Whether We Want to or Not

"I don't think you were made for an easy life."

Her words knocked the wind out of me. Tears rushed to my eyes and a lump lodged itself in my throat. Because I knew she was right.

I'd told her that I wished one thing in my life — just ONE thing — would be easy. I'd told her that I'm tired of everything being such a difficult fight.

"I don't think you were made for an easy life," she said, gently corroborating what my history has made quite plain.

Even now, days after our conversation, tears still flood my eyes as I sit in the harsh tension of this reality. And all I can do is remind myself:

I can do hard things. 

I turn those words over and over and over again, like a jawbreaker too big for my mouth. They are bittersweet. Uncomfortable. Choking. And true. 

So when the best I can do is set that phrase on repeat in my mind, while slowly putting one foot in front of the other, that just has to be enough.

Add in some whispered thanks for the trusted and compassionate people in my life who show up, sit in the mess with me, and give me strength to move my feet when I'm unable to on my own… Well, I’d say that’s more than enough. 

It has to be.

We can do hard things, friends. Whether we want to or not. 

We can do hard things.

Unapologetic

I. 

I'm a recovering overapologizer

I've spent my life tossing out apologies like candy in a parade — and collecting unnecessary guilt and insecurities in return. Owning what isn't mine to own, simply to keep the peace or to make someone else feel better, has left me living apologetically — as though I should feel sorry for simply being me. 

I'm over it.

So I'm intentionally curbing the word sorry from my vocabulary, which is no small feat, I assure you. But as someone who genuinely wants to say what she means and mean what she says, it's a worthy fight. 

So I'm saying excuse me when that's really what I intend, and how frustrating or I hate that for you when expressing understanding and solidarity. And I'm replacing the bulk of my apologies with appreciation.

Instead of "I'm sorry I'm all over the map right now," — "Thank you for listening to my unpolished thoughts." 

Rather than "I'm sorry I didn't catch that typo." — "Thank you for noticing that. I'll correct it before I send it out."

Instead of "I'm sorry I can't make it." — "I can't make it, but thank you so much for thinking of me."

Rather than "I'm sorry I'm so blah tonight; I'm really not feeling well." — "Thank you for being a trusted friend I can still spend time with even when I'm not feeling my best." 

I'm flipping the script, changing what could be perceived as a negative into a moment of gratitude. 

And saving my apologies for when they are actually warranted.

 

II. 

No, I’m not insulted at all when people call me sensitive. Feeling things deeply is my superpower. I’m an empathetic badass.
— Unknown

But — for the love! — don't call me sensitive.

 

III. 

Life is too short — and my energy too low — for me to do (optional) things I only feel halfhearted about.

Especially when wholeheartedness is my goal...

So, my new filter for decision-making is simple:

If it's not a hell yeah, it's a no

 

IV. 

"'No' is a complete sentence." I believe it's Anne Lammott who gets credited with that sentiment, which I've been more mindful of these days.

There are times when explanations are unnecessary, when I do not need to justify or defend my decisions, when no is really all I need to say... 

 

V.

‘no’
might make them angry.
but
it will make you free.

— if no one has ever told you,
your freedom is more important than their anger.
— Nayyirah Waheed

 

VI.

I used to live with a great deal of certainty when it came to my faith (not realizing till much later in life that it was only a mirage of certainty). I thought I had all the answers.

Nowadays, I say I don't know fairly often. I'm quick to admit I don't have all the answers. And I've learned to sit in the messy and uncomfortable uncertainty... 

This, I've discovered, is what faith really is. 

 

VII.

I was recently recounting some of the circumstances that unfolded surrounding my divorce. And I was struck anew by the enormity and depth of betrayal I've endured. There were just so many layers of it, from so many people. It's dumbfounding, really, to think back on all I've come through. 

(And, for the first time, I'm grateful for my fuzzy brain, because it can no longer remember most of the details. And that is an enormous gift.)

