The Christmas Blanket

 It was red.

He giggled about something.

“What?” I asked.

He pulled a corner of it up to reveal Christmas greenery and golden bells on the other side.

“It was the only blanket I could find” he explained and shrugged.

I smiled and took my spot across from him.

High school girls playing on the swing set a few yards away had watched us come in. They had seen the blanket and the basket and the stereo, and they had leaned in to whisper to each other, smiling, giggling, talking about how dreamy it all was. And it was. It was perfect. He was perfect. We were happy.

We had gotten in the car for a date that night. He was notorious for never telling me what the plan was. This time, he at least told me that we were going to dinner. As we drove, I had been shouting out random places every time we took a new turn. I finally shouted, “Canyons! You’re taking me to Canyons!” and he rolled his eyes. “Yes, Jenna. I’m taking you to Canyons.”

And then we pulled into a park. And he pulled out the Christmas blanket. With the basket. And the stereo. And we walked over to a spot of grass off to the side of the rest of the park. Once we were settled on the blanket, he pulled out five different kinds of sandwiches and handed me a PB&J (my favorite), plus, he had brought a BLT because I had never tried one before, and he loved to make them. All of my favorite things were scattered across the Christmas blanket: pineapple, Wavy lays, country music was playing. I remember him saying, “Deer Park is your favorite water, isn’t it?” Sure enough, there was the Deer Park water bottles sitting in the basket.

So we sat on the Christmas blanket and enjoyed all of my favorite things. At some point in the evening, he leaned back while I curled up next to him. I asked him what he thought of my outfit: lime green shorts and a white floral tank top, hair curled into massive blonde ringlets, and trendy sandals (above picture). Entirely out of the ordinary for me.

“You look fantastic,” he said, and smiled. But he was hesitant.

“Thanks, I was going for cute and preppy,” I told him, curling up closer to him on the blanket.

He sat up. “Jenna, this isn’t what you want. I wish you would’ve worn something more like what you usually wear. You look so beautiful, but I want you. And this isn’t you.”

I blinked at him. “But this is the way all your friends and your sisters dress. I thought you’d like it.”

“No. What I love about you is that you aren’t like the rest of the girls in my world. You’re a breath of fresh air,” he told me.

I laughed at him. I think it made him mad, but I did– I laughed.

“Oh, I’m nothing like the girl I would pick out for you,” I told him.

He had a smug look on his face that made me want to melt into a puddle right in front of him– that look he gave me every time I thought that I was onto something and yet was entirely wrong. “Is that so? What kind of girl would you pick out for me then?” He layed back down onto the blanket.

“She’d be blonde, definitely,” I said. “And she’d have to be brilliantly smart. Not as smart as you, obviously, but she’d probably go to school with you and be into something that had to do with science or medicine. She’d also be sarcastic and witty; not as quick as you, but quick enough to give you back your sass. She wouldn’t have tattoos, and she wouldn’t dress like me either— she’d have more of a style like the girls who work in the boutiques in Downtown Woodstock. And she’d be an athlete, most likely a swimmer, but no doubt some sort of athlete. She’d be kind, though. The kind of kind that would make her popular. Because you are so kind, and she’d be kind enough to treat your heart well.”

Then he reminded me that he’d been in love with me since the fifth grade.

I had it all figured out for him; I’d created my own version of what I thought he deserved, what I thought would be most fitting for him, what would make him the happiest. From the way she looked to the way she treated people and the things she loved, I could see her perfectly in my head.

It wasn’t until he ended up with the girl I had imagined, and I was stuck sitting in a coffee shop complaining about it across from Hannah that I realized–
I had never created my own list of the things want, the things that will make me happy.

“Well, have you ever done it?”

She blinked back it me. “No, I guess I haven’t!”

We stared at each other for a moment.

“Let’s do it right now!” she said.

In a coffee shop in Woodstock, we pulled out our notebooks and pens and made a list of all the things our hearts hoped for, all of the things we had learned to want for ourselves after hits and misses over the years.

None of it seemed natural at first. It took me a solid ten minutes before I could write at least one thing down.

The truth is, up until that point, I had never really thought about the things my heart wants, what it needs. It had all been a go-with-the-flow-and-if-you-feel-things-for-someone-he’s-it sort of quick motion. Never stopping to figure out the way my heart works, never slowing down to take note of the things I was drawn to; too busy making a list of reasons why I wasn’t enough and never taking the time to make a list of what thought was enough.

I eventually finished that list in that coffee shop. It’s a small list, and it’s changed about four times as I’ve learned and lost and navigated through my feelings to get down to the wiring behind my desires.

Lists are good, but that’s not what I learned. I learned a lot about me, and not just the things I’m looking for– I learned a lot about how I view God. 

