The Days That Make up The Years

Fourteen years ago, sometime in the earliest hours of the morning, I was sitting on my mother’s lap when she said, “he’s gone.”

I’ve never forgotten that moment, never unlearned the pain of losing someone I love.

I don’t think my grandfather would have ever imagined that such a little girl would carry a silly, wrinkled, ice cream obsessed man into even the smallest spaces of her life. But I did and I still do. I still think about him every time I see a peppermint, turn on a computer, or flip past the tv show Jeopardy.

Lately, my mind has been taking me back to the days when I thought God was big guy with dark black hair and a blue sash.

I thought He sat in a blue wingback chair and wanted me to be successful and smart.

But if you were to ask me what I believe about that now, I would pour you some coffee and tell you that I don’t really have the answers I thought I would have by now. That night, fourteen years ago, I would have hoped I’d have figured my life out by now.

If you were here next to me, I would tell you about a man who had a faith that I could see, but never got the chance to touch.

He never tried to offer answers, never in my childhood did I hear him trying to beg or convince others to believe. But he lived with a quiet, steady belief of a God who is not easily explained. I loved that he never tried to explain Him, and yet, somehow I always knew my grandfather believed.

I think even as a child, I knew that you couldn’t have joy like his or overcome the fear he’d battled without some sort of rooted belief that God was there, that He hears our prayers.

Welcome to the whirlwind.

The storm that will hit you when you finally have to admit to yourself that you don’t really have all the answers. When you realize that fourteen years later, sometimes your view of God is not as steady as it used to be, back when you thought He was the Big Guy in Blue.

Sometimes, He is quiet.  He rarely explains himself.

I’ve started to think He’s okay with the quiet parts of our faith. With the wrestling and wondering about how we got here, where we’re going, and where He stands in the middle of all of it.

My faith isn’t always loud, doesn’t always have words and I think He’s big enough to work with that.

I don’t think God is bothered by the fact that I ask so many questions. Or that sometimes I don’t have the strength to ask them at all. I think He’s okay with that fact that some days I just want to learn the art of a perfect latte, or walk aimlessly around department stores.

He never put pressure on me like I thought He did. He doesn’t sit up there waiting to use me if/when I become smart & successful. 

And days of wandering, smaller paychecks, and messy hair don’t make me a failure.

I think He can handle my mediocrity. I think He can handle the sigh I make when I slam the snooze button and pray to forget the hard things.

There’s a lot of change that has been happening and I don’t really know how to make sense of it. I don’t have any idea how to take some of the steps I’m going to have to takeIn this moment, I wish my grandfather could be here, so that I could ask him about what it takes to move on, about what it takes to swallow your fear and decide to keep walking.

If I could, I would make you a fort in my room, the way we did at my grandparents’ house. I would give you vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup, and pop in Beauty and the Beast. I would refuse to let us fill our time with worrying about how it will all turn out. We would just love the moments of our lives, not knowing that the day will come when people we love will be gone. I wouldn’t tell you that we might wake up fourteen years later with a life that looks nothing like we planned.

Because most of the time, God doesn’t want us to figure it out. He just wants us to live.

If He had told the nine-year-old me that my grandfather would die, I would move to a different state, and given me the daily contents of my life at twenty-three…I’m certain I would have panicked.

Because I wouldn’t have been able to see or know the good in all the other days. I wouldn’t have known all the people who have stepped in and taught me how to stand, the laughter that steals the breath right out of me, the plane rides that take me to places I never knew existed. I wouldn’t have known about the late night eating of cake, the long talks in the kitchen, the days when hope holds my bones together.

Because the fear tries to steal the joy. It tries overshadow all the goodness in our days.

We’re not going to figure it all out.

And I don’t think it’s worth trying. We just have to live life, enjoy it, wrestle through it, love the people around us fiercely. We have to realize that our lives impact people. That a 73-year-old man can be branded on the heart of a 9-year-old girl, and he can forever change the way she sees the world.

We have to stop demanding that God give us the answers we desperately seek. Because He knows our frame is too small to hold the knowledge of all that is in front of us.

We have to know that there’s goodness. Even though I know there will be sadness, pain, loss, days when I wish I could hold people that are no longer here. Still, there is such goodness ahead. 

We have to learn to be okay with quiet faith, with being human, with plans that might not make us look smart or successful. We have to learn to love the process, the days that make up the years, the joy we are privileged to hold when new babies are born, weddings are celebrated, autumn is welcomed once again.

We have to trust His goodness, even and especially in the unknown.

