[what lonely won’t tell you]

Several months ago I wrote a post about part of my journey in singledom.  (No, singledom is not a real word, but don’t worry.  We writerly types are authorized to make up words.)

(Sort of.)

(P.S. Writerly isn’t a word, either.)

I digress.  I wrote a post, and it was mostly reactive and not at all intended for . . . well, anyone to read because there are many, many other voices out there who say things far more beautifully (and FREQUENTLY) than I do here in this small, cozy little corner of the interweb.  (Another not-real word.  Are you counting?)

But I wrote it as I write most things here — because there were words itching in my throat and fingers to be given a voice, and although there are times I couldn’t coax them into the light if my life depended on it, there are other times that the words refuse to be silenced and it seems to be my only job is to show up and open the floodgates.  So I wrote this little post about being single and about not waiting and about saying yes to your life — singleness, and all.

And that little post went kind of nuts.  I even saw it pinned on Pinterest, for heaven’s sake!  Me.  Pinned.  The world has officially lost its mind.

At first I was a little confused, but then I realized — there is a lot of talk about how to end up in a relationship, why you aren’t in a relationship, what you can do with your life if you’re not in a relationship, but there still aren’t many people out there who know how to be comfortable alone.  And I’m not just talking surface-y comfortable, when you’re okay with saying the words but don’t let anyone see how deep they cut.  I’m not talking about the pretend comfortable you put on like a shirt in the morning or when your grandma asks you for the thousandth time why you’re not married yet. Those kinds of comfortable aren’t real — they’re for show and, mostly, they stay tossed in a dirty pile on your bedroom floor, don’t they?

I’m talking about the kind of comfortable that goes to the bone, the tender, sweet center of who you are.  I’m talking about the kind of comfortable that knows how to hope for a thing without being wrecked or defined by that hope.  The skin kind of comfortable.

And I think that’s what people needed to hear.  It’s okay to relinquish the need to hold on to your discomfort.  It’s okay to sit back in your singleness and just live life, regardless of how it makes other people feel.  It’s okay, believe it or not, just to be you.

Friends, mostly I life a simple life.  I go to work and I love my work.  That’s not so risky. I do doctor’s appointments and dentist’s appointments and take my car in to be worked on.  (Actually, my car IS an adventure, but that’s a different topic of discussion.  I could win awards for bravery and courage in the face of extreme oppression for continuing to drive.  I’d blame the vehicle but the truth is I have the spiritual gift of car problems, and that is not a lie.)

And I do that life alone.  And I want to be wild and risky and exciting, but mostly I am simple and sometimes, a little afraid.

Look, we singletons out there know something other people don’t: Living life alone isn’t always easy.  It’s stressful.  Your married friends don’t know what it’s like not to have a husband to call when your car breaks down on the highway.  (All the time.  I’m not exaggerating.)  Your married friends don’t know what it’s like to come home after a stupendously difficult day at work, when you’ve failed and made a fool of yourself in a thousand small ways and not have someone in their corner, not have someone who will be a support and a strong shoulder when that’s really all you need.

Actually, some of your friends do.  Maybe most of them.  Their relationships aren’t all roses and date nights, you know.

Because there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.

So, my single friend.  My fierce, beautiful, delightful friend.  Don’t let your relationship status tell you who you are.  You may be alone, but lonely?  Well you just kick lonely to the curb.

Lonely is a lie that tells you you are not enough.  Lonely is heartbroken, and although it’s okay and sometimes even necessary to be heartbroken, it’s not okay to stay that way.  Heartbroken only works on you for a season and then, like skinny jeans and side-pony’s, there’s a time to retire the style.  (And yes, just like both those things, it will make a come-back.  And that’s all right, too.)

Lonely will tell you you’re going to wake up alone, but it won’t tell you that that won’t be until noon, because it’s 2 a.m. and you’re still up with your hot, spiced cider reading and Googling whether hot spiced cider has caffeine in it — just because you can. Lonely tells you there aren’t warm, squirmy toddlers to crawl into bed and wake you up too early, but it won’t tell you that you have about a gajillion friends who would gladly share bath-times and cuddle times and story times with you and their warm, squirmy toddlers.  (And they’d especially share the zero-dark-thirty-wake-up-call, projectile vomit, tantrum-in-the-grocery-store times with you.)  Lonely will tell you you’re alone, but it won’t tell you that being alone isn’t a commentary on your worth, the value you add to this world, or the amazing bravery that is sometimes required to face your life, fully, with no quarter asked and none given.  You’re a warrior, my friend.  Lonely won’t tell you that.

