the story.

14. Write about your first love – whether a person, place, or thing

I don’t have a lot of cousins, 6 first cousins, in total. I’m not particularly close to any of them now except for one- Will. He’s got an amazing sense of humor and we always have a laugh when we’re together. But there was another cousin, Will’s half brother, and we used to be very close.

He’s roughly ten years older than I am, so when I was a baby he would hold me and play with me, there are tons of pictures of it, and as I grew older, he was my favorite person. I remember he would bring me gifts: one time he gave me a blue jump rope, another time it was a little clown doll (not creepy) with a lovely silk orange and pink outfit. I don’t remember much, but the pictures show me that Jeff had great affection for me, and in my eyes, he was the best. Jeff was cool, and funny, and he adored me. I have an older brother, but Jeff loved me in a way my actual brother never did. I looked up to him- he was totally my hero. For a school assignment in middle school, we had to write about someone who was our hero. I wrote about Jeff.

By calling it a “first” we are usually implying that there were more loves to follow. And our first love is often the love that breaks our hearts.  That this was the love that captured us before any other love. Perhaps not all of our first loves break our hearts, but this was how I decided that Jeff was my first love, because he was also my first heartbreak.

I remember being in church one day, during some weekday event, when I heard from my mom that Jeff had run away from home. He was doing drugs, and he wasn’t speaking to anyone in the family. I honestly felt like instead of just running away from my Aunt’s house, he had run away from me. I felt like he personally abandoned me. I felt, for the first time that I can remember, rejected.

I’ve spent many years fighting a ‘rejection’ lie. That I’m not enough, that when someone says or does a certain thing that they are rejecting me. And for a long time, I believed the root of this rejection to be from a high school boyfriend. I had an incredible father and I could never recall an instance that he, or my mom really, ever brought about a feeling of rejection in my life. My earliest memory of rejection was that boyfriend. Until just a few days ago, when I received a Facebook message from Jeff. Apparently he’d been in jail the last few months so he messaged me when he got out to congratulate me on getting married. I felt a little angry when he messaged me and I couldn’t figure out why. And then I started thinking about your first love. And I put all the pieces together.

I’m certain Jeff has no idea the effect that his life choices had on me. I’m not sure any of my family realizes how his choices broke my heart. I doubt I’ll ever tell them. What’s important is not the hurt, but the growth that came from the brokenness.

This is what I know about first loves: your first is not your last, and forgiveness will let you tell the story.

Slowly but surely

14. Write about your first love – whether a person, place or thing

 We all know how the story goes…

At some point in time, we come across something that teaches us what it means to love. We start smiling a lot more, we feel a deeper sense of joy, and colors seem brighter. All is well with the world and we feel like nothing bad is going to happen. We’ll always be this happy, this content, this in love.

Then just as suddenly as it comes, it is gone. It starts slowly at first. An unkind word here, a sideways glance there. A bunch of little things that add up over time to become a big thing. We start to look for things that are wrong instead of choosing to show grace. We pick fights about things that aren’t important because it’s easier than really dealing with the things that are. 

We think about it all the time. Every person we pass, every song we hear- it all reminds of us of what we once had. It hurts to remember, yet it hurts not to.

Slowly, but surely, the hurt becomes less. We see the part we played and how it wasn’t as one-sided as it once felt. Eventually, we forgive.

We forgive all the looks, all the glances, all the disagreements, and we begin to feel peace. We get to a place where we can look back, remember the good times and smile. A place where we can appreciate the lessons we’ve taken away and know that despite all the bad, we came out a better person. Our first love becomes a fond memory in our minds and hearts, and we even look forward to doing it all over again. 

I have definitely had this experience with a person, but what most sticks out to me is my relationship with the Church. I grew up going to church- I may as well have been born right in the sanctuary with how quickly my parents got me there. I knew all the words to be able to sing along with the choir, which eventually turned into the band when my mom decided she wanted to be able to wear pants to church. I knew enough Bible verses to get a badge in Awana (religious version of boy scouts and girl scouts) every week. The church is where I met my first boyfriend, led my first small group, got baptized (twice), and made my first significant friendships. It’s where I learned to not be afraid of leading and to not shy away from new opportunities. When I was there, I was home. 

