That Moment Comes Back to Me a Thousand Times a Day

Five months ago, I slung back a cup of coffee in my second floor apartment that had a perfect gray and white themed aesthetic. Nothing was out of place; accents of gold were strategically arranged throughout the room. My textbook laid across my lap, I read about Colombia and took notes for the class I was enrolled in and I remember the thought as it crossed through my mind and I shifted on my dark gray couch: I will absolutely never go to Colombia.

That moment comes back to me a thousand times a day as I walk these streets and even now as I sit at a small café table that overlooks streets of Medellín. When I first agreed to lay down all my textbook reasons for not coming to Colombia, it was because of the 43 people I would be traveling with. I had fallen in love with our team and the 5 other leaders of our squad; it was those people that got me here. But it was someone else entirely that changed my view of everything once we arrived….

Read more on my World Race Blog…

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Mud, Sweat, and Tears

I wish I’d known sooner that the remedy for my heartbreak & feeling stuck was ten days of mud, sweat, tears, and becoming like a child again.

But God also knew that in the years before this moment, the idea of dropping a summer class to throw on basketball shorts and get covered in red Georgia dirt, eaten by bugs, and drenched in sweat was not something I was willing to sign up for.

But somehow it happened. Somehow this summer became the one in which I unintentionally signed up to take ten days to: cry hourly, lose sleep, smell awful, abandon any attractive clothing, forget about the outside world, give away my heart.

What I expected least was the night was I ended up sitting on a couch across from another woman who was leading at this camp. She was watching me nearly fall apart as I took her through a twisted algorithm of my heart.

“I need a whiteboard to decipher this…” She told me.

I laughed. Trying to find the words, the hand motions. Forcing myself to communicate the thing that I was so terrified to admit.

But then I realized an incredible thing. I had known this woman for about a week and I was preparing to tell her something that I knew might make her change every good opinion about me.

It had taken me weeks upon weeks to tell the people closest to me this very thing. And here I was, staring at this woman who was in many ways a complete stranger. I was about to tell her something that just might disqualify me as a good leader in every way.

What I couldn’t figure out was why I was willing to risk it all right there in that moment. Willing to give away the secret that my pride wanted so desperately to hold on to.

Later I realized it was because I was finished with pride. Pride: the thing that had spent years stealing everything from me. It had stolen the moments just like that one, when you’re laughing so hard you can’t breathe and you finally get the chance to say the thing that might set your heart free.

It had stolen from me that moment in the kitchen when I needed to stop cutting the cucumbers and tell him the truth.

It had stolen those moments when I didn’t know how to let go. To walk away from something that I knew wasn’t right. Pride and my misplaced hope had spent years trying to anchor those things to my heart.

I became willing to risk that secret because I knew that hiding has been a thing that’s kept me from ever really finding the actual desires of my heart. Pride let me keep the things that seem valuable, while stealing from me the things that I actually truly desire. It kept me from having the kind of friendship that challenges me, the kind of love that really sees me, the kind of pain that knows the grief of patience is better than temporary false fulfillment.

So this week I put on my basketball shorts and sat surrounded by bugs and mud. I cried without holding back. I dug my knees into the carpet and wrapped my arms around young men and women and told them this next year with God is worth fighting for. I jumped when they heard Him speak. I wept when I watched them worship. I yelled at the top of my lungs when they won dodgeball. I cried laughing while judging their dance routines. And I prayed fiercely that they would never know the kind of pride I’ve carried: the kind that teaches my heart to make algorithms for why I can’t love people, or why I can’t or shouldn’t say the words I need to say.

This week I found myself face to face with the reality that few things in life are worth holding on to if they going to cost us the kind of love that rolls in the mud. The kind of love that solves the equations that pride built within us when we tasted our first heartbreaks. The kind of friendship that gives us the patience required to wait on our words to form.

I found myself letting go of that pride this week, willing to lose it all.  I knew there was something better, even if that meant breaking my own heart to learn what it was.

It turns out I’d rather sit in the middle of the mud, sweat, and tears with real love than in the clean corners of the room with the company my pride and impatient pain have been trying to keep.

This week was nothing I expected and exactly what I needed. A combination of everything required to learn what it means to let go of my own heart. The moment of finally realizing that the world needs my heart more than I do, and that by giving it away in love, it gets handed back to me in a much better condition than when I try to protect it.

For all the years I spent trying to make you solve for x, this is my apology. For the years ahead, I pray for the grace and humility to finally open my mouth and say the things my heart and the ones who hold it need to hear me speak.

 

 

 

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.

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)