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.

 

It Won’t Be the 2nd Floor Apartment: Moving, Questions, and Short Seasons

The first few weeks I lived here I came home every night and watched the 2016 Olympics. I cried every time Michael Phelps won another Olympic medal. It didn’t really matter that I knew he was going to win before he jumped in the pool, the end of his career still stirred something in me.

I’m packing up my apartment and I knew this day would come. That’s the thing about apartments, you know they aren’t permanent. You know the end before it happens. You know you’re one day going to pack up all your boxes, take all the pictures off of the wall, scrub the cabinets, and try to figure out how to secure all the breakables.

Yesterday I sat in the office of a friend, he crossed his arms over his white plaid shirt and smiled, “Whatever the next step is, it probably won’t feel like a clear yes at first, it will probably just feel something like well, it’s not a no. Then, you’ll just keep taking steps and asking questions. And you might always have questions, but somewhere in there, you will find a yes.”

Suddenly, I was sitting on that street corner again, looking at myself ten months ago deciding whether or not to move to this city, rent this apartment, change my entire life. I followed that nudge, that well it’s not a no. I kept asking questions, and in the midst of it, however short it turned out to be, there was a yes.

There was always a yes. Nestled there in the crying in the kitchen, laughing at work, my plunger emergency, the literal ceiling caving in, sleepless nights and exams, my beloved Chick-fil-a man, learning how to let go, how to stand up, nearly dying from a migraine, hosting the best Christmas party ever, my sister getting married and then getting pregnant, having one of the most absurd “define-the-relationship” conversations ever, forming unlikely friendships. There was a yes, there in the deepest part of my soul, even though I had a billion questions.

“God didn’t allow this moment to make you weaker. Don’t let it make you weaker.”

His words were once again exactly what I needed to hear. Because questions can have that kind of power when we let them. They can make our knees feeble and our hearts weary, we can find ourselves doubting and uncertain that we’re on the right path, or that we ever got on the right one in the first place.

Having questions doesn’t mean you’re weak and it doesn’t mean that you’re on the wrong path. Sometimes it takes a person (who was a stranger just months ago), whom you met at a place (that some might say seemed like a “wrong turn”), to show you that questions and short seasons often keep you right on track.

Stop feeling guilty for your questions, your short seasons, things that didn’t work out like you expected, or for crying when MP predictably wins a medal or you predictably have to move again.

This moment doesn’t have to make you weaker, guilty, or fearful. There’s something ahead and it won’t really matter if it lasts for nine months or nine years. It will be the right turn, the right time, the right track. You’ll cry when it’s over and you’ll cry while it’s happening. You’ll gain and lose along the way, you’ll find the yes in the middle somewhere and you’ll keep asking questions until you find yourself asking a question that takes you to a different turn.

And one day you’ll move your boxes to a new place. You will set up the tv, turn it on and make a new memory. It won’t be Phelps at the 2016 Olympics and it won’t be Raleigh. It won’t be the 2nd floor apartment with the perfect sunset view or the closet that smells like Christmas. It won’t be right down the street from the Harris Teeter with the annoying kid who never stops talking. But it will be home again and there will be people there waiting to love you and people that you’ll hope to never leave.

But if and when you do, they are what you will know made this whole thing the right turn. Even though it hurts and even though it’s a lot of logistics, labor, inconvenience. The women who laughed with you, prayed with you, let you vent and cry in the hard moments. The bosses who sat with you, heard your questions, processed your pain, valued your voice. The men who kept you laughing, whose comfort and encouragement reminded you that honor and integrity are worth whatever the cost, who cheered you on when you thought you might give in. When you’re packing it all up–questioning why and trying to understand it all–they are what and who will make you certain that thought it wasn’t what you expected, you made the right turn after all.

I’ll Tell Him That He Didn’t Fight These Last Few Years Alone

The smell of stale coffee always reminds me of a man I met on a flight bound for Seattle.

He wore a navy blue hoodie and dark framed glasses. He crossed his chest in prayer before we lifted off and touched the ground.

When I saw him again three days later boarding the same flight as me I will never forget the same look of wonder and astonishment we shared. What were the chances that two complete strangers would book the exact same flights and sit so close together?

I wish that the story was more profound than it is. But mostly we just stuck close together out of familiarity and then kind of shook our heads in speechless amazement when we said goodbye at the gate.

But sometimes I think of him and I wonder how he is. I wonder if he still prays, if he still watches Oscar nominated pictures. I think about him because in that moment and time we were two humans who banded together out of what seemed to be a coincidence of circumstance. We knew each other more than we knew anyone else on that plane (which wasn’t saying much because we didn’t know each other at all). But it’s amazing that one previous encounter tied us to each other just a little bit, just enough to make us closer than an absolute stranger.

I still think about him when I’m in an airport or when I tell stories about weird things that have happened to me on planes. I think of him, I smile, and I pray for him. I can’t help but think about how crazy that is, that a chance encounter made him the object of another person’s prayers. I wonder about the people that I’ve bumped into at banks or met in the line at grocery stores…maybe sometimes they pray for me.

