Monthly Archives: September 2014

Living in the tension between dangled carrots and spray painted grass

 

Four o’clock rolled around and all was well. By five o’clock it had all fallen apart. 

I was happy at four-thirty today. Giddy even.

For the past several years I have been working really hard towards a specific thing. You could even call it a promise. Hours have been spent researching the best way to go about pursuing this promise. Pens have run out of ink as I have taken detailed notes and filled out all the required paperwork. Scribbles on paper with charts and lists have covered my dining room table late into the night as I look over my plan.

You have no idea- seriously no idea – how many questions I have been asked and answers I’ve found as I have plotted the path for this big dream of mine to come to pass. It was starting to grow legs and arms and come to life before my eyes.

After holding it with cautious hope, I have recently begun to embrace it. Own it and let the excitement of its existence seep into all the little bits of me. At four o’clock this afternoon, I was talking to someone involved and the details were starting to come together. Ideas were bounced around and getting polished. Life was good at four o’clock today.

Then the phone rang. It was 5 o’clock.

I answered it. On the other end was the woman who held the keys to this little dream of mine being born. Not just in my mind, but in actual life. The kind of life you can photograph and share beyond the limitations of imagination.

It wasn’t good. She informed me of some news that changed the plan. In fact, it kind of erased the plan, burned the paper it was written on and then scattered the ashes somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. At least that is how it felt by 5:05pm.

The dream doesn’t have to die, but it does have to wait. And it goes to being a bit of a lottery when it comes to how it will work. There are no guarantees really.

The worst part? I started to scold myself for actually letting myself get excited. Chasing this promise has been years of ups and downs. Dangled carrots dropped in front of me and actually believing that I was finally going to get to eat them. I’d lunge to catch the dream between my teeth, but it always pulls right back up out of reach. Sitting there taunting me, but too far to have for myself.

You know what I am talking about. Falling in love only for the other person to back out. Working long hours just to watch another person end up with the credit. Finally saving enough money for a backpacking trip with friends but having to drain your account to pay a car repair. And now you are using your newly fixed car to drive your friends to the airport. Carrots dangled.

Sitting here tonight, I still choke back the tears of disappointment and frustration. This isn’t my first rodeo with “almost but not quite” when it comes to promises. And I’ve come to know what will pop up next.

Spray painted grass, that’s what.

I see the other side where the grass is greener. The side where everything went as planned. A field of grass that grows bright green and beautiful. That piece of earth where the money never ran out and the world is fair. Where people get what they have worked hard for and the rain falls with perfect timing.

I know you know exactly what I am talking about because you have had to live in the tension between dangled carrots and spray painted grass yourself.

The truth about that grass? It isn’t really green. It has been painted with idealism, envy and a good old-fashioned dose of imagination. It is the futuristic version of what would have happened if everything would have gone our way. The perfect interpretation of our plan before real life happens.

And just like that, we are discontent with where we are. The trinkets we carry as our own are no longer valuable. Our relationships don’t sparkle with endless perfection. Our romances are tarnished with human flaws. Promotions at work that went to another suddenly make our job seem insignificant.

And that’s the biggest problem with chasing dreams, promises and grander plans. Sometimes they don’t work out the way we want and we see our own grass as the enemy.

The other grass surely would have been softer, never needed mowing and would naturally repel all insects so you could picnic in peace. The people who live there are faultless and easy to love. At least it looks that way from here.

But this place? This place is work and pain. Trying and risking over and over. It’s loving the person in front of you when you have a very specific person in mind you’d rather be loving. This grass embeds thorns in your feet if you try to run through it carefree.

Right now at 9pm? I don’t really love my grass. It is poking me in all the wrong places and isn’t growing the way I want it too. But, I am trying to remind myself that the other grass isn’t real. It is spray painted with deceiving filters and all the unwanted parts have been cropped out of the picture.

It’s like Instagram grass. Perfected by perception.

This little patch of field I will go to bed on tonight? It is my home for now and I will be thankful for it. The people parked on this side of the fence with me are my neighbors and they are just as worth loving as the people on the spray painted grass. I’ll wake up in the morning and will choose to enjoy and cultivate the land I have been given.

