Taking back Sundays – and October

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A few Sundays ago, my friend asked me to run errands with her. I had nothing better to do, so I agreed to go.

My one stipulation was that I was hungry, so we had to get lunch. So we did. We went to a German restaurant I had never been to before and ordered sandwiches and beers and sat outside and talked until our food came, and then we ate. And by the time we finished eating, my friend had gotten emails back from the bike ads she had responded to and it was time for us to go look at bikes. So then we looked at only one bike and it was a great fit so she handed over the cash, and then we drove back to her house.

This may not seem like an exciting day at all, but as recent graduates of UNC Chapel Hill, we thought it was incredible – we spent a Sunday doing what we wanted, when we wanted.

We had lived together in college along with six other girls, and Sundays consisted of running around all day long and when we weren’t running from activity to activity, we crammed in as much school work as we could. And then we stayed up late trying to get it all done and then woke up Monday morning already exhausted, beginning what promised to be a busy week.

As my friend and I talked that day we ran errands and ate lunch together, we both agreed that this new pace of life was nice. If Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest, we were doing much better than we had the past four years. And it felt great.

Then last Sunday we biked to downtown Durham from my new apartment, a round trip of 15 miles. We sat on the grass in a park and then found a little café and ate muffins and drank sodas before we turned around. And we decided to name this little tradition of doing fun things on Sundays ‘Taking Back Sunday,’ because that’s what it felt like we were doing and because it had absolutely nothing to do with one of my favorite middle school bands.

Now Sunday after Sunday stretches in front of us, and we can do whatever we want on those Sundays.

Sometime last weekend, before the bike ride, a more sudden revelation hit me. I realized that it was October.

I had known that – I have a calendar chock-full of appointments and memorized several important dates this month. I knew it was October. But not once did I appreciate that it was October.

Pop culture might be screaming at me that loving October is basic, but I love October. It’s my favorite month. I grew up in Florida, where there’s no such thing as temperature change, let alone the explosion of color that happens around this time of year when you get further away from the Equator. I moved up to North Carolina for college in 2010, so this is only the fifth October I’ve gotten to experience in a place where that means something different than June, July or August.

I love the crisp air, I love the pumpkin patches and haunted houses, I love the color change maybe most of all. I have favorite trees and I distinctly remember how happy walking home along my gold-and-red-tinted street made me feel this time last year. I don’t love pumpkin spice lattes, but I do love pumpkin pie and candy corn and chili and more of an excuse to brew a hot cup of coffee for no reason.

And I love how people seem to be a little bit happier and more excited. They do things together like go to the fair or organize outings to a haunted something-or-other and they plan what costumes to wear to at least three different events. October just seems to be a little bit contagious.

But with November right around the corner, it hit me all of a sudden that this year, I had forgotten to love my fifth-ever October. Somehow, the end of the month was sneaking up on me and all of my favorite things will soon change as time rolls right along.

I had forgotten to love October because I was too busy remembering to worry about things that were either beyond my control or I couldn’t handle with faith. And so by focusing on everything I was discontent with and everything I wanted to happen in the future, I had failed to be present in everything good that was waiting for me to enjoy it.

It feels like I have an infinite number of Sundays left to take back. But I only have a few days left of October, and then it’s gone.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to assume life is at its peak a certain month. November will hold just as many occasions for me to look at my glass as half empty or half full. And hopefully I will do a better job seeing it as half full.

But this Sundays-versus-October thing highlights an important distinction between ways we can approach life: we can either see it as an ongoing event, opening the possibility of taking any given moment for granted, or we can see it as something finite, with value laced in between each and every second.

It would be very easy for me to view several time periods of my life as wasted – periods of emptiness in between seasons of life with significance, or that I just liked better.

And maybe that’s fine – if life is infinite or if I live to be 100 years old, what is a couple weeks or a few months in the grand scheme of all of that?

But what if a couple weeks turns into three or four months, or what if I am still discontent in certain areas when my season of life does change, or what if I actually don’t live to be 100 years old? Then what?

I recently joined a small group and my first time attending, we talked about what salvation is. We used a lot of different metaphors, but one that stuck out to me is that of an appetizer versus the main course. The speaker using the metaphor told a story of a time he skipped an appetizer to save room for the main course, only to find out shortly thereafter that what he thought had been the appetizer was the main course.

So is this not the challenge of life? To see all of the ups and downs – especially the downs – as still being the main course?

I think to do that, you have to have faith that it all means something other than the day-to-day, that there is an underlying story that is overflowing with purpose behind the mundaneness of our everyday lives.

You have to believe that it is all going to be okay despite the ups and downs and that everything will work out in the end. And that it will more than work out – it will be good.

