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In Favor of Flesh & Bones : A Farewell

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.

Love.

 

In Anticipation of Death

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.

Silence Is A Cancer

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.***

No Agendas, Just Love

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.

And Then the Fever Broke

I told my heart that we were fine, that despite the occasional waves of sadness we were going to be okay. I told it that if we smiled a lot and laughed a lot, we’d eventually stop feeling like crying. It shook its head at me and my delusion, grounding itself in reality. So I ignored it. For weeks. And the other night, it exploded. You know that feeling when your chest literally feels like it weighs a thousand pounds and you can’t breathe and all of a sudden you’re wailing into your pillow for no good reason?

Except I had good reasons – I had just chosen to ignore them. I’m really good at feeling only what I want to feel. And what I want to feel is the good, light as a feather, bubbly feelings. Even the quiet, whispery feelings are welcome so long as they don’t bring with them the dark, unwanted emotions I’m always running from. And crying? Only acceptable as a by-product of joy. None of that wussy, dissolve-into-tears-when-life-gets-hard-because-it’s-good-for-you nonsense. You admit that life sucks, then you dust yourself off and keep moving. No time to feel anything other than determination.

The last few weeks have been long and lonely, despite my plastered-on smile. Apathy became my best friend – if you don’t care, you don’t hurt. But I cared, and I hurt, and eventually I broke. Today, after three hours of nonstop journaling and pouring out my frustrations and letting myself feel all the feelings I didn’t want to feel with the One who gave me the ability to feel, the fever broke. I asked Him,

“Why am I constantly seeking external validation? Why can’t I truly rest in who You say I am? Why isn’t that enough? Why can’t I let You be enough for me? I don’t know how to do that, do I? I have to prove my own worth, my own value, and You’ve tied my hands so I can prove neither. Would I really become a person obsessed with proving to herself and everyone else that she is worthy of love and affection? Have I still not realized that I can’t prove that?”

Sometimes, He is silent and seemingly distant. But not today. I asked a lot of questions and He had a lot to say. When you narrow down the list of things you want to a whopping two, then present them to God, and He grants you neither one nor the other, you could respond with trust and faith. Or you could throw a fit. Or you could become slightly depressed and silent. And when you eventually take your frustrations to Him, you know what He ends up saying?

“You’ve been trying to define your own identity instead of discovering it with Me. So if I gave you either one of those two things right now, you’d hang your identity on them. You would become the girl who works there or the girl who’s dating that guy. Not the girl whose heart is at rest in who I say she is regardless of where she finds herself.”

Sometimes, I wish He didn’t speak quite so directly to the root of the problem. It’s so much easier to blame Him than to take responsibility for my sin. But He wasn’t done talking. He proceeded to reprimand me:

“You say you want My best for you, but really, you want your best for you. I don’t ever give you second best – what I give you everyday is My best. But because it’s not your imagined best, you choose discontentment.”

Ouch. He wasn’t kidding about that “disciplining the ones He loves” business. That one caught me by surprise. Today – this bland, uninteresting life – is His best? But if it were indeed His best, I’d be getting my second degree in Mental Health Counseling and working with women rescued from the sex industry and bouncing off the walls excited to go to work everyday and dating a Ryan Gosling lookalike whose love for God was contagious and whose style was impeccable and yadda yadda yadda.

Just because I have an overactive imagination that conjures up my version of the “perfect” life doesn’t mean God isn’t good to me. And just because I tell God that I want His best for me and then slyly insert my picture perfect life into the “God’s Best” folder, doesn’t mean I’ve fooled Him into thinking my best is His. He still wins. And His best is still better. And His best is right now. If I don’t see where He has me right now as His absolute best, nothing will ever be good enough. My imagination gets wilder with age, and it will always come up with something “better”. Maybe, like Paul, I have found the secret to contentment?

