all the light that came after.

Shoes by the front door, a stone fireplace with stockings that looks sturdy enough to brace my shaky frame against.

I stand there half expecting myself to blurt out the words everyone keeps telling me not to say.

Because the words that pour out of the radio this time of year are, “let your heart be light” and as we know from last year, I’m a sucker for trying to figure out exactly what that means.

My eyes scan pages and pages of my textbooks for final exams and I’m trying to cram in all this information about how the first stars came to be. The authors tell me about what happened when they exploded, about all the light that came after.

I keep thinking about God and how His first words of creation were “let there be light” and I know there must be something to that.

I keep wondering if I explode or speak if some kind of light comes after.

Because maybe the magic of this whole season, the reason that we’re all obsessed with Hallmark Christmas movies is that they are scene after scene of people saying a bunch of horribly strung together sentences of things we’ve never had the nerve to say.

I’ve never felt I lacked nerve, but I’ve hoarded silence in the moments that seemed to matter. I’ve felt like a lover of lost causes in moments when it felt improper to say the thing that sits heavily on my shoulders.

Timing. Timing has never been my strong suit and it always seems that Christmas comes at precisely the time in which I have an armload of things I need to say and a crowd full of people and thoughts saying, it’s probably not the best time.

Because Christmas is cozy, quiet, a soft piano in the background of a department store. It’s chunky scarves, rosy cheeks, passing babies, wondering why everyone doesn’t get together more often. It’s silent nights, holy nights, it is good words written and stuffed inside gold foiled envelopes.

But I am the last minute shopper, donkey locked out of the stable, little off-beat drummer girl. I once demanded to be the angel in the Christmas play holding a stuffed beagle. I am the Barbara Robinson novel come to life. I am the girl who once nearly cut off her circulation and had a purple arm trying to buy Christmas presents in a Christian bookstore.

All is calm, all is bright. I am not good at calm. Sometimes I get the bright, but I rarely get the calm.

I find that I’m so occupied these days with sewing up my mouth, putting on my Christmas best, and hoping that no one notices me leaning against this fireplace holding back all the things that Ralph and Hugh (the writers of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas) missed when penning that song. Like sometimes gathering faithful friends and dear ones do not make my troubles feel miles away or out of sight. Sometimes, it makes me have to bite my lower lip because I do not know how to let “the fates allow”. Who are these fates? I do not know if I want them to allow. I think maybe I want to step in and decide some things and say some things before these fates get tangled up in this whole thing.

How am I going to have myself a merry little Christmas when this whole thing is left up to these vague fates and I’m just supposed to be hanging some star and figuring out what it means to “let my heart be light”?

Let your heart be light? I keep going back to that. Is that up to me or those fates? If it’s up to me, I want to say all these things that people tell me not to say. But then again, what if that makes us all heavier?

So then I’m supposed to hang some shining star. Well, that seems possible. I read about God and how light was His first priority. My textbooks then tell me those first stars exploded into all these other stars (according to science).

Well, then I think maybe if I just start with one thing, just one bit of light, more will come.

So maybe this blog is just about hanging that one star. Maybe it’s about saying that one thing, throwing out that one light and hoping that it explodes into a thousand more little lights.

We all have heavy things weighing on us and we all want this moment, this time, this season to be magical. We want it to be healing, something that brings us hope and helps us believe in goodness again.

Maybe you’re like me and you’re a little shaky, holding some things that you wish you could say, fix, change, or make happen. Maybe you’re a little lonely, tired, terrified, broken, confused. Maybe you just wish you had more time or capacity to enjoy it and feel it all.

Whatever it is you’re holding, I’m not going to tell you that all your troubles are going to be miles away. Your troubles are where they are. I’m not going to tell you it’s “a bright time or the right time to rock the night away” (mostly because I don’t even know what that means). I’m just going to tell you that I don’t know if any light will come after we say things we wish we could say. But there was the best Light that came, that stayed, that’s still here. It was here before the first words of “let there be light” were ever even spoken. And I don’t know what fates Ralph and Hugh were talking about, but I can assure you of this, the Faithful one who gives us all this light, well He’s tangled up in all of it.

A couple thousand years ago, He hung another star and regardless of what our shoulders might hold, we have to remember all the light that came after. It allows us to all have ourselves a merry little Christmas, even in this, even now.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Hungry, Angry, and Sitting With God

My life these days is sunshine warming my face in my childhood room, mid-morning coffee, memories of soggy streets in South America. Silence lulls me to sleep, along with the smell and burn of menthol on my back and legs. This is home, with its cold autumn air and slow traffic on the streets that never seem to change.