We have to know that God’s always had us, and He will always get us through. We have to trust that there’s joy and good living ahead of us.

If I would have asked my grandfather then, and I think even if I could ask him now, he would tell me this: I can bet on a belief that says there is so much goodness I’ve yet to see.

Mirrors, NyQuil, and Thomas Jefferson

We used to be enough.

Back when our feet were muddy, our hair was tangled and t-shirts were the uniform.

We were enough and mirrors were just decor, most days we walked right past them never thinking to ask for their opinions.

But somewhere along the way started asking questions. Now it seems that’s all we ever do.

We stand in front of reflective panes, asking them to tell us what we’re worth. We swipe cards and search to find something, anything that will make it a little easier to stare at the image before us.

Back then we weren’t ashamed to speak loudly, to point, to call things like we see them.

We weren’t filtered and fearful, worried that someone might think our opinion useless or immature. We were inexperienced, but confident.

Age and experience do not make you more confident, it’s actually innocence that produces freedom.

I want to be unaffected, apathetic about what passes before mirrors. I want my voice to know volume and strength when it needs to be heard. I want to stop worrying about putting my best foot forward or dressing for success.

I don’t want to be the sort of messy that takes an hour to perfect, where people will cheer for my relaxed vibe.

I never had a decent haircut as a child.

Mostly due to the fact that my unruly hair was too curly to cut evenly. But Mom would always tell the hairdresser one thing: as long she can pull it into a ponytail, she’s fine.

Which was true. So, even though I usually left the salon looking like some sort of manic poodle, I never worried because my hair-tie came out immediately and it all went into its typical ponytail.

Years later, that stopped being the case. I worried about having the right hair cut, the right length, the right style.

Until recently, when I barged into a Great Clips and gave a random woman the permission to do whatever she wanted to with my hair. Okay, I gave her like 2 guidelines, but I mostly just told her to do what she pleased.

While she barely obeyed my guidelines, she took me up on the offer to do whatever she wanted.

And I left with what I consider an almost-mullet. 

While I should have freaked out, cried, had a feedback talk with her about stretching the guidelines.. I didn’t. I paid her more money than I should have and got into my car.

I laughed the entire way home.

Because somewhere in the middle of getting the worst haircut of my life, I remembered those times of being little and my Mom saying that I didn’t really care what my hair looked like.

That’s a pretty great and rare quality for a little girl to be known for: not hard to please, not concerned with the outward appearance, content with what she’s given.

I’m not telling you to go and get a bad haircut. I’m telling you that it matters a lot less than we think it does.

So I have an almost-mullet and the world didn’t end. I don’t hate myself. I don’t think I’m doomed to be single.

I have an almost-mullet and I’m just as valuable as I was the day before I started resembling Thomas Jefferson.

We’re too concerned with things that change. Hair grows, weight changes, bank accounts fluctuate. They’re never going to sandwich you in, keep you safe, give you the confidence to stop questioning mirrors or use your voice for change.

If I’m being honest, I like myself more with this awful haircut. Mostly because I’m not relying on anything to do the talking for me. I’m not trying to craft an impression. I am a better person when I’m less impressed with myself, when my own flaws are on display. I don’t get the chance to fool myself, to let that piece of glass tell me that I’ve got it together.

I’m a mess right now, and not in a cute or enviable way. I’m not the kind of mess you would photograph for Pinterest and call stylish. I’m a genuine train-wreck of a girl who let some stranger give her a mullet and went out to buy NyQuil wearing men’s shorts & a stained sweatshirt. 

But I’m content, more content with myself than I have been in a long time. Because the more I let go of the image I’ve clung so tightly to, the more I find permission to just be myself.

We’ve always been enough. It’s just that we’ve changed who and what defines that word.

I’m not saying that I’ve started wearing newspapers and stopped brushing my teeth. But rather that overvaluing my outward appearance created a debt in my heart.

Somewhere along the way I started asking questions to something that will never have the answers.

I stopped treating mirrors like decor and started treating them like wardens, asking for their permission to walk out the door.

I’m done being hostage to a piece of glass, an image in a book, a figure on a screen. I’m just a girl with flaws who is tired of being told that it’s a dreadful thing to truly be seen.

Change Will Come When it Comes

A lot of things have changed since I first moved here.

Friends have left. Some have gotten married. Birthdays have come and gone. Furniture has been replaced. Walls have been painted, planes boarded, road trips taken, tan lines made and faded.

Laughter has been sung throughout the house and conversations have been paused for weeping and prayer. Leaves changed colors, fell, died and then life bloomed again.

