… 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.

When it started.

“I want to be a better writer. I want to write a book for you, about what it’s like living with someone who lives with anxiety. Because I’ve tried to find ones bout that, but none of them seem to have God in them,” he said, driving down 85. I looked at him, one of the highway lights hitting my face in the passenger seat. “I just want to be the best that I can at being there for you.”

For weeks, he had been searching for something that could tell him how to succeed at loving someone who lives with anxiety. The closest thing he could find to what he was looking for was a Desiring God blog about being married to someone who is depressed (which he said ended up not being helpful at all).

Reaching for his hand, I brushed my thumb across his fingers on the center consul. “Greg, I’m just learning about this stuff, too. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. I’m not a pro, it wasn’t always like this for me. It’s just been the past four years. We can learn how to deal with it together.”

“What do you mean it’s only been the past four years?” he asked.

“I was different before,” I told him.

That’s when he asked when things had all changed for me. Because there had no doubt been a time in my life before anxiety, a time when I read about panic attacks but didn’t understand, a time when worrying was the thing I struggled with least of all. It was a mindless time. A careless time.


It started one late night when I was driving across town the summer before my junior year of high school, headed towards a Wendy’s. Gripping the wheel so tight my knuckles turned white, I was nervous and called my mom. I was a different girl, then; I sat a little higher in my seat. Back then, I was very much happy with who I was, confident; I gave people the benefit of the doubt, dealt out second-chances like confetti, never second-guessing the goodness of people.  I actually liked all the little things about myself that made up who I was as a person. That’s when I was kind and joyful and every other word out of my mouth was an encouragement. Sure, there were bits and pieces of my heart that had gone missing here and there. I knew how to cry and hurt and heal, but there were no calluses.

Still, I pushed on through the red lights in my one-horse town, headed towards a Wendy’s.

A boy I had never met was waiting there for me. His name wasn’t unfamiliar to me, though. There were rumors about the sort of trouble he got into, rumors about what he believed about God.

Yet, something about me impressed him. By happenstance, he had come across my Facebook page, clicked “Add as Friend,” and after a witty conversation over a computer screen (it’s amazing how clever I could be when I was confident in myself), he had asked to meet me.

So there I was, turning on my blinker so I could pull into the Wendy’s parking lot.

That was when it started – the anxiety, the misery, the self-doubt and self-hate, the long nights and hard days. When breathing felt like drowning.

No, I don’t mean that I had my first wave of a panic attack right there in a Wendy’s parking lot. They actually didn’t come for a few more months. It’s just that, sometimes, we make decisions that feel like they will change our lives forever – those moments usually feel epic. Those moments are usually probably lies.

If I could go back to the girl in that car headed to Wendy’s that night, I would tell her that she was fine just the way she was; I would tell her to stay just like that, to keep loving herself, to stay lighthearted, to hold on to herself just a little longer. I would tell her to stay home, to lie in bed longer talking to her mom, to turn around instead of getting out of her car in that Wendy’s parking lot.

Except, I did leave my house that night. Nothing in me made me feel the urgency to turn around.

We dated for two years. He was charming and endearing and clever and thoughtful. It was that breathless sort of love, the kind where we never just went to dinner and a movie but always had to climb higher heights, jump more fences, drive a little faster.

He made me feel small. Not the kind of small like I belonged in a box, but the kind of small that made me feel like I was a part of something bigger.

This is usually the part where people start saying, “So you had a savior complex. You found the boy who didn’t believe in God and you wanted to change him.” And I wish it was that. I would much easier admit to that than the truth.

The truth? The truth was that I stayed in a damaging, emotionally and mentally abusive relationship for two years first because of the way he made me feel when he talked about me, and then later because I had gotten stuck in the comfortability of knowing him and being his.

Let me explain: We were standing under the stars one night, about 8 months in. His sister and the boy with blue eyes were there, along with a tag along from his dark past. We were looking up at the sky when his friend said, “Man, I thought you didn’t believe in this whole God thing?” He answered back by point at me, saying, “This girl – this girl right here. She changed everything for me.”

There it was. I stayed because he made me feel like I had filled a hole that never should’ve been meant for me. I stayed because he spoke like he thought I was magic, and I liked the way my reflection in his eyes looked like dancing gold.

