Loneliness, God, and the Nonsense We Make Up

Five years.

That’s how long it’s been since I stopped eating refined sugar and white flour. The moment the doctor told me this could affect you having children, that was the moment it all changed for me.

I cried to you in the bathroom floor. We went on drives and I ate horrible sugar-free candy that I eventually figured out wasn’t a worthy substitute. Every time someone offered me birthday cake I would think of little hands, feet, first birthdays, and vacations to the mountains. I thought of how much I could regret never holding them, snuggling them, I learned to force myself to politely decline.

Twenty-five years. 

That’s how long it’s been without a honorable and proper date. I remember the moment I sat on that trampoline at twelve years old and decided not to settle. I told you that I didn’t want to spend my young adult years searching for a sentimental fairytale if it meant missing out on a life that you had for me.

I cried to you in the bathroom floor. We went on drives and I would sit in parking lots and watch the sunset with you. When all my friends posted on their AIM away messages and MySpace profiles about their boyfriends, I would sit on that green carpet in that big brick building and tell you that I knew it would be worth waiting.

Five months.

That’s how long it’s been since I lived alone. I came home every night to that apartment and you were there. I would sit on my couch, eat dinner, and I could feel you sitting next to me. You were there when I put up my Christmas tree, nearly flooded the bathroom, learned how to make that amazing soup.

I cried to you in the kitchen floor. We went on more drives and I became so content with living alone. Those cold months were some of the happiest moments of my life even though circumstances were tough and I was being tested in some of the hardest ways I’ve ever experienced.

All this time.

I thought by now I would have mastered and overcome the feelings of loneliness.

But when I slide on another bridesmaid dress, rock another newborn baby, refuse another slice of birthday cake, watch another year go by on the calendar my humanity does not lessen and my loneliness does not subside.

I still cry to you in my bedroom floor. We still go on drives and sit in parking lots. I am aware that you see me. I still hear you speak. You promise me that you will never leave me, but you don’t promise me that overcoming this feeling produces a certain kind of reward.

Five minutes.

That’s how long it takes for you to silence the war inside my head.

To tell me that you never said the right person shows up when we stop feeling lonely or stop looking. You never wrote that anywhere inside your book. It was humans who took someone’s experience and made a Christian theology/ridiculous piece of advice to defend and explain why someone else’s loneliness hasn’t been taken away.

You tell me that you’re not afraid of my feelings, not afraid of my loneliness and won’t punish me for it by withholding good things. You aren’t waiting until I get over it. You aren’t up there tapping your watch thinking, I could really do something if this girl would just stop whining. 

You remind me that I’ve never once seen you address loneliness with a harsh response. That I’ve never seen you correct someone for it, be disappointed in it, threatened by it. I’ve never seen you angered by it. You ask me when I’ve seen you withhold from the lonely or the barren. You ask me when I have seen you punish them for acknowledging the state that they are in. You remind me instead that you are the God who says that perfect religion is for people to take care of the widow and the orphan. You are the God who first addressed loneliness, saw it and said it was not good. You made it a priority, stuck it at the top of the list.

Never once were you the God who punished it. Withheld from those in it or corrected those who felt it. You tell me again not to fear it, not to try and escape it. You will not punish it.

The only one afraid of it, ashamed of it, punishing it, and threatened by it is me.

“What will you tell them?”

That’s the thing you ask me. What will I tell those that come to me, who ask about what I’ve learned in this season of loneliness. I laugh and then immediately start to cry.

“I’ll tell them to fight it out for themselves. I’ll tell them not to believe all the things people tell them about getting out of it. That it’s not about getting out. That it’s not something to fear. I’ll tell them it’s a feeling, it’s just a feeling, and those are not things we should fear because they are not facts. I’ll tell them that they can’t stay there forever, that they absolutely won’t. But I’ll tell them they can’t always outrun it.

I will tell them that God isn’t intimidated, mad, or withholding because of their loneliness. That He’s got them and that He is going to do something right there in the middle of it. He’s not waiting for them to master or gold medal this thing. I’ll tell them He’s a God of grace—and despite what you’ve been told, He’s not waiting and expecting us to figure this thing out on our own.”

