To Be Honest

My breakfast yesterday morning was a sleeve of saltine crackers in the Publix parking lot.

I woke up with a headache that could make a grown man cry. I swallowed three Advil before crawling out of bed and slapping Icy Hot on my forehead. That isn’t something I would normally do, but desperate times and all that…

I finally managed to take a hot shower, throw on my worst outfit and drive to the grocery store. I entered with wet hair, baggy basketball shorts, and a tight grimace on my face.

And then I went and sat in my car. I sat there pitifully eating a sleeve of saltine crackers, drinking a Coke Zero, and telling God that I had officially hit an all-time low. 

I haven’t figured out what it means to have order in my life. That’s just the raw and honest truth of it. There was a time in my life that I had order, I had peace, I had a schedule, a plan, a routine.

For weeks my phone has blowing up every five minutes with demands, questions, events, meetings, plans, and I’ve been on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I’ve realized I don’t know what it means to be honest.

Part of this comes from growing up in the South, where being blunt is somewhat forbidden (especially for little girls). It can often be labeled rude, and does not make you appear hospitable or agreeable.

You must aways find the perfect way to send your regrets, which means– the only acceptable reason for not going to something or doing something is because there is another life-or-death commitment/event that you cannot miss.

So, from a young age I learned not to say no because I didn’t want to do something, or do not have the capacity for it. I believed you must only say no if you’re saving orphans or helping old ladies at the grocery store.

And the church did very little to help me with this. There’s a notion of always having to do the Christian thing. There’s the right thing and then there’s what the church calls the Christian thing and they, I’m quickly learning, do not always coincide.

So, here I am, a bold and blunt individual who very clearly understands where she stands on most things, but who has been muzzled by “polite” southern culture and doing the Christian thing.

This is where chaos and being covered in cracker crumbs comes in. Rather than realizing that honesty will always trump presentation, I find myself making the dumbest excuses and telling everyone “I’ll get back to you” as a way to give myself ample amounts of time to figure out what the polite and Christian thing to do would be.

And then, begrudgingly, I will do that. Even if I hate it. I will inwardly whine the entire time. But at least I’ll have the false feeling of comfort that comes from believing that I did the polite and Christian thing (and knowing that Dolly Parton would be proud).

However, killing your honesty in order to make others happy is poison. One day, you’ll look around your life and see nothing but piles of perfectly formed excuses, all of them lies.

Saying I can’t or I don’t want to is not rude and not un-Christian.

This is a truth that I’ll probably wrestle with for the rest of my life. I’ve spent twenty-four years of believing the opposite, so it will probably take a while to re-learn a different way.

Neglecting our health and sanity and refusing to be honest about where we are is what breeds chaos in our lives. We find ourselves unable to say yes and no to things because we sacrifice what is necessary for what is acceptable to others. We can frequently find ourselves lying, but convinced that it’s for “the good reason” of not hurting someone else.

I’m terrified to disappoint people, to hurt them, to let them down. I am terrified of being bad at commitment.

This became clear to me when I was in a season of attending three churches in the same day. I would go to a 10 am service, drive twenty-minutes and go to a noon service, and then eat lunch and then drive thirty-minutes and go to a 6 pm service.

This went on for months. I spent so much money on gas and so much time sitting on pews that it’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless and in a back brace.

All because I didn’t know how to disappoint people. I didn’t know how to accept my limits. I didn’t know how to be human. I didn’t know how to say I can’t…”

What I’m seeing is that running away, making excuses, and just being polite aren’t my only options and they’re certainly not the best ones.

Learning to be honest, humble, and human is what’s required of us. We are to be loving in our responses, but that doesn’t mean lying to spare feelings or to make others happy. It means sometimes simply saying, I can’t or I don’t want to and knowing that our reasons won’t always expand beyond that.

I’m also realizing that all the hiding and the time spent making up excuses will drain you from actually doing the things you need to do.

I’m trying to become a person who answers honestly. Knowing that it might not get praise, it might be disappointing, and it might not be agreeable, but I’m learning that loving people by granting them my honesty truly is the best policy.

You Won’t Outrun the Pain

The most frustrating part about my life lately is that God took running away from me.

He took the one thing that I was clinging to.

Which He should have, because I was clinging to something other than Him.

