You Will Learn to Dream Again

I got it all.

I had written my dreams on a white piece of poster board. I laid it all out there and decided to believe it was possible.

In just a few short days, I got it all.

It happened exactly like one of those end-of-the-movie moments. My dreams all started coming true and I felt alive in every limb and ligament. Finally, so much of my life made sense. All the years of pain, preparation, prayer. It had all brought me to that perfect moment. 

My time had finally come.

To be honest with you, it was just as glorious as I had always imagined, maybe even more so.  It was like everyone had gotten a copy of the script I had spent years writing in my wildest dreams; all were playing their role so perfectly. Never before or after have I experienced such an incredibly unblemished season.

Still, I tiptoed carefully. I could never shake wondering if it could really last forever? 

It didn’t.

Sitting there with a table full of everything I could want in front of me, the tablecloth was ripped off and I watched everything crash to the floor in slow motion. I wasn’t prepared. (But you can’t ever really prepare yourself for that moment, that instant second when all oxygen is barricaded from your lungs and your heart is drained of every last drop of hope it ever held.)

There are many days when I’m still sweeping up those crumbs. It has been a lot to clean up. There had been nearly nothing left on that table. And every single dream that had survived the pulling of that tablecloth was eventually stolen while I was down on my knees scraping up the remnants of those messy conversations.

It’s hard to dream again after that. It’s hard to get back up in that chair, pick up that menu and try again.

For a while, I tried. I decided to stay at the same table. I kept trying to order those same dishes. Maybe if I just kept trying, I could get it all back. But eventually, those things I always wanted stopped being an option; they were taken off the menu.

So, I moved on. I changed restaurants, outfits and opened up an entirely different menu. Soon I realized that I still couldn’t order. I couldn’t just decide to get a new dream, not after knowing that it could all so quickly be taken away.

Having your dreams become reality, getting everything you want, having your every desire fulfilled isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Because no one can promise you that those things will stick around. They aren’t guaranteed and they don’t come with a warranty. Believe me when I tell you that you can’t just get a new one. You can’t just “pick something else”. 

I thought I could, I thought for a while that it would be that easy. But it’s never going to be that simple.

You’ll get your heart set on something and when it’s suddenly removed from the menu, you won’t know how to be content with anything else. You won’t know how to settle for just picking something else. 

You’ll get that job, or that degree. You’ll find that person. You’ll move to that country. And for as long as life allows, you’ll be over the moon and you’ll sip thousands of cups of peppermint tea and be so incredibly thankful. 

Because this isn’t a Charles Dickens’ novel, or a trick, or a Hallmark movie. Things aren’t taken away from you only when you aren’t grateful or because you took them for granted.

Sometimes you love something with every cell of your being, sometimes you work hard and with unwavering loyalty. Sometimes you say thank you a thousand times a day for just a few seconds of having something so incredibly wonderful at your fingertips.

Sometimes you lose it anyway.

Just know that I don’t have answers about such questions and I finally gave up checking the back of the textbook for them. I don’t know how to solve for X on that equation. 

But believe me when I tell you that you will get hungry again. You’ll start wanting new things, but sometimes it takes a while. It might be years of perusing thousands of menus, only to find yourself disappointed that nothing seems to appeal the way the former things did.

Even so, there will be something that eventually plants itself under your nose. One day, you’ll look down and you’ll realize that right there in your line of sight is something that sounds incredibly inviting and it will be worth ordering, worth trying, worth wanting. You’ll smooth the napkin in your lap, ask for what you want and you’ll risk the tablecloth being ripped off all over again.

You will learn to dream again, I promise you that.

But there’s a lesson in the losing. There’s something to be gained from your months or years of scraping things up off the floor. Those things aren’t and could never be permanent. That may turn out to be one of life’s harshest realities, but it is true nonetheless. Nothing is permanent. But we can’t let that keep us down with our knees in the carpet, cleaning up yesterday’s messes. Eventually, you’ve got to get back up.

That’s life: dreaming, winning, losing, fighting, forgiving and starting all over again.