All the while, we have all been saying one thing: I don’t want to wait until it’s over to realize what I’ve got.

I want to savor each season.

There are moments happening right now that you are going to miss someday. You’ll look back with a fondness and think to yourself, I wish I would have known how glorious that time in my life was. I wish I would have loved more fiercely, gave more generously, appreciated the people who made me laugh until I cried.

That’s the challenge my house has been giving each other: appreciate this time as much as you can and don’t wish it away.

This week a lot of people have sat in front of me and cried.  All of them afraid…of moving forward, of being hurt, of finding out that they put their heart and soul into the wrong thing.

Don’t fight the tide: the thing you can’t change.

You’ll just get frustrated. Because the water will rise and recede and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re not in control of how far the waters reach and when they decide to change. 

So, just enjoy the ocean.

We’re always wishing things away. Wanting change, looking for escape routes, trying to figure out timing, running at the first signs of pain.

But to savor is to enjoy something completely. Every part of it. Even the parts that make your chest pound and your hands shake. I want to learn to enjoy the unknown of the remainder of a season, even if it’s hard and even if it seems slow or like my dreams are being delayed.

Find some things to delight in, things that make you feel alive. 

“Don’t just put your head down in survival mode. If you can’t find anything to truly enjoy, then change the things you can.”

My roommate knows what she’s talking about. Sometimes, I think she’s nearly mastered the art of savoring a season. Even when things are hard, I’ve seen her simply just sit down with a spread of watercolor, her pad and make something small and beautiful. It doesn’t change the circumstances of her life and it doesn’t give her answers about her future. But it makes her happy and lighter.

And it reminds us that sometimes joy requires just a simple act of doing one little thing that your heart loves.

The change will come when it comes, exactly when it’s supposed to. So, don’t spend the time in between sitting in fear, and wondering how it will all turn out. Don’t stew in impatience, wishing away time and wanting it all to just be over with.

There’s good in the season, things you’ll want back when they go away. Figure out what those things are and throw your heart into them. Sit on the floor and laugh with people who love you exactly as you are. Have pizza on the patio with friends who are content to let you fully be yourself. Paint rows of evergreen trees and pin them to your wall. Take a drive at sunset, see where you end up and watch the world as it yawns and begins to fall asleep.

It doesn’t mean that you won’t cry, or that you won’t feel frustrated, or sometimes ache for a change. But you can’t keep fighting the tide, it has its own schedule and rhythms for lows and highs. 

Savor the season; change what you can and stop trying to control what you can’t.

And don’t wait until this season is over to realize all the good you have.

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.

 

 

When Something is Over

“For me, when something is over, it’s over.”

She paused, taking a sip of her latte.  “I think we’re always looking for some kind of conversation that will tie everything up, but sometimes, you just have to make your own closure.

We just sat next to the window, staring at one another. Both of us instantly realized that those words were an earth shattering secret for growth.

You don’t always get the punctuation mark you want. Sometimes you don’t get the period (the final statement). You don’t always get the exclamation mark (the words that are worthy of everything you carried). Sometimes, you get the question mark. Or sometimes, it all stops mid sentence.

Still, you can flip the page, start something new and move forward.

And maybe you go back there one day. Maybe you finally get to pull that person, that time, that place back into your story. Or maybe it was always just a chapter to build you, grow you, teach you how to value yourself.

Her brown eyes looked dead at me and she said it so firmly, “You’ll know when you have to move forward.”

I threw up my hands and asked her a million questions. I wanted specifics, I wanted the location of the neon signs that would tell me when to let things go.

“You will know. If and when that day comes, let go and run for your life.”

She didn’t say it to scare me, but because her shoulders are well familiar with the consequences of carrying heavy things for far too long.

I started thinking about the last time I had to let go and move forward. What got me there? How did I finally empty my hands and pack my bags? I remembered it was a friend who handed me a permission slip by saying these words: it’s not on you anymore.

It’s not on you anymore.

I had done the thing—the hard thing. I had given until I was somewhere far past empty and well into starving and feeling gnawing hunger pains. But even so, I needed someone to look me in the eye and recognize that I couldn’t let go on my own. I’ve never been able to pull my aching fingers and white knuckles from things that I so desperately want to keep. I wanted to fix it, to leave things better that I found them.

So, when you’ve done all you can, grab hold of this permission slip I’m offering you: it’s not on you anymore and you can make your own closure. 

