bittersweet // adj.

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You and her lived in a world I could only be an observer in.
You both spoke a language I couldn’t understand.
So when we walked through the door, and she was the first person I saw– my head spun so quickly that the next thing I knew, you were rubbing the center of my back while I handed my insurance and registration information to a nice old man with a small new dent in his black car.
You held my hand, and I held my breath all the way home.

I finally told you I was having one of those crummy days where I woke up having to fight for it,
where my mind told me things that weren’t true just because they’d been true before.
That was when you told me you’d been in love with me since fifth grade and I needed to snap out of it.

I had never known a man who could be so gentle with my heart, a man who knew exactly what I needed and could be that for me.

So you took me to the top of a hill where I could look straight out and see the skyline of my city;
we climbed out of your car and sprawled out on a stranger’s front yard to watch the night sky,
and I knew I didn’t have to fight the shrinking feeling any more.


It was you and me and the woods who heard your whisper:

“I think we can do this.”

My bones broke beneath the words with a sigh and a crack, outraged that you had let me believe for so long that you hadn’t loved me anymore.


God is working on this bitter heart, making it sweeter with every healed memory.

The rain never made me feel clean; God came and lit the sky on fire and burned up all the things in the air that made it hard to breathe

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There were five reindeer covered in specks of reflecting plastic so the yellow lights of the store bounced off of them like a disco ball.
Little, red signs shaped like arrows or present tags that said, “From Santa” and “I’ll be yours for Christmas” were on the shelf below. A tree sat to the right of everything; it was decorated with birds that had long feather tails, glass balls sprinkled in silver glitter, and tiny China dolls. My mother and sister were running around the store somewhere, but I was stuck staring at the reindeers.
I was staring at the Christmas reindeer, a cold calm washing over me:

He does not want you anymore. He does not want you anymore. He does not want you anymore.

Up until three weeks ago, I woke up every morning to tell 19 thousand people how worth loving they are through a phone screen, but I was staring at those reindeer thinking,
“You have been second choice to new people, new opportunities; you’ve felt not worth the first spot. But my God, you’re not even worth a fight.”

He doesn’t want you anymore. He doesn’t want you anymore. He doesn’t want you anymore.

But tell me, darling, have you ever seen a Florida sunset? Drive for miles down that flat strip of pavement and watch the sun set the trees on fire, kissing the blue of day goodnight. There is purple and blue and orange and gold, and you can only see its beauty when you stare the sky dead in the face: look behind you, there will be night; look ahead of you, there will be night. And it’s beautiful because you can see the stars ahead of you, but you just want to know that those colors will be there. You want to know that when you drive to where the black cloak is, you will still be able to see the sun sinking behind the trees straight out your window.

Let me tell you, I’m staring at my part of the sky that I can just see out my window– Im staring it straight in the face, and it is beautiful. But I want to know that the colors are still sitting there behind all the black that I can see up ahead.

So I’ll keep driving.

Because that kind of beauty is worth craning your neck to watch go by, the kind of beauty that’s worth waiting for even if it just looks like dark from where you’re sitting.

“That’s my cube!”

“That’s my cube!”

His little buzzed-cut head came up to that awkward bony part of my calf that sits right below my knee.

I looked down my long arm at the white wall I’d put my hand on, then back down at the sweet face. His pointer finger was stretching towards the smaller-than-normal cubicle that someone had managed to fit two child-sized beds in.

I smiled, “Yeah? It’s yours?”

“Yeah, that’s my cube!” he said, stretching his finger higher into the sky.

“It’s such a nice cube.”

“Those are my jeans!”

“That’s my sweater!”

“Hey, that’s my shirt, why did you go into my closet?”

“Who said you could wear my cardigan?”

“That’s my spot on the couch!”

“Jenna, where’s my toothpaste?”

This is the ongoing struggle of having a fifteen year old sister: we can essentially share everything we own with each other, yet absolutely hate the idea of it.