So forgive the ones who ripped off the tablecloths, the waiters who told you that they no longer serve that dish and decide to try something new. Wipe off what you’ve been trying to scrape back onto plates, long after the five-second-rule expired. You are free to dream and try new things. When you are once again hit with the reality that dreams are temporary, you’ll learn to also see it as a chance to do more and see more than you first could have imagined.

Maybe you were never meant for just one dream. Maybe sometimes losing one simply leads to gaining so many more.

Choosing The Better Path

The first time I slipped on that jacket, I was walking right into a war zone.

Head held high, shoulders straightened, I made the choice to be fearless and forgiving. That jacket became a trophy for a day that I decided to be the bigger person.

Seasons changed, the jacket got packed away with other winter clothes and life continued on. I had forgotten it until the early fall when I pulled it out again. I shrugged it on, remembering how it helped me to stand in the worst days of the previous year.

I found myself lugging it around everywhere. Even if it was too warm to put it on, I kept it close. Over and over, I’d think about sitting in that cold room with fluorescent lights and white tile floors. I kept reminding myself that I have what it takes to choose the better path.

In the days that followed, my dreams were being forced to change, all my plans started failing. Doors I thought would always swing wide open started to close with a resounding smack.

I found myself drowning in anger. Standing in a parking lot on a breezy afternoon, the disappointment of slamming doors were a kick to a heart that had finally begun to hope again. Wearing that jacket suddenly felt heavy, I felt like I was going to crumble under the pressure it had put on my shoulders.

I didn’t know if I really had it in me to be better than all the things I wanted to scream in my anger. I really just wanted to take my fists and ram them into the person standing in front of me. I didn’t want to be the better person, I didn’t want to make the right choice. I just wanted some justice, I wanted some long awaited answers.

Just when I felt my temper hit its peak, I dug my clenched hands deep into the pockets of that jacket and I knew the war was over.

I wrapped my fingers around a little piece of cardboard in the left pocket and that was when I waved my white flag. I knew I never really wanted to be the kind of fighter whose weapons were bitterness, disappointment and rage from my pain.

There in that pocket was a coffee sleeve I’d crammed in there on a night in September. I told myself that every time my fingers grazed it, I’d remember to pray in the middle of hard things. I’d remember that God could make a way when there is no way. I told myself it would be the trophy of the new season, it would be the thing to remind me that not only could I be better, I could believe for better. I could believe that good things, really good things, were in front of me.

That jacket felt like a weight and the coffee sleeve became an anchor and I realized it is actually quite a heavy thing to decide to be the bigger person and to believe for better things.  Many days you’ll be forced to go against everything you want and everything that makes sense. You’ll have to choose to live a way that looks pretty empty handed. Being that person sometimes causes you to lose friends and other times, it causes you to sacrifice yourself.

What it takes to be to the kind of person who can hold their head high, who has true class; a person who can leave a mark on the world, on a room with fluorescent lights, or in a parking lot on a breezy day is a person who knows the only wars ever won are the ones where the fighters chose love and bravery over the disappointment of the season.

Unplugging and Reinventing

I’ve forgotten how to be enchanted.

We live in a world where text messages are considered pursuit, apps can act as a crystal ball for choosing your future spouse, phone calls are for old people and face to face dinners where phones stay tucked in our pockets are almost extinct.

I used to spend weekends watching movie after movie. My sister and I would curl up with cups of tea, bags of snacks and sit under piles of blankets. I never once watched a movie where people stared at their phones during dinner or sat in rooms silently scrolling through Facebook for three hours. If I had watched a movie where people paused at every meal, street corner, or flower to take a picture and Instagram it, I would have never made it to the ending.

I’ve been consumed by the wrong kind of light. The glow of my computer and phone have dulled my eyes to what’s truly beautiful.

I miss being inspired by grand gestures. I miss believing that people care enough to run through airports, that we live in a world where it’s possible for people show up on your porch. I miss being the person who is willing to go to great lengths to let people know they really matter. I miss believing that other people are willing to do that for me.

