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.

 

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.

Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking¬†myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind¬†and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile¬†on top of the hurt¬†by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace¬†any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings.¬†

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper:¬†Reach for a hug. Give a compliment.¬†Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because¬†it wouldn’t feel¬†genuine.¬†But he’d say it over and over again:¬†Love isn’t¬†just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is:¬†it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else.¬†That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it,¬†it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love,¬†the¬†more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not¬†a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is¬†more like a triathlon. It has different legs.¬†You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t¬†master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root.¬†Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to¬†avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret¬†pouring a little salt in your wounds.

 

 

On becoming a cheerleader for the people who broke your heart.

My knees sunk into the carpet and I found myself crouching down in the tiny space between my couch and coffee table.

I broke in a way that life had not allowed until that moment. I broke for the younger version of myself, the one who became numb in order to survive the pain. I wept for my present self, for the person who was now overcome with years of emotion that she had hoped somehow vanished over time.

I was angry. I was relieved. I was a combination of every emotion imaginable and none of them felt acceptable. It seemed too late to feel it all; it seemed somewhat irrelevant to my life now.

But the initial pain had been so daunting and threatening when it first arrived. It had all come on so quickly and so strongly that I felt myself falling into a hole. Back then, I feared that I would never survive if I allowed myself to feel it all.

So now, years removed, there is safety to let myself grieve those painful conversations, lost years, absent friends, and dead dreams.

But when it all surfaced, I needed to know that it wasn’t going to kill me. I needed to know that I wasn’t going to drown like I once feared.

I needed to feel it in a healthy and productive way. I needed a way to let myself process years of pain without becoming so overwhelmed that I laid down and never got up again.

I decided to process all the emotions in a way that produced something.

Because pain is a shovel and you can let it be used to bury you, or you can grab hold of it and break new ground.

So I went to Walgreens and printed pictures of the people and memories that are painful. I grabbed a pack of magnets and proceeded to hang them on my refrigerator. Around them I’ve begun to post prayers and promises. I pray for God to fill their hands with good and enduring¬†things.

And what I’ve quickly learned is that¬†real forgiveness looks like becoming a cheerleader for the people who broke your heart.¬†

It doesn’t look like sweeping things under the rug¬†or tucking them in drawers. It looks like not being afraid to look at the hard things, but teaching yourself¬†to pair¬†them with good and kind thoughts. Forgiveness means choosing to fight for truth over the current facts.

I’m not going to pretend that that first week¬†wasn’t¬†torturous. I woke up with an aching heart; the last thing I wanted to see through my bloodshot eyes was¬†a reminder of what I had lost.

But little by little, looking at those photos has gotten easier. And now each morning as I brew my coffee, I am slowly creating a pattern of no longer associating those names and faces with pain.

Because people are not the pain they’ve caused you. They’re worth more than that.

Believe me when I tell you that it’s becoming incredibly hard to hold back forgiveness. When every day you see someone’s¬†bright blue eyes surrounded by words of forgiveness and grace,¬†it’s hard to stay angry.¬†Something in you starts to change when you’re constantly saying good things about them over and over again.

Sometimes we think forgiveness is just this intangible process that happens over time. But forgiveness requires participation and action; it requires doing something productive and positive with your pain.

Print the pictures. Post them with notes with prayers of grace. Wake up, brew some coffee, and say a prayer. Then, please come back here in a little while and tell me about all the¬†ways you’re learning to love again.

You Don’t Have to Let Them Go

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

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

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of letting go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Reality Isn’t Romantic

My first warning sign should have been that he took me to a really horrible buffet and I said nothing. That being our first time out, I should have questioned whether or not I was on a dead-end road.

But I’ve always been someone who can find a way to make the dullest things seem enchanting.

So, I figured I could probably spin a story about gloopy Chinese food (at a place that looked like a prison cafeteria) into something romantic…right?

No. Sometimes bad Chinese food is just bad Chinese food. Sometimes a walk in the rain is not a cinematic fairytale. Sometimes it’s awkward and you end up coming inside to a house full of people staring at you while you’re¬†dripping all over the carpet.

Sometimes the things we tend to think are charming and glamorous are actually just incredibly tragic if we step back and open our eyes to reality.

In reality, I was stuck in a weird¬†“relationship” that was nothing more than a sad attempt to live inside of a story that, from the outside, would have made a great Nicholas Sparks¬†novel.

But if I had chosen to have some hard conversations earlier, I would have saved myself so much time.

We keep growing the wrong things.

We grow the story, the attraction, the picturesque moments that make all of our friends swoon. But we don’t grow the roots. We don’t grow the foundation.¬†We don’t inspect or toil the ground we’re planting in. We don’t stop and ask¬†why¬†someone is taking us to the worst Chinese buffet on the planet…we make an excuse and romanticize it.

We do this because reality isn’t always romantic. Reality is, if a man takes you to a really bad Chinese buffet, there will¬†probably be a whole other list of questionable decisions that follow.

Rather than talking about it and pulling¬†at the loose threads, we hold on to the hope that¬†maybe there’s some kind of glamour to be salvaged or spun from a very weird and awkward scenario.¬†But if we were to pull at those threads, we’d see that poorly crafted “relationships” fall apart at the slightest bit of tension.

“The griefs that punish us the most are those we’ve chosen for ourselves.”

Knee deep in studying, I read that line the other night and let my heart steep in those words.¬†The stories we tell ourselves, the things we make up and choose to believe, those are the things that punish us the most. The threads we ignore, tuck away, and¬†pretend aren’t there.