Because I swear, there were days at the gym that I’d be gritting my teeth and muffling a scream at the pain in my back and leg, but still pushing through. Just one more mile. One more. I was tough enough, I could do it.

When I finished I always felt invincible (which is just foolish to feel while limping all the way to my car). But I somehow convinced myself that I had shown the pain that it didn’t win.

That’s likely what landed me in the state I’m in.

Pain is there to warn us, to tell us when something is not as it should be.

Pain is not something to beat. It’s something to listen to. 

Tearing down the street sign doesn’t change where you are, and fighting the pain doesn’t heal you.

You won’t outrun the pain.

People are going to make it worse. They’re going to tell you fifty-million solutions for how to fix it and cure it. They are going to ask you a million questions. They’re going to tell you about their twice-removed-aunt’s-sister’s-cousin and how she miraculously recovered. And they will have the best of intentions.

But they are not you and this isn’t their pain to carry.

God didn’t cause your pain, but He allowed it. But He allowed it to be your pain, not theirs.

So while you can listen to wise advice and consider people’s opinions, you’ve got to make decisions for yourself and you’ve got to own those decisions. Then, you have to accept where God has you.

You don’t need to believe that He’s going to keep you or leave you there. But you have to accept that for whatever reason, He has you there now.

That isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t the defeat of your faith. Admitting reality isn’t lack of faith.

Faith is not denying your pain. Faith is not fighting your pain.

Faith is admitting your pain. Faith is remembering that you are not God and you cannot defeat pain. 

Faith points to the one person who did defeat pain, but did not deny its existence. If we deny pain’s existence, we deny His victory.

Pain is real, but it is temporary.

And the more miles you try to run through the pain, the longer you’re going to be sidelined when you finally break.

He took the thing I was clinging to. I’m frustrated, but I’m thankful. Because believe me when I tell you, the miles you run won’t be there for you when it all comes crumbling down.

In the end, I think I’d always rather be sidelined than clinging to anything but Him.

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.

What Have I Lost Along The Way?

I was up to my elbows in household cleaner and water when God said something that nearly sent me to the floor,

“It’s good to see you in sweatpants again.”

It sounds so ridiculous, but I knew exactly what He meant.

I practically ran out of the building. My chest started pounding, my eyes were about to spill over. I drug the hem of those sweatpants through the mud and got quickly into my car.

The next two hours were spent with me driving, crying, and my ears filling with all the things that I’ve forgotten about over the last eight years.

All because I asked him one simple question this morning, “What have I lost along the way?”

I never expected Him to answer me. I never thought He’d come that close again, sound that sweet, I never expected him to not condemn my sweatpants.

That was one of the things that had gotten lost along the way: the belief that He would always come, and that when He did He would have something good to say.

I’ve been waiting for that exact moment for the last three years.

I waited for that moment in the darkest nights, in places I never should have gone to, with people that I don’t even know anymore. I waited for Him, I waited for one little sentence that I could have never formed on my own.

I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t waiting for some earth shattering revelation. I wasn’t waiting for the right things to line up. I wasn’t waiting for a person or a place. All this time, I was waiting for Him to talk to me about my sweatpants.

Because a few years ago someone stood in front of me and told me that it was a terrible thing to see a human wear sweatpants. They said it was lazy, unattractive, they said it made a person look worthless.

Though they probably didn’t intend for it to, that idea dug itself inside of me. Not because I have a love obsession with sweatpants, but because the words the enemy made me hear were, “it is a terrible thing to be comfortable with yourself.”

This was said to the girl who lived most of her life in jeans, t-shirts, with her hair pulled back. For me, it had never really been due to laziness. Honestly, I was just child-like for most of my life and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me exactly as I was. I thought I looked just fine. I thought I was pretty cute (and I was).

Even though sometimes I cringe at my bad haircuts, high-water pants, or rolled socks, I was a darling little child. I was innocent, pure, and beautiful, as all children are. I was unashamed of a plain face, I was unashamed of the clothes that I chose. I liked them and that was really the only reason I needed to wear them.

I let the enemy tell me that was a terrible thing, and that line grew until all the little demons whispered and said, “oh you, you have no value for yourself.” 

So, I stopped wearing sweatpants until about six months ago.

