This Thing Isn’t Going to Last Forever

The subject line of her e-mail was: Please help me.

I read her words and my heart felt their weight. Just a few short years ago I was sitting in a similar place myself, reaching through the darkness for someone to give me something to hold on to. Her e-mail reminded me that there are so many people who need words of hope today. These are the words she inspired me to write:

I realized a few days ago, sitting in a cold white room, just how quickly everything can change.

I was reminded that fear is an intruder, he isn’t a gentleman. I was reintroduced to pain and brokenness, and let me tell you, they don’t always have the friendliest faces.

Not everyone realizes that I went through a long season held hostage by fear. Not the kind of fear that comes and goes; it was the kind that chains itself to you. You feel its breath against your neck every second of every day and it feels like there’s nowhere you can go that fear and his friends don’t follow.

It was a dark time, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t turn off the loud speaker in my head: the one that was dedicated to blaring that voice of doubt, fear, anger, and defeat. No matter how much I prayed, it didn’t seem to work.

The other day, that voice came back for just a moment. I promise you, I thought I was going to have a break down in the middle of Target (which is where I always seem to be when tragedy strikes).

And I did the one thing I knew to do… I picked up the phone. I dialed the number of someone that I trusted, and I asked them to help me silence the fear. I asked for them to tell me I was going to be okay and that this moment wasn’t going to last forever. I needed to hear that it was temporary.

It took me back to nights sitting in my bed, rocking back and forth. With my back pushed against the wall and knees pulled close to my chest, I would just sit there for hours and ask God over and over again to please, help. I wasn’t sure He was hearing me, but over and over again I would beg.

I just kept telling myself night after night, it can’t last forever. It won’t last forever. 

It didn’t feel true. Nothing about those words felt true. I had no evidence that my pain was going to lessen or that the fear would shrink. I had no reason to think those nights that haunted me would start to fade in my memory. None of it felt true, but I had to keep telling myself it was. It was the only way I knew how to keep going.

This is the thing I can tell you: you’ve got to keep believing. You have got to keep listening to God when he tells you that it won’t be this way forever.

And when you’re breaking down and you’re on the edge of causing a scene in a department store, sometimes you’ve got to pick up the phone and drown out that voice of hopelessness and despair, even if it’s only for a second.

One thing I’ve learned to be true is that the only way we get through the pain is to have those little moments of peace along the way. We need moments of refuge where we let God and let people speak louder than the fear and the brokenness. Even if we don’t fully believe the words, we have to give ourselves just a few minutes every single day to hope. To hope that tomorrow will be better, and that maybe even a few weeks from now we’ll find ourselves laughing again.

Hear me when I tell you that this thing isn’t going to last forever. You may never fully lose the painful memories, but they will lose their power over you, because goodness will come again. And goodness and love always win, they always overpower the darkness, hate, and violence.

Love is a blanket and it covers over the worst things, I promise you that.

I know you might not see Him yet, but Love is there, even if you’re still shaking from the cold. Love is still wrapping you up. Sometimes you’ve got to sit in that love for a bit before the warmth starts to seeps into your bones. You will stop shaking though, eventually you’re going to feel the warmth return to your fingers and toes. You’re going to unclench your jaw and finally breathe again.

Just keep holding on. Keep telling yourself truth, even if it doesn’t seem true today. And if you can’t hear God right now, pick up the phone and let Him use someone who loves you to speak the truth. Let His truth be louder than the lies, even if you can only do it for a minute each day.

In the long run, that minute will make all the difference. That minute of breathing will help keep you from drowning.

And know that you are not alone and this won’t last forever. 

It won’t. It can’t. Because fear and his friends aren’t powerful enough to win against a God who can never lose.

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Time and Space

We were talking about small victories, about the little choices we make along the path of finally moving on.

She and I both have our stories. We have our chapters where we had everything we thought we wanted, and turned the page to find out that those were the things we could not keep.

My fingers pressed the buttons and typed a sentence that I didn’t even know was true until after it had been said:

“I tried to make time and space my healer.”

I became the person who thought miles and state lines would be the medicine I was desperately seeking.

Sometimes I’m both the fight and flight type of person. When it comes to others, count on me to fight. But when it comes to my own pain, you’ll usually see me headed toward I-85. So, I learned the art of leaning into time and space. I put them on a pedestal and just knew that they would solve all my problems.

So, imagine my surprise when I found myself crying over a bowl of salad and asking one of my best friends if we’d ever stop having this conversation. I begged her to tell me that one day I would wake up to find that the clock’s hands had finally been able to repair all the holes in my heart.

