The Expectations of Love and Getting Married

I’ll never really know what people expected of me, I think that’s where I have to start. Some probably thought I’d be the calculated type to spend years evaluating the ins and outs of a relationship, examining the nooks and crannies of every part. Sometimes I think that’s what I expected of myself—to logically pick apart every single piece until there was no question unanswered and no mystery unsolved.

But if I’m honest, I think I always knew that God would have another plan. Because I’ve always known that God is not a puzzle to be solved or love a code to be cracked. So when the right thing finally came, I knew the goal wasn’t to figure every equation out, solve the man in front of me and explain all the things inside of myself. 

As much as I wanted to reason and untangle my way through it, add it up, subtract it down, and understand all of the pieces of every single part of the reality of what it our relationship would mean—love is not a formula. When God gives it to us, it’s a gift, and having God forever in that process is the only successful factor to it. 

I knew quickly Matthew was who I wanted to marry, it was that simple.

Not because it sounded easy, or just plain fun, but because he looks at me and loves me how Jesus has my entire life—selflessly and with grace. And I want to do the same for him.

It didn’t mean that I wasn’t terrified, didn’t have questions, wasn’t asking God for direction. Because I felt and did all of those things, but Jesus being the source of love is what changes everything.

There are a million other factors that will enter into the equation, but none of them will cancel out reality, none of them will equal to or overpower the truth that Jesus came first, comes first, and will come first. It made all the difference, makes all the difference, changes all of the questions and answers. No matter the timeline, past, future, present, or expectation of things—that changes everything.

That’s the thing I would’ve told myself years ago, prepared myself with before I got to this stage. That you can’t examine and talk yourself into anything and you can’t set different expectations up because Jesus changes everything. When God shows up with the love He wants to give, just open your hands and receive it, go with it and whisper prayers of gratitude because it’s better than all the years you spent trying to grab onto your own other things.

All the years I spent trying to examine, understand, solve equations, make sure that person loved me, pray for clarity, make sure something was right, when the truth has always been: when God shows up, your own expectations and plans seem like sand castles because you’re finally standing inside of the real thing. 

The real thing…how did I begin to unravel that mystery? I guess the truth is, it didn’t take much unwinding. Because when love shows up, it doesn’t hide. It makes itself known and it isn’t hard to see. Love has never been a shy thing, never been one to bury itself and not resurrect quickly. The big questions it answers boldly. The ones that it has to take its time on, love is committed to the process, it doesn’t bail, doesn’t take off running. That was all I needed to see. Love like that sat front of me, inside of a man wearing a blue button down shirt, offering me truth and a cup of coffee, and I didn’t have to question the big things. That’s the real thing–thats why I could let go of people’s expectations, my own expectations, and lay down the formulas, equations, and how to make love be everything people, movies and songs told us it should be.

I’ve never really know what people expected of me, never fully known what I’ve expected of myself when it came to finally finding the real thing. But what God knew was coming was joy, forgetting the equations, open hands, prayers of gratitude—and someone so much better than I was ever expecting.

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To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Love Stories.

Love is not finite.

I imagine you’ve heard me say those words about a million times by now. I’ve prayed you would be knit together with that truth. I’ve determined, here and now, before you’re ever born to say those words to you often and with the strongest conviction. Because there was a time in my life when I did not know them to be true.

I’m sure you know the story. I am confident you know all about the woman who changed everything when she looked at me with wide eyes and said those four little words that cracked open my chest and caused everything to finally come spilling out.

Because I had been holding it all in. I was convinced that I had just one good love story in me and I had to save it all up for then. I thought I had to save up all my best words and fight for that day.

You’re going to have a lot of good love stories.

If life allows, I truly and sincerely hope that you only ever have one person that you marry and spend a big chunk of your life with. But before that story, before you find the story that tops all other stories, you’re going to have a lot of other really good stories. I say that carefully, but also knowing that you’re wise. I know you’re not just picking up crazies off the street. Still, they probably won’t ever go the way you planned, and if you’re anything like me, you will have some wild tales to tell.

