While We’re Living

I’ve started so many blog posts this way: I was talking with my best friend, and she said something that made my heart catch. Of the two of us, I am, hands-down, the rambler. These days, with our persons in different states, our friendship is oft nurtured via telephone, and we are blessed by hour-and-a-half-long chats that I know won’t always be possible. And when this happens, usually as we’re driving or walking, or sometimes when we’re both sitting on our respective couches as the sun sets, I’m the rambler. It’s my way; it’s how I tell stories, how I debrief my day, how I slog through the vortex of my emotions (which is sometimes a task, I tell you). It’s often how I write these posts, letting my fingers do the rambling, surprised afterward at what I’ve said. It’s what I’m doing right now.

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I told her about a new story I’m writing at the magazine. I told her about the concert I’m going to next week. I told her about what I was having for dinner, about how I built a bookshelf this past weekend and was a smidgeon concerned that I could come home any day to a pile of shelves and pages. She mm-hmed and laughed, and sometimes, we were both just quiet. And then—not exactly out of the blue, for I’d just asked her the same question—she asked me about my greatest epiphany of the last five months, for it’s been that long since we graduated college and set off the chain of Life Changes. (By the way, she had a great answer, and I told her she can come guest blog any day.) I was walking on a path that’s covered in trees in just the way you hope it will be, and the sun was making everything glow, and we were talking about epiphanies. I searched through the last five months for my epiphanies. I’ve had some moments that have slammed me, for sure. There were moments when people surprised me, in ways that I thought were good and sometimes in ways that I thought weren’t. There were moments when the city swallowed me up, and somewhere in the midst, I realized that it had happened. There were moments when I sat in my car and cried, because I felt hurt or scared or really, really joyful. There were moments when I made decisions that changed corners of my life that needed to be nudged in different directions. There were so many firsts, when my shaky knees took me right into what would turn out to be my life. But I wouldn’t call any of these epiphanies exactly.photo 2

I’m writing about this because while I’ve learned all sorts of things I’d love to share with soon-to-graduate twentysomethings who have that same light in their eyes that I did (and do), I think my greatest epiphany came as I talked to my best friend walking along that trail, when she asked me to voice it. I didn’t tell her about the emotions I’ve wrangled, the long conversations I’ve had, how I’ve learned the Interstate system or even that being brave is mostly what it’s cracked up to be and that Jesus is in the loving business. Instead, I told her this: “I’ve learned it never stops.” I paused, and she waited for the explanation she knew I’d bring. I even stopped on the path, which happened to be where the wildflowers grow, and let the runners pass me by. “It never stops,” I said again. “No matter what season you’re in, there is always everything: There is always struggle, and there is always joy.”

The rest of our lives are waiting for us, and we’re waiting for them. I’ve been called nostalgic and while I often live up to that claim—and embrace it—I also like to go forward. Well, I could say it like this: I’ve been called a dreamer, too, and God knows I’m not the only one. In that same phone call, I talked all about what may happen come December, come three years from now, come once I finally buy a coffee bean grinder. In the past five months, I’ve consoled my fragile-feeling heart and my shaky knees with will-be’s: When I’m settled, my knees won’t shake. When I know this place, I won’t have to be brave as often. When I get married, I’ll have someone to put bookshelves together for me and I won’t have to worry about them collapsing (or when I go to carpenter school). But my voice was clear and sure, my declaration as illuminating as the sunshine on the trees: Every season, there is struggle to learn from. And every season, there is joy to be found.

It was true before I graduated, when I’d lie in bed at night and dream of the future, when I read job posting after job posting and prayed for provision. It was true over the summer, as the Lord whispered truth over me: “Daily bread,” he told me, and “Hope,” he sung. It was true when I came to Birmingham and when the jobs happened: New city, new life, same old shaky knees. And it’s what I’d tell anyone who asked now, maybe someone who doesn’t want another Buzzfeed post with 20 gifs that make being a twentysomething easier or someone who is ten years old than me—thirty, flirty, and thriving, if you will—but as unsure as she was when she was 22.  It’s what I’d tell my grandmother, who just fought cancer and won, and it’s what I tell my little sister, who’s still in high school. No matter where you are, there are things to learn, ways to nudge those shadowy corners of your heart into the Light. No matter where you are, there are wildflowers on your path and coffee in your cup, if you pick them and pour it. Some days are harder than others, yes. (But really. Some days are really terrible.) Some months wring out your soul, and some seasons feel like you’re constantly walking on a gravel driveway barefooted. And yet, we can number the things that show us grace. We can ramble about grace and hope and new books and old friends and the way breathing comes easy some days.

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Sometimes, I close my eyes to feel the sun or the breeze or to staunch the tears, and when I open them, I’m surprised that I’m still in this life, the one that, honestly, still feels odd, like I’m wearing my dad’s suit jacket at church, and it’s slick and it’s too big, but it keeps me warm. And sometimes, my hearts flies ahead of me, and I am not Nostalgic Writer, but instead, I’m Dreamer-Wisher, and I am ten years down the road, sure it will be easier then. But I hear it in my nana’s voice: It’s not.

So I look backward and sometimes—lots of times—I miss what was. I write about it on occasion. And I look forward, and I long for promises to be fulfilled, and I leave the right now for some moment in the distance that’s sure to be everything for which I’m hoping. And I’m sure it will (I write about that on occasion, too.) And then, I steady my feet. I go on a walk. I talk about life with my best friend, and it hits me: No matter where I am, it’s life. And I find my epiphany there, even as—and I could not make this up if I wanted to—storm clouds roll in for the last half mile. It’s always going to be life, but we can love it.

And over a cup of coffee, that’s what I want to keep talking about, and on the days that are hard and the ones that are easy, it’s what I want to keep finding—Always, there is struggle, because life is hard. Always, there is joy, because life is full of wonderful things like my best friend and giraffes and pizza. Always, you have a choice, and you won’t always choose life, but here’s to getting better at it.

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Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! –Deuteronomy 30:19

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