In the wake of this breaking and bleeding and healing, I’ve made a commitment: to not complain, not even once, about not having the two things I want the most for the next month. (In fact, in a moment of nothing but sheer madness, I told God to not give me either of those things anytime soon because I’m most certain I would idolize them immediately). Instead, I’m keeping a journal of everything I’m grateful for each day. I want to exude thankfulness and peace – to look for the little joys in every single day. I want to find rest and joy, not in a circumstantial change, but in a deep trust in who He says I am. And if you happen to encounter me anytime soon and hear me make some grumbly protest about my life, please [gently] slap me across the face in love. I can take it.

In true Fatherly fashion, he scolded me and then showered me with more love than I expected: He gave me this gorgeous sunset on my right and a rainbow on my left. At the same freaking time. It felt like a giant celestial hug and I finally let those tears come. Turns out, I didn’t lie to my heart. We really are going to be okay. 

Dear Old Friend,

I miss you. I miss the laughter and light-hearted banter. The car rides and sing-a-longs. The rolling of eyes and completing of sentences. I miss how easy it was with you.

It’s funny how the moment we said we’d be friends forever our friendship died. It saw the future before we ever could. My fingers tire of placing blame – on you, on me, on them. We both could have tried harder; but we didn’t and here we are.

Much as I miss you, I don’t miss the person I was when I was with you. The one who let you get away with being an ass for so long. The one who didn’t tell you that you’re supposed to fight for the people you care about, and not give up when you think they’re apathetic towards you. The one who let you into a place most sacred and never said how much it broke her.

If love was supposed to be convenient, it would end when friendships end. But real love never ends and I am resigned to loving you for as long as my chest rises and falls. We may never speak again, and still I’ll love you.

Yet amidst the loving and missing, I want you to hurt as much as you’ve hurt me. Somehow, I don’t believe you’ll change until you are truly miserable.  You’ve been let off the hook too quickly, too frequently. And I think that hook needs time to sink in, make its mark, leave a scar.

So thank God that I’m not Him. Because I miss you, and I love you, but I hope you are miserable wherever you may be.

Finding Rest

I want to learn how to dwell. I’m fully aware that my relationship with God cannot be likened to anything resembling consistency right now, and I find myself pulling away because I’m not as close as I’d like to be. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at that particular reaction – it’s how I treat the people around me as well.

I want to learn how to sit, how to live, how to be in a state of dwelling continuously. I’m tired of quick visits and extended vacations when things get especially rough. I’m sick of my supposed dwelling resembling my church attendance – once a week and emotionally charged. I want my dwelling to savor of normalcy. Like brushing my teeth or brewing my morning cup of coffee. I want to dwell in Him the way I dwell in my house.

Because the Psalm says that he who dwells…rests. My life has been chaotic these past few weeks and while I’ve complained about the busyness of it all, I’ve welcomed the constant movement as a distraction from the unwanted emotions. The sadness, the uncertainty, the occasional minor freak out, the apathy that’s continuously fighting to rob me of faith. It’s all there – underneath the hysterical laughter and wide smiles and dinner parties. And I’m learning how to embrace it all, how to feel it all. I want to feel it all, but he who dwells rests. I want rest just as much as I want to feel.

In exactly eleven days, I will begin my seventh year away from the country and people I grew up with. It’s not that I miss it – quite honestly, I don’t. But He promised me something at the beginning of this year – He promised me rest. He said the seventh year is His Sabbath and He’s going to give me rest. All the petitioning has made it to His ears, all the tears have been preserved in His bottle. He just wants me to watch and see what He does.

But I can’t watch outside of His presence, can I? I can’t manufacture my own rest in trying to create a plan for myself and struggling to make it work. I can’t be at rest when I’m running away from Him. So I need to learn how to dwell. I need to learn to live inside of Him like He’s the fortress I claim Him to be. I remind myself that He lives inside of me, but sometimes that skews my perception of his grandeur. He lives inside of me, but I also make my home in him because He is bigger than my cavernous depths. I want to learn to live inside my God and find rest from the chaos and uncertainty. His rest is better than my facade of repose.

“You will never be in control of your life circumstances, but you can relax and trust in My control. Instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, seek to know Me in greater depth and breadth. I long to make your life a glorious adventure, but you must stop clinging to old ways. I am always doing something new within My beloved ones. Be on the lookout for all that I have prepared for you.” – Jesus Calling.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1

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