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.

Goodbye Someday

I get it. I do.

I understand why lifelong, loyal fans would be irritated by the droves of us who suddenly donned hats and joined in on the "Go Cubs Go" chants. "Bandwagon fans," they say with a frustrated sigh. And I get it.

But I also understand something else: that the Cubs' story is *our* story. It's the visual, tangible reminder to hold on, to never give up, to believe in something against all odds no matter how long it takes.

When 108 years of drought finally end, for a split second moment we all believe that our own seemingly-century-long struggles will eventually end as well. So we join in this moment to celebrate a victory hard-earned and to remind our hearts to hope, even when it feels like nothing more than a four-letter word.

Call me a bandwagon fan if you want, I won't mind. Because I know that right now... the Cubs are all of us.

six-word memoirs

A friend recently challenged me (along with everyone else on her email list) to tell my story in only six words. 

The project is inspired by the story, as legend has it, that Hemingway was once asked to compose a story in just six words. His response:
“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
— Stephanie Smith

Dang, right?!

Reading Hemingway's stirring response reminded me yet again of the unbelievable power of words.

While I may be slow to find my own words these days, I figured I could find six.

So I spent a while pondering different elements of my journey and ways I could boil who I am and where I've been and what I want down to only six words. Here is my collection of six-word memoirs:

  • Unraveled, only to be rewoven. Again. 
  • Worth it, but I didn’t know. 
  • Can't just one thing be easy?
  • If only I’d known then, I’d… 
  • My heart condition: best/worst metaphor.
  • Wanting to be Velveteen-rabbit loved.
  • Eat carbs. Drink bourbon. Laugh loudly. 
  • Heartsore and exhausted, inside and out.
  • Broken, but I’m okay… always okay. 
  • Not knowing is all I know.
  • Love and be loved: nothing less.
  • Learning to embrace uncertainty. And failing.
  • Home is more than a feeling. 
  • Though it's difficult: Relationship > being right. 
  • Why I can’t have nice things.
  • Always more question marks than periods.
  • Fall down. Get back up. Repeat.
  • Living loved feels impossible. Is it?
  • Give until empty; then give more.
  • I’m a roots and wings girl.
  • Africa will always have my heart.
  • Courage feels a lot like fear.
  • Life's hard. Hold hands, go together.
  • Autumn's reminder: there's beauty in brokenness.
  • No really... Are we there yet?

How about you? How would you write your story in only six words? I'd love to hear your six-word memoir(s).