As I write this, the sun is streaming down through the window of a sweet little bakery in a friendly neighborhood and onto my face. Across the street, children are playing at a park, laughing and running hand in hand along the fence. Even in the midst of this warmth, my mind wanders to the things in my life that are testing my faith and diminishing my hope. It seems that no amount of unclouded days can overshadow all the gloom happening in the world anymore. The simple and common thing to do in the face of adversities is to turn around, put our backs to the sun’s warmth and walk away into the dimness. Eventually, we forget what its live-giving waves feel like altogether. Fairly, this path leads only to even more pessimistic cold. There is a point in everyone’s life when they turn and there have been days and situations in my own life when I chose to turn and walk with my back to the sun for a while—and those days were difficult—but there was also a time in my life when I did something worse than walking away: I stayed in one place. I did not walk in the sun, away from it, or toward anything else. I just stood there.
Actually, to be completely accurate, I probably sat there, or laid there—something with no motion or effort required. I spent a lot of time not doing a thing. Sure, I got up, ate, went to school and work, and came home, but other than that, there was not much going on in my life or my mind. I never tried to be anything or anyone exceptional. The only other thing I did do was complain about my choice to stand in one place. The truth was that I got myself into the situation; I locked myself away and made the choice to be alone and not go anywhere or do anything. I was ridiculously afraid to be around other people and I was even more afraid of what they thought of me. I know, how dumb, right? I think the same thing now, but I have come to realize that more people than we recognize go through life everyday feeling this way.
The problem is, most people don’t see a problem. Why does it matter if we just get up, go to work, go home, sit on the couch, fall asleep, and do it all over again every day for the rest of our lives? I guess it doesn’t. But, personally, I want my life to have some substance. In my mind, grind and routine and sitting on the couch aren’t part of “life”. The things that make up my life are people and places and experiences and affairs. Most days go by uneventful and unmemorable, but the things that are remembered are real life—they are important enough to withstand time, death, phases and loss.
I don’t want to spend my days treading water, or stuck in the mud. Actually, when I imagine someone ensnared in self-doubt and pity, a very vivid image comes to mind. In a cave on top of the highest mountain in Whoville, a Grinch sits in his recliner, going over his schedule, and contemplating whether or not to go to the town’s holiday celebration. If you are not familiar, it goes a little something like this:
4:00- Wallow in self-pity.
4:30- Stare into the abyss.
5:00- Solve world hunger. Tell no one.
6:30- Dinner with me. I can’t cancel that again.
7:00- Wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked.
As humorous as this list is, the irony in his excuses reflect so perfectly the life of somebody who is held motionless. If you know the storyline, you know that the Grinch in fact does end up going to the celebration. So why does he start moving again? Simple— because a kind-hearted little girl went out on a ledge (literally) and invited him to start—and persistently, I might add. When we are stuck in a rut, it is usually because of stubborn choice, and the reason we cannot get out of that rut is also stubborn choice. We need someone or something to care enough for us, that they are willing to extend a hand of kindness and grace… or invite us to the “Holiday Hoobity Whatty”. Now, let me tell you about my very own Cindy Lou Who.
I actually met her for the first time on my twentieth birthday. I just happened to be volunteering at the radio station she worked for. She sat down in a chair next to me and told me she loved my brown boots. Like most clothes I own, they came from the thrift shop, and as a proud thrift shopper, I was quick to tell her that. As luck would have it, she too was an avid thrifter. We talked for as long as we could and I honestly do not remember a single thing that was said—but that day I learned just how simple friendship could be.
Fast forward a couple months: I decided to volunteer at the radio station again. At this point, I had completely forgotten meeting this girl, but she walked right up to me when she entered the volunteer room and said, “You’re the girl with the cute boots!” Immediately I remembered. “I’m Emma.”
We picked up talking like we had been best friends since our little meet-cute in the fall. It was as if no time at all had passed. We talked and laughed and shared stories all week long as we worked alongside each other. When the week came to an end on Friday morning, it felt a bit odd to be leaving one another’s company, though it felt even odder to have made such a close friend in only three days. We both looked at each other a little awkwardly as it came time to say goodbye. Then she did something completely unexpected: instead of opening her mouth to bid farewell to our short friendship, she quickly blurted out, “Hey, let’s spend the entire day together!”