 

 

 

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eat the cake and be thankful

My sister got married.

Which most days still seems like a sentence of fiction. It feels like this story that I’ve crafted in my mind about a day filled with coffee, flowers, shades of green, and warm hugs from the people who know me best.

The rhythm of the entire thing was joy and nostalgia, it was just the stuff Gary Marshall movies are made of.

Every time I think about that day, I stop breathing for just a second. It was the day I went from having my life and its people memorized, to seeing change come right before my eyes.

I don’t think I blinked the entire weekend of that wedding.

I kept telling myself to be present, put down the phone, take note of the perfect weather, laugh with my relatives, squeeze my out-of-town friends.

Because the story was happening. And I’ve always been one who doesn’t fully appreciate the story while I’m in it. But something about the wedding of the most important person in the world to you will shake you. It will make you stop dead in your tracks and think: don’t miss this moment.

Here’s what I learned: Eat the cake. Reach for the hug. Make eye contact. Make a toast full of words that you’ve held in too long. Pray. Sit up the night before, wrapped in a blanket, telling God that this was everything and nothing that you expected to feel.

Be prepared to literally feel the page of your life turn when you change out of that bridesmaid’s dress into your jeans and flannel.

But know that it shouldn’t just be weddings or noteworthy events that shake us. It should be the simple moments of our lives, the coffee dates with old friends, sitting alone on the porch, waiting in line for your morning bagel. Life, abundant life, is supposed to be this enthralling and enchanting thing that stirs you every single day. Days should not pass by in bundles without us having said, “Thank you God that I’m here and I’m alive. Thank you that I have a heart that fought to stay vulnerable, and still can’t make it through a wedding without crying. Thank you for this heart that begs to know more about love, forgiveness, and how to do things that matter.”

The days since the wedding have been filled with exams, my ceiling (literally) caving in, getting sick, trying to figure out a laundry schedule, battling a large insect in my bathroom at 2 am. Life hasn’t slowed, it hasn’t allowed me much time to really stop and be thankful for the goodness that comes in-between and in the middle of the mess.

So, maybe the point of this blog is to say, stop and enjoy the moment and realize that you have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also to say that you’re meant to live fully and abundantly. You’re supposed to be captivated and romanced by the reality that you have breath and a heart. Use them. Use them to appreciate your life and to live it abundantly.

Life is messy and hard. Sometimes you find yourself curled up on the couch crying from pain, right in the middle of one of the happiest times in your life. Sometimes you find that you still feel a coat of grief hanging from your shoulders, and it’s always reminding you of what could have been.

But stop in the middle of the mess, the grief, the questions, the celebrations, the busy schedule. Stop when you’re falling into bed, and can barely keep your eyes open.  Stop and say thank you. Stop and think about how good it feels to just be here. Stop. Eat the cake, say the things you need to say, and remind your heart not to miss being thankful for the biggest and even the smallest of life’s moments.

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.

 

Time and Space

We were talking about small victories, about the little choices we make along the path of finally moving on.

She and I both have our stories. We have our chapters where we had everything we thought we wanted, and turned the page to find out that those were the things we could not keep.

My fingers pressed the buttons and typed a sentence that I didn’t even know was true until after it had been said:

“I tried to make time and space my healer.”

I became the person who thought miles and state lines would be the medicine I was desperately seeking.

Sometimes I’m both the fight and flight type of person. When it comes to others, count on me to fight. But when it comes to my own pain, you’ll usually see me headed toward I-85. So, I learned the art of leaning into time and space. I put them on a pedestal and just knew that they would solve all my problems.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself crying over a bowl of salad and asking one of my best friends if we’d ever stop having this conversation. I begged her to tell me that one day I would wake up to find that the clock’s hands had finally been able to repair all the holes in my heart.

She didn’t promise me that because she knew better. Time and space had not repaired any more of me than the last time we sat across from one another, back when Christmas lights lit up our hometown.

