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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You Won’t Forget: Thoughts on Letting Go.

It happened again the other day.

One of the last times I remember it happening was when I was sitting in the hospital. I was on a different continent entirely and I kept going back and wondering if I would always feel this way.

That sinking feeling and those same thoughts always come in waves.

This story should be different. I shouldn’t have to tell it this way. I should be somewhere else. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this.

Rewind.

Back to the night that my phone read 1 New Voicemail.

I’m standing outside of that restaurant, the neon sign above my head. The voice on the other end was angry. I was afraid. I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same.

It took years before I deleted that message. But when I finally did, I was hoping that somehow it would erase that night entirely. Fix it or fix me. That I would somehow come to terms with the truth about all the words that we said, the ones that little device held, words that never really told what we needed to say.

So, what about now?

I often ask that question as the blinker of my car flashes and ticks its familiar rhythm; as I weave through the lines of the highway.

What about now? Because I can’t go back. We cannot go back.

I have a secret that I’ve been trying to keep from God. One that I think if I shove it far enough inside, we’ll both forget about it and He might let time heal these things.

Letting go, it seems to be the thing people most often ask me about.

I’m no expert. I can’t say that I figured it out when I finally pressed that button. I can’t tell you that it’s that easy, that there’s a simple formula for moving on or a way to rewind and get back the time.

But what I can tell you is that you’re not going to wake up one day and have the quick fix, it doesn’t happen. You won’t suddenly open your eyes and feel changed, whole, free. Pain, like I’m talking about, doesn’t just fade. I wanted to believe it did. God knows that I hoped after I hit erase my memory could do it too, my heart could do it too.

But we are not creatures who forget. I’ve spent days and nights clawing at the insides of my mind and begging God to give me a mind that forgets. But we’ve got memories and reflexes, we are tied to old times. Thank God. Thank God that He doesn’t answer the prayer for me to let go in the ways I want to let go. I don’t get to let go by means of forgetting, of pushing it into the dark.

We let go by means of forgiveness. By remembering but choosing to lay it down. I have to lay it down—put it in a different place, stop holding it in these hands. I can’t keep gripping it, I have to unfurl these clenched hands, sometimes finger by finger, day by day. I have to know that white knuckling this thing won’t get it back. It hasn’t gotten it back.

This story will be different. I don’t have to tell it this way. I can be somewhere else. It doesn’t have to feel like this.

Stop going back to the night where my phone read 1 New Voicemail.

Stop going back, that’s what I can tell you. It doesn’t mean you’re going to forget, because you are not going to forget. We are not creatures who forget.

Lay it down. Keep laying it down. Stop holding it in your hands. Stop telling the story the way you do. You don’t have to tell it this way. You can be somewhere else. You don’t have to keep going back there.

You don’t have to learn how to live inside of that story without flinching. You just have to learn how to lay that chapter down and say, “Okay, I can’t re-write that part. I can’t keep re-reading that same chapter and hoping the characters do something else. I can’t keep flipping back and wishing that it went another way. I have to keep reading. I have to see where this thing goes and who we become. It’s going somewhere, but I can’t keep being disappointed with what happened back there. The rest is still worth reading. One sentence can make all the difference.”

It can, you know. One sentence you aren’t expecting might make all the difference.

But if you keep re-reading all the same ones you’ve read, looking for something back there to change, you’re just going to come up disappointed. The past is set in print, so let it go. The rest of what’s about to happen is absolutely worth reading.

Lay it down. Let it go. Stop telling and reading the same part of the story. You can read somewhere else. You don’t have to stay there.

We don’t have to stay there. You are not meant to live inside of one chapter, no matter how good or hard the words, promises, or sets of eyes. You don’t have to try and figure out where the plot line went wrong. You don’t have to keep pouring over those pages in regret and wondering if you could have changed that last sentence. You don’t have to dread the next chapter.

Just start with the next line on the next page.

One sentence can make all the difference and it might be just a few words away.

 

 

 

 

The Miracle of Staying

I used to think miracles were only instantaneous, a supernatural phenomenon that God performed in a split second.

I believe in those kinds of miracles, but this morning as I drove home, I whispered prayers of gratitude for a different kind. I gave thanks for the miracles that come only with time, process, and things that seem perfectly ordinary.

I cried as the state lines of Virginia kissed North Carolina and the road led into my hometown. My heart aches because home now feels scattered across continents and states. The girl who grew up in a small town, who thought she’d never leave and never know another world, fell in love with a group of a people in a small house in Georgia and saw God do a miracle.

In the ordinary, everyday routine of life, He used a wild group of girls and some guys down the street to unfurl her fists and teach her how to hope and laugh again.

This weekend, my roommate who always packs the snacks, loves a spontaneous trip, taught me how to shout for joy, and is always up for splitting an ice cream cake got married.

As we all parted ways this morning, nothing in me wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to go back. I wanted my house with the swing back, our nights on the kitchen floor, our Sunday mornings in the living room.

