Celebrating and the Weight of Grace

In the days after we celebrated, I spent most of my hours painting.

I am not a painter.

But that month my hands stayed stained with shades of blue, my shirts dyed, brushes dripping over the sink. I left my apartment only to grab takeout and steal from the sky another hue to replicate.

The secrets we were keeping were ones that I eventually realized my hands could not tell. No matter how many strokes I made with those brushes, the truth was still trapped inside.

A few weeks later I sat in the corner booth of an old Italian restaurant in my hometown. The person who sat across from me was the first person to ever really hear the whole truth, the terrifying, gut-wrenching, honest-to-God truth. Out of my mouth came the thread that threatened to unravel everything inside of me—the truth about how disappointed I had turned out to be.

Disappointment, that was a word I was so afraid to say. It felt so heavy, so dark, that was a shade, a hue that I’d refused to paint. Admitting disappointment felt like defeat. And even though I knew nothing would ever turn out the way I had once hoped, admitting disappointment for even a second had never been an option.

But the night with the strings of lights, sentimental words, and the seconds of forgetting the past flung me back to reliving that reality: sometimes we paint the perfect picture in our minds and wake up one day to realize that picture is never going to be possible.

I had to relive that over and over again, that the world I’d painted in my mind would never quite be the one God would paint on the canvas that is my life. Every time I celebrated another milestone, I would also wince at the bitterness I felt that God was using a shade, a tone that was different than the one I would have chosen.

Then came Room 176.

When the sweet lady with her yellow paper gave me that location, I never had the thought that it was going to be a place that would change my life. Four white walls, but that’s the place that God pulled back a piece of the curtain and said “I made all the colors and I mix them just right.” 

If I had gotten the life I tried to paint, I would have been standing somewhere else.

Those words are the hardest to swallow. As I now reflect on the greatest moment of my life to date, I break my own heart with the truth that God knows if He leaves us to work out our own lives, we will take away the greatest gifts He gives. Sometimes He breaks our hearts now to keep us from missing our dreams later.

I think of the moments when I’ve sat with God and told Him not to use that brush, that color, that shade; that I’m disappointed with His pace, His technique, His progress. I think of that day in the old Italian restaurant and my disappointment. I think of the birth of my nephew, the moment when I laid down my paintbrush and felt my knees buckle at the weight of God’s grace.

In these days we’ve been celebrating, I haven’t picked up a paintbrush. My hands have not been stained and I haven’t gone to that old Italian restaurant and cried in the corner booth. I’ve still thought about the promises we broke, the disappointment I’ve felt, and the picture I had in my mind. Honestly, I still thought about my favorite shades of blue and for a split second wished God used them more. But last night, I rocked that baby boy to sleep and started to fall in love with shades and hues that before those moments I’d never even seen.

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Loneliness, God, and the Nonsense We Make Up

Five years.

That’s how long it’s been since I stopped eating refined sugar and white flour. The moment the doctor told me this could affect you having children, that was the moment it all changed for me.

I cried to you in the bathroom floor. We went on drives and I ate horrible sugar-free candy that I eventually figured out wasn’t a worthy substitute. Every time someone offered me birthday cake I would think of little hands, feet, first birthdays, and vacations to the mountains. I thought of how much I could regret never holding them, snuggling them, I learned to force myself to politely decline.

Twenty-five years. 

That’s how long it’s been without a honorable and proper date. I remember the moment I sat on that trampoline at twelve years old and decided not to settle. I told you that I didn’t want to spend my young adult years searching for a sentimental fairytale if it meant missing out on a life that you had for me.

I cried to you in the bathroom floor. We went on drives and I would sit in parking lots and watch the sunset with you. When all my friends posted on their AIM away messages and MySpace profiles about their boyfriends, I would sit on that green carpet in that big brick building and tell you that I knew it would be worth waiting.

Five months.

That’s how long it’s been since I lived alone. I came home every night to that apartment and you were there. I would sit on my couch, eat dinner, and I could feel you sitting next to me. You were there when I put up my Christmas tree, nearly flooded the bathroom, learned how to make that amazing soup.

