The Unmasking

When I was seventeen, I started an internship with one of my favorite authors. At our first meeting, she read my hidden words on the note app on my phone. She told me that if it was going to work out with her and I, the first thing I needed to do was start a blog and get to publishing. Of course, I objected. “My words have always burned bridges or made people ask questions, and I just don’t have the capacity to handle it.”

“That’s why you’re supposed to Taylor-Swift people,” she said back.

That was the day I learned how to lie. That was the day I became a mask-maker. That was the day I learned how to turn my pain into something people could dance around. That was the day that I created The Boy with Blue Eyes.

So you could call this an unmasking. Because I gave him a new name six years ago, and what took me too long to realize is that I let him hijack my story, too. I wrote about what it felt like to play God when you felt like you couldn’t save something, but really I had given him the role no one is ever meant for: the sun.

He moved, I moved; I was brave because he said I was; I could do it because he said I could. And when he was gone? You can imagine.

Now, it all sounds a little too religious. Still, the world understood it, from Florida to London. Because, I think that if we’re being honest, we want our own tangible version of God without having to play the part ourselves. So we let someone else swoop in to take the spotlight and do the saving and the fixing.

But this is the unmasking, a reckoning, and it starts with calling myself out— The Boy with Blue eyes was just a boy, and I should have never been allowed to make him more than that.

I don’t remember how we met. I remember what school I was at, so I know I was in the fourth grade, and my first memory of him is the two of us sitting on the roof of a storage unit. When I think about it now, I remember he was always so still with me, even when we were that little, like he knew what I needed. I remember him at my family’s lake house and how he pushed me in with all my clothes on the second we got out of the car; I remember the night we told him to go hide with the girl he liked during a game in my back yard, and how we never came to find him so that he could have his first kiss. I remember when he joined the football team, and he suddenly wasn’t around anymore; I remember driving an hour to see him score a comeback touchdown, how the crowd went wild, and how I thought that now everyone loved him half as much as I did. I remember reading the story of Troy out loud in my living room with my legs across his lap, and the way his voice sounded when he told me about all the things he thought I deserved in this life. I remember how he never left my side the whole night that we celebrated my sixteenth birthday, and I remember the day he bought his car. I remember my eighteenth birthday, how he bought me my favorite cake and lit a candle in it, a white rose in one hand, waiting for me when I walked through the door to pick him up for lunch; I remember the night he got his heart broken and I showed up to take him to get a tub of his favorite ice cream—we ate right out of it with plastic spoons in a gravel parking lot that I still drive past sometimes. I remember how he took me to prom so I wouldn’t be alone, and how we ended up playing cards with my family all night, all dressed up. I remember when the panic attacks started coming, and the way he would talk to me on the phone while I laid on my bathroom floor at three in the morning.

I remember all of it: eleven years celebrating, dreaming, showing up; every inside joke, late night texts; all of those Waffle House meet-ups and haunted houses, and how many photos I was in at his graduation. I can still smell his living room couch, and I can’t forget how we always just took care of each other. When nothing had meant anything anymore, he meant everything to me.

And I remember our last day together.

The weather was cool, so we sat outside at my favorite dinner spot in town. We had made it past what I thought then to be the impossible: the things he had said when he walked away from me just a year before, a kiss he said had meant nothing so we both acted like it never happened, and me somewhere between thanking God for giving him back to me but wondering why He had. People would have looked at us and seen how unhappy we were, me sitting there trying to figure everything out and him not caring, but not leaving the table, either.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” he said, taking his last few bites, and at some point after that my ears started ringing until I couldn’t hear the rest of his story at all.

With the golden sun setting behind me, warming my back, he spoke words over me that welcome my worst fears up to the table there with us. And he was laughing about it.

I blinked, and for a moment, we were sitting on that storage unit rooftop in fourth grade again, our knobby ankles knocking against each other, when the only worry we had was how we were going to get down.

Then I got up from the table and left.

There’s this story in the Bible about the earliest years of the people of Israel. They had the World-Maker protecting them, providing for them; they were recovering from their past as slaves, thriving and conquering; they had walked through a split sea and seen God come to guide them as a pillar of fire, had begged to know His presence, and He had given it to them. With the world and power of the heavens in their laps, the people of Israel looked around at all of the other nations and said, “Wait. We want a king, too. A real one.”

