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‚Äôt squander your precious life.”¬†Proverbs 8:32 (MSG)

 

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.

 

 

My Birthday, Jack Bauer, and Fighting Back

My 24th year of life was somewhat similar to the tv show 24. Ironically enough, it was also the year in which I watched all eight seasons of the show and fell in love with Jack Bauer and also Tony Almeida. But not Sherry Palmer, she was legit the craziest person television has ever seen (except for Deb from One Tree Hill).

Anyway, my 24th year of life was like that show in that it was a lot of sleepless nights feeling like I had to save America. Except I am not Jack Bauer and I failed us because Marco Rubio is not President.¬†I tried, but my methods of coercion¬†are a lot less persuasive than Jack’s.

But as I’ve been reflecting on the past year, I’ve found that it was a year of fighting back. It was about finding some stability,¬†standing back up and dusting myself off. It was one of letting go, grabbing back on, and letting go all over again.

Fighting back came in the form of moving to a town where no one knew my name, my face, my history. We didn’t have strings, years of history swimming between us. It came in the form of solitude, getting rid of the voices that told me who I was supposed to be.¬†It took getting alone in a city of strangers to find out who I really am, who I always was, and who I am free to be.

I had to find my footing again. My voice. I had to hear God on my own, without the temptation of distraction. I had to find him in the silence, in the stillness between my own four walls. I had to learn how to stop being afraid of the darkness. I had to learn how to ask questions that ripped my heart to pieces. I had to weigh costs that and decisions that felt impossible to make. I had to learn how to open my doors to my home, to my heart, and risk that it may only be for a season. I had to believe it would still be worth it.

I had to learn how to make speeches that have been stirring in me for years. I was finally able to let go of the pain and regret of unsaid words. I prayed and I still pray that I learn from that pain and I don’t spend so much time in fear. I pray I’ve become the person to¬†take chances and say the things that are worth saying to the people worth saying them to.

I had to learn to laugh. To make plans. To finally plan a birthday that didn’t make me cry, to no longer feel obligated to make that one day a day of redemption and atonement for everything that goes wrong the other 364. I had to learn that boundaries are good and beautiful, that you must embrace and often welcome pain when it comes, but you don’t necessarily have to invite it.

I had to choose to see that holding yourself and others to unrealistically high expectations is rooted in pain and a fear of disappointment. Disappointment is not nearly as bad as your fear of it. The anticipation of everything is always so much worse than the actual thing itself. Worry and dread are the enemy. The results you can live with, it’s the turmoil of inaction that will nearly kill you.

Here at the beginning of 25 I realize that there is still so much I don’t have figured out, there are so many opportunities that sit in front of me and the ever present temptation to be overwhelmed by the options and possible outcomes. But if 24 taught me anything it’s that taking chances is worth it. Nothing ever turns out the way you imagine or anticipate, but it often gives you a gift that far exceeds your expectation. Life and God have a funny way of presenting the right people and places at exactly the right time, and so when you find yourself wanting to dive in, it’s usually got something worth offering to you.

Dive in. Sit in the silence. Weigh the cost. Fight back. Say the thing you need to say. Life is a gift, the opportunities and people in front of you are the best part and every time you let yourself grab onto them, you always find something worth holding onto.

 

When The Holidays Are Hard

Some days I am still in the kitchen looking for napkins at that Christmas party. I can hear the laughter coming from the back of the house, my heart swells with the hope as the background music fades to the next track.

I immediately smile as I hear the younger version of myself laugh. Nothing was untouched by the lights that year, anything and everything was possible. All our troubles seemed miles away.

What I didn’t know was that by the next Christmas all of that hope would feel long forgotten and¬†it would take years to get any of it back.

Fast forward to last week when I got a handwritten letter in the mail.

It was from a dear friend across the country and her words were full of that same kind of hope, risk, excitement, uncertainty. I found myself thinking about that Christmas party and about the year that followed.