I want to live in a world where girls know they’re beautiful because someone looks them right in the face and says it, not because they got 174 likes on their selfie.

I want to live in a moment and not feel the need to have 844 people approve it or admire it. I want to live in a world where it’s still fun to have sweet secrets. I want to dance alone in my room like a fool if flowers are delivered to my door. I want to treasure and cherish surprises and not spoil the intimacy and thrill of a gesture that whispers, “I thought of you today.

We forget to live. It’s really that simple. We forget to spend our last moments before we fall asleep thinking about the way someone made us laugh that day. Our phones are the first thing we grab in the morning, so we forget to take a second to even be thankful that we’ve got another day, another chance to show up.

The things we love in movies are the things we wish we could do, but have completely closed ourselves off to. We love the extravagant speeches, when the plain-jane girl finally gets asked to dance, and when the guy stands outside with a boombox over his head. You actually have to show up to do those things. You’ve got to get in your car and go to them for that to happen.

You know, I’d weep buckets of tears if we started swooning in movie theaters as we watched George Clooney send a text that said, “What are you up to?”

All of this to say: I’m unplugging for a little while. 

Because I want to enjoy a sunset without grabbing my phone. I want to be forced to do something more than run my fingers over a keyboard to tell someone I really miss you.

I can’t expect this from others, without requiring it of myself. It starts with me. I have to learn how to look away from my phone, Facebook and anything else that gives me a false sense of relationship. I want people to know what’s happening in my life because we sat down and had lunch. I want to be forced to remember my closest friends’ birthdays without having to be told by a screen. I want to stand in front of someone and say “Hey! You’re pretty awesome” with a hug and a bag of their favorite chocolate.

So, I’m unplugging from social media for the next little bit. I don’t have a set time, I guess it will be however long it takes for me to feel excitement rebuilding in my bones; however long it takes for me to have made a dent in reinventing the way I see the world.

But not to worry, things will be written and the blog will go on! I’m excited to see how it will refuel my passion for life and help me create new content. I’ve got a feeling that good things are on the way.

Challenge Accepted

Last week my housemates gave me a challenge.

It was to sit face to face with a friend and stare at them for 4 minutes. Don’t talk. Don’t look away. Just look at them straight in the eyes.

There were a lot of moments when we shifted uncomfortably or had to hold our breaths to keep from laughing. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

From the first second, there was just one thought that kept repeating in my mind over and over again:

This shouldn’t be so difficult.

It shouldn’t be uncomfortable to look into the face of another human being, to admire the good in them, to take note of the way their eyes crinkle or their head tilts when they feel uneasy. These are the things that should be the simple, uncomplicated, normal.

I want to be able to see people, to actually see them and not harbor the wish to turn away.

Last week, I met a lot of strangers. I was given a room with some chairs and the chance to tell them one by one that they’re loved, they’re enough, they have what it takes.

Sometimes we laughed, other times we cried. There were moments when silence just hung thick in the air like the fog that rested outside. I could see their minds turning and asking the questions: Is it really true? Do I really have what it takes? Am I really worthy of words like these?

I think those are the things that make us wring our hands and pace hallways. They keep us up at night, stare at us in the face over breakfast, curl up next to us on sick days spent at home. Am I worthy of being seen? Worth being told I’m incredible? Am I good enough for someone show up for me in the moments when I’m not at my best?

You deserve for someone to look you in the eye and never flinch.

You are not just another person in a room, face in a crowd, notch on a belt. You are incredibly wonderful and if you were here right now, I’d look you in the eyes and say those things. Because you are worth holding the gaze of other human beings. The fact that someone couldn’t look you in the eyes and say good and lovely things indicates far more about them than it ever could about you.

You should also feel comfortable to be gazed at. In those 4 minutes of being stared at, I had many reminders of all my imperfections. Quickly, I realized that it is almost as difficult to be seen as it is to fully allow yourself see another person.