We claim things and we claim people like we are God.

And there’s a little boy off an exit in Smyrna who can only claim a small cubicle full of donated sheets and donated pillows and donated blankets and donated toys and donated clothes; he can’t even claim his styrofoam dinner plate, let alone the meal that we’re feeding him.

So at dinner, I ask him if he wants the egg casserole or the French toast, and he shies away, that little finger pointing at the French toast. He makes me smile. His friends and mother and his mother’s friends make me smile.

The first time I walked the halls of the church, I had been a junior in high school. Someone at my school had looked at me and said, “You: you can handle this responsibility” and I’d been nominated for a role I wasn’t sure I fit into.

My mom, she fit the part. Her heart was hungry to feed, craving to love, eager to learn and connect with the women at the shelter.

Now I walk the halls as a junior in college, and I know that little boy can’t even claim the cubical he’s so proud of; his mom will grow in the discipleship program until she’s reached her goal, and they will be gone.

“That’s my cube!” he said.

I’m handing him his french toast on his styrofoam plate and thinking about the boy who has my heart.

“That’s my cube!” he said.

He’s coming back for seconds because he doesn’t know if anyone will be there with breakfast to serve him tomorrow, and I’m remembering the day I threw away every momento and picture from their hiding place in my favorite book only to wish I could slip new memories between the pages.

“That’s my cube!”

He’s thanking me– thanking me– for his meal, and I’m trying to remember how “I love you” sounded the way it sounded that night in April.

I didn’t ever sit down and think about being the girl who served suppers at shelters. Just like I didn’t see myself being the girl who people thanked for her words.

No, with all my might and willpower I thought of how I could be the ghost girl, the girl who left a hole when she was gone. My time was spent trying to be stunning, trying to captivate. Sure, there were words in my heart that beat so heavy they hurt my own chest, and I knew I was meant for a life spent shrinking in the midst of inflating my Jesus.

But I wanted to dance in the light of being missed so much it hurt; I wanted to be the face behind the sleepless nights and the thirty minute drives to make everything right because life without me was hard.
Because life without him has been so hard. And he sleeps at night just fine. And I’ve missed him so much it hurts. And his car isn’t ever going to just be sitting in my driveway.

There’s a little boy who lives in a church in Smyrna because his mom used to live under the bridges of the city I fell in love in. Sometimes strangers bring him his meals, and sometimes no one shows up. He is so very proud of his cubicle that he lives in with his mom. For the night, I’m on his radar, telling him how much I love his cube and giving him an extra slice of french toast. And maybe someday, when he has a family of his own, he’ll tell his little kids who are so proud of their rooms or their outfits or their toys about the time he found joy in bragging about his cubicle. And maybe he’ll remember me– not my face or my voice or my name. But maybe he’ll remember me because for the first time he had something he could claim: a friend.

I want to be so much more than just the girl someone doesn’t know how to let go of.

This one is for the boy with the blue eyes, the one I tried to claim like I was God.

She broke your heart.
I got it.
We all got it.
But I didn’t realize how much you needed me, really needed me, until you called me up and asked for my company.

So I gave everything.

I poured myself out over you, emptied myself for the chance that you’d smile again. I could write about how squeezing myself dry for you was beautiful and none of it hurt and all of that glittery happy stuff that people love to quote.

But at the end of the day, you looked at my empty glass while I thought to myself, smiling, “I have loved someone well for the first time in my life,”

and you asked, “Where is the rest?”

You said, “But I want more” and put the empty glass down.

And I guess that the most tragically triumphant detail about the entire situation is that, when all was said and done,
the glass was still empty.

“Collateral”

I had a dream last night.
You forgave me for all the things you thought I did;
we sat together,
and I felt safe enough to bloom again
while you were able to
lay your tired bones at my feet
one more time;
but I woke
to cross another day off
the calendar
that I hadn’t spoken to you,
another Friday night gone by
that you spent drinking at his house
trying to swallow
every memory of her,
while to you, I was just a bubble
in the suds
of your beer.