They wanted to trade the Creator for the created.

God told them no, that they didn’t understand what they were asking for. But they kept asking, ceaselessly.

For the longest time, I thought I related more to God than Israel in this story. I could imagine Him throwing his hands up and looking around in shock — “But you know Me,” He would say, “I have always come through. I have done the immeasurably more. Look at all we have been through and how far I carried you. Am I not enough? After all this time?”

Yeah. I got that. Those same questions kept me up at night. Those questions followed me through my childhood and into my early twenties, and I can’t tell you how many times I asked them out loud hoping the answer would save me.

I wonder if the heavens shook at the sound of God’s breaking heart—He had made a whole world that didn’t want Him. He had stood there with them through everything, and they forgot.

Sound familiar? There’s a lot more God in us than we are willing to slow down long enough to notice. Maybe, if we did, we’d be a little kinder. Maybe we would forget Him less.

Except, He’s better.

In the end, He gives Israel exactly what they’re asking for.

Even now, I can still recount all of the prayers God never answered better than I can remember all the times He showed up.

So I wondered why God had chosen to answer the prayer to give me my best friend back.

It took some time, but I finally realized that, in the story where Israel asks God for a king, I’m not God—I’m the one asking for a counterfeit. I’m the one who doesn’t choose God back. I’m the one who looks at what He’s offering and tells Him that it’s good, but not enough. I’m the one who asks for a king, instead.

Sometimes God doesn’t give us things we ask for because He knows that we aren’t ready for them or that they aren’t any good for us anymore; other times, God gives us the things we ask for to remind us why He took them away in the first place, why they don’t fit, why He is better.

Sometimes He doesn’t give us the things we ask for because He wants our full attention, and other times He does give us things because He knows we won’t move on until we see what God already saw in the first place—the reason He didn’t want to answer our prayer.

If I’m really, embarrassingly honest, I’ll admit that I don’t know when I would have finally gotten the point and stopped asking God to have him back. When people asked me how I was, I thought of him. When I met someone new, I thought of his words. When I felt anxious, I felt his absence. His was the story I told. Not mine, not hope’s, not love’s, not God’s.

He had spoken my whole world into existence when I needed someone the most only to take a step back when it counted. We like to point fingers at God, saying He’s not there, that He just sets our world spinning and then walks away—but really, I think we’re the ones who don’t know how to stay after we’ve built someone up.

I made an idol at the foot of God’s mountain, and I gave him blue eyes. When the wind and rain came, he got swept away, too. But God’s mountain is still there.

Sometimes, I wonder if—when Jesus talked about moving mountains for us—maybe He meant people, too.

Anything to bring us back to Him.

God gave me what I wanted just to show me that it could never be as good as Him. He gave me what I was convinced I needed just to show me that I didn’t.

So, let’s not make this more than it was—The Boy With Blue Eyes was just a boy. His name was Sam, and he was my best friend.

And that’s all people are meant to be—people.

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A Letter To My Little Sister: 2019

Dear little sister,

I am unforgiving.

I hold on to things.

I have hard lines in my relationships.

In the final few months of 2018, I talked to you a lot about grace, but I’m not so sure I always know how to give it to myself or others.

I’m worried that my pain in endings is probably my own fault.

Because I am unforgiving.

Because I hold on to things

Because I have hard lines in relationships.

Little sister, you and I look at our parents and their stories and we preach that no one has a darkness too heavy that Jesus can’t change their stars, but I wonder if we, too, are just the byproducts of the wounds we were born into.

It’s a nice gesture to say that what’s happened to people is not the defining factor in who they can become or the life that they can have.

But do we believe it for ourselves?

Because we used to sit on the edge of our seats during family dinners, straight backed and polite, trying to finish before people started yelling.

We used to lay in the dark and talk about the people we missed while our mother sat down the hallway, stricken with fear that had been instilled by family.

Our favorite uncle died, and we never got to tell him goodbye.

Our cousin left.

Secrets were whispered in the light of our living room that would change the dynamic of our household and finally make sense of our past.

I told you things too late.

And while I was old enough to shuffle through what hurt and take what I could handle, you were just growing up.

