The Plans We Make + The People We Keep

It has now become public knowledge that I recently left my job. But this blog is not about that.

This post is also not about the number of mornings or evenings I’ve spent crying in my kitchen floor this week, although I could probably release a few full length novels on the subject.

It’s more about sitting in a parking lot on a Friday afternoon and venting through a telephone line to my sister. I can’t even remember the question she asked me, but I remember the tears that stung my eyes and that every single fiber of my being rose to the occasion to answer it.

Nothing is constant.

I remember God telling me that when I lived in Georgia and was in the middle of panicking over something that would soon be just a blip in the rearview mirror. “Nothing in this world is constant, love. You’ve got me. I’m always here, but everything else changes.”

Part of me wanted to despair at His words. It seems like an awful way to live, never being able to fully anticipate the future. But I felt a sort of freedom wash over me because it meant that few of my choices would be set in stone. These things that get me so tied up in knots wouldn’t and couldn’t ruin my life because they would never be a constant.

I never intended to take a job that I would quit in seven months.

I never intended to be left without a plan.

Believe me when I tell you I pretty much didn’t intend on anything that’s happened in the last week and a half.

And months later staring at a set of poorly trimmed hedges, I said something that I felt to be fiercely true: all we have are the people we choose to keep. Those words broke me when they came out of my mouth because they are the only thing that have been proven true in the instability of my life.

Plans change. Dreams change. Nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) ever turns out the way you intend. Jobs don’t work out. You fail classes. People die. Families get faced with unimaginable battles. You find in the midst of a world that seems so cruel and full of disappointment that the only thing you really have control over is today and the people you want to stand next to.

I am convinced that this is one of the million reasons Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow. Because tomorrow is not what you think it is, tomorrow always changes. Your emotions will be different tomorrow, your plans, your circumstances, and you cannot live your life based on those things. They are forever going to change and you cannot anticipate what they will look like.  When you live trying to plan for them, you will lose out on today.

I’ve missed a lot of really good todays worrying about tomorrow.

Today there are things and people in front of you that are there for today and that’s what you know. That will be consistent as long as you have today. I’m convinced that the only way to make a decision is to realize the fragility and beauty in that.

My job has ended, but the relationships with the people are what I will choose to keep. Just like when I moved away from Georgia, from home, from other jobs and places.

Because during a bad diagnosis, a failed dream, a deep loss, or a huge success, what you’ll be sitting shoulder to shoulder with are not the plans you made, but the people you chose to keep.

Last night I got in my car and drove to my best friend’s house. I came inside and we covered up with blankets and just let all of the pain and frustration from the week come out. In the moment of being my best and worst version all I could think about was that line from earlier in the afternoon: all we have are the people we choose to keep.

Our friendship has been one of distance, miles, phone calls, meeting in the middle, but it has been one of the best decisions of our lives. When it all starts falling apart, my job isn’t the place that offers me a warm bed, a cup of coffee, and a place to clear my head. My failed or passed class doesn’t sit with me in my pain, anger, uncertainty, or lack of clarity. The poster of dreams I drew up five years ago won’t look me in the eye and remind me that I’m going to be okay, and that I’m not going to get stuck, there’s just no way God would let that happen. The friend we chose to keep in the inconvenience of circumstances, uncertainty of plans, and instability of emotions is the person who sat with us last night and reminded us that no matter what plans we make or change, we’re not alone.

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from one of those now former co-workers and she offered me a sort of invitation that stopped me in my tracks. She simply invited me to be a person she can choose to keep.

Even though my job changed. The circumstances are different. The constants I had planned fell through. I heard that sweet reminder again: all we have is Jesus, the people we choose to keep, and the people who offer us an invitation to be the same.

 

Choosing One Another

I had a conversation earlier that stuck with me.

We were talking about relationships and getting things out in the open at the very beginning. How it’s better just to lay the big things out right there at the start: the important things, the maybe-even-a-little-bit-crazy things, the dreams, the parts of you that you know just aren’t going to change.

There were a million thoughts running through my head. I thought about all the times I’ve tried to balance those early conversations–what you can say, what to hold back, what to wear, how to sit. It’s like a dance of trying to figure out how to be just enough, but not too much.

The idea that first impressions are everything is so engrained in us and sometimes we take it farther than we even realize.

Believing that first impressions are everything is often a way we unintentionally tell someone (or ourselves): don’t fully be yourself. Because you, the real you, might just go and ruin this whole thing. Sometimes this sticks with us and we find ourselves becoming someone who is always holding back. We end up telling ourselves people wouldn’t stick around if they found out the truth about who we really are.