Love is not a finite thing. Something about this freed me from the years I spent in silence so terrified that I was going to get “the” story wrong. That I was going to waste my best words and my best try on someone who didn’t deserve it.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wasted a lot of good words, good days, good tries on plenty of people who did not deserve it. Granted, I did not know this at the time, but there’s something about leaving it all on the floor and “going big” that reveals the heart of the person standing across from you in a way that I will never be able to fully express. Only experience can give you this gold.

When you give someone your heart, the way they handle it tells you everything you didn’t know but would have needed to know if it was ever going to fully be theirs. I’ve learned this the hard and best way, by being the person who speaks her mind and heart without hesitation. Because love is not a finite thing, and thankfully, we get more than one love story.

There was the manipulator, the serial dater, the sweet barista, the Chinese buffet guy, the I-am-not-called-to-ministry guy, the peanut guy, the narcissist, the sweater guy, the guy with the dog, and probably others I’m forgetting. Please know I did not do incredibly crazy things for all of these people. But some of them, and I regret none of them. Because when I finally showed up to say the things I needed to say, I ended up with a good story of what it means to let someone hold the truth of what my heart needed to say. And I walked away with one truth that never left me: love is not a finite thing. I’ve got more than one love story. That’s not to say that we fall in love with all these people the same way, but we love them, care for them, go big for them in some beautiful kind of way. 

I want you to go big. 

I want you to love people exactly as you do. Love them hard, selflessly, wildly. Be both rowdy and embarrassingly bold when the moment calls for it. I want you to say the things you need to say. If you need to chase someone through an airport, I’ll drive you there. If you need to jump on that plane, I’m not paying for it, but I’ll cheer you on from the drop-off lane.

The point is, I want you to learn how to give your heart away. Because you can get it back. You will get it back. Love is not a finite thing.

I wish I’d learned this sooner because I spent so long thinking that handing people my heart was some kind of weakness that would someday leave me empty. I held it back from some really good people. I never want that for you. Because the truth is, even if you hand it to people who crush it, you’re a smart girl and you will know and learn how to walk away. You will take it to the One who heals and makes broken things mended and right again.

Love is not a finite thing. Love is not a lost and never to be found again thing. It’s not a once it’s broken, it can never be fixed again thing. It’s a “go big”, get broken, get down on your knees, get up again kind of thing.

My words, my fight, my days are better now than they were before. The best I have to give hasn’t even shown up yet. I’ve got more love inside these bones than I did when that woman and that truth showed up and shook me and broke me. Love is not a finite thing and the more I’ve given it, the more I’ve found it knocking on my door.

There’s no doubt you know a lot of my stories, that you hear me in the kitchen often telling one of my crazy tales. I hope you someday come to me with some of your own. That you learn what it is to stand with shaky knees and say things people think only a character on screen would say. That you show up on a doorstep with a folded letter and don’t run away. I hope you take all the chances you want or need. That you know you won’t run out of love, even when you get it wrong, even when they’re not who you thought they’d turn out to be. 

Love is not a finite thing, you’ve got a lot of love stories you’re meant to live, a lot of good things you should say. How it all ends up, that part isn’t up to you, you’re only responsible for how you carry the love you have today.

To: My Future Daughter // A Letter on Grief.

It is entirely possible to have both one of the worst and best days of your life on exactly the same day. This is because grief is one of those things that frees you from all of your pride and ego while simultaneously ripping your heart out. In the midst of my grief, I’ve done some pretty liberating things. I’ve taken many spur-of-the-moment trips, written some insane letters, screamed at the top of my lungs, sang loudly without caring who was listening, moved my entire life. None of these are the things that I regret. Regret has only been something I’ve known when I let the grief silence me. 

You will do some wild and unpredictable things in your pain. Many of them truthful, some of them sincere, a few of them haphazard. But at the end of the day, heartbreak comes to us all in countless ways. I hope that in all the ways it has come and continues to come, you dance it out, shake it out, sing it out, write it out, but do not hold it in. 

However, be prepared to say you’re sorry. Never intentionally do something to hurt someone, but know that it will probably happen in the midst of your anguish and sorrow. Grief brings with it a breaking of our facades, but it also often cracks our filters. Know that you won’t get it all right and just because some things feel better in the moment, that doesn’t mean you get off scot-free in the end. Hurt people hurt people, it’s a cliche because it’s true. 