Five minutes later I was riding shotgun in her Subaru on the way to her house. Looking back this is all a little crazy—I mean, she could have killed me if she wanted to. Honestly, what she actually did was much, much worse. When we got to her house, she revealed to me her most prized thrift finds: a collection of sad clowns. I truly thought it was a joke, but as we continued through her house, the paintings, and statues, and sculptures of sad clowns kept growing in abundance. Each one had a name and a back story as to why it was so sad—many of which were incredibly sinister and disturbing. She had so many; there were even some from foreign countries. Since that day, I have found out that sad clown collecting is in fact, a very popular thing. Now when I go to thrift shops, I notice the sad clowns that I had never seen before, and it reminds me of Emma and her quirks… and the life-changing day we spent together.
After we left her house, she took me to the coolest local hotspot for lunch. It was a communal food hall where every table was twenty-foot long, and the entire point was to spend your lunch break conversing with random strangers. We spent hours there, talking to each other about our entire lives. Truth be told, I have always thought it was easier to tell my life story to strangers anyways.
Some ridiculously unflattering photos from our day of shenanigans.
The rest of the day we went to local thrift stores, vintage furniture showrooms, antique barns and (of course) coffee shops. It had quickly become one of my favorite afternoons. All good things do come to an end, unfortunately, and as she drove me back to my car across town, we actually did say our goodbyes. She told me that she was moving to Ohio the next weekend and she asked me what I was going to do after I graduated from community college. I told her what I tell everyone: “I have no idea. I really don’t have a clue where I am going, what I am doing, or how I am going to decide. I am just waiting on God to tell me what to do.”
Then she said something I had not considered: “What if he doesn’t tell you what to do?”
I just sat there. I didn’t know what to say or think, but thankfully, she did.
“Maybe you should just do something—anything. Just decide on something you know you want to do, and then do it.”
I went home, and the more I thought about what she said, the more I felt condemned. And the more I felt condemned, the more my stubbornness kicked in. And the more my stubbornness kicked in, the more I knew she was right. I had to do something, even something small, just to get myself moving again. So, I started this blog. It has been rewarding in many ways, but first and foremost it has inspired me to keep progressing. Emma’s little nudge got me moving again, and it made me realize a few things too.
God doesn’t have to tell you how to take every step of your life. When you walk, you don’t pause after every stride to ask what’s next—you put one foot in front of the other and keep strolling. A sweet friend shared a beautiful nugget of truth by Kurt Vonnegut with me last week:
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
If we take that next step, instead of pausing or standing in one place, we will learn and we will grow. We will get our wings and be capable of flying to the next stop ourselves. That is not to say abandon God and forget about his role and presence in life.
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 46:10:
“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
At first glance, it sounds a bit like that verse is actually telling us to remain stationary in one place. After a minute of research though, I came across something interesting. The original Hebrew root of “be still” does not mean to be quiet or to stand motionless—it means to let go.
When our parents taught us how walk, chances are they probably held us up by our tiny hands and walked along with us like we were little puppets on a string. They helped us and they practiced with us and they trained us to pick up one foot and then the other. Eventually, we got the hang of it. But to actually walk on our own, we had to let go of their hands and start moving. We likely fell down a lot, but they were always right behind us, ready to pick us up and get us back on the right track.
If God has spent time teaching you and perfecting you to be who he created you to be, then it is okay to let go of his hands and take a few steps on your own. If you fall down, he will be right behind to scoop you up.
I still have my thrifted brown boots, and for a long time, I just stood in one place and looked down at them. Thankfully, someone came along and looked down at them with me, saw their appeal and potential, and then encouraged me to get walking so everyone else could see too.
Find your Emma—or better yet, strive to be someone else’s Emma. Pay a compliment. Start a conversation. Invite somebody to lunch. Show them your creepy collection of sad clowns… Okay, not that last one, but you get the point. If you see someone treading water, don’t leave them to drown. Be kind and radiate positivity. Walk hand in hand with the Lord toward the sunshine, but don’t be afraid to let go once you have finished learning, because when you release your grip, you will be left with a free hand to offer others who are just stepping into their own brown boots and getting ready to move again.