You should have seen the first pair I chose to put on. They are the most atrocious pants that have ever existed. They are frumpy, oversized, covered in paint, and an awkward length.

My friends (as they should have) told me they were terrible and I should never ever wear them again.  I waited for pain, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was laughter. I told them that I was going to keep them forever and wear them shamelessly.

Because it wasn’t about the pants. Even this morning, scrubbing that countertop, it was never about the pants.

It was about picking back up all the things that I’ve given up, that I once so deeply loved. It was about the years I spent changing myself to please someone else.

It was about that moment that I let someone try to make me a whitewashed tomb. That I let someone tell me my outside was more important than the inside.

It then became about the times that people told me to shut up when I spoke the truth; when people told me to skip past the pages with the Jesus who turned over tables.

It became about all the times that I believed sweatpants made me ugly or that telling the truth made me cruel.

God never said or thought those things about me.

While that shouldn’t have surprised me, it did. Though it seems like basic Christianity to know better, I had never realized it before. God never hated my sweatpants and He loves when I tell the truth. 

This morning, God did the thing I’ve been waiting for. He did a miracle, one He promised me years ago that He would do.

A bush did not catch on fire today. I did not walk on water. No lepers were healed.

But today, some things that were dead came back to life. Early this morning, a girl who’d been wrapped the grave clothing of expectations, condemnation, and words of hatred finally heard a loud voice. And He called her forth and unwrapped from her all the things the darkness tried to make her wear.

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.

 

 

Lovely Letters: Stay In It

Dear Lovely One,

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

And it gets cold, doesn’t it?

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

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

Stay in it. 

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

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

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

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

Let love and hope stop your bleeding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Billion Reasons for Grace

I am pulling out mixing bowls and measuring cups again.

If you’ve been on this journey with me for a while, then you might remember my baking phase after Apartment G .

I’m back at it and I find myself inviting Grace back inside my home to do her thing. She showed up a couple of weeks ago, right after a rain storm and reminded me of late nights at diners and long Carolina car rides.

“This ain’t us.” She told me. I was shakily holding my phone and Anger was fiercely holding me. Grace didn’t force me to do the right thing, she just stood there, holding the door and offering me a way out.

I had forgotten the rhythm that Grace and I had once gotten into, back when she showed me how to live with less. She once taught me that there’s good in everything, sometimes it just takes time to find it.

And in your pain, Grace will tell you to keep going. She will ask you to choose to do the things that feel like salt on the wound; she knows that the things that hurt deeply can often times help you heal. She’ll show you how, and she will pull you low, teaching you how to whisper thank-you’s for that pain.

She will pull you out of bed when your eyes sting and your head pounds. “Come on, there are people waiting for you to show up.” She’ll take your hand and lead you into rooms with people who are aching to hear that they’re going to be alright. She’ll give you the words to say, ones that you could have never come up with on your own.

And when others cry, whether it be tears of joy, sorrow or relief, she will pull you close and hum: “Didn’t I tell you there was more? Oh, don’t you know that you’ve always got 7 billion reasons to climb out from underneath those sheets?”

Because Grace won’t make you a schedule that has very many spaces for yourself. She’s got some breaks for you to breathe, but she’s blocked out most of the slots for people in grocery stores, strangers covered in dust and quite a few for the people who handed you back your own heart covered with bruises and deep cuts.

So, when she hoists herself up on your kitchen counter and says things like, I’m sticking around for the long haul” you’ll wonder why you ever let her go, locked her out, didn’t stay in touch. Because that’s all you’ve ever really wanted anyway, those words to be next to you when you realize you can’t do this whole living life thing on your own. We all want something and someone who stays, who doesn’t let us hide beneath those covers and forfeit the places we were born to stand.

“I never gave up on you, you know.”

When she tells you those words, they will carve themselves into the very marrow of your bones. So when the time comes that one of those 7 Billion Reasons stands there trying to give you excuses to walk away, you’ll just pull yourself up onto their counter and say, “I’m in this for the long haul.”

I didn’t know how much I missed her until she came knocking on the door of a little room hidden in the halls of a quaint church. I met her at the door, thinking that she was going to shake her head with disappointment at the time I had let pass. But instead, she tackled me with laughter, steadied my weak knees and walked with me to a place I could have never found without her.