I cried to you in the kitchen floor. We went on more drives and I became so content with living alone. Those cold months were some of the happiest moments of my life even though circumstances were tough and I was being tested in some of the hardest ways I’ve ever experienced.

All this time.

I thought by now I would have mastered and overcome the feelings of loneliness.

But when I slide on another bridesmaid dress, rock another newborn baby, refuse another slice of birthday cake, watch another year go by on the calendar my humanity does not lessen and my loneliness does not subside.

I still cry to you in my bedroom floor. We still go on drives and sit in parking lots. I am aware that you see me. I still hear you speak. You promise me that you will never leave me, but you don’t promise me that overcoming this feeling produces a certain kind of reward.

Five minutes.

That’s how long it takes for you to silence the war inside my head.

To tell me that you never said the right person shows up when we stop feeling lonely or stop looking. You never wrote that anywhere inside your book. It was humans who took someone’s experience and made a Christian theology/ridiculous piece of advice to defend and explain why someone else’s loneliness hasn’t been taken away.

You tell me that you’re not afraid of my feelings, not afraid of my loneliness and won’t punish me for it by withholding good things. You aren’t waiting until I get over it. You aren’t up there tapping your watch thinking, I could really do something if this girl would just stop whining. 

You remind me that I’ve never once seen you address loneliness with a harsh response. That I’ve never seen you correct someone for it, be disappointed in it, threatened by it. I’ve never seen you angered by it. You ask me when I’ve seen you withhold from the lonely or the barren. You ask me when I have seen you punish them for acknowledging the state that they are in. You remind me instead that you are the God who says that perfect religion is for people to take care of the widow and the orphan. You are the God who first addressed loneliness, saw it and said it was not good. You made it a priority, stuck it at the top of the list.

Never once were you the God who punished it. Withheld from those in it or corrected those who felt it. You tell me again not to fear it, not to try and escape it. You will not punish it.

The only one afraid of it, ashamed of it, punishing it, and threatened by it is me.

“What will you tell them?”

That’s the thing you ask me. What will I tell those that come to me, who ask about what I’ve learned in this season of loneliness. I laugh and then immediately start to cry.

“I’ll tell them to fight it out for themselves. I’ll tell them not to believe all the things people tell them about getting out of it. That it’s not about getting out. That it’s not something to fear. I’ll tell them it’s a feeling, it’s just a feeling, and those are not things we should fear because they are not facts. I’ll tell them that they can’t stay there forever, that they absolutely won’t. But I’ll tell them they can’t always outrun it.

I will tell them that God isn’t intimidated, mad, or withholding because of their loneliness. That He’s got them and that He is going to do something right there in the middle of it. He’s not waiting for them to master or gold medal this thing. I’ll tell them He’s a God of grace—and despite what you’ve been told, He’s not waiting and expecting us to figure this thing out on our own.”

 

 

 

Confessions of a Former Chronic Fixer

I came to you.

The silence we swam in that day felt like hours, in that tiny room we created tension that would last for years. Your ocean eyes were locked on the floor, my arms stayed crossed in anger.

Last week, in a room where the walls were the same kind of dull and the carpet a similar texture, I sat across from someone asking for my help.

I thought about you and I thought about how I came to you and gave you my plans. You never asked for them. You never asked me to fix it.

Confessions of a former chronic fixer: until recently, I would still apologize to you under my breath when seeing all the things that followed that day, the things that broke your heart. I’m sorry I couldn’t fix it: those have been the words to continuously rattle off of my ribcage and settle into my soul.

Then a pair of eyes your same shade, the one that Sherwin-Williams calls Flyway Blue, came to me.

I finally figured out what you’ve been trying to tell me across the years and miles. I finally heard you, over all the things we yelled and the things that I stacked there in my mind since that day. You never asked me to fix it.

It took loads of people trying to fix me, years of trying to fix myself, and a room that mirrored the one I stood crying in that day to know that my apology should be: I finally hear you.

Sometimes we don’t want someone to fix it; sometimes we just want someone else to know that it’s broken.

Another confession of a chronic fixer is that we aren’t trying to fix you, we’re trying to fix all the things that broke you. We’re trying to stop it from happening again. We are, in a far too subtle way, trying to tell you that your pain is our pain.