I wanted Christmas parties and late night dancing in our pajamas. I wanted breakfast with the guys, locking each other in the pantry for laughs.

But something inside of me also knew that God made this moment for something else.

We can’t go back.

Because the miracle of what God did was strengthen our knees to help us stand in other places.

And God knows that I couldn’t stand anywhere else if not for that house of girls and the guys down the street. Through them, He gave me the miracle of learning how to stay, how to yell prayers on Saturday mornings. How to keep waking up in the same place and make strong coffee with people who also didn’t know why seasons of loneliness sometimes feel so long.

Someday, you might show up to grassy fields and flower covered gardens to celebrate the season’s change. And if so, you will find out that the one that was labeled “single” might have been the one when you met the people who taught you how to stand and how to stay. That it was actually the season that brought you people who would later celebrate you best, shout with you when God would bring you something new.

I think sometimes my favorite miracles are ones that look like God spitting in the dirt, over and over again, making mud to wipe on your eyes and asking “Can you see yet?”  (Mark 8, John 9).

I think some of my favorite miracles are the ones that take years, miles, pain, and ordinary things to usher in the sacred and Holy moment where I finally open my eyes and say “I see it! It took some time, but I finally see!”

These things and people taught me how to stay, how to plant, how to enjoy and savor coffee in the kitchen. It was there I learned that lingering at the breakfast table teaches you to love in a way that few other things can. They taught me how to cry, how to laugh, how to dance (how to laugh at your own bad dancing). They taught me miracles are big and small, they’re instantaneous and also process. They taught me that it’s worth giving up the sleep to show up, to cry on the porch together, to say prayers around the coffee table late again because it’s going to matter. God knows, this weekend we saw how much it mattered.

Here’s to all the coffee table prayers we prayed, and the years I didn’t know were being made into miracles. To the miles driven and flown, the phone calls we still make. To the truth that God loves the process, uses mud, is okay with trying things out a few times. To weddings and dancing, for shouting and coffee. To breakfast and ice cream on the kitchen floor.

Here’s to the miracle of a house on a little street in Georgia and a God who whispered our names and invited us in.

To the reality that miracles don’t have to always look the way we hoped, expected, begged. Sometimes you just have to keep showing up and the miracle is in that. Here’s to seeing that the miracle is in finding people who learn how to choose to stay, and in the miracle of learning the same.

 

 

 

I Finally Stopped Running. Then My Car Got Towed.

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

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

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

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

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

“I never know where you are.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God knows where we are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Prayer to Borrow: Keep Me Soft

“Keep me soft.”

This is the thing I pray when I’m gripping my steering wheel and wondering why it appears that God always invites me down these insanely rocky paths.

This time last year, my heart was full of things I kept shoving down. I was choking on the truth, drowning in the words that needed to be said. I knew I would eventually have to come up for air.

One of the kindest things I’ve ever done was press send.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was the same.

Somewhere in the middle of those conflicting waves of emotion and truth, I found myself tethered to something I’ve never been able to escape.

The truth has never been something I can run away from. It is bigger than my feelings. It drips out of my skin and pours out of my mouth. The truth is the core of who I am; a carrier of it is who I’ve spent my life praying to become. The truth is also something I’ve spent too much time being ashamed to say or see.

To carry and to share the truth in a world that values filters and facades is a burden that sometimes feels too much to bear.

I grit my teeth. Laugh in frustration. Scribble my messy prayers to a God that tells me truth will set me free.

I might feel free, but sometimes I feel lonely.

Keep me soft. I pray this, over and over again. Because the temptation to shut my mouth, seal my heart, close my eyes overwhelms me every single day.

People are not God. This is the thing I have to keep learning over and over again.

People are not perfect. They will disappoint you. They will break your heart. They will say the right thing at the wrong time, the wrong thing at the wrong time. They will be exactly who you thought they were; they’ll turn out to be someone entirely different than you ever expected.

You will at some points utter words like “Never again” and “I knew it”. You will find yourself standing on the corner of Bitterness and Disappointment.

Don’t go there. This is the moment to whisper beneath those street lights, “God, keep me soft”.  You will want to be anything else. You will want to be fierce, angry, indifferent, cold, numb, outraged. But definitely not soft.

I spent a lot of my life terrified to be soft, refusing to bend. Ducking behind every corner, beating my fists against every wall and punishing myself for every delicate feature of me that would float to the surface.

Pull it together.” That was my mantra.

Toughen up.”

“Get your game face on.”

“You’re being ridiculous!”

And somewhere along the way, I realized I was growing cold. I was becoming calloused.

God, keep me soft.

“And because there will be more and more lawlessness, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).

When the truth is hard to carry. When the path is rocky, painful for my feet. When I look around and many are cold. When I want to fight, when I want to run, when I want to shut my mouth, shut my heart, let someone else deal with the painful truth. God, keep me soft.