She and I bake in my kitchen, my bare feet relearning how to dance on hardwood floors. I realized that though she pulls me to painful places, pushing Grace away was what led to the most unbearable agony of all.

I moved to Georgia a year ago, lugged my bags into this old brick house, not knowing if I’d ever see her again. But she is always knocking, sometimes it’s so gentle that I’ve got to get still and quiet to hear it.

I told her that I’m planning to keep her around this time. She’s helped me see that the world is much better off when I invite her to stay.

Why I Won’t Pursue a Man

Relationships and opinions about them are sticky.

People get passionate and everyone has an opinion. I think it’s something that we all work out, a choice that is ours to make. I can’t and don’t judge anyone’s personal journey, or the way they feel like God calls them to pursue romance.

As for me, I can state this (after much wrestling and questioning):

I can not and will not pursue a man.

Feminism is becoming a common doctrine of our world, and because of it, there is a question of whether or not women can approach a man in the way that they’ve been forbidden to in the past.

I’m not going to answer that for humanity. But as for me, I have one desire:

I want the (and yes, I said “the”) man that God has for me. God cares for the birds, so I believe that He intimately cares about my husband. He is sovereign over that. I believe that, I’ve prayed for that and I live my life trusting for that.

My entire life, I’ve wanted a man whose life is committed and unquestionably sacrificed to Jesus. I want a dead man, whose own life means nothing to Him, who doesn’t want a Sunday morning Jesus, but is branded by the very God who has wrecked my entire life.

And, yes, we’re going to be equal.

We deserve the same privileges and respect, we are both fully human and should be loved and valued equally. But there’s an order, a way that the Bible calls me to be. It says that I will be submissive, it says that my husband will love me as Christ loves the church.

To be submissive appears to be contrary to everything that makes sense to me. I’m independent, opinionated, passionate, argumentative. But if someone loves me sacrificially, unconditionally, I can (and want to) submit to that.

The problem is, we don’t trust men to love us as Christ loves the church. In a lot of ways, that makes sense. They’re imperfect, they mess up, they aren’t Jesus. No one will love me like Jesus, this is something that I must accept.

But my husband’s desire will be to love me in that way. My desire (though it won’t always happen) will be to submit.

I want that to start as soon as I meet him, as soon as the pursuit begins.

If I want a man that loves me, the way Christ loves the church, then that’s going to point me toward this belief:

Christ came for his church. He chose me, I did not choose Him.

I was the responder. Yes, I got a choice. I was given the right decide whether or not I wanted to enter into that relationship. AND I knew what God’s intentions were toward me in that relationship (and if I didn’t, I was free to ask!)

But He found me, He chose me, He came for me.

I want a husband, a man, who has that quality stained in the core of his heart, his behavior, his choices.

I can submit to that. I can say “yes” to that. And it might surprise you, but I feel respected, equal, free, and valued in that.

Feminists everywhere might nail me to a cross. That’s fine, I’ll loan you my hammer. This is something I am willing to put my life up for. This is something that I will not compromise. This is because it is one of the biggest decisions I will ever make. The man I marry will be my partner, my advocate, my leader. He will be the father of my children. He will need to be responsible, he will need to be bold and he will need to know what he wants and how to pursue it.

When we are ninety, I will wipe the drool from his cheek, bathe him, feed him mashed potatoes. And he will sit with me when I’m frail, he will pray with me, he will still stand up to fight for me…(even if he knows the other guy could take him).

I want someone stronger than me. And if that’s the hammer I hand you, the thing that makes you call me old fashioned, weak, or irrelevant…well, I’ve been called a lot worse.

You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to believe that this is the path for your life, I’m not telling you it is. This is me, this is what I’ve chosen, and these are my reasons.

All of them because I fell in love with a man, with holes in his hands, who comes, fights for, and pursues his bride.

I want my life to mirror that on this earth. On earth, if I ever get married, I’m going to be a bride; so, I don’t want to, at any point, act like the groom.

That Was The Night That Broke Me

Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it out alive.

I remember that the sky was black, the darkest I’d ever seen it. One hand on the steering wheel, the other holding the back of my neck. I was screaming and sobbing. I was fighting for my life and at that point, I felt it could go either way.

