Beyond Room 119

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One year later

A friend asked me the other night how I was doing. My answer, I later realized, was pretty similar to what it’s been for the entire past year: “Ups and downs.”

Next week marks a year since I left North Carolina. A year since I left the place that has felt more like home than anywhere else in my adult life. A year since I planned a farewell dinner with three of my favorite people at the bizarre sushi/hamburger combo restaurant that has fantastic chocolate cake and the loudest gong. A year since I hugged one of my best friends goodbye, stepped into my silver Camry,  and cried gut-wrenching tears as I drove away from a place I loved so dearly. 

I can’t even count how many tears I have cried over the past year. How many tissues and rolls of toilet paper that were used to wipe those tears away. How many times I stared at the crucifix in my bedroom and just asked, “Why, God? Why?” How often I wished I could just spontaneously grab kombucha with one of my dear friends as we talked about boys, work, and life. How many times I wished I could go on a run at Umstead and be completely engulfed by trees, fireflies, and greenery. 

Yes, there have been downs. I think it’s safe to say there have been many, many of them. Or rather, there have been just a few downs, but I felt them often and I felt them acutely. This has been one of the three hardest years in my life, trailing only slightly behind my year spent teaching and the year my parents divorced. It’s been hard, it’s been rough, and there have been times when I’ve been downright concerned about my mental and emotional state. 

I was taking a sunset walk at the beach the other week with a friend and she point-blank asked me, “Why don’t you go back? We want you to be happy.” I thought about it for a moment, and as tears formed in my eyes, I told her, “Because as hard as it’s been, I know this is where I need to be right now.”

The last year has tested me in many ways, without a doubt. But in return, it’s also given me so much. I got to visit my grandfather a number of times before he passed away this month. I was able to see the glimmer of recognition in his eyes when he saw me, to give him a hug, and tell him how much I loved him just a few days before he left this earth. I was able to take the day after he passed away off to spend time with my grandmother, who I love dearly, and who spent the day telling stories about Pop and his life. 

I’ve been able to develop stronger relationships with three of my nephews. I invite myself over at least once or twice a month and just play with those munchkins. In five years or so, they may not care much about hanging out with their crazy aunt, but right now, they love playing whatever latest game I taught them when I visit. It’s been such a gift to spend more time with them, to bake them cookies and hear that they like mine better than their dad’s (a highlight in my life that will never be overshadowed), to tuck them in and say bedtime prayers with them, and to spin them around blindfolded as we play Blindman’s Bluff in the dark. 

I have a beautiful niece who’s just a year and a half, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch as she gets older – to see her progress from when she started walking all wobbly-like to now, where she bounces around the house without a care in the world and tells me what books she wants to “read” with those bright blue eyes looking intently at everything around her.

I’ve spent more time with my parents and some of my siblings and have enjoyed the little things – dinner here, a walk on the beach there, getting my dad hooked on the Bachelor, going shopping with my sister to find her a graduation dress, getting to spend more time with my sisters-in-law, thanking my brother for something he did and hearing his response: “that’s what family does.” I think it’s fair to say that I’ve rediscovered what family means and what it takes to nurture those bonds. 

I traded in my Umstead runs for runs at the beach – sometimes in full daylight, sometimes at sunset, and occasionally, in a throwback to my college years, at night underneath the stars. I jump in the water after a long, hot run to cool off. I’ve gone to the ocean on the weekends and after work to go body surfing because hey, why not? 

I’ve met some absolutely incredible people along the way. I met someone who I hope will be one of my bridesmaids someday – someone who listens to me go around in circles, who loves the world around her so beautifully, and who loves me unconditionally. I became good friends with someone whose strong faith and devotion to Mary inspired me to grow deeper and explore my own faith more without him ever saying a word about it. I’ve met folks in my run club who have kind hearts,  positive outlooks, and welcoming spirits. I’ve made connections made through my church group, Ultimate Frisbee, and more. 

When I arrived in California last year after a road trip spanning ten states and just shy of three thousand miles, I wrote, “Here’s to writing a new chapter while cherishing the path it took to get here.”  I’m so grateful to all the friends who became family in North Carolina, and I miss many of them dearly. I wish I could pick up all the members of my tribe and move them into the same neighborhood so I could see them as often as I like. Barring that superpower, I’ll settle to just be grateful to each one of them for the person they helped me to become, the relationships created, and the memories shared. I will always cherish the path that took me to North Carolina, and I’m sure that some days, I’ll still have those acute longings for a place and the people I love so much. 