I became unforgiving. I stopped letting things go. I formed hard lines in my relationships.

But you? The little forming parts of you that were still learning about family, friendship, staying—those were the little parts that watched.

You were shaped by absence.

While the rest of us were learning how to cope with loss, you normalized it.

Me? I took my church pews and tried building sanctuaries out of people.

You? You never saw the point in that.

2018 took its best swings at you, little sister.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not still trying to figure it all out. I’ve played a very unbalanced game over the past few years: caring too much and saying, “at least I can say I gave it everything I had,” or searching wildly for the worst in everyone so I could have my list of reasons to not care at all.

But it’s 2019, and now I have another list, and this ones just for you, little sister:

Don’t build a guest room for loneliness to stay in.

Don’t leave a spot at your table for Goodbye, because goodbyes aren’t normal.

Search for the best parts of people.

Don’t hold on too tightly to those parts, but God, clap loudly for those parts.

Give it all you got but accept when peoples’ arms are just too full to accept what you have.

I think we thought we would be the types of people to have lifelong friends, but now I think that we might need different people for different seasons.

Its okay that people change. You’ve changed a lot, too.

Send the text, little sister. Get in the car. Say yes to the invite. Get dressed up. Buy the shoes. Go on all of the first dates until you know exactly what you want. Don’t close your eyes for the breathless moments—open them wide.

And most of all, little sister: that thing inside of you that walks away before, “goodbye”? Run against it, fast and hard. When you feel that pull in your stomach that wants to keep you from getting close, run towards what it’s trying to keep you from.

It’s okay to make new inside jokes with different people. It’s okay if someone doesn’t already know the name of your favorite band or how you got that scar on your chin, and you don’t know their favorite color or that they snort when they laugh.

It’s not about people staying. It’s about sitting down at the Waffle House booth and not thinking about loosing them for even a second because you’re too busy letting them get to know you.

Because little sister, you’re someone worth knowing.

I’m probably going to cut all of my hair off after this.

2018.

The ball fell, and everyone kissed. We had missed midnight by a few minutes because the television had buffered. Somewhere in my head, I had the thought for only a second—the fear—that 2018 was going to look like that: missing it. Coming up short. Trying to celebrate even though the time for celebration had passed and we were left with the echoes.

Yes, there I was: it seemed impossible to see the year ahead of me. Sure, I knew what was supposed to happen: my one year wedding anniversary, my twenty-third birthday, graduating with my Master’s. There were things on the calendar, and I could see them like a silhouette in a dream. But everyone was pouring champagne, and I was straining to see anything past January. It wasn’t even an excited sense of the unexpected and endless opportunities laid out in front of me; no, nothing felt like an adventure.

I looked at my husband who was laughing at something Blake said—my stomach dropped at the words we had said to each other, and I wished so fiercely that one midnight could fix everything; I wished recovery was that easy.

What’s more, I still felt the thickness of the air I had breathed only a month before when I asked my family and friends for help; the way the sun felt on my lap when I finally admitted what sort of thoughts I was having to my mom; how I don’t think my dad and I have ever had such a good conversation like the one we had that same night when he came to help me after the car accident.

Recovery. I wanted 2018 to be recovery, and I just couldn’t see it.

January came and went, and it was all out of body for me.

February was some sweet relief for a moment. I was able to say some things to an old friend that I had wanted to say for a while, and I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before: I got to be in charge of my own pain.

March was spent on my knees in gratitude: it had taken three years of feeling forgotten by God, but at last, He had come through on His promise. You see, my calling to a new life in ministry came after the heaviest heartbreak, guilt and shame, and believing I shouldn’t be alive anymore. My calling was all I could hold on to in order to make sense of everything that happened. So to turn around only to be led through the desert when you thought God had invited you to a prodigal feast—three years is hard. Yet, there I was in March, taking a leap, signing up to serve as a Content Coordinator and Blog Editor with a ministry for high school girls.

Hope grew in April. In April, I could finally see a way out of the life I had been stuck in for a year and a half. The year finally had a face. What had been such a season of uncertainty—where would we end up, when we would find out what was coming next—it was all finally a little more certain. April was for making plans. I was finally starting to see everything that 2018 was going to be. I could see past April. I had plans. My days were spent daydreaming. Everyone was excited. We were excited.