The streetlights were blurred by the ache in my head and burning tears in my eyes. My vision went in and out of focus. There were moments when the pain pushed through me so fiercely that I’d find myself leaning over the middle console, praying from the depths of my soul. There’s no earthly explanation for how I kept my car on the road.

My tiny foot ramming into the gas pedal, I was racing down I-85. All I knew was that I had to keep going. With every mile marker I passed, the pain grew worse and fear tightened his grip.

My phone battery was blinking, just a few minutes and my phone would be dead. I turned it off, trying to save what little life it had left. I just kept telling myself to get somewhere safe: anywhere but there. If I could just find a safe place, I could call for help.

I remember pulling into that restaurant parking lot, picking up my phone and shakily dialing. “This is where I am. I’m in this town. It’s at this exit, please come.”

Immediately after those few sentences escaped my mouth, my phone died.

That was the night that broke me. I convulsively wept until I was choking and gasping for air. I waited. For hours, I waited and I cried. I slept a little in my car. Then, I went inside the restaurant and I ate yogurt, drank coffee, laid my head on the table and mumbled a prayer of very few words.

I’ll never get that picture out of my head. The image is burned into my brain: the look on her face when she got out of her car. The pain, the worry, the relief on her face when she finally grabbed me in a tight hug.

When my eyes opened the next morning, I only laid there in my childhood room and stared at the blank white wall in front of me. For hours, I just laid there.

There were a lot of mornings after where I did the same.

In the months that followed, I remember mostly one thing: everyone just kept telling me to move on.

I’d tell my heart, my limbs, my head to listen to them, to strengthen themselves and to get up, to move on. But they didn’t and I couldn’t. And every single time I saw those old friends again, they’d say the same words: just get up and move on.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about my ribs hurled over that console, my head screaming at my body not to stop fighting. I just kept thinking about how no matter how hard my foot pushed, I couldn’t go fast enough. I kept remembering her face, that look that said, I wish I could have gotten here faster. 

It took a while to recover from that.

But there was one thing that never helped, that never eased my pain: someone telling me to “just get over it and move on”.

Yes, I know they were trying to help and that it killed them to see me in such grief and pain. I’m not even saying they weren’t right, but the truth is it didn’t help. 

So, I’m not going to tell you to get over it and move on.

Because I wasn’t there.

I wasn’t there when you went through your darkest moments, your longest nights. I wasn’t there when you felt your deepest pain, gave your hardest fight.

And maybe you’re like me, and you have a story that only you, God and a stretch of highway will ever really understand. Maybe there are some things you’ll never find words for, moments you’ve lived that you’ll never be able to whisper out into the world.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to tell that story.

Because you don’t. It’s yours, to hold and to give. You get to be the one to hand out permission slips, invitations for someone to walk in and know the details of your pain.

But what I will tell you is that,  I hope the day comes when you let someone in.

In the core of my being sits this certainty that every little thing we’ve gone through has powerful potential. If we use them, they can bring light to someone who is now sitting in that same place of darkness.

Our songs may never be the same, but the fear, the pain, the fighting and the rescue all have the same tune. We all, in some ways, live ours lives hearing the same melodies. Sometimes, we just need to sit together and share the different words.

So, I’m not going to tell you to get over it, move on, let go. Because I already know that day will come. You’re a fighter and grace got you this far. I’ll just grip my coffee mug and clench my fists and pray that the same God who undoubtedly drove my car down the highway that night, also grabs ahold of you in your grief.

Sometimes, it takes weeks before we can walk again. For some stories, it takes years to heal. I’m not going to be the one to give you an expiration date for your pain.

But our stories, if we let them, have light to give. When people come broken, I don’t want us to simply tell them to get over it and let it go. My hope is that we grab ahold of them, and that for whatever stretch of time they limp, we let them lean on our shoulders.

May we be unafraid to tell our stories, and may we use them as a light. May we selflessly help others through the dark places in which we ourselves have already been.

Exchanging The Grief for The Good

My friend died.

And I remember the exact spot where my knees hit the hardwood floor of my house as soon as I read the words that no fifteen year old expects on a Monday morning.

That was the beginning of a series of stories that no matter how many times I tried, I never knew which shelf to place them on. I also didn’t know then that I’d spend years shoving and shuffling them around. I just knew that I wanted to keep them in plain sight.  It felt so wrong to just put them in the closet, or in an old wooden box beneath my bed. 

