I feel like we need a moment of clarity. Like maybe I wasn’t fully honest and may have led you astray. A couple of months ago I was writing about the waiting room and how I felt like I had been there long enough to know exactly how many ceiling tiles there are and how often the vending machine eats your quarters for its own snack.
Well, before we get to the clarifying item, a little back story. One thing I didn't tell you about the waiting room is that before that moment with God where he gave me a hard lesson, I generally felt like the girl in this photo. I’ve always had an affinity for fancy. Gold. Glitter. Sparkles. All things pink and girly. Lipstick and luxury. I was the one sitting in the waiting room overdressed with dangly earrings and three inch heels. I have a Pinterest board solely dedicated to fancy. Last fall, I was at The Plaza Hotel. The whole building is glitz and glam and gilded beauty and needless to say, I felt right at home. You’re starting to get the idea. So, I have that picture, the one of the girl in the dress, hunched over, back to the world, hanging above my desk. I saw it on this Tumblr a couple of years ago and resonated with it so much that I ran through the halls of the internet to find out where it originated. I emailed the photographer and asked if I could buy it. I needed that photo because I felt like it told so much of my story in one single image. Gold sparkles and sadness. Glitter and solitude. The story of trying so hard and still being alone. Of falling short again and again. The photographer’s assistant eventually emailed me back and said the print wasn’t available. Well, I hope she doesn't mind since I'm giving her every ounce of credit, but I printed it in a tiny, 4x4 print and hung it above my desk. It is so beautiful and haunting and truthful. Have you ever seen your reflection so clearly in a photo of someone else? This picture felt like the story of my late teens and every single long year of my twenties.
My twenties were marked with striving and failing and hustling, driven by a misunderstanding of the gospel with a heart desperate for love calling the shots from the backseat. I was always trying so hard and giving my very best. I was ready to love hard and jump in with both feet. I was dressed up and ready but I felt constantly let down and left out and unnoticed. I heard one time, “Show me a beautiful girl and I’ll show you someone who is tired of her.” That’s how I felt. The boys I liked always grew tired of me - like I was tolerated at best. I felt like the things I tried for always fell short. People would tell me I could get anyone I wanted, but I’ll tell you what I could get: I could get used easily. I was just naive and trusting enough to make me the perfect candidate for being treated like a beautiful plaything, like a hand-me-down, like a Raggedy Ann doll that you drop off at the Goodwill after a while. I'm partially to blame, I take responsibility for that, but that girl in the photo, it still felt like she was me.
Do you ever feel this way? We put our best self forward, try our best, and then we’re left feeling stupid. Our best efforts aren’t enough so we’re left alone in the sand wondering why we wasted our breath and our time and our energy and our love. This is true for anyone who has put themselves out there only to be rejected. For anyone who has tried their best and still fell short. For anyone who put time into something special for a loved one and it wasn’t appreciated. For anyone who chased their dreams only to be ridiculed by others. For anyone who waited and waited for the apology or the response to a text message or phone call, to anyone who just wanted to hear from that one person, but it never came. For whatever it is that happened that left you in a puddle on the sidewalk. This feeling is shame. Shame and sadness and defeat. So then we turn inward, we harden our shell, we toughen up and vow not to get hurt - never to feel the burn of shame again. I started reading this book and in the opening chapters, one of the authors writes about how we learn to live defensively. I referenced it on Instagram over the weekend. I think that's exactly what I learned to do - what we learn to do after being hurt or used or betrayed - hardening our shell, shrinking away, hiding, or pretending we don't feel at all.
I used to be passive in my own life. I sat and waited for someone to hit the start button. I let things happen to me and then cried about them later rather than take the reins and own my choices. I was sabotaging my life – basically punching myself in the face and then asking everyone else, endlessly, why I had a black eye. But one day I realized that it was time to get up. I didn't want to be a pile of glitter in the sand anymore. And maybe one day you'll realize, like me, that you’re watching your life go by, complaining about how this or that didn’t work out for you, how this person wronged you, how you’re the victim in one thing or another, meanwhile everyone else is making something of their life. Maybe you were the victim of some awful, awful thing, but how long, how many years is enough to let that thing define you and keep you in the sand? I read this quote from Brene Brown a couple weeks ago,
“Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, recognize our story and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes, this is what happened. This is my truth and I will choose how this story ends.”
