When We Let Friends Go

When We Let Friends Go

I spent this weekend wandering around a city where my good friend lives. I didn’t see him while I was there though. I actually haven’t spoken to him in a few years. We’ve lost touch and reaching out at this point would have felt strange. I was there for a music festival with another friend and as we drove, I remembered him, this friend I’ve lost touch with, and I wondered how he was. I wondered where his house was, or if I would run into him. I wondered if his family was ok and if he still looked the same. We drove to and from the festival, and I wondered how the people of our past can continue to be a part of us.

Even when we say we’ve lost touch, do we ever really lose touch? Don’t the people we meet, however briefly, affect us in a way that changes us, and we carry that change with us?

I always hated saying goodbye to new friends at the end of summer camp, and the end of the school year and at graduations and after mission trips. I wanted to keep an email chain going with everyone so that none of us ever had to say goodbye. We could all just keep in touch forever. Of course by now I’ve realized this is impossible. What usually happens is you make promises to keep in touch, you sign each other’s yearbooks and then make 3 or 4 phone calls, write a couple of emails, send an un-returned text, and it’s done. You sort of putter out. And this, I’ve come to realize, is ok.

Because not everyone you cross paths with is meant to be on your journey for the long haul. My friend from above was pivotal for me at the time I knew him. We learned from each other and did our best to keep in touch and then years later I can drive around his city and smile and not feel bad about not texting him to let him know I’m in town. We’re living our lives. We remember each other. It’s enough.

Then, there are friends who stick with you regardless of your pitiful keeping-in-touch efforts. I have a wonderful friend I talk to on the phone maybe twice a year. We’ve lived at least a couple of countries apart for most of our adult lives, yet neither of us feels like we’re puttering out. We know we are meant to be on each other’s journeys for the long haul even if that looks like an annual, rushed “I’m running through the airport, just wanted to say hey” kind of phone call.

Some relationships stick, while others, even with the greatest efforts, just don’t. I believe this is for a reason. I believe friendship should be as natural as possible. If you’re struggling with maintaining a relationship you know is doomed to putter out, don’t beat yourself up about it. If we continued every friendship we’ve ever made, we would live an impossibly exhausting social life. Gently let go of the ones who you know are fading away. And gently, with gratitude, hold onto those resilient ones.

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The Risk of Getting to Know People

The Risk of Getting to Know People

I think I’m getting worse at knowing people. What I mean is, I used to be able to ask new acquaintances endless questions about themselves. This is because I have good parents who are good at asking people questions, so I learned this from them. I’m still more of an asker and listener than a talker, but I remember after my first year out of college realizing this had gotten more difficult for me; it took more energy to keep asking questions. I blamed this on the fact I was living in England and people are less nosy about other people there in general. But I notice it still. It is much easier to not ask someone about her story, to just let it be and keep talking about the weather.

I wonder if we get weary of this because we’ve heard all of the sad answers by now. When you enter into the great big world, you ask a stranger a question and you hear about his heartache and abuse and sadness and failures and, well, it would just be easier to not hear those things. I wonder also if we get more consumed by our own heartaches, failures and sadnesses and feel we don’t have room to know anyone else’s.

I actually have to muster up physical energy at times now when I dig into someone’s story, whereas when I was younger, it felt effortless.

And I’ve felt ashamed of this. Do I not care about people anymore? What is this wall that has so suddenly grown up between me and humanity? Where did it come from and how do I knock it down?

I’m not sure how, but I am sure how to keep the wall there, strong and steady. Stop getting to know people. Just stop. We could all agree to coexist and walk side by side without facing each other, looking each other in the eye and asking, “how are you?” Because we’ve heard the answer too many times.

If this sounds remotely appealing to you, you’re not alone. I’ve thought this before. Like when I was hiking with a friend this weekend. She’s been divorced for  a few years but I had never asked her much about the details of the divorce. How it felt, how it hurt, how it even happened, logistics wise. I thought about not asking her these things and staying away from the details and safe on the surface, but I mustered the energy somehow and as we walked through tress and crunched branches with our feet, I dug into her story. And the walk felt surprisingly refreshing and the questions came easier as I allowed myself to ask them. And we know each other better now.