But life moves on, and this year has been about writing that new chapter. It’s taken me a year to be able to say this, but I’m grateful for the tears, the heartache, the times I felt like I couldn’t do it, and the fear that I made that wrong decision. If it weren’t for any of that, I never would have felt the love, support, or sense of family that has come from this year. 

It hasn’t been easy, but then again, life rarely is. It’s in those difficult moments, though, that we learn what we are made of and who we can rely on. We choose how to write the story that we then star in. I choose to feel all the emotions when they come (whatever they may be), to be grateful for what I have, to love fiercely those around me, and to continue to move forward with peace, joy, and faith. 


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A few weeks ago, I went to the track for a speed workout. I had a prescribed workout from my coach and a target pace at which to run it, and I started strong. For all of a lap. Then I started slowing down, and my legs felt heavy. For the first part, I was supposed to run six laps straight. I stopped after three and thought, “What is going on here?”

Now, I do track workouts at least once a week these days (sometimes twice), and about 85% of the time, I’m able to bring my A game. This morning, it felt more like my C game, and I didn’t want to keep going. It wasn’t fun, it was so hard, and I was completely over it. I felt for my car key and thought about throwing in the towel.*

But then a curious thing happened. My head was saying, “Stop, stop, go home.” I wanted to respond, “Cool, that sounds great. Let’s go.” But then my heart jumped in and said, “That’s nice, shut up. We’re doing this. Now.” And the feet obeyed the heart, not the head. For another nine laps, I ran around that track.

Now, I didn’t do the original workout Coach Charlie said. And I sure didn’t go the speed I was hoping to. But I ran the same overall distance around that darn track. I felt pretty terrible when I finished, but I did it.

One of the biggest reasons I love running is because the lessons learned from it are transferable to the rest of life. Sometimes we don’t want to do something, even though we know that’ll get us closer to our end goal. Sometimes we want to give up and go home. Sometimes our energy is drained and we’re just done.

And that’s when the little voice that speaks the truths of our hearts speaks up. “Hey, c’mon, you’ve got this. You know you have what it takes. Let’s go now, one step in front of the other.” That voice is small but mighty, reminding us what we’re capable of.

When I push through a hard run or hit a time goal, it shows me how much I am capable of. It reminds me how strong I am. Those realizations then carry over to the other parts of my life, or they give me the perspective needed to reframe other parts of my life.

For example, the day before that track workout, I was with a good friend from college and her mother, who is like another mom to me. At the end of our afternoon, my friend’s mom gave me a beaded bracelet.

“It’s jasper, a grounding element,” she told me. “Because you’re grounded now. You’re home.”

It was a beautiful bracelet and I thanked her for such a sweet gesture, while every ounce of my being fought so hard against what she said. I almost started tearing up after she hugged me because I so strongly didn’t want this to be home.

Which made me stop and think almost instantly. Am I having a hard time adjusting to being back in California because it’s genuinely difficult to make friends, build community, create a new life, etcetera etcetera? Or it is because I don’t want this to be home and I’m still holding on to somewhere else?

I think for the past few months, I’ve been telling myself that this place didn’t feel like home because of the former. While elements of that are certainly true, if I force myself to be completely honest, it’s really been the latter. Somehow, my run that morning connected those dots for me. Doing something I didn’t want to do on the track made me realize my true motivations and feelings about something else I haven’t been putting my whole effort into.

One weekend last month, a few things collided that made it not the best weekend. That Sunday night, I prayed to God, “Please, just give me something right now. Anything.” A few days later, I had an awesome, impromptu guitar lesson with my neighbor, who turns out to be a really cool dude. The next day, I volunteered at a “feed the hungry” event that was absolutely beautiful and showed me what the power of community can do. That same day, I spent time with my friend and her mom. Then I had the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom and family for the first time in six years.

I think God’s been sending me these pieces of the puzzle for some time now; I just wasn’t fitting them together correctly. I was fighting so hard against this place being home when I thought I already had a home, even if it was 2,600 miles and 10 months away. I haven’t been fully embracing the place that I’m in, and it took almost ten months to realize that.