It is entirely possible to have both the worst and best day at the same time. Because suddenly, though your heart is screaming in pain, you will finally able to release it from all the other things it’s been carrying that seem so trivial. I call it an “in the grand scheme” view of things.  Grief brings with it a certain sort of “big picture” kind of reality with it that makes you drop all the little cares and worries of the previous days. It makes you start evaluating all the dumb things you threw around in your brain yesterday. It makes you start minimizing and prioritizing. Suddenly, you start saying all the things you couldn’t before, wouldn’t before, didn’t know were choking you and breaking you before. Because “in the grand scheme” of things, what does it matter now? Grief shows you what matters now.

But it is entirely possible that it is still the worst day. While you are free of all the little insecurities that you sat in yesterday, you’re in the big and grand sorrows of today. The big things matter and grief will knock on your door to remind you of that. So you’ll take trips, write letters, sing loudly, scream loudly, stay awake a little longer, because “in the grand scheme of things”– and you’ll know that these are the only things you can control. But know, even those are things you cannot control. 

Don’t try to control the pain. I hope we both learn this young. We cannot control the pain. We can evaluate all the big things, little things, figure out what matters and try to our best in the in-between, but the truth is, this isn’t up to you and me. Today, we’re both just young, wild girls who are trying to figure out how to get free. It’s okay to not have the answers, to not understand the grand scheme of all these things. 

You will do some wild things in your pain. You will say wrong things when you are down on your knees. You will ask God unimaginable questions and you stand up only to stomp your feet. You will get in the car and drive nowhere, but end up exactly where you were meant to be. You will press send on things that you mean, and realize that losing all of your pride is probably the only way you’re ever going to get free. 

You will someday have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize that God turns our pain into something that He can use. You will hate the feeling of your heart breaking as you also sigh at the relief you feel when you finally let love break through. You cannot carry grief without love, or love without grief. On this earth, they are linked, sometimes they are one and the same. Someday you will know what it means to have the worst and the best day simultaneously, and when you do you’ll know what it means to be a little more broken and somehow a little more free.

Someday you will have the worst and best day simultaneously when you realize the pain and joy of loving, losing, and getting back to the grand scheme of clinging, for as long as you can, to those who have taught you the best parts about all these things.

I Finally Stopped Running. Then My Car Got Towed.

When I first showed up to that little town, I had handfuls of fear and a back-pocket plan of escape.

I had stubbornly decided to never hang another picture on the wall. I was terrified of ever planting my feet, of ever letting my heart get rooted again.

For those few years, the walls stayed bare. I slept on a borrowed bed. I tried to avoid anything that looked steady, shut my heart off to anything that looked stable or strong.

I remember when a set of brown eyes showed up in my driveway that summer morning, I walked outside barefoot and waited for the words that I knew were coming. I never cried. My heart didn’t break. I wondered why it didn’t hurt more when I threw away the sentimental things. I mourned nothing more than the realization I’d said a lot of things I didn’t really mean.

Honestly, I think he knew that everything in my life was temporary. When he walked away with his head hanging, he knew that I was on the run. That I was just looking for a nice guy to drive my getaway car.

“I never know where you are.”

 That’s become a sentence that hundreds of people across hundreds of miles have said to me. Mostly in a joking, but also in a curious way because the geographical location of my residence has changed so much in my twenties.

But if he could have, I think that brown-eyed guy would have used that to sum up everything and then called it a day. Because what would become geographically true was already internally true. He never knew. I never knew. No one ever knew.

As a writer, I’ve spent most of my life speaking in metaphors.

I started doing it as a teenager, in person, and in letters, and I never quite figured out how to stop. I mastered the art of never really saying what I wanted because I could spin it and hide behind an eloquent turn of phrase. And I didn’t even realize how desperately trapped in it I felt until a few weeks ago.

I stood on the sidewalk as I watched a stranger hook his tow truck to my little silver car and pull it out of the mess I’d gotten myself into. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain the feeling that overwhelmed me as I watched it come out of the place where I’d gotten it stuck.

I stifled the cry I could feel welling up in the deepest part of me. It wasn’t about the car (because again, everything is a metaphor). It was about being in my sister’s college town, the girl I’ve become over the last ten years, the past few weeks, being stuck and finally getting free.