She didn’t promise me that because she knew better. Time and space had not repaired any more of me than the last time we sat across from one another, back when Christmas lights lit up our hometown.

Time and space can sometimes be the tools in His hands, but they are not the one who can fix your brokenness. And the second you think they will, God will set them down and tell you that He’s not going to let you depend on them, you must learn to only depend on Him.

We keep thinking that age and life experience are the things that will save us. They’ll fix the pain and they will make us stronger, healthier, more reliable, less insecure. Eventually, we’re just going to grow up and get it together.

But we’re fooling ourselves when we tell ourselves that God is intimidated by our allegiance to time. We often think that if time doesn’t heal us, He’ll eventually just break down the door and say it has been long enough, I’m just going to fix you and get this over with.

We forget His patience. We forget His willingness to let us work it out and wait it out. God is not threatened or moved by our idolatry of waiting and growing up. He knows that eventually we’ll figure out that time and all its experiences don’t fix a broken heart.

He knows we will eventually have waited beyond what we can bear and will throw ourselves at Him once we finally remember that He’s the only healer there is.

Until then, we bury our heads in our work, our social lives, our gym memberships and keep telling ourselves that eventually we will feel better, be better. After some time we will have moved on and the pain will have lessened.

But the reality is, that the pain doesn’t lessen, we just get used to feeling it and it becomes our new normal. And in this new normal, we’re able to call ourselves better and healed not realizing that we forgot what it was like to live without it.

I’m sometimes glad God keeps me in front of my pain and heartbreak. That He rips down the altars that I build in front of time and space. He lets me cry into bowls of salad, and all the way down I-85. Because time doesn’t heal wounds, and when I think it does, I’ve made it my god.

And so, no… we’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly no longer feel the heartbreak. We are not going to just grow out of this stage of pain. We will either lean into Him as healer, or wear ourselves out counting on clocks that hold no power.

You Won’t Outrun the Pain

The most frustrating part about my life lately is that God took running away from me.

He took the one thing that I was clinging to.

Which He should have, because I was clinging to something other than Him.

Because I swear, there were days at the gym that I’d be gritting my teeth and muffling a scream at the pain in my back and leg, but still pushing through. Just one more mile. One more. I was tough enough, I could do it.

When I finished I always felt invincible (which is just foolish to feel while limping all the way to my car). But I somehow convinced myself that I had shown the pain that it didn’t win.

That’s likely what landed me in the state I’m in.

Pain is there to warn us, to tell us when something is not as it should be.

Pain is not something to beat. It’s something to listen to. 

Tearing down the street sign doesn’t change where you are, and fighting the pain doesn’t heal you.

You won’t outrun the pain.

People are going to make it worse. They’re going to tell you fifty-million solutions for how to fix it and cure it. They are going to ask you a million questions. They’re going to tell you about their twice-removed-aunt’s-sister’s-cousin and how she miraculously recovered. And they will have the best of intentions.

But they are not you and this isn’t their pain to carry.

God didn’t cause your pain, but He allowed it. But He allowed it to be your pain, not theirs.

So while you can listen to wise advice and consider people’s opinions, you’ve got to make decisions for yourself and you’ve got to own those decisions. Then, you have to accept where God has you.

You don’t need to believe that He’s going to keep you or leave you there. But you have to accept that for whatever reason, He has you there now.

That isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t the defeat of your faith. Admitting reality isn’t lack of faith.

Faith is not denying your pain. Faith is not fighting your pain.

Faith is admitting your pain. Faith is remembering that you are not God and you cannot defeat pain. 

Faith points to the one person who did defeat pain, but did not deny its existence. If we deny pain’s existence, we deny His victory.

Pain is real, but it is temporary.

And the more miles you try to run through the pain, the longer you’re going to be sidelined when you finally break.

He took the thing I was clinging to. I’m frustrated, but I’m thankful. Because believe me when I tell you, the miles you run won’t be there for you when it all comes crumbling down.

In the end, I think I’d always rather be sidelined than clinging to anything but Him.

Finding Home

There’s a tiny cafe hidden in Ireland that nearly saved my life.

Desperate for a quality cup of coffee and a place to warm our hands, my sister and I wandered into an ordinary cafe that smelled like warm bread and sweet potatoes.

It became our getaway spot. It was a safe place during the weeks that held nothing but storms and the reality that our souls had long been shipwrecked.