But as I got older, something happened. I started to realize that churches are full of people, and as we all know- people are messy. Which means church is messy. 

It wasn’t one big event that happened and suddenly I was jaded to the church. No, it was a bunch of little things strung together. Not being old enough to lead here, seeing a female not be able to speak from stage there. I listened to people talk about the way I should live in a way I had never heard Jesus talk. I watched people who were hurting and confused get turned away because their lifestyle didn’t “fit.” I saw churches make decisions based on financial reasons instead of Jesus reasons. I experienced leaders in my church saying hateful things about other leaders. 

I began to pull away because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t (and still don’t) understand how an institution that is supposed to be about loving God and loving others could fail so miserably at both of those. I would skip a Sunday one month, which turned into two the next and continued that pattern until it was no Sundays. And you know what- I didn’t miss it. 

I would turn off the radio if I heard a song they used to play in the lobby. I avoided going to the coffee shop where I knew a lot of members frequented on the weekend. All of it hurt. It hurt to think about how much I used to love it and didn’t seem to feel that anymore. It hurt to see old friends still thriving and somehow getting passed all the messiness I couldn’t. It hurt knowing that I still loved Jesus and still wanted a community where that was shared. 

Then, slowly but surely, the hurt became less. I could see the times where I should have spoke up and didn’t and the times were I should have stayed quiet and chose not to. I could see that everyone there was just trying to figure out what it looks like to love God and love others, and sometimes they messed up. That not everyone was out to get someone, and there was more good than bad. 

I can look back on it and smile now. Smile at remembering sitting in a living room full of women as we wrestled through how to let God heal us from our past. I smile as I think about the high school girls I would get coffee with and how excited they were to talk about life with someone who’d “been there.” When I hear a song on the radio that I recognize, I don’t change the station anymore. I let it play, and sometimes I even sing along. 

I’m starting to forgive the church because I see now that the pain I’ve experienced isn’t the church’s fault. In fact, I don’t know if it’s anyone’s fault. When you choose to go through life alongside other people, you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to hear things you don’t want to hear and see things you don’t want to see.   

I don’t want to do life if it’s not alongside other people, so I’m learning to be good with the mess. 

And just like all first loves, I can look back with fond memories and be grateful for all the church has brought me. 

I can even look forward to doing it again. 

Nothing. Everything.

12. Name what is enough for you

I chewed on this for a long time because I kept coming up with an answer that isn’t pretty. I guess I thought if I thought for long enough and avoided this prompt for long enough I wouldn’t have to share the real, raw, ugly truth of my answer. Answering this requires a lot of vulnerability from me, because you might not like the answer. But I’m going to Dare Greatly and tell you the truth:

Nothing.

Nothing is enough for me.

And that is a problem.

I am not enough for me. No amount of sunshine or coffee is enough for me. No amount of ice cream or pizza or steak or potatoes. There are not enough hours in a day. There is not enough time with my friends. There is not enough time with my husband. There was not enough effort on my part. There was not enough emotion in that text or thought in the other one. The project wasn’t done well enough. There weren’t enough people there. The colors aren’t bright enough. Nothing. Nothing is enough.

And this is so scary for me to say because what if someone I love reads this and thinks, “Am I not enough for Liz?” because the answer is YOU ARE ENOUGH! Really- I almost wrote this on how other people, about how YOU, are enough for me. Because I would never tell someone they aren’t enough. I have no trouble seeing other people and their ‘enough’-ness. But I cannot see my own. And the way I see the world, except for other people, there is never enough.

But I wanted to write this, because it’s something I am working through. And have been for a long time.