Life is rich enough and deep enough to hold all of us together — singleness doesn’t have to break you apart.

So what I want you to do is this: Fill your house with laughter and friends.  Invite their kids with them and buy a bucket of toys so you can have a quiet glass of wine with the girls.  Create beautiful things and hang lights in the garden and build a fire and sit by it and listen to the sweet summer locusts buzz,  watch the cars go by, and stare into the flames like they hold the key to the universe and consider all the beauty in your life.  Let that beauty crack you open, like the heat breaks apart the logs, and let it rise up in you, dangerous and mesmerizing and say yes.  

 

[i walked and did not run]

they met there, once
in that place where the rivers meet and merge
and they were thankful,
i think

but he taught her to forget
that thankfulness and gratitude were hers for the taking
and when he walked away
she walked, too,
and did not run

at night when she cannot banish him
her mouth remembers his
its whys and its hows and the shape and taste of her name
on his lips

but his quiet ambivalence
and desperation were sour on her tongue and curdled
in her heart, and her life
shriveled and shrank to fit a vision of her that
was small and unkind

she walked away
narrow in spirit and in courage, and hurled
herself away from the memory
of time and place

. . .

but despite what you think you saw,
i walked
and did not run

[the most dangerous word]

Dont_Should_On_Me_T_ShirtC’mon, friends, recite this with me:

Sticks and stones

may break my bones

but words

will never hurt me.

I don’t know how old I was the first time I heard it, but it must have been at school or a friend’s house, because my parents are smarter people than that.

“Words will never hurt me.”  Ridiculous.  Dangerous.

I learned to speak carefully to the people around me.  Not that I was always successful in holding my tongue, or taming it, but I learned not to call names, to be honest without being rude, and to filter my opinions.

Here’s something true, though: I’ve been more hurt by the words I’ve spoken to myself than by any someone else has spoken to or about me.  And learning to speak kindly to myself has been a difficult, nearly impossible journey.

But I’m learning.  And it’s a lesson I’d be willing to bet some of you need to learn right along with me, am I right, friend?

There are a lot of unkind words we lob at ourselves like hand grenades, patiently waiting for them to go boom! and blow big, destructive holes in ourselves.  We don’t usually mean to, but it’s so easy to do, so easy to miss the danger lurking in our own words to/about ourselves, and all of a sudden we’re our own worst enemies.

But there’s one word that seems to get more play than all the others, and it seems tied to most of the worst things we every say to ourselves.  It’s the most vile contributor, the most vicious, cruel, unforgiving word in our arsenal is so innocuous, so seemingly innocent, that it sneaks in undetected, waiting to explode.

Should.

Didn’t strike fear in your heart, did it?  Didn’t make you quake in your boots.  But it should.  (Um, hmm . . . see what I did there?)

I should be a better mom.
I should keep the house neater.
I should exercise an hour every day.
I should bake more pies.
I should plant a garden and buy only organic.
I should home school my non-existent kids when they come along, and learn how to speak 3 or 4 language and go back to school and dress better and host more parties at my house and cook more “home-cooked” meals and make my own chicken stock because Pinterest says it’s so easy!

Should will get you every time.  Should is a direct relative of comparison, reminding us that what we see in them is what we should see in ourselves.  The only the problem is we inevitably end up comparing our B-roll to someone else’s highlight reel.

Should lives in the shadows.  It lurks in the dark corners of our conversations and our minds, and although we would rarely offer a should to someone else, we can hear its echoes in our own hearts and minds.