It was the only comfort I had during that time. I was in a beautiful country where I should have been having the adventure of a lifetime, and the only thing keeping my head above water was this unextraordinary squirrel-themed cafe. For a few weeks, that cafe became home.

Find the squirrel-themed cafe.

I think if there’s anything I could tell you about hard times, it’s that. Find a place to sit down and take your coat off, a place where you can eat a good bowl of soup and tell someone that you don’t think you can go another step further.

Last weekend, I moved back to Georgia.

Which came as a surprise to a lot of people because that was not the plan at all. I had other things penciled in for the next season of my life and after erasing and re-writing things a million times over, I finally let God come in with his big permanent marker and write a solid plan.

When I got here, I thought maybe I was going to find all the adventure my heart could want and that I was going to begin the epic next season of my life.

I let myself believe that I could tie up the past six months with a little bow and forget them. I settled in to my new room and with my incredible roommates and got ready to start my new life.

Two mornings later held me crying in the kitchen floor with two friends who reminded me that life is mostly a circle and we rarely ever get clean breaks and a fresh start.

I was frustrated, once again feeling a little shipwrecked. But, I was happier than words could even express because I found my squirrel-themed cafe. Once again, I found the place where my jacket comes off, my coffee stays warm, and I can say the things that the strangers on the street probably need not hear.

After a season of incredible pain, this has been the thing I’ve been wanting all along. I haven’t really been wanting to go on adventures or live some epic life. I’ve actually just been wanting to find a place to curl up with people and say it’s really nice not to be alone anymore.

We think we want the cliffs in Ireland and we actually just want an average room on a quiet little street. We want a seat at a table with people whose eyes aren’t darkened with judgment at the hardest chapters of our stories. We want coffee on the hardwood floors; we want a place where people can remind you that God isn’t up there cringing at the sight of your broken and misguided heart.

Sometimes, I think we crave the adventures and the going our own way because it makes our coming home that much sweeter.

So, for now, I’m home. I’m back in the house that creaks with every footstep, that gets too hot in the summer and its power knocked out in the winter. I’m back where the front doors stay wide open, inviting the breeze and the neighbors to come and stay a while.

I’m in the place of not needing adventure because home, right now, seems already too sweet to swallow.

You need the epic adventures, the road trips from coast to coast, the oceans and mountains and the fun of getting lost in airports. But mostly you need them to remind you that what you really need more is home. And sometimes you can’t be thankful for home until you’ve spent a long time away.

The Freedom to Forgive Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop punishing yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A God Who Caves

When 2016 came rolling around, I had one resolution:

Fight God less.

That’s what I decided. I fought Him so much through the years of 2013 to 2015 that I was determined not to spend this entire year in the ring with Him.

I sat down with my coffee and journal and told Him I was resigned. I was waving a white flag. I was done fighting.

Then He went and let life press all of my buttons.

Every single thing that could possibly set me off happened in the span of just a few weeks. God knew that my first reaction would be to come out swinging and that’s exactly what I did.

I kicked, screamed, ate cake, blasted my radio, drove over the speed limit. I reverted back to the days of being ten years old and thinking that the I’ll-stick-my-tongue-out-and-show-you mentality would actually work on the most patient being in existence.

As you guessed, it was a total waste of time.

The harder I fought, the firmer He stood. It was just me punching the strongest and most stable thing in my life. He wasn’t going to budge. No matter how hard I hit, no matter how much I told Him I wasn’t putting up with it anymore–God wasn’t going to budge and He wasn’t going to hit back.

So in those few weeks, there I was throwing the biggest fit you’ve ever seen and I realized why He was letting it happen.

He was giving me what I asked for.

I wanted to fight Him less and so He was going to wear me out sooner. He was just going to let it all drop at once so that I’d just throw everything I had in the ring right in these first few months of the year. He was breaking me, wearing me down, exhausting me to the point that I’d have no fight left in me.

I’ve always been a little defiant, a little mouthy, always ready to take and throw a punch when necessary. It’s never been something I’m proud of and thankfully I’m learning how to mellow out as I get older.

Nevertheless, in my final moments of defeat, I spend every little inch of energy trying to come back. I’ll give it all to win what’s an impossible fight. Even if I don’t have a shot, I’ll go down swinging.

I guess you could say that I am the John Kasich of arguing.

So, in the last round of this fight I got an e-mail. It was from one of my readers and she was asking me about hurt: “I know God is there, but it’s easy to question where He is in the middle of our hurt.”

I was laying on this crummy twin mattress trying to figure out how I was going to tell this girl the truth. How to tell her the thing I love most and least about God:

He’s right in front of you.

