When Memories are Our God

I spent a good chunk of my early twenties regretting two days: an afternoon at a sushi restaurant and a night I spent alone watching Batman at the movie theater inside of the mall.

I didn’t realize¬†it,¬†but all those years I¬†spent driving around my hometown arguing with God, I was trying to figure out a way to convince Him¬†to turn back time. I knew if He would just let me do them over I could fix everything.

It wasn’t until last week¬†with my forearms resting on¬†a picnic table, young eyes and beautiful faces staring at me that I finally admitted¬†the truth.

That day in the sushi restaurant and that night in the movie theater could no longer be my¬†God. They could not be the thing I lived for–the thing that I leaned on to save my life any longer.

Later in the week I cried on the baking aisle at Kroger because I realized that until we decide to let go of those moments that we’re convinced¬†changed everything, we will spend our entire lives making idols out of a day on a calendar that cannot offer you anything for your future.

Constantly looking at the past, at a moment, a hurt, a grief, a thing we cannot forgive–in ourselves or someone else– eventually makes it our God. When we obsessively expect or want something from it, analyze it in hopes for some kind of redemption or some kind of answer,¬†we begin to worship it. When we obsessively believe that it will fix everything, if we get an answer or get “closure” from that moment, we make it our God.

Those two moments are ones I couldn’t forgive myself for. They are also moments I could not forgive someone else for. Within them were layered years of trust issues and excuses for why freedom was out of my reach. But anything that keeps you from freedom is your God.¬†Anything that you are so locked into, given over to¬†so fully, anything that has permission to take control of you without your ability to have yourself¬†back–that thing is your God.¬†

For me they were my trust issues, that came with seeing that birthday bag hidden at the end of that table, and the words said to me when I was wearing that blue jacket. They became my God because I was so trapped in how they broke my heart. I gave them my mind, my heart, my trust. If they had gone differently, oh how my life would have turned out to be something else to behold.

When memories are our God, we give them our hearts, our best years of forgiveness and trust. Back when I was young and dumb, back before I knew that people were so cruel. 

We think our wisdom and better understanding of the world is what took¬†our¬†ability to just hand out trust and forgiveness, but really it was our idolatry of our memories. If we were honest, we’ve spent our years fixated, worshipping days of our lives, thinking that if we could get them back they would heal the deepest parts of our souls.

We have given credit where it is not due and thought if this day had not happened, I would be better than I am right now.

We exalt hours, minutes, or seconds; we worship the hands of the clock. We think it was moments that broke us, time that heals us, and will be at-first-sight seconds that save us.

But time is just a measure, a tool, a thing. If we¬†could finally invent the time machine we’ve all been praying for,¬†I’m convinced that none of us would be happier, healthier, better off. Because it would not change our hearts; we could change a moment, but we could not change what got us¬†there.

Because everything that built up to that moment would not have changed. It’s cause and effect, my dear. That moment was built on a thousand other little things that made it what it was. The second you realize that is the second you might finally learn to forgive. Because the human heart is far more complicated that just one passing moment.¬†We must stop holding it¬†inside a prison of one split second, one long day, one complicated year.

Time and your memories are too small to be your God; they are too far gone to fix you, too fleeting to save you.

But if they¬†hold your trust, have stolen¬†your forgiveness,¬†trapped your joy–you’ve made them your God.

If you’ve used words that sound something like: “But you don’t know what happened to me”, that moment, that sixty seconds, that day, that stretch of the earth spinning of the earth around the sun– that became your God.

It became the thing that you gave permission to break and name you. And if you’re honest it’s the thing you believe, if you could get it back, would be able to save you.

There’s a baking aisle in Kroger and it’s where I decided that the calendar wasn’t the thing I wanted to wake up next to every morning. I didn’t want to grow old with and give everything to a day or a year I had circled in red.

It’s where God¬†became God again and time and its memories became a thing I finally stopped trying to change.

 

 

Breaking Up + Building Home

I just got back from Georgia and it felt a lot like seeing an ex for the first time since a break-up.

It was all the nervous tension and trying to figure out how to act and how to feel.¬†At first it was this bittersweet mix of formality and familiarity.¬†We’re used to do everything together, but it’s been a while¬†and everything is different now.

I lived there for two years and made that place my home. It’s comfortable and easy. It’s laughter and inside jokes. It’s not having to tell the back-story or swim through¬†all the surface stuff.

I miss being known and knowing where I belong. I miss being pulled into a hug and held there. I miss someone just showing up at my door. I miss someone reading my thoughts from across the room. I miss the things that took so much time to build.

It’s hard coming back to that.