And me?

I stopped smoking cigars.

Maybe it was because I was tired of taking my chances,
done playing Russian roulette.
Or maybe it was because the only lighter I’ve ever owned was a gift from you, and remembering you every time I flicked up a spark of a flame was worse than any cancer.

And as each memory came,
I crossed them out,
shaded over them until I could know longer make out what they said when I flipped through the pages of my life.
Some days it was that easy,
while other days were spent climbing up to the top shelf to take them down.
I lost count of the months it took to erase you, but by God I tried with all my might to erase every last memory I had.
Because erasing you was the best that I could do.

I stopped trying so hard to understand God and just let Him drown me in answers when He felt like finally giving them up to me on the day that you asked if we could get coffee.

Because why would the God who knew my heart and everything it desires plop you back into my orbit a year and a half after He took you out?

Because.

Because I learned that only when a heart starts needing God and letting Him satisfy those needs– that’s when He give us its desires, too.

His and Hers

It was the kind of coffee shop where two people can fall in love: the steam from the vintage coffee machine curling through the still, hipster air; the business people circling around the intimate tables trying to talk about how they are going to change the world; college kids sucking up the wifi so that they can take their practice tests and writing their last papers of the semester (cause praise the Lord, it’s FINAL’S WEEK *insert the hand raising emoji*). And somewhere in the back room sat my old friend, Josh, waiting for me. We sat on old couches and passed a laptop back and forth, bleeding across a blank page, trying to put our thumb on an idea that we’d grown to become not so very fond of: dating in 2014. In a world where “talking” is a thing, where guys say things to girls that they don’t ever actually mean, where words like “forever” have lost their weight, and where the “bad boy” has become America’s heart throb, all we wanted was to try and find stability, God, and love in it all– and how it could look the same in his eyes and mine.


 

“Christian Dating” – The Myth

His
I never noticed this before, but the Bible doesn’t even talk about “dating.” Dating wasn’t even a thing back then. So, I don’t believe in “christian dating.” I believe in two people who love Jesus getting to know each other (the “talking stage”) and eventually deciding to make a commitment to date under the Christian moral guidelines. If you are a Christian, and you date a non believer, it’s more than likely not going to workout and/or be good for your faith. If you’re a Christian dating another “Christian,” but you’re relationship doesn’t reflect it all of the values you two say you believe, well then you’re just being a hypocrite. How can you love when you don’t know true love itself??? Marriage, which is what dating is suppose to lead towards, is said to be the best example of the Gospel. Lets not take that lightly.

Hers
I don’t date church boys.
No. Church boys are my off-limits-don’t-let-their-bible-verse-bumper-sticker-fool-you-heck-no-red-zone. The higher they raise their hands in worship, the more weary I am of them. Because I’ve dated the church boy: he has many faces. I’ve seen behind the curtain, and there’s no speck of God anywhere in how they work. But God knows I can fall hard for the man who hasn’t been to church in weeks; the man who sits in coffee shops or the dim light of his dorm room and makes God his own; the man who people tell me to run from, but when I look behind the curtain, I see God’s face shining. Shouldn’t the dust covered wheels of how a man works add up with the way he walks? When did the way his wheels crank and turn stop steering him in a corresponding step and voice? When did it become so easy to turn it all off and fake it? Don’t give me raised hands in the front row or even the man hiding his heart. Give me Jesus, and I will fall.


 

Let’s talk about “Talking”

His
Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy the talking stage. I think most guys do (even though we are horrible at it). The talking stage is designed to help you get to know someone with whom you are starting to take a liking to before you make a big commitment to them. It gives you a chance to know their heart for Jesus and get there view points on different topics. Plus, it gives you a chance to see if you can have fun with them. Dating a Christian is not all about going to three services a week with them and doing nothing but Bible study; relationships are suppose to be fun. God wants us to have fun. How can you date someone you cant have fun with? Go out with them, meet their family, and see if you can enjoy yourselves. And if you have to fake a personality– that’s not a good sign. If you can’t be you, it wont do! The Bible talks about love being patient. SO BE PATIENT.