We take stock of the world around us and notice that everyone else seems to have it all together, so we should, too.  Only we can’t seem to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps enough to make it happen, and we feel like failures.  Day-in and day-out, week after week, month after month, year after year.  None of our striving helps us to actually get out of bed, get showered, get the kids showered, make lunches, make beds, tidy the house so we have a clean space to come home to, get everyone to school and work on time, be pleasant and productive all day, get the groceries bought, everyone home or to whatever meeting or practice they need to be at, get a healthy dinner on the table, keep the kitchen organized, get our exercise in, lay out a fashionable outfit for the next day and have a great conversation with the husband after the kids are neatly tucked in.  And at the end of the day should is waiting there for us, like the coldest companion, silently shaking its head in disappointment and shame.

Or maybe, for those of us single folk, we just have to get ourselves out of bed, showered, to work on time, keep our vehicles in working order, keep the house neat (even though we barely live in it), keep in touch with all our friends and distant family, maintain our individual budget on our individual income, pay all the bills on time, get Christmas cards written and mailed out, keep up with the demands at work (and the extra duties we take on because we don’t have a family at home and feel the weight of that), volunteer in the community around us, get to know our neighbors, and make sure we spend a lot of time at the local coffee shop because, Hey!  We’re single!  We REALLY CAN do it all!

Because we should.  Everyone else seems to be able to do this.  Look at that girl on Instagram, with her 3 adorable kids, her Etsy shop, her stay-at-home/self-employed mom brightness, her perfectly cute birthday parties and amazing family pictures with all of the blonde and the smiling and the cuteness . . . she can obviously do this.  Or look at that couple I work with who manage to balance a harmonious marriage both at work at at home, with the dogs who second as kids until they have kids of their own, and their amazing vacations and house at the lake, and the secret jokes they tell each other over the meeting table, and the home they just bought that’s in the perfect part of town where all the young up-and-comers live, and their amazing relationship with all the in-laws.  They can obviously do this.

I should be able to, too.

Except the idea of making my bed in the morning (much less the kids’ beds) is laughable because I was up all night with the puking toddler and there’s no one else at home to help me, and I am really not satisfied with work because I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, and I can’t afford to have the car I want, so I am being nickle-and-dimed by the car I have, and most of the time it seems like there’s too much month at the end of the money, and I can hardly keep up with the demands of connecting with my distant (but amazing) friends, much less the extended family that I’m not sure likes me.  Who has time to think about volunteering or making cookies for the mailman?

Should is a dangerous place to live.  It’s the kind of ground where you don’t want to build your house, where you want to avoid building roots.

It’s the unkindest word we speak to ourselves.  It’s the word that holds our own failures up to the light of everyone else’s successes, that holds us to an imaginary standard that an imaginary world has handed us.  It keeps us from the things we really, actually should do and keeps us bound to the expectations of an unrelenting public that doesn’t know we’re performing, and doesn’t care.
So friends, tonight, hang up the word should along with me, will you?  Speak a kinder word to yourself tomorrow, and the day after that, and the one after.

You really, really should.

from the archive: [we are held together by promises]

sunset from home

*An edit from the archives:

I like sitting here like this.  It’s quiet, the lights are low, and life has dealt with me gently today.

Blogging is a funny creature–I may be able to track numbers and site statistics, but whoever you are, out there in your own lives with your own stories and your own journeys . . . I don’t know you.  I don’t know that today was a rough day, that you felt the lies like sleet as they stung and burned; I don’t know that the first and last person you ever trusted betrayed you; I don’t know that you’re tired and broken and certain that you can’t go on; I don’t know any of that.

I’m just here.  Sitting alone and in the quiet.  I have my hot tea and the soft glow from my laptop, and you have . . . well, I don’t know what you have.  It’s my hope that you have a beautiful moment, too, but you may not.

Tonight, from the depths of my heart, I want you to know that you are loved.  I want you to know that you are a promise–you are a promise that anything is possible.  You are a promise that there is world enough, and time.  You are a promise that life goes on, that no matter how dark the darkness or how broken the brokenness, that there is a sunrise for tomorrow, that there is a whisper of hope that won’t let go, that won’t give up, that won’t go dark.  I want you to know that on the other side there is light and life and there are things that can be . . .

Know this: you are here on purpose, with purpose.  You’re not an accident or a mistake, regardless of the circumstances of your birth.  You are exactly who the world needs you to be.  You are not perfect, but you are redeemable.