I drove to a nearby diner and held back ten years of tears as I remembered the last time I’d been there. I remembered being sixteen years old, lying in my sister’s dorm room, pitch black, skirting around the things in my heart. We spoke in metaphor, ironically using cars. She humored me because she knew I was terrified to say what I actually wanted to say.

I realized I’d been using getaway cars in one-way or another my entire life. And when that brown-eyed guy walked away, it didn’t hurt because I’d built the whole thing out of pretty metaphors and things that sounded really nice. But there was nothing on the walls. I’d never said or done anything of substance because deep down, I knew I was never going to stay.

A few weeks ago I bought a picture to hang on the wall. I did it without hesitation.

I turned around to realize there were some other good and steady things that I once ran away from. I ran straight toward them.

I stopped solely speaking in metaphors. I no longer wonder if I’m saying things I really mean.

God knows where we are.

That’s the thing I’m figuring out. Across all the miles and after all the running. He’s always been in the getaway car, trying to let me know that I haven’t gotten all that far.

Someday I hope you get tired of waking up to blank walls. I hope that fear and pain are no longer drawing your maps. I hope you find good and steady things that make you fight the urge to run away.

That you laugh when you find out God put the GPS on His idea of home and you’ve just been going in circles all along. That He doesn’t let us get too far. That He doesn’t get mad, but He sometimes lets us run out of gas (or get towed).

That the brown-eyed guy did you a favor when he handed you back the keys.

That someday someone asks you a question that terrifies every bone in your body. But that, for a minute, you lay the metaphors down and say the least eloquent things you can possibly say.

I hope someday you rip up your best plans for escape.

How to Catch the Light

I hope the fireflies show up for you.

Like they did for us when our feet ran through the damp grass of my grandparent’s backyard on summer evenings. When we reached the walkway, the little pebbles would dig into our heels. I still have a scar on my left hand from the branch that snapped during one of our adventures through the woods.

I used to think that their back porch would always be there, that those same faces always around the table to greet me, playing cards in hand. That I would spend all my years running through and slamming that screen door.

I sometimes still wonder if the fireflies wait for us there, think we’re coming back and scoop them up in our little mason jars. But time doesn’t stand still, the light of fireflies fade, and not everyone who used to sit around that table could still be there if we went back.

But I’ve been realizing even after all those people are long gone, the thing that will be stuck with me, is all the light they left. Those are the fireflies still hanging around when we’re all grown up and the tables have changed.

What I remember most is the way those people loved me, the way they kept me laughing. I remember how my Great Uncle took us outside and bent down close, taught us how to gently guide the light into those jars. He taught how to hold onto it, but then how to set it free. When the world was busy, he stepped outside with barefoot children and taught us how to catch the light.

Last week I met a stranger while buying a book. I laughed harder that day than I have in a long time. We didn’t change the world with political ideologies, theological debates, lengthy equations, chemical experiments. We simply found ourselves laughing over something inconsequential. We left one another with beaming smiles and kind words.

I drove around that night telling God that sometimes I feel like I’ve been missing the point.

Inside of me sits a little girl who remembers standing in the hallway of her elementary school, hearing the whispers of other kids, “Why does she always stare at the ground? Someone told me she was mute.”

I remember learning back then, what I am learning now: I don’t want to waste this voice. Or try to give God the excuse that that using it is harder than it is.

Because really, I think it is just fighting to become brave enough to open our mouths. It’s just looking up from the ground and saying something kind, something intentional. I don’t want to live with a mouth, voice, a chance and only ever use them when it feels easy or convenient, or when I deemed the opportunity or person worthy of my effort.

Sometimes it takes getting over the hurt, the fear, the things that followed us for years. It’s knowing that value is not always the big things that everyone applauds. Sometimes it is learning how to make someone else feel like they’re funny, interesting, worth listening to, a good storyteller.

It’s just teaching little ones how to catch fireflies. It’s just making a joke with a stranger. It’s just love. Teaching someone else how to catch the light.

Sometimes that seems so small, so insignificant and yet, if that were the case I don’t think it would be so hard. But when confronted with the challenge of loving difficult people, strangers, sometimes even those closest, it’s hard. It’s hard to put down our phones, clear the schedule, say the apology, reach for the hug, sit with someone in grief, knock on their door, be inconvenienced, feel awkward. If it was so small, or easy, more people would do it and the world would be different.