But you should know that you have no good reason to be insecure, shy, uncertain, or fearful. When you’re being 100% yourself it is one of the most incredible sights on this earth and it’s a crying shame and a disservice to humanity when you hold it back, cover it up or try to push it down. Don’t for a second let yourself feel afraid to be seen.

Last week I got the chance to love complete strangers, to really take a long look at good friends and to have them really look at me. I came to realize that all any of us ever really want is to be seen and afterwards still be insanely loved.

So, as for that challenge, I’d like to extend it much further. I’d like to hold that position, stay locked in that gaze as long as possible.

Sign me up. Count me in. Challenge accepted.

Sorry Shakespeare, No One Was Born Great

She said it so matter-of-factly, “I’ll never change it. I can’t change the world.”

For me, everything just stopped. She believed them, she really believed those words that just came flooding out of her mouth. Her eyes were glassy and her posture resolute; I could see that in regards to world changing, her heart was settled.

I didn’t know how to respond, mostly because that thought has never gone through my mind.

How did she know that greatness hadn’t chosen her? Could she really be so certain that she wasn’t woven with all the threads of a world changer?

Her words just sat with me for the rest of the day, but late that night, wrapped up in my covers and staring at the ceiling, I heard something thick with truth:

Greatness doesn’t choose you, you choose greatness.

You don’t make a difference all because fortune fell into your lap.

Shakespeare may be considered brilliant and many of us have heard these words: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Well, I think Willy and I disagree on that. Some are born distinguished, wealthy, seen as important, but that doesn’t make them great. Greatness is our choice and often it comes through the things thrust upon us.

You’re going to hit hard times and it’s what you do with them that makes you great. It’s your choice to keep laughing, to say hard things, to choose love when you want to choose bitterness, to step in when someone is in need, to be willing to be a megaphone for the things that really matter.

Greatness is walking with your head held high, knowing that the only thing that could ever make you inferior is the choice to play a minor role in the world you’ve been given.

I’ve never believed I can’t change the world. I know that I have the ability to work just as hard as anyone else. The people that have changed the world never had anything on me, even if they had extreme intelligence and wealth.

Hard work makes you great and enduring character sustains it. You were born with all the same threads as the people in history books. You can work just as hard, believe just as mightily, persevere just as long.

You can choose greatness, it’s always an option for you.

But know that greatness isn’t chosen for selfish reasons, for arrogance or conceit. True greatness is chosen when someone isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, lose cool points or risk being rejected. People who make a choice for greatness do it because they believe people deserve bigger and better things than the world before them knew how to fight for.

If you’re convinced you aren’t enough, that you don’t have what it takes or that it was easier for people who came before you, you’ve got some things to learn.

World changers, fire starters, page turners never had it easy. They walked through fear, were knocked around by cold shoulders and stood front and center of the you’ll-never-amount-to-anything lineup.

Fear didn’t stop them, ridicule didn’t break them, courage and determination were the shoes they chose to wear every single morning.

So, whatever you’re afraid of, bitter about, indifferent to, whatever it is that makes you lazy or passive, those are the only things steering you away from the road that leads to the corner of Greatness and Change.

The Stranger In The Corner

“We’re ready for the check.” Hands folded gracefully, she smiled up at the waitress.

Picking up plates, our waitress grinned. “Someone already took care of it.”

Our eyes began to scan the room. We stared at one another wordlessly, realizing we hadn’t the slightest clue who would do such a thing.

Our waitress saw our expressions and leaned in, “It was the gentleman who was sitting behind you. He’s one of our regulars, he’s a really nice guy.”

I saw tears form in my sweet friend’s eyes and I felt the sting of them in my own.

We sat there, hands clutching our hearts, completely in awe. I had just spent the last hour venting about my frustration, ranting about all the reasons why I’m angry at a large portion of men in my life. I knew he heard every word and I wondered if it was this stranger’s way of pouring a little hope into my weary heart.

We grabbed our purses and slowly walked out of our favorite restaurant. We always go there, though it’s a luxury and above what my budget typically allows. We’ve never said it, but I think it’s a treat to ourselves and to each other. Going there is our way of saying, “You are worth extravagant things. You’re classy, legendary, exquisite, fierce and unstoppable. You should be celebrated.”

