Are Your Relationships Up On Blocks?

Along with our sweet tea, SEC football, and good manners, in the South we also have an affinity for lawn ornaments.  These can range from the occasional flamingo, the weeping angel statues you’ll find in gardens, or my favorite eyesore- the car up on blocks.  I’m not sure why you will see so many cars up on blocks here in the South, but I like to think that it tells us a lot about the person that lives in the residence.  When I see a car up on blocks I have a few thoughts about the person who owns that car, and things that might be true about him or her.  Cars can be a lot like people, and symbolic of relationships.  Some cars can be members of the family and some even have names.  A few questions come to mind when I see a car up on blocks.  Is it fixable?  Is it worth it?

Cars aren’t meant to work forever.  However, if treated properly, they can last for a long time with maintenance.  If a car isn’t maintained, much like a relationship, it will break down and it will not be usable.  When a malfunction occurs it could be something simple, but odds are, if the car is up on blocks than it is definitely a problem much more complex.  Most of the time before a vehicle completely breaks down there are a lot of signs that something has gone wrong.  There might be a little symbol in your dashboard, or there could be a noise you hear when you are running the roads.  Relationship symbols and sounds are a little different when they are signaling trouble, but they are there nonetheless.  Communication is usually the key to both the breaking of the relationship, and also whether or not it gets fixed.

Signs your relationship are headed for a breakdown are easy to spot.  While oil in a car is necessary, the relationship equivalent of oil is communication.  It is the one thing that can help keep everything running smoothly.  As long as communication is open and honest, there is hope to keep your engines running.

Another sign your relationship is headed for a breakdown is the same as if we were talking about a car.  Sometimes, with little warning, something breaks. Something changes. It could be circumstances, it might be something deliberate.  With a car it doesn’t matter if someone cuts your brake line,or someone let the air out of your tire, time is of the essence in figuring out what it wrong and getting it fixed.  The same can be said of most relationships. Getting to the problem is half the battle, but fixing the problem can be the most tricky.

Which leads me to what happens when something breaks? When a breakdown occurs, one thing is for sure.  It won’t fix itself.  With relationships, because there is more than one person involved, this is a complex situation.  In order for it to function properly it is not as simple as replacing a malfunctioning part.  The process can take a long time.  Also, there is the risk that it might never be fixed. Not everything is fixable.

When something has gone wrong you can respond in one of a few ways.  You can try to fix it yourself, take it into the shop, or you can rely on a friend to help you.  As a last resort the car might be beyond fixable, and therefore you might have to make a bigger decision than you first planned.  In rare instances, a car might end up on blocks until you can decide what direction to go in.  Restoration, trading it in, scrapping it, and just letting it sit there are all things that could happen to a car that is in need of assistance.  When a relationship runs into trouble, the options are very similar.

Restoration is the first option.  When a car is a wonderful piece of machinery and it could be worth much more fixed, people will choose to restore the car.  It will require much time, hard work, and probably money, but when they finish what they started, it will be something to be enjoyed for years to come.  Sometimes restoration is a wonderful option in relationships too.  Sometimes with a little tender love and care an old beat up relationship can seem new as long as both parties are committed to the process, and it will be a process.

You can trade a car in, and sometimes that is truly the best option. Maybe you aren’t attached to the car emotionally, and the best thing to do is to just replace it with a new car.  Getting a new car can be exciting and fun.  The same is true with a new relationship.  If the commitment isn’t there, maybe the best option is to get a new one.

Sometimes you don’t need the car, and you can just scrap it.  If it doesn’t work anyway, it’s a great option.  You might not need to replace the existing car, but you know holding on to it isn’t the best thing to do.  This is also true about relationships.  Maybe you are better off single for the moment, or maybe you just need some time to figure things out.

Lastly, you could just let it sit there.  This is the option I refer to as putting a car up on blocks.  This particular choice makes me wonder more than the other options.  Letting something sit there with no progress toward the greater good also means that there will be negative consequences.  Things rarely just sit and don’t get worse.  When a car, or a relationship, is up on blocks it’s not going anywhere, and there are usually no plans for it to go anywhere.  So, why keep it? Sometimes it is the sentimental reasons that make us reluctant to let go.  Maybe a lot of firsts happened.  Maybe you just aren’t ready to have a final decision.  Maybe you don’t know how to fix it, and you are waiting on something to happen to guide you in the right direction.  Perhaps you just don’t have the time to devote to fixing it, but you don’t want to let it go just yet. Whatever the reason, when I found myself pondering this recently, I found myself judgmental of those I knew with those kind of relationships. Then I realized I was in possession of a few relationships up on blocks myself.