It matters. And every time you do the thing that feels so incredibly uncomfortable and insignificant it changes them and it changes you.

One day you wake up and you realize that saving your words and efforts for bigger and better things, waiting for more, waiting for that one big bright moment was just a trap to stop you from all the light surrounding you right here and right now. It just takes catching all the little moments right there in jars. Because all of the little chances, if you grab them, make a great big light.

 

 

 

Idaho: What Makes Love Last?

When I left for Idaho one of the things I was seeking the answer to was, what makes love last? How do people make it stick?

I kept crashing headfirst into the reality that it isn’t years that produce success; it isn’t stability that creates longevity. Finding out these were not the answers started to blow my world apart. I always believed these were secret ingredients that my millennial generation couldn’t grasp with our microwaves and fast-food upbringing.

Waiting to board my plane to Boise, I met a man with a bright red backpack; his stories had me leaning in with awe.

“I got divorced a few years ago. It took some time to get my stuff together after that, but now I just travel all the time.”

His pain was visible. I asked him what he did before he got divorced, before seeing the rainforest, kayaking in Belize, or racing motorcycles in the desert.

He once built beautiful homes that were stable and strong. He built one for his wife. I sat there willing to bet they had muffin tins. I imagined his wife baked dozens: blueberry, chocolate chip, and pumpkin. But after years inside that home, they still didn’t last. Now that house sits empty on acres of land. He told me that he doesn’t know how to let go of it. It is lonely and empty, but he can’t let it go.

I had plans to find him when our plane landed. I needed to ask him what he would have done differently.

But he was at the front and I was at the back. By the time we touched down and deplaned, it was too late. The man with the red backpack was long gone.

It isn’t the house. It isn’t the stable job and the keeping our feet on the same piece of land. That’s all I could think as the doors opened and Idaho greeted me with her sunshine.

It isn’t the muffin tin. Heaven help me, if there’s one thing I’m learning after my break down in Kroger, it’s that. Those aren’t what make it last. It isn’t the perfect life that we build and never move our feet from. It isn’t an illusion of stability that we can fit inside of cabinets and between four walls. That won’t keep us in the arms of another person. It isn’t just forty years of furniture and picture frames that keep it together.

So I set out on this restless adventure across what I anticipated to be the most boring state in the continental United States. And it was nothing I expected. It was an incredible mix of learning how muffin tins are not the answer, but they are not the things we can blame for why we fall apart.

I don’t think I found a secret ingredient or all the answers. Still, I found something I needed, but not until the trip ended and I was crying at the gate waiting to fly home.

I sat watching a man and his pregnant wife. He was so exhausted that he could not keep his eyes open. She was far enough along in her pregnancy that she could barely see over her baby bump.

She attempted to put her shoes on, but it’s not an easy task when you cannot see your own feet. Immediately, her husband slid to the floor and began to help her. His eyes so heavy, his mouth opening with a yawn. When he seemed certain that she was mostly settled and could finish the task, he slid back into his seat and shut his eyes. I could tell he was literally seconds from falling into a nap.

A few minutes later she exhaled with frustration, struggling as she reached to finish the final stretch of tying the last shoe. Almost there, but not quite.

He heard it. He knew the sound of her. Without even opening his eyes, he slowly slid back onto the floor without hesitation. When his knees hit the carpet, he cracked open his eyes. The sweetest and softest smile covered his face. He tied the shoe.

She giggled. He laughed. I cried.

I thought of my friend with the red backpack. I thought about all the trips he’s taken this year. I thought about how he is getting older and how one day he’s going to be sitting at Gate C2 and he will sigh because his bones will be aching.

Connie won’t be there to help him tie his shoes.

The big strong stable house might be standing, the muffin tins might be inside of the cabinets. The plane tickets might take him to all the places he resented his marriage and house for never letting him go, but they will not tie his shoes. 

We’re all looking for something to give our lives for. Something worthy of sliding onto the floor, digging our knees into the dirty airport carpet for: something worth the words and the fight.

A life that looks perfect and stable will not make us stay. Good jobs, paychecks, houses that have bay windows, and the years we spent building them will not be what make us stay in their arms.

