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.

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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.

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.

They Say a Good Man is Hard to Find…

“I just can’t seem to pick my battles. It seems like I get upset about something every single week. I need to get my life together and handle things better. I’m so emotional.”

Knee deep in one of my final papers, I got that text. I closed my eyes and my heart went running 277 miles away to the girl who’s wondering if she’s the only one.

I’ve been there. It’s the life of many women.

A lot of the men in our lives, try as they might, they cannot seem to always understand where we’re coming from.

Thinking back to when they first met, it didn’t take long for me to see that they were a good match. They fit, it makes sense, their relationship is wonderful in so many ways. He’s a good man. But it isn’t perfect and it isn’t always easy.

It’s the age old story of a girl who has some wounds and scars because she’s been down this road before. Once again, she’s given most of her heart, but if you look down deep, she’s holding back just a little. Because if he turns out to be like the rest, she can at least pride herself on not having lost it all.

That’s where the emotion and the fighting of battles comes in.

It’s the protection. It’s the need to defend ourselves. It’s the need to make sure that the person next to us has the right grip on our hearts. Don’t let it fall. Please, don’t let it fall.

Every battle we pick, even the smallest ones, are the ones where we’re taking our hands and trying to force others to tighten or loosen their grip on our hearts. We’re trying to tell them how to love us; and when they don’t hold it just right, we either fight or run.

It’s the plot of almost every movie sitting on my shelf. It’s the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan specialty. 

I’ve built my expectations precisely through the years. I have drawn the perfect blueprint. With the help of Hallmark movies and Nicholas Sparks novels, I’ve figured out what this whole thing should look like. So, if you follow these directions, if you put the exact pieces where I expect, and say the right thing at the right moment, you’ll heal where the others have hurt.

But men are not God.

If there’s one thing I’d like to tattoo on the arms of girls everywhere it’s that truth. They will not heal you. They are not your redemption. 

It took God shaking me hard and staring me down for me to get this. People cannot be each other’s redemption.

Men are not God, they will disappoint you. They will say the wrong thing. They will forget the thing you told them to bring. They will make a bad joke. They will be late. They won’t send flowers every week. Men are not God, they will not read your mind or hear the cry of your heart.

Men are not God, they will not make right all the things that have gone wrong.

But we think they will. Somewhere in the heart of most women is this deep rooted belief that finding “the one” is going to make it all okay. We will deny it, we will say that we know better and that we’ve learned to be content on our own. We will flaunt our independence and tell God that we know He’s enough.

Then we crumble when someone disappoints us, or when we find “the one” and it doesn’t entirely fulfill us. Then we run to ice cream and Ryan Gosling. We cry and ask “why is it never my turn?” or “why don’t things ever work out for me?” or “why am I not happy?”

Even when we have good men in our lives, we secretly ask, “why can’t he be a little better?”

Even the best of men cannot make us content.

We pick our battles all based on the little expectations we’ve built up since we were little girls. And the little disappointments become the big ones because we were taught to believe that men worth waiting for wear always wear suits, always say the right things, show up at your door at 2 am, and write you secret love notes for 365 days.

So when the goofy, tired, messy-haired men in our lives don’t call or would rather watch football than talk about their feelings, we come unglued.

That doesn’t make you crazy. It doesn’t make you irrational.

It makes you one of the billions of people who was lied to about what love really looks like.

And so his laundry becomes a battle.
His light-hearted, but poorly considered joke becomes a battle.
Football games become a battle.
Him forgetting your Mom’s birthday becomes a battle.
His hair in the sink becomes a battle.
His night out with the guys becomes a battle.

His humanity becomes the battle. Because you’re longing for God and he can never be that for you.

I waited a few minutes before I responded to her; more or less this is what I said,

He’s going to mess up and hurt your feelings, but know when it isn’t purposeful. That’s how you pick the battles. When you love someone, and he’s a good-hearted man, you can easily forgive his actions when you’ve learned to trust his intentions.

They say a good man is hard to find, maybe so, but the fictional ones are impossible. Tom Hanks, Richard Gere and Ryan Gosling are not who they portray on a screen. They are scripted and their wives would live disappointed (and may actually live that way) if they expected them to be the leading men we throw our affections towards.

We throw our affection at fictional men because they portray the qualities of a non-fictional God; someone that will go to impossible lengths, impossible depths, to show you the love that you were always born to know.

I think it’s time that we choose to look at people’s hearts and not at their ability to meet our lists of demands.