Because we know if we pull at them, it will all unravel and we’re not ready to let go. We know when a relationship is cheap, but we hold on¬†because it’s¬†something. Maybe it will change, and at least for now it staves off the loneliness.

But we need¬†relationships sewn together with hard conversations, painful truths, and choosing one another long after the rose-colored glasses have gotten foggy. We need to stop constantly romanticizing the difficulty of walking next to another human being. It isn’t just something to Instagram, it’s something¬†to grind through with blood, sweat, tears and lots of prayers.

It’s cheap to push aside those hard conversations because we’re afraid of spooking the butterflies. We have to stop clinging to that¬†fairytale idealism we were told¬†was necessary to keep love alive.

It seems we’ll¬†do anything to keep our fairytales (even choke down a greasy knock-off version of General Tso’s chicken).

We¬†ignore the threads that could so easily unravel the relationships we claim to¬†value most. We don’t ask the question of why¬†someone doesn’t respect us (or himself) enough to take us to a restaurant with a passing sanitation grade. Instead, we smile our way through it because we’ve convinced ourselves that¬†the kind of relationship that lasts is one where no one rocks the boat.

But rocking the boat and pulling the threads is the thing that shows us where the leaks and tears are, where to mend and where to rebuild. We must learn how to be¬†painfully aware of another’s imperfections, unafraid to expose our own, and the value of choosing the other with¬†eyes wide open.

Because love is not passive. Love is not blind. Love that lasts is the kind that sees everything, is given a choice and chooses to say something; it chooses work it out and stay in spite of everything.

This Thing Isn’t Going to Last Forever

The subject line of her e-mail was: Please help me.

I read her words and my heart felt their weight. Just a few short years ago I was sitting in a similar place myself, reaching through the darkness for someone to give me something to hold on to. Her e-mail reminded me that there are so many people who need words of hope today. These are the words she inspired me to write:

I realized a few days ago, sitting in a cold white room, just how quickly everything can change.

I was reminded that fear is an intruder, he isn‚Äôt a gentleman. I was reintroduced to pain and brokenness, and let me tell you, they don’t always have the friendliest faces.

Not everyone realizes that I went through a long season held hostage by fear. Not the kind of fear that comes and goes; it was the kind that chains itself to you. You feel its breath against your neck every second of every day and it feels like there’s nowhere you can go that fear and his friends don’t follow.

It was a dark time, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t turn off the loud speaker in my head: the one that was dedicated to blaring that voice of doubt, fear, anger, and defeat. No matter how much I prayed, it didn’t seem to work.

The other day, that voice came back for just a moment. I promise you, I thought I was going to have a break down in the middle of Target (which is where I always seem to be when tragedy strikes).

And I did the one thing I knew to do… I picked up the phone. I dialed the number of someone that I trusted, and I asked them to help me silence the fear. I asked for them to tell me I was going to be okay and that this moment wasn’t going to last forever. I needed to hear that it was temporary.

It took me back to nights sitting in my bed, rocking back and forth. With my back pushed against the wall and knees pulled close to my chest, I would just sit there for hours and ask God over and over again to¬†please, help. I wasn’t sure He was hearing me, but over and over again I would beg.

I¬†just kept telling myself night after night,¬†it can’t last forever. It won’t last forever.¬†

It didn’t feel true. Nothing about those words felt true.¬†I had no evidence that my pain was going to lessen or that the fear would shrink. I had no reason to think those nights that haunted me would start to fade in my memory. None of it felt true, but I had to keep telling myself it was. It was the only way I knew how to keep going.

This is the thing I can tell you: you’ve got to keep believing.¬†You have got to keep listening to God when he tells you that it won’t be this way forever.

And when you’re breaking down and you’re on the edge of causing a scene in a department store, sometimes¬†you’ve got to pick up the phone and drown out that voice of hopelessness and despair, even if it’s only for a second.

One thing I’ve learned to be true is that the only way we get through the pain is to have those little moments of peace along the way. We need moments of refuge¬†where we let God and let people speak louder than the fear and the brokenness. Even if we don’t fully believe the words, we have to give ourselves just a few minutes every single day to hope. To hope that tomorrow will be better, and that maybe even a few weeks from now we’ll find ourselves laughing again.

Hear me when I tell you that this thing isn’t going to last forever. You may never fully lose the painful memories, but they will lose their power over you,¬†because goodness will¬†come again. And goodness and love always win, they always overpower the darkness, hate, and violence.

Love is a blanket and it covers over the worst things, I promise you that.

I know you might not see¬†Him yet, but Love is there, even if¬†you’re still shaking from the cold. Love is still wrapping you up. Sometimes you’ve got to sit in that love for a bit before the warmth starts to seeps into your bones. You will stop shaking though, eventually you’re going to feel the warmth return to your fingers and toes. You’re going to unclench your jaw and finally breathe again.

Just keep holding on. Keep telling yourself truth, even if it doesn’t seem true today. And if you can’t hear God right now, pick up the phone and let Him use someone who loves you to speak the truth. Let His truth be louder than the lies, even if you can only do it for a minute each day.

In the long run, that minute will make all the difference. That minute of breathing will help keep you from drowning.

And know that you are not alone and this won’t last forever.¬†

It won’t. It can’t.¬†Because fear and his friends aren’t¬†powerful enough to win against a God who can never lose.