I’ve been wearing that bracelet every day as a reminder that I get to choose where home is, and this too, can be home – if I make that choice. It may take time and it may not be easy, but that’s life. It’s about perspective, it’s about falling down and getting back up, it’s about finding your tribe and leaning on them, and it’s about being real.

It’s not easy, but if life were easy, it would be called kindergarten. There comes a time where we have to make the choice of how to respond to the events life throws at us. Right now, I choose to copy one of my students, who used to write on the back of her Mad Minute quizzes in her little third-grader scrawl, “Let’s do this.”

All right, life, let’s do this.

*Note: if I had felt any pain or that twinge that has been my unwanted companion off and on the past few years, I would have stopped instantly. That’s when you listen to the demands of your body. Or had I been perpetually fatigued, that would be something to get checked out. This was neither of those.

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Midnight runs

I remember that night so clearly. It was a perfect, North Carolina summer evening – warm enough to be outside with only a tank top and shorts, but not too humid so as to make breathing unbearable.

I was at a concert of an incredible musician with friends that I loved, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t appreciate it for more than a minute or two at a time before the intense waves of hurt and disappointment came crashing through and threatened to pull me under faster than a rough riptide. Earlier that evening, a good friend of mine did something that hurt me emotionally in a way that very few people have. I was deeply hurt and I was disappointment in myself for letting this person’s actions have that much sway over my emotions. Throughout the concert, I acted like I was paying attention and enjoying the show, while inwardly I vacillated between wanting to throw dishes at a wall and curl up on the uneven grass beneath my feet and just cry.

I wound up leaving the concern early and got home just before midnight. At this point, I was equal points seething at my friend and frustrated with myself. I can’t remember the last time before that I did a midnight run (college, maybe?), but the instant I got home, I started putting on my running shoes almost without even thinking. There was a four mile loop I often ran, and autopilot kicked in once I was outside, one foot moving in front of the other.

Truly, it was a beautiful night. The air had a tinge of briskness, the cicadas were playing their symphony, the trees were still a deep green above me with the stars twinkling through, and it was just me and the pavement. I remember wanting to stop and just break down a few times during that first mile – to stop and let the hurt and the pain overwhelm me, to beat myself up, to give up in general.

But I didn’t. I kept moving, kept running.

And then a funny thing started to happen. Just over a mile into it, my thoughts somehow started changing. I started to remember who I was, what I was worth, and what I wanted. I started to put the situation in perspective, and I realized that although I couldn’t change what had happened, I was able to decide how it would impact me and what I would do moving forward. And even before these new thoughts entered my consciousness, I started to feel stronger with every single step in a very tangible, measurable way.

People rarely ask me why I run. They often ask how long I’ve been running, how far I run now, or  if I’ve run a marathon. Those questions are easy and can be answered in just a few words.

When someone asks me why I run, I usually pause and assess why the person is asking. If I think they’re just making small talk, I give them a true answer, but perhaps one that is less personal. “I love having that time outdoors” or “It give me time to just be quiet and think” are some answers I’ve given that fall into this category.

if I gave someone the real answer, though, it would be so much longer and give so much more insight about who I am and how I work. I don’t think even this list is a complete answer, but since I need to go to bed at some point tonight, it’ll do for now.

I run to think. More often, I run to make time where my brain isn’t thinking at all.

I run to challenge myself.

I run to push the limits, and then push those new limits some more.

I run to work through problems and issues in my life.

I run because that runner’s high is real.

I run to form new friendships and deepen existing ones.

I run to beat my goals.

I run because it’s hard.

I run towards solutions.

I run to discover my strengths.

I run to grow.

I run to keep my sanity.

I run because it’s fun.

I run so that I can sleep at night.

I run not from emotional pain, but through it.

I run to appreciate all the small things in life.

I run to grow stronger.

I run to develop discipline, which then manifests itself in all areas of my life.

I run for me – to work through who I’ve been, to honestly assess who I am now, and to determine who I want to be.

I run for those who can’t.

I run to quiet my mind.

I run to find peace.

I run for freedom.

I run because I can.

I run because I love it.

I run to keep the rest of my life in perspective.

I run because it makes me the best me I can be.

After I finished my run that night last July, I laid back on the trunk of my car and looked up at the world. The stars shone more brightly, the trees smelled even more fresh, the cicadas sounded more lovely, and the world felt so brilliantly alive. I laid out there for a good while taking it all in, grateful not only to be able to run, but that such a simple act could remind me of my inner strength and encourage me be a better me.