I decided that I had been holding on to things because I was scared of letting them go.  I was scared because I wanted to keep them so much, I didn’t care if they hurt me.  For a long time it was worth it to not say how I felt because I wanted to protect someone that meant everything to me, but I knew that in their eyes, it was me that was up on blocks.  The truth is as human beings we are worth the best life we can lead.  It may not be what we want, but maybe things will find their way to make them okay.  So if you are reading this and someone is not choosing you, then choose yourself.  You choose  you, because you are worth it.  A good friend of mine has a dream car I’ve never heard of, but that means there is someone out there for everyone.  You are someone’s dream. It might not always be perfect, but you deserve something amazing.

A relationship is not a trophy.  It’s not a merit badge we wear with our accomplishments.  It’s how we treat another human being , and they in turn translate that into having value to you. You are essentially letting someone know you love them when you are investing in your maintenance. When you invest in a person, you should get a return on your investment.  The value of a car that is being worked on rarely goes down, and the same could be said about most relationships. But if for some reason you are pouring money into the car equivalent of the Money Pit, and you love it with all your heart, but it will never transport you anywhere again, please ask yourself why you are doing that.  At the end of the day, you aren’t going around in circles, you are going nowhere. We all know that it is rare that a car up on blocks ever actually makes it off.  Luckily, here in the South, with a little kudzu we can consider them yard art.

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DisembARKing

I can’t imagine a situation where the best thing to do is to send a flood, or any disaster, to destroy an entire world. I understand sometimes our lives are in drastic need of reshaping, and massive amounts of destruction are needed to right some wrongs. In order to build anything worth having, sometimes a little excavation is in order.

Surviving a disaster is hard work. Your faith is tested, and your hope is frail. I’m sure when Noah started building his ark he felt like a different person by the time he stepped off on to dry land again. After all, his whole world has changed. Nothing was the way he left it. His life was completely different, and he had to start all over again. Remnants of his former life were the people close to him and the memories of what used to be.

Just building the ark was hard work. Noah had the opportunity to prepare and get used to the idea that his life was going to change. When my son was moving from 1st grade to 2nd grade he loved his teacher so much. He said goodbye to everything in the classroom the last day of school. He knew it was the last time he would see the room exactly like that. What a gift it is to know you are saying goodbye! Humans are professionals at denial. We live in states of it, swim in it, and drink from fountains of it when we just aren’t ready to admit reality to ourselves just yet. I think of denial as our brains way of easing our hearts into what it knew first anyway. Noah had years to prepare. Typically, humans don’t get that long at all. We might get clues our lives are going to change, but odds are when an external force decides to change our world for good or bad we aren’t going to have time to build an ark.

Not everybody made it onto the ark. I’m sure Noah had a lot of friends that he figured out pretty quickly weren’t going to make it into his new life. When it’s time to clean house some people aren’t ready for the change. What a big disaster does tell us is who our real friends are. Noah might have endured a lot of hurt and ridicule before he got on that ark, but that is not specified. Noah’s friends didn’t just delete him off Facebook, unfollow him on Instagram, or stop sending him Snapchats. They died. That is an extreme example, but when a disaster happens in our lives, our friends seem to drop off the face of the earth too. It’s not any less sad to lose a friend to death as it is to indifference.

Enduring the storm isn’t easy either. The storm is real. The storm is loud. As it rages, you are changed. You’ll never be the same person again as you were before the storm. There are days you feel used to the rain. Why would it not be raining? It feels as though it’s supposed to be that way. Some days you start wondering if the storm is making you crazy. After a while you start wondering if the sun will ever come out again.