I stayed because he made me feel good about myself, and that’s never a good enough reason to stay. It’s always dangerous.

When you give someone the power to make you feel good about yourself, they’ll also be the ones who can take that feeling away. Someone should have told me that.

For a long time, I’ve avoided writing point blank about him, only mentioning the part he played in destroying a 10 year friendship. You see, I never wanted to give him credit for being a part of who I am now. I didn’t think he deserved that, thought that maybe he would broadcast it and humiliate me and twist the truth about anything I could ever say. But it’s been five years since the night at Wendy’s, and his role in my story is important when it comes to uncovering truths about living with anxiety.

We ended things the first time about five months in. It was the weekend of Cinco De Mayo, and since he was in the restaurant business, he was practically going to be pulling an all-nighter. As luck would have it, I had left school books at his house the night before. When I went to pick everything up, his mother accidentally spilled the beans about something he would have preferred to keep hidden – he was spending the night in a hotel room with a bunch of other women. Now, hearing that hurt. But it’s not why I ended things. I ended things because his response was the first time someone had ever verbally degraded me. What should have been a calm and educational conversation about the information his mother had given me turned into a blowout about how I needed to know my place as a woman and that he deserved to be treated a certain way. It turned into two days of radio silence from him without any explanation. And then I ended things as soon as the first text finally came through.

The first lesson: when love breaks, let it break. Two people with cut open hands surely wont be able to grip the little glass pieces of love, and they’ll only end up making a mess of things.

We were back together a week later.

The next year and a half left soft indentions of my body in the carpet of my bedroom floor; you wouldn’t believe the amount of times my parents came in to find me curled up and crying, having to take the phone away from me while I was screaming apologies for things he did wrong. If I think hard enough, I can see myself getting into my car in the middle of a thunderstorm, leaving a house in the middle of a double date because he made me leave when I started crying about the texts I had found of him and his mother calling me pathetic; I broke up with him outside of Copper Coin Coffehouse the next day when he told me that his friends and family would always come before me. I will never forget the way it felt the day the doctors found a tumor in my arm, and how he told me he was going to go hike in the North Georgia mountains instead of sit with me during an MRI that would determine whether or not I had cancer.

He dictated when I spoke, what I said, who I spent my time with, where I could and couldn’t go.

And that was all before he decided that he found me lacking. The last leg of our relationship was spent with me walking a tight rope, trying to impress him, trying to get and keep his attention. We would stand in the same room for hours, and he would never speak my name. He was always penciling everyone else in to his schedule, but I wasn’t good enough to be someone he wanted to spend his time with.

You’re probably wondering where my line was. I was a shell of a girl, crippled and brittle and shattereable, yet we carried on like this for two years. Maybe that changes the way you think of me. Maybe you thought I was tough and brave and unafraid, but there was a time that I was very much afraid indeed. So much so, that even now, those two years are two years of memories that my subconcious has erased.

It was like I was sitting in the left-hand turning lane at a green light, and everyone else had the right of way while I just sat there waiting for my turn to go.

Everyone thought I had lost my mind. My parents stopped coming around whenever he was over, waiting for me to end things while he was talking about proposals.

My line? He crossed my line the night he stood out in my driveway with my dog on a leash, choking her because she wanted to run towards my dad. We’d gotten in a fight after hiking with her, and I guess it was his way of taking control back when he couldn’t control me. When I called him the next day about it, he acted like it had never happened.

He was sitting in a Zaxby’s when I ended things for good. While my grandmother was 30 minutes away having her head shaved because she’d been fighting cancer that whole summer, he told me that I needed to get my life together, because the way things were looking to him, I was going to fail miserably at being a mother.

But our story didn’t end there.

Anxiety had already started to creep into my life. A few months before we were over for good, I tried telling him that I thought I was depressed, and he told me that it wasn’t real and I needed to get over that feeling. But the panic attacks had started coming. Nights came and went, and I was running on restless sleep.

For weeks following our dramatic ending, I would find daisies in different places outside by my car. Things were being dropped off and left in the middle of the night; things I had given him and letters I had written were laid out strategically to remind me that I had something to miss – the way he looked at me when he thought I was magic.