We try to make movies out of our heartache. We want the dialogue that cuts, closes, makes sense of the story we’ve been walking through. Don’t wait around for that. Don’t hold on and keep trying because it hurts too much for you to think that things could end this way. Don’t drag out any pitiful stories that become thieves of your joy.

I got a permission slip from God the other day. I was vacuuming the carpet when He reminded me of my blue rubber band. I first decided to wear it around my wrist for one specific purpose: to pull at my heart when I wanted to settle. Because I am known to do that. 

I am a chronic settler.

But I figured out that summer what I wanted. I realized what could be mine if I would hold on, work hard and wait for it. For months I wore it and on days when things felt impossible, when I wanted to settle for something less, that blue rubber band would dig its point deep into my heart. There’s still more. This isn’t all there is. Keep holding on.

God brought that back to me the other night when I asked him what He thought about the things I’ve been holding in my hands.

Make your own closure.

Three cups of coffee in and I knew that those would be words to change my life. You’ll know when it’s time to let go and when that times comes, don’t bleed yourself dry waiting for closing conversations, loose ends tied up nicely, apologies and best wishes. You should walk on toward better things, because tidy endings don’t always come.

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.

If Given the Same Chance…

I feel as though I’ve lived that exact moment a hundred times.

This place I’ve been standing recently is one that tastes so familiar. If I went back to old journals, I think I’ve got hundreds of pages filled with maps of walking this pathway.

“Haven’t we been through this already?” I asked God, not expecting much of an answer. He knew I felt frustrated, thinking I would never learn whatever it is that He has apparently trying to drill through my thick head about this kind of pain.

“You know, it doesn’t mean you failed to learn the lesson last time. Sometimes, you come to the same circumstance in order for me to show you that you are not the same person you used to be.”

I took a deep breath and leaned my head back, tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Because you always hope, if given the same chance, you would make better choices than you did last time.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” 

If you’ve lived long at all, you’ve probably uttered those words. But can we ever really be sure of that?

It’s hard to be sure when our hearts get so tangled in the edges and curves of faces that figure out ways to paint themselves into the lines of our days.

But sometimes, you get a chance to find out.

All over again, you get the moment of reaction, the choice of how to carry it, and to tug from grace what it takes to nod and graciously walk away.

Sometimes, you get to see that you’re a far better person than you used to be. And maybe it was that gruesome mountain you walked up last time that gave you the strength to more easily scale the one in your present.

I smiled at God, “We’ve been through a lot worse, am I right?”

I felt him smile and then we went on talking about how I have horrible coordination when it comes to vacuuming.

I told Him last year that I was finished with picking up disappointment.

I’ve given her a ride too many times in the last twenty-three years. She is a demeaning back seat driver and she will eventually push herself behind the wheel. When she does, she will take you to a place that a simple GPS could never get you out of.

When I saw her the other day, thumb taunting me from the side of the highway of my heart, I locked the doors and let my foot press harder on the gas. There’s no room for you here, I thought. You’ve taken up far too much of my time and ruined way too many of what could have been beautiful miles.

So much of what we go through really has less to do with other people and more to do with us. It’s about who we decide to be and how we keep a balance of grace and principle. About learning to be steady in the places that used to rattle our bones.

Keeping disappointment out of the car takes realizing that the only control you have is over your own choices. You can’t change or anticipate what others will do, but you can commit to a better response, one that refuses to settle for going back to the person you used to be.

I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, that you’ll enjoy looking at these same monsters in the eye.

But what I will tell you is that when you realize you can stare back at them without blinking, without shoving them back behind those closet doors, you will be grateful to be standing in places you prayed you’d never stand again.

Growth is the thing that keeps us moving and opens doors to bigger and better things.

It’s only by being confronted with all those fears and the battles that once bloodied your elbows and knees that you find out just how far it is you’ve really come.

And I hope each time we do, we find that we’ve actually come a lot further than we ever could have imagined.

Can I Tell You a Secret?

Some days, it feels like we’re all just lost in the woods.

Like we’ve been dropped out here and that we’re supposed to figure out how to make it home. We’re looking for that thing, that moment when we’ll reach the right door. We are waiting for a place to wipe our feet, a place that’s safe. Something entirely our own.

We’re all looking for home and some of us don’t even know what that means.

Would I know it if I found it? This thing, this person, this place where I can rest my head, take off my shoes, finally be myself? I’ve never known that kind of life, but they tell me it exists.

It mostly seems like a race, a competition, a challenge. Who can find home first? Who gets out of the woods first? And can they help everyone else find the way?