After the rain stops, it isn’t back to normal. You don’t come out of a storm the same way you were. You just might not recognize yourself. Something happens when you realize it isn’t raining. You allow yourself some hope. You’ve been on this “ark” surrounded by the wild animals of thoughts you have endured. You’ve listened to them day and night. Some gave birth to new thoughts. Some left enormous piles of waste. All were necessary in order to start over after the storm. Without the animals along for the trip the storm wouldn’t have changed us to help us survive what happens next.

That brings me to what happens next, and honestly I have no idea. I know that today I got an olive branch back when I sent out that dove. That branch does not just symbolize life, it is new life. It is hope. It is symbolic of what is to come, and I know whatever it is will be better than what I lost in the storm.

Cardboard Boxes May Contain Feelings

Yesterday I packed up all of the things I had kept in the classroom I had been in since September and took them home. After spending most of the year in someone else’s chair, I didn’t have a ton of stuff to carry out, and it all fit neatly in one box. I say it fit neatly, but actually it was the heaviest box I’ve ever carried a long distance. Now, here comes the dumb part. I got a bruise carrying this box.

I know you are thinking it could have been avoided, and you would be correct. I have 2 rolling carts that were parked in the hallway, and either one would have done the job. I would have had to bring back the cart though, and I wasn’t prepared for that. See, I was crying as I was leaving. After a day of training with some amazing people, I didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. I didn’t feel my work was done, and yet it was for the moment. I had to leave. I wanted to make a quick exit. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry.

On the way out of the building I saw 3 people. They all offered to help me. I refused each one of them. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I have a few reasons. (None of them are really good.)

1.That box was my stuff. It was stuff I had brought into the building at one point. I should bring the stuff back out. I am responsible. If I had a coffin full of stuff to carry out, it would be my own fault.

2. I wanted to feel like I could carry my own stuff. If I brought it in, I should be able to carry it out. It was ONE box. If I couldn’t make it to my car with one box, wouldn’t that make me a loser? It sure felt like it would. Allowing someone to help me would cheapen my small feat of making it through this school year intact.

3. I kept telling myself my car was not that far. Yes, I parked in the back, and it was farther than it would have been. Yes, I had to make it down a long hallway, a short hallway, across a courtyard, through a fence, and across a parking lot, BUT I am strong. I felt like I could do it because each step got me closer than I was.

So, with each step, I swear, this box got heavier. I shifted the box. I hugged the box. I put the box down a few times and readjusted. My brain knew the box was the same box, the same weight, and still just as awkward, but with each stop my hope renewed that this box was going to be in my car in just a few minutes! When I finally got there to the car as I placed the box in the backseat and sighed, I also felt like my arms were going to fall off. Then today, I see this bruise, and it figures.

What a great lesson! Emotionally I want to carry things on my own, and I want to feel that I clean up my own messes. This doesn’t mean a load full of feelings and emotions is not going to be too heavy to reasonably carry for long distances. It doesn’t mean it will be an easy trip. Having good friends to help us along the way is priceless. If you are carrying something heavy on the inside, those bruises are only going to heal with time, just like my arm.

When A Truce is Greater Than Friction

I love the Union and the Constitution, but I would rather leave the Union with the Constitution than remain in the Union without it.” – Jefferson Davis

April 9th, 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in the front parlor of a farmhouse in Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. This event set off the chain of surrenders that swept across the South, thus indicating the end of the Civil War.  This made me think about my own Civil War I fight every single day.

I’ve always enjoyed learning about The Civil War because I feel as though I walk around with a Robert E. Lee and a Ulysses S. Grant waging war inside me.  I fight against what my heart feels and my head thinks every single day.  Every once in a while they meet just like the real ones did and call a truce.  It can be for one hour, one day, or one week, but truces never last.  The Civil War continues on.  No one notifies the rest of the troops, so the battles never cease.

Robert E. Lee for me symbolizes the general for my heart.  Lee lived in the South, however  originally his desire was to see the Union intact.  He fought for the exact opposite on principle. My heart is the same way.  Because it is my heart, it tends to make decisions for me without bothering to ask my brain what the best plan would be, but my heart always has the best intentions.  After all, it is my heart. Lee lost the war, but what he really wanted was peace and harmony back.  Hearts are like that.