You would think starting college would have given me a fresh start, but sure enough he followed me there, too. People I had never met on campus started looking at me strangely, and it wasn’t until I found out that he had been coming all the way up to that small university in North Georgia to party in the dorms that I understood he was telling people things about me.

Every weekend, people would be talking about these extravagant parties at his house. My best friend started going to those parties; he brought back the news that apparently, everyone was calling me “Daisy”, and they were all just waiting for me to show up to “Gatsby’s” parties (I could not make these things up even in my wildest dreams).

He was there, everywhere I went. Coasting in his car around my new school, showing up and camping out at a table at my favorite coffee shop, sitting outside my house at night. And his new best friend? The boy I’d grown up with. I stopped going out, went straight to class and then back home. Even though his presence was gone, he had managed to isolate me from every familiar and good thing in my life.

That’s when I started venturing out of my small town and into the city. My friends from high school would joke, asking me to take them with me on one of my Atlanta adventures. I’d laugh and say, “Whenever you’re free!” No one knew that the reason I spent most of my days driving an hour and fifteen minutes just for coffee or lunch was because the city was the only place he couldn’t find me.

And isn’t that how most wounds work? We make them look beautiful so that nobody asks.

Would you believe me if I told you that he continued to follow me—stalk me—for two more years after I had stopped all contact with him?

So, that’s when it started. That’s my crystal clear, plain as day division between who I was before my life was introduced to anxiety and how I live with it now.

Maybe you’re wondering why I waited five years to tell this story.

I’ll tell you:

We need to go back to the birthplace of our demons. We need to face them and unmask them, because that’s the only way we’ll be able to beat them. We have got to stop saying, “I’m anxious, and I don’t know why,” because we do know why. If we could just sit down and focus on our breathing, retrace our steps, find the source of what’s making us anxious, and then tackle that.

Anxieties favorite lie is that we’re anxious for no reason; that’s how it keeps its cold hand on us, keeping us believing that we are a mess that can’t be helped.

Anxiety would much rather keep your heart racing so that we can’t hear anything else over the beating in your head; it would much rather make you think it’s easier to fix your short and raspy breaths than let you believe there’s a way to breath deeper. Pretty soon, you’re too busy focusing on the feeling when the tumbling down starts.

What anxiety doesn’t want you to know is that there’s a way to keep your feet planted.

What anxiety doesn’t want you to notice is that, it takes going back to the dark places the coping mechanism made you forget. You’ve got to learn to sit with all the things that hurt you, to become old friends with the dark that anxiety would rather keep you scared of. That way, when the panic attacks come, you can slow down and say, “No, I know these lies. I’ve learned to welcome them in as a part of what got me here, today. So I won’t let these cripple me. We’ll wave at each other and remember how far I’ve come instead.”

Anxiety is a liar we have to learn to call out.

Finding where it started doesn’t make it any less real, no, never; finding where it started is how we make sense of things in the middle of all of our senses being overwhelmed.

If I could go back to that girl who drove to Wendy’s that summer night, I would tell her she still had time to forgive herself. I would tell her that she needed to remember every moment, even the ones she would want to forget. I would tell her that she deserved more and she could like herself even if no one else did. I would tell her to draw harder lines and to be weary of comfortability. I would tell her that one day the things that hurt would matter in the best kind of way – that one day she’d get to scoop up all the pain, find a way to turn it into hope, and throw it down from the rooftops by the armfuls.

It’s not about me.

The preacher man stood shaking on the stage.

That was the summer that three kids in my hometown had died unexpectedly. One Sunday, the church decided to address the tragedies.

A young man had passed away from a short and tiring fight against cancer. He had been an exemplary student, respectful, a servant-heart. People were saying that his life had been cut too short, and the preacher man wanted to speak against that. This kid’s life had impacted so many other people. What others saw as someone being taken too soon, God was using to write a better story. That was when the preacher man started to shake: “This young man’s tombstone reads, ‘His life was a flame that seared all of those around him who were in search of warmth.'”

Those were the words I wanted to live up to. Those were the words I nodded to and said, “Yes, write that on my grave-marker. Let that be what my life looks like, the way I’m remembered when I’m gone.”