I replayed¬†what it felt like to let my heart grab on to things that were never meant to be. I let myself be taken back to¬†those twinkle lights and the cold winter air. I let my heart stir in that hope that built me and broke me. While I can’t say I regret that time in my life, the memory of it sometimes still feels heavy whenever¬†the holidays roll around.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I get all warm and sappy whenever I hear it playing over the speakers in the mall, or when it greets me in the car on a dark winter morning.

I wish I could go back to the 40’s¬†and sip coffee with the writers, Hugh and Ralph. I would ask them to tell me about the day they pulled that crumpled melody out of the trashcan. I would ask about the stories that¬†caused them to write those¬†words and that¬†tune.

Let your heart be light…

Around this time of year, I have to remind myself not to¬†get weighed down. It seems so much easier to get¬†heavy when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. And there always seems to be so much pressure to get happier when the red ornaments come out and the¬†big mugs of hot cider start getting passed around. The thick obsession with holiday¬†cheer can weigh me down faster¬†than anything else. I don’t want to miss it. According to every one and every thing, these are supposed to be¬†my happiest months. I¬†often feel rushed to get myself¬†together before December slips away.

I’m figuring out that we need to learn to let our hearts be¬†light, but that we¬†don’t need to hurry it¬†or force it.

Some days it is okay to remember the Christmas party that broke your heart and to grieve the chairs those people no longer fill. But then you have to let go of that weight, sweep the floors and make new invitations. Keep throwing parties and keep filling up those chairs.

Let your heart be light. Allow it to let go, allow it to hope for better years. Go and see the lights, sniff the fresh pine, watch all the best and worst Hallmark movies, help your grandmother decorate her tree, make plans to find the perfect wrapping paper. Let your heart be hopeful and expectant, even if there are hard memories and prior years that still bring pain.

Sometimes I feel like Dickens really got his stories mixed up. He really should have started off the Christmas one with that whole bit about how it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Because some days I’m still in that kitchen and I am heavy with the weight of what Christmas used to be, might have been, appears to be for everyone else. One minute, I am one pine-scented candle away from weeping in Target¬†and the next, I’m singing Holly Jolly Christmas and¬†flailing around in¬†snowman pajamas.

Most days this really is the most wonderful time of the year. Still, Ralph and Hugh knew that there would be those holiday days we would need a melancholic song that would help us mourn, while simultaneously giving us a swift-kick-in-the-rear with a challenge like let your heart be light. 

I’m not sure if those guys knew it, but a¬†different kind of Christmas light is the only thing that¬†can help us with the heavy weight.¬†That Light came in the middle of the night to a¬†bunch of people on the run, who were probably crying over old Christmas parties, and whose lives looked nothing like Hallmark movies.¬†He¬†saw¬†all the sadness, darkness, pain, loss, loneliness they were in and He came.

And when He took his first human breath, I think that was really the first time the world heard what are quickly becoming my favorite words of the season: let your heart be light.

 

 

I have one less pair of pants and I now need to hide underground, but it will all be okay.

The ceiling literally caved in. I came home a few weeks ago to big chunks of my ceiling laying in the floor.

Then came final exams, a crazy list of things to-do at work, a roach in my bathroom, getting incredibly sick, and then accidentally and unintentionally stalking an old(ish) man.

Then came the world’s worst migraine that lasted for a week, which led me to an¬†allergic reaction, which then led to me throwing my pants away (of which I have no recollection of).

Needless to say, my life over the last several weeks could have been a sitcom. I seriously think television networks could benefit from following me around.

In the middle of all of it, I found myself exhausted, terrified, frustrated, mortified, and amused.

But I also came to find out that¬†the world didn’t end.

Somehow all the assignments that needed to be finished were completed, the speeches that had to be composed were written. The designs, deadlines, and e-mails were all taken care of.  I woke up this morning to realize that though I have one less pair of pants, and I now need to hide underground for a few years after the stalking mishap, that it is all going to be ok.

I think sometimes I forget that God works things out. He makes a way. Granted, I have to do my part sometimes, I have to be responsible with my time and my energy. I have to cooperate with wisdom, but it always gets done and works out. And even when I screw it up, His grace can and does still meet me.