Ulysses S. Grant is symbolic of my brain.  My brain can make a deal with the Devil to make the March to the Sea happen and burn every metaphorical Atlanta on the way.  My brain is strategic.  It has excellent leading capabilities, just like U.S. Grant.  It has iron will.  Stubborn to a fault, my brain will argue with the strongest arguments it can come up with.  My brain is sometimes completely and utterly wrong. Does that mean my brain will stop spewing words out of my mouth faster than it can filter them? The answer is absolutely not.  Grant won the war, but there was a lot of collateral damage and Reconstruction took years.

Could the South have won?  Perhaps, but it doesn’t all boil down to leadership.  It comes down to decisions.  Some decisions the generals made, but other decisions were out of either general’s control and belonged to other people to make.  Many battles were fought prior to that surrender 150 years ago.  I’m sure there were several times Lee probably felt like the best thing to do was surrender.  Other times I’m positive Lee felt the best thing to do was fight as hard as he could for a cause he deemed worthy enough to die for.

Have you ever believed in something so much you’d be willing to die for it?  When your heart and your head agree on opposing sides and they both are willing to sink the ship to win the war, who wins?  Can there be a winner?  Is a truce within ourselves ever really a truce, or is it just a lie we tell ourselves to get us through another day so we can wake up the next day with enough energy to fight again?  There are always casualties of war, and sadly either way, it’s me going down with a fight.

Hanging It Up

There is nothing on my walls of my living room. I had never really thought about it until a friend of mine mentioned that the walls were bare at their place too. They too had gone through what I will call an unexpected loss of a long-term living situation. They said they couldn’t quite bring themselves to hang something up, but they weren’t sure why. That got me to thinking about what it means to hang something up on the wall.

When I moved out of the house I shared with my ex-husband I took a few of the wall hangings. They were things I loved or had bought specifically because I liked them, even though I knew they wouldn’t be his favorite. I had great intentions for those pieces, but so far 7 months after I moved out I still haven’t hung them up. Some are in storage, while others have sat right behind the couch mocking me as I chose not to hang them. I don’t have one picture displayed. What is wrong with me?

I thought about it and I think that while the walls around me are technically mine, I’m still possibly a little bitter that they are my walls.  These walls are not walls I had planned for myself. These walls were walls I was forced into moving into because of a situation. These walls are temporary. Does that make them less important? Does a temporary situation mean I shouldn’t hang things up to make this place mine? Hanging things up means coming to peace with what is my life in the now. I have to admit that my life looks nothing like what it did a year ago, and I have to be okay with that.

After confronting a lot of feelings, a nice hot bath, and a fit of rage and crying I think I am ready to accept my walls. My walls don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be my walls forever. But my home is my home. My life is different, and that doesn’t make it bad. What my home was missing in the bare walls is life. We live here, so my walls should have life. They should have life because I have a lot of life left.

So, tomorrow I will hang up something. It doesn’t all have to be done in one day. I will make this place mine, because for now, it is mine. It’s time to build something new, and to do that I need to live where there is life all around me. I’m going to hang it up.

Unapologetically A Human

Lined up across the room of my 8th grade literature class was every student waiting for their turn in the spelling bee. I was sweating bullets when I finally got my first word.  It was the first round, and I was so relieved when I heard my word.  Sugar.  I was so excited I quickly blurted out S-U-G-E-R.  I then promptly smacked myself in the face before the teacher had a chance to tell me I was wrong.  I knew I was wrong.  I heard it with my own ears. To say I felt stupid is the understatement of at least 3 decades. My first word in the spelling bee was also my last. The other kids went on spelling words for what seemed like forever while I sat cuddled up in my shame. I guarantee those kids don’t even remember that day, while it is marked in my history forever.

We all do dumb things.  We all get overconfident and immediately become righteously human in ways unimaginable seconds before. Moments of weakness remind us daily we are not deity, and we should have no such grandiose opinions of what we are capable of doing. To remove all doubt, I’ll admit that just this week I tripped over my own feet a few times, closed the door to teacher’s lounge on the principal I’m currently working for, had my car get stuck in gear and lurch forward in front of a group of new friends, and I called someone by the wrong name 4 times in a row.  Did I mention it is just Monday? So, my point is impressing people isn’t exactly a forte of mine.