So, that was the plan for a good 20 or so years. Veered off from that path for a hot second, but I think that’s secretly what everyone wants for their life: to leave fingerprints, the kind that breaks a heart and leaves a hole and makes someone glad that you had been there.

But like I said, I veered off from that path about two years ago, and although there are some in between places that I don’t like to revisit often, the rabbit trail I followed landed my feet on new ground: I got shell-shocked, rocked, and humbled.

The other day, there was a status on Facebook that basically asked what you would want to have written on our tombstone when you die. Now, I think you could sum my life up in four words: “It’s not about me.”

The fact that I used to have a platform followed by sixty thousand followers who were straining to believe the truth that they were worth something — it was never about me. 

My marriage, my love story, and all the beautiful things I’d waited for that landed in my lap — it’s not about me.

The achievements, the moments I got to stand on stage, or run-ins with hearts that told me that somehow my words helped them — never about me. 

The followers, the likes, the retweets — they aren’t about me.

Every good thing in my life that I could’ve easily been caught up in, every crack that pride could’ve seeped through, every chance I could’ve taken to take credit for any real life change in someone else — I have spent my life fighting back with the realization that none of it has been about me. 

Stages are meant for God’s voice to boom over the microphone; spotlights are for shedding some understanding on who God is; followings are meant to be shepherded in such a way that followers don’t see you as their leader, they see God as your head. 

That’s been the motto. It was nice to write in my Facebook bio when I was in eighth grade, and it’s done a good job of keeping me humble and keeping me on my toes for opportunities to give God glory, but I don’t think I grasped how far that mentality could stretch. 

You see, making my way through the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly reminds us: “If they persecute you, they are doing so for My sake, trying to persecute Me. If they hate you, it’s because they hated Me first.” 

So lately, I’ve been wondering what my life would look like if I fully dove in to the belief that nothing in this life is actually about me:

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and everyone told me that it wouldn’t have happened to me if I had just had a stronger faith, if I had prayed more — it wasn’t about me.

The dark rooms filled with roaming hands and hushed objections that left me feeling like nothing more than an old shirt someone didn’t want to wear anymore — it wasn’t about me. 

The day the world stopped spinning, and I lost my mind because he said he didn’t love me anymore, that his life was significantly better without me in it — it wasn’t about me. 

When my friends stopped choosing me, when I found myself alone and very much lonely-hearted, like I wasn’t worth anything and didn’t have a place — never about me.

Even the things that my own mind tells me, beating me up and convincing me of the most irrational lies that leave me curled up in bed — it’s not about me.

Every high and every low are just opportunities to steal our focus from Jesus and His cross as far as the enemy is concerned. When we are feeling good about ourselves– well then, he’s sure to keep us looking at ourselves, having us believing we are self-sufficient. When we are drowning in self loathing, he sneaks in and keeps us staring at all of the places in our hearts that need fixing rather than gazing at the healing done by the cross.

No, nothing in this life is about me: the good, the bad, the struggling, the loneliness, the rejection, the spotlight, the praise, the followers, the dark, the mountaintop moments and the valley trudges, the love, the mess, the hurt, the breathless moments and the wind getting knocked out of me, the opportunities and the doors that slam in my face, the lack of belonging — none of it is about me.

I just happen to be standing in the middle of a battle that’s been going on long before I walked on to the scene with my knobby knees and battle cry. I’m not the one the enemy is taking shots at, but he sure will try to use me as his weapon. 

There’s a strange comfort that comes with knowing that the pain is empty, that it’s just collateral. Makes me feel a bit braver, louder, stronger. 

When it hurts, I will remember — it’s not about me. 

None of it. 

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.

It had become routine. The way I would look into my rearview mirror and see him swerving in and out of the lanes. The way he would wait for me in the breezeway up at our University. The way I would leave notes on his car with scribbled down jokes and encouragements, and he’d text me a quick and thoughtless, “Thank you.”

Two years makes for that sort of comfortability, though. And the thing with comfortability: it’s a mirage. It makes you see things that aren’t really there. It makes you feel like you’re owed something, leaves you with a sense of entitlement.

Still, it was the comfortability, the routine, that found me standing behind his car that last day of fall semester during our senior year. I stood there, studying his license plate, blinking — remembering.

