I’ve spent the past few days at home, recuperating from a car accident. Most of that time has been spent sleeping, but during my few waking hours, I have had a lot of time to think about what is to come in the next days and weeks. Naturally, I have tried to drown the thoughts with endless episodes of Law & Order SVU and documentaries on the royal family. I’ve spent time browsing Facebook, trying to catch up on highlights that seem to constantly reel from everyone’s life but mine. It was there that I stumbled across a photograph of a girl sitting in a little cafe in the heart of New York City.
The caption read: I’m twenty-four, and I’m already on my third fresh start.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t shake it. She was beautiful, and her words resonated somewhere deep in my soul, and I am a romantic at heart.
I think back to the beginning of college, and how in those days, I felt every bit like a Pablo Neruda poem. Everything felt transformed, the way you feel when you can finally breathe deep the coming of a new season. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I would sit for hours on the patio of our little cafe and become totally submersed in the beauty and mystery of words. I fell hard for a boy who was rugged and adventurous and passionate and refused to back down from an opportunity to share the Jesus that he knew, even if that Jesus didn’t look quite like the other person’s. In my mind, he broke all the right rules and embodied all the things that I wanted to be. When his car pulled into a space in front of the campus coffee shop, my heart would always skip a beat. I wanted to be the girl who impressed him. A year and a half later, his body would dissolve under the weight of the cancer, which was probably there before we even said our first hello’s. Now, I remember him with fondness and respect, and it has taken me this long to realize that even though he was deeply loved by all who knew him, he was a person with flaws and fears the same as my own.
Then, I fell head over heels for a boy that lived half way across the country. He had wooed me with his smooth compliments and messy hair, and we would instant message until the wee hours of the morning. He was charming and funny, making comments about how he thought of me every time that Bruno Mars song came on the radio. He had all but convinced me to drop my whole life and move to Texas when one day, he asked me if we could have a conversation that didn’t involve God. Needless to say, things quickly devolved after that, and my friends held a legitimate intervention over cold cafeteria lunch.
Eventually, I married one of those friends. And I haven’t looked back. Grace is always inviting us to look forward.
But my pendulum hasn’t stopped swinging. For every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction, and when trying to be mysterious and hiding bottles of red wine under my bed in my dorm room stopped working, I put all of my striving towards being the good girl. I wanted to be the perfect wife, the perfect homemaker, the perfect accountability partner, the perfect church greeter. I wanted the words I wrote to be syrupy sweet, which was a stark contrast to the dark and gritty words I had penned in the years earlier. To be fair, I was never really in danger of being a “bad” girl, but the idea of being someone else was intoxicating. It never really mattered who — I just wanted to be someone, anyone else. The me that I knew on the inside was on the edge.
Maybe that has always been the case. I have lived completely enamored by the idea of being anyone other than myself. I have been willfully cruel to my heart and my body. I have fallen victim to and become addicted to comparing myself to others. Envy is a drug that will cause you to rot from the inside out.
That has always been me: the girl with no permeable membrane. I absorb everything without any regard for the consequences. I carry headlines and tragedy and grief and responsibility around with me in heavy suitcases, and can’t remember a time when I felt light. As long as I can hide behind the heaviness, I don’t have to deal with the truth of what’s going on inside my soul. Chesterton was right, it is easy to be heavy. Eventually, you completely forget that you can’t breathe. Even on the good days, the whole of your life could be chalked up to simply surviving.
When I chose bloom as my word for the year, I didn’t realize how difficult the lesson would be. But isn’t that just like God? We plan our way, but he determines our steps. I didn’t realize how much work it would take, how much introspection would be required of me. I am an expert at avoiding the ugly places — the places I’m still afraid to admit are barren and parched. The places I’m honest-to-God terrified of surrendering.
Yeah, those places exist. I’m not proud of them. Really, I’d rather keep them hidden for all eternity. But hiding isn’t exactly conducive to any sort of growth.
I figured I would start small. Even though we were in a town that we felt no affection toward, I committed to not have such a bad attitude about it. Or at least try not to have such a bad attitude. Then I worked halfheartedly on my attitude about my job, my marriage, my ministry, my body. I invited other twentysomething women over for dinner. I started tithing and volunteering more at church. I thought if I could perform better, faster, and stronger, blooming would happen naturally. What I didn’t realize, and perhaps avoided realizing, was that blooming had nothing to do with my performance and everything to do with where I was remaining. I was remaining in my own perception of security, my personal ivory tower of Babel, trying to work my way into the good graces of a God that I had invented.
You guys, I can talk such a big talk. It is scary how well I wear these masks. But it is time to get real.
To remain is to stay, persist, abide, and endure. None of these things has ever come easily to me. I suppose, like any good thing, remaining takes practice. It takes giving everything over to the discipline — to eat it, sleep it, breathe it.
His name literally means the sound of breathing. Can I actually force myself to settle down and cope with something so simple? That’s the thing about this faith — it always manages to turn common sense on its head.
To remain is to wrestle — to wrestle with the God of the universe and hand over all of my insecurities and my frustrations on the days where I want to shake my fists and ask what the hell he was thinking when he decided to make someone like me. To wrestle like Jacob, who refused to let go until he received the blessing.
There’s a longing inside of me, a hunger for the real God — not the one I’ve made up to suit my own personal preferences and agenda. Most of the time, that God would eventually morph into a failure seeking fear monger. Who would want to give their heart over to that?
I don’t really know why I’ve written all of this down. I guess it is because my husband and I are getting ready to move and I am nervous. It is a fresh start — another chance to start over and be anyone I want to be. A chance to impress people with my little bit of mystery, my love for documentaries, my dupe for Carrabba’s delicious olive oil bread dip, and a blog that has been read on five continents.
But I’ve been defining myself by those things for too long. I want to leave them behind and make room for my soul to breathe — to unpack the baggage, to learn what it means to cease striving and simply be; to remain solely in Christ, apart from whom I can do nothing. I wonder at what it must be like to walk in that kind of freedom. I’ve decided that more than I want people to be impressed by what I can do, I want them to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am seeking the kingdom first. In the curves of my body, the recesses of my mind, and the depths of my soul. But first I have to know that for myself.
It is hard to be light. But I’d like to try.