Me and Him? We talk when I’m driving down the road, when I can’t sleep at night, when the sun is out, when I’m at the airport people watching; I thank Him periodically for different things, the small kind and the big kind, and I go to the foot of His throne when storm clouds roll in.

But up until that day in that coffee shop, I thought there was a thick red line I wasn’t allowed to cross– I wasn’t allowed to ask God for things.

That’s selfish.

I made God impersonal, even though I felt Him there every time I reached out (and even in the moments when I didn’t). 

We call Him the Rock, our Safe Place, our Shield, our Protection, our Provider– but we also call Him our Father. Yes He is a God on a throne in heaven surrounded by beings we couldn’t even imagine, but He is also a whisper, and He was human.

He swept low. 

He craves our dependency, but not just when we are grateful or desperate. 

We are allowed to ask God for good things. 

I want tulips and knocks on the front door ten minutes earlier than expected, not more tweets about how you’re waiting to be intentional.

I’ve spent hours at coffee shops across from boys I sit front row with at church, trying to get inside their heads about dating.

I mean, I’ve worked myself up and driven myself crazy trying to make a point that they couldn’t see.

So one Sunday, when the pastor man started talking about relationships, I was all ears and on the edge of my seat.

“And what’s up with this ‘Group Date’ thing, now? What is that? Hey boys, start actually asking girls out on dates,” he said.

Then there was me: amen-ing from the front row.

“They will know us by our love, amen?”he said.

That shut me up.

That was the argument I hadn’t heard before, and it seemed to be the only one that mattered.

Church, I found a fatal flaw in our paving the way, in our standing out, in our “being in the world, not of it.”
You see, we can stay abstinent because the world is not; we can be the go-to designated driver because everyone at the party knows we won’t drink too much; we can dress differently and speak differently and spend more time inside the walls of a church building studying our Bibles in community groups and devote our weekends to praying over the homeless– but I found where we fail in the mundane: loving each other.

And no, I don’t mean our friends. We already do a really good job at stressing how close we are with one another.

I’m talking about the committed kind of love, the for better or for worse, the holding hands and opening doors, the fearless and persistent pursuit kind of love.

Where did we miss it? 
When we were busy starting our movements?
When we were praying over the next new church plant?
When we were raising money and sending out new missionaries to far off, aching lands?
When we were applying to different seminaries so we could become more God-centered leaders?

Where did we miss the girls going home in tears to sit on their bathroom floors because they’d been led on and left to be second choice to ‘the guys’?
Where did we miss the boys shutting down and clamming up because they bore their souls just to get played with by the one he tried to love?

I think, lately, we do a good job at being selfish.
We’re quick to say we aren’t ready just so we don’t have to slow down and give something of our souls, our hearts.

Take our time, take our glory, take our works; know us for what we do and say and the community we’ve built around ourselves.

But know us by our love?

All I know is that I’ve sat at pizza joints across from boys who wanted to show me a good time in the city– boys who told me how beautiful they thought I looked, who opened the door for me, who payed for me and couldn’t wait to see me again because they couldn’t see me enough… And I had to remind myself that being pursued isn’t the only thing this heart wants. 

Sometimes I just wonder what it shows the world when we’re loud about talking about our loneliness and heartache and settle for unlike-minded people because the world does a better job at pursuing one another than God’s people do.

I don’t think I’ll amen another pastor who calls us out.
Because it’s all too true, and my heart wants more for us.

I don’t want the applause,
I want the world to look at us and be jealous of the love we share for one another.
And no, this isn’t another soap box rant about how I’m lonely and boys don’t know how to actually be intentional, they just know how to say that word in five different languages or about how weird it is to walk into church buildings and see guys walking in swarms instead of approaching girls or even about how I need some answers to why boys don’t ask girls out anymore— no, for the first time it’s not about me and what I want: it’s about what the world sees when they look to the rising generation of Christians and only see a bunch of broken hearts and burned bridges. 


They’ll know us by our love–

And lack thereof. 

The Boogie Man

  
I used to have to close my closet door every night before bed or I absolutely would not be able to sleep. 
Then, somewhere along the way– after I traded in childhood trinkets for make-up and perfume, after the walls of my room were painted different colors, after new clothes hung on the shelves of my closet–closing my door before bed was no longer a routine. 
And it’s not that I started leaving it open because I realized how ridiculous my fear was.
In fact, I didn’t even realize I had been leaving it open until my mother mentioned it to me.
Then, and only then, did I realize how silly it was that I was so crippled by something that now had no hold over my life.
But oh, look at all the closet doors I have in my life that I have to shut every evening. 
What strange hope there is to think that there will come a day when I will leave them open and not even notice the pain is gone until someone points it out to me. 

I wonder how silly I’ll feel then for letting my pain hold me still in one place for now.