Maybe there’s a woman with big green eyes who met me at a cinema. Maybe she sometimes laughs at the girl with the southern accent and sends up a prayer for her when she smells buttered popcorn.

I’ve started to wonder about these kinds of people, the people that sometimes waft back through my memories. Maybe they’re the people that God puts in front of us because somewhere, in their corner of the universe, they’re fighting a battle and thinking that they have always been just a face in an airport that no one ever remembered.

Maybe the things we notice and the people we remember are branded on us for a reason that far extends the moment we know them or the amount of time we interact with them. Maybe the reason God gave us a memory was to fight the lies someone is believing that say there is nothing special about them, nothing that makes them stick around in a heart years after a plane landed.

We love in a movie when someone remembers what the other was wearing the first time they met. We love the little details, the little tokens someone held onto from a first date. But we don’t always value the memories we store for the people we might never see again.

Years ago I started realizing that there must be more to the impressions people make on our lives; because our mind’s ability to store these random memories has to be for a bigger purpose than just sitting inside of our heads.

Maybe it’s not just strangers, but maybe it’s the girl who sat next to us in third grade or the co-worker we had in high school. The people who were for a brief time in a world, but somehow still manage to come bouncing through our memory from time to time; the ones that give us this slightly inexplicable feeling that they’re tied to us as more than just a random person we once knew.

Someday I hope that I board a flight to Seattle and he’s there. It seems improbable, but I won’t say impossible because we managed to find the same plane twice in our lives. And if he is, and if we do, I’ll tell him that he didn’t fight these last few years alone. I’ll make a toast with stale airplane coffee to praying for strangers and knowing that God gave us a mind and a heart that stores things for greater and bigger purposes than we’ll probably ever fully know.

 

 

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.

Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile on top of the hurt by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings. 

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper: Reach for a hug. Give a compliment. Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because it wouldn’t feel genuine. But he’d say it over and over again: Love isn’t just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is: it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else. That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it, it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love, the more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is more like a triathlon. It has different legs. You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root. Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret pouring a little salt in your wounds.

 

 

When They’re Cutting Cucumbers or Washing Dishes

We balanced our bare feet on the edge of the balcony and she just simply asked me why those three words are so hard to say.

In return I asked her why we wait until we’re leaving or standing in hospital rooms or next to pine boxes to say them, to say “I love you”. Because it’s not that we love someone more in those moments, but it’s in those moments that we finally realize how stupid it was to have wasted any time not telling them. What on earth kept us from using the three most important words in existence?

“I want to tell people I love them constantly, especially in the ordinary, when they’re cutting cucumbers or washing dishes.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Because there was a day, two years ago in April, that I was slicing tomatoes in a sunlit kitchen and I missed a moment. I missed one of those simple seconds just to say “I love you and that’s not going to change” to the person sitting on a barstool watching me prepare dinner. I’ve never forgotten it, I’ve lugged that moment around for the last 784 days.

I didn’t think those words would carry the kind of weight they were made to deliver, so I held them back. I didn’t know if they would be enough coming from me.

Darling, you should know something: those three words are absolutely enough when they come crashing out of your mouth and into another’s ears. 

They bear the kind of weight that even Atlas the Titan couldn’t have carried. They are solid and heavy and something concrete for the people you say them to.

I wish you wouldn’t just save them up for rainy days or for moments deemed “appropriate”.

I want you to say them walking down the paper towel aisle of the grocery store or after a belly-aching laugh at the breakfast table. Say them to the people who are there in the little moments of your life, who know how you like your eggs and who aren’t embarrassed by you when you dance in the center of the room.

And say them when it’s inconvenient, when it’s awkward and when you’re not sure how it will sound. Say “I love you” because there aren’t other words that are more important, there’s nothing else that takes priority.

Say it the second you realize it, when people are fully being themselves and you are delighted to watch. Say it then, because they need to know it right at that moment, that someone in the world is filled with the wonder of all they are and all they were made to be. They need to know it’s incredible, it’s breathtaking and that it’s enough.

Don’t be the person who mumbles it as they’re getting into their car and you’re looking at your phone. Don’t just casually toss it on their lap with a Hallmark card when you’re leaving their birthday party. 

Look at them in the face. Show them they are worth another moment of your time. Hold them in an embrace just a little longer and let them know that they really are seen, they really are loved, they really are worth good things.

Those words are enough when they come from you, they bring more to a heart than you’ve ever been able to see. They are exactly what you’re made to say, made to hear, made to need; so say them, and let them be said.

Don’t turn your head when someone tells you. Don’t just shrug it off as though someone asked you “paper or plastic?” 

Drink those words in, every single time you hear them.

They are not casual or common, though they should be said often. They are not simple, clean cut or lighthearted, though they are not really all that complicated and are universally understood.

We decided that night on the porch that we were going to say them. To our friends, to our families, to our baristas, to the people breaking our hearts, to each other, and to ourselves.

Because those words are always beautiful, always enough, and they should be said. Say them even when it’s not a cinematic moment and when it might sound a little out of place. 

There’s no reason to keep them locked up, and despite what people say they won’t lose their meaning with continuous use.

Those are the words that will matter most, more than anything else you will ever say.