packed with the worst of my wardrobe. My skin was freaking out. I was stuffing my face with Skittles and Goldfish (which I guess could explain the skin issue). I was also trying to plan out speaking in front of people and how to finish assignments that felt like a foreign language.

Still, Georgia was inviting. He still knew how to make me laugh and took me to my favorite restaurants. He knew all the right things to say, all the right ways to pull at my heart. He reminded me of those former glory days, back when summer evenings were long and spent by the lake. He brought back winters with coffee on the couch and Josh Garrels on the record player in the living room.

It was hard to walk away.

I wanted to turn that car around and fling myself into the arms of that southern town and say “Please, take me back! I was a fool for ever leaving you behind!”

But it was a lie and I knew it. It was desperate and crazy. It was not the healthy, wise, or sane decision.

We know when it’s time to move on.

God, people, circumstances, and life let us know when our hearts need to move forward and I’m learning how to listen.

About halfway back home, a sad song came on my playlist and like a real break up,  I started spilling my guts to God. I kept mulling over all the reasons why my life right now looks so much less than what I had back then.

Because I mean, the most consistent person in my life right now is the man at the Chick-fil-A drive-thru window who serves me my yogurt and coffee every morning.

And believe me when I tell you, I think he is just as disturbed by his consistency in my life as I am.

Building a new life and new relationships take time and they require giving your heart. It’s hard to give your heart away again when what you had before was so good. Especially when there was really no seemingly good reason to end things other than it was just time to move on, things didn’t fit anymore.

Because what happens if I do this all over again and things just stop fitting?

What if I find something good again and then I have to move on and go start over with another blank apartment, another set of streets I can’t navigate, a table with empty seats? What if I have to even go find a whole other Chick-fil-A man who can’t learn to accept the fact that I’m just going to spend an ungodly amount of money on breakfast food?

One of my bosses gave a sermon this week and said something that hit me hard:

“We say ‘I’ve been hurt in a relationship, I’m never going to date again!’ instead of saying ‘Lord, show me the qualities that make for healthy relationships, so that I will know what is truly worth hurting over.”

Things end. But Georgia was healthy and it was worth hurting over.

Maybe I won’t be here forever, but I’m here for now. I want to build things that are worth hurting over.

Someday, if I ever move away from this place, I want to come back and have that momentary second of foolishness of wanting to jump into its arms again and ask it to have me back. I won’t do it, but I want to have been so recklessly selfless with my love that I’ll want to. I want to be shaken by the memory of what it felt like to wade through all the nervous first encounters, awkward conversations, DTR conversations, stupid fights, moments of wishing I could leave, stupid inside jokes, nights around a bonfire.

I want to build something worth hurting over if I ever have to say goodbye to it.

When I moved away from home I cried when I left my mailman. Right now, I don’t even know my mailman, and it won’t really hurt if I have to say goodbye to my Chick-fil-A man. But I need it to. I need to be teary for the day when he will no longer be MY Chick-fil-A man.

I want to build a life that’s steady and full of the kind of love that cries about my neighbors and the things that become a consistent part of my life.

Because I need to build a life that’s radically ordinary, beautiful, and full of health. I’m learning it will help prepare me for the someday permanent people and places, for when the time and person comes and I find myself making promises and covenants to stay.

(P.S. the Chick-fil-A man is old, married, and is not a romantic interest in my life.)

The New and Good Year

I think most of humanity is in agreement about one thing right now: saying goodbye to 2016 will not break our hearts. I’m pretty sure that the guy who started the campaign to save Betty White is all of us right now. We all feel that nothing was off limits to the insanity of the year, and we’re all just ready to do whatever it takes to get to 2017 without taking another big hit.

That being said, 2016 was a year that I think I learned more than most of my other years combined. When I look back, I think I could fill an entire stadium with pages of lessons I picked up along the way. I’ll leave you with a little bit of what this year taught me. Through the good, the bad, the really bad, the unimaginably tragic, the incredibly scary, the weirdly ironic, and the unbelievably shocking, 2016 left me with some things I needed.

  • There’s a moment to grow up. You’ll know when that moment comes. You finally stop making decisions that are magical and start making decisions that are fruitful. You start realizing your decisions need to require you to think about other people, about investment. You learn that your feelings, your whims, your desires are not the most important things in the world. You can’t live for them or make your decisions by them because the consequences have never been and will never be worth it.
  • If living alone is possible in your single years, do it. It’s pretty wonderful to live in a house full of people laughing and splashing coffee all over the countertops, but there’s something invaluable about learning to grow into your own space. There’s something about coming home to silence and sitting with your thoughts. There are prayers you pray in that quiet that you’d never pray with other people running in and out of rooms. There are moments you can slide down and sit on the hardwood floor with tears in your eyes and without fear that someone is going to come barreling through the door. There’s just a peace and safety to work through all the questions in a real and raw way. I think solitude is one of God’s favorite medicines.
  • Your experiences are not always the truth. Your experiences are true because they happened, but what you believe about them and the stories you tell yourself may not necessarily be true. We fill in the gaps and the holes of our hearts with stories that make us feel better, and sometimes that’s the only way we know to survive. We tell ourselves the relationship ended because we loved them too much and they just couldn’t handle our love. We tell ourselves that our parents left us because they hated us, because we were never enough for them. We fill in those things left unspoken with stories, and the emptiness we sit with starts to feel less daunting. If I can figure out the story, I can craft a solution or write a really good ending. But sometimes, you don’t know what that story really is. Learning to accept that and letting go of the need to answer those questions brings a lot of freedom.
  • There is a fine line between conviction and stubbornness and one of them means standing alone. A convicted person knows that they do not stand alone, that they are accompanied by God and by truth. A stubborn person fights everything and everyone (sometimes including God and the truth) to be proven right. Whenever you find yourself in an argument ask yourself if you’re being convicted or if you’re being stubborn. And if you’re being stubborn, you’ll most likely end up standing alone.

