I’ve returned from my blogging hiatus, and you can follow my new blog here if you’re so inclined!
Happy New Year.
I’ve returned from my blogging hiatus, and you can follow my new blog here if you’re so inclined!
Happy New Year.
I’m on a quest to discover the art of speaking less and doing more. These days, I’m crazy about the idea of being completely present in every aspect of my life – good or bad. And for me, that means spending less time writing about my life and just living it instead.
I’m pretty good at writing out these grand ideas and plans and lessons, but after the “Publish” button is pressed it becomes less about the part of myself I just transcribed onto a screen, and more about how many people will read it/like it/comment on it/share it.
I started writing in this space for me. It took me months to even tell anyone I had a blog. And while I’m much farther along the journey of self-discovery than I was two years ago, that twenty-one-year-old girl had better motives for writing than this girl of twenty-three does. This has become about you and what you think of me. Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t want to care what you think of me. And I don’t want to write for you.
A wise man once said that good writers don’t write to please others, but to express their souls. These days, my soul is craving real people, real conversations, real hugs, real celebrations, real pain, real questions, and real answers (or real commiseration over the lack of answers). Much as you all have encouraged me in this process, a virtual community is not the same as a flesh-and-blood community. We all know that, right?
There’s also the fact that I’m all about the challenge, and this has become too easy. My palms don’t get sweaty and my heart doesn’t race anymore before I publish a post. Being vulnerable while sitting across from you? Now, that’s terrifying in so many ways. So I’m choosing that. I’m choosing to stop filing certain thoughts away in my “Will Blog About This Later” folder. I just want to say them in the moment, difficult as it may be.
Besides, you all don’t want to hear what my heart has to say these days anyways. They are things along the lines of smiling at strangers, and feeling all warm and trembly in the presence of another. My current state of cheesiness would be unbearable for everyone. Naturally, this is my last act of kindness for you:)
Fear not – I’m not giving up writing for good. There will be lots of words scribbled into my journal on a regular basis, and I’m working really hard on this fabulous story that’s begging to be told. And I’ll still be reading all the blogs I follow religiously, because some people are just so incredible at this whole writing thing.
Right now, I’m only about twenty views short of a total of ten thousand views. To a big shot blogger, that number means nothing. To this girl who’s hesitant to call herself a writer? It means the world. Thank you all for every view, every share, every comment, every text message. You’ve assured me that the thoughts in my head are worth sharing, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
I’m off to live a story worth telling. Maybe I’ll come back and tell it here. Maybe I’ll tell it elsewhere. But I hope you find your own adventure and go live it with abandon, too. And while you’re at it, slow dance to this like no one’s watching – I’m dancing over here too.
Growth is a heady feeling. An intoxicating, soul-warming, heart-swelling wonder.
For a seed to grow, it first must die. I’ve been carrying around this seed within me, deformed from the effort it’s taken to keep it alive. Its name is self-preservation, and I’ve held on to it as tightly as I could since I was old enough to speak. I was taught that if I don’t fight for myself, no one else will. So to avoid the heartache of realizing that no one was fighting for me, I never gave anyone the chance to. I didn’t let myself need anyone. It’s just been me, behind my fortress, fully clothed in my impenetrable armor, shield raised, sword drawn.
In my early teenage years, my sword was my tongue. I was the bitch – the one with the death glare and the amazingly crafted insults that pierced through your chest and never left the corners of your heart. Then I stopped talking and started hiding – my sword of choice in the recent past has been to withdraw my affection. I figured that was better than saying the hurtful things I knew I was capable of speaking. None of it was malicious; I was merely doing as I was told. “If you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.”
When I came out from behind my fortified walls, I thought I’d done it. I’d made the big leap – I was truly learning vulnerability now. That was back when I started writing this blog and learning how to take baby steps. I laugh now at my naivete, not because I wasn’t growing back then, but because I thought I had arrived at my [vulnerable] destination.
Two years later, I realize that I’ve still been carrying around that armor, still wielding my sword, still cowering behind my shield. Although I’ve stepped out from behind the walls, I’ve been so preoccupied with taking care of myself – with protecting my heart – that I might as well be back in that fortress I built forever ago.
And to discover that it was all from a warped view of God and His role in my life. The things you learn about yourself in therapy are eventually hilarious once it doesn’t hurt so much. As it turns out, I’ve been trying to play God my entire life, trying to take over His protective role. Instead of letting Him protect my heart like He promised to, I’ve been [ineffectively] doing all the work – wielding my sword unnecessarily and creating an incredible mess.
Oh, to have been taught that “guarding your heart” doesn’t mean building a fortress in which to cage your emotions, or living with a strict “three strikes and you’re out” mentality, but instead, radically entrusting your heart and emotions to God for safekeeping and taking your hands off the process. Freeing yourself to love and feel and be disappointed and break and be repaired, knowing that the hurts won’t kill you, and that the One protecting you is also able to repair you – what a wild, wild notion.