Hers
There is no part of me that knows how to love the color grey; I only know how to be black and white. “Talking” is just another word for “haze.” It locks us out of being able to love someone, stuck in a spot of being just an option; it’s become a man’s favorite place to put us. And there we both are, me and him, stuck in the grey area of never acknowledging a thing until he decides if he wants me or not. “Talking” is an excuse, not a means-to-an-end. The Bible talks about men being created with bold hearts meant to take initiative and lead, not hide in the grey fog of not having to love a girl well, loving a girl like Christ loves the church. Thank God Jesus didn’t come to test the waters, to see if we were really worth dying for.


 

“The Heart Wants What it Wants”

His
I, for the life of me, do not understand why girls think guys like bad girls. Maybe it’s just me, but I have never meet a guy who wanted to date a bad girl. We do not love bad girls; we want to hook up with the bad girls (I’m just being honest). What we want is to date the good girl. Why? Because we all need some good in our lives– a girl to keep us sane, someone to tell us what we’re doing wrong. We all tend to fall for someone we know we shouldn’t. But as the ever so beautiful Selena Gomez puts it: “the heart wants what it wants.” One of our biggest pet peeves is the fact that women complain all the time about “Why are guys so rude and mean? Where are all the good guys???” Well honey, they’re all in this little place we like to call the friend zone. So if you wonder why we act the way we do sometimes, it’s usually because the girl tends to friend zone the nice guy. People say that the way to a girl’s heart is to act like we don’t care so much. But what sense does that make? So you want us to care, but not show it so much? It would be easier to invent a time machine than to figure you women out!

Hers
We’re actually not that hard to figure out: we want the truth, in every sense of the word; we want the first choice spot; we want clear intentions and raw thoughts; and more often than not, we want the big bad love that we can change. And that’s the part where we stand at fault. We pick the man with the past, the mystery, the hesitation, the man who puts us in the back seat spot of his life in hopes that he’ll reach his big epiphany of love moment along the ride– the moment of magic and hands on cheeks and “I love you” whispered in the dark. So we wait. We accept spot number two because we convince ourselves that the moment where he turns around the sees us– for the first time, really sees us when he looks at us– it will be glorious. We want to be so beautiful that we change someone. But really, when you get to the core of a woman’s heart, you’ll find that she’s really just yearning the moment where the man she loves looks at her like she might be magic. Our messy hearts have just tricked us into believing that falling in love and being fallen-in-love-with is more beautiful when there is relief after pain.


 

FOMO – “The Fear of Missing Out”

His
I’m actually on the girl’s side on this one. I have no idea why us guys do this. We always have a “The grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. If we’re in a relationship, then we think we would be happier single. Then when we are single, we think we would be happier in a relationship. So basically, we just want the girl to prove to us that we would be happier with her.

Hers
You have to go to all the big parties that the fraternity throws, but you can’t be in the fraternity because if you’re in the fraternity, then you won’t do so well during your basketball games; you can only play basketball for a few years and win all the awards and grab the spotlight interviews in the school newspapers because then you also need time to get the job that will put the gold watch on your wrist and that juicy lobster with the ocean stench into the pretty blonde’s mouth; you can only spend your weeknights working and your Fridays and Saturdays partying if you’re front row, hands raised, head back, going all Sam Smith in church Sunday morning. And at the end of the day, it all comes second to getting the good grades that keeps you on your full ride to school. You can’t blink, you can’t sleep, you can’t love. Because if you blink, you might miss your best friend doing the 47 second keg stand at the party on Saturday night; if you slept, well, you wouldn’t even know what had happened at the party Saturday night; if you loved, you couldn’t do anything because loving her would be all you ever wanted to spend your time doing.
The FOMO Syndrome: the Fear of Missing Out. And I’m so over it.
Even as I write the words Josh is saying over my shoulder, “But isn’t that what life is all about? Experiencing things?” No. Life isn’t about experiencing things, life is about caring about people, about showing up for people, about choosing people. When did it become acceptable to start choosing parties over a person? When did it become acceptable to pick sleep over a straining heart? When did we stop caring so much about people that we no longer feel a massive hole in the place of someone’s absence in our lives? It’s 2014. The world is suffering from the fear of missing out, and we’re missing out on all of the things that will last: caring about people. Experience less, care more. There’s always room to care more.


