Faith

some thoughts on gratitude

Earlier this year, I wanted to vomit at the sheer mention of Thanksgiving. I couldn’t stand the thought of smiling and pretending to be thankful for a list of cliches that were supposed to somehow make up for the searing pain I felt in my heart. It felt inauthentic and cruel to subside my hurt. But then to be expected to be thankful on top of it? Forget it. You can keep your damn turkey. I don’t even eat meat. 

 

Loss can take us to a lot of dark places. And people try to comfort you with those terrible “someday you’ll look back and be thankful” cliches that make you want to punch them square in the face. 

 

The things that were causing so much grief in my life were things I would never be thankful for. That’s what I told myself anyway. But in all fairness to myself, I wasn’t just being dramatic. I really did lose a lot this year: trusted relationships, friends, family, plans for the future- all things that meant a great deal to me. 

 

But I’ve also learned about God’s graciousness. I’ve seen him reach through the darkness in my life and turn it into a beautiful, luminous space.  And so as much as I hate to admit it, I think those infuriating people with their stupid cliches may actually have been right. Because I now have a list chalk full of beautiful blessings that were born because of things that I once cursed. 

 

I’m thankful for adventure. Travel is one of my greatest passions, and this year I've visited more places than I ever have in my entire life (over 4 countries and 17 different cities).  I've watched God recreate my life day by day, piece by piece, and city by city as he’s lead me through new, uncharted territory (both literally and metaphorically.) And what propelled me into action to start buying plane tickets and making these dreams a reality was new time and available space that had freed up following loss.

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I’m thankful for time I’ve been able to spend on my own. Being a creature that's wired for companionship, I’d be lying if I denied the fact that sometimes I wish there was a fast-forward button on a cosmic remote control that could speed up the process of meeting my husband. But it’s been during this season of singleness that I’ve really learned to take care of myself. How to be alone. To fight for what I want out of life. I've learned it’s impossible to have a relationship with anyone else that’s better than the one I have with the Lord. That if I long for the future when I’m not content in the present,  I’ll never be satisfied. I can now say that I know what it means to pick myself up after the world knocked the wind out of me- and to walk again. Some days it feels like more of a long-fought journey that I’m on than others, but I can say with pride that it’s mine- not anyone else’s. And I'm really thankful to be learning so much about the person I am- the one God created me to be. 

 

 

I’m thankful for community. Losing friends can make you want to build up walls and try to keep everyone out. It's a scary and vulnerable thing to be known, and I still struggle to remind myself not to give way to that fear. But what happens when some friendships fade is that you suddenly notice the gems that stand out brighter than they did before. You have more attention to give to them. And you also create space for so many new and wonderful friends that you would have never met otherwise. You’re able to usher in an entirely new community that makes your life more rich and abundant. Because God is just that good. 

 

And as Shauna Niequist says, "I believe that God does his greatest work in our lives during seasons of great heartbreak and loss. I believe that much of that rich work is done by the hands of people who love us, who dive into the wreckage with us and show us who God is, over and over and over."

 

 

I’m thankful for more than I ever imagined I would be this Thanksgiving: for the breaking of things that needed to be broken. For the ways that I’m not only different- but better. For being set free from things I didn’t even know I was enslaved to. And for getting a front row seat while I watched God tell a story of redemption in my life. But I’m especially thankful for his graciousness toward me - that he's allowed me the privilege to learn so many wonderful things. My cup runneth over.  

 

"Do you see what we have? An unshakeable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For he isn't an indifferent bystander. He's actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won't quit until it's all cleansed. God himself is a consuming fire." -Hebrews 12:28-29

Cinque Terre

I was in a relationship for 7 years and it abruptly came to an end about 6 months ago. 

 

This isn’t something I talk about on here, nor is it how you would expect me to start a blog post that’s supposed to be about Cinque Terre, I’m sure. It makes me uncomfortable to publicly discuss the details of such heartache, which is why I’ve never actually named it for what it is on the blog.  I’ve been able to wrap it up nicely and simply hint at it by naming it “a difficult time” or “a season of grief.”  Up until now. To tell the story that I want to tell, you have to know more. So here it is. 

 

For starters, the details of how and why the relationship ended won’t make this narrative any more valuable, so it's better that they be left out. What’s important here is that you understand the weight of what it’s like to spend 7 years of your life with someone. How well you get to know them. How your lives become woven together like a detailed tapestry. How doing life together becomes as natural as breathing. 

 

You have your usuals. Usual dinners at Calypso or Chipotle. Usual holiday traditions you share with each others families. Usual “Love you babygirl” texts before bed.  

 

You have your things. The thing where you always kiss at red lights. Or the thing where you play with that unusually flat thumbnail when you hold his hand. And that thing where you smirk at each other when that song comes on because of an inside joke that only the two of you know about. 

 

So naturally, it’s those usuals- those “things" you miss when it’s over. And from time to time, it’s easy to neglect any logic and still wish (even for just a brief moment) that you were curled up in bed, assuming your usual position of the little spoon, to watch the latest episode of Scandal with a pint of Ben + Jerry’s half-baked like you did every week. Because those tend to be the sweet memories that haunt you when it’s over. 