You’ve moved on, and you know it was the right thing to do. But when things ended on good terms, you can easily¬†fall back into those conversations and into finishing each others sentences. Then it just gets painful. Life, time and geography tell you that you can’t sit next to each other anymore.

And let me tell you, Georgia looked good. He looked real good. His build was strong and his hair was perfect. His green eyes were playful, he wore a well tailored suit, and brought a lot of sunshine and memories of some of my favorite times in my life. He was confident and steady.

As for me, I was a mess. I was not what you imagine or hope to be when you run into that former love. I was not a glamorous picture of success with perfect windblown hair and a five year plan. I was a sleep-deprived mess of a woman who had just lived out her own real life SNL skit involving a flat tire and three police officers.

For some reason, I came packed with the worst of my wardrobe. My skin was freaking out. I was stuffing my face with Skittles and Goldfish (which I guess could explain the skin issue). I was also trying to plan out speaking in front of people and how to finish assignments that felt like a foreign language.

Still, Georgia was inviting. He still knew how to make me laugh and took me to my favorite restaurants. He knew all the right things to say, all the right ways to pull at my heart. He reminded me of those former glory days, back when summer evenings were long and spent by the lake. He brought back winters with coffee on the couch and Josh Garrels on the record player in the living room.

It was hard to walk away.

I wanted to turn that car around and fling myself into the arms of that southern town¬†and say¬†“Please, take me back! I was a fool for ever leaving you behind!”

But it was a lie and I knew it. It was desperate and crazy. It was not the healthy, wise, or sane decision.

We know when it’s time to move on.

God, people, circumstances, and life let us know when our hearts need to move forward and I’m learning how to listen.

About halfway back home, a sad song came on my playlist and like a real break up,  I started spilling my guts to God. I kept mulling over all the reasons why my life right now looks so much less than what I had back then.

Because I mean, the most consistent person in my life right now is the man at the Chick-fil-A drive-thru window who serves me my yogurt and coffee every morning.

And believe me when I tell you, I think he is just as disturbed by his consistency in my life as I am.

Building a new life and new relationships take time and they require¬†giving your heart. It’s hard to give your heart away again when what you had before¬†was so good.¬†Especially when there was really no seemingly good reason to end things other than¬†it was just time to move on, things didn’t fit anymore.

Because what happens if I do this all over again and things just stop fitting?

What if I find something good again and then I have to move on and go start over with another blank apartment, another set of streets I can’t navigate, a table with empty seats? What if I have to even go find a whole other Chick-fil-A man who can’t learn to accept the fact that I’m just going to spend an ungodly amount of money¬†on breakfast food?

One of my bosses gave a sermon this week and said something that hit me hard:

‚ÄúWe say ‚ÄėI‚Äôve been hurt in a relationship, I‚Äôm never going to date again!‚Äô instead of saying ‚ÄėLord, show me the qualities that make for healthy relationships, so that I will know what is truly worth hurting over.‚ÄĚ

Things end. But Georgia was healthy and it was worth hurting over.

Maybe I won’t be here forever, but I’m here for now.¬†I want to build things that are worth hurting over.

Someday, if I ever move away from this place, I want to come back and have that momentary second of foolishness of wanting to jump into its arms again and ask it to have me back.¬†I won’t do it, but I want to have been so recklessly selfless with my love that I’ll want to.¬†I want to be shaken by the memory of what it felt like to wade through all the nervous first encounters, awkward conversations, DTR conversations, stupid fights, moments of wishing I could leave, stupid inside jokes,¬†nights around a bonfire.

I want to build something worth hurting over if I ever have to say goodbye to it.

When I moved away from home I cried when I left my mailman. Right now, I don’t even know my mailman, and it won’t really hurt if I have to say goodbye to my Chick-fil-A man. But I need it to.¬†I need to be teary for the day when he will no longer be¬†MY¬†Chick-fil-A man.

I want to build a life that’s steady and full of the kind of love that cries about my neighbors and the things that become a consistent part of my life.

Because I need to build a life that’s radically ordinary, beautiful, and full of health. I’m learning it will help prepare me for the someday permanent¬†people and places, for when the time and person comes and¬†I find myself making¬†promises and covenants¬†to stay.

(P.S. the Chick-fil-A man is old, married, and is not a romantic interest in my life.)

Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking¬†myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind¬†and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile¬†on top of the hurt¬†by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace¬†any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings.¬†

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper:¬†Reach for a hug. Give a compliment.¬†Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because¬†it wouldn’t feel¬†genuine.¬†But he’d say it over and over again:¬†Love isn’t¬†just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is:¬†it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else.¬†That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it,¬†it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love,¬†the¬†more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not¬†a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is¬†more like a triathlon. It has different legs.¬†You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t¬†master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root.¬†Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to¬†avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret¬†pouring a little salt in your wounds.