I have a lot of journals. I’ve been keeping a diary in some form since 1st grade. It started with a little Hello, Kitty journal from 1996, but I got more serious in 3rd grade. Like- “Dear Diary” and I wrote down everything and I journaled through elementary, middle, and high school. I journaled through the start of college but it turned into “prayer journals” when I was a freshman at some point. I was on a women’s retreat with my mom and the speaker during her first session had us trace our hand on the paper and write “I am enough” in the middle of the palm. I did not believe that at the time at all. Not one tiny little sliver of belief. What a journey those three words started. I eventually discovered that who I am is enough, which is a much longer story, so it’s at my core, but somehow Not Enough still silently dictates almost every aspect of my life.

A perfectionist to my core, ENOUGH, is a scary word. It has an air of finality. It implies completion and DONE. It implies that no more or no less is needed. And it a way, that is scary to me. Enough is the opposite of scarcity. The book I’m reading, Daring Greatly, talks about this at length. That we have a culture of “never enough” and scarcity and fear, and the solution is believing we are enough. That’s it. We just have to believe.

One of my favorite snippets of dialogue goes like this:
Alice: “This is impossible.”
Mad Hatter: “Only if you believe it is.”

I mention that because I know, that I know, that I know that if I believe in the core of who I am that I am enough, then that is it, I will be enough. If I believe that what I have in my hands, what I see with my eyes, the time I am given, the amount of sunshine in a day, the coffee in the cup I have, if I believe all that is enough, then it will be enough. I can overcome the ‘never-good-enoughs’ I hear all day long.

But oh gosh it is so easy to cling to the security blanket of Never-Enough. It’s safe to complain and still attempt perfection. It is not healthy, but it’s all I’ve known. And I know it’s not okay. And I know it’s not what God wants for me. It’s not what I want for me. I want enough. I want to believe every day, all day that I am enough, that this day is enough, that it is all ENOUGH. God says I am enough. And in the very depths of me, I believe that and I stand on that. But I am not very good at living it out.

I want my answer to be EVERYTHING. Everything is enough! But I’m not there yet.

 

 

Happiness is…

12. Name what is enough for you

Confession time. I am a very impatient person.

I hate driving behind people who slow down to go through the EZ Pass express lane. If I have to wait for than 3 minutes to get through the drive thru at Starbucks, I groan and think how I should have just gone inside to begin with. I especially hate having to wait behind more than one or two people at the grocery store.

tumblr_mbgckbH8rj1riqizno1_500When someone has a tendency to include what I deem too many details for a story, I zone out and don’t hear what they’re saying because I think it should be said quicker. I get the itch to move across the country about three times a year because I don’t like having to stay in one place for a long period of time. I’ll let friendships drift apart when I no longer want to deal with a person’s quirks that I find really annoying. (I know- it’s not pretty.)

I know I’m not the only person who would say they struggle with being impatient. In fact, I hear it a lot:

“I can’t wait to get that promotion.”

“I know I’ll be so much happier if I could just lose those extra five pounds.”

“All I want right now is to get married… have kids, etc.”

“If I just had X, I would be good.”

There’s always something better out there. There’s always a next thing we’re looking forward to. I used to be that sort of person. The sort of person who looks forward more to what’s next instead of enjoying what’s now. I won’t sit here and say I’m completely over it because I do still struggle with this, but I will say I’ve come a long way in this area.

It’s caused me to do a lot of self-reflection (and even more journaling) to figure out just what it would take for me to be happy with where I’m at. Here I go breaking some more introvert stereotypes, but I know now what I would consider to be enough for me.

Relationships. 

That’s it. I need people. People who aren’t afraid to be honest with me and tell me when I’m being a brat about something. People I can laugh with until my sides hurt and tears are streaming down my face. People I can call when something bad happens and show up at my door 30 minutes later with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. People I can debate life’s great questions with or sit and be quiet with.

When I have that and really take the time to cultivate those relationships, nothing else really matters. I don’t spend as much time thinking about the next best thing that’s going to happen. I spend a lot less time thinking about me in general and focus more energy on loving those around me. I become less selfish because I realize I have everything I need right where I’m at.