And then the phone call came in May. I had daydreamed about our weekends, days by the lake, coffee shop evenings, cooking more and falling into a routine. There was a whole world I had built in my head, and I was already letting it shape and change who I was.

But then the phone rang. And meetings were scheduled.

When we should have been popping champagne, I was just angry.

Again, I found myself praying for sleep at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to count the arms of my fan as it spun.

I should have been on my knees with gratitude, but I was too busy still fighting to get back what I believed I had been robbed of.

You would think I would have learned to not think about my tomorrows by now. I’m sure God must have laughed to Himself and said, “Little one, you think you can speak things into existence, but you still need to learn that I’m the only breath-giver.”

June looked like me facing myself in the mirror, clenching my fists and gritting my teeth, having to make a decision about what kind of wife I was going to be. When I felt like I was alone and on my own team, pointing fingers at God, I had to learn how to look for Him in spite of the fact that I had lost everything I had wanted. I had to recover from thinking I had heard God clearly only to learn that I was wrong.

Do you ever do that? Make all of these plans, draw up the itinerary, check the weather and pack accordingly, and then realize that you forgot to wait on God before you started pulling out of the driveway? I left God behind. And somehow, in June, with my May hangover, I blamed God for not accepting an invitation that I never took the time to send.

June made me define myself; I had to figure out if I was going to be bitter towards the life choices that had been made or if, in the midst of feeling like I was playing on a team all by myself, I was going to come alongside my husband and be the best teammate he needed.

July was kind. I fell in love with Greg all over again. I heard my dad laugh like I have never heard him laugh before in an old Whataburger in Birmingham. I became an expert at building something from the pieces; I showed up, and said, “Yes,” to God without following it up with a “I’m not happy about this, but, yes.” July was a season of reaping from open hands and willingness to follow even when following meant being deterred from where we had our eyes set. Some of the most selfish parts of me died in July. I got to have new dreams in July.

August breezed by: I remember the ocean and concerts with my sister; there was Nashville and tacos, and getting back into coffee again. There was a sudden understanding that, maybe recovery was never meant for one midnight; maybe part of recovery was the slow time it took to ride the rollercoaster up.

September was all over the place. I remember driving in my car, talking to God, thinking, “I’ve never fasted about anything before,” only to hear, “You’re about to.”

There is something sacred about the way our prayers sounded that next week in our little 1323 apartment; we were honest with each other and God, and Greg and I learned about what it could look like for God to show up in our living room: sometimes the most ground shaking thing He can do is change our hearts.

And one thing was certain that week in September: God had definitely done a number on our hearts to cultivate the desire—the desperate yearning—to move back to my home town for what we could only be a God-sized dream.

But what I couldn’t have dreamt was the way that God would push us. You know what I mean? Not very often does God invite us into something without first wanting to make us into something.

September taught me about guts; about going toe-to-toe with people I had once called family and calling them out for the horrifying things they were saying in the name of Jesus; September looked like breathing, “finally,” only to have my confidence crushed by someone I had once called my hero; it was hard conversations with friends who didn’t agree with me and couldn’t bravely stand by me, but it was also hearing from people in the shadows who cheered me on and said, “me, too.” It was red-taped meetings in church buildings and crying in Greg’s arms in the same living room we’d heard God in only weeks before.

September taught me this: God is not just a crown-giver, He is a Knight-maker. And most of the time, He wants to do both in you.

October never stops happening.

November looked like moving back to my home town. It looked like staring my demons in the face. It looked like getting more time in my childhood home and finally learning how to sit in it without wishing for other things. And more than anything, it looked like having to face the worst version of myself. It looked like the same bends in the road, gas stations, and coffee shops that had broken my heart. In a season that is usually marked by thankfulness, I was learning how to be thankful for what God had built in me. I was learning to embrace October’s and midnights that didn’t fix everything all at once. I was learning that self-preservation loves to dress up like fear, and that being brave actually looks like saying, “Okay. God can have this darkness that I said He could never touch, and He can make it beautiful even if I can’t see how.” Being brave looks like following God back into the shame and fear and uncomfortable so that He can claim victory in those places.