I’m not emotionally available to love or be loved because I’m much too concerned with being aloof and keeping my guard up. I’m always on the defensive, worried that if I’m too vulnerable, if I let you in too far, you’ll stick a knife in my gut and gloat as I bleed to death. I’m afraid of collecting more scars because I know just how long it takes for those wounds to heal. I ignore you and become stone cold when I’m romantically interested in you, because letting you know how I feel would be just as terrifying as running down College Avenue naked as the day I was born, screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” I can’t cry around you because I’m afraid you’ll think I’m weak and overly emotional. Hell, I can’t even let myself be super fond of you because what if you aren’t just as fond of me?
What a shitshow. Pardon my French.
And then this week, I had a stunning realization. In the midst of practicing unconditional love (which I wrote about here), I discovered that it really is the nicest feeling to like a person for who they are without any expectation that they like who you are in return. And then it hit me: I’m growing. Sometimes I get so lost in my flaws and shortcomings that I fail to see that I’m not who I once was. I’m growing. My leaves are budding – and even though there’s a fall breeze outside, it feels like spring inside. It tastes like the beginnings of finally being free.
A few months ago, God promised that this new year would be one of rest; a Sabbath. I thought that meant that all the things I’d asked for for so long would finally be mine, and all the pain would magically disappear. But today, I think His rest looks a lot more like me surrendering my armor and my weapons and letting Him fight for me – letting down my guard in order to let Him be my guard. The pain is still there and maybe always will be, and the things I’ve asked for are still not mine, but in contemplating the surrender of my self-protective habits, I feel closer to rest than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
I’m not free yet – unlearning decades worth of terrible habits is not something that happens in a month, or six. But now I can see what freedom might look like – that when I stop fighting for myself, I can finally be free to live. That there’s more freedom and rest in letting go than in trying so hard to protect myself. That I find my life only when I’m willing to lose it.
Maybe a year from now I’ll have learned what it looks like to let Him do the fighting – to be emotionally available, to wear my heart on my sleeve again, to cry in front of you when I’m awestruck by beauty or when my heart is breaking, to love and let myself be loved.
I’m not that girl yet, but I’m running towards that freedom with all that I have. Today, I’m celebrating a deeper understanding of unconditional love – and completely relishing my gooey affections that need not be reciprocated at all. And on the day I finally put self-preservation to death, I will throw a giant party. Because it would mean that I have finally chosen to let God be my shield, and my fortress, and my defense. And my soul will finally be at rest.
The thing about pain is that it is universal. It lives inside of us – grief cohabiting with joy, unrest nestling with peace. We can’t escape it but we spend all of our energy trying to surpress it. Sometimes it lets up and joy wins for a time; and sometimes it spreads like a wildfire, consuming everything good.
The thing about me is that I’m a silent sufferer. The more intense the pain, the quieter I become, until I forget how to use my words to ask for help.
I’ve always been crazy about justice, wanting to make sure everyone gets what they deserve. It made me a little unforgiving as a child, and emotionally stunted as an adult living in a broken world. But thank the Lord that mercy triumphs over judgment. I don’t know when it started, but somehow – not by my own might – I began choosing mercy rather than judgment. And now, I’m the girl who can’t bring herself to hate a mass murderer; the girl who can’t bring herself to write a Facebook status about how she doesn’t understand how messed up and evil a person would have to be to kill dozens of people; the girl who feels overwhelming sympathy for the people we label as devils.
You know why? Cause I understand that we’re all in pain. We don’t admit it – I don’t admit it – until it eats away at all our healthy flesh and consumes us from the inside out. Everyone starts off thinking that they’re strong enough to be better than the next person. I’ll never cheat on my husband. I’ll never get to the point where picking up a gun and pointing it at someone is my release. I could never engage in non-consensual sex with a woman. We all start there, but we’re all in pain. And if we don’t choose to find our words and ask for help, if we don’t stop perpetuating this myth that suffering in silence is being strong, if we don’t let each other feel and grieve and mourn and break – we will all end up killing the good things around us too.
I can’t hate a mass murderer because his pain is not foreign to me. I can only imagine that they are silent sufferers too – ones who were told that to be strong is to wear a perma-smile and act like everything’s fine, until it’s not. Sure, I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t even know how. But I’ve at times gotten so deeply lost in my own pain that I begin to lash out at the people around me, even the people who love me. In an effort to find a reprieve, I’ve killed good friendships, hurt good men, used my tongue to lacerate my loved ones, and walked away from people who needed me. Sure, it doesn’t get the position of honor on the 9 o’clock news, but I have left my own trail of wounded, hurting people in my frantic attempt to stop my heart from hurting so much.