We all want to belong.  That’s why we struggle with rejection from an early age.  It doesn’t matter if we are on the playground, in a classroom, or even at home with our siblings.  We strive to fit in.  We want to make people like us because it’s a part of what makes us human.  To be rejected on a basic level is devastating.  As children, those that reject us will be considered sworn enemies for a lifetime or until the next week when a different kid tells us we can’t play kickball, we are picked last for a team, or we are laughed at for not having the current cool item.

As nice as it would be, this doesn’t go away when we become grown ups.  We want to seem acceptable to our peers.  Some of us might want to be the funniest, the prettiest, the nicest, the best cook, the best party thrower, or even the best screw up, but we all want to be something to someone.  To be nothing to anyone says we are practically invisible and unimportant somehow.  As a fly on the wall at any water cooler scenario you could listen in to conversation to see that the basic need to not be rejected is still relevant and alive in any person.  Can some people generally not care?  Yes, I believe that is possible.  On a more specific note we all have people who we invest in their opinions more than others.  We will care about them, even if we don’t mind the herd’s point of view.

Lately I’ve been considering what happens to you after repeated rejection? What if the rejection is from the one person that has an opinion that matters to you?  I know what was true for me.  I started to tell myself stories. I made excuses for the person rejecting me.  I considered maybe the person didn’t like himself. Maybe he is hurting right now because of something that he is going through.  Or perhaps he is depressed. He had a poor situation growing up, so maybe that explained it.  Specific days of rejection I’d say to myself that he must have had a bad day at work. In general, I would hypothesize that perhaps he just didn’t value the same things I did.

As a result of all these stories I told myself something sinister happened.  The stories stopped being about the person who was rejecting me emotionally, and they started to be about me.  When the person I looked to for affection or affirmation didn’t have the reaction I was hoping for, I told myself I told the story wrong.  I felt like I was annoying them by needing attention in the first place, and just maybe I was too needy emotionally, and they deserved to be left alone instead of being bothered by me and my needs.  I felt like my narrative was uninteresting, and no one would want to hear about my day.  I questioned whether jokes were funny because he never laughed. It didn’t matter what excuse or reason I ended up telling myself for the day, the end result was the same. I felt alone, lonely, unloved, and unwanted.

Do you sometimes do dumb things?  Of course you do.  That makes us the humans we are.  If anything the stories that make us dorky or human should unite us and bond us.  We all have them, after all. Moreover, our stories are not important unless we tell them.  Our stories make us who we are, and we are wired to want to share, build community, relate, and communicate.  Relationships are tricky, but wanting to be accepted transcends age, gender, location, and whether we were popular as a young person.  There are people out there that want to hear your stories.  They want to invest in you.  They want to know about the time you spelled sugar wrong in a spelling bee, how you poured liquid soap into the dishwasher once and caused an evening of agony, and the time you took Benadryl right before a church service and couldn’t stop singing “I Feel Good” during the sermon.   If someone isn’t investing in you, don’t stop telling your stories. Tell the stories anyway.  Those that matter will adore them.  If they don’t, they just aren’t your people anyway.

Breaking Free of Silence

Silence can be an enjoyable thing or it can be a marinade of lonely mixed with apathy.  The first kind is found with old friends, a good book, or a hot bath.  The second kind was where I lived.

This Silence wasn’t characterized just by a lack of words.  It was a tangible entity enveloping all those that lived inside the house.  It settled first into the rooms, making them seem hollow,  then settled into the bones of the people that called that place home. Once it was there, even as an uninvited guest, it simply wasn’t willing to vacate, and Silence has a way of taking over.

Since the Silence isn’t just heard, it’s felt, those that dwell there try to fill it with other hollow things.  The one that created it will try the hardest to fill it up with electronic noise, which only serves to exacerbate it instead of filling it. The others try to fill it with comforting things like playing music, baking, talking to friends on the phone, or making plans with family.  All of those create temporary respite for those enveloped in the Silence.

Breaking free of the growing Silence, and it does grow, is complicated.  To get out you have to find the opposite of the Silence and try to replace it with those things.  Since the opposite of this kind of Silence is communication and relationship, this is a daunting task.  After all, Silence gave them a beating for months, possibly years, before they left for good.  Luring them back takes time and a lot of effort, and you have to pass the gatekeeper before they can get in.  The gatekeeper is the one that made Communication and Relationship leave in the first place.  If they can’t get past the gatekeeper, then there is only one other thing you can do.