It can often sound like us yelling stop and please don’t go that way! Sometimes it looks like us giving harsh directions. Sometimes it us not knowing quite how to hold your brokenness because it is leading to our own.

But I finally heard you, after all these years.

And being afraid of that brokenness was on me, not on you. Letting your brokenness lend to my own heartbreak, right or wrong, was a choice that sat only with me.

As for your choice to be broken, to stay broken, that was and will always be yours. I’m sorry if it seemed like I tried to take that away from you. If it seemed like I was trying to rush you out of your pain.

Confessions of a former chronic fixer: I’m learning how to sit with questions and with pain. To let someone come to me. To offer them a bandage, but not force them into a sling. To let them cry, cry with them, swim in the silence without constructing tension. I’m learning how to lay the map and compass down, sit in the passenger’s seat, offer help only if asked. I’m learning not to yell over the radio. I’m learning not to yell. I’m learning how to not grow impatient if we stay parked longer than I expected. I’m learning that flyway blue eyes are more forgiving than I’ve believed them to be.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s enough to know someone is broken. Sometimes just knowing and staying is the most loving thing we can offer.

I wasn’t trying to fix you: the thing I couldn’t say and you couldn’t hear over my hurried riffling through my toolbox. At the end of the day, through everything I tried to sort through, that is the thing I should have said the loudest. Those were the words you were asking for and are now the thing I hope you someday hear. You were and are not your brokenness. You did not need fixing and I’m sorry if all you got from me was a girl with her hammer and nails, handing you an instruction manual. I’m sorry if you heard in my words and felt from my stance that you were the problem, that I was trying to deconstruct and renovate you.

Confessions of a former chronic fixer: Someone came to me. I knew they felt broken before they came. In the days leading up, everything inside of me wanted to chase them down, but I thought of you. So, I waited. Then, I stayed. I heard them out. I stopped shuffling through the toolbox, the clanging sound quieted, and finally I was able to hear.

Afterwards, for the first time, I didn’t have to stop and apologize under my breath for all the things I wanted to, but never had to fix.

 

 

 

 

I was right, God broke my heart.

I had a feeling when we were driving back from Tennessee that he was going to break my heart.

The fog sat between the mountains and I found myself spilling all my best words to him. I put every little part of me in his hands. I trusted him with every thought, every fear, the things that I had been holding inside of me for so many years.

I had just discovered The Lumineers and we listened to them on repeat. I have relived that day a million times: the taste of gas station coffee, the freedom of a road trip to a new place. Just twenty years old, my words were shaky, my heart was fragile, but I couldn’t stop myself from unpacking it all right there in his arms.

Still, I had this undeniable feeling he was going to break my heart.

As it turned out, I was right, God broke my heart. In the kind of way that only He can, in the way that offers no clear cut explanations or answers, in the way that you can never fully understand. You are angry, but it doesn’t feel justified; He’s God, after all. He knows all these things you don’t. You can’t really effectively argue with Him and you can’t get revenge.

God. Isn’t He the one who is supposed to be most trusted being in existence? Yet, He broke my heart. He had taken from me the very thing I had wanted most at that point my life. I told Him all about it, I had given him the secrets of my heart, prayed to Him about my biggest dreams. I had given Him my desires with shaky hands, biting my lip, nervous that I wasn’t good enough to have them anyway.

I spent a lot of years after that angry and hurt. Whenever I heard a song by The Lumineers, saw another foggy morning, thought of that Tennessee town, I thought about how that was the day I’d voluntarily fallen in love with a God whom I suspected might break my heart.

Five years later I still think of that day. I think of the drive through those mountains, how I complimented His color palette choices of green, gray, and brown. I remember that I knew He might break it, but that my heart was so full and alive that I couldn’t stop it from bleeding right there on His hands.

That would be the lesson that would follow me through all the years of pain: love can’t hold it in, but it will never regret the moments that it chooses to give it all away, chooses truth over fear.

Over those five years, there were a million more times that I would not or could not say to other people the things that my heart needed to say. I learned the pain of navigating that kind of regret.

But I never once regretted that morning with God. No matter the pain it ended up causing me.