So I continue to chase and build resilience — strengthening my ability to bounce back from all life throws my way.

Because, as always, life isn't done pitching.

 

VIII.

But you should also know that just surviving all of the intensity and grief you have had to survive in this one go-round and still waking up every day and making a play for love is so beautiful it could crush my heart.
— Meg Worden

 

IX. 

I cringe every time the question is asked.

"Where did you go to college?"

I typically say something about the School of Hard Knocks as I try to make light of my own embarrassment and (dare I say it) shame. 

This time, the question was followed up with, "Well, then how were you qualified to run that nonprofit?" I sat there in astonishment, staring back at the older gentleman with the scrunched-up disdain on his face. And while I stammered out some sort of reply, what I wish I'd said is this: 

You know what I've learned in my life? That it serves me well not to be the smartest person in the room. I've always tried to surround myself with wise and experienced people — and I'm not afraid to ask stupid questions. And that is how I've managed to accomplish pretty much everything in my life, nonprofit included. 

Yes, sir. Even without a degree.

 

X. 

You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.
— Nina Simone

when badassery looks mostly like vulnerability

I knew badassery wouldn't be easy. (I’m not that naïve.) But I expected it to at least come with a side dish of quiet accomplishment. Or, at the very least, a small serving of relief in simply knowing I did the right thing.  

Instead, my badassery was served with heaping portions of risk and vulnerability and uncertainty. 

There were no grand moments of heroism. No victory marches. No Wonder-Woman stances to commemorate an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. 

No, this wasn't a year of bold triumph. It was a hard-fought twelve months of standing up, speaking out, making hard choices, and putting my heart on the line. My badassery looked like trying and trusting and hoping yet again, even when I didn’t want to and even when my experiences told me I knew better. It looked like saying difficult things, fighting to be seen, taking chances in work and relationships and heart. 

I knew badassery meant doing those things without guarantee of a positive outcome. But, unknowingly, I still half-expected that there would be one—not every time, but surely more often than not, right? Isn’t that the reward for the risk?

No...

What I learned is this: The reward for risk is merely the risk itself.  

The point isn’t the outcome, even though that’s what motivates the risk to begin with. The point is simply the willingness (and, I dare say, the courage) to roll the dice and take a chance. 

That alone is the victory. 

Though, I assure you, it doesn’t feel like one. There’s nothing glamorous or stately about this kind of “win”. It certainly doesn’t feel good. It's disappointing, exhausting, frustrating, painful….

I’m not “owed” a break simply because I’ve risked repeatedly or tried so hard or been through so much or any other reason I can come up with. And that is a bitter pill to swallow. 

So the big, character-shaping decision is whether or not to keep climbing back into the ring. 

And all I can do is sigh wearily, and shake my head, and mutter the words, What other choice do I have?

You Found Me

"What's your favorite song of theirs?"

I'd been crushing on this older couple sitting in front of me at The Fray concert, hoping that I'm still going to shows at their age. So I love that the gentleman turned around and asked me that. I didn't even need to think about my answer.

"You Found Me."

The man glances over at his wife with a grin on his face. His eyes light up as he turns back to me. "Can I ask why?"

I give them the cliff notes version: I was a missionary in South Africa, married for ten years. My ex-husband had multiple affairs and ultimately left me for another woman. I tell him that this song came out right after I returned Stateside for counseling, broken and devastated.

"It was the only thing I could listen to, and I played it on repeat for weeks on end. It gave me permission to be honest and carried me through the most difficult season of my life. "

He squeezes my arm, lifts his face God-ward, and quotes some of the lyrics. "Where were you?!" I nod in agreement.

He shakes his head, squeezes my arm again, and says with a compassionate smile, "I understand that completely." And then, "Would it be okay for me to tell Isaac this?"

Wait. Isaac? As in the lead singer of The Fray? The gentleman sees my puzzled look and explains. "He's my son-in-law. And I know it would mean a lot to him to hear your story."