Being known is a desire at the core of us all and though only God knows us fully, I believe he gave us the gift of conversation and each other so we could subsist on a taste of being slightly known while here on this earth. To get a glimpse of what being wholly known could be like. And when I think of it this way, the dangers of asking a friend about herself and getting to know her better is still scary, vulnerable and hard work but it becomes worthwhile work. Because I know I’m chipping away at the wall to reveal a path between us, and the path looks a little like eternity.

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Why Life Is Not a Paint-by-Number

paintbynumberStill, well into adulthood, I find myself just wanting to fit in. It’s not in the same way as it was in high school of course. I’m not hoping to be invited to the right party or pretending to smoke a cigarette or claiming my drink in my plastic cup wasn’t water, when it was. This was how I “fit in” as a teen. Today, I want to fit in with a life that follows the appropriate succession of events.

I realized this recently over lunch with a friend. We discussed how each life phase brings its own set of expectations. With college, a degree and a job. With a job, a spouse and a home. With a spouse and home, children. That’s as far as we got because between the two of us, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. But I’m sure the expectations continue as your children grow and your career progresses. And I think we continue to live in a tension pulled on one side by fitting in and on the other side by wanting to be our own person. Rarely can we be both but always, we want both.

We’ve learned life’s paint-by-number. We see the outline; we just don’t always have all the colors to fill it in. This can be irritating and disheartening and depressing and discouraging. We want all the colors.

In about four weeks my little sister will get married to the best guy. It will be beautiful, and I’ll cry “ICan’tBelieveMyLittleSisterHasGrownUp, She’sSoBeautiful, LookAtMyDadGivingHerAway” tears, like I did at my older sister’s wedding. Yet, this has reminded me of a color I haven’t found. Barring a strange act of God, I’m not getting married in four weeks nor in four months. And I’m looking for the instructions for my paint-my-number, and I can’t find them.

Maybe your instructions appear to be missing, too. Maybe something has not happened in your life succession you thought should have by now, or something happened too quickly and you weren’t ready for it and you’re still reeling. This can make us feel out of place. Like we’re doing something wrong. Like we don’t fit in.

Think about the words Paul uses to describe us in his letters: Aliens. Sojourners. Exiles. Strangers. These are the things we were before Christ. The words he uses to describe us after redemption? Citizens. Saints. Members. God’s people. I like “members” best because it can so often feel we’re not a part of the club, and we so often find more comfort in the pieces fitting and the societal norms than we do in our own salvation.

And the sad part is, when we make moves based on these expectations, we forget who we are. We forget the quirks and passions and dreams that make us us and we turn them over to what make us feel a part. We forgot that we already are a part. We forgot that we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

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Being the Type of Woman the World Needs

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I’m about to tell you something you’ve heard from just about everyone in your life 100 different times. You heard it from your mom first, then your dad, then your friends and youth group leaders, then your grandmother and the preacher and your camp counselor. It comes from the Bible and is paraphrased and repeated often, especially to young women. It’s this: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart ” (1 Sam. 16:7).

It’s telling how often I’ve blogged about beauty this year. A topic I avoided for a long time, I think because I was in denial about my shallow views of it. But the reality about me and my thoughts on beauty is that I turned 28 on Saturday and that 1 Samuel verse is just starting to sink in. That’s 28 years of outward appearance-focused living, folks. And let me tell you, if you don’t already know, it’s exhausting.

I had lunch last week with a wise friend and mentor. Among several other things, she mentioned this simple phrase, that God looks at the heart. And I walked away from lunch repeating those words to myself as if I had never heard them before. What does this mean for me, I thought, if God looks at the heart?

Beauty is incredibly subjective. What’s beautiful today was not beautiful in the 19th century and what will be beautiful 20 years from now is not beautiful today. And since God exists outside of time and He only looks at the heart anyways, this makes cultural beauty standards so very irrelevant. Ann Voskamp wrote a beautiful piece to her daughter about beauty that reminded me of so many important things:

“The world will say they will love you if you are beautiful —- but the truth is you are beautiful because you are loved.”

“The world has enough women who live a masked insecurity. It needs more women who live a brave vulnerability.”

“The world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things.”

Hard and holy things. I guess this would not include panicking when my jeans are a tad tighter than they were last week or examining my “love handles” for an incredible amount of time in the mirror or sizing up every other girl in the restaurant, thinking of what’s better about me than her and better about her than me. The world doesn’t need women like that, the woman I am most days.