I think it’s time to stop loading up the shoulders of the good men in our lives, or the ones we’ve yet to meet, with expectations that only God can fulfill.

Sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell…

I’ve been replaying this memory in my head.

A while back, someone walked up to me weeks after we’d met and said “You may not remember me…”

I was stunned, absolutely speechless. I just kept quiet and went along with it. The whole time this person was talking and reminding me of that first introduction (one that was relatively significant), all that kept rolling through my mind was, Do you… do you actually think you could be so easily forgotten?

Looking back, I wish I had grabbed their shoulders, stared straight in their eyes and said, “You are better than multiple introductions given with a shaky voice, and thinking someone wouldn’t remember your golden smile.”

But those aren’t things we say to people, especially not on our second interaction. We smile politely and ask about their hometown, career, or where they went to college. We don’t drown them in words of value from the first second. We just go through the motions and keep to ourselves all the things we immediately love about them.

We restrain ourselves. We’re always holding back. We’re always trying to do what’s proper, because reservation has become synonymous with dignity. But when did hesitancy and suppression become virtues? Who decided that it was unbecoming to exuberantly and extravagantly tell someone how wonderful they are as soon as you meet them?

I met some amazing people over the weekend and it shook me.

It happened after I was thrown into a room of middle-aged parents, people who are in entirely different stages of life than I am. And there I was, trying to hold myself together. I didn’t want to speak too loudly, express myself too extravagantly. I wanted to appear poised and collected.

And then suddenly, sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell, “Where did you come from? You are my people! You’re amazing! I love you!”

For a second, I felt exposed and childlike. I felt like I had just belched at a banquet table in The White House.

Until their faces spread into the widest grins. They laughed and both gave me strong, lengthy hugs and words of equal affirmation.

It was then that I realized that no other words could have been more valuable, more remarkable. I had in one swift outburst, burned the bridge of detachment that I had always been told was mature and professional upon meeting someone.

I immediately went back to that memory I’d been mulling over and whole-heartedly wished I had handled it in that same manner. I wished that I would have grabbed that person, the one who had put on a name-tag that said Stranger. Oh, that I would have excitedly pulled them in and called them Known.

We keep letting people in our lives label themselves Stranger. We wait…sometimes months, sometimes years. After numerous surface-level interactions, we might then graduate to a casual compliment or vocally acknowledge their value. We give nods and half smiles, feeling uncomfortable to go beyond that. We don’t know them, after all. It would be weird to say something of actual consequence.

But how odd it is that we have to give ourselves pep-talks to interact with people we see daily, weekly, monthly. Isn’t it disheartening that using terms of endearment for other humans takes years, when using them for pets is an instant reaction.

We generously use our most meaningful and affirming words on puppies or kittens, but hold them back for years from the people across the street or down the hall.

Our craving to appear impressive and eloquent leads us to being neither. I’m learning that there’s nothing impressive about my holding back from others my pure and joyful adoration for them, the delight I feel when they are simply themselves. Even if I’ve only known them a few short moments.

The world has enough dignified people who paint inside the lines, fold their hands, and craft their words. What the world really needs are the finger-painters who might make a mess, but whose words are ones of love unrehearsed and love unreserved.

It Won’t Be the Stage

I joined a grief group soon after I moved to Georgia.

It was completely unlike me, but I was so broken and desperate for healing that I was willing to do something that I would have previously labeled as mortifying.

I showed up to a few of the meetings. I was the youngest person, the quietest person and the least certain that I wanted to be there.

It took maybe three sessions before I walked out a changed person. It had nothing to do with the discussions, people, videos, etc. (although they were all good things). I think I walked out a completely different person because it took choosing to become a different person to ever walk into that meeting in the first place.

Sometimes, we have to choose to do the things we never thought we would.

We have to be willing to walk out the path that we once labeled ourselves too good to tread on.

I was a pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps-and-deal-with-it kind of girl for most of my adolescence. I didn’t need grief groups, counselors, or cry sessions. I was too strong for that, too proud for that.

But it wasn’t until I chose to do the things that sent my knees to the dirt that I learned how wrong I’ve seen the world.

I learned the value of doing things that are hard, that require me to sit among other broken people and say maybe we’re all really the same. Maybe I’m not better than anyone else. Maybe I am a poster child for weakness and that’s not as bad as it always seemed. Maybe weakness is where I always needed to start.

The world is going to tell you who you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to wear.