I’ve had my own share of trauma and abuse and heartache. And I spent years hating the inflicters of my pain until I realized that they are just as broken as I am. No, that doesn’t excuse what they did or give them any right to repeat it again. But it helps me not to demonize them, because only broken people hurt other people. And we’re all broken in various places.
So I can’t hate them. I will never condone the acts of evil they carry out in their own quest for peace, and I will never underestimate the agony the hearts of those directly affected have to endure. What I will do is remember my own brokenness, and that I am only one step away from their hell. That step is graceful surrender. The only thing that will keep me from being a cheating wife or an abusive mother or a mass murderer is the choice to not rely on my own ability to be good and do what’s right, but instead to make an honest confession that I’m broken and I’m in pain and Jesus’ grace is the only reason why I don’t go out and try to break other people. And that surrender, that choice, needs to happen moment by moment, not one time long ago in the back pew of your parents’ church.
Let’s celebrate together the joy and beauty we discover amidst the filth in this world. But let us also embrace the pain and stop telling each other to be “strong” and suck it up and pretend like we’re fine. Strength is found in raw honesty, in beautiful vulnerability. Don’t entrust your heart to people who tell you that breaking is a sign of weakness, or that feelings are for little girls. Even Jesus wept. If we don’t start breaking on a regular basis, we’re all going to be walking around with emotional tumors that can rupture at any moment.
I’m no better than that guy on the news, and neither are you. We’re all in pain. There’s a time to laugh and dance and sing, and there’s a time to break. If we don’t let ourselves break, we end up breaking others. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break.
***The best gift I’ve ever given myself is going to counseling. No, it’s not for the “crazies” – it’s for everyone who breathes. Yes, it can be expensive and intimidating. But I’d rather starve for a few days every couple of weeks than remain emotionally stunted. Recommend is not a strong enough word for the situation, but if you need a safe place to break and it is in your power to do it, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing a counselor. Your heart will thank you a million times.***
My heart is a room in an old country home, spacious and open. At first, the walls were white, untarnished, gloriously pristine. But everyone who entered that room left it different than they met it, and eventually, my once pristine walls were completely covered. Some of the foreign matter was beautiful – vibrant reds and soothing yellows, sultry greens and cozy blues. But with the beauty came the grotesque. There were ugly words scribbled all over the once lovely paint, and it became increasingly difficult to see those vibrant hues through the hard words etched within.
The first words I read were etched deeply, filling up the room with their nauseating presence: you are not good enough. The author of those words spent time making deep carvings, ensuring that it would be a difficult task to undo what he did. And his doing opened the door for everyone else to follow suit.
Overcompensating for the damage done, I sent everyone packing and sealed the room off. But the fumes from the paint suffocated me, and there was no one in there to share in my suffering or remind me of the joy I once knew. I thought I had to protect myself; thought I had to be aloof and impenetrable to survive in a world where people gathered with their cans of spray paint and treated your heart like a train stopped on the tracks – painting their hurts and disease and brokenness and trauma on you.
I’m learning that instead of creating a concrete tomb to die in, all I need is a paint roller and my favorite colors. Sometimes people hurt others as a way to process through their own pain – it’s the way of broken people in a broken world. But some people bring joy and laughter and long, tight hugs on days when the pain threatens to topple you. And by trying to close out the bad, I also close out the good.
I want the good. All of the good.
So I’m purchasing a paint roller, and every time I find something ugly and hurtful being written on my walls, I’m going to paint over it with strong, confident strokes. And in its place I will write what’s true and good and lovely and pure. And I’ll let the only One who can truly protect my heart do His job – I’ll stop trying to help Him save me.
I don’t want a room with bare walls – that’s boring, safe, and not who I want to be. I don’t want a room covered in darkness and shame – that’s not who I want to be either. I want radiant colors and a beautiful story, and I want people to live out that story with. I want a heart that feels lived in. I want walls that tell a story of love, redemption, and triumph. And I want people. I choose people over my fears and self-defense mechanisms. I choose the possibility of hurt over the lifelessness of a caged heart.
I’m painting away, and today, everything’s a pleasant shade of summer squash. And the words being graffitied on the walls of my heart are ones of courage, and love, and wholeness.
You all probably already knew this and were just waiting to see how long it would take me to figure it out. I’m a slow learner; don’t hold it against me. Here’s what took me forever to figure out: Life is so much easier with lower expectations and better boundaries.
Wild and exciting discovery, I know. Most of you good people already know how to do this, but I’ve been the girl with expectations higher than Mt. Everest and boundaries as nonexistent as my love life. And over the last few weeks, I’ve been letting go of bitterness, erecting healthy boundaries, and expecting everyone to act like a regular human and not a saint. You know, it’s been pretty darn phenomenal.