Sometimes in our fear and desire we treat the deepest parts of ourselves like an arsenal that we’re trying to strategically figure out how and when to fire.

But the deepest parts of us, the things that make us who we are, shouldn’t feel like weapons. Our deepest truths shouldn’t feel like things that will one day inevitably lead to the death of our hearts or chances for a relationship.

Believe me when I tell you, we don’t want people to fall in the love with the first impression version of us. Because most of the time we don’t even like that person. That person is fearful and insecure. They hold back or they overcompensate. They often put their value in saying or doing all the right things. That person is a shell that carries your face and your name. Don’t keep giving that to someone, don’t ask someone to choose that.

You are worthy of someone choosing you, and everything that comes along with that, right from the start.

Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission slips to let our guard down. Because you’re going to waste a lot of experiences, a lot of interviews, a lot of dates, a lot of years if you are always so afraid to be yourself.

Here’s the thing: I am not going to go on a date and eat pizza with a fork. I will fold that pizza in half and eat it fiercely because if the man across from me is looking for a woman who eats like she’s at cotillion, we do not need to proceed any further.

He needs to know right up front that I cry at movies, on occasion I like ugly sweatpants, I have more crazy stories than anyone would probably ever want to hear, and that I have no plans to diminish my southern accent (I’ve tried, it’s just not going anywhere). He needs to know that I love government and I’m going to yell about the national debt and want him to vote in elections. I’m also never going to own a cat. This just needs to be said on day one: there will be no cats.

There have been guys that have cringed and tried to pull these things out of me. They grew annoyed at my emotions, thought my sweatpants were unacceptable, didn’t like being with the girl who sometimes told her stories to a room full of strangers, rolled their eyes at the southern phrases that come barreling out in my excitement. They’ve tried to tell me to tone it down during election season. They hoped my passions and personality traits were a passing phase. I wish I had figured these things out sooner than I did.

I don’t want to get my heart in something and hope or think maybe they will change. I also don’t want to find out that they’re thinking the same thing about me.

We all know how that movie ends.

I am also learning that I want to sit across from people and let them know it’s okay to say the thing that keeps them awake at night, the things they can’t seem to figure out, the dreams that make them constantly contemplate dropping everything and just going. I don’t want to be asked or forced to choose mannequin versions of people that seem to have all the right words or plans.

We are human and I think we need to realize that humans choosing one another is one of the most glorious, beautiful, but fragile things we get to experience in this life. Shells, mannequins, and masks choosing one another is something far less worthy of our time. But that is what happens when fear leads us to forfeiting who we really are because of who that first impression version of us tried to promise ourselves and someone else we could be.

Learning from Loneliness

I used to live in a house with some fierce women and we spent our evenings eating dinner in the kitchen floor while laughing, crying, yelling, or praying.

Now, I come home to a quiet apartment, to the hum of my refrigerator and the buzz of the light above my stove.

It’s cozy this time of year. I turn on my Christmas lights and wrap up in my chunky gray blanket. It’s quiet and peaceful; there is a lot of time to think pray. I do a lot of that these days, a lot of eating take-out food and talking out loud to the only one who can hear me.

There’s a lot of sitting with my own thoughts. I’ve learned more about myself in these months than maybe in my entire life. I’ve learned a lot about staying with myself, being patient, laughing at my quirky tendencies, forgiving my breakdowns, talking through my frustrations, trusting my gut.

It’s an interesting thing to see how you’ll react the first time you have to call someone from maintenance to repair something, or how you’ll respond if/when you accidentally forget to pay a bill. How hard you fight when everything starts pushing against you. You will surprise yourself and suddenly find out the kind of adult that the childhood version of you grew up to be.

Some nights you will get texts from other friends or see pictures online of everyone eating meals together and you will feel the sting of not being there. There are responsibilities you carry now: work, school, freelance, bills, groceries, laundry.

It will hurt. You will learn to sit with yourself in the pain of working through loneliness and it will hurt. You will reflect on all the times in your life when you weren’t alone. You will regret all the times you chose to be alone when you could have called on others. Because now you don’t always have the choice.

You will think about the movie you went to see by yourself years ago, how you bragged that you were so independent. You will think about the person who told you, I would have gone with you” and you will hate your youthful pride. The pain of wishing they could say that to you now will settle deep into your bones.

You will put up your first very own Christmas tree and it will make you squeal with joy. You will be proud of it. But no one will will stand next to you to share that joy. You will sit alone and you will learn something beautiful about yourself in that moment. 