He’s like the parent that hovers when you’re newly sixteen and trying to explore all of your newfound freedom.

He’s the clingy Dad who’s standing there and saying “I love you too much to let you have all the control.”

Because He knows I don’t want my version of freedom. I don’t want to do whatever I want. I want the freedom of living a life that is worth living–one that’s defined by pursuing the best. And only God knows what’s best.

So I wanted to find that girl, sit her down, and tell her the thing that she’s probably been told a million times: God is there.

He’s standing in your face. He is staring you down and saying, “You know it doesn’t matter how bad this gets. It doesn’t matter how much you hate me. It doesn’t matter if you threaten to run away from home, I’m going to do what’s best for you.”

I can make my choices, but my choices won’t change His. He’s going to do what’s best for me. Whatever that looks like. Whatever fight I put up.

The pain, the anger, the heartache, the moments of agony are not a product of God’s wrath or of His absence. They’re a product of us crazy humans throwing our punches and thinking that we can do this thing without Him; it’s a product of all of us thinking we know better.

We don’t want a God who gives us what we want. We don’t want a God who caves, who gets tired of hearing us cry and then shuts us up by giving us something that would ruin us.

He’s the parent who stands there, watches us with love, hates our pain, but says “I love you too much to give you the things you think you want.”

Our deepest pain comes not from circumstances, but from the frustration that comes with thinking that we could have or would have done things better if we had been God.

If we could see what He sees, if we could know what He knows, we would be so thankful; and raising our fists to fight Him would never even cross our minds.

Change Will Come When it Comes

A lot of things have changed since I first moved here.

Friends have left. Some have gotten married. Birthdays have come and gone. Furniture has been replaced. Walls have been painted, planes boarded, road trips taken, tan lines made and faded.

Laughter has been sung throughout the house and conversations have been paused for weeping and prayer. Leaves changed colors, fell, died and then life bloomed again.

All the while, we have all been saying one thing: I don’t want to wait until it’s over to realize what I’ve got.

I want to savor each season.

There are moments happening right now that you are going to miss someday. You’ll look back with a fondness and think to yourself, I wish I would have known how glorious that time in my life was. I wish I would have loved more fiercely, gave more generously, appreciated the people who made me laugh until I cried.

That’s the challenge my house has been giving each other: appreciate this time as much as you can and don’t wish it away.

This week a lot of people have sat in front of me and cried.  All of them afraid…of moving forward, of being hurt, of finding out that they put their heart and soul into the wrong thing.

Don’t fight the tide: the thing you can’t change.

You’ll just get frustrated. Because the water will rise and recede and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re not in control of how far the waters reach and when they decide to change. 

So, just enjoy the ocean.

We’re always wishing things away. Wanting change, looking for escape routes, trying to figure out timing, running at the first signs of pain.

But to savor is to enjoy something completely. Every part of it. Even the parts that make your chest pound and your hands shake. I want to learn to enjoy the unknown of the remainder of a season, even if it’s hard and even if it seems slow or like my dreams are being delayed.

Find some things to delight in, things that make you feel alive. 

“Don’t just put your head down in survival mode. If you can’t find anything to truly enjoy, then change the things you can.”

My roommate knows what she’s talking about. Sometimes, I think she’s nearly mastered the art of savoring a season. Even when things are hard, I’ve seen her simply just sit down with a spread of watercolor, her pad and make something small and beautiful. It doesn’t change the circumstances of her life and it doesn’t give her answers about her future. But it makes her happy and lighter.

And it reminds us that sometimes joy requires just a simple act of doing one little thing that your heart loves.

The change will come when it comes, exactly when it’s supposed to. So, don’t spend the time in between sitting in fear, and wondering how it will all turn out. Don’t stew in impatience, wishing away time and wanting it all to just be over with.

There’s good in the season, things you’ll want back when they go away. Figure out what those things are and throw your heart into them. Sit on the floor and laugh with people who love you exactly as you are. Have pizza on the patio with friends who are content to let you fully be yourself. Paint rows of evergreen trees and pin them to your wall. Take a drive at sunset, see where you end up and watch the world as it yawns and begins to fall asleep.

It doesn’t mean that you won’t cry, or that you won’t feel frustrated, or sometimes ache for a change. But you can’t keep fighting the tide, it has its own schedule and rhythms for lows and highs. 

Savor the season; change what you can and stop trying to control what you can’t.

And don’t wait until this season is over to realize all the good you have.