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When you leave a place that was home for so long, it stands to reason that it takes a while to not be so painfully homesick. To some extent, as long as it’s still home in part of your heart, I’ve realized that you’ll always miss it at least a little bit. I think it’s similar to running injuries. Runners typically face two main types of injuries: acute and chronic. The acute injuries are the ones that sideline you for an undefined period of time. These are the broken bones, the torn ligaments, the things that hurt so much you can’t move because it knocks you down so hard. Then there are the more chronic injuries, such as shin splints, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis. These are the ones that you can still run on, but man, you feel that pain or tenderness in every step. Neither one is fun, and as runners, we manage each category differently.

In my recent experience, the same is true of homesickness. When I first moved, my homesickness was definitely of the acute variety. Nights spent with a roll of tissue paper were painfully common and there were times I just wanted to curl up in the fetal position and do nothing else. Somewhere along the way,  it shifted to the chronic condition. It certainly flares up at times, sometimes quite painfully, but the default is a deep, accepted longing. I have friends now, certainly, and I am immensely grateful to spend more time with my family. At the same time, though, that underlying feeling remains, more present at some moments than others.

I’ve realized that whenever I encounter something that reminds me of home, it warms my heart just a bit. Whether it was the fellow at the conference in San Diego wearing a UNC sweatshirt (how I’ve missed Carolina blue!), the lady at the beach with a Tar Heels hat, the random dude in downtown LA with an NC State sweatshirt, or the guy on my kickball team from Charlotte (a city that I’m not even that particularly fond of), each contact lifts my day. It’s similar to the way that whenever I saw a California license plate while living in North Carolina, I became irrationally happy.

I’ve come to realize that these touchstones are important. Good old Merriam Webster defines a touchstone as “a fundamental or quintessential part or feature.” And sure, that may be true. Certainly, any time I see something in a particular shade of blue, I instantly think of UNC Chapel Hill. But these touchstones are so much more than merely a part or feature. They are an arrow towards a chapter of our lives, an entire bank of memories, of a plethora of emotions, of communities and people that matter.

Touchstones. A reminder of who we were or where we come from. In a world where movement may be the only constant, we may have made homes and left pieces of our heart all over the world. We might have people we love three, five, or eight time zones away. When we leave those places and those people, we’re never the same as when we first arrived. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said, “No man ever steps  in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The people with whom we surround ourselves have the power to transform who we are. When we leave what we know and those that became family, remembrances of these people or that which was once home can remind us of who we were at one point in time. These touchstones can serve as a tangible bridge to a piece of our past and help us to move forward into the future.

It can be a tricky balance to remember and appreciate the past, live in the present, and look forward to the future, and those touchstones can serve a vital role in establishing that balance. Sometimes it may seem like an impossible task, but it’s one worth pursuing. As I used to tell my kiddos, “If it were easy, it’d be called kindergarten.”

It’s not kindergarten; this is life. So let’s get out there, and as one of them used to say back to me, let’s do this.

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Painting perils

I recently helped a friend paint a wall in his room. When he moved into the house a few months ago, he thought he wanted to change the color of his bedroom, so he painted samples of different colors onto his wall to try them out. It was a great idea, but it turned out that he liked the original color best, so he needed to paint that single wall the same color to cover up the other swatches.

Now, I’m always up for an adventure, so somehow I was easily shanghaied into this. I quickly learned it was quite the endeavor. Our first item of business was to go to the hardware store to get the tools he didn’t already have. I never knew there were different types of rollers for distinct surfaces or that there were different depths of rollers. As it turns out, not all walls are created equal.

Then came the preparation. The furniture was shifted to the opposite side of the room, squashed tighter than a game of Tetris. We carefully laid painter’s tape along the baseboards, the trim around both doors, the ceiling, and the opposing walls. We almost forgot to cover the air conditioning vent, the electrical outlets, and the light switch, but those too were eventually painstakingly covered. Then the drop cloth was shaken out and gently squashed it against the wall, taped in some areas so as to make sure the carpet was completely covered. Looking back, I think the preparation took longer than the actual painting.

