Celebrating and the Weight of Grace

In the days after we celebrated, I spent most of my hours painting.

I am not a painter.

But that month my hands stayed stained with shades of blue, my shirts dyed, brushes dripping over the sink. I left my apartment only to grab takeout and steal from the sky another hue to replicate.

The secrets we were keeping were ones that I eventually realized my hands could not tell. No matter how many strokes I made with those brushes, the truth was still trapped inside.

A few weeks later I sat in the corner booth of an old Italian restaurant in my hometown. The person who sat across from me was the first person to ever really hear the whole truth, the terrifying, gut-wrenching, honest-to-God truth. Out of my mouth came the thread that threatened to unravel everything inside of me—the truth about how disappointed I had turned out to be.

Disappointment, that was a word I was so afraid to say. It felt so heavy, so dark, that was a shade, a hue that I’d refused to paint. Admitting disappointment felt like defeat. And even though I knew nothing would ever turn out the way I had once hoped, admitting disappointment for even a second had never been an option.

But the night with the strings of lights, sentimental words, and the seconds of forgetting the past flung me back to reliving that reality: sometimes we paint the perfect picture in our minds and wake up one day to realize that picture is never going to be possible.

I had to relive that over and over again, that the world I’d painted in my mind would never quite be the one God would paint on the canvas that is my life. Every time I celebrated another milestone, I would also wince at the bitterness I felt that God was using a shade, a tone that was different than the one I would have chosen.

Then came Room 176.

When the sweet lady with her yellow paper gave me that location, I never had the thought that it was going to be a place that would change my life. Four white walls, but that’s the place that God pulled back a piece of the curtain and said “I made all the colors and I mix them just right.” 

If I had gotten the life I tried to paint, I would have been standing somewhere else.

Those words are the hardest to swallow. As I now reflect on the greatest moment of my life to date, I break my own heart with the truth that God knows if He leaves us to work out our own lives, we will take away the greatest gifts He gives. Sometimes He breaks our hearts now to keep us from missing our dreams later.

I think of the moments when I’ve sat with God and told Him not to use that brush, that color, that shade; that I’m disappointed with His pace, His technique, His progress. I think of that day in the old Italian restaurant and my disappointment. I think of the birth of my nephew, the moment when I laid down my paintbrush and felt my knees buckle at the weight of God’s grace.

In these days we’ve been celebrating, I haven’t picked up a paintbrush. My hands have not been stained and I haven’t gone to that old Italian restaurant and cried in the corner booth. I’ve still thought about the promises we broke, the disappointment I’ve felt, and the picture I had in my mind. Honestly, I still thought about my favorite shades of blue and for a split second wished God used them more. But last night, I rocked that baby boy to sleep and started to fall in love with shades and hues that before those moments I’d never even seen.

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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.”

 

 

 

Confessions of a Former Chronic Fixer

I came to you.

The silence we swam in that day felt like hours, in that tiny room we created tension that would last for years. Your ocean eyes were locked on the floor, my arms stayed crossed in anger.

Last week, in a room where the walls were the same kind of dull and the carpet a similar texture, I sat across from someone asking for my help.

I thought about you and I thought about how I came to you and gave you my plans. You never asked for them. You never asked me to fix it.

Confessions of a former chronic fixer: until recently, I would still apologize to you under my breath when seeing all the things that followed that day, the things that broke your heart. I’m sorry I couldn’t fix it: those have been the words to continuously rattle off of my ribcage and settle into my soul.

Then a pair of eyes your same shade, the one that Sherwin-Williams calls Flyway Blue, came to me.

I finally figured out what you’ve been trying to tell me across the years and miles. I finally heard you, over all the things we yelled and the things that I stacked there in my mind since that day. You never asked me to fix it.

It took loads of people trying to fix me, years of trying to fix myself, and a room that mirrored the one I stood crying in that day to know that my apology should be: I finally hear you.

Sometimes we don’t want someone to fix it; sometimes we just want someone else to know that it’s broken.

Another confession of a chronic fixer is that we aren’t trying to fix you, we’re trying to fix all the things that broke you. We’re trying to stop it from happening again. We are, in a far too subtle way, trying to tell you that your pain is our pain.

It can often sound like us yelling stop and please don’t go that way! Sometimes it looks like us giving harsh directions. Sometimes it us not knowing quite how to hold your brokenness because it is leading to our own.

But I finally heard you, after all these years.

And being afraid of that brokenness was on me, not on you. Letting your brokenness lend to my own heartbreak, right or wrong, was a choice that sat only with me.

As for your choice to be broken, to stay broken, that was and will always be yours. I’m sorry if it seemed like I tried to take that away from you. If it seemed like I was trying to rush you out of your pain.

