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?


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