I¬†so easily take that for granted. I have a crazy and stressful week, I survive and then I just move on. I don’t always stop to mark the moment and say,¬†the next time everything explodes and I’m a¬†wreck of a human being who is staggering into doctor’s offices and beating a roach with a broom at 2 am, I should remember that God was with me this time and it all worked out.

I guess what I’m saying is that¬†you’re going to be okay. Whatever the weeks and months look like for you right now, you’re going to make it and¬†you’ll make it through the next time after that as well.

Think about all the times that you swore it wasn’t going to work out, you wouldn’t finish it all, you wouldn’t survive, you wouldn’t be okay. You’re here, you’re breathing, you made it. Maybe it didn’t all turn out the way you thought it would, but the world didn’t end and you’re still moving.

Take a minute, just stop and remember that you can’t control it all and that you don’t have to. He’s got this. The one who is in control of everything has always¬†and will always have you, and He will work it out.¬†

eat the cake and be thankful

My sister got married.

Which most days still¬†seems like a sentence of fiction. It feels like this story that I’ve crafted in my mind about a day filled with coffee, flowers, shades of green, and warm hugs from the people who know me best.

The rhythm of the entire thing was joy and nostalgia, it was just the stuff Gary Marshall movies are made of.

Every time I think about that day, I stop breathing for just a second. It was the day I went from having my life and its people memorized, to seeing change come right before my eyes.

I don’t think I blinked the entire weekend of that wedding.

I kept telling myself to be present, put down the phone, take note of the perfect weather, laugh with my relatives, squeeze my out-of-town friends.

Because the story was happening. And I’ve always been one who doesn’t fully appreciate the story while I’m in it.¬†But something about the wedding of the most important person in the world to you will shake you. It will make you stop dead in your tracks and think:¬†don’t miss this moment.

Here’s what I learned: Eat the cake. Reach for the hug. Make eye contact. Make a toast full of words that you’ve held in too long. Pray. Sit up the night before, wrapped in a blanket, telling God that this was everything and nothing that you expected to feel.

Be prepared to¬†literally feel the page of your life turn when you change out of that bridesmaid’s dress into your jeans and flannel.

But know that it shouldn’t just be weddings or noteworthy¬†events that shake us. It should be the simple moments of our lives, the coffee dates with old friends, sitting alone¬†on the porch, waiting in line for your morning bagel.¬†Life, abundant life, is supposed to be this enthralling and enchanting thing that stirs you every single day. Days should not pass by in bundles¬†without us¬†having said, “Thank you God that I’m here and I’m alive. Thank you that I have a heart that fought to stay vulnerable, and¬†still can’t make it through a wedding without crying. Thank you for this heart that begs to know more about love, forgiveness, and¬†how to do things that matter.”

The days since the wedding have been filled with exams, my ceiling (literally) caving in, getting sick, trying to figure out a laundry schedule, battling a large insect in my bathroom at 2 am. Life hasn’t slowed, it hasn’t allowed me much time to really stop and be thankful for the goodness that comes in-between and in the middle of the mess.

So,¬†maybe the point of this blog is to say,¬†stop and enjoy the moment and realize that you have a lot to be thankful for. It’s also to say that you’re meant to live fully and abundantly. You’re supposed to be captivated and romanced by the reality that you have breath and a heart. Use them. Use them to appreciate your life and to live it abundantly.

Life is messy and hard. Sometimes you¬†find yourself curled up on the couch crying from pain,¬†right in the middle of one of the happiest times¬†in your life. Sometimes you find that you still¬†feel a¬†coat of grief hanging from your shoulders, and it’s always reminding you of¬†what could have been.

But stop in the middle of the mess, the grief, the questions, the celebrations, the busy schedule. Stop when you’re falling into bed, and can barely keep your eyes open. ¬†Stop and say thank you. Stop and think about how good it feels to just be here. Stop. Eat the cake, say the things you need to say, and remind your heart not to¬†miss being thankful for the biggest and even the smallest of life’s moments.