Oh, friend.  You may have been sold for a thousand lies, but there is a truth that will buy you back and make you whole.  You can be washed and beautiful once again.  No matter how great the fall.

So tonight, while I’m here and while you’re . . . wherever it is that you are . . . take heart.  Find your worn out courage and wrap it around you like a blanket.  All you need is to remember–you are held together by promises that you cannot break because you did not make them.

Don’t forget them.  Don’t neglect them.  Hold on to them and let them hold you together.

*original post: 1/2011

[refuse to wait]

Waiting_for_you____by_LoveFlameI recently left a comment on another blogger’s post — which I don’t do very often.  I’m more of a lurker, reading a lot but commenting only sparingly.  But this particular blog post was written by a young woman who was commenting on her singleness, and she ended the post with this challenge: If you’re single, what’s one thing you’ve needed your family or friends to say to you?

And I had to respond, because . . . well, just because.  And here’s what I said:

You’re not waiting.  That’s it.  That’s what I needed to hear.  Not, “In time, the right one will come along.”  Not, “I’m praying for a spouse for you.”  Not, “I just KNOW God has an amazing man out there for you.”  Nope.  Mostly, those are the things people said but they’re not what I needed to hear.

And ever since I left that comment, it’s been rolling around and around in my tilt-a-whirl heart, so I’m sitting here with my computer and I’m writing to you — wherever you are out there, single and waiting for someone to say something that matters to you.

You’re not waiting.

Oh, I know that you feel like you are.  You feel like you have a piece of you missing, that’s floating around out there, and if you could just get gravity to help you out it’d finally drop into your lap where it belongs.  I know you feel like your life won’t really begin until you find some kind of completion and fulfillment, and I know that everyone around you — and every movie you watch, song you hear, and book you read — tends to remind you that completion and fulfillment start when you finally meet “The One.”

But friend, you’re not waiting.

You’re fierce.  You’re a fire.  You’re a rock.  You’re a shelter in the time of storms.  You’re a protector and a warrior and a poet, and you don’t need to wait for the right person to enter your life to become those things.

You’re a force to be reckoned with, and you’re not waiting. 

I’m not talking about sex here, friends.  I’m not talking about that kind of waiting.

I’m talking about the apologetic waiting too many of us do — are still doing — because no one else seems to feel good about our lives until they see us married.  What is that?

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re waiting.  You tell them you have a life in front of you and a road to follow and Mr. or Mrs. Right can find you movin’ forward if they show up.  In the meantime, there’s a world out there that needs changing, there are lives that need mended, there is a path full of other people’s broken pieces that you’re going to scoop up and tuck safely next to your wild and beautiful heart, and Mr. or Mrs. Right can come find you when they’re ready. They can join you or not, because you’ve got a life to live and you’re strong enough to carry your hope and your burden right along with you, and you’re not waiting.

So, if you’re out there and you’re alone, if you feel the burden of singleness like the tension of a waiting room, if you think that somehow because you have a hope for romance and marriage that doesn’t seem to be coming to fruition you’re forever relegated to that “waiting” status . . . I’m here to tell you it’s possible to want marriage, to hope for it, even to dream of it, but not to wait for it.

Go.  Live your life.  Love it.  Love it until it hurts, until it’s so beautiful you want to cry.  Give until it hurts.  Then give some more.   Change things. Fight for your life.  Live it, deep and passionately.

That’s what I needed someone to say to me all those years ago, so I’m giving you the gift of saying it to you: no matter what it feels like at times, you’re not waiting.

[i own my life]

I’m learning a hard lesson these days, friends.  It’s one that just keeps trippin’ me up and knockin’ me down.  Here it is:

My life is mine to own.

Doesn’t sound real revolutionary, does it?  And it certainly sounds like something someone like me should have learned a long time ago.

But here’s the truth.  I’m looking around me, and I think that a lot of people would be able to say that truth out loud, but most people don’t live it.

Most people are waiting for that final conversation — sometimes years after the end of a relationship — so they can find closure.

Most people are stuck in old patterns caused by old hurts with no idea how to move on or change those patterns.

Most people think, I wouldn’t be so bitter if . . . or I’d be happier if . . . or — my favorite — I’d be more successful if . . .

