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.

 

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.¬†

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

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

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

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salting that wound kept me alive.

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

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

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

It’s going to take time.

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

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

 

 

I Was Born Wearing a Red Polyester Cape

“You can’t make everybody happy.”

She said it in such a matter-of-fact tone. I thought those words were just the scraps from her years of practiced indifference.

“And one day, you’ll get tired of trying.”

I didn’t believe her. It didn’t seem that a day would ever come when I wouldn’t want everyone in my life to be blissfully happy. When I wouldn’t want to do everything in my power to make it so.

But that wasn’t what she said, was it? She never said I wouldn’t¬†want¬†it. She said I’d get tired of trying to¬†make it happen.

I wish she had been wrong.

There are only so many speeches, letters, gifts, and heartbeats you can offer a person before you realize¬†you can’t and won’t and might never make them happy.

I want so badly to wrap my arms around every single person I’ve ever known and every stranger I meet. I want to buy them cups of coffee and read them bedtime stories and whisper words like,¬†“every little thing is going to be alright”.

And I could do that.¬†But it doesn’t mean I could make them happy.

You can offer them everything you are, you can look into their muddy brown eyes and tell them they are¬†enough.¬†You can do the hard things, the brave things. You can break your own bones for the strength of another’s aching limbs.

But you can’t make everybody happy.¬†And that’s perfectly alright.¬†

What she didn’t tell me was that¬†it’s okay to be completely exhausted from love.

No one ever told me it was okay to take a drive to the mountains for a date with the trees and the sky. No one ever told me to let the wind sing me a lullaby as I watch the leaves change.¬†Oh, I wish she had told me that¬†It’s okay to admit you’re broken and to take a sick day every once in a while.

Sometimes, I think I was born wearing a red, polyester cape. Because I’ve spent my life trying to live up to the task of saving people.

It took me seeing a photograph taken in the city on a summer night before I finally knew why I’ve been feeling so weighed down. I knew immediately that I was going to have to untie this layer of superhero attire and realize this:

I can‚Äôt save you. I can’t make you happy.

I used to see bright eyes that resembled the watercolor paintings from my childhood, but now I see that they’ve faded through the months.

Because you were born wearing a polyester cape and like me, you’ve been trying to save the world.

But the world already has a savior and He’s not on leave. He didn’t ask us to take over while he vacations on the beach. Like a child following their Daddy to work, trying to carry his hammer, his nails, his bag. We want to save the world.

But we can’t.

We can only tell people Daddy’s on the way. And that he loves them. And that he says they’re beautiful, wonderful, funny, handsome, mighty, fierce.

But we can’t make them live the life that bleeds the things that God painted on their hearts long before the earth had a speck of light. But we can tell them that He is on the way. We can tell them that they are enough. That they are worthy to be loved.

And we can love them.

But we will get tired. These feeble bodies that will someday expire, can’t always hold the weights that our hearts and souls carry.¬†Sometimes our bones grow weary from lugging around the kind of love that changes the world.

But you’ve got to keep going. You have to keep telling them all the words they never got to hear. All the words that never came to the little boy or the little girl who wondered if they were enough.

But you can’t do that without some days by the sea or moments under the stars. You can’t do that without untying the ropes of unyielding and immovable devotion for¬†just a little while.¬†You can’t keep going if you don’t¬†stop¬†and let yourself breathe for just a minute. And in your breathing, you must keep reminding yourself:

You can’t save the world.¬†

Not for lack of trying, or because you don’t want it with every single cell inside of you.¬†But because you too need saving.

And the only one who can save us is the one who made us. We are not Him. 

We could never bear the weight that it takes to have that kind of love; the kind of love that saves. The kind of love that causes flesh and bone to cling to a tree. We could not hold in these mortal bodies the kind of love that does not grow tired. Not yet.

So, it’s okay to take an adventure to watch the sunrise and to remove your red polyester cape. To remind yourself that¬†you too need saving. To remind yourself that Daddy’s on the way. And to remind yourself that your¬†only¬†job is to tell everyone else the same.