You love Christmas. You love trees. You love making things beautiful. Beauty can and should still be enjoyed alone, you’ll learn that a lot. You will instantly remember all the times in your youth when you acted like Christmas and decorating was an inconvenience. When you had other things you needed or wanted to do and you will realize that you never want to be that person again. You never want to be the person who thinks celebrating comes too early and who hurries to get it over with.

Loneliness can be one of the best things and worst things to ever happen to you. I’ve found out that I am one of the funniest people I know. I am the worst grocery shopper on the planet. I hate laundry with a fierce passion. Washing dishes calms me. I am the kind of person who has a junk drawer. It is necessary to have 7 shampoos in the shower at once. Bonefish has really good Sunday brunch. I feel weirdly guilty when I use paper towels. I use a lot of paper towels. I like wearing tennis shoes. Every night get really sentimental and teary when I’m turning off all the lights and getting ready for bed. I enjoy myself. I’m learning to stay with myself and to fight for the person that I’ve become and am hoping I’ll turn out to be.

I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to come to that movie.
I really love Christmas.
I might be looking to hire someone to do my laundry.
You should all invest in stock in Bounty.
Sit with yourself, stay with yourself, fight to become the kind of person that sometimes only loneliness can teach you to be.

 

 

When Reality Isn’t Romantic

My first warning sign should have been that he took me to a really horrible buffet and I said nothing. That being our first time out, I should have questioned whether or not I was on a dead-end road.

But I’ve always been someone who can find a way to make the dullest things seem enchanting.

So, I figured I could probably spin a story about gloopy Chinese food (at a place that looked like a prison cafeteria) into something romantic…right?

No. Sometimes bad Chinese food is just bad Chinese food. Sometimes a walk in the rain is not a cinematic fairytale. Sometimes it’s awkward and you end up coming inside to a house full of people staring at you while you’re dripping all over the carpet.

Sometimes the things we tend to think are charming and glamorous are actually just incredibly tragic if we step back and open our eyes to reality.

In reality, I was stuck in a weird “relationship” that was nothing more than a sad attempt to live inside of a story that, from the outside, would have made a great Nicholas Sparks novel.

But if I had chosen to have some hard conversations earlier, I would have saved myself so much time.

We keep growing the wrong things.

We grow the story, the attraction, the picturesque moments that make all of our friends swoon. But we don’t grow the roots. We don’t grow the foundation. We don’t inspect or toil the ground we’re planting in. We don’t stop and ask why someone is taking us to the worst Chinese buffet on the planet…we make an excuse and romanticize it.

We do this because reality isn’t always romantic. Reality is, if a man takes you to a really bad Chinese buffet, there will probably be a whole other list of questionable decisions that follow.

Rather than talking about it and pulling at the loose threads, we hold on to the hope that maybe there’s some kind of glamour to be salvaged or spun from a very weird and awkward scenario. But if we were to pull at those threads, we’d see that poorly crafted “relationships” fall apart at the slightest bit of tension.

“The griefs that punish us the most are those we’ve chosen for ourselves.”

Knee deep in studying, I read that line the other night and let my heart steep in those words. The stories we tell ourselves, the things we make up and choose to believe, those are the things that punish us the most. The threads we ignore, tuck away, and pretend aren’t there.

Because we know if we pull at them, it will all unravel and we’re not ready to let go. We know when a relationship is cheap, but we hold on because it’s something. Maybe it will change, and at least for now it staves off the loneliness.

But we need relationships sewn together with hard conversations, painful truths, and choosing one another long after the rose-colored glasses have gotten foggy. We need to stop constantly romanticizing the difficulty of walking next to another human being. It isn’t just something to Instagram, it’s something to grind through with blood, sweat, tears and lots of prayers.

It’s cheap to push aside those hard conversations because we’re afraid of spooking the butterflies. We have to stop clinging to that fairytale idealism we were told was necessary to keep love alive.

It seems we’ll do anything to keep our fairytales (even choke down a greasy knock-off version of General Tso’s chicken).

We ignore the threads that could so easily unravel the relationships we claim to value most. We don’t ask the question of why someone doesn’t respect us (or himself) enough to take us to a restaurant with a passing sanitation grade. Instead, we smile our way through it because we’ve convinced ourselves that the kind of relationship that lasts is one where no one rocks the boat.

But rocking the boat and pulling the threads is the thing that shows us where the leaks and tears are, where to mend and where to rebuild. We must learn how to be painfully aware of another’s imperfections, unafraid to expose our own, and the value of choosing the other with eyes wide open.

Because love is not passive. Love is not blind. Love that lasts is the kind that sees everything, is given a choice and chooses to say something; it chooses work it out and stay in spite of everything.

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.