The truth is though, my friend can make anywhere classy. When you’re in a room with her, you feel like you’ve got the world on a string, everything you need in your pockets. When she’s around, you feel as though mirrors rejoice at the chance to catch all the loveliness you carry.

I think that’s who we were always meant to be.

I think we’re meant to light up rooms that way. I think people should feel like gold around us, they should feel celebrated, their heads should be held high and feeling like they’ve got the kind of greatness that stops people in their tracks.

I think the guy who picked up our tab understood that. I think he knew that sometimes you need to make someone feel special, give them something extravagant and not even stick around to see their smile. Do it for them, not for you. Give and shine and be the person who makes someone feel valuable, make them know that even in their difficult moments, they’re worth beautiful and selfless gestures.

I’m learning how to be that person, who isn’t afraid to go big for other people. I’m also figuring out how to go big for myself, to make strong decisions. It feels good to finally come to the place where you just square your shoulders and say, “Come hell or high water, I’m doing this thing. I’m in it and I’m going to shake the earth with the way I dig my heels in and change things.”

I think people need us to be able to do that. They need us to see value in ourselves and that will push and inspire them to believe and see their own. When we show them that we’re determined to make ourselves grow, to see ourselves go further than we were ever told we could go, it will be easier for them to see that they are born to do the same.

This is really all about how I’m realizing how valuable I am and how learning that makes it easier to see others that way. If I know what I’m worth, then I’ll see that nothing can lessen that and how showing others their worth makes us both richer.

I never expected the stranger in the corner to be the one to strengthen these knocking knees. I sometimes forget how simple acts lead to incredible change.

2014 is coming to a close and I can’t really say that I’m sad to see her go. There were difficulties, there were hard questions, harder answers and a grace to learn to live with both.  Changes are coming and I’m ready. Checks paid, faith restored, hope refilled and I’ve got a feeling this is just the beginning.

Black Coffee & Weak People

“I’ll take a coffee.”

He begins slowly pouring it into the white paper cup. “Room for cream and sugar?”

I shake my head, “No.”

He looks slightly surprised, but says nothing as he pops the plastic top onto the cup.

If you’re going to love something, learn to love it exactly the way it is.

This is my thought about coffee, about life, about people.

We’re always trying to add things, change things, make them sweeter and easier to swallow.

I don’t want to expect anything different than what I’m being handed. This is it. This cup of coffee, this moment, this human being. This is what’s in front of me and that has to be enough, it should be enough.

I want to be enough as I am.

I realized that when I was working in the living room in my pajamas the other morning. Our house is consistently knocked upon by visitors and I’m just learning how to open the door.

No running to the mirror to check my hair, no throwing the little messes into the laundry room. I want to be enough, just as I am.

When I’m angry, in denial, in my sweatpants with two day hair. When there’s just not enough energy in me to do what needs to be done. When I’m disappointing people, disappointing myself, I want to know that it’s not the end of the world.

I want you to hear that from me. I want you to know that there’s some grace for you, when you can’t stand for another second. If you just need me to grab your shoulders and say: just rest, you have the time you need to figure this out, I’ll do that for you.

It’s okay that you haven’t figured it out yet. Everyone is rushing you and you’re overwhelmed with the idea of having to figure out where one more piece fits in this puzzle…but you don’t have to do it today. You don’t even have to do it tomorrow.

There’s going to come a day where you do have to get up, make your bed, and make a decision. You can’t stay here in your comfy chair forever. But today, if you need to rest, I’m here to tell you that you’re still enough.

In your weakest moment, you are adequate. You’re allowed to get tired and frustrated. You are allowed to take a break. You are allowed to let people down, because you are not perfect.

You are still human. You are still fragile. While you are wildly adequate, stunning, worth loving you are still just made of dust.