The hard and holy things? Sure, they are acts of service and loving others and restraining judgment. But I think the hardest holy thing is within us. It’s how we speak to ourselves and how we view ourselves. It’s choosing to pay more attention to your own heart and deciding that beauty isn’t something you’re attaining but rather, that it is innate. That it is already in you and your job while here is to decide which beauty you will project on this earth, your own or His.

And you will choose your own often. You will choose it when the guy passes you up and you say it is because–the worst phrase humans ever made up–“he is out your league.” You will choose it when you go to the pool this summer and spend more time looking at your reflection in the water than actually enjoying the water. You will choose it when you beat yourself up for never being able to lose those last ten pounds. It is a process and it is a journey and this why everyone in your life has told you at least 100 times that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  And this is why we won’t stop reminding each other of it.

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Why You SHOULD Get your Hopes Up

why you SHOULD get your hopes up

I’ve been doing this new thing where I allow myself to get my hopes up. I talked about it recently on Storyline and you should read that post first in order to fully understand this one. The problem with allowing myself to get my hopes up means I’m allowing myself to get disappointed. The problem with getting disappointed is that I feel disappointed, and the problem with feeling disappointed is that it doesn’t feel good.

Think about it, the last time you felt genuine disappointment. You had hoped something would happen and it didn’t. For me, now that I’m allowing this disappointment thing into my life, I’ve noticed that I’ll feel it in my whole body. I walk around a little slower, I actually “hang my head.” I reach for a cup in the cabinet at a glacial pace, fill it up with water, slink back to my couch, slip slowly. It doesn’t even taste good.

As I said in the Storyline post, Dr. Brene Brown talks about how living with disappointment is easier than feeling disappointment. I get this now. Because when I lived in it, I did not have the high of hope to come off of. There was less distance to fall. Now, I feel it when I hit the ground. But as hard as it hurts, I know that what I’m gaining is future joy. Because we can not selectively feel emotions, says Brown. When we numb disappointment, we numb joy. But when we feel disappointment, we feel joy.

So that leaves us with the question of what to do when we are feeling the disappointment as we sit on the couch with the cold glass of water that took us 8 minutes to fill up. This is what I’m figuring out now and I think the answer is to press in. Don’t shove the emotion away and pretend it’s not there. Allow yourself to feel it. Kind of like grieving. Maybe exactly like grieving.

The pain of disappointment is real and deep no matter how petty the circumstance may seem. I once ran up to my room crying when I was in high school because I had just discovered I had been wait-listed at a college I didn’t even want to go to in the first place. It’s just a real reaction and pressing in allows us to feel it, and somewhere deep down you know you’ve felt it before and it doesn’t last forever. It’s like a toddler. A two-year-old reacts dramatically when disappointed with tears and cries, but 30 minutes later he’s bounced back and happy again. Maybe the kids have it right.

We forget how buoyant we are. We forget that we’ll wake up, maybe tomorrow, and the joy will have crept back in.

 

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You Are More than You Think You Are

You Are More than You Think You Are

I think we often define ourselves by the things we believe we are not just as much as we define ourselves by the things we are. I am a publicist. I am a preacher’s daughter. I am a writer. I am not a musician. I am not a chef. I am not an athlete.

It’s funny I’ve always told people I’m not an athlete because I played sports from age 5 to 18 and I played intramural volleyball each year in college. I even tried playing in a couple of leagues after college, and I’ve run regularly for about 12 years now. Yet I always give this disclaimer about me and my athletic abilities and tell people I’m not a very good athlete, never was. I decided that because I never got MVP, I was mediocre and a mediocre athlete isn’t an athlete.

The way we rule things out of our capabilities can be so destructive. Maybe one person one time told you you’re not a great singer, or that you really can’t pull off skinny jeans, or you look funny when you kick a soccer ball and for years to come you don’t sing, and you don’t play soccer, and you don’t wear skinny jeans. For me, I participate in athletics but refuse to get too competitive, thinking I’m not very good so I shouldn’t try too hard.

This was my plan for the most recent half marathon I ran. I never set time goals for races because I feel like I don’t deserve to. As if keeping one’s pace is only for true athletes. But this time I decided my hard work and training deserved to be paced and tested, and I was tired of always finishing races at the same pace. So one day I quietly declared my dream finish time. I set a goal.