Because there will never be another that can tuck the fog in the trees and make the contrast and exposure of the skies hit the perfect levels; that can create the perfect tones that crack my chest wide open and cause me to confess all the things that give Him permission to break my heart.

And on that day, by giving Him the things I thought I wanted most, He gave to me a God that was more than a story inside of a book. I found a God who was real and whom I had invited to come and sit inside of my world. A God who listens to my songs and laughs with me over Bean Street Coffee. I was given the gift of a God who is present, who is in my photographs and memories. Who, when the radio plays our songs, I can now close my eyes and whisper, “Remember that day?” In those years of my heartbreak, He gave to me Himself and years of stories, ticket stubs, parking lot conversations, back road drives, cups of coffee by the lake.

By breaking my heart in a way that I still don’t fully understand, it opened a door that caused me to keep coming back to Him to say, “God, I love you. I don’t understand how you could let this happen.” This heartbreak was my beautiful gift. It was the thing that He has used to draw me back to Himself over and over again. It became the thing that continued to give me more of those foggy days in the mountains, moments of spilling my heart out, seconds when I just couldn’t stop myself from handing it all to Him even if I knew it might not turn out the way I would hope.

And now when I hear The Lumineers, see those photos, find myself driving through the Tennessee mountains, the tears I cry are ones of gratitude. I find myself thankful that He took my shaky hands, holding what I thought I wanted most, and gave me something so much better in its place.

 

 

 

 

There’s No Quick Fix for Your Health or Heart

This blog post is brought to you by the fact that I’m about to start a quick juice cleanse.

That being said, I’ve recently been on this insane tirade about cleanses, fad diets, and the Whole30 obsessed culture we live in that is looking for a quick fix while trying to avoid a life of discipline and self-control.

Why does self-control seem so impossible?

When I was forced to give up sugar I had to ask myself this question daily. Now, years later and mostly still sugar-free, I am starting to realize the reasons I have been able to endure. Primarily, I’ve made it because not doing so would result in immediate pain, as well as long-term problems.

But I’ve realized that immediate pain is a much better motivator than the consequences we can’t see.

The hardest part of self-control was what I felt like I was missing out on in the moment. I was watching everyone else enjoy themselves in the moment and the pity I felt for myself was overwhelming. I wanted instant gratification. I wanted fulfillment because it wasn’t fair that everyone else was getting partake and I was having to sacrifice.

The root of the lack of discipline in our lives is often not this careless disregard or laziness that we think it is. It is often a very calculated decision surrounding what we have decided we want, deserve, or convince ourselves we can get away with in a moment of pain or weakness.

My lack of discipline often comes from the fact that I cannot see past the moment I’m standing in. This doesn’t just apply to my health, but to my relationships and to every other aspect of my life. The pain of not getting what I wanted in that moment took priority over the long-term consequences. I wanted a quick fix for that moment of pain. Then when I felt guilty, I wanted a quick fix to cleanse myself of that pain, too.

There are no quick fixes.

There is no simple solution. You cannot snap your fingers and be healthy. You also cannot instantly become a whole person. You will not wake up tomorrow and master the art of forgiveness. You will not suddenly decide to be a better spouse, a more reliable friend, a more confident person. There is no book, self-help calendar, quote on Pinterest that is going to fix the cycles you find yourself in.

Recognize the immediate pain you’re in from the cycles you’re bound to and let that be a motivator.

We learn to push down the pain from our lack of self-discipline and when it does come up, that’s when we grasp for a 30 day solution or a self-help book. We look for a quick fix because the idea of grinding through the agonizing reality of where we’ve let our hearts, bodies, and minds go to is absolutely terrifying.

But if you find yourself constantly looking for quick fixes or easy answers, you’re in pain. 

A juice cleanse for me is not radical. The idea of going through most of my day with healthy food and no sugar does not scare me. Because I live most of my life that way. Granted, there are a few things I will have to do without, but it’s not a huge leap. Lifestyles of discipline produce the kind of health we will need to prepare us for the moments when we have to endure the cleanses and detox seasons that God and our hearts show us we often need.