2018.

The ball fell and everyone kissed, and I couldn’t see past that.

My hopes rose and fell a lot. I was afraid to dream, and I learned how to hold God-dreams instead of my own.

But most of all? 2018 was about people. It was about learning how to be a good loser.

And at the end of the day if I learned one thing about myself it’s that—

I love the character of God more than I love God Himself, most of the time. I put His qualities on a pedestal, loyalty most of all, and when I can’t find God in the people He loves, I hold it against everyone.

2018 was a realignment. It was God bringing me back to Himself at all costs. It was Him giving me immeasurably more. It was painful and I scraped my knees a lot.

Sometimes, recovery has to happen a lot before we’ve reached the final destination of “recovered.” Sometimes, recovery looks like being built into something entirely different than before when we’re just hoping God—or midnight—fixes us.

So it’s only fitting that, in December, I found a verse in Genesis that I’m carrying into 2019 with me. Because 2019 looks like something I can see, like digging my way out of the desert. Even in the uncertainty and the wondering—I’ve got my eyes set.

2019, this is my prayer, now: God is here. “For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”” (Genesis 28:15). So God, keep me close. Don’t leave me finished. 2018 is not where I get left.

This rollercoaster is going up.

I’ve learned to lose; you can’t afford to.

He doesn’t know how to lose people.

He’s got dark circles under his eyes, and he looks at me with empty hands in his lap — the things I would give to fill them, so heavy that he could forget the engagement neither of us would wish on anyone, the ministry that slipped through his fingers, the friendships he reached after even though they were already gone, the funeral he spoke at while his aunt sobbed in the front row, the twenty-two years that had finally caught up to him and forced him to wade through the person each loss has made him.

Because loss makes us.

And he doesn’t know how to lose.

He’s lost so much in two years, and there are weeks when he feels like he’s losing more everyday.

So he looks at me with his dark eyes and empty hands and asks me how it’s done.

Because we are told to expect life to be hard, and to prepare for harder than our expectations; we are told to move on and let go, and the best of us can make having open hands sound romantic, but the truth is that you can say you have given it to God and still have the days where you’re expecting your best friend to come through the door at work or remember the way it felt to drive through town with your cousin and the top down on a fall day. For just a moment, you’ll wonder about God — and then you blink, and remind yourself that you have “let go.”

But have you let go?

Because he’s waiting for me to tell him how to let go, how to lose people.

Me? Twenty-two years of being too angry. At twenty-three, finally feeling like it’s okay to lose people. Until now, I spent most of my life being mad at God for being God.

It wasn’t fair that He got to let people in and lock them out, especially if He wasn’t going to tell me why. It wasn’t fair, the way He got to be in charge and move the chess pieces of my life.

But can I tell you something?

It’s in the deepest, darkest, loneliest, most hallow pits that you find a newer light than the one you came from. And it’s brighter and whiter, shining on new things you couldn’t see before.

So I look at this man, with his dark eyes and empty hands and his wondering. I smile and say:

“I think the people we love—make us. So when God wants to make us something else, He has to get rid of those people. And it hurts—God, it hurts. That’s why they call it ‘pruning’ and ‘molding,’ and it’s why it feels like you’re loosing who you are and the only truth and life you’ve ever known—because you are.”

Sometimes you have to lose the people you love—the people who make you—so God can make you into something else. But that person is always better. Even if it takes a few years to not feel so unfinished.

You’re not finished.

He’s not finished.

He takes, but He gives.

You’re gonna lose.

You’re gonna be new.

And maybe you’re never really losing at all. Even though you’ve been laying bricks for too long now, with mud under your nails and rain falling down, and no one there to sink into the dirt with you—but you’re building.

You’re losing, but you’re being built.

And that’s how you lose people.

… Are you ready for it? Marriage. That’s what I mean. Are you ready for marriage?

I have wanted to get married for as long as I can remember. I was going to be the eighteen year old bride who married her high school sweetheart; we had it all planned out, down to what dorms we would live in at the college we wanted to go to. On graduation day, he would propose and we would get married shortly after. I was going to be a nurse, and he was going to be a lawyer. That’s right: the idea of marriage has never been some far off impossibility like I’ve tried to say it was over the years.