 

 

You Don’t Have to Let Them Go

I’ve always been in love with the blue hour.

The blue hour is that little span of time before the sunrise and after the sunset¬†when the sun is sitting far below the horizon. It’s when the sky is trying to hold on to both morning and evening. It can’t¬†let go, but it knows it has no choice but to¬†change its position.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of letting go.

My inbox is full of people begging me to tell them the secret of how to get over it and move on.

I found myself drowning in nostalgia today. I was choking on these memories of things that I wanted to change and thinking about people that I haven’t learned how to let go of.

“Everyone says I need to let go, but I can’t let go!”¬†These are the words I told God as I gasped for breath and wiped my face with a pile of napkins I’d shoved in my console.

“There are some people that you’re not called to let go of. You can hold on; I’m telling you to hold on.”

I felt blindsided by His words, by this idea that letting go wasn’t the victory podium¬†after heartbreak.

You have to change the way you hold them, but you don’t have to let them go.

You¬†can hold people differently. When they can’t be the thing for you that they used to be, it doesn’t mean¬†you have to let them go.

What we’ve been taught about heartbreak and broken relationships is that¬†you’re healed when you can walk away.

But there will always be people that life, geography, and God, just won’t¬†let you walk away from. Because the goal can’t always¬†be learning¬†to let go. Sometimes the goal has to be endurance and learning what it means to stay for the long haul, years after what you thought should happen¬†is out of the realm of possibility.

Sometimes¬†it’s okay to carry them–carry them in your prayers, in your laughter. Hang them on your refrigerator. Keep their notes and gifts tucked beneath your bed.

Maybe that person or group of people can’t be what you once wanted them to be, but maybe you can still both be something the other needs. Maybe the test of growth is when you can shove aside the selfishness that says:¬†I only want you on my terms. You have to fit perfectly in all the places I once carved out for you.¬†

Sometimes growth is rearranging the space in your heart and figuring out how to fit someone elsewhere. Because it would be sad to spend your days without their contagious laughter or strong words of advice just because they no longer fit on that old shelf. You may have to let go of what you needed or hoped they would be, but that should not always synonymous with letting them go.

C.S. Lewis once said, “It’s not the load that breaks you. It’s the way you carry it.”

I think he’d probably agree that¬†the load could be people.

And maybe it’s not always just the people that broke you, maybe¬†it was also the way you carried them.

Maybe all the expectations you stacked on them, the misunderstanding you layered them with, maybe that wore you down even more quickly.

But maybe they’re your God-given load, for better or worse, maybe they are your people and you’re going to have to carry them.¬†So, when that is the case, learn to carry them differently.

I’m figuring out that the¬†victory podium isn’t for the first one who figures out how to shove someone out of their life and heart. The real victory belongs to the ones who learn how to throw out the expectations, unforgiveness, demands and conditions¬†in order to¬†make room for the people who were always meant to be there.

 

The Freedom to Forgive Yourself

I always go back to the summer with tennis courts and milkshakes. That was years before the pride and silence broke our hearts.

I remember¬†the day we drove to get¬†sushi and the rhythm you nervously tapped out¬†on the steering wheel.¬†You said something about dogs, I pretended to laugh. My mind was blank that day. I wrung my hands and stared out the window. I didn’t have the words I needed.

All these years and I¬†can still never find¬†the right words and that’s coming from someone who has filled up pages and pages of journals¬†in her lifetime.

I’ve never had the right words for you. And by now, I think I’ve apologized for that a million times.

But you can only say¬†I’m sorry¬†to someone so many times before you realize that what you’re actually¬†looking for is the freedom to forgive yourself.

You think you’re looking for that person to tell you¬†it’s okay, but even if they said it a million times over, you would never hear it. Your constant need to keep going back to say¬†I’m sorry comes from the fact that you have not¬†stopped punishing yourself for being human.

You’re human. You said you were sorry. You meant it.¬†You are allowed to live.¬†

Stop punishing yourself.

You don’t have to sit in misery,¬†unmoving, afraid to live, and waiting¬†for that person to forgive you, or waiting for them¬†to apologize for their part.

You can’t pay the debt you owe each other, so stop trying. Stop thinking that eventually you will have¬†served your time and¬†that’s when everyone gets to be free.

And stop making others serve time. Learn how to quickly say, “I’m choosing to let it go.”

Sometimes, saying and being sincerely¬†sorry is¬†all we humans have. You can’t change the¬†past between you and that person, and you won’t make up for it by ruining your own future or¬†asking¬†them to postpone theirs.