Time and space can sometimes be the tools in His hands, but they are not the one who can fix your brokenness. And the second you think they will, God will set them down and tell you that He’s not going to let you depend on them, you must learn to only depend on Him.

We keep thinking that age and life experience are the things that will save us. They’ll fix the pain and they will make us stronger, healthier, more reliable, less insecure. Eventually, we’re just going to grow up and get it together.

But we’re fooling ourselves when we tell ourselves that God is intimidated by our allegiance to time. We often think that if time doesn’t heal us, He’ll eventually just break down the door and say it has been long enough, I’m just going to fix you and get this over with.

We forget His patience. We forget His willingness to let us work it out and wait it out. God is not threatened or moved by our idolatry of waiting and growing up. He knows that eventually we’ll figure out that time and all its experiences don’t fix a broken heart.

He knows we will eventually have waited beyond what we can bear and will throw ourselves at Him once we finally remember that He’s the only healer there is.

Until then, we bury our heads in our work, our social lives, our gym memberships and keep telling ourselves that eventually we will feel better, be better. After some time we will have moved on and the pain will have lessened.

But the reality is, that the pain doesn’t lessen, we just get used to feeling it and it becomes our new normal. And in this new normal, we’re able to call ourselves better and healed not realizing that we forgot what it was like to live without it.

I’m sometimes glad God keeps me in front of my pain and heartbreak. That He rips down the altars that I build in front of time and space. He lets me cry into bowls of salad, and all the way down I-85. Because time doesn’t heal wounds, and when I think it does, I’ve made it my god.

And so, no… we’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly no longer feel the heartbreak. We are not going to just grow out of this stage of pain. We will either lean into Him as healer, or wear ourselves out counting on clocks that hold no power.

God, My Questions, and a Stranger

I stared at the foam of my cappuccino as her words broke through the thick fog I’d been walking through since we first landed in Israel. This woman, who just an hour before had been a total stranger to me, was telling me her story and showing me some pretty raw places of her past.

She sighed, but sat with such peace. “I was struggling so much. I was believing so many lies… but God still used me, you know?”

I leaned in and watched the corners of her mouth turn upwards in a smile,

“God is so big, He doesn’t mind.”

As soon as they hit my heart, I knew those were the words I’ve been waiting years to hear.

It took me back to a few years ago, to a day that I’ve heavily carried. My face was soaking wet, my eyes were bloodshot; I was angry, I was afraid, I was barely breathing. I was five bodies deep in grief, and the sixth was being prepared to be put in the ground. I remember standing in that church building with clenched fists and shouting to the top of my lungs, “If God is so big, He can handle my questions!”

As soon as those words left my mouth, I broke. I fell straight to my knees and sobbed on the floor. Countless people passed by me, but I didn’t care how it looked. This was me and God on the battlefield and this was me slinging every last shot I had. I was firing all of my ammunition, this was my win or lose moment. This was the moment when God would either walk off and leave me or lean in and grab me tighter. I was giving Him every reason to finally turn around and walk away, I was pushing Him with every bit of force my tiny fists could muster. I thought for sure that He’d leave, if He hadn’t already.

So flash forward, years later, sitting in Israel across from this stranger. She whispered those words with such peace, such certainty: God is so big, He doesn’t mind.

It felt like I was finally hearing Him respond to that moment, “You were right, I could handle it. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that you were weak. It didn’t change anything.”

He’s that big. He isn’t the least bit altered by my anger, weakness, frustration or questions. I’m not a big enough bully that I could make Him walk away.

I think that was Israel for me. All throughout the Bible we see that Israel rejected God, gave Him a million reasons to leave. They hated Him, they pushed Him away, but He stayed and He still stays. He’s there and He has such mercy, even in the war and chaos, even in the grief and in the misunderstanding.

Everywhere I stepped it was a reminder of Him saying, I don’t leave my people. 

I think most people were expecting some kind of post about adventure, climbing mountains, walking on water, exploring ruins of an ancient city. Maybe you thought I’d have some kind of life lesson about enjoying every moment, about living an exciting and free life.