So when someone asked me to come up with a “How To” on when I knew I was “ready” to get married, a thousand easy answers came to mind, starting with “I’ve always been ready.” Even when I said I wasn’t looking or that I wasn’t interested—that was just me letting pain highjack my story.

The truth is, it would be disrespectful to say that my husband was the only “one” for me, and I just knew the night I met him. Yes, I knew something was coming when I heard his name for the first time, and he was all I could talk about for forever after the night I met him, but if I’m being honest, he wasn’t the first one I just knew I was going to marry. In fact, it took me letting go of the idea of “the one” before I was really “ready” to get married; it took me admitting that there really isn’t any “one” person we’re predestined for before I could learn how to love and let go.

Both Greg and I had at one point or another been wrapped up in forever with someone else. I regularly joke with people, saying, “They say that when you know, you KNOW, and I never understood what that meant until it happened to me,” but in reality, I thought I had “known” before only to find myself confused, crushed, wiped out, and empty when it turned out that I didn’t really know anything at all. So I really don’t think, “When you know, you know,” is good advice—not just because it is overwhelmingly vague and not helpful, but because it’s just not true. 

In the past, I wasn’t very good at creating healthy emotional boundaries in my relationships. There was one relationship I was in back in college that I had been pretty set on. It was an epic love, and we dove head first into the big promises and planning. So much so, that I spent the majority of our time together missing the reality of where we were at. It became a constant head game of “Does he mean it?” And that’s the problem with promises: we lose our identity in them, and when they break, we don’t really know where to go from there. If it doesn’t work out, that says something about us: we weren’t worth it, we weren’t enough, we were too much. Really, the problem wasn’t either of us; the problem was that we overstepped a boundary of emotional commitment.

Greg and I were very careful about the things we said to one another. The few times too much was promised, we found ourselves apologizing and admitting that we shouldn’t have brought those kinds of expectations into the relationship. That being the case, up until a certain point in our engagement, we can honestly say that we would have been okay if things didn’t work out—because it was about feelings, and not dependency.

Of course, learning what healthy dependency looked like for the appropriate level of commitment took a lot of God sweeping low to be “ready” for marriage. I never took a year to “date” Jesus, even though people told me I should (including during the same month I met Greg), and I don’t mean this in the way that “I finally stopped searching for a husband and made Jesus the center of my life,” sort of way. I mean it in the way that one of my biggest short-comings is that I place the weight of “savior” on the people I love, and that is a weight that always ends up breaking their back. Someone was always the hero in my story, and the role of hero is always fun, until it’s not—until someone can’t keep it up, until they slip from the pedestal. The worst part? There isn’t any minor role you get to slide into after playing the hero: you just become the villain, instead. And that’s not how love works. So it wasn’t until I realized that my own expectations were setting fire to everything I loved and finally gave those expectations to Jesus that I learned how to love someone without crushing them. It took me learning how to stop building churches out of the rib cages of the people I loved and start treating people more like people—less like sanctuaries—for me to be “ready” for marriage.

When it comes to being financially “ready” for marriage, neither of us fit that category, either. I was twenty-one when we said “I do,” and he was twenty-two. He had already done the whole roommate thing, while I had never left my parents’ house. I had worked before, but never paid my own bills. There’s this very modern idea that you have to have done it all already, to have “lived” before you get married — and we felt that push back during our engagement — but it’s been nice having someone there to help me learn how to do this whole life thing.

I remember being in a really serious two-year relationship when I was a senior in high school—I asked myself that same question: “How do you know when you’re ready to get married?” It came from a place of fear for me, a place of uncertainty. And I made the decision that I wasn’t ready, not for that boy, at least. I wasn’t ready for the struggle, for the lessons, for ups and downs and surprises with him. It was a choice. And at the end of the day, I think that’s really the only one thing that made a difference when it came to being “ready”: I chose Greg, and he chose me back. Even when it got hard and confusing and messy and there were communication issues and I was inpatient and things came down to the wire—it came down to choice. Just like every other love story that got us to ours, a choice was made. I don’t think there’s a “one,” because you could choose any one, and I don’t know if there’s every really a “ready”—there’s just a choice.