My eyes instantly fill with tears as I start nodding. "Of course. I would really appreciate you telling him the impact his song had on my life."

His wife speaks up, her face pure kindness. "Isaac has come a long way since he wrote that. He's a different person today; his faith is different. I can tell it's the same for you. You've come a long way."

I agree wholeheartedly. "And my faith is different."

Fast forward thirty minutes. As I hear the distinctive piano notes, tears start to fall...

Where were you
When everything was falling apart?
All my days
Were spent by the telephone
That never rang
And all I needed was a call
That never came ...

Lost and insecure
You found me, you found me
Lyin’ on the floor
Surrounded, surrounded
Why’d you have to wait?
Where were you? Where were you?
Just a little late
You found me, you found me
— You Found Me, by The Fray

I can't keep myself from weeping.

Snot-nose, running mascara, and all... I cannot keep it together. And I don't even care. 

Seeing The Fray, hearing that song, talking with Isaac's in-laws... This—THIS—is a picture of redemption my heart will hold forever.

mourning-after medication

As one who feels things deeply, my heart this week has been heavier than I could ever begin to describe. I am laden with grief. I am angry and sad and devastated and confused.

But mostly, I just feel... heavy. Weighed down. Pressed down. 

What happened this week, or rather what has been brought to the surface by the election of Trump, is utterly horrifying to me. It's nauseating and maddening and frightening. But mostly? Mostly it is heartbreaking. 

My head is left spinning with thoughts I can't seem to even wrap my hands around. I can't make sense of them for myself, let alone articulate them to anyone else. The depth of what I feel cannot be summed up in words—at least none that I am able to string together on my own. I find myself unable to process the incomprehensibleness of all this...

And so all I can do is sit in it. 

With hot tears I scroll hastily past the posts and articles that aim to instruct me on how I should feel and what action I should take and how I should remember that God is in control. To be honest, I can't take the red bow just yet. To be really honest, I'm not sure I ever will, but certainly not now. I'm just not ready.

I simply need to give space for the mourning after.

Optimism can come later. Hope can (hopefully) be restored someday. Idealism and positivity and cup-half-full-ness can eventually make a rebound.

But right now? Right now, I'm still feeling that which I have no words for and still thinking heavy inarticulate thoughts that I don't know what to do with. So I'm practicing self-care and taking healthy doses of mourning-after meds.

My mourning-after medication looks like sitting together in the heaviness with safe-space friends. It looks like love and kindness and generosity. It looks like reading poetry, taking breaks from social media, earlier bedtimes, lighter schedules, and saying no. It looks like ridiculous dancing in my kitchen and in my car and in all manner of public places.

My mourning-after medication sounds like well-loved songs filling the cracks in my broken heart. It sounds like friends' voices, shaking but strong; it sounds like my own trembling voice as well; and at times it simply sounds like complete silence. It sounds like "just one more episode," and belly laughter wherever it may be found, and Leonard Cohen's hauntingly beautiful "cold and broken hallelujah". 

My mourning-after medication smells like chai tea and vanilla candles and the unique scent of newly dyed hair. It smells like long, steamy showers; like peanut butter cups; like strong whiskey; like crisp autumn air; like coconut hand cream; like home. 

My mourning-after medication tastes like comfort food: chocolate chip pancakes, garganelli verde, New York-style pizza. It tastes like bitter tears and acrid outbursts of indignation and words sparkling on the tip of my tongue. It tastes like fierce sorrow, sour loss, burning grief. 

My mourning-after medication feels like fuzzy socks and cozy sweaters. It feels like bear hugs, given and received. It feels like my hands wrapped around a hot mug of cider; and like being snuggled under a soft blanket; and like deep, intentional, cleansing breaths. It feels like holding space for those who also know how to hold space for me.

I'm giving myself space for the mourning after.

And I commit to giving you space for it too.