Just a few weeks earlier, he had offered to take me to a party I had been invited to as a part of this interview process for a marketing position with this nonprofit. The invitation said “Date strongly encouraged” in big red letters, and I suddenly was very aware of my very real singleness. In the midst of complaining to him about it, he had offered to go with me. Even though he told me I could count on him to be there, a part of me remembered all the times he hadn’t shown up before. So, I waited to buy his ticket.

Sure enough, I was sitting all dressed up in the middle of taking a final the afternoon of the party when I got the text from him saying that he’d forgotten a friend was going to be in town that night — there were “I’m sorry” texts and “I’ll pay you back,” texts, and a heavy disappointment that settled in.

Stood up, only an hour before I was supposed to make my grand entrance and make a great first impression. My nerves were rattled, and I was sure I would fail without the safety net of a familiar face. It was the last straw for me. If I told you everything that had happened in those two years leading up to that night, you would’ve thought I was crazy for not putting my foot down sooner. But him bailing on me was the icing on the cake, and I swore I was done showing up.

I cried the whole way to the party. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the guy at the door with the guest list couldn’t find my name and decidedly wasn’t going to let me in. It was a tall guy in a purple striped dress shirt and suspenders that ended up letting me in that evening, and I nailed the interview.

In the days that followed the party, my heart hardened toward the past two years I had spent being the late night bail-out call, the early morning shotgun rider when life wasn’t going right, the girl who dropped everything to buy, drive, listen, show up for anything — all for someone who never noticed.

Back at school, I ignored him. He’d shout after me in the hallways, wait in the parking lot by my car, call me late at night. I walked faster, got rides from friends, and put my phone on silent.

What I could have never known was that the night after the party he was supposed to take me to, his best friend overdosed on drugs. That weekend, he had to carry the casket at the funeral.

I had shown up for two years but had missed the mark when it really counted.

So there I stood, that last fall day of senior year, staring at his car with shaking hands. I pulled the note out of my pocket and placed it underneath one of his windshield wipers.

It didn’t matter how I thought the whole thing should have gone. Did I deserve to be the girl he brought home to his parents? Did I think I had earned the right to be the one he took to church every Sunday? Did I wish I could have gotten more in return than what he had left me with over those two years? Sure. But it didn’t matter.

When I pulled out of the parking lot that day, I stopped at a gas station to cry. I cried and I wrote one of the most important things I’ve ever written: “Sometimes you can be the one who claps the loudest, the one who shows up the most, the one who stays the longest, and you still won’t be heard, won’t be seen, won’t be kept; sometimes, they still won’t choose you.
Leave notes on their car, anyway.”

At the end of the day, the truth is that I needed to write that letter more than that boy needed to read it. Sure, I told him I believed in him and that I always would, that he still had time to be all the things he said he wanted to be, and maybe he turned around and did a lot of changing. But when I look back at who I was when I left that last letter on his car, I see a girl who had spent the better half of that year picking up the pieces of herself that she had single-handedly broken and scattered everywhere; I see a girl who had fought tooth-and-nail to climb out of the darkness; a girl who was both learning to apologize and to forgive; a girl who had learned that sometimes brave looks like speaking secrets out loud and had done a lot of healing since she had shed the light on some dark corners.

Still, there was that wall: the resentment that stood between me and living fully in Jesus.

That letter was my reminder to stay soft. To stay soft regardless. To say soft in spite of.

It’s been over a year since I left that last note on that car; it was the last thing I ever said to him. It was also the hammer I took to a wall that separated me from God.

And remember the boy in the purple striped dress shirt and the suspenders that let me into the party? We met that night for the first time, and we’ve been married for seven months, now. 

Funny how some things work out, huh?

The other day, I was reading in Matthew when I came across a commandment directly from Jesus: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12).

The love of most will grow cold. 

Jesus asks a lot of us: don’t be afraid, be selfless, do not lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, give, love Him and our neighbors. He even asks us to carry our crosses just as He did.

But that — that was the first time that I ever read anything about Him commanding us to be soft.

We are called to a holy softness.

So much of my life has been spent harboring bitterness towards people for my own choices. But it’s not really showing up if you do it in hopes that someone will clap for you.