The “Right Person” Myth

His
Love is a choice. I don’t think there is one special person out there that you are going to meet no matter what. If we’re being completely honest here, I could see myself spending the rest of my life with a lot of people. But there is eventually only going to be one that I choose to want to spend it with. Love, by my definition, is more than just a feeling– it’s a verb. It’s that feeling you get when you just know that, no matter what, you’re going to do everything you can for the person you choose to love. No matter how crazy they make you, you wouldn’t want to spend your day with anyone else; it’s not about someone who will watch football with you, it’s about someone who you would rather be with instead of watching football.

Hers
Guess what: Josh and I actually agree on something!
Love is a choice. I thought I met “the one;” I told him that, too. We said, “This is it, we’re gonna make it,” and I believed him.
The truth: there is no “one.” There are three billion. And out of those three billion men in the world, we pick one.
We look at them dripping in all of the golden things that they are, and we say “I love you” like a promise. Every day, highs and lows, choosing them. Yeah, the idea of finally coming across our missing puzzle piece– the guy God made just for us– is just a safety net that we love to over-romanticize. But isn’t there more beauty in the choice? Yes. Yes, yes, yes.


Him
The truth is, the whole dating thing shouldn’t be rushed. That’s easier said than done, but love is not something that should be taken lightly. Guys, you are the leader, so step up and act like it. Treat her with the respect she deserves. Ladies, you are so worth loving, so don’t settle on a guy who can’t love you to his full potential. Focus on becoming the right person instead of looking for the right person. One day, we’re all just going to laugh about all of those past relationships that didn’t work out, anyways.

Her
I’m nineteen and learning how to be alone; not in the way that most nineteen year olds are learning how to be “alone,” but in the way of being alone with myself, making sure I do the things I want to do and focusing on the things that are important to me even if it means there isn’t a man holding my heart and doing it all with me. I want to care more and experience less things; I want to say “I love you” and back it up with forever. And I want honesty. Pure, untampered with, unashamed, fearless, honesty: a love worth waiting for.

Let me fall.

My mother told me not to fall so hard, so fast;
but doesn’t she know I don’t know how to love in halves?


You said,
“It’s just that things can change so quick.”
Not a reminder,
but a warning;
you know something I don’t, yet.

Please, someone tell me what it feels like to fall and it not hurt;
there must be a way to do it so that you don’t hit the bottom hard, but land flat on your feet instead.
Someone lead me to the heart that knows how to stay and how to keep.

“Stay.”
My spine breaks beneath the word.
Does it mean to never leave,
or to take me with you?

I will see you when I see you, on Sunday afternoons or Friday nights that turn into Saturday mornings at 1a.m.
We will dance around the inevitable with nonchalance,
and love each others hearts without feeling.

As I stand at the edge of the cliff with you, staring out and down into the abyss of love, I think of Jack from the Titanic.
I’ll jump if you jump.
Now my eyes, well they are staring at your feet.
Until then, I will wait,
basking in how close I get to stand next to you;
Waiting for the part of “stay” where you take me with you.

Like the song you showed me,
I wanna know:
Are you feeling trapped?
Or is it a choice?
Because I choose to be trapped with you in this long, slow fall.