They’re going to tell you that you’ve got to be the loudest, the funniest, the crowd-drawer. They’re going to expect you to wear dresses, suits, ties and pointed shoes. They’ll tell you that’s what makes a leader, that’s what makes a world changer. They’ll tell you that the behind the scenes people are important too. “There are no small parts,” that’s what they’ll say.

And what they’ll never know is that some of the greatest leaders, greatest world changers, some of the bravest people are those who pull the curtains and cheer for the people on the stage.

What they’ll never tell you is that Mother Teresa wasn’t a show stopper and she didn’t go looking for microphones and monuments built for her name. But she was a force; she wrestled hatred with her bare hands, and she won. At age 87, she lifted her arms in victory and heard the words, “Well done.”

They told us, “Leaders don’t go to grief groups, and world changers aren’t quiet. Difference makers don’t mop floors and brave people don’t wait for anything. Leaders push, they’re the people who build something and make things happen (even if what they built doesn’t last).”

But what I’ve learned of lasting change is from the people who choose the hard things, whose names aren’t the first among the credits. They learn how to listen first, and speak carefully. They weigh their words, bend their knees and know what it means to wait, to truly wait for something to grow.

They are not afraid of the platforms or the microphones, but they have no appetite for them, no fascination with them. They do not shrink at truth, but do not speak for the sake of being heard.

I took a journey of becoming the person I want to be when I stepped through the door that led me to that grief group. When I chose to become the person that I saw as weak, I started to do the things that actually make me stronger.

What I really needed was to step into a little back room with a few people, where I didn’t need to be liked, or to get a round of applause. I needed to sit among people who knew my kind of loss and admit that it was hard, but I was going to try. I had to decide that I was willing to do the work it would take (even if it took forever).

It was the little step that led to a change that has lasted.

It won’t be the stage, the fame, the applause, that will make you the kind of person you really want to be, or help you change the world in a deep-rooted way.

Mother Teresa’s don’t come by way of popularity.

It’s when you let go of the need to have anyone know your name, the need to be seen as strong or brave; that’s when you’ll change the world in a lasting way.

I am Tired of Praying for Things

“It matters where you stand.”

Ironically enough, I remember exactly where I was standing when God said that to me. I was about to go into a meeting that had me wringing my hands and fidgeting with loose threads.

I had no idea that meeting would alter the course of my life. I was also entirely unaware of how that one sentence from God would continuously save me over and over again.

“You are a person who gets what you pray for, but not without a cost.”

When a friend said those words to me, I knew they were the truth. I’m always asking for bold things, for specifics, and many times God grants them. But then He shows me what all the things that I’ll have to say “no” to in order for Him to say “yes” to that thing.

There’s a price for big prayers. It isn’t because God is punishing us, or because His love isn’t free. Answered prayers aren’t proof of God’s love or affirmation, they’re just a door that leads our heart to see how much we have always been loved.

I wish I’d understood that when I asked Him for that one thing. He gave it to me, but only for a season. He didn’t give it to me because it was the best thing for me, but because it would break my heart in a way that would cause me to become the best version of myself I’d ever been.

It was never about the thing, it was about the process that led to a permanent and beautiful change.

It’s not about the thing.

We want all these things, all these blessings, but it’s not about the thing.

It’s about who we are when we get the thing, while we have the thing, and when we lose the thing.

Believe me when I tell you, it can never about the thingBecause things are just things, they aren’t stable, they aren’t constant. They can be right in the winter and wrong for the spring.

Things change.

The way a heart beats,  the weather, the strength of your bones… they all change. Nothing stays the same here on earth. The thing you’re so desperately begging God for, if it’s a thing, it won’t last.

Maybe you’ll have it for eighty years. Maybe you’ll have it for a day. But at the end of it all, the thing was and can never be the point.

What it points you toward, how you grow, the person you start to become, your focus: those are the point.  The thing is just the door that takes you to those rooms, that shows you why God ever gave you breath to start with.

How that thing builds love in you, and the truth it helps you echo, that was always the point.

I don’t always get what I pray for, but either way, I’m learning to pray less for things and more for processes, for truths, for God to make me who I need to be. As far as the things, well it seems best to let God choose the ones most suited for the process.

It matters where you stand. Maybe you’ll get some cool shoes while you stand there. Maybe you’ll have good stories about what passes by. But those things will never be the point. It matters where you stand simply because of who you’ll be if and when God asks you to stand somewhere else.