Somewhere in the stretch of those few seconds that her husband almost fell back asleep, there was a building in my chest as I watched her struggle to put that shoe on. But when that man fell to his knees to help her, despite the fact that he had just been down there minutes earlier, despite his exhaustion, regardless of the ungodly germs on that airport carpet, that’s when I realized that it isn’t years, it can’t be.

It’s something more like not letting the years pass.

It’s realizing that sometimes only seconds pass before it’s our turn again.

I cried in that airport because I realized that I don’t always know the kind of love that takes another turn a few seconds later. The kind of love that doesn’t have to follow a perfect rhythm of give and receive.

Sometimes it all goes out of order and you don’t tally it up. Sometimes the clock ticks by and you don’t remember who owes what and why. Sometimes you’ve been the one to slide to the floor the last eight times. Sometimes you’re the one in the chair and their sleepy brown eyes are staring up at you. Sometimes you’re the one learning how to let go and receive the help your tired body needs.

Friend with the red backpack:  I hope that you will forgive yourself for the years in between. I pray you find people whose shoes are worth tying on airport floors and who will slide to the carpet when you can’t tie your own. That you come to find God and see the way He ties our shoes when we’ve taken our lives to gates where no one else knows our names. That you’ll come to know your loafers are worthy of a good double knot and that it might be time to let that old house go.

 

Love Gets Good

It rained that morning.

You were full of excuses; forever the king of justifications, the king of reasons why.

That was the morning I stopped believing anyone who says the words “I wish I could, but…”

This week I sat at my favorite hotel restaurant, the one with the floor to ceiling windows and white linen tablecloths.

The dark clouds reminded me of that morning. I thought about how I always knew your coffee order and that I am almost certain you never knew mine.

I never showed up to you holding a vanilla latte.

That was what my coffee order back then. Sometimes caramel, but mostly vanilla. I can’t remember how many times I must have ordered one standing next to you, but I would be willing to bet you never noticed.

Because there are some people that never know the coffee order of the person standing next to them. Then there are those that could list the coffee orders, birthdays, and eye colors for people they’ve met only a handful of times.

As my hands wrapped around that little white mug that splashed on that white linen table cloth, I laughed that I couldn’t remember the last time I had a vanilla latte.

There are also those of us who spend years being walking apologies to someone who will never know how we take our coffee. Even after we showed up at their door with their exact order more times than we could count.

There is a temptation to be bitter, but I think I just feel sad for the person who may never know what it feels like to show up at someone’s door and know what they need even before they do. To have pulled yourself outside of your introspective mind long enough to hear someone say, skinny vanilla latte. Just long enough to store it and to think, I care about this person enough that one day, I’ll use these words.

I lived inside of my head for most of my childhood.

I didn’t realize how dark and greedy it was until I realized that I didn’t know what it was to love another outside of myself. That I never valued the thoughts of another, never truly treasured another’s feelings over my own. I lived inside a monologue with an audience of one.

That way of living and thinking never hears or cares about the coffee order of someone else, doesn’t remember birthdays, doesn’t memorize the sound of another’s laugh. It doesn’t care if someone sits alone. It never notices the pain of the person who knows your exact coffee order, who shows up on all your birthdays, who gets disappointed when you only want to converse with yourself. It only notices its own pain, its own weakness, its own feelings, its own I’m-so-exhausted-and-I-don’t-feel-like-it. It only notices its own I’m-just-not-good-at-remembering-things…

Get good.

Because love gets good.

Love gets good at making and ordering coffee (or tea) for others. It gets good at warm hugs, birthday cards, saying I still see you, I notice you. Love gets good at saying I’ll be there, gets good at getting out of bed and fighting through exhaustion to make good on that promise. Love gets good at cutting the meeting short and making it to the recital on time. Love gets good at remembering anniversaries and birthdays, because love gets good at noticing pain and wanting to avoid it the few times in life when it is possible.

Love gets good. It starts to see the joy of sacrificing our own convenience to show the depth of our affection to another.

To force our brain to remember a coffee order and a birthday. To stop and to give a hug when running late, to make eye contact when you really need to be in a meeting. To stay at the dinner table a little longer, even though the game is on.

I take my coffee differently these days: this was what I thought as I took the last sip of the morning, and left the restaurant. I wondered if you still take yours the same.