Continuing to work towards the promise, but choosing to live my life with gusto right here until then. I’ve learned that here in this tension. We’ve got to live settled. Not the kind of settled where you compromise for something lesser. The kind of settled where you find contentment where you are while still working toward something else. That is a thing fought for and hashed out over late night conversations with friends.

There will always be a tension between the carrots we chase and the fields we sleep in. Even when it stings us to the core, we have to let go of our plans and believe the promise.

On the days when a late afternoon phone call crushes you, God has given you a place to sit and rest while you catch your breath. It might not be the perfectly manicured grass you were hoping for, but it is your place for now. And there is a grace to make it home.

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When It’s Not Safe To Be You

 We have learned to be the greatest pretenders from the moment we wake till the moment we lay our head down.

photo cred: Art of Street

photo cred: Art of Street

On some days I let myself go there.

I unwind all the pretense and crack open the door to fresh air. Crisp thinking that hasn’t been judged by years of experience and well-meaning advice. All the voices along the way who have confirmed to me what I always suspected. What I always dreaded.

It is not safe to be me.

A scene went down when I was fourteen and it replayed through my mind for years. I was on the lawn of my church with another friend who happened to like the same boy I did. Let’s call the boy we liked “Josh” and my friend who liked him too “Amy”. We were outside obeying Josh’s friends who told us to go wait for them because they had something to tell us.

I remember standing there on the grass trying to stomach what I knew was probably coming. In true teenage fashion, some of our friends had taken it upon themselves to mention to Josh’s friends that Amy and I thought Josh was cute.

Now, let me say this. I wasn’t even allowed to date. I just thought the boy was cute. Which was big for me to admit because I was never the girl picked. I stood on the sidelines of my eighth grade dance never – not even once – being asked to dance the whole night. I’d like to submit a motion that we do away with junior high dances altogether.

When our friends mentioned that we both thought Josh was cute and told his friends not to say anything, they didn’t exactly follow instructions. Off they went to spread the word of our attraction to none other than Josh himself. Which can I just say, in hindsight is hilarious because Josh wasn’t really attractive or cool. I prefer to chalk that crush up to groupthink gone wrong.

Next thing we know, Amy and I were outside waiting to meet with Josh’s friends. Awesome.

A crew of boys came bounding down the stairs with smiles on their faces. “We talked to Josh.”, said the ring leader of this motley crew. ” Told him that both of you think he is cute. And guess what? He thinks one of you is cute too. But just one.”

I’m sure you can guess where this is going.

“So, Josh wants to talk to the girl he thinks is pretty.”. Josh’s friend continued, ” …and it’s not YOU!”.

As the words fell out of his mouth, he turned to me and his finger pointed right at my face. It wasn’t me.

Just like that my friend Amy squealed and ran inside to meet Josh. I stayed there on the lawn alone watching the swarm of them rush back up the stairs. I didn’t cry. I just swallowed it. And then – as easy as that – those words became something I carried around in me for a long time after.

It’s not me.

The sentence rattled through my mind over the next decade. Who I am is not enough compared to who they are. It isn’t safe to put myself out there because it will neither be wanted nor valued.

Fast-forward to college. I had a friend who I had been close to for years. Hours of conversations about dreams and hopes had been invested into our friendship.

One evening she sat me down and told me something that shocked me like nothing else had.

She thought I had a mental illness. I had let someone into the inner workings of my mind and instead of seeking to understand, they judged. And I felt betrayed in a way that shattered so many things I once had thought to be stable. I was embarrassed and exposed.

I bawled for days.

It’s not me. I’m not the one with the beautiful ideas or creative mind. I am the girl who sounds crazy – who no one will ever believe in. It isn’t safe to be me.

There are few things which can create such a desperate feeling inside as when being yourself doesn’t feel safe. If your ideas scare people, your motives are misunderstood and your actions continually rejected then you slowly begin to morph into something that feels less painful.

Something other than yourself. It holds the illusion of safety. Like an internal Switzerland.