As someone who struggles with finding personal significance outside of achievement, I am working on seeing life as a continual main course. But the beautiful thing is, if it’s continual, I get to wake up tomorrow with a second chance.

Luckily, tomorrow is still October. And even when tomorrow isn’t October, it is still a day full of potential to love and be loved; to give and to receive, to create and to refine. Our lives mean so much more than society tends to tell us they do. And they mean so much more than we let ourselves believe that they do.

So I will go to bed tonight with the goal of taking back tomorrow – and Sunday, and October – and with the goal of seeing life as the best carb-and-lobster-loaded pasta dinner, regardless of circumstance.

The girl who forgot who she was

Last year, I watched the situation go from bad to worse; I sometimes too hesitantly, sometimes too aggressively voiced my concern, and then painfully retreated when my words fell on deaf ears and my blinded friend continued to be mistreated by a man she thought she loved.

He told her who she was. In one breath, he told her he was the only one who knew her, who appreciated her in all of her beauty and uniqueness; and in the next, he told her the ugly things he knew she was afraid of hearing. He ever so slowly whispered the lies into her ear that would estrange her from the truth and convince her she needed to be who he said so that she wouldn’t be what she feared. She lost touch with reality as it became buried under the weight of his words. And so she forgot who she was.

I didn’t always know; I, too, was fooled for a while, so in a way, I understood. But romance can blind in ways that friendship can’t, and the veil was removed in time for me to see just how far things had gone – too far to go back without consequences.

Consequences there were. Months later, after a nasty breakup, I came home in time to see his words’ ruin while it was still aflame. She cried and cried, tears falling in a little puddle on her bed as she sat and wondered aloud how she let it all happen. She wondered how she had thought that was what she deserved and said she needed to figure out what that meant.

I told her she knew who she was; she had just forgotten for a little while.

I have another friend who likes a boy. He is dating someone else, but chases my friend anyways, and she lets him. She has liked him for too long not to, she says. She puts up some walls and barriers, but at the end of the day they come crashing down when she gives in and lets him catch her.

I told her she deserves better, she just doesn’t know it right now.

I meant what I told both of them. My first friend has been consumed by the truth of her belovedness, her intrinsic worth as a human being made by the Creator and the uniqueness of the role she plays among those she lives alongside. This truth was just overshadowed for a little while.

But my second friend doesn’t know. Deep down, I see it. The messages of worthlessness she receives from him are not the only destructive ones she believes, and so she latches onto what feels like love in the stolen moments he gives to her. She doesn’t yet know how loved and valued she is. But I hope that one day, she will.

Human beings are made to be communal. At our core, we yearn to be known, and to be loved anyways. We desire unity with one another and are well aware that our imperfections disrupt this. So we hide them, and we hide from one another so that our flaws remain undiscovered.

Or when we stumble across that person who knows us and thinks we’re wonderful anyways, we latch onto them. We want to hear it again and again. We want to be wanted, so much that walking away becomes nearly impossible.

I think we do have a responsibility to filter the messages we believe. Choosing to believe that I was intentionally made to be known and loved is one of the hardest things I do, but also the greatest source of life I know.

But I think our vulnerability to the message we receive from other people means we have a responsibility to one another.

There is nothing that spurs me onward like knowing someone believes in me. At the precipice of giving up or giving in, it takes only one set of hands to pull me away from the edge by saying they love me, they know I can do this, they know who I am. It takes one ear to listen to my pain, my shame, my hidden hopes or dreams. And it takes one mouth to tell me the truth when I have forgotten it myself.

So if we’re all parts of one body, maybe we should live our lives looking for the moment our function is needed. Or maybe when Paul wrote that we are all a part of the body of Christ, he didn’t mean that our role is static; maybe some days we pass someone who needs a hand to pull them back home, but other days it’s someone else who needs an ear to open up to or a friend who is looking for a mouth to speak the words they need to hear.

Or maybe, on other days when we’re trying to be a mouth but someone we care about isn’t listening, that’s the day we need to be the heart that holds onto hope or the knees that hit the ground praying or whatever body part is strong enough to keep loving anyways.

I think a lot of the world’s brokenness stems from the fact that we don’t know how to love one another and live communally despite having been made to desire that kind of life. And I don’t know, theologically, at what point grace makes up for this, but I do know that our shortcomings have great impact when directed at other people. We have the ability to take what was supposed to be beautiful – lives lived as a body – and wreck it with our actions or words.

But I do know that at some point, grace steps in. It lends a hand, an ear, a mouth, and a lot of times, grace has a face and is a tangible manifestation of the One who gave us a heart. Grace lets us experience love that looks a lot like a friend in the right place at the right time – or, a friend who put everything aside to go the distance when we are not in the convenient place at the easy time.