I have people, and that’s enough.

 

Hey, it’s me.

11. If I could talk to my teenage self, I would say…

Dear Liz,

It’s me, Liz. 27 year old me. I know you thought by this time we would be much skinnier and have long flowy hair that was always perfectly curled and be married for at least 4 years at this point and possibly have a kid. You know? Those things we thought were the best parts of being 27. I’ve only been 27 for a couple of months, but so far so good! Just maybe different than what we imagined at the age you’re reading this. I don’t want to spoil anything, although I know how much you wish you knew ‘the ending’ – I still wish I knew that. But I have a few things I do want to say that won’t spoil any of the great adventures you’re coming up to.

He’s coming. Not when you want him to, and he won’t be what you expect. But you won’t spend your life alone. I promise you’ll get married and one day a man will look at you the way you’re dreaming of. In the mean time, please chill out with trying to win the affection of every guy who looks at you. You’re going to look back on this part of your life and I know you’ll be deeply ashamed. Just spend more time with your friends and read a few more books.

Be nicer to Mom and Dad. I wish you understood what I do now, people are a product of their environment. Sure, we can change and grow and be different in time, but Mom & Dad are raising you the best way they know how. They’re making decisions they believe will keep you safe, healthy, and happy. And that’s what they want for you- to be happy. They are not great with their emotions, don’t expect them to be lovey and touchy like other parents, and don’t expect them to be like the parents in the books you read about. Accept them as they are. And stop yelling at them and getting angry at them. I get it, emotions and hormones. But try being honest, telling them how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. Productive, mature conversations would benefit everyone in the house.

Paying bills is hard. It’s also expensive. Being an adult is expensive. Being an adult with kids is expensive. Cut Mom & Dad some slack about the money thing. They’re probably stressed to tears with it, and you’re being a snot. Work some extra hours and be grateful that you live above the poverty line.

Stop making fun of Danny and Michael. Michael isn’t his boyfriend. And later you’ll regret teasing him about that.

Be nicer to Madison. She’s a lot sweeter than she is annoying.

Please eat healthier. I know you love crunchy, salty snacks- we still do- but losing weight at your age is much easier than mine. I wish now that I had started eating healthier at your age, so please, do us a favor and pick up a salad.

Good friends are really hard to find and keep. I know you know that by now. That problem doesn’t go away when you get to be this age. But I promise when you find the good ones, they’re really good. And no, there isn’t anything wrong with you that they don’t want to be your friend. They just suck. Girls your age suck. Just keeping being you and doing you and you’ll get some really amazing friends along the way. I promise.

Last thought – learn some self love. This is a battle that took so long for us. We still struggle with it, but it’s easier now. Just be kind to yourself, don’t talk to us so negatively or harshly. Just practice being kind to others, and yourself. We’ll be glad you started when you did.

Best of luck,
Me

Life’s ups and downs

10. Discuss something you planned that ended up not being what you expected

Wowza. Do you have 72 hours? Because that’s how long I’m estimating it will take for me to tell you all the things that are different now than what I expected. Relax- I’ll save you some time and my fingers some arthritis and pick just one.

One of the things our society seems to be fascinated with when it comes to other people is their occupation. It’s a rarity these days you can meet someone new and not be asked what you do. I think it’s because people tend to find value more in what they do, instead of who they are, but that’s just one woman’s opinion.

My job isn’t that odd of one- I’m a general manager for a local business. Pretty standard as jobs go. The different part about it is it’s a garage door business. I can picture your face now- it’s the same one I get when I tell other people. It’s the look you give a little kid when they bring you a mud pie to eat: try to look understanding, smile, nod, insert a bit of confusion.