At last we had reached the moment we had been waiting for: the painting itself. My friend opened the paint can that had been left in the garage before he moved in, poured it into the little painting pan thing, and the painting began. It was a fun process, but as I painted more and more of the wall, I realized it looked pretty uneven. In fact, it looked pretty terrible. After we finished the wall, there were splotches of dark paint right next to paint that seemed twelve shades lighter, alongside another swatch of dark wall. I didn’t want to say anything to my friend, but I was a bit concerned at how bad it looked. I knew the recently painted wall would look darker than the three other walls, but was it supposed to look that much darker?  I stepped back another few feet, my back against the wall, hoping that some distance might make it look cohesive.

Nope, no such luck.

We decided to meet up with some friends and give the wall some time to dry. It was probably a good idea to get away from the paint fumes, too, now that I think about it. As we hung out with our friends, I forgot all about the wall, only remembering from time to time when I looked down and saw green paint splotches on the back of my hands.

Eventually it was time to face the music. We wound up back at his house, and I don’t know about him, but I was holding my breath as he opened the door into his room. I haven’t painted in at least two decades, so I didn’t have enough of a sample size to know if the paint job would magically come together. We turned on the light, stepped back, and immediately breathed a sigh of relief. The wall looked absolutely perfect. The paint had dried evenly and the newly painted wall matched the other walls beautifully. A few days later after my friend had put all the furniture back where it was supposed to be and hung a few pictures, he let me know that he loved how the room looked.

I was thinking about this the other day and realized that’s kind of how life is, too. Sometimes we never know how (or even if) the different walls are going to come together and match. At times, we may feel like our lives are like the wall as it was drying: a mess, completely unorganized, and something that someone else is going to have to come and fix. We may feel like that poor wall looked at this point: a misfit that doesn’t belong.    

But the beauty of life is that where we see a period, it’s often a comma. Or heck, even a semicolon for some of those darker times that seem to last far too long. Regardless of the punctuation mark in use, what we think is the ending very rarely actually is. It took a little bit of faith, hope, the ability to step back, and some patience for us to come to see that finished wall as the beautiful thing it became. Yet too often, we fail to give ourselves the space for those things in our own lives.

I was reminded of this recently. As I was walking around campus one afternoon, I was delighted to discover that someone (or many someones) had chalked up campus with positive and uplifting messages. My favorite was, “After every sunset comes a sunrise.” I found it to be a beautiful reminder that no matter how dark this day may be, tomorrow brings a new day, full of hope, love, and new adventures to be had.

To me, the last half of 2018 felt very much like the process of painting that wall. I was preparing to make a change, getting ready for it, and then I made the change and it quickly felt a lot like how that poor wall looked: a complete and utter mistake that couldn’t be undone fast enough. During this time, an angel arrived in my life in the form of a new friend. Out of nowhere one day, she gave me a framed quotation by one of my favorite people, Bob Goff. It says, “Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.”

Thinking about that gave me hope. Amidst all the unknown, I can stand firm in one known constant: the sun will rise tomorrow. And with that new sunrise comes another 24 hours with which I can continue to forge forward and trust that eventually, the walls will dry and those messy, unorganized chapters will each have a name.

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The art of solitude

I recently had a conversation with a friend about being alone and the struggles that this can bring. It’s a concept I’ve had to work through a couple of times in my life, and I think it’s one that is never fully put to bed for many of us.

I’ve learned that there is a distinct difference between loneliness and solitude. We experience loneliness when we feel completely and utterly alone. We might be in a crowd of people at Disneyland, but within, we feel like no one else bothers to see us. We might feel like we don’t matter, or that no one cares. Loneliness is often something we strive to avoid. We might plan nights out with friends or acquaintances, dinners with family, or binge watch the latest Netflix phenomenon with the intention of trying to erase feelings of loneliness.

Solitude is a much different experience. Solitude occurs when we embrace the silence and the experience of being by ourselves. Introverts may refer to it as their time to recharge, when they are simply present with themselves. Solitude can take on a number of forms- it might be meditation, a solo walk on the beach, enjoying a cup of tea at a coffee shop with a good book, working on a new chord on the guitar, and so on.

Solitude is one of many ways in which we can learn about ourselves. In a world full of chaos, news feeds, social media, and busyness, it can be easy not to let ourselves just be. As someone who is an internal processor (though I recognize not everyone works this way), I am very aware that I need solitude to process my thoughts, emotions, and whatever may be bothering me. Oftentimes I can recognize that I feel off in some way, and it isn’t until I retreat from the world that I figure out why and consequently, what to do about it.