And you can’t carry it all. You can’t be everything to everybody all the time. You can’t be every single piece to every empty corner of a puzzle. You’re just you, you’re just one person and that’s all you have to be today, just you. And you can be weak if you need to be, you can cry and laugh until you can’t distinguish which is which anymore and you’re just letting out whatever it is that’s been burrowing so deep inside of you this week.

Black coffee. Frustrating days. People who are broken. I’m learning to love them, hold them, take them exactly as they are, nothing added and nothing else expected.

We’re enough today, even if we’re at our weakest, we are adequate and worth love even if we still haven’t figured things out.

 

Where You’re Supposed to Be

Every weekend you could find us there.

We would be sitting in one of those wooden booths sharing pizza, we’d be laughing, crying, screaming, wondering if the days would ever change.

We were always asking those questions about where we would be in a year. When the glow of Christmas lights started to wrap around our worlds again, where would we be sitting?

As they go up this year, we sit on opposite sides of the country.

The girl with dark curls taught me how to laugh and I taught her how to cry. We were perfect partners for the see-saw of that season. When one went crashing toward the ground, the other could pick her feet up and fly toward the sky. It was a beautiful balance and worth late nights and the coffee addictions we developed to stay awake at work and school. Those nights were ours, to live and to learn about growing up.

I did it. I did the thing I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to do again. I used to ask her when we would curl up on her couch and watch the hours pass by: Will I ever feel again? Will I ever be able to open my heart? Will I let go of this and be happy?

It happened…slowly and all at once. The process of letting go of pain was long and grueling, but the realization of its absence was a sudden kick to my entire frame. I woke up and found that I was finally free.

Miles separated us on the day that God made my shoulders light again, and I knew she was proud. I knew she was cheering and saying this is it, this is what we waited for and prayed about while we emptied countless mugs of coffee and cried on the front porch.

When I drove around my little Georgia town with the phone pressed to my ear retracing conversations and painting out all the details, I knew that she loved hearing my laughter as much as she loves having her own.

That’s what friends do. Your victories are theirs, no matter where they find themselves on a map when the breakthrough finally comes.

I know because I feel that when she tells me that she’s learning to live fully again. I feel my own heart settle with peace when she says, “I’m glad to be in this new place…we couldn’t have stayed where we were.”

The sadness that comes with distance is thick in our voices, but we’re happy and we’re growing.

I went home for Thanksgiving.

Went home. It’s an odd thing to say because I didn’t ever really believe I’d leave home. This year, for the holidays, I get to go home.

Days into December, that curly haired girl and I will both go back home. We will giggle ’til late hours that fade into early morning, we will walk along the sidewalk in the cold winter air to wait for a table at that pizza restaurant. We’ll drink in every second it takes to catch up, to make new memories, to soak in how we’ve changed through these months.

Then after the holidays are over, she’ll board a plane and I’ll pack up my car. We’ll wipe some tears as we go back to the rooms that have our beds, the closets that hold our clothes, the towns we’ve claimed for the current season of our lives.

I already know that we’ll question everything.

Should we have stayed? Should we have ever left at all? Will we ever feel home anywhere other than those little neighboring North Carolina towns? Is it worth leaving behind these people who have such a special place in us?

There’s a pain in choosing to do something different, in leaving what you know for a life that will never be what you had.

But it’s worth it. Because we’re living and we’re changing. I’m learning to laugh again, to let people in, to love people who haven’t known me my entire life.

I’m learning to believe that it’s not a mistake, wherever it is that you end up. You were always meant to end up there. In some form or fashion, the world was always ready for you to stumble into the place you’re now standing. God knew, he always knew and he’s been planning things out and none of it was a mistake.

This is really just a blog about my friend, about how life changes, about how things work out… they really do work out.

So, wherever you’re sitting right now, stop questioning if you’re where you need to be. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. The second that stops being true, you’ll find yourself somewhere else, I can promise you that. Stop worrying about how you’re going to get there or what decisions you’ll have to make, you’ll get there.

We got here. We made it to different days under different skies and I can’t even really tell you how it happened. So, for now, I’ll look forward to those Christmastime nights and stop worrying about the weeks that follow. We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be and sometimes we don’t need to know anything beyond that.