What this post is about is God pressing the play button, after feeling like I’ve been on pause for a really long time. It was His reply to the banging of my fists all those years ago. It was the moment of me finally looking up from weeping on the floor and seeing that even though so many people left, He stayed.

I walked down the Via Dolorosa last week (the road Jesus walked to the cross). I thought a lot about the men who were beating Him, swinging over and over again while watching His body crack and tear. Later I realized that some of the swings they made were for the day I fell screaming in that church floor.

He handled my questions, then. It was finished on that day. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t yet rammed my fists into the floor or shouted furiously, He handled my questions long before that day. God is big enough, that He didn’t mind. He didn’t mind my questions, because He died to give me the answer.

He doesn’t leave, that’s really what Israel gave to me. The reminder that we all have years spent in the desert, years of giving Him a million reasons to go. No matter how long we spend wandering around and walking in circles, He’s big enough, He can handle it, He stays.

When Something is Over

“For me, when something is over, it’s over.”

She paused, taking a sip of her latte.  “I think we’re always looking for some kind of conversation that will tie everything up, but sometimes, you just have to make your own closure.

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.

Lovely Letters: Stay In It

Dear Lovely One,

Yes, you. Do you know how rightly those words fit you? Like a chunky knit sweater, they were made to wrap around you and shield you from the cold.

And it gets cold, doesn’t it?

Life gets cold when loneliness comes around, after the day’s laughter has faded. We are left with our thoughts about what is, what could have been, what is likely to never be. And life gets painstakingly, teeth rattling cold.

But you, you are lovely and so worth loving and the world is better and brighter because you’re in it.

Stay in it. 

Those are the words I want to bundle you up in: stay in it.

Keep fighting. Because your bones are stronger than you give them credit for. Your heart is more durable than you’ve been made to believe. Whoever told you that you’re too weak to walk this thing out, that you don’t have any fight left in you: they lied.

Because I know that your fierce footsteps could change the world. You’ve got to keep walking.

It’s hard and we’re always bandaging scars, old ones that get re-opened and new ones that are just starting to form. It sometimes seems like we’re being put through a never-ending process of running to get bandaids and gauze: we’re looking for anything to stop the bleeding.

Let love and hope stop your bleeding.

There’s more here than what we’re seeing. There are things bigger and better than what tattered hearts and broken minds can imagine. I don’t always believe it, but in my gut, I’m certain that it’s true.

Because if things like sunsets, road trips, loud music, oceans, good friends and pints of ice cream exist, then there’s someone who made those things and He has even better up His sleeve. We haven’t seen anything yet. The best is yet to come.

But we’ve got to keep walking, keep fighting, keep grabbing for hope and love, knowing that it will all be worth it. Even on the days when we’ve hit rock bottom and are seemingly at our worst, holding onto hope and love will be worth it

You are lovely. In the simplest and truest way, you are lovely. And the world needs your light, your laughter, your dancing, for you to start dreaming again. You deserve to dream, to ask for better things for yourself.

You’re not alone. I’m here curled up on my couch with books and blankets, tear-stained face, all to tell you that we all feel the cold and that you’re not alone in that. Keep holding on. There is always light, always hope, always something beautiful to be made out of the mess. If you can’t believe that yet, then let’s make a deal: you believe for me & I’ll believe for you.

Us holding these broken hearts is not the end of the story. Maybe we’re just at the part where the sad songs are playing and it seems like everything we wanted went slipping through our hands. But stay tuned, because there’s something good coming: I can promise you that. There are good things waiting for us, this whole thing isn’t over yet.

Stay in it and watch what happens…we are not going to be disappointed.

Lovely One: that’s who you are. Wear those words and own them, they are yours on any and every cold day that comes.

These hard times are just a brief breeze that will soon pass by.

Bundle up tight in love, and don’t let the pain steal your strength. Just a little further, and you’ll see that there’s so much better ahead than anything you’ve yet to see.