I distinctly remember the first time I felt prolonged experiences of loneliness. I was a freshman in college, living in the dorms, and I didn’t know a single person who went to my school. My adjustment period was pretty rough, and it didn’t help that I had a tenuous family situation at the time. I tried all the right things- joining clubs, intramural teams (Ultimate Frisbee? Why not?), Greek life, choir, and more. I figured the only way to meet people was to put myself out there, so by golly, I did. And yet, nothing seemed to help. I struggled a lot, and the counselor I was seeing told me I had a mild case of depression, which naturally scared me even more. I didn’t want to be depressed! I wanted to have friends! To have fun! I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the “college experience” I kept hearing about.

I finally started having conversations with one of the campus ministers. He was a great guy who had seen it all and knew when to let me talk and when to nudge the conversation in a certain direction. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but I remember that I finally felt heard and my experience was normalized for the first time. Perhaps most importantly, he lent me a book, The Restless Heart by Ronald Rolheiser. In the book, Rolheiser talks about the different between solitude and loneliness and how we can use that struggle to grow in our spiritual life. To a seventeen year-old who was desperately searching for a way to both understand what I was feeling and figure out what to do about it, this book was worth more than gold, and it helped me to move forward in my college career.

There have certainly been other periods in my life when I’ve experienced intense loneliness. Teaching in rural North Carolina comes to mind, as does moving across the country away from many of my closest friends. There have been times when I’ve stopped talking about my experiences of loneliness to close friends because I felt like that was all I talked about and I was tired of beating the same drum over and over. None of these experiences have been fun in any way. In fact, they were pretty terrible. There have been some periods in my life that I think I kept Kleenex in business single-handedly. And yet, I wouldn’t be who I am today without them, and I would have missed out on so many important lessons that came from working through that pain.

I’ve learned that when shit hits the fan and you think there is no one else left on your team, you can choose to let God in or shut the door in his face. He loves to use the silence as his conduit, but it takes a willing listener to hear him.

I’ve learned that it’s in the times when we feel most alone that we find out who our truest friends are.

I’ve learned that from the forges of life can come true beauty and brilliance.

I’ve learned that no matter how bad it can get and how alone I might feel, after each sunset comes a new sunrise, ripe with the promise of a new day and new adventures to be had.

As I write this, I’m laying in the grass at a park that reminds me of my home in North Carolina, taking in the sunlight as the sun drops lower and lower in the sky. Four months ago, the very act of being here by myself in a city that felt so foreign, drab, and unwelcoming would have terrified me. And yet today, I’m basking in this time to myself. This opportunity to think through something that’s been in the back of my mind all day. This chance to pause, breathe, and hear God’s voice in the silence.

Perspective is everything.

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It’s been quite the thought experiment to start to unpack what I’ve learned from this most recent transition. Part of me thinks it’s too early to think about it and I need more time before I can look back, but a bigger part of me has already seen lessons that having been helping in getting adjusted to a new place now.

One thing that struck me, over and over again, as I said my goodbyes two months ago was how many people that I wish I had known better. There were far too many people that I genuinely liked and actually cared about connecting with, but I just hadn’t spent enough time with to develop our cursory friendship into something deeper.

These were the people that I saw at group events and always enjoyed catching up with, but never followed up on my thought of, “Hey, I want to grab coffee with them!” or “Dang, what a cool person- I want to have more of that conversation!”For some of these folks, these were the people whose schedules never intersected with mine- we were both fairly busy and the free time didn’t overlap enough to make it easy, and neither of us made the extra effort to reach out.  In other instances, these were the people I became friends with too late, in a sense – friendships that developed only during my last few months in town. Given time, some of those could have become much deeper, but I left before that could happen.

I had a “see you later” party before I left, and friends from all groups came- my church group, the running crew, the random group of girls I fell into, and more. It was special to see all my people come together and to watch the intersections. Friends from all levels were there – best friends who I’ll know forever, recent friends with more tenuous connections, and everyone in between. Seeing all these people together hit the point home for me: I had so many wonderful people in my life there, and I didn’t know many of them as well as I wished.