Most people think their life would be better if only the government would get their act together, or if their boss would stop being such a jerk, or if their kids would just go to bed! Most people think that if someone hadn’t wounded them, they wouldn’t have ruined that relationship, or if someone would only love them back, they’d be perfectly happy.  Most people live in some state of brokenness and arrested development because they think if things were different, I could finally be who I am supposed to be.

Most of us have no interest in truly owning our lives.  We want someone else to carry the weight of blame for us not being who we are, who we always wanted to be.

I’m learning to see the lie behind that idea, these days.  The truth is, I have exactly the life I’ve chosen to have.

At every tragic turn, I’ve chosen whether I’d respond with joy or despair.

At every defining moment, I’ve chosen whether I’d journey farther down a road paved with difficult moments, growth edges I wasn’t sure I wanted to cultivate, and deeply difficult work I wasn’t sure I wanted to do, or whether I’d take the path of least resistance.

Every day, I make the choices that give me the life I have.

I don’t have a million friends because I choose to stay in most nights, and choose to  spend time with a few, dear people.

I don’t have a million dollars because I chose to become a school teacher and work for a church.

I am single because I’ve chosen not to engage in certain relationships that would have certainly lead to marriage, had I let them.

I’m content because I choose to see what I have, rather than what I lack.

I’m fulfilled because I choose to do work that matters to me, and — I believe — to the world at large.

I don’t mean to imply that there aren’t circumstances outside our control.  Of course there are.  In fact, if you really think about it, nearly all circumstances are outside our control.  We can’t control drivers in other cars.  We can’t control who gets cancer, or when.  We can’t control whether we are infertile or not.  We can’t control what the economy will do, or what our government will do — at least not directly.  We can’t control how others feel about us, or how they treat us, or any of their other behaviors.  We can’t control what has already happened to us.  We can’t even control our own emotions, most of the time.

But we can control how we respond to each of those things.  We can control the questions we ask, the work we’re willing to do to fix or engage with the big problems.  We can control the stories we tell about our lives and we can control whether we embrace or reject the things that will change us.  We can control whether we’ll continue to sit, stationary and unmoving, while we wait for closure, or whether we’ll finally say, I own my life and give ourselves the closure we’ve been silently waiting for for such a long time.

So today, take a deep breath, put on your grown-up pants, and repeat with me, I own my lifeI choose to own what I did (or didn’t do) that got me here, and I’m going to choose to own the things that will move me forward. 

I. Own. My. Life.

Once you decide to own your life, no one can take it from you.

[falling toward autumn]

5efe659e-5eac-48da-89f9-1b14483b717eSomehow, nights like tonight make me feel every one of my years. It’s not that I feel old, really, I just recognize that — as it turns out — I’m aging toward an end just like everyone else.

There’s no bad news to report, life is moving forward and all my loved ones are well and on the move.  But there’s something about the coolness of fall that turns me inward.  I start to bundle up and cozy up on the couch with hot tea and good books again, the quicksilver of summer finally fading.  I find a new kind of tenderness toward the creatures with whom I share this volatile and uneasy journey: humanity and its endless array of blessing and need.  There’s a kind of openness that breaks in on my heart in the autumn, as the world begins to catch fire, consume itself, and then quietly die out.

I find the weight of things need to be carried differently, when the weather turns.  I’m more aware of both what I’m carrying and why I’m carrying it.  I see such need, and I feel the need to carry that weight, to bear that burden as I also bear witness.  There is such wonder to be found in their hope and desperation, their reaching hands, their beautiful, softening souls.

The veil is thin in the autumn.  The veil that keeps our worlds apart — from each other, from our fears, from our dreams, from our hopes, from our losses, and (most important) from the assailing Divine presence into whom we can, should we choose, hurl our very selves and be lost.  The divide between worlds slopes toward the shore, the sound of the waves barely registering in the silence.  And we step in.

Grace engulfs us, in the autumn.  It hangs its hat upon our bare limbs and waits on the other side for us.

This is what I love: the crisp poetry of the weather and the smell of cider and the hope that — someday, we will all finally be wrapped in warmth and rest, toes warm and noses kissed and faces held between Palms on which our names are tattooed.