And I don’t think you can really leave God out of any good love story. At least, not when you’re asking the question of “How do you know when you’re ready?” Looking back, I think that the reason nothing worked until Greg was because I was constantly leaving God out of it. I relied too much on “coincidence” and a good story–my feelings–rather than inviting God into the choice. When the idea of marriage first came up in our relationship–and I mean really talking about taking actual steps towards marriage, not just daydreaming–we took some time where we stopped talking and dreaming, and prayed. Now I will never forget the night that we came back together, when he smiled and said he knew what was going to happen next, that he knew we were ready. 

We stayed, and we chose each other, and that made all the difference.

A Letter To My Little Sister On How To Be A Good Loser

You sit across from your best friend, and they feed you frosty dipped fries; they tell you that you’re better than that town, your small dreams, that boy. On your birthday, they show up with a white rose and a slice of your favorite cake; they just always show up. There’s a soft patch of dead grass in their front yard from your car always being parked there, and they have a way of making you feel like you’re the only one in the room.

Until you realize that they somehow can make every person in the room feel like they’re the only one. Until you get the text you won’t be able to forget even when you’re 23 and it’s been four years—the text that suddenly makes you question a decade of late night drives and them teaching you how to clean your windshield and eating ice cream right out of the tub.

Suddenly, what you’re left with is an armful of good times you find yourself trading in for the one feeling that none of it ever meant anything. You still remember the sound of their voice yelling at your demons; if you close your eyes, you can still smell their living room couch. Because when someone falls out of love with you, there’s always the hope of another first date. But when you find yourself missing a spot at your best friend’s birthday dinner, not knowing what they’re favorite movie is or what classes they’re taking in school—when everything you know about them is something you found out in a picture on a screen—you suddenly don’t know how to make your way through the dark; right side up becomes upside down; people still talk about them to you like you already know what’s going on in their life, and you just have to smile and nod and swallow hard. Because you can’t tell anyone. What would you tell people anyways? That every moment of the past 11 years is keeping you up at night? That you’re second guessing every conversation and convinced that you were just a space holder in their lives until they found something better?

When someone is gone, you remember them as something better than they really were—and you remember yourself as worse.

So you start speaking things over yourself: it’s your fault. If you just would have said more—if you just would have kept your mouth shut. You’re too much. The person who loved you when no one else did, well, they never really loved you that much, so why would anyone else? You’re just not worth staying around for. You were the only one that any of it meant anything to. You’re boring. You’re weird. You’re not dazzling or fun to be around. You’re replaceable and not missable. You’re forgettable. Something is wrong with you.

Little sister, can I tell you a secret about the art of losing people?

You are rarely the reason that people leave. When you get left, it’s not about you.

Because the truth is, if I could go back and take myself out of the situation, I would’ve seen the bigger picture. I would have seen that my best friend didn’t know how to be good at losing people, and when they lost the person their heart was set on—well, that’s where they fixed their eyes. In the last days of our friendship, all they could see was the pain and confusion, like tunnel vision. They probably didn’t even see me shouting from the stands, “I’m here! Let me be here!”

Hurt people hurt people, but it’s usually not intentional. You’re usually just the collateral.

People don’t run from other people, they run from pain. People don’t leave people, they leave what makes them uncomfortable. People don’t forget people, they do everything they can to forget what hurts.

Little sister, let your heart be a revolving door—let the good and bad come in, take what you need from all of it, but don’t keep anything. You’ll drive your hotel heart crazy trying to convince people to stay in a place they were always meant to just pass through.

Don’t forget that you’re just passing through, too.

You never know when someone is drowning until you feel them tugging at your leg, pulling you under to push themselves back up.

Don’t forget that you know how to swim, though, and your face will feel the sun again.

So little sister, this is how you lose people: let them go and forget yourself, because it’s easy to tell yourself that some people are just seasons but harder to slow down and realize that you’re a season in their life, too.

It wasn’t you they left. So close your eyes, and imagine a life for them: they’re working as a nurse somewhere now, just like they always wanted; they’re loved by someone who sits with them when they’re sad; they’re happy and healthy and run four days a week; maybe sometimes they still listen to the songs you used to sing together. But thank God they’ve finally found a way out of whatever it was that took up so much space in their life before—so much space that they didn’t have any more room to fit anything or anyone else, or even you. Thank God.