And on race day, for 13.1 miles, I forced myself to take steps toward this goal. I didn’t say, “I can only do what I can do” or “It’s ok if you have to walk.” I didn’t say that because I knew I was capable of running the whole time and running a little faster than usual. So instead, I told myself things I thought real athletes probably tell themselves: “You can do this. Lean into the hill. This is where it counts!” As cheesy as it all sounds, it worked. For 13.1 miles I made the conscious decision to believe in myself. I ran hard and I prayed more than I usually do. And after what felt like forever, I crossed the finish line 10 minutes under my dream time.

I am still asking who ran that race. I’ve never run that fast in my life, and I flew high on endorphins for about 12 days afterward.

At the risk of over spiritualizing something, I believe God was proving a point about my identity in that race. He proved that we can really limit our lives when we declare aloud we are not ____. Because when we do this, we are deciding who we are rather than allowing Christ to be who we are. If Christ is our identity, we really have no right to say we are one thing and not another.

I’ve noticed the courage gained from that half marathon has carried over into other areas of my life. It has begun to chip away at negatives I’ve allowed to define me like, “He would never be interested in me. I’m not outspoken in meetings. I hate public speaking.” These are not truths. Really, they are fears. And I am seeing them, while slowly, lose power and become smaller, and this is the hope that we all have, already in us.

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When Your Life Isn’t Measuring Up

When Your Life Isn't Measuring Up

I write this on Sunday after church, lunch, a nap and suffering through a Tracy Anderson work-out DVD. Many Sundays are like this for me. Not too eventful, as productive as I can manage with some rest and some writing mixed in. I love Sundays for this reason. But this Sunday after waking up from a too-long nap, I began to scroll through Facebook on my phone. I saw many posts about people playing volleyball, going to parks, going hiking, eating brunch. They were with other people and enjoying summer. Suddenly, my to-do list seemed so lame. I didn’t have plans to meet up with friends later. I hadn’t gone somewhere cool for brunch and I wasn’t “soaking up summer.” I sat up from my reclined position and began to feel embarrassed about my life. I began to believe it wasn’t measuring up.

People have been calling out the social-media comparison epidemic for a while now. I wrote it about it for my friend Katy’s blog in the context of relationships. I particularly enjoyed this one by Shauna Niequist on Relevant. I’m glad we’re being honest about this problem and being honest in the conversation. But as much as I read and talk about the dangers of comparison online, I still do it. I still compare myself to everyone I see on all of my feeds: Facebook, Twitter and, the worst culprit, Instagram.

And sometimes my solution to not comparing myself is worse than the actual comparison: I think bad things about people. Like, “They probably took that last week and are just now posting it to make it look like they’re having ‘the best day of their lives.’” Or, “So he got you flowers again? Isn’t that getting old?” And my most favorite, “Her life must really suck right now if she feels the need to post so much scripture and positive crap.”

Welcome to the reality of my sinful mind. It’s not pretty to write about, but I have a feeling others have had these thoughts at least once before when you’re in low place.

I have moments though when my thoughts aren’t so dark as I peruse the photos and status updates. Those are the days I feel like “liking” everything my friends and acquaintances are sharing. I call it giving virtual high fives. When I’m feeling secure in who I am and liking what my life has to offer, I can like all of the other great things in people’s lives. But when I’m feeling lonely or like my social calendar has way too many gaps, I hate what others are posting and offer no high fives.

The word that came to me today as I felt shame over my big plans to visit the grocery store and write a blog post and felt jealousy toward the volleyball players and picnic eaters was gratitude. Ah gratitude, isn’t it always the obnoxious answer? But something inside me said that if I could pull away from my smartphone screen long enough to list off a few things from my own Sunday I was thankful for, I would probably feel a little better. So I did, and it turned out there were several things: I had gone to a wonderful place to worship God. I had had lunch outside with a friend I love. I had successfully taken a nap, which I often can’t do. I had a missed call from my sister whom I also love.

Allison Vesterfelt recently wrote an article about people who are abandoning social media (I have been one of these people, twice). She talks about how the problem with social media isn’t social media; it’s us. How true. This is evident in my ability to some days “like” everything I see on Facebook and some days want to unfollow each person who is having a better day than I am. It’s not my Facebook friend’s fault; it’s something that’s going on in me. And it could be, just maybe, an opportunity for gratitude.

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