So we read books, blogs, articles. We watch tv, movies, youtube videos. We’re all looking for someone to tell us where it is and how they found it. How was it that you found that thing I so desperately desire?

Can I tell you a secret?

No one knows how they got out. They can give you advice, practical answers, steps they took. They might can point at a path, but they can’t really tell you what got them there in the first place. We get there. The questions of when and how are up to God and the choices we make.

What I can tell you is to work hard. Do that thing in front of you. Be the best grocery store clerk that exists. Sell bagels with more joy and love than a person can carry out the door.

Stop being the sum of words they put on your tiny shoulders. Because we all have them, those things that have followed us around like the little nursery rhymes and song lyrics we never forgot. There are the things that always sit with you and yet, make you feel so alone.

Let them go. They were never yours to carry.

Cradling coffee cups in our hands, I watched the world slow down for a minute last week.

I rested in the thought that it would be okay if I decided to be janitor and never do anything else. Because I could be the most committed, dedicated, loving janitor in the world and that could change things. I realized that it’s not about what we do, or the amount that we do, it was always about how we do it. 

It’s about who you are, never about what you do.

You are enough, right where you sit. If you never moved, you would still be worth loving.

But you will move, because you’ve got fire in your bones that pushes you to keep loving people and to make dents in the little corner of the universe you’re standing in.

So whether you do that with a mop, a headset and a bag of fries, or at a Fortune 500 company, you’ll always be worth the words i love you and you’re enough.

It’s easy for me to forget that when I’m out in the woods, looking for that next big thing, the next temporary avenue to joy.

There’s really no special secret to getting out of it, to finding your way. I don’t think that’s really the point. I think the point is learning to be the best traveler you can be, so that wherever you arrive you have something firm and steady to offer.

And if I get steady things by mopping floors, selling fries…give me a bucket and pass me an apron.

Love Is Graham Crackers and Hospital Rooms

I never really understood love until Sunday when I was sitting in the emergency room.

He was screaming, tears running down his tired, red face. Pressed close to me, it was like holding fire, he was so hot and in such pain. I’ve never felt more helpless. I’ve never felt more afraid.

It was a few hours before they finally got his fever down.  As he sat up, still leaning on my chest, he began to eat his graham crackers and drink his juice. I felt oxygen fill my lungs again, I’d been holding my breath for so long.

There we were, covered in crumbs and my shirt soaked with sweat, tears, snot, and juice—I’ve never looked worse and I could not have cared less. And it clicked, there in that uncomfortable chair in the darkness of that hospital room.  Love is graham crackers and hospital rooms–all your prayers being for someone else, forgetting yourself. It’s about not caring that you look like a train-wreck, or haven’t had more than four hours of sleep. It’s about them, what they need, the pain that’s wrapped around them.  Not for a second is it about you—for however long necessary, you’re the last thing on your mind.

I never really got that until I was holding that baby boy who needed someone to put him first and that person was me; for some crazy and unknown reason, it was me.

I’ve never been forced to be so selfless.

I’ve never had to daily run out the door without checking a mirror, to give up on changing shirts because even when you do, crushed blueberries will still end up staining the front. To skip meals, to crawl out of bed before the sun comes up to change a diaper, to listen to pirate stories on repeat, to dance to the same annoying music (over and over again).

I’ve been put in a world where my hair, my skin, my work-outs, my clothes, my sleep, my hunger, my feelings are not the most important thing. I don’t come first. There are moments when I think that I’m going to lose my mind. There are days when I nearly weep in the middle of the grocery store because they put Goldfish in the most ridiculously hidden section of the store. But even so, I’m so content and blissfully happy, relieved to be living (even for a little while) a life that can’t be about me.

Life is harder (ridiculously harder), but so much sweeter when I’m not my first priority.

Their parents will come home tomorrow night and I will rejoice. I will sigh at the reality that I can go back to a full night’s sleep, three meals a day and nights out with friends. But I hope I’ll still have some residue of this week, some juice stains that don’t wash out, some graham cracker crumbs that keep falling out of my pockets. A realization that there’s this incomparable joy when we forget ourselves in pursuit of loving someone else. That there are more important things than which show I’ll watch next on Netflix, or which coffee shop has a better latte. Those things will always matter (especially my lattes) but they’re not the priority, they’re not even close to being the purpose of why we’re really here.

There’s something so much deeper, so much greater to life when we look past ourselves.  It’s sticky and loud, it gets in the way, it is scary, messy, and exhausting, but it’s beautiful–it’s love. And it turns out that it is worth a lot more to me than myself.