 

Again, you’re probably wondering why on earth I’m recounting details of a lost relationship when this post title references Cinque Terre. I honestly don’t know why my brain correlated the two either. But what I do know is that when I stood with my toes in the water alone for a moment in Monterosso, one of Cinque Terre’s quaint towns, I remembered something else that happened in our relationship. I’m not sure why it didn’t come to me until this particular moment. Maybe the trauma of how everything ended made a lot of details fuzzy. Or perhaps it was my memory being intentionally selective. Or maybe the sun and all the color around me was so bright that it literally illuminated any remaining darkness within where it could have been hiding. Whatever you want to attribute the reasoning to, it came to me. 

 

I remember it was a Saturday back home in Nashville, and the weather was perfect. Blue skies. Temperatures in 70s. Sunshine and fluffy white clouds. I woke up feeling energized and wanting to seize the day. To do something adventurous. Anything really: hike, walk, go to the park. I just wanted to feel alive. 

 

But I remember so clearly lying in my room, cuddled together and watching another TV show. And the only word I know to describe the complex feeling that started to bubble up inside of me was trapped. I felt trapped and I started to panic. 

 

Now obviously, I don’t mean that I was literally trapped. I wasn’t kidnapped or forced there against my will. I was absolutely choosing it. And it’s important to note that regardless why this particular relationship came to an end, while I was in it I was really happy. I was very much in love. At the time, it wasn’t the kind of thing where everyone told me I was an idiot for being with him, or where I obviously knew I was settling but couldn’t make myself leave. It was a good, real thing that I very much believed in, fought hard for and was committed to no matter what.

 

But even still, I remember so clearly this feeling- this fear that started to overcome me. I wondered if I would ever try living in Europe like I always said I wanted to. If I would travel to the countless places that I wanted to see.  If my life would be the series of big, beautiful adventures like I wanted it to be. I felt so anxious and far away from it all as I laid in bed- my anxious heart going crazy inside my still body. 

 

What I don’t remember is how I managed to suppress the panic that I began to feel that day. I don’t know how the memory buried itself deep inside of me for several months before things ended and even longer after we had split. I'm assuming I shrugged it off, telling myself I was being dramatic and convinced myself I was living a plenty full life. But what I do know is that what I felt in Cinque Terre is exactly what I was desperately longing for that day as I laid in bed.

 

Cinque Terre made me feel completely alive. The energy in the streets was buzzing with excitement. Everything from the buildings to the people were bright and full of life.  Everything around me was fascinating and delicious and full of wonder. It was uncharted territory and “pinch me- I must be dreaming”. It was right where I knew I was supposed to be. 

 

Please know that this isn’t a soliloquy about how happy I am to finally be free from such a terrible relationship. Because that’s not how it ended. Like I said- I was very happy. And regardless of it's disappointing ending or continual aftermath, my intention here isn’t to trash talk it. Because as much pain as it brought me, it also brought me a lot of valuable lessons that I’ll carry with me. And sure, sometimes I still believe things could have been different or struggle with how everything ended or wonder why I am where I am now. But my hope in sharing this story is simply to reiterate that while we don’t always get to chose what happens to us, we do get to choose how we respond. And so I’m going to keep leaning into these dreams that are on my heart and stuff my life full of all the wonder that God intended for it to have. I'm going to choose to remember that God's plans are always better than the ones I have in mind. And I'm going to choose to be the fullest version of myself possible- not holding anything back. 

 

I hope that wherever you are in life, you’ll choose the same. I hope that if you feel that tug, or hear those voices that you don’t shut them out. Because you weren't meant to run and hide from who you really are and what’s deep in your heart. You were meant to embrace it and chase after it unapologetically. 

 

 

 

As cheesy as it may sound, that day in Cinque Terre reminded me that life can be as bright and radiant and beautiful and colorful as everything that I saw around me. That the road ahead can be exciting even when it's unknown if we do more of the things that we were designed to do. 

 

To put the cherry on top of the day, two backpackers sat next to me on the train as I was leaving Monterosso and headed towards Levanto. They stared at the map in their hands for a few minutes before one of them looked up at me. “We have no idea where we are right now” he laughed. “But who knew getting lost could be this damn beautiful?"

 

I’m learning that God will often use our disappointments to give us something that’s better than our dreams. Sometimes he takes away our happiness so he can give us exuberant joy that radiates from the inside out. And when we get so stuck on something that's good, we shortchange both God and ourselves from letting him do the absolute best in our lives. 

 

My life looks so different right now than I ever thought it would, but God hasn’t stopped showing up. He hasn’t stopped blessing me. And I know that there’s only more where this came from. 

 

Adventure is out there. But you won’t find it curled up in the arms of what’s comfortable. You have to get out of bed. You have to get lost in those uncharted places, and sometimes they're really scary. You might even have to lose something you think is incredibly good. But take heart and know that what you'll find is greater than anything you could have ever dreamed up on your own. Because God created you for an extraordinary life. And He doesn’t want to give you even the tiniest sliver less than that. 