Leaving Silence isn’t like leaving a person.  If you lived with it for years, then it has a habit of hanging around until you’ve made it clear it isn’t welcome anymore.  Silence is an optimist.  It will think that shadows of what you were in your former life will slowly become who are you in your new life, but this does not have to be true.  Now you are the gatekeeper, and you have the power to fill your new home with communication and relationship and finally be happy.  And when you are alone, and you have silence, it feels just like being with old friends, reading a good book, or taking a hot bath.

Not Quite Found, But Safe and Sound

When I was about 13 years old my friend Kelli and I decided to walk to another friend’s house.  It didn’t seem like that far of a walk, there was safety in numbers, and we thought we were adults. (We were really really wrong.) Really long story short, we got lost.  We thought we knew where we were. We had our landmarks, were in the woods, and after walking for at least 2 hours we never made it to our friend’s house.  The woods simply got the best of us that day.  To make matters worse just as I stated that things could not get worse the heavens opened and poured rain and we heard a sound of thunder.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this the last few months.  You think because you know your way around somewhere and you have landmarks,  you are safe from getting lost.  This is just not true.  I got lost on my way home this year, metaphorically speaking, and I felt like I knew exactly where I was going.  I felt like I had a plan on how to get there, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, the metaphorical rain started pouring from the sky.

Every little piece of us makes up the whole.  When we feel broken, we forget that even while we are broken, our parts are still there.  You can be broken and still be a whole person.  Sometimes we find the pieces of ourselves in the places we wouldn’t think to look, and for me the place I wouldn’t have thought to look is in the rear view mirror.  While I’ve been feeling lost I’ve come into contact with a few folks that I felt like had already come into my life and had gone out of it forever.  I think sometimes people are in our path to remind us of who we were before we got lost.  We all can use a reminder sometimes.

When my oldest child started middle school she joined  a club sponsored by my former 8th grade middle school teacher. She came home and said she wanted to join a club, and she told me the teacher’s name.  A few weeks prior to that the same teacher and I had a conversation at the front of the school on registration day.  This teacher played a huge part in why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.  I was a teacher’s aide for him in 9th and 10th grade during my study hall because the schools were right next door to each other.  I was allowed to grade papers, decorate the bulletin board with wild abandon, and help students if they needed extra help sometimes.  So, here I was, fresh out of a teaching job because my contract wasn’t renewed, and here he was reminding me of the things that caused me to want to teach in the first place.  I needed that reminder, and I’m glad to have crossed paths again. I’m blessed that now his legacy will extend to my child.  I picked up a piece of myself that day that I had neglected to think about in many years.

This week I was substituting my final few days  in Algebra 1 and my 7th grade homeroom and math teacher walked in the door.  She smiled a big smile.  She came straight over and hugged me, and said my name.  She said my name, and I hadn’t seen this lady in 22 years.  She was one of my favorites, but more importantly she was the first person that showed me what it meant to be in a middle school.  That was a scary time, but she helped me grow my confidence, and her sense of humor always made math fun.  I knew she was important to me, and she held relevance to my life.  But it was her that said my name first.  That meant somehow my life in her class hadn’t been forgotten.  After she left I found myself smiling the biggest smile and tearing up at the same time.  A teacher makes a huge impact, and to be remembered brightened my day.  It made me hope that one day, I will remember a student’s name I run across, even 22 years after they sit in a classroom with me.  It was just a moment to her, running across a long lost student, but I picked up another piece of me.

Some pieces of ourselves aren’t pretty.  Some pieces have doubts, confusions, hurts, anger, and failures.  It’s the rare person that can tackle those parts of us and not grow weary, but another person I knew from long ago came back into my life last year and did just that.  This friend is the reason I told my students in Algebra on the first day to be very nice to people this year because you never know if your friend that can help fight your worst battles in a few decades will be sitting near you in Algebra class.  Some people don’t just give you one piece of yourself back.  Some people hold up a mirror and make you see the whole person again.  You just can’t put a price on that.