And they are far less difficult to endure when we live in a way that is not constantly filled with things that, if and when we are deprived of them, will cause our bodies or hearts to have horrible reactions.

When we constantly look for a quick fix, a 30 day solution, we are putting an expiration date on our discipline. We are saying that we are only committed to helping ourselves for as long as we think is necessary, but then we want to live however we choose after that.

Discipline is not a book club, a membership, a degree that you eventually get and then hang on the wall. You don’t arrive at it, mark it off your calendar, and then post your accomplishment. If so, it accomplishes nothing that it intended to. It was a show, a facade, a moment when you pretended to be a person that you wish you could actually be, but are secretly admitting inside that you have calculated is not worth sacrificing other less worthy things to become.

This is not about criticism or condemnation.

This is about saying that there aren’t quick fixes to heal the pain, fix the problem, change the things you’re scrambling to solve.

Stop asking what things you can do and ask yourself what kind of person you want to be. I don’t want to be someone who does quick diets, reads self-help books, occasionally attends 21 day Bible Studies.

I want to be someone who is disciplined, reflective, empowered, knowledgable, deep, connected to God. The methods in which I do it may often come in the form of a cleanse, a study, or a book, but they are not my source. They are not my fix, my thing that I run to when I’m desperate to change the state I’m in.

These are tools, things to give us a boost of energy when we get weary or feel that we need to re-focus. These are not the things that are meant to carry all the weight of our physical, mental, or spiritual health. Your health cannot depend on a 30 day diet, a pastor’s sermon, or a weekend retreat.

Figure out what kind of person you want to be. What kind of life you want to live. Start slow, start with a prayer, start now. Let the immediate pain in your heart, the reality that you don’t like what you’re seeing, whatever it is that makes you reach for the quick fix: let that be the thing that motivates you to a decision that doesn’t have an expiration date.

“Mark a life of discipline and live wisely; don’t squander your precious life.” Proverbs 8:32 (MSG)

 

My Birthday, Jack Bauer, and Fighting Back

My 24th year of life was somewhat similar to the tv show 24. Ironically enough, it was also the year in which I watched all eight seasons of the show and fell in love with Jack Bauer and also Tony Almeida. But not Sherry Palmer, she was legit the craziest person television has ever seen (except for Deb from One Tree Hill).

Anyway, my 24th year of life was like that show in that it was a lot of sleepless nights feeling like I had to save America. Except I am not Jack Bauer and I failed us because Marco Rubio is not President. I tried, but my methods of coercion are a lot less persuasive than Jack’s.

But as I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I’ve found that it was a year of fighting back. It was about finding some stability, standing back up and dusting myself off. It was one of letting go, grabbing back on, and letting go all over again.

Fighting back came in the form of moving to a town where no one knew my name, my face, my history. We didn’t have strings, years of history swimming between us. It came in the form of solitude, getting rid of the voices that told me who I was supposed to be. It took getting alone in a city of strangers to find out who I really am, who I always was, and who I am free to be.

I had to find my footing again. My voice. I had to hear God on my own, without the temptation of distraction. I had to find him in the silence, in the stillness between my own four walls. I had to learn how to stop being afraid of the darkness. I had to learn how to ask questions that ripped my heart to pieces. I had to weigh costs that and decisions that felt impossible to make. I had to learn how to open my doors to my home, to my heart, and risk that it may only be for a season. I had to believe it would still be worth it.

I had to learn how to make speeches that have been stirring in me for years. I was finally able to let go of the pain and regret of unsaid words. I prayed and I still pray that I learn from that pain and I don’t spend so much time in fear. I pray I’ve become the person to take chances and say the things that are worth saying to the people worth saying them to.

I had to learn to laugh. To make plans. To finally plan a birthday that didn’t make me cry, to no longer feel obligated to make that one day a day of redemption and atonement for everything that goes wrong the other 364. I had to learn that boundaries are good and beautiful, that you must embrace and often welcome pain when it comes, but you don’t necessarily have to invite it.

I had to choose to see that holding yourself and others to unrealistically high expectations is rooted in pain and a fear of disappointment. Disappointment is not nearly as bad as your fear of it. The anticipation of everything is always so much worse than the actual thing itself. Worry and dread are the enemy. The results you can live with, it’s the turmoil of inaction that will nearly kill you.