And you? You’re not a space holder. You’re not forgettable. And while you’re busy giving everyone else the credit, don’t forget that you’re the hero in someone else’s story; don’t forget that you’re still in the stories they tell.

This is how you lose people.

Crooked Love, Table Sets, and Phantom Limbs

That was the night I held my heels and headed barefoot down Ponce de Leon Boulevard. That was before the Market had been built, and I’d parked in a liquor store lot, back when the boulevard wasn’t a place people drove an hour to see, and I shouldn’t have been alone but I’d left the party early. I remember the boot on my car, and crying and calling my dad, and him. I remember calling him.

He was ready to come to my rescue, and I just shook my head in an empty parking lot, closing my eyes and swallowing hard.

Because just a few nights before, he and I had been standing alone at the end of his driveway, with two years and crooked love backing us into a corner.

We stood there at the end of his driveway, him leaning against the opened driver’s side door of my car, me standing cross armed and bracing myself. I had asked him what we were doing and what it was he wanted. Because we’d been here before with each other, before the accident and before the funeral. Before I had tried so hard to be her for him. Then, there I stood in front of him, some version I had broken myself into, asking him if he wanted me. He gave me a long list of compliments that night—told me I was gorgeous, beautiful, that he loved my laugh and I was adorable, and smart, fun—but I wasn’t the girl I had been before, so he wasn’t sure what he wanted.

And I’m not sure what’s worse: to have someone not want you or to have someone not want you nor the person you tore yourself apart to be for them. To have someone not choose you or to have someone not know if you’re worth choosing.

Still, halfway home from the city, I was changing my mind and asking him to meet me. I didn’t know it would be the last night I would be with him. I couldn’t have known that the last thing I would say to him then would be, “I love you.”

But that’s how stories like that end— you tell him you love him and he laughs, touches your face, kisses you, and slides out of your front seat to drive away.

That’s why when my friend called me a few months ago to ask me what I would have done differently with hindsight on my side, I said— “I should have walked away the second someone gave me a list of why he would want to choose me, but couldn’t.”

I don’t think she liked my answer. At the end of the day, I think my answer will never be enough. Because we’re all looking for a 12 step program. A map. Someone else to give the responsibility to so we don’t have to be held accountable for the way our own lives turn out. We want it all laid out for us because if we’re left to make the decision for ourselves, we’ll keep showing up to a table that someone forgot to set a place for us at.

We show up at the table, and we brush off the awkward silence; we try and ignore the way our elbows keep knocking because there’s not enough room for us; we say “it’s fine,” when there’s not enough food prepared because we weren’t ever expected to show up. But we keep showing up.

It reminds me of phantom limb syndrome. Amputee patients are diagnosed with phantom limb syndrome after experiencing horrific pain in a limb that isn’t even there anymore; it’s when the body refuses to let go or accept that there’s nothing there, and the pain is very real in the mind of the patient.

I wonder if that’s why it’s so hard for us to let go of something or someone God has intentionally chosen to cut out of our lives. We still feel what used to be there, can’t believe that it’s really gone. So we try to make it fit in spite of its rough and torn, dead edges.

I do that. I’ve done that my whole life. I pull people close like limbs, and even when they have to go I try to keep everything together even though the function doesn’t work the same.

I don’t let God take things from me, even when they don’t work the right way anymore. I wake up and get angry with Him for cutting off a limb and ignore when He says, “That thing was dead. The only way to save you both was to get rid of it. It’s better this way.”

We show up to the table there isn’t a place for us at, and we refuse to accept the loss even when we wake up to it every day.

But we don’t have to keep showing up to the table.

My friend reached out to me again the other day, asking the same questions as if I’d have better answers.

All I could say was that—there’s a better table that’s been set, and there’s a spot just for you. Not an afterthought rush to pull up a chair and throw together what’s leftover, but a place of plenty where we walk in to a room that’s better because we are there.

God never wanted you to keep running back to something He purposefully chose to remove from your life. So it’s gonna hurt until you admit that it’s already gone—until you admit that there’s no more room at your table so you can go on to live in excess.

You can set a different table.