[photo cred.]

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Blood shot eyes, I just sat there with my face soaked in tears. Hands beneath the table, I was clenching that elegant white table cloth, praying we could just get that meal over with.

No one asked.

I think that had to be one of the most monumental moments of that year. Sitting at a table in some of the deepest pain I’ve ever known, and the people I thought were closest to me never even asked.

He was gone. Not gone on vacation, not moved away. He was really gone and at that moment being prepared to be lowered in the ground.

I could have tapped my glass, stood to give a toast, and at the end tacked on: “and with this sip of water, I toast to the life of a childhood friend who isn’t simply moving away, but who no longer has breath in his body.”

I didn’t, thank God. My mother gave me the sense to know that doing those kinds of things wouldn’t have changed what had already occurred. Still, sometimes I lie awake and wonder if it would have been an alarm clock to a room full of people who claim to love me.

I want to be the person who asks, even when I don’t want to, even if it’s uncomfortable. I want to see brokenness and not be afraid of it. I want to love people so much that even if their arms push me away, I push harder to let them know that it’s okay to not be okay.

I think sometimes we’re just all afraid to dig deeper, to ask painful questions. We’re afraid of what could occur if we light a match next the pile of dynamite pain. I don’t want to be standing too close if and when this explodes. 

“I’ll let them come to me.” We tell ourselves, “When they’re ready to talk about it… they will.”

Sometimes that’s true, but most of the time it’s an excuse.

We sit at fancy tables with white table cloths and we just try to shield our eyes from the person dripping tears into their lap. This isn’t the time or place. Can’t they just get it together until the time is more appropriate? I’ll ask them later, when there are less people around, when I have more time.

We give them a little side hug, buy their food, a little pat on the back, but we steer clear of words and apologies. It’s easier just to not ask, to say a little prayer and hope that God handles it and we don’t have to.

We’re always waiting for better moments to love people. We’re waiting until we’ve changed into lesser clothes before we sit down in the mud with them.

I’m not sure when it became embarrassing or improper to not be okay. As though it were a choice, or as if it could be controlled. We treat it as though little bandaids can hold back the blood of gaping wounds. Just put this over it, put on a little smile until it’s more convenient, but don’t break, not here, not in public.

Sitting at that table on that Sunday afternoon where no one asked, I nearly bled out. While faces were turned and entrees were served, I felt almost everything drain out of me.

I wondered if that was how he felt. Had he been stabbed with that same feeling over and over again? Had he just sat in room after room, at table after table while no one asked? Did he feel inconvenient, weak, shameful? Is that what caused him to end his life? Did they watch him bleed out, never willing to put their hands on his wounds and call for help?

You can’t save people. Those words have been said to me over and over again, I know they are true. But I can scream, I can yell, I can make a scene to say that you are loved and you are not in this thing alone. I may not can save them, but I must be willing to push people out of the ways of trains, away from cliffs; to bring flashlights to them on dark paths where it seems like there’s only one end.

I can’t save people, but that can never be a reason not to fight for someone’s life with all the fierce love inside of me.

I want to dig my heels in and say “It’s alright if you make a scene, let it out, be angry or broken. You are not an embarrassment. I don’t see you as a fragile or useless person when you’re not okay. It’s okay to not be okay.”

Pain is not a gentleman. He pushes himself to the front of the line, knocks displays over, and wounds others in his way. He does not wait patiently on the porch. He bangs his hands brutally against your door and barges in before you’ve even had time to fix your hair.

Pain shows up and there isn’t always a warning, a phone call to say what time he’ll arrive, he shows up with guns blazing. Pain is not proper, so Love is does not wait for convenience.

Love doesn’t care if her dress is wrinkled or her eyes are bloodshot. Love doesn’t mind weeping in public or knees hitting the carpet. She doesn’t really care what the onlookers at the restaurant think of her or the one she holds. She doesn’t keep a watch, doesn’t wait for quiet, isn’t afraid of words or silence. Love has no expectation, no requirement, no desire to wait for a better time. 

