Thursday, November 24, 2016

To Me at Eighteen

There's a road I drive down sometimes in Dayton - it's the quickest route to the grocery story I go to. It's lined with really beautiful trees that, when the season is right, are a host to the most beautiful, buttery yellow leaves.

I drove down the road a couple days ago and the tree was losing its leaves. The wind was smart that day - fast and sharp against your skin . . . one of those days in which, I can imagine, nearly every woman thought to herself, "why did I even do my hair today?" The wind was hurriedly rushing the sunshine leaves off the trees on the road. And normally, I don't feel too strongly one way or another over trees losing their leaves, but these yellow leaves - as they fell and blanketed the street - were mesmerizing. I found myself, in childlike wonder, wanting to go lay in the pile on the ground and let the rest fall on me. There was something . . . magical about the ease with which they fell and the pool of liquid warmth they created on the street.

I didn't, of course. I kept driving. But then I started to think about those trees and the leaves they were losing.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. -Matthew 5:4

I remember when I read this verse for the first time. It was written in hand on a journal page that had been given to me by a woman I've respected and looked up to since junior high. It was January. My family had just experienced, collectively, the most devastating blow - we were all in the midst of coming back from the slap sting that occurs when breath is cut too short. But, you don't ever really come back from that then, do you?

This verse, though, was written on the page, along with others. This was before I really knew Jesus or understood the comfort that can come from a knowing God who I can't physically sit with each day over coffee. Janet had handwritten verses of comfort to me, with a small note about the wonders of heaven and how safe Nick was now. I will be honest and say the comfort I felt from that note was less about the promises in the verses and more about that a woman I loved had taken the time to write them down.

But I have come back to that verse so many times since then. I've shared it with others and I reminded myself of these very words when the woman who first wrote them to me went on to meet her King. It makes my heart warm to consider perhaps her and Nick share a porch swing every now and then.

I am familiar with mourning in the larger sense. When you lose someone the same age as you before either of you have learned how to legally drive a car, something within you shifts and it doesn't return to the original placement. Life becomes a string of measurements between what is safe and what is popular - and you hope like hell some of them fall on the same page. Adventure becomes a calculation of risk and whether or not it's wise to dance with the risk.

I understand mourning.

When I drove by those trees, again, nearly all the leaves had danced off. This verse was in my mind because I'm studying the Beatitudes and I began to wonder if trees mourn when they lose their leaves. Like a woman with long, beautiful hair, do the trees start to furrow their brow when the first leaf falls or do they think plenty more where that came from.

Do they mourn?

At 29 years old I imagine sitting down with my 18-year old self to try to describe to her what is to come.

Hey, kiddo. Are you ready? The blue eyed boy you love won't be a part of the coming pages for too much longer, but it'll work out well for the both of you. You're going to say yes to some things you cannot even fathom right now - push through the fear and please don't even consider saying no. You will make some decisions that, for a season, will come to define you, but I promise you'll rise out of the hell hole you've decorated and called home. You'll end up with a career that is more challenging and incredible than your current mind is even able to imagine. But tread through the jobs that drain more than they fill up, okay? Because it'll all lead to this.

But here's the big thing. Are you listening? Things are not going to turn out the way you want. You will get to 29 years of life and you will have so much. But the house you dream about now and that wedding you're planning and not wanting to admit to planning? It won't be a part of the history. More surprisingly still, it will not kill you.

You're going to learn how to live fully on your own. You're going to learn who your real friends are and who to hold at a distance. You'll navigate living a full life with sometimes crippling anxiety, but you'll make it. And you're going to learn that, if this particular life - with no weddings or shiny rings - is what is to be, you are going to be okay. You will be okay. In fact, you will thrive.

I imagine I'd have more to say, but this feels the most important. Because life is not a string of events that you perfectly planned at 18 coming to fruition. That is not typically how the story goes. And while I think mourning belongs largely to this big losses and hurts, there is something to be said about mourning what you thought you'd have all along.

Maybe it's the baby you can feel in your arms before they're there yet. It could be the wedding you've been planning since you got your first kiss. Perhaps it's the career you worked diligently for all through college.

Mourn what's missing.

Maybe you don't have your own space yet and are wondering when it might happen. Possibly it's the feeling that you're still not known and heard or seen in a role you most certainly should be. It might just be the feeling of loneliness and confusion because who you chose to do this life with somehow ended up not being who you wanted them to be.

Mourn it.

I guess what I'm saying is - I battle myself a lot over not wanting to feel what I need to feel. I guilt myself into feeling foolish because I'm sad over something I've never had before.

But isn't that the point?

If all along I felt sure I'd have this at almost 30, then can't I mourn not having it yet, a little?

I will not lose my life or be less of a person as a result of not having something I expected to have at this moment. But I can mourn it.

And then I need to pick up the hurt and name what's good and count hope over my story.

Let's live grateful and count hope over our stories, okay?


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Surprising Reminders

It may happen subtly. You won't be expecting it as you sip a beer you've never had before and think about what you'll do tomorrow - convinced this whole thing is simply friends gathering and that's all it'll ever be.

You won't be entirely wrong.

On a random night you'll take a drive, trusting the safety within the four doors because that's what you do - you trust without asking questions - and assume something regrettable will happen and then you'll get over it.

You will be wrong about that.

You'll spend nights, trying to fall asleep - fitful in your dance with the sheets because they're not cool enough to your skin - and you'll wonder just when you became an adult who actively made decisions instead of allowing things to happen. You've spent much of your time thinking about how much you long for things to happen organically and just when you stopped talking about it your life got to be about it.

Organic happenings. Who knew such a thing still existed.