And so all the walls go up to shut out the haters. We put on masks so the one pointing the finger saying “It’s Not You” can’t find us. We put our best foot forward trying not to mis-step and bring attention the person that actually lives inside of us.

It is in that place of hiding the miraculous happens. God seeks us out. He finds us. He heals us. Our terror is exchanged for a holy confidence. The whispering lie of  “It’s Not You” is replaced with a steel reinforced truth. That you are fearfully and wonderfully made. That you have in fact, been chosen.

To all of you, who like me, have learned to wear the disguise and cover up the authentic. Who are afraid that the things inside you are not enough or the way you think is overwhelming.

Those of you who don’t feel like you have an invitation with your name on it… Welcome to the world of doers and dreamers.

It may not be safe out here this side of heaven, but we can’t let the words of people shut us down. The world needs people who are willing to take risks and love even when it hurts. Don’t back down. Light up. Dream harder. Go bigger. You’ve been created by a Maker who has your back. With Him you are always safe.

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He died. And we all came to his party.

I never really knew a tragedy and a party could go together until now.

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I remember being a little girl and laying in bed at my friend Kaleigh’s house. Spending the night at a friends still had all the magic. Being dropped off. Eating food that isn’t a part of your normal menu. Playing with other people’s siblings. Getting ready for bed away from home always made me feel so grown up.

The nights I spent in that house are countless. It is funny what you remember about those times. Kaleigh’s mom always told me not to pop my knuckles or I would regret it when I was older. She was right. Once her dad let us stay up till about ten to finish Pippi Longstocking. And for a second grader that was basically winning the lottery.  As we got older, he watched us practicing the Macarena and told us we looked great. We didn’t.

This past week Kaleigh’s dad, Chris, passed away.

Last night was the visitation and I had to park at another building because the funeral home parking lot was maxed out. I waited quite some time to even get in the door. Finally it was my time to hug the family and say what little I could to communicate how sad I was and how sorry. Those are the times where words can’t really communicate what you have to say. And so you stand shoulder to shoulder in the crowd with your presence doing the talking.

Scanning the room it was filled – literally filled – with people that took me right back to my childhood. The families who all went to the church I grew up in. Teens I was in youth group with who had turned into full fledged adults with wedding rings and mortgages. So many people.

I was talking to a woman named Marsha who was a constant figure in my younger days. Homegroups, mission trips, her kids in the youth group with me. A lot of life connected us even though it had been years since I’ve seen her.

We talked about how Chris passed way too soon. We marveled at the crowd who showed up. And then she said it.

“He threw a party. And we all came.”

All the magic I had been feeling about the night, Marsha summed up in two sentences. Chris threw a party and we all came. Out of the woodworks crawled people from decades ago. Faces I haven’t seen since church picnics when I was a kid. People traveled from far and wide. Because this was Chris’s party and we wouldn’t miss celebrating him for the world.

Walking to my car, those words just ricocheted against all my thoughts.

I want to live a life that breeds these kinds of parties.  Throw the glitter and spread the dip. It is time for me to throw some serious soirees. Not just to celebrate life when it is over but in the thick of it. Where people line up just to get their feet in the door. ‘Cause they know that what is inside will be spectacular. It will be full of love, full of inspiration and full of life.

What I am about to say is the stuff of overdone graduation speeches. I know that. But I also know that it is true and that no matter how many times we have heard it before – we need to hear it again.

This is the time.

The time to feel all the feelings and love till our hearts bleed out onto the people around us. Soaking up every conversation knowing that it probably won’t be our last, but that doesn’t make it any less special. I want to hug my kids more because I can. And life is good. It may be hard and broken down at times. But it is good.

Those ideas that  are so risky they send comfort zones screaming? I want to do those. And I want to nail them. I know I probably won’t. In fact,  I will fail at many of them. But I will have done them and there will be scars that tell of my adventures into the daring world of possibilities. And I will throw my scars a party because being brave is worth celebrating.

However, some of the things I just might get right. And when I do? I’ll throw a party. Because I can. Because this is life – my one life – and I don’t want to put it off.