You don’t have to let someone else write the ending or hold the keys to your story. You don't have to let their actions, or the actions and decisions you made on your own, define your life. I decided I wanted to write the end to my own story. I decided I wanted to get up out of the sand. Despite the things that happened to me and I let happen to me, despite the way I was treated and the way I treated others, despite the breaks I did or didn’t get in career or relationship, I just wanted to be the author of my story. I wanted to take the pen back from whatever I let form the words for too long.
I ended that post about the waiting room by saying that I think I finally heard my name called. Remember that? I left you thinking that I left the waiting room and hooray for me! because I don’t have to sit there anymore. So the thing I want to clarify, the thing that maybe led you astray, the thing that perhaps you took away from that old post and you shouldn’t have is this: hearing my name called in the waiting room did not solve all of my problems. Hearing my name called did not get me up out of the sand and it was not the start to my life. Aaron did not save me. He didn’t rescue me from sitting in the sand in a beautiful dress. Aaron didn’t and can’t save me at all. He has no power to and I don’t need or want him to do that. It’s not his role in my life and it's not my role in his, just like no spouse or relationship or other person can save you or fix you or complete you. A relationship is not the key to your joy. Certainly, Aaron has added to my life in a lot of really wonderful ways, but I don’t feel like he has completed me in any sense of the word. I was already seeking my own wholeness before he ever came along. I was already running after the truth about who I was and why I didn't have to sit in the corner and wait for someone else to pick up the pen and write the next couple of chapters. This is why I am so adamant that we use our words because I want you so desperately to be the author of your own life.
So if this is your story, if looking at that picture resonated with you in any way, hear me say that you don’t have to be huddled up in the sand. You don't have to have the hard exterior to avoid the feeling of shame. At the time I found this photo, I felt like I was constantly walking around in a fighter stance, fists up, muscles tensed, ready for the next blow I might have to survive. But then I decided that one of my goals was to stay soft, unclench my fists, and be open to whatever might come next. To hold out my hand and not recoil at the slightest hint of pain. I decided to lay down my weapons at the feet of the only one who has the power to disarm.
And when you decide to get up, when you decide to soften, there are things that will want to put you back in a pile on the shore. Sometimes it feels like everything in life wants to keep you there on the sidelines licking your wounds. I've wanted to go back there often. And you can. You can sit there for years and years and people will tell you to get up until they’re blue in the face, they'll tell you why you have that black eye and maybe tell you all the reasons why it's not your fault, but until you realize that the pen is in your hand, you will never move. You’ll be huddled up, back to the world, waiting. I know. I was that girl.
So I guess this is just another call to get up. Start walking. Start leaning toward wholeness. Lay down your arms. Drop the defenses. Don't wait for someone to save you or call you out of the waiting room. Take the first step. Make the first call. Even if they should do it first but won’t. This is about you. This is about not hugging your knees in the corner, replaying all the ways you’ve been hurt by the world, but rather walking into the light, making peace, forging a new path, writing a new story, chasing dreams, and even if you're still waiting, waiting well. I believe this has so much to do with Jesus, but maybe you aren't there yet and that's okay. If you're reading this right now, I trust that he's coming for you - I know it because I'm praying that for you right now even as you read this.
I'm out of one waiting room, that part is still true, but there will always be a new one to enter. What they don't tell you is that after they call your name, no matter what you were waiting for, you enter this long hallway that only leads to other waiting rooms. The question is, how will you wait? I'll probably always be wearing the sparkly dress but that picture above my desk doesn't feel like me anymore. I'm not the person I was when I found the photo. But I like to look at it sometimes and remember where I came from and remind myself that I don’t have to go back there again. Neither do you.