We're all a bunch of signs

I saw him standing at a stoplight. There was a white poster in his left hand and a rosary in his right. He wore a hat to shield the sun. I couldn't see the front of his sign because his back was to me and my curious nosey self fidgeted in my seat, wondering what it said. I've seen plenty of folks holding signs. But the sheer fact I couldn't see his, made me want to park, get out of the car, and go take a look.

FOMO is real.

He turned when the light turned green.

"Is it a choice or a child?" That's all it said with a picture of a fetus.

I was impressed by this man standing all by himself in the hot sun. He didn't have a big crowd rallying behind him. He didn't even have a chair to sit down in when his legs got tired.

It made me want to write a sign too. Particularly now, as debates run rampant on the internet [I've learned to stop reading the comments].

I think my sign might say, "You are loved. Like, all of you. That bag of junk and mess you're carrying? He loves all of that."

Truth is, we all wear signs.

Some are more visible than others - things like mother, married, white. Those ones are easy to point out.

But what about the ones we don't wear written on a t-shirt or wrapped around our finger? The ones that run deep in our veins and are embedded in our story and history and experience.

Things like survivor, adopted, addict, lonely.

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Our church had a women's night a few months back. A chance to go beyond the weather and what you do, to the things that make your heart beat.

In all honesty, I was reluctant to go because small talk really drains me. I've never been so good at it. I get awkward and uncomfortable and way too emotional.

It's the reason I stopped asking "How are you?" in college because I always got the same answer, "Great!"

And maybe, more than half the time people really were great. But it made me empty and tired because we're not always great, we're not always good. So I changed the question. I started asking, "You doing okay?"

I have those three words to thank for showing up late to many classes senior year. I always left those conversations uplifted and encouraged and not so lonely.

Because some days, I wasn't okay and it scared me to think I was the only one.

Of all the parts of that night, the moment that stuck were the signs. Women held large poster boards, walked across the stage, turned to the audience and showed their sign.

"I had an abortion."

"I struggle with an eating disorder."

"I lost my child in a car crash last year."

"I have an anger problem."

The posters kept flashing, one after the other. A guitar played softly in the background.

These women ripped of the facade, giving you a glimpse into the deepest, darkest, most heart wrenching parts of their story. The facade we so often wear for protection, particularly at church. The very place we're told and tell others to come just as you are.

It had to feel like standing in front of a crowd completely naked while you give folks permission to point out the parts they don't like.

I remember such tension in my heart because I'd see a sign, look up at the woman's stoic face and think, her? I thought I had her all figured out.

We think we have folks figured out real quick. Sometimes, we'll judge way before an actual interaction. Simply by the way they order their coffee.

I remember wishing that we always wore a sign.

Even though there is a reason we don't divulge every little thing to every single person. But I couldn't help but wonder, would we be less inclined to judge? Less inclined to compare and choose jealousy?

Because we are all fighting a battle. Each battle is different and unique but each is heavy and significant. Each deserves someone to grab your hand and say, "Hey, I see what you're carrying. And even though my battle looks different than yours. I promise to fight with you and for you if you want."

We are all a bunch of walking signs.

And I want to be better at this friends. Because it's so easy to choose judgement. It's so easy to look another woman up and down and think we have her all figured out. That we know the threads that make her whole.

And I think all of this is heightened with the way our lives are compressed into pictures with captions and hashtags and filters.

But I don't blame social media for this. At our core, instragram or not, we'd still judge.

So maybe it starts with sharing your sign. Maybe it starts with celebrating the sweet and the bitter.

I'll go first.

I quit my job. I quit a full-time with benefits job to do something weighing on my heart to try and give in too. And that terrifies me because it feels so counter-culture. It feels wrong. It feels like I should constantly be striving for more, reaching up high, gaining a new title, striving for new benefits and perks. But there goes that ugly game of comparison again, you know?

And truth is, I hate quitting things. It makes me feel like I am letting people down. 

I quit for a lot of reasons. One was to try a new role in a profession I've felt pulled towards. Another was to provide more time, right here with you, in this space. And to some, this is just blank white space. But to all the writers out there, you know it's so much more.

It's where I find purpose and direction. It's where I find God. 

Some days I get scared that I made a huge mistake. While others, I feel so good and hopeful and filled up in a way I haven't in a very long time. Truth is, I've talked to God more in the past two weeks than I have the whole year. And He's stripping things away. He's helping this restless beating heart grow. He's making it less about me and more about Him. And that all seems worth it.

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Some days, things are really great. I'd rather choose joy and gratitude than heartache. But we can't deny the heartache.

And I think something happens when we share. When we turn our sign around and give folks a chance to read. Because chances are, there are words written on their sign too.

Words that need to be shared and heard and felt.

So, what would your sign say today friend? What might it look like to share that with someone?

xoxo

A letter to us

With currently working at a college and the semester coming to an end, it got me thinking about myself senior year.  My arms wide open and ready, but also trembling.  I couldn't help but write a letter. To the person I was then, who some days feels so far and different from the woman I am now and while others, feels exactly the same.

So this letter is to you college grad, but really, it's to all of us, it's to me, because we're all students - we're all learning how to patch up skinned knees when we fall and ask for forgiveness.  

We're all just trying to find our way.

Dear you,

You're okay.  You know that?  Yeah, you are okay.

All those answers you think you need to figure out - the answers to life's big, big questions - what I want to do, where I should go - you don't need to have those answers right now.

And if I am being really honest, you might still be asking those questions five years later at age 26. And, if I am being really, really honest, we might not ever have the answers to those questions.