Some words aren’t big enough.  Some words attempt to convey meanings, but never can cover exactly what you are trying to say.  Sometimes your heart is so full you can’t fully impart upon others the exactness of the spirit of your words. I have had moments in the past year that have helped me pick up pieces and decrease the amount of lost I feel.  I am surrounded by fantastic people.  Grateful doesn’t quite cover it, and even when you are still kind of lost, grateful feels pretty good.

Knock, Knock. Change the Lock.

Have you ever fumbled with your keys trying to get them into a lock and you couldn’t remember what the key even looked like?  You just had to try them all and hope for the best.  Once, I couldn’t get into my car.  I hit the button on my keyring on my automatic opener, but nothing.  I tried it a few more times because I thought there was no way the battery could be dead.  Still it did nothing.  Finally, I tried the key, and it didn’t even work.  There was a pretty big reason for this.  The car wasn’t mine.  It was identical to mine, but it belonged to my friend that had one the same make and model, and I was trying to let myself into hers.  Of course the key didn’t work, the lock wasn’t mine.

I spent years knocking on the door of a heart who never answered, and I ended up making my home on the welcome mat.  I was just optimistic enough to think that one day I’d finally pick the lock, hit the right combination, or be handed the key outright and I would finally see what made this person tick.  Some days I thought I was almost inside.  I had moments where I felt like I saw beyond the facade and beyond the day to day into something more real.  Conversations that were surface level ruled most days.  We discussed what we ate for lunch, what movie was being released on Netflix, who in the family was having issues, and then we’d hit this wall.  We couldn’t break through it, and I may never know why.

Trusting people is hard work.  Letting them see the you that most people don’t get to see isn’t easy because in order for this to happen you have to be vulnerable.  No one likes being vulnerable.  It carries risk, and the risk is rejection with a side of humiliation and a touch of unbearable pain.  So when someone lets you in, you should proceed with caution as though you are somewhere special.  Someone letting you in can happen in a matter of hours if you find someone that is a rare soul mate.  It can happen in days, months, or even years.  But there is a sad truth that some may never find out.  You can spend years with someone and never be handed the keys to their heart.  Their fences and walls may be up for even those most close to them, and maybe they just aren’t willing to risk it.

We lock our hearts up tight to protect us. We let some in and others seem to have their own roadmap once they get inside our hearts. But what I discovered is  there’s always the chance that someone is going to change the locks on you.  What happens then?  I had to change my perspective on this quite a bit.  What if there is a big reason you can’t get in? What if this lock wasn’t your lock to begin with?  What if the only way into the hearts with the highest walls  made of the toughest brick and stucco was from the inside out?  What if all those dead bolts they put up to keep people out of their innermost thoughts and feelings have to be unlocked willingly?  You have to deal with a reality that will make you pretty uncomfortable.  You were never meant to get in.  They didn’t choose to let you in, and they have their own reasons for that.  That lock isn’t yours to open.  Yes, it’s a hurtful thought, but either it’s yours and it won’t open from the outside, or it’s just not yours in the first place.

You can’t make someone let you in.  But when they do, make it count.  No one can live on a welcome mat forever.

The Town Was Paper, But The Memories Were Not

Once every blue moon I find a book that contains a page that requires more than one read in order to really let it sink in.  One of these books for me was John Green’s Paper Towns.  At first glance I didn’t have much in common with the main characters, but I think the heart of the story is relatable by most.  Who hasn’t felt misunderstood, lonely, and been full of uncertainty?  Who hasn’t questioned what is important in life? Who hasn’t questioned who really knew the real person beneath the masks we wear at school, work, and sometimes even home?  So, the main character finds himself at a crossroads: the end of high school.