Here at the beginning of 25 I realize that there is still so much I don’t have figured out, there are so many opportunities that sit in front of me and the ever present temptation to be overwhelmed by the options and possible outcomes. But if 24 taught me anything it’s that taking chances is worth it. Nothing ever turns out the way you imagine or anticipate, but it often gives you a gift that far exceeds your expectation. Life and God have a funny way of presenting the right people and places at exactly the right time, and so when you find yourself wanting to dive in, it’s usually got something worth offering to you.

Dive in. Sit in the silence. Weigh the cost. Fight back. Say the thing you need to say. Life is a gift, the opportunities and people in front of you are the best part and every time you let yourself grab onto them, you always find something worth holding onto.

 

When The Holidays Are Hard

Some days I am still in the kitchen looking for napkins at that Christmas party. I can hear the laughter coming from the back of the house, my heart swells with the hope as the background music fades to the next track.

I immediately smile as I hear the younger version of myself laugh. Nothing was untouched by the lights that year, anything and everything was possible. All our troubles seemed miles away.

What I didn’t know was that by the next Christmas all of that hope would feel long forgotten and it would take years to get any of it back.

Fast forward to last week when I got a handwritten letter in the mail.

It was from a dear friend across the country and her words were full of that same kind of hope, risk, excitement, uncertainty. I found myself thinking about that Christmas party and about the year that followed.

I replayed what it felt like to let my heart grab on to things that were never meant to be. I let myself be taken back to those twinkle lights and the cold winter air. I let my heart stir in that hope that built me and broke me. While I can’t say I regret that time in my life, the memory of it sometimes still feels heavy whenever the holidays roll around.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get all warm and sappy whenever I hear it playing over the speakers in the mall, or when it greets me in the car on a dark winter morning.

I wish I could go back to the 40’s and sip coffee with the writers, Hugh and Ralph. I would ask them to tell me about the day they pulled that crumpled melody out of the trashcan. I would ask about the stories that caused them to write those words and that tune.

Let your heart be light…

Around this time of year, I have to remind myself not to get weighed down. It seems so much easier to get heavy when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And there always seems to be so much pressure to get happier when the red ornaments come out and the big mugs of hot cider start getting passed around. The thick obsession with holiday cheer can weigh me down faster than anything else. I don’t want to miss it. According to every one and every thing, these are supposed to be my happiest months. I often feel rushed to get myself together before December slips away.

I’m figuring out that we need to learn to let our hearts be light, but that we don’t need to hurry it or force it.

Some days it is okay to remember the Christmas party that broke your heart and to grieve the chairs those people no longer fill. But then you have to let go of that weight, sweep the floors and make new invitations. Keep throwing parties and keep filling up those chairs.

Let your heart be light. Allow it to let go, allow it to hope for better years. Go and see the lights, sniff the fresh pine, watch all the best and worst Hallmark movies, help your grandmother decorate her tree, make plans to find the perfect wrapping paper. Let your heart be hopeful and expectant, even if there are hard memories and prior years that still bring pain.

Sometimes I feel like Dickens really got his stories mixed up. He really should have started off the Christmas one with that whole bit about how it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Because some days I’m still in that kitchen and I am heavy with the weight of what Christmas used to be, might have been, appears to be for everyone else. One minute, I am one pine-scented candle away from weeping in Target and the next, I’m singing Holly Jolly Christmas and flailing around in snowman pajamas.

Most days this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Still, Ralph and Hugh knew that there would be those holiday days we would need a melancholic song that would help us mourn, while simultaneously giving us a swift-kick-in-the-rear with a challenge like let your heart be light. 

I’m not sure if those guys knew it, but a different kind of Christmas light is the only thing that can help us with the heavy weight. That Light came in the middle of the night to a bunch of people on the run, who were probably crying over old Christmas parties, and whose lives looked nothing like Hallmark movies. He saw all the sadness, darkness, pain, loss, loneliness they were in and He came.

And when He took his first human breath, I think that was really the first time the world heard what are quickly becoming my favorite words of the season: let your heart be light.