You get to live. Not¬†after¬†everyone serves time and suffers for the hand of hurt they played. You get to live freely when you’ve offered your truest and most sincere apology, when you’ve extended your heart in all the ways you know how.

And maybe the other person isn’t willing to let go.¬†Maybe they’ll never be sorry. Maybe they’re still trying to pull levers and cash in¬†on the years of guilt they’ve thrown on your shoulders.

But eventually, you’ve got to stop digging in your pockets and giving them¬†all the things you’ll ever hold. Stop handing over your present and your future to the unforgiving¬†people of your¬†past.

You said you were sorry and you’re released. Stop trying to pay it. You can’t change it and you can’t go back to days of tennis courts and milkshakes. The blueprints for the life you tried to build just don’t work anymore.

Stop living in the past. Pack up the memories of beach houses, early summer evenings in the kitchen, the table by the window, eating peanuts in old wooden chairs, the regret of never having the right words.

God’s not up there trying to figure out ways to make you pay it all back. Offer your apology, offer your heart, and give¬†God¬†the rest of the debt. He’s the only one who could ever pay it back anyways.

And whatever others may owe you, whatever you think you need from them, just know that God’s in the business of wanting to pay off their debt too.

We’re all just humans in need of a God who owns it all and is so¬†incredibly¬†generous.

He really is the only one who could ever make up for all the words we never got to hear and for the ones we never quite knew how to say.

Some Things Just Take Time

When my foot touched the top step, and I smelled that familiar scent, I went back to three years prior.

I closed my eyes and told God, before I even cracked open that door:¬†I can’t fix it.¬†I’m going to want to, but I can’t fix it.

I didn’t and couldn’t. But I figured out¬†how to settle in that reality, and tried to find some kind of hope to grab ahold of.¬†It was then I realized I have¬†to accept that some¬†things take more time than just a few years. Some things can’t simply be solved over a cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast.

After that, I pulled out my favorite pair of pink shorts.

I had horribly ruined them the year before by washing them with dark clothes.

I did the very thing that my Mama taught me not to do with laundry.¬†Separate your darks, they’ll ruin everything else.

I should have believed her.

I remember disappointment grabbing me when I saw those stains. They were just a pair of shorts, but they were my favorite and I was frustrated.

They were ruined and there was no fixing it. It was plain and simple.

But I just couldn’t throw them away. I put them in a box and thought maybe God would do a miracle and I’d pull them out one day to realize¬†none of it happened.

I was delusional….over a pair of shorts. But I guess we all have our quirks.

In the waiting for my unlikely miracle, I searched for a replacement pair and nothing fit quite the same. I browsed the internet and seriously searched every store from here to Georgia; I found nothing that even came close.

So nearly¬†a year later, I pulled them out of the box.¬†The stains were–as you would guess–still there.

Stubborn misfit that I am, I went against all that made sense; I scrubbed the spots and put them back in the washer.

I waited, knowing that I was probably just wasting gallons of water while simultaneously paving my life path closer to permanent insanity.

When the cycle ended, I pulled them out and I just stood there with tears. I remember so clearly feeling¬†God’s presence and I heard Him say so loudly, almost as if it were audible:

“Some things wash out.”

My shoulders shook as I¬†began to cry. I knew God wasn’t just talking about the shorts.

I knew that he was talking about that moment on the stairs, when I told him¬†I can’t fix it.¬†I knew that it was his way of saying that some things just take time, but you don’t throw them out, even if it¬†seems¬†like it’s all¬†beyond repair.

This has been a month of seeing a million things I can’t fix and sometimes I still carry the disappointment of¬†that. But God is showing me that it’s okay¬†to believe that in a year, or two (or ten)¬†we can¬†pull things out, give it our best shot.¬†Maybe the things¬†that stained us with grief and mourning will finally start to wash out.

Sometimes, it pays to hold onto hope for something that everybody tells you to let go of. 

It doesn’t mean you sit it front and center on your shelf. It doesn’t mean you constantly walk by it and torture yourself into¬†mourning the loss of something you loved. Sometimes, you pack it away and you wait. You wait for that moment when courage collides with grace (and is sprinkled with a miracle) and you put your hands to it again and see that there’s a reason God never let you find the replacement pair of shorts.

Because He finds a way to fix things. He finds a way.

And maybe there are some things that don’t wash out–maybe there are some things that are done and over. But I think the way we figure that out is when the replacement pair of shorts doesn’t come our way.

God doesn’t leave us empty handed.

He gives us a¬†new thing or he makes the old thing new again and whichever He chooses is always good. The new thing isn’t a knock-off and the old thing isn’t a shell of its former self. His gifts are good and perfect, whatever their form.

My heart is thankful He finds a way. And both my heart and my wardrobe are thankful that some things really do wash out.

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.