Being still on bastille day

France has been someplace I've dreamt of visiting for years, and I was thrilled to learn that my first day I'd ever spend there was on Bastille Day (if you're not familiar- just think France's version of the 4th of July). When we arrived, we strolled through the cobblestone streets past stunning cathedrals. We stumbled upon local shops where I bought lavender soaps to bring home to my friends. We ate decadent macaroons that make me drool just thinking about. We walked along the port where hundreds of boats were tied up as the locals set up for the firework display that evening. The people there spoke little to no English, so we struggled through conversations when ordering lunch or purchasing rosé.

 

It was a wonderful day, but the most memorable part of my Bastille Day wasn’t my time on shore like I anticipated it would be. It was what happened just now on the ship before I came inside to write this blog before bed. 

 

I won’t get to publish this post until this moment has long passed, because I’m currently sailing somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea between Marseille and Cinque Terre. I could publish it now if I really wanted to. The boat has internet. In fact, it has endless things to fill my time: wine and casinos and Broadway shows and pools. There's even Michael Kors and Kate Spade stores on the boat (because God forbid I decide I want a new purse and not have a place to buy it for an entire week). It’s honestly overwhelming that in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, a place that should feel remote, I instead find myself able to zip line, play putt-putt or watch an ice skating show. So after dinner I opted to have a drink with my dad on the deck before heading back to the balcony of my stateroom. And then, I sat outside with a glass of rosé and watched the sunset instead.

 

We love distractions, don’t we? Not just on cruise ships, but in every aspect of life. We watch TV shows. We follow sports teams. We text people we’re not that interested in to avoid feeling alone. We browse through our social media feed for hours, flip mindlessly through magazines, or become a slave to Netflix. The options of activities we can engage in are endless, and we choose them practically all day everyday just to remain preoccupied. We're uncomfortable sitting still without something to do. We call it unproductive or boring, but I think that really we don’t know what to do if we’re not looking at another face, or another screen. 

 

So tonight I didn’t let my mind wander to thoughts that preoccupy me at home. I didn’t let myself scroll through all the pictures I’d taken so far (I left my phone inside altogether to avoid the temptation). I didn’t let myself try to plan my future or reminisce about my past. I just watched the waves dance and seagulls fly alongside our boat while the sun disappeared over the south of France. I was still. 

 

Why is this so hard for us to do? Why is it so rare? I for one, know that when I’m still God starts to reveal the things he wants me to change. He shines a light on the stuff that he wants me to do that sounds really scary. The stuff that I alone don’t know how to do. The stuff that requires me to surrender completely and depend on him.

 

It’s easy to run from these feelings by staying distracted. Because staring them in the eyes is scary. Actually, when you start to notice that God is moving you in significant ways, it's pretty terrifying. As someone who’s had her fair share of disruption already this year, more movement and change isn’t exactly what I would ask for. While there has been incredible beauty that’s been born out of the discomfort I’ve experienced, I’d be lying if I claimed that because of it I now suddenly welcome all change. That I’m totally okay with continuing to leave what’s familiar, or what I love, or what I know to embrace the unknown and follow where God is leading me. 

 

No. Instead, I shamefully find myself still clinging on to the bits and pieces of the life I saw myself living. I try to pretend that it only has to be a little different, not a completely new thing. I barter with God the way I did with the Spanish vendors selling fans on the streets of Barcelona, hoping to land on a deal that's as close to what I think I want as possible.

 

"Okay fine God." I tell him "I’ve wrapped my head around this curve ball I've been thrown, but that doesn’t mean I have to change EVERYTHING about my plans, right? Can’t l keep SOME of my security blankets? Can’t SOMETHING work out the way I had it all planned? Does the “perfect” life I saw myself living really have to be a completely different life altogether?"

 

This is what happens when I’m still. These are the questions that surface- the fears that arise. And I realize that the answers I find usually aren't the easy ones that I hope for. When I’m distracted, it’s easy to avoid. It's easy to pretend I didn't hear. But when I'm still, it all comes bubbling up. And God reveals the stuff that scares me. The possibilities that require a ton of uncertainty and room for failure before there's any hope of a happy ending. 

 

But I wouldn't trade tonight for all the lovely distractions in the world. Sure, I love watching The Bachelorette with my girlfriends or scrolling through my Instagram feed countless times a day (you do it too- don't lie). But being still is when the good stuff happens. It's when I find myself weeping in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea because I'm afraid and full of hope and excited and unsure all at the same time. It's when I realize how things really are and what they're capable of being. Being still allows me to hear who God is calling me to become and what he's calling me to do with my life. 

 

So ignore the text. Skip just one episode. Respond to the email tomorrow. But whatever you do, don't miss the chance to be present. To be in this moment where you are right now. Not stuck in yesterday. Not racing ahead into tomorrow. And not escaping to some fantasy that doesn't even exist. Be here. Be still. And be willing to listen to what God has to say. Because even if it's scary, I promise you want to hear it.