It is grace that tells us of the love we deserve because it is grace that makes us deserve love in the first place. And if you know that, it’s worth telling someone whether they believe you or not, because one day – if they break up with their boyfriend or climb to the top of a mountain during sunset or go to some camp to have the best week of their life – they might.

A story about a forest

IMG_0652Last weekend, seven out of eight of the girls I lived with my senior year of college met back up in Chapel Hill to say goodbye to one of us, who was leaving for Spain for nine months to teach English.

One by one, we all trickled in to reform the group. Some of us had seen each other recently; for others, it had been months. But none of us still live together; none are still in college, and all of us have moved on with our stories.

A lot changed in my life over the summer, but that change was dwarfed by the difference in the group as a whole. Maybe it takes distance to notice how rapidly life moves; maybe it’s just post-grad, I’m not sure. But regardless, we were not the same seven girls that said goodbye to our house and each other four months ago.

Some of this change was outward and obvious, and we all knew it. We knew that one of us had broken up with her boyfriend and one had gotten a boyfriend; we could tell that another of us was sick and rapidly losing weight, and yet another had just celebrated her sister’s wedding and still another had become an aunt. Other change was inward and had to be expressed.

But the interesting thing is that life seems to have chapters, and getting together with my former roommates seemed to prove that. We were not the same characters we had been as we graduated college.

For whatever reason, it seemed that life after exams and road trips and goodbyes had only gotten harder, whether we expected it to or not. We might have had our own, different monsters whispering lies into our ears, but they were all monsters just the same.

But for a weekend, a day, a morning, as we sat around a kitchen table and shared about life, those monsters went away or at least were overshadowed. We told each other’s demons to be quiet, and they listened.

There’s a few sentences from a book I’m reading, the meaning of which resonates in my head over and over again – He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.

We were a forest, and not because we were in the same place at the same time for a weekend; it was because we lived together for a year, and lived in such a way that people think we were a little crazy. We had Bible study together weekly, had house meetings to make plans and address conflict and served together both inside and outside of the house.

We did our best to know each other and be known; not in a shallow sense, but in a deeper way than any of us had experienced before. And not in that summer-camp way – in the real way, where you drive each other a little nuts and disagree and hurt one another, but choose to love one another anyways.

And so the forest grew because our lives were intertwined; the branches of a few lone trees encircled one another and formed a canopy that allowed for life to flourish underneath. And when we reconvened last weekend, our individual stories were only the continuation of the stories we lived together, and so every development felt familiar and like we were still just living the next chapter of each other’s lives.

If I have learned anything since leaving that house, it’s that most people live the story of a tree. They wake up in their own bed each morning, put on the pot of coffee and drive alone in their car to work. They work to accomplish justified, but relatively self-centered ambition and then engage in either leisure or survival activities when they finish working for the day. They wonder what they will become, where their lives are heading, who they will marry, how much money they will make and what their friends will think of them in five years.

Even if you come from a forest, it’s easy to become centered on the tree. In only four months, my story became a story about me.

I came home thinking the hard part of this particular chapter of life was over for it to only intensify and become more difficult. Suddenly, the noble idea of living for the forest seemed less practical than focusing on the tree.

I think God knows that we will grasp onto the things that make us feel better or safer. Knowing that, I think he takes those things away at times for the sake of writing us a better story.

I think God wrote conflict into my story to remind me about the forest. In the midst of a lot of waiting and indecision, he showed me that really, the choice I had to make was whether to live in a self-centered way or one that is more about other people.

I figured out what it means to be a tree in a story about a forest. And once you figure that out, all that’s left is being brave.

Deep down, we know that our stories are not supposed to be about ourselves. A few nights ago I met up with a once-homeless man I met my junior year of high school at a weekly feed. Seven years later, we still keep in touch.

He is by no means wealthy, but he’s no longer homeless. He holds a steady job deejaying and promoting for a strip club, where he tries to be a friend to the girls working, girls he describes as fragile. A few months ago, he attended his son’s high school graduation in Texas and a few days ago, he became a grandfather.

If our stories were about ourselves, we would be so much more limited in the roles we could play and the choices we would make. But this man knows he’s not living a story about a tree.

After seven years of a role defined by his poverty, this man and I drank sodas together at a restaurant. The waitress brought one check.

But this time, he pulled it towards himself. He pulled out six crumpled one-dollar bills, smoothing them out and placing them on top of the tray with the receipt.

“I can’t believe I’m buying you a sprite,” he said, almost shaking with pride.

And I let him, because everyone in the forest needs each other. And if we admit that our limbs are tangled and our roles reversible and our paths intertwined, we start to live a story that’s worth telling.