I never would have known after that first loss of the sweet blonde- haired boy, five more would follow.

Since then, I’ve never really known how to knit their names into conversations. I made their stories a piece of decor in my life, but I never know how to explain them to new guests.  How do you explain these books of loss that sit there in the center of your mantle, a focal point of your home?

“Well, these are the six people I carry in my heart and on my sleeves. I keep them close so that how they left never becomes casual. So that I don’t forget how important it is to use words, to look people in the eye, to plant myself and not run away.”

I spent years asking God to fill each of my limbs with as much love as they could hold, but every phone call that came after that first one, gave me reason to pull the plug and let the good spill out.  

The weight of love, along with the heaviness of grief, became too much for me to carry.

I thought I needed those books of grief to be front and center. I needed to remember, to make it all matter, to find some sort of higher meaning in the how and why. I needed them to be there, to remind me to find the answers; to be the one to carry the candle.

I exchanged love and living for grief, because I thought it would give their deaths some kind of meaning.

I put my laughter, my joy, and my peace in boxes that I stored in an old dusty attic and quickly forgot about the way that burnt orange leaves and the yellow lines on the pavement give me a sense of adventure. I lost touch with the way that the shades of blue in a sky, a shirt, or a set of strong eyes can stir my heart.

I think I lost myself when I lost them…and I’m starting to see how that was never a noble cause.

So, I’m learning how to take them off the mantle and put them into boxes. I’m learning that it’s okay to pack them away. It’s not wrong, or unloving, or failure to replace them with pictures of laughter at baseball games and birthday parties. It doesn’t make their lives less. Nothing could do that.

I never even let most people read those stories, because I knew if they did, they’d see the evidence of my tears on those pages. I knew they’d see the stains of my own doubt and fear scattered throughout. Those stories brought out the worst of me, the parts that I thought, if ever seen, would cause a person to leave.

I’m learning that this loss shouldn’t be the center of my story. Those aren’t the books I want others to read when they come over for coffee and a game night. I want them to hear lullabies of laughter and about stories of “fudgery almond” ice cream and to watch the fullness of joy that has come, now that I’ve decided to pack away the years of grief.

There will be times, when strangers become friends and then become family, and I’ll occasionally take them to that attic. I’ll pull out those dusty books and I’ll show them the stories of those people; the faces of the kids who made me better. The ones I miss, and the childhood we shared and how they made me laugh, called me great, played footsie with me, picked me up and swung me around. I’ll tell them about the car crashes and the weapons and the choices so dark that I’ll have to ask them to bring a flashlight, because I might still get a little afraid.

I know these stories will always be around. They’ll always stay somewhere inside these walls, that’s the price we pay for love. But I can’t keep them on this mantle, on the shelves of this living room. Because they are books that have will always questions that I can’t answer, and pages that are blank and that I wish could have been filled. But there’s just no more to be added, there’s nothing I could say or write to change what they were, what they are.

It’s another Monday morning, and I’m now seven years older. I’ve finally let God lift me up from the floor, I let him help me pack these boxes.

I’m letting him bring down the ones I took up there a long time ago, the ones that find life and joy in the good things like colder weather, sunsets and stories that aren’t so sad.

I finally see how that’s perfectly okay and it doesn’t make me selfish and it doesn’t mean I love them any less or that I won’t let it remind me to  use words, to look people in the eye, to plant myself and not run away”. 

But this life…it’s for living, for laughing and for loving. Yeah, sometimes we find ourselves losing, but I don’t want that to be the center of my story.

I’m learning that it’s brave to live on, to live fully, when you’ve lost people you love. That it’s not heartless or reckless, or careless to pack the sadness away.

In our monkey bar and sandbox days, we lived in the moment and laughed without fear. I’m seeing now that’s what we always wanted for each other, and those are the memories of them that keep me strong. I’m not sorry that I felt their loss, that I let it make me cry, but I’m sorry that I let the grief outstay the good.

So the good things are what I’ll keep in plain sight and I’ll let God pack the grief away.

Their stories were beautiful, but this one is mine and I think it’s time that it become stronger, braver, and the laughter-filled kind.