Monday, August 18, 2014

To Age.

Come Thursday evening around 8:30 PM, I will have circled the sun another year. I find myself, as a new birthday comes around each year, thinking more and more about where I am at that moment in comparison to where I was on the last birthday.

To say my twenties have been years of change and growth and pain and lessons learned would be an anticlimactic understatement. I remember turning 25 and writing a post about my quarter life crisis and have to laugh right out loud at what I said and what I thought and what I thought I knew. The coming years after that post was written were all situations of a hot mess. In all my 'I'm a graduate, hear me roar' musings, I had no idea who I really was - no idea who I really was supposed to be; so I guessed at who the world might want me to be and I went from there. I made poor decisions, I put myself in dangerous situations, and I found every opportunity to make fun of myself so as to distract people with laughter from the actual mess I really was.

Twenty-five passed and then came twenty-six. And I had learned some lessons; I'd even grown a little. But I just couldn't have fathomed a guess at what this last year would mean for me.

I met Jesus, again. Or, rather, He found me - wading waist high in deep shame and confusion over where I was and who I was supposed to be and nowhere to really turn to in order to figure that all out. He reached down and lifted me up and He took the fires I had been sleeping in, living through, and being scarred from and repaired this broken sinner's heart.

I moved out on my own. I moved out of that large corn field that had found me scared and scarred and running and directed my steps to the city. It was the scariest thing I've ever done - leaving behind my mom and dad and brother, sleeping in a house alone at night with only the traffic outside the windows to sing me to sleep, spending time alone - no TV, no internet, no noise to quiet the doubts swimming, smelling out weakness like bait, in my head.

I said no. I said no to settling and premarital sex and giving in to what I want over everything else. I said no to the girl who had long been fighting to resurface - for male attention and to become someone's wife and to not have to learn how to handle the sadness that creeps in dark and heavy without hesitation. I said no to habits that were trying to break above water, but needed to die. I said no to the girl who always talked about changing but never cared to really do much about it.

I've allowed forgiveness into my vocabulary. Steph, I forgive you for the sheets you tangled yourself in, for the risks you took with this one life and heart of yours, for always saying this would be the last time and, deep down, knowing it never would be.
I began to forgive friendships that had been left open-ended, but never rejuvenated. I began to forgive myself for being at fault for them. I forgave myself for loving someone who wasn't right for me, and what's more, I forgave him for not being who I needed and still coming around. I am forgiving - because it helps me to breathe deeper. It helps me to live, not merely exist.

In Anne of the Island LM Montgomery writes, "That's one of the things we learn as we grow older -- how to forgive." and I just couldn't agree more; life is too short to sit around holding things against people or making mountains out of inconsequential events when we should really be holding each other up and pushing each other forward.

I used to fear growing older. Admittedly, I still do. I often find myself trapped in the confines of a perpetual thought cycle that tells me I will have failed if I've not accomplish x, y, and z by the age of 30. And so that is my prayer -- that I would realize I shouldn't fear growing old - as it is a privilege denied to many; I pray that I would realize the beauty that comes from aging because there is beauty in knowing yourself better each day. Rachel Maddow says it well, "My life is better with every year of living it."
Surprisingly I find it difficult to disagree - standing here, mere days from another birthday, I recall the girl I was at 16, at 18, at 21, at 25 and I must fight off a shudder; there are still fragments of those girls resting within me now - I may find myself taken by surprise when a tidal wave of adolescent emotion gains the upper hand, but it will settle itself accordingly. I must not forget that to erase each piece of who I was then would be to devalue who I've become right now.

Ann Voskamp, my favorite blogger, wrote a beautiful piece and posted it today and she said something that just held my breath from me for a moment: There comes a time when your world gets quiet enough that all you can hear is the beating and the breaking of your one heart. You'd better still long enough to learn the sound of it and let it teach you. Or you won't know the rhythm of your only life (emphasis mine.)
I think that is what 26 has been for me - my world growing so quiet that all there is to hear is the splintering of a heart and the realization of the why's behind it; my 26th year has taught me to listen a little better - to what my soul needs, not to what the world will demand of me; to what will heal my heart best - not to what will make everyone else the most comfortable; to what my Savior says I deserve - not to what my 17 year old self desired. 26 found me wounded and broken and bitter and needy for the approval of a world that has no right or knowledge to give it; 26 leaves me repaired, on the mend, searching for the sweet nectar that is at the core of this life, and needy for the only One who can truly see me for exactly who I was, am, and will be and who chooses to love me wildly and without restraint anyway.