Confessions of a former chronic fixer: I’m learning how to sit with questions and with pain. To let someone come to me. To offer them a bandage, but not force them into a sling. To let them cry, cry with them, swim in the silence without constructing tension. I’m learning how to lay the map and compass down, sit in the passenger’s seat, offer help only if asked. I’m learning not to yell over the radio. I’m learning not to yell. I’m learning how to not grow impatient if we stay parked longer than I expected. I’m learning that flyway blue eyes are more forgiving than I’ve believed them to be.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s enough to know someone is broken. Sometimes just knowing and staying is the most loving thing we can offer.

I wasn’t trying to fix you: the thing I couldn’t say and you couldn’t hear over my hurried riffling through my toolbox. At the end of the day, through everything I tried to sort through, that is the thing I should have said the loudest. Those were the words you were asking for and are now the thing I hope you someday hear. You were and are not your brokenness. You did not need fixing and I’m sorry if all you got from me was a girl with her hammer and nails, handing you an instruction manual. I’m sorry if you heard in my words and felt from my stance that you were the problem, that I was trying to deconstruct and renovate you.

Confessions of a former chronic fixer: Someone came to me. I knew they felt broken before they came. In the days leading up, everything inside of me wanted to chase them down, but I thought of you. So, I waited. Then, I stayed. I heard them out. I stopped shuffling through the toolbox, the clanging sound quieted, and finally I was able to hear.

Afterwards, for the first time, I didn’t have to stop and apologize under my breath for all the things I wanted to, but never had to fix.

 

 

 

 

I was right, God broke my heart.

I had a feeling when we were driving back from Tennessee that he was going to break my heart.

The fog sat between the mountains and I found myself spilling all my best words to him. I put every little part of me in his hands. I trusted him with every thought, every fear, the things that I had been holding inside of me for so many years.

I had just discovered The Lumineers and we listened to them on repeat. I have relived that day a million times: the taste of gas station coffee, the freedom of a road trip to a new place. Just twenty years old, my words were shaky, my heart was fragile, but I couldn’t stop myself from unpacking it all right there in his arms.

Still, I had this undeniable feeling he was going to break my heart.

As it turned out, I was right, God broke my heart. In the kind of way that only He can, in the way that offers no clear cut explanations or answers, in the way that you can never fully understand. You are angry, but it doesn’t feel justified; He’s God, after all. He knows all these things you don’t. You can’t really effectively argue with Him and you can’t get revenge.

God. Isn’t He the one who is supposed to be most trusted being in existence? Yet, He broke my heart. He had taken from me the very thing I had wanted most at that point my life. I told Him all about it, I had given him the secrets of my heart, prayed to Him about my biggest dreams. I had given Him my desires with shaky hands, biting my lip, nervous that I wasn’t good enough to have them anyway.

I spent a lot of years after that angry and hurt. Whenever I heard a song by The Lumineers, saw another foggy morning, thought of that Tennessee town, I thought about how that was the day I’d voluntarily fallen in love with a God whom I suspected might break my heart.

Five years later I still think of that day. I think of the drive through those mountains, how I complimented His color palette choices of green, gray, and brown. I remember that I knew He might break it, but that my heart was so full and alive that I couldn’t stop it from bleeding right there on His hands.

That would be the lesson that would follow me through all the years of pain: love can’t hold it in, but it will never regret the moments that it chooses to give it all away, chooses truth over fear.

Over those five years, there were a million more times that I would not or could not say to other people the things that my heart needed to say. I learned the pain of navigating that kind of regret.

But I never once regretted that morning with God. No matter the pain it ended up causing me.

Because there will never be another that can tuck the fog in the trees and make the contrast and exposure of the skies hit the perfect levels; that can create the perfect tones that crack my chest wide open and cause me to confess all the things that give Him permission to break my heart.

And on that day, by giving Him the things I thought I wanted most, He gave to me a God that was more than a story inside of a book. I found a God who was real and whom I had invited to come and sit inside of my world. A God who listens to my songs and laughs with me over Bean Street Coffee. I was given the gift of a God who is present, who is in my photographs and memories. Who, when the radio plays our songs, I can now close my eyes and whisper, “Remember that day?” In those years of my heartbreak, He gave to me Himself and years of stories, ticket stubs, parking lot conversations, back road drives, cups of coffee by the lake.

By breaking my heart in a way that I still don’t fully understand, it opened a door that caused me to keep coming back to Him to say, “God, I love you. I don’t understand how you could let this happen.” This heartbreak was my beautiful gift. It was the thing that He has used to draw me back to Himself over and over again. It became the thing that continued to give me more of those foggy days in the mountains, moments of spilling my heart out, seconds when I just couldn’t stop myself from handing it all to Him even if I knew it might not turn out the way I would hope.

And now when I hear The Lumineers, see those photos, find myself driving through the Tennessee mountains, the tears I cry are ones of gratitude. I find myself thankful that He took my shaky hands, holding what I thought I wanted most, and gave me something so much better in its place.

 

 

 

 

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.