In the age of internet dating and paying an uber to deliver your dinner for you, you can forget that sometimes, right outside your door, there are actual breathing beings who enjoy interaction apart from a keyboard that autocorrects so you sound smoother than you actually are.

In the age of internet dating and paying an uber to deliver your dinner, you'll step outside your door and meet someone you've "known" for a while now -- and you'll find you actually enjoy them, even in the midst of making a fool of yourself, allowing your tongue to get twisted and trip over your own words.

Who ever really liked eloquence anyway?

The realization that you had something to learn from an arrangement that was jokingly deemed a "contract" will hit you only after flames have taken over those hard and fast lines you insisted on drawing.

You'll close the door, deadbolt it for good measure, and sit on your couch before you realize how freeing honesty can be. You'll lay your head down on that colorful pillow you still admire after owning for two years and realize that some things have to end because there wasn't much of a beginning in the first place. And you will feel mostly okay about all of it.

Because at some point in this whole adulthood thing, you are beginning to learn that true friends don't dress the way they used to in high school. That sometimes, heavy eye rolls and inappropriate jokes can bind two people before anything deep is discussed.

You'll consider what has transpired these last months - in the midst of your international travel and figuring out how to creatively contribute to a global organization, you ended up finding a friend who taught you things you didn't think you needed to learn.

In the middle of you not accepting compliments and letting people now how long you go without washing your hair,  you started to consider that here might actually be something worth sticking around for.

Who knew this person could teach you that?

You flirt with crying over something that feels lost, but was never found in the first place. Then you'll pull your hair up and sit before the keys and pound out something only mildly comprehendible.

Here's the thing -- I don't know that anyone else needs to get it but you. And you finally do.

You are okay.

You consider that you always assumed these lessons would be learned in some sweeping love story. Maybe you always hoped for it to be that way, anyway. But you'll be wrong.

In the unexpected places - in the middle of ordinary conversations about books and religion and cracking a mildly inappropriate joke, you'll come to realize that those fairy tales were bullshit and Disney lies a lot.

Ain't no prince charming on a horse going to save anyone or restore any broken pieces of a heart you should've been wise enough to protect to begin with.

It'll happen without you even realizing it. They'll come in and surprise you with their intellect and charm and their incredible wisdom. They'll come in and you'll be convinced it'll be the way it's always been.

Only you'll both look each other in the eye and recognize there was something worth saving and so you cut shit out to be healthier for yourselves, not each other.

You'll be spending all your time waiting for someone to ride in looking to rescue when all you needed to realize is you were a wildfire that just needed some water and someone to remind you to chill.

There's no need to burn alive, dear.

Monday, November 14, 2016

On Learning

One of my favorite writers/bloggers, Hannah Brencher, has long been slaying me and putting me in my place with her encouraging words and calls to action. This morning she wrote about what she's learned in the last year and asked her readers to respond to her email with what they've learned this last year. I thought I'd share my response with you here. What are you learning this year, love?


After I read your email I sat for a while at my desk. I sat at the desk I write at everyday, looking  into the eyes of the orphans I get to share stories for. A lot can happen in a year.

 A girl can grow from the bed of miserable she's built for herself over being single and nearly thirty to some sort of flourishing she never knew existed within her. You see, I've written you before - about the sadness that built up within me like plaque on a tooth. It grew harder and harder with time, refusing to crack and brush away from the surface of my heart or from underneath my collar bone. It clung tight - making the air thicker and more difficult to breathe. And then, almost like whiplash, I realized I'd spent a lot of years praying for something - for someone - and I wasn't entirely sure it's what I wanted in the first place. And now I am here, feeling okay about my current status - feeling welcoming at what may come, but confident in the fact that this life thing is manageable and enjoyable on my own.

A girl can start a new job. She can work for four years with an organization that is making a difference and and changing lives, and yet never feel fully "fitted" for what she's doing. And then that degree she was convinced was wasteful, ended up getting her a job she never could've hoped for. She gets to work on the behalf of vulnerable and fatherless children around the globe - raising her voice for those who don't yet know they possess one.

And those are both major things. I have learned so much in this last year - about waiting and praying. About what I see for my life and what the Lord knows for my life. About pocketing dreams, assuming they've expired, and my world being flipped upside down while God says, "It's expired when I say so, kid. And that ain't just yet. You with me?"

But the biggest lesson I've learned is likely this -- home is places. 

I used to think the farm I grew up on was home, and always would be. And it's certainly a piece of my home. But how can one location only ever be your whole history? Sure the yellow walls of that childhood bedroom know about the first crush I had and how fun that first slumber party was. They remember how loudly my heart was beating when a boy came into my room for the first time. They know about the little girl who grew to be a wild weed and then figured out how to find some middle ground to avoid sudden death of emotion and recklessness.

But the dirt on a campus in India knows about the moment my heart willingly broke to beat across oceans simultaneously. The open roof of the girls' home knows of the salt in my tears as I begged my Father to stay, to just stay right here. Why did I have to go back? The clattering of dishes and the rise and fall of songs in Telugu know of the moments when a girl recognized the woman in her and whispered, "Thanks for showing up here, for this very moment. I think we're gonna be okay."

The little two story on Morton Avenue knows about the joy that is found in solitude; the walls covered in syntax and gentle reminders know about the coming of age that occurred when a girl who hated to be alone finally started choosing herself.

And then there are the people who have come in and chosen to stay - time and time, again - who make any place home.

So, home is places. This is what I've learned. A heart can stretch far and wide and still remain faithful to the people who have, and will come to be, pages in a history. Each place I call home always reminds me of where I come from, who I've become, and the beauty in recognizing that being willing to bend often stops some of the breaking.