But mostly? Mostly I want to dare to open my heart up to people in the boldest of ways.

To love without any catches or qualifiers. The kind of love that is generous even when I feel like my own heart is surviving on bread crumbs. Believing that God will sustain me. The fierce kind of love that makes others uncomfortable with it’s intentional pursuit. I wanna be that girl.

And you?

You should fall in love more. Send out the resume for the dream job. Build a treehouse if for no other reason than it was a weekend of nice weather. Read books in homemade forts with friends because honestly, who wouldn’t love that? Pulling out the destiny in others even when your own seems overlooked. And love Jesus with everything you’ve got.

Because this is life. Welcome to the party.

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The wild one

I remember well. Exactly where I was when I first had the words roll through my mind. 

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I was sitting in a coffee shop just as I had through so many nights of college. It was late. I don’t remember how late, but I probably should have been in the library studying. Instead there I was on the stool situated along the front bar. The large window in front of me opened to the street and looked out over campus.

My worn journal was open to a blank page and I grabbed my pen and started writing. I am sure if I shared with you the exact words I wrote they wouldn’t make much sense to you. Syllables and doodles covering pages and exposing all the bits and pieces of me.

The parts of me that seemed disconnected and disjointed from each other, but all deeply rooted in my heart. That page had me on it. All over it. Even the parts of me that made no sense.

There was no clear picture or plan that emerged. All signs didn’t point to a specific direction my life should go. Destiny didn’t spill out like some sort of code amid the ink blots. It was just my words. The thread of my deepest dream.

I knew at that moment. I wanted to be one of the wild ones.

All the things I wasn’t – I already knew. No one needed to tell me that I wouldn’t be the first girl picked. I never was. Life didn’t have to remind me of all the places I fall short. The times I say the awkward thing or get my feelings hurt when I open my heart just a little too big. My soul bears the scars of close calls and doors shut in my face.

None the less, I couldn’t argue with what I already knew. I was one of the wild ones.

Full of fear and insecurity, but wild to the core. I wanted to chase impossible things and wrap my life with colorful thinking. Thinking that didn’t try to color-cordinate with every person and every situation. I didn’t want to be khaki. I didn’t want to blend in and match everyone.

I wanted a bold life. Those words and images I wrote on the page that night testified to that. I didn’t want neutral. I wanted to be red. And paint in red wherever I went. Marking lives and streets with red letters that declared “Liz was here”. I wanted to leave myself behind.

I was twenty. I naive. But I was right. At least partly right.

Fast-forward a decade. I’ve learned a few things about being wild.

I’ve learned that meals have to be cooked. Houses have to be cleaned. Every day. Jobs have requirements and you have to – you know – actually go to work when you feel like hoping in your car to chase adventure. And relationships? Those take time too.

But mostly, I’ve learned that wild doesn’t mean what I thought it meant when I was twenty.

It isn’t about spontaneous and risky adventures that create envious stories.

Wild is not what we do, but how we think. Daring to believe in what could be. Willing to be the person who changes things. Big or small. Not allowing the realities of life to dull down our spirits. To make us think that this – right here and right now – is all there is.

I was wrong to think that I was the wild one. It isn’t me. It’s you too.

After countless conversations on long phone calls and on sofas in coffee shops, I have realized that I am not the only wild one. You are too. We are all the wild ones. At least that is what we were made to be. The capes may have turned into cardigans and swords into laptops, but we are glowing in our core. Glowing, burning, for something better. Something bigger.

From our cubicles and living rooms we dream into a world that is better. A world that has our mark on it.  Believing that life doesn’t have to play out this way – believing that we could do it better. We could do this better. That despite all our failures and scars from being the last kids picked in dodgeball, there is something in this heart to offer.

Wild generosity is meant to do battle with greed. Wild forgiveness can cut off the cycles of hatred and vengence. Wild hope has the power to reach into the darkest places and sit – be with people where they are. Remind people that we pick them. We see them.

And love? Wild love makes people recognize that they were made for the same thing. To be wild. To dream. To live this one wild crazy life will all we’ve got.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think we are ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ kind of people I think we are wild.

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