If I end up crying in the grocery store, beating my head on the steering wheel, losing my pride, risking precious things—God, don’t let my love grow cold. Don’t let the soft parts of me, the way that I love people become things I punish in myself, force out of my heart.

Sometimes the hardest things you will ever do are the kindest things you will ever do. In a world that encourages putting on a brave face to protect your heart, you’ll find that one way to protect your heart is by training it to be brave in giving others and yourself the truth we all need to face.

God, keep me soft. Hold me to the truth. Keep me crying. Keep me laughing. Give me more crazy stories and moments that make me remember how small I am, how big you are. Keep me taking crazy risks and praying reckless prayers.

God, keep me soft. Don’t let my love grow cold.

 

 

 

Faith is Not a Pillow at Cracker Barrel

The last thing I thought I’d have rolling around in my head this morning is something that is probably a quote on a pillow at Cracker Barrel.

But there it was, flashing through my mind as I tried to fall back asleep.

Sometimes I act like faith is “shooting for the moon and hoping I land amongst the stars”.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but stick with me, we’re going somewhere.

It’s like I aim as high as I can, at what sounds really good, hard, noble, important. That’s usually when I think “yeah, that’s probably God” and force myself, no matter how awful, to do it.

Faith, when I’m trying to do it on my own, is like this awful combination of running a marathon and eating endless bowls of kale. “It’s good for me,” I groan. I try to force it down, hand it out, all the while I think people can probably see that I’m bent over looking nauseated and angry.

Following God is nothing like that.

Sometimes I treat him like my professor. Like he’s the guy handing out the syllabus who pushes up his glasses and says, “My grading rubric is really not that hard” but is actually just keenly unaware of how uneducated the rest of us are.

But that’s not Jesus. When He said that line about the load He gives being “easy and light”, He wasn’t this out-of-touch guy who thinks we’re further along than we actually are.

Right after that, He tells us He is gentle and humble in heart.

Which brings me to yesterday, when I told multiple people that I have a really hard time thinking Jesus is gentle.

I think He’s good. I think He’s patient. I think He is a lot of really wonderful things. But I think He’s about as gentle as a hurricane in a blazing oven. I don’t even know if that can exist, but regardless, it’s unfortunately how I often see Jesus.

“I am gentle and humble in heart,” If I’m perfectly honest, I kind of wanted to throw something across the room as I thought about that line this morning (because clearly, I am the picture of gentleness).

Gentle and humble in heart. Like a scorned housewife, I poured my coffee and tried not to roll my eyes. Well, your actions say differently, dear!

This is where you have to be really glad we serve a super gracious God who doesn’t send lightning bolts in these times. Because that’s when Father God was probably up there miming the sign for the cross and turning up the volume on “Amazing Grace”.

But there I was, slinging my breakfast around and judging his gentleness and boasting in my brand of Cracker Barrel pillow faith.

And Jesus just kind of stood there in the kitchen with me, “I didn’t tell you to shoot for the moon.” He says those kinds of things, loud and clear if we’re willing to stop ranting and listen for a second.

There is a list of things that I’ve got rolling around in my brain that I think sound noble, noteworthy, healthy, “good for me”.  There is also a list of things that other people “need” and demand, that I’ve picked up along the way. They sound really good, they even sound like they could be God. But they also sound a lot like me trying to be the best version of myself. They sound like me trying to shoot for the moon and hoping I hit something that resembles a star. It’s striving for an A, hoping I get a B, and worse case scenario, thinking I’ll at least probably pass.

But faith isn’t a project, a paper, or quiz. It isn’t this throwing out your best attempt and hoping you “do alright”.

It’s mornings in the kitchen slinging around your coffee and asking Jesus if he’s gentle and waiting around to find out.

It’s digging through the questions and realizing that even if you’re getting it all wrong, He’s still there. He isn’t holding a syllabus and he isn’t going lash back when you try to start an argument over breakfast.

The first part of that verse, the one where He talks about being gentle. Where he talks about how the load He gives is easy and light, He doesn’t say “shoot for the moon”.

He says “Come to me.”

And when He says “Learn from me, my load isn’t heavy”, I don’t think He’s the out of touch professor saying, “Go figure it out, it’s not that hard!”

I think it means something more like, “You don’t have to aim high and hope. I’ve already done it. I know right where to go, right where to aim. I’ll help you, walk with you the whole way.”

There’s a gentleness in someone who bears the weight of the load. In someone who goes first, maps it out, tears down all the limbs, patches up all the dangerous holes, goes ahead, walks it out and then comes back for you and guides you through the whole thing again. Doesn’t get weary when you complain. Doesn’t throw up their hands in frustration when you whine about the heat or the little thorn you got, when they had the worst journey imaginable before you. They just keep going, keep walking, keep laughing. Letting you take the easy path, fixing your wounds and making good jokes and being a good shoulder when you get distracted by something and fall over your own feet. That’s about as gentle as they come.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”-Matthew 11:28-30

How to Catch the Light

I hope the fireflies show up for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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