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.

 

 

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I have one less pair of pants and I now need to hide underground, but it will all be okay.

The ceiling literally caved in. I came home a few weeks ago to big chunks of my ceiling laying in the floor.

Then came final exams, a crazy list of things to-do at work, a roach in my bathroom, getting incredibly sick, and then accidentally and unintentionally stalking an old(ish) man.

Then came the world’s worst migraine that lasted for a week, which led me to an allergic reaction, which then led to me throwing my pants away (of which I have no recollection of).

Needless to say, my life over the last several weeks could have been a sitcom. I seriously think television networks could benefit from following me around.

In the middle of all of it, I found myself exhausted, terrified, frustrated, mortified, and amused.

But I also came to find out that the world didn’t end.

Somehow all the assignments that needed to be finished were completed, the speeches that had to be composed were written. The designs, deadlines, and e-mails were all taken care of.  I woke up this morning to realize that though I have one less pair of pants, and I now need to hide underground for a few years after the stalking mishap, that it is all going to be ok.

I think sometimes I forget that God works things out. He makes a way. Granted, I have to do my part sometimes, I have to be responsible with my time and my energy. I have to cooperate with wisdom, but it always gets done and works out. And even when I screw it up, His grace can and does still meet me.

I so easily take that for granted. I have a crazy and stressful week, I survive and then I just move on. I don’t always stop to mark the moment and say, the next time everything explodes and I’m a wreck of a human being who is staggering into doctor’s offices and beating a roach with a broom at 2 am, I should remember that God was with me this time and it all worked out.

I guess what I’m saying is that you’re going to be okay. Whatever the weeks and months look like for you right now, you’re going to make it and you’ll make it through the next time after that as well.

Think about all the times that you swore it wasn’t going to work out, you wouldn’t finish it all, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t be okay. You’re here, you’re breathing, you made it. Maybe it didn’t all turn out the way you thought it would, but the world didn’t end and you’re still moving.

Take a minute, just stop and remember that you can’t control it all and that you don’t have to. He’s got this. The one who is in control of everything has always and will always have you, and He will work it out. 

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’t 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.

Plastic Plates and Celebration

I turned my head at just the right moment.

The couple next to me, maybe in their mid-sixties picked up their styrofoam cups and toasted to one another.

She called him darling and he helped her clean her plate.

A casual Thursday lunch. They were simply celebrating life and enjoying each other, as if it were the most normal way to spend your day.

My eyes stung with tears as I continued to wipe down the table next to them. I didn’t have the nerve to tell them that it was a rare kind of thing to see people who carried such a simple appreciation for the person next to them. Few people could throw an elegant celebration amongst old tile floors and dark wood paneling.

I pulled myself together and put all my feelings on the back-burner of my mind as I finished my shift.

Afterwards, the day became tangled with errands and tasks, processing life and working through my own issues that I forgot all about them.

But as I settled into my bed last night, I remembered those two cups in the air and the smile on her face and I found myself finally letting those tears finally fall down my face. I wished that I had leaned over and asked “Whats the secret? What’s the secret to having a life that leads to saying ‘cheers’ and rejoicing over hotdogs and sweet tea?”

Because I think we wait for special occasions and days circled on the calendar to really stop and say, “Life next to you is a joy and doesn’t need clanking glasses and rounds of applause. This styrofoam cup will do because your familiar laugh, the wrinkles around your eyes, and the way you’ve stuck with me through the years can make these plastic plates and ruffles potato chips look like the finest banquet.”

Life on its ordinary and unremarkable days should be celebrated. The people who show up in our lives day after day deserve more than a birthday card and occasional word of gratitude.

Maybe there’s no secret. Maybe it was right out there in the open for me to plainly see. It’s laughing in the monotony, and learning to be thankful in the midst of weekly routine. Maybe it’s looking up from our phones, our plates, and really seeing the person across from us and saying: I still like you, even after all this time.

Maybe it’s not letting the disappointment in our own lives stop us from fully and outwardly admiring the strangers who show us that even the dime-a-dozen days can remind your tired heart that the world is still full of breathtaking goodness.

Tell someone you’re thankful for them today. Make it a habit to make ordinary days full of grand and not-so-grand gestures.

The secret is simple after all: celebrate your life and the people in it.