“My locker was an unadulterated crap hole- half trash can, half book storage… I put it inside my backpack and then started the disgusting process of picking through a year’s worth of accumulated filth- gum wrapped in scraps of notebook  paper, pens out of ink, greasy napkins- and scraping it all into the garbage.  All along, I kept thinking I will never do this again, I will never be here again, this will never be my locker again…”

I hate things.  Given a book, a glass of sweet tea, and sunshine I’m pretty much set.  I have a fondness for highlighters, good pens, post-it notes, and things that make the air around me smell pretty.  I might be a bit of a snob about sheets, but if Egyptian cotton is my worst vice, I’m okay with that.  I hate clutter, unless it’s a books and important papers clutter, so I relate to this kid cleaning out his locker.  It’s exactly how I feel when I’m deciding what to bring with me to my new home after my divorce.  This kid is lucky; he only has a year’s worth of stuff to sort.  I find that I’m opening drawers and asking myself why this stuff is even in there every day.  Most of that stuff goes the way of the locker stuff.  Yep, it has gone right into the garbage. But even with my hatred of stuff, it’s weird thinking it is the last time I’ll be cleaning out that drawer.  It is the last time the cabinet will have my things in it.  I no longer inhabit this place.  This is not my home.

“And finally it was too much.  I could not talk myself down from the feeling, and the feeling became unbearable.  I reached in deep to the recesses of my locker.  I pushed everything-photographs and notes and books-into the trash can.  I left the locker open and walked away.”

I’ve faced this a few times, but mostly when it came to things that belonged to my kids, and I’m packing them thinking of when those items came into my life.  I might need a break after finding a binder of my daughter’s drawings or the outfit my son wore home from the hospital.  It’s not the items.  It’s what they represent.  The life I lived, and the things I felt were important enough to save invoke emotions in me that I can’t really dig deep enough to feel the enormity of every time they wash over me. That’s when I do one of two things, I either throw entire boxes of things away, or I just put the entire box into the move to my place pile.  Knowing memories are there and confronting them are two different animals. But, in the book, he leaves his locker open.  That’s where I differ from this character.  I am ready to close the door. Leaving it open is far more painful than closing this hall of pain I’ve been living in.

“And as paralyzing and upsetting as all the never agains were, the final leaving felt perfect.  Pure.  The most distilled possible form of liberation.  Everything that mattered except for one lousy picture was in the trash, but it felt so great.  I started jogging, wanting to put even more distance between myself and the school. “

The weird thing is the more I sort, decide to keep, and throw away the more I know I’m doing the right thing.  It feels so clean.  It feels so final and perfect.  Would I have been ready for this before right now?  No, I don’t believe I would.  It’s time.  In the midst of all the sadness, anger, hurt, and confusion is this freedom from the pain and lonely I’ve felt growing for years.  Might I be lonely anyway? Sure, but I don’t have to live amidst the lonely.  I don’t have to face each day attempting to get the attention of someone much more content with a glowing screen then a real person.  I don’t have to emotionally starve for conversation and affection in the presence of someone incapable of giving it.  So, I completely understand why this kid is not just walking away from school, but instead jogging.  Sometimes putting distance between you and something that hurts you is the start of the healing process.

“It’s so hard to leave- until you leave.  And then it is the easiest …thing in the world… Leaving feels too good, once you leave.”

Deciding to leave was much harder than the actual leaving process.  Deciding to leave requires hurting someone, and if you are a decent person hurting another person isn’t on your top ten list of fun ways to spend an evening.  In fact, with your empathy in play you can be downright miserable of your own accord only to have the misery of the person you are leaving exacerbate the problem until it’s almost unbearable.  The worst night of my life was spent when I finally gathered the courage to say what I needed to say, but it was also the best night, the most healing night, and the one I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Leaving a place when the time is right feels great.

“But then what?  Do I just keep leaving places, and leaving them, and leaving them, tramping a perpetual journey? …I had to tell them no, because I was closer than I’d ever been before.”

I never like to give up, but this time I feel like only good things are down the road.  Maybe it’s because I have a stronger dose of optimism from birth, but I believe things are going to be better.  I don’t expect miracles, but I expect progress.  A lot of times progress is its own reward.  I know I won’t make the mistakes I made again, and you can’t put a price on that reward.  I don’t leave, but I did leave.  My goal is to make sure I don’t have to leave again, but realistically we all leave.  We all grow and change.  We might not leave people behind each time, but we leave parts of us with every month that goes by.  Life is a perpetual journey.  The key is when we leave to be better, to love deeper, and to live instead of just exist.  I don’t want to just exist.  I don’t want to be the person that just phoned it in.  I want to be first in line to see what’s out there and take it on.  I’m ready for this.