I tell myself that I am not angry, but I am angry.

Anger for me is like a pair of well-worn blue jeans. It fits in a comfortable but sloppy kind of way. I’ve never figured out why I keep shoving it back in my closet.

Hollow is another word that comes to mind. It sounds scary and dark, but it’s not really that. This kind of hollow is just quiet and achy.

I am fumbling for pill bottles, waking up countless times, checking my weight to make sure I’m eating enough. I sometimes lie awake and wonder if God is still around to hear the million sighs I make during the night.

“It could be worse,” is what I say through clenched teeth and a smile.

Those words are true. I am trying to be grateful. It could be worse, so much worse.

But it hurts and is painful and the thing I’m most afraid of is that one more person (including myself) will keep saying something like it’s going to get better. It doesn’t help.

Because right now, I have to sit with God in this.

I have to sit with Him. I just have to sit across this table from Him until we’ve finished this thing He’s preparing for me. I just have to sit here until we’re finished and He picks up the tab. I have to fight the urge to walk off in my impatience. I have to fight the urge to ask someone else to bring me an appetizer to fill this hunger. I have to wait on whatever it is that He says is on the way. It will get better, but I have to stay here for however long the space it between those words will get and better takes.

It aches and it carves its way through my heart in a way that I don’t always know how to talk about. I am disappointed. This place doesn’t have a menu. When I walked in, I didn’t see what I could expect posted in a bold and elegant font. I’m here and the fact that He’s brought me to this table tells me that He intends to fill me, but I can’t really give you much else. I can’t really tell you what that means or how long it’s going to take.

And sometimes my hollow hunger makes me angry, makes me frustrated, makes me wonder if I should have gone elsewhere. Sometimes I bang my fists and tell Him that I don’t even smell anything, that there’s no sign anything is even coming.

But He’s here, we are here and that has to be enough. If we finish 2017 in this booth with mediocre coffee cupped in our hands—it has to be enough. Even if Christmas lights look duller this year and my breath is still labored after simple tasks. If that fortune cookie is a liar and I cry on my twenty-sixth birthday, it has to be enough.

Breath lodged in my throat, shoulders heavy with truth, it has to be enough. Because He invited me to the table. He invites us all and somehow I saw the invitation in the middle of the darkness. Not everyone does and not everyone comes. Not everyone chooses this table and I’ve seen the pain in both His and their eyes when they sit somewhere else.

There is a table and we are here. For now, for both of us, I think it is enough.

 

 

 

Because Maybe the Other Shoe Drops, Maybe it Doesn’t

You know what I’m learning? There’s no symphony that starts playing when the good stuff shows up.

And God answers prayers that I longed for, but never even knew how to pray.

The old songs and places won’t always break your heart; and there’s no such thing as too much love.

You also don’t have to balance all the good stuff with equal amounts of hard stuff. For every good thing you see in someone, you don’t have to find something wrong. And you should really stop expecting that on the other end of every conversation. Not everyone sitting across from you is finding things to fix (if they are, you should reevaluate where you’re sitting). 

Balance is a word that sounds so noble, healthy, mature, but has been a demon that’s kept me awake at night. You said too much. You should have said more. Whatever it is, balance has always tried to replace the word enough. But enough doesn’t mean equal and/or perfect.

Enough is just enough. Enough is what we are. There is freedom in enough. Enough is the love you can rest in when you don’t have to have all the right words, fill the silence, do anything other than just exist. Find that space and fight for it, even if it scares you.

And God? Well, He is the solo occupant of the space labeled perfect. To be called enough by the One in that chair? I’ll take that. To know that He’s got people in his corner who will also believe that about me? That tells me all the fear, the worry, the demons of balance, comparison, and insecurity are a waste of my God-given time.

I’m starting to think I’ve blamed a lot of my pain and anxiety on God, when the truth is that I am the one who makes this whole thing complicated. It’s like I’ve been waiting for some symphony, some permission slip, for God to pop out from behind a door and tell me it’s finally okay to celebrate the good. The truth is that the breath in my lungs is that permission slip. But that need to be balanced tells me to wait, to hold back, to see if another shoe is going to drop and to expect pain to show up on the other end of the scale.

But then there’s hope, she’s a fierce rival of balance. She knows just how to spin you freely into placing all your bets on the good stuff.

Because maybe the other shoe drops, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you rip off the other shoe you’re wearing and just realize that being barefoot but brave was always a better way to live anyway.

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…

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.