Because life isn't one big question to figure out. It's a constant unfolding and folding of experiences, of heartbreak and job offers and coffee dates and choosing to wake up early to see the sunrise.

It's a mosaic portrait, the one where you stand real close and see lots of shiny, colorful tiles - blues, reds and yellows. And inch by inch, as you step back, a picture unfolds. And suddenly, you don't see each individual tile anymore.

You barely see them at all.

I know that seems crazy.  What, with everyone around you finding and landings jobs. With some folks having a great big plan already.

You don't have to have a great big plan.

Celebrate that the next step you take, might look different than everybody else. And you know what? That's a good thing.

Ask yourself, what is it you want, right now? Not what do your parents want or your best friend or even your significant other.  What do you want dear one? Because this is the time for that.

And to ask yourself that question doesn't make you selfish. Oh no, it's so far from that.

I wanted new community, a place to start fresh, a brand new beginning. I was tired of the person I was in college. I wasn't a bad person, I just grew tired of the charade I kept on. I felt like there were parts of me, way down deep, aching to break through and shatter whatever shell I was wearing and be free.

And I just couldn't do that somewhere folks knew me by name.

So I moved to a new state, to pour my heart into service I believed in. And I couldn't have asked for a better year.

Was it hard? Heck yes.

Did some days I want to be back in college, laughing in the dining hall, taking naps on the quad, living only a dorm room away from my dearest friends? Of course.

Heck, some days I still want that.

But you are brave and bold and courageous. You know that right?

There isn't a wrong choice here. This isn't a multiple choice test with one right answer. I know you've been taught that for a long, long time. But this time, there are many doors to walk through.

And for me, that was the hardest part of all.

And it still remains the hardest part.

Because for the first time, in forever, you don't have to do - anything at all. For so long, you had to take this class, pass this test, follow this procedure.

But you don't have to do that anymore.

I had a hard time swallowing, "you can do anything."  I know, that sounds awful. Shouldn't those words be sweet and romantic and hopeful?

But to me they were completely overwhelming. For me, a gal who can barely pick two at Panera without having a nervous breakdown, it felt like a test I couldn't pass.

A mistake I made, even before making a choice.

So I'm not going to say that to you. Even though you can. What I am going to say is pick a direction, just one, and start walking in it.

Don't remain motionless. Don't wait to do the thing you really want to do. Don't wait for the right person to do it with.

And be patient with yourself as you think things through, be kind to yourself, be gentle on your heart. It's not a race. It's not a race. 

There is never the perfect time to do the things you love. There will always be walls and discouraging words and barriers to hop over, to push through.There will always be bills, family gatherings to attend, weddings to be in, grandparents passing away.

You might not make it to everything.

I remember getting the call that my sweet, Irish grandmother passed away while I was working on a farm in Nicaragua. And that broke my heart y'all. I hated that I couldn't be there to hug my Dad, cry at her funeral, eat cake and drink tea to celebrate her beautiful life.

I wasn't there for any of it. I was on an island in another country that took a bus, a boat, two taxis and two plane rides to get too.

But God shows up in those moments, you know? A sweet man from Ireland and his wife came to work on the farm during that same season and I'll tell you, his voice and jokes and energy made being away not so hard. It made being away bearable. And that man helped me heal.

I hope you don't get sucked into making lots of money and working your way to the top. Because some days you're just going to have to do the dirty work that no one else really wants to do. And it's important work you know, really important. It counts. It matters. It plays a big role. I know it's hard to see that.

I can hear my Dad saying, "You aren't above any work. You just do it. You clean toilets and take out the trash, not because it's noble and good, but because it's the right thing to do. You aren't bigger or better than any of that."

I can also hear my Dad saying, as he reads this, "I said that?"

I hope you don't spend every hour scrolling through facebook and instagram wishing you were doing what she or he or they are doing.

It'll rob your joy, it'll suck you dry. Trust me on this one.

Pick a path and walk in it, with your chin up, choosing gratitude and joy and intention each and everyday. Because pretty soon, little miracles will start to unfold. Little moments of grace and new friendships and finding that you aren't awful at running will start to unfold.

Little moments of breaking bread with strangers (who are just one meal away from being friends), picking and tasting fresh strawberries, finding that passion and character can land you a job, instead of a fancy resume.

Build who you are. Build all the many parts that make you whole. Become the best version of you in anyway you can. Be bright eyed and bushy tailed and don't apologize for that.

Try new things. Make a meal from start to finish from scratch. Go on a walk and write down every little thing you hear. Play on an intramural team even when you're downright awful at sports. Say yes when a really nice guy asks you to dinner.

Hug the people around you and rest easy in knowing that the friends you're meant to keep, they'll stay close, no amount of miles or time will take that away. You'll be surprised that some friends, who you barely knew in college, will become family as you part ways.

Write letters and schedule Monday morning chats before work. Because we're all busy, but we can always make time for others - if it's something we really want.

But don't hold on too tight.

Make room for the folks who should join this new chapter too. Welcome friends whose story you're hearing halfway through because I tell you - it's such a good story. Make friends with people who think differently, act differently, believe differently. Surround yourself with people who push and challenge you to be authentic and raw. Who push you to answer more questions, instead of merely asking them.

And when you think you have this whole life thing backwards, when it feels like everything is falling apart and nothing is working out just as it should -  run to the ones who think you're gold.

Find your tribe who'll remind you, "You're okay."

I'm rooting for you dear one.

Love,

Me