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.

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The Things That Matter

I sat down and made a list of things I know.

I made a list of things I know right in this moment, to see if they were enough to keep me moving forward.

There were nineteen bullet points on that list. I had to ask myself if that was that enough to make me move forward in things that feel pretty risky.

If I’m being honest, I feel like I need at least fifty things on the list of certainties before I can take a risk. Let’s be real, nineteen isn’t really in the ballpark of fifty.

I sat there, tears on my face as I realized that sandwiched there in the middle were three of the most important things I could ever write. These certainties, these things I know to be true, are all that it should take for me to take a leap.

Figure out what matters.

That’s my advice to you. In whatever situations you’re sitting with, in whatever battle you’re fighting, figure out what matters and let that make your choice.

There are always going to be questions. You’ll always have little doubts trying to weasel their way into your ear drums, trying to settle in there and make their voice a permanent part of your story. You will always be fighting uncertainty in one way or another. You can have fifty-one things on your list of reasons why you should or shouldn’t, but if you don’t have the most important things covered, it was never even worth picking up the pencil.

Figure out what it is you’re really looking for, who you’re trying to be, where you’re trying to go. Get those things covered and if what you are considering lines up, stop looking for more confirmation. Stop waiting for all fifty spots to be filled in. If you’re staring at number eleven, twelve, and thirteen and they make you cry and say to yourself, that’s the heart of it, that’s what I’ve really been in search of, then you’d be crazy not to take that chance.

You would be crazy to back away in fear when your heart has a chance to see the miracles you’ve waited for.

We make things too complicated. We want all the answers when we’re too afraid to even ask the questions.

Did you ever play the foot game when you were little? The one where everyone would make their feet into a circle and someone would sing a silly song and rule everyone out and the last foot in won the game?

Your chances were better always better when both feet were in.

You’ve got to jump into this thing with both feet, kid. You’ve got to stop keeping one of your feet out of the circle. You’re doing it because it protects you, because it’s easier to only have one foot rejected than both. You’ve got to decide here and now if you’re in or out. 

Are you committed to this thing?

God once asked me that about a circumstance I was dancing around. Are you going to be involved or are you going to be committed?

I chose commitment.

It was one of the hardest, but most amazing things I’ve ever done. The next thing I knew, I was up to my knees in a mess that seemed impossible to stand in. But I learned, I learned things that only commitment can teach you. 

You’ve got to decide, you know. Decide if you’re involved, if you’re committed, or if you’re bowing out.

Figure out what’s important. Figure out who you are, what you’re called to. If this is what you have really been looking for, stop waiting for flashing arrows and someone to give you that fiftieth reason why you should say “yes”. If it’s just not quite right, crumple the paper and go in search of the important things.

We’re always going to want to play it safe, and we’re going to always want a perfect plan. Sometimes, what you really need is the moment of clarity that comes when you’re staring straight at the few, but mighty things that actually matter. 

 


 

[photo cred]

Exchanging The Grief for The Good

My friend died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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