Trust me, I get it. Garage doors. Most people don’t even think about them in terms of business. Seriously- who thinks of that? Luckily for me, my dad did. You see, the garage door business is the only one I’ve ever known. My parents started their own company before I was born, and it’s grown into a national franchise with eighty locations across the country. (They’re kind of a big deal.) It’s an industry he loves and is incredibly passionate about. I’m talking helping orphans in Africa level of passion here. I just never wanted anything to do with it.

If you were to ask me at any point growing up, what I wanted to do when I got older, you would have gotten a myriad of answers that ranged from youth pastor to teacher to doctor (that was before I realized my hatred for biology) to social worker. I was all over the place, but the one thing I never said was taking over the family business.

I wanted something more glamorous than garage doors. Something that made a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to work for a big non-profit and change the world while still getting a paycheck. I didn’t want to work in the garage door industry, but we all know how God likes to be funny and put us in places we never saw ourselves in, and that’s just what he did.

Through some random circumstances, I ended up moving back to the northeast when I was 19 to start working with my dad. I drove in on a Saturday and was at work the following Monday. Let me tell you- the first couple years were SO. HARD. My dad and I fought a lot. I cried a lot. I questioned what I was doing with my life over and over again. I couldn’t seem to remind myself the reasons I came back in the first place. I applied for several other jobs and never got an interview (a first for me), so I started praying even harder.

“God, this isn’t where I want to be, so get me out.” Not the most sophisticated or mature of prayers, and I get that, but it’s where my heart was at. It wasn’t until probably about two years into working with my dad that I realized maybe the problem wasn’t the job, but my attitude. So I changed my prayer to “God, show me why you have me here,” and gosh, I’m so glad I did.

I was finally able to see that no matter what business you’re in, you’re always in the people business, which, if you couldn’t tell by my list of dream jobs, is kind of my thing. I heard stories from customers that would make the Grinch well up tears. I was able to see the lives of the employees getting better because of changes we were able to make for them.

My job had turned into something beautiful. Though it was probably always beautiful, and I just didn’t take the time to see it.

 

Can I phone a friend?

9. Your favorite moment of the day and your least favorite moment of the day.

I’ll be honest- I have not been looking forward to writing this post. I knew it was coming, and I’ve been putting it off like it’s my job. I even debated whether or not to use our “freebie” prompt- one we came up with in case we really get stuck on one topic and didn’t want to write it.

The reason I’ve struggled with it is because every day I have a different answer. Ask me on a Monday? My favorite part is getting home from work and least favorite is the morning in general. Wednesday? Completely different story. I don’t like that I don’t have a set answer. I prefer to know where I stand on any given topic, and if I’m not sure, I’m probably not going to open my mouth.

Having to wrestle through which answer I want to give has forced me to look at it in a new light. It’s forced me to think maybe I don’t have to have an answer for every question that comes my way. Obviously, I’m talking about this particular post at the moment, but I even mean in other areas.

I’ve been put in positions throughout my life where I felt like I needed to be the person with all the answers. Being the older sibling, leading small groups, being a trainer/supervisor at every job I’ve had- people expected me to know what was going on. But being older or in charge doesn’t automatically give you all the answers, and it’s been a huge struggle of mine to learn to be okay with that.

I find myself in situations where people ask me questions, and my first response is wanting to use a lifeline and get someone else to answer for me. We all know that’s not how life works, but it sure would be nice.

question_graphic_5

I’ve had to learn to make myself comfortable with the unknowns life throws our way. Whether it’s waiting for an opportunity for a new job or wondering if the person you’re dating is who you’ll spend the rest of your life with. It’s all hard. It’s all confusing, and it’s all messy.

When I think about the people who have made an impact on my life over the years, I don’t think about how they had all the answers. Instead, I find myself grateful that they were just there. Sometimes they had good things to say, I’m sure, but I couldn’t tell you now what they were.

I think about them letting me struggle through the questions I had. They listened to me rant about what I didn’t understand. They comforted me and let me be vulnerable without judgement.

So, I don’t know what my favorite and least favorite moment of the day is, and while there’s part of me that wishes I did. There’s a bigger part that’s okay that I don’t.