The second point that resonated with me during those last few weeks was that, for the most part, people are not told how valuable they are, that they are inherently worthy, and that they are pretty darn awesome. I was telling most of my friends how much I valued them, the beauty I saw within them, and how great they were because, hey, I was leaving! Who knew the next time I would see them again to remind them of these important things? I’m also a big believer that the only moment we have is this very one. The future is never guaranteed, so carpe diem, man, and just tell that person next to you how much you love them!

Now fast forward a few weeks to me trying to build connections and communities in a brand new place as an adult. Now, if you’ve ever restarted somewhere in your adult life, you know that it can be hard. Other people have lived there for a while and typically already have their social groups established. It can be daunting to be the odd man out and to try to nudge your way into the circle.  I’m well aware that this process will take a while, and I’m working on the whole “be patient” thing (easier said than done sometimes!). But I’ve realized that I’m learning from my experiences of just a few months ago.

As the newcomer, I quickly saw that people here already have their established social circles and full lives, as expected. Because of this, instead of re-inventing the wheel, I’ve decided to insert myself into them. In the last month or so, when I’ve met someone I liked (and I can usually get a good read on someone fairly quickly), there are two things I have been intentional about doing:

  1. Telling that person that I think they are pretty cool and I’d love to get to know them better
  2. Actually following up and reaching out to set something up

It’s exhausting, man. I like my own time to relax and recharge, and there are a number of solo activities I enjoy doing. I also have a pretty big family, and I’m basically doing the same thing with them right now too. (“Hey, bro, it’s been a while. Can I stop by for a bit/come over for dinner/play with the kids/find a time to connect?”) It’s been a challenge to expend all this energy while not quite yet finding how I want to balance all the pieces.

But I’ll tell you what: it’s important, and it’s worth the energy. In our world today, there is a strong lack of intentionality. We tend to go through life day by day, email by email, task by task, without being fully intentional with our actions. As a result, we often drift from our goals. We wonder why we aren’t getting any closer to these big dreams we have – a house, a life partner, a new promotion – without thinking through the steps it would take to get there. We wonder why so and so doesn’t reach out and invite us to invite us to that event or to spend time together without realizing we also have the power to reach out and nurture that connection.

Some people say it’s important to meet someone where they are, while others will preach that we must meet others halfway. I disagree with both viewpoints. If we want to live fully and love deeply, we need to put ourselves out there, regardless of what the people around us are doing.

If you wanted to build a shed in your backyard, you wouldn’t sit in the front yard and say, “I think I’ll wait for some carrier pigeons to drop me off some two-by-fours.” Similarly, you wouldn’t go to halfway to the hardware store and wait for the Home Depot dudes in neon orange vests to drive the cart full of supplies straight to you. No, you would make your shopping list, go to Home Depot, ask for help along the way, fumble around a bit, be awkward as you learned how to use new tools, and eventually, you would get it done.

It’s not the perfect analogy for building relationships since I also believe it takes two to tango, and in relationships, the other person needs to also put some effort in. Regardless, the point stands. Be brave. Be bold. Decide what you want and what it will take to get there. For me, I want to build solid friendships and create strong communities. So I make a list every week of who I want to connect with somehow and the groups I want to attend, and then I reach out to make it happen. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes energy. It’s hard to balance with work, family, and personal time. It takes putting yourself out there, again and again, even when you’d rather stay home and watch the Bachelor. But both the present and future you deserve it, so we’ve gotta work our tails off to make that happen. Because let’s be real here: it’s not gonna happen on its own.

There’s a beautiful relationship  between taking action and trusting that things will happen as they need to. I’ve known people in the past who have prayed for something and just assumed it would happen because of that. I’ve also known folks who have just waited for parts of life to come together in its own time. I’m not saying either of those are bad, and I absolutely believe having that faith and trust is important. However, it’s not enough on its own. We have the power to be the change both in the world outside us and within our own lives, and if we want something to happen, there is something to be said about taking the steps to make the dream a reality. Otherwise, it remains out there in space, floating around with all the other space debris.

One thing I’ve learned is that life is too short, and it’s not guaranteed. Why waste the precious time we have here waiting for something to happen to us? Today, choose to be the author of your own life, decide how you want the story to go, and go make that happen.

If you have a dream, go chase it
If you feel hope, don’t waste it
If you find love, embrace it
And never take a single breath for granted
The story’s yours, go write it
Tomorrow’s undecided
Our days are counted on this planet
Never take a single breath
Take a single breath for granted
(“Granted” by Josh Groban)