I’m learning to love unconditionally.
In a long overdue letter to someone I love dearly, I wrote, “I am certain that I will always love you. And you don’t have to love me back.” It wasn’t just a nice sentiment; for the first time in my life, I actually meant that. It doesn’t matter if it’s ever reciprocated this side of heaven, and it doesn’t matter if my love is trampled underfoot in unappreciative gestures. All that won’t change what I know to be true – real, Godly, selfless love never ends.
The beautiful thing about loving people without expecting to be loved in return is that it isn’t synonymous with being a doormat. I’m learning that I can love with my whole heart yet make it absolutely clear what I won’t accept. I love you but you can’t talk to me like that. I love you but until you learn to treat me better, I won’t be hanging out with you. Unconditional love isn’t synonymous with being a doormat. I always thought it was.
My expectations aren’t nonexistent now, they’re just more realistic. I’m not expecting everyone I meet to become a great friend in the near future. I’m not expecting everyone to desire quality time like I do, or initiate in the timeline I would prefer. And I’m not going to mete out my affection based on how they respond to me. I expect common courtesy and respect, but I no longer expect sainthood. I’ve loosened my grip; I can’t control who people are and how they behave. I, however, can control how I respond. I’m responsible for myself, my attitude, my heart. I’m focusing on that instead of them. I’m focusing on grace, honesty, and love instead of resentment, games, and selfishness. It feels like the sun rising inside my chest.
I’ll love you, hug you, bake you cookies, ask how your week has been, and speak highly of you. And you don’t have to love me back. I’ll forgive you when you’re a jerk, and then I’ll draw a new boundary line until you prove yourself trustworthy again. But I won’t withhold my love as a way to punish you or protect myself. I’ll love you while being honest about how you hurt me. And you don’t have to love me back.
I’m starting to sound more and more like my Father.
And my favorite part is, it gets increasingly difficult to resist unconditional love. So eventually, you’ll cave and love me back too. Win-win.
I’m going to walk with a limp for the rest of my life.
I’ve been fighting a losing battle as hard as I possibly can. I’m throwing my best weapons at my opponent, screaming bloody murder, out of shape and out of breath but stubborn as a mule. My opponent? Yahweh. The Lord God Almighty Himself. And this battle has been raging for years.
I don’t doubt that He loves me – no one can ever convince me otherwise. If you’re looking to waste your time, I dare you to try. What I have a harder time transferring from my head to my heart is that He is actually good to me. Not in the cheesy Christian mantra sort of way. Not in the “Life just destroyed you, but don’t forget that all things work together for good” type of annoyingly perky pat answer Christians are so good at giving.
I mean the Nothing I give you or let happen to you or make happen for you is out of malice or for my enjoyment but only, purely for my Glory and your good. And that’s the problem – that one “little” part. His Glory. We both agree on Him deserving all the glory, but our ideas for getting there differ greatly. At least I think so. My head tells me that every part of this crappy season (that has lasted, oh just about six years) is being worked into a greater good. But my heart tells my head that I will forever be in this desert. That I won’t ever get this process approved, and I’ll be a nanny forever, and I’ll never leave this dreadful (otherwise beautiful) city, and I’ll never actualize my career goals, and I’ll never find love, and if I do, I will have the world’s most atrocious-looking kids fathered by a 4-foot-ten albino who also happens to be my husband. But through it all, have no fear, for I will learn to be perfectly content with my relationship with God. I’ll be so content that I won’t even care that everyone else has everything I want, and in abundance. Nothing I’ve ever wanted will matter. Because, as we all know, a woman’s heart should be so lost in God that a man [and every other good thing in life] must seek Him in order to find her.
If you look past the sarcasm and bitterness, all I’m saying is that I haven’t learned to trust that His plan for ultimate glorification isn’t the same thing as my worst nightmare. And I tell him quite often that I deserve better than this. Haven’t I had my fair share of drama and pain? I’m the one with the daddy issues and the abuse issues and the grew-up-in-the-wrong-culture issues and the boundary issues and the [lack of] boy issues and the unapproved paperwork issues. I got the drama and pain covered, and I do it with a smile on my face. So why can’t I have my fair share of happiness too? I mean, will it ever happen or should I get comfortable in this parched wasteland and try to learn contentment?
I am stubborn, ungrateful, entitled, and unfortunately, relentless. I should learn from my predecessor – Jacob fought with God and ended up with a broken hip. I should take a hint and surrender. He’s going to win anyways. But I’m an obstinate fool, and I’m going to fight until I break. My hip, or this heart of stone.
And even at my worst, He’s still better to me than I’ll ever deserve.