  • There is no substitute for time. My sister told me this years ago and I think I’ve learned it more in the past few months than ever before. You cannot rush the process, you cannot shortcut your way to growth. There is no Miracle-Gro formula for your health. You can try all the juices, cleanses, whole30 diets, quick-fix fads, but the reality is that consistency will always be key. Time produces change, growth, and results. You can’t rush health and anything that pressures you to probably won’t work.
  • You become what you behold. God and I had a very serious conversation about this last night on the way to Target. I am a chronic fixer, and it is something we’ve been working on for quite a while now. I see pain in another person and bless my well-intentioned heart, I just cannot take my eyes off of it. I want to help them, to see them through that pain, to love them right on out of it. But what if I just started choosing to see the good in them, to call that out, to love on that part of them with such a fierceness that it grows and pushes out the pain? What if I really just believe that it’s light and Love that drives out the darkness, not my problem solving abilities? Because you know what I’ve learned? Focusing on the problems in other people just weighs me down with problems, but focusing on the good in and around them brings out the good in me. If we focus on pain, hate, differences, sin, heartbreak… that’s what we become. We become consumed with that very thing that we obsess over and it takes over our lives. But if we fiercely grow and water the good, it always overtakes the darkness. Love always wins. True, time-taking, good-loving, turning away and not focusing on condemnation love is always gonna win.

2017 is just around the corner. It’s going to have its problems, it is going to have its battles. There might even be moments when the Twitter and Facebook explode with some kind of disagreement that makes 2016 look like the year of child’s play. But 2017 will become whatever you focus on. This year, I’m praying to focus on the good and I’m praying that I’ll learn what that word actually means. Today it meant a hug from a stranger, a really good salad, and a walk downtown in a city that I would have never thought I’d end up in. There was good in 2016, and I hope for these last few days of the year those are the things I focus on.

Nevertheless, God protect Betty White.

 

 

 

Learning from Loneliness

I used to live in a house with some fierce women and we spent our evenings eating dinner in the kitchen floor while laughing, crying, yelling, or praying.

Now, I come home to a quiet apartment, to the hum of my refrigerator and the buzz of the light above my stove.

It’s cozy this time of year. I turn on my Christmas lights and wrap up in my chunky gray blanket. It’s quiet and peaceful; there is a lot of time to think pray. I do a lot of that these days, a lot of eating take-out food and talking out loud to the only one who can hear me.

There’s a lot of sitting with my own thoughts. I’ve learned more about myself in these months than maybe in my entire life. I’ve learned a lot about staying with myself, being patient, laughing at my quirky tendencies, forgiving my breakdowns, talking through my frustrations, trusting my gut.

It’s an interesting thing to see how you’ll react the first time you have to call someone from maintenance to repair something, or how you’ll respond if/when you accidentally forget to pay a bill. How hard you fight when everything starts pushing against you. You will surprise yourself and suddenly find out the kind of adult that the childhood version of you grew up to be.

Some nights you will get texts from other friends or see pictures online of everyone eating meals together and you will feel the sting of not being there. There are responsibilities you carry now: work, school, freelance, bills, groceries, laundry.

It will hurt. You will learn to sit with yourself in the pain of working through loneliness and it will hurt. You will reflect on all the times in your life when you weren’t alone. You will regret all the times you chose to be alone when you could have called on others. Because now you don’t always have the choice.

You will think about the movie you went to see by yourself years ago, how you bragged that you were so independent. You will think about the person who told you, I would have gone with you” and you will hate your youthful pride. The pain of wishing they could say that to you now will settle deep into your bones.

You will put up your first very own Christmas tree and it will make you squeal with joy. You will be proud of it. But no one will will stand next to you to share that joy. You will sit alone and you will learn something beautiful about yourself in that moment. 

You love Christmas. You love trees. You love making things beautiful. Beauty can and should still be enjoyed alone, you’ll learn that a lot. You will instantly remember all the times in your youth when you acted like Christmas and decorating was an inconvenience. When you had other things you needed or wanted to do and you will realize that you never want to be that person again. You never want to be the person who thinks celebrating comes too early and who hurries to get it over with.

Loneliness can be one of the best things and worst things to ever happen to you. I’ve found out that I am one of the funniest people I know. I am the worst grocery shopper on the planet. I hate laundry with a fierce passion. Washing dishes calms me. I am the kind of person who has a junk drawer. It is necessary to have 7 shampoos in the shower at once. Bonefish has really good Sunday brunch. I feel weirdly guilty when I use paper towels. I use a lot of paper towels. I like wearing tennis shoes. Every night get really sentimental and teary when I’m turning off all the lights and getting ready for bed. I enjoy myself. I’m learning to stay with myself and to fight for the person that I’ve become and am hoping I’ll turn out to be.

I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to come to that movie.
I really love Christmas.
I might be looking to hire someone to do my laundry.
You should all invest in stock in Bounty.
Sit with yourself, stay with yourself, fight to become the kind of person that sometimes only loneliness can teach you to be.

 

 

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.