Pain will surely come, most times in a loud and unruly manner. When he does, may he be met with Love, who never minds a mess and isn’t afraid of making a scene.

We’re all fighting battles.

I take pictures of people. Engagements, weddings, families, birthday parties…you name it and I’ll photograph it.

And whenever I sit down to edit them, the tears always come. I find myself a complete mess, grabbing tissues and trying to click my way through my usual process. It’s quite a sight to behold.

I cry because there’s a story. Sometimes I know little pieces of it, but I weep because I will never know the price they have paid to get to this point. I cannot ever understand what it took for them to get to these moments, to hold these dreams. It’s clearly beautiful, but heartbreakingly mysterious.

Dinner parties, books, letters in the mail, phone calls, coffee on a Tuesday: I hear stories in these ways, and I feel deeply about them. But I will never fully understand the load they’ve carried, what it took to carry it the way they did, how many nights they stayed awake asking God to change things.

No one can understand that for someone else and as much as I’d like them to, no one can understand those things about me.

It’s okay to cry. It’s perfectly acceptable to lay silently in the floor and refuse to move until you can breathe a little easier. It’s alright to write until your hand cramps and your head aches. It’s okay to remember the depth of your story, of how you got here.

But it’s not an excuse. It isn’t a permission slip to throw a pity party, to isolate yourself, to pat yourself on the back and say, “I don’t need anybody else.”

Your stories are a badge. They are what you can clench with your fingers when someone ignorantly says something to break your heart. When they poke at the raw places and unintentionally say, it was not enough and you don’t deserve whatever you’re waiting for or what you’ve finally found.

You can grab that medal hanging on your chest and know that they simply don’t know the blood, sweat and tears you’ve tasted. Even if they try, they cannot see every card you were dealt. That’s not license to attack them back, but rather one for freedom to let those words fall beneath your feet. 

There will be days when others will see you on a platform of victory and they’ll want your story. They will ask how you got there, for a road map on how they can come to the same place. You’ll try to tell them, only to realize they’re really just looking for a shortcut.

Don’t be angry. Remember that we all beg for them when we’re in the middle of a tough fight or when we’re trying to avoid one entirely. Remember to be grateful that you haven’t always been given the easy way out. Let it infuse your victory with an even sweeter taste. Know that you cherish it as much as you do because you fought for it. Pray for extra grace, loads of patience, handfuls of strength for that person to endure their own battles. Love them through their own wars because in some ways theirs may turn out to be tougher than yours.

We’re all fighting battles and we’ve been fighting them ever since we exhaled our first breath. I can’t know another persons and they can’t ever fully know mine. That’s painful, beautiful, mysterious and that’s what makes each of us our own kind of brave. I don’t have to tell you that you’re brave because you’re still moving, you’re still pushing through and that speaks louder than I can.

Carry your load well. Because you know it’s been said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it“.

Carry it so that other people’s words aren’t thrown on the pile. It gets heavier, it gets impossible to bear when you put offenses, discouragement, anger on top of the things you’re already fighting for. Carry it so that those things can just roll right off. Carry it not as your proof for pride, but rather a badge of honor.

You’re here and you’re doing this thing called life. Bloody knuckles and you’re still pushing and still throwing punches and you’re not alone in that. I can’t know, I can’t fully understand where you are right now, but I’m here fighting in my own ways. Words, people, pain…can’t take your victory. They can’t take who you’ve become, the character you’ve built, the strength your hands now have. From where I’m standing, these battles are making you into something fierce.

No one has to fully understand that except for you. You’re enough and it’s time you believe that for yourself. Stop letting things discredit your own struggles. And carry your own stories in a way that gives you compassion for other people in a battle of their own. It’s time you let it be what makes you both unique and strong in your own way, but that it’s also what makes you just like everyone else.  It’s time we all have a mutual understanding that you can never fully know another’s pain, but you can sit next to one another in a kind of love that doesn’t isolate, but has a mysterious knowing that being a fighter is what makes you one-of-a-kind, but not alone.