The heart of the Father is soft. His heart is forgiving, and He is fluent in the art of second  chances. He is the designer of selflessness, and He has mastered bottomless-giving.

He yearns to shower us in gifts and provisions–not because He expects something in return, but because it’s the core of His character.

That’s not to say He isn’t a just Father, not to say that He does not judge. He is not weak, and He will not be taken advantage of, and He is a Father who doesn’t want to see His children trampled on in their softness.

But He never says, “You owe me.”

And He doesn’t turn away when we don’t praise Him for it. He doesn’t hold back or run empty or let His bitterness come between us and Him. He keeps at it, relentlessly.

Don’t let the world steal your love. Don’t let it make you hard. Don’t let it put your fire out.

Be the one who shows up first. Believe in someone the loudest. Stand clapping in the front row. Send the text, buy the gift, drive the miles, leave the note anyway. It’s the closest we’ll get to being like Jesus.

The best way over is through.

Green and grey and blue bins are piled high into the cobwebbed corners of a muggy basement. Truckloads drive some away every so often. She sits in a faded chair, hands on her knees, lips puckered, staring at the grey-green sea of bins; memories and dreams that hadn’t happened for her yet are being divided and conquered and sent away to belong to someone else or be buried in a dumpster.

She was going to have a showroom, you know. She was going to cut and paste and weave and make her wreaths and sell her home goods. That’s why she bought the big house for one, the house with the big basement and the side hall with the low swinging chandeliers. They’d been married for 34 years, but then he was gone, and she was going to buy a house with a showroom.

Every so often, someone finds a bin full of his things. We all take a break to look at the lost treasures. I find a bin full of photos from when I was only five; there’s one with my uncle who’s been gone for almost three Octobers now; he’s holding me, and my eyes are still blue, and I notice the freckles on his face. I forgot that he had freckles on his face.

I wonder if her son’s freckles and her husband’s old things are why she has so many bins now.

As I tucked the photo of my uncle and I away into a pile of things that I would like to keep, I imagine I’d do the same as she has.

Wouldn’t we all? Haven’t I already?

Surely there have been corners of myself filled with bins stacked high, memories and hopes that I hadn’t figured out how to sort away with. Even now, aren’t there some parts of me that don’t know what to do with the things I’ve held onto over the years.

She has bins labeled, “Christmas glasses,” and “Easter pillows,” and “Halloween houses.” We’re there to help her figure out what to keep and what to get rid of. I haven’t seen some of these things in the almost seventeen years that my grandfather has been gone. Yet, I still hear her protest, “No, I should really keep that.” Then comes that part that slows us down, the part where we have to all really talk it out with her about whether or not she’ll actually every use it again:

“This has been in this exact same box for seventeen years.”

“You haven’t touched this in fifteen years, will you ever put it out for Thanksgiving again?” 

“Okay, let’s talk about what you’ll do with it if you were to take it out and start using it again.” 

And so on and so forth.

Most of the time, she comes to the realization that she hasn’t touched it in so long that she wouldn’t have known if it had gone missing or not and so it’s best to just get rid of it.

And I think of my bins. They are toppling over with things that I have held onto just because I had held onto them so tightly once before.

They’ve got their own kinds of labels written on the side, too. Over the years, I’ve tried to call them something else, tried to dust them off. I’ve brought some out into the light and unpacked them on a blog or in fast cars zooming down the highway or on my mother’s closet floor. Others have been shoved back into the darkest corners, given over to the rats to chew through.

I’m full of secrets, haunts, memories, and hopes, and the truth is — I’m full of some things that I’m not scared of and that I don’t hope for anymore at all. I’m full of things that are taking up space just because I made some space for them in the first place and dubbed them as worth keeping at some point.

And oh, the times I find myself digging through the bins, insisting that I need to keep the things that don’t fit anywhere anymore.

When we first opened the doors of her basement, we barely even had enough room for walking. It’s been two days, and now there’s space to somersault, to play, to run if we wanted, to build and to create and to imagine what could be — there’s space for new things.

A once terrifying reality of emptiness inside myself has now become an overwhelming anticipation of new. 

Let it hurt, let it matter, let it go.