Come Thursday, I will not know what to expect of year 27 - only that there is this - change is okay, aging is exquisite, and there is soul shaking freedom in the letting go.

Monday, August 4, 2014

When Saying No is Bravest of All

Words have been on my mind a lot lately - but to be fair, words are typically in the swirling, wade pool of my thinker; the walls of my home are decorated with words - words to inspire, remind, to leave you wondering - to confirm just Who it is we belong to in this ever changing, sometimes hurtful world.

You see, for as long as I can remember, words have mattered to me; I am a self-proclaimed over analyzer and words are often at the very center of what I am over analyzing. In the growth of my love for words I found that it was through the medium of them that I would best be able to express myself -- however writing them always came much easier than saying them aloud.

As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus, I have come to understand how important words are to Him, too. Annie F. Downs says it better than I probably ever could in her book, Let's All Be Brave:

Our words always matter. If we go back to the book of Genesis, where the world began, we see that God started it all with words. He spoke, and things became. Light. Land. Lizards. All with a word.

Proverbs 18:21 explains it in a pretty rad way, too.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (ESV)

And Proverbs 16:24 sheds light on the power of a word, as well.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (ESV)

So, yeah, words are legit. They hold power -- to destroy, to lift up, to restore, to turn a world upside down.

Admittedly, I prefer the sort of words that raise the spirit of a heart, that lend a face to smiling, but we do not live in a world in which words exist merely on one side of this spectrum.

I have lived the last 26 (soon to be 27) years of my life under the false assumption that bravery went hand in hand with being a 'yes' type of person. In fact, I spent the majority of my twenties in a perpetual state of nodding affirmation. Yes, I will stay in this relationship, even though it's damaging us both, because it's comfortable. Yes, I will talk back disrespectfully to my father because I am woman, hear me roar. Yes, I will share a bed with you, and you, and you -- because I'm grown, I'm an adult, I am fearless, I am worldly, I am experienced. And, why yes, of course, I will come when you call, I will ignore all the ways you are wrong for me, I will shed my clothing, and along with it, my dignity - because saying yes means I am braver than I've ever been before.

Yes can be good, guys. Yes can most certainly be brave. But there are distinct moments of my life in which saying yes was, unequivocally, the weakest, poorest word I could have uttered.
I can tell you about a time, when 25 found me beaten and broken and bruised, when saying yes was to pull myself up and let Someone show me that victory had been purchased on my behalf.

But instead, let's talk about saying no. What about saying no is displaying bravado?

But brave people learn to say no. Most people wouldn't think of saying no as a quality of someone brave. Saying yes is certainly the more heralded option, but sometimes saying no can be the tougher choice by far. (Annie Downs)

The last month of my 26th year has left me slayed open. I was given the opportunity to say yes to something I've long been in prayer for; I have spent countless hours crying on a grey pillow case and furiously filling journal pages with the desire for a season to change in my life. I had been given the chance to say yes to a relationship - one that would lead to marriage.

My heart wanted to accept joyfully.

Every fiber in my soul wanted to shake my head frantically in an up and down motion - yes, yes, YES! Yes to all this that I have prayed so diligently for.

Only, it wasn't exactly the sort of offer I had been in prayer over. And so, my lips whispered a word that didn't lace many conversations in the last few years of my life.

No can be brave. No can be the most painful, heart-wrenching, treacherous word a young, single woman will ever utter. This no was all of those things - backed up by hard, shoulder shaken, ugly cries, sleepless nights, and literal hollering out to the Lord.

But, it was brave.

I said no to honor the woman I've become and still am becoming. I said no to not shove hypocrisy over the face of every prayer I've uttered and penned. I said no because I am not a 17 year old girl any longer and it's really time I start behaving that way. I said no, and it was brave, because there is nothing comfortable or soothing about denying something to yourself that only feels right.

This no is brave because I am not only putting to bed my first love, my first sexual partner, the first boy who ever took a piece of my heart and kept it --

This no is brave because I am putting to death the girl I was. I am mourning the loss of a 17 year old girl who foolishly put all her hope in the hands of a boy incapable of doing anything remotely productive with them.

I am graveside at the burial of my former self.

Words have power -- they hold life and healing and hurting. They leave a mark far longer lasting than any scar of the epidermis.

No packs bravery. Within the no of this last month before 27 is the knowledge of Who I am saying yes to.

And therein lies everything.