A Letter to the College Grads

It’s graduation season. Right now as I write these words, it’s a bright and sunny day and I know there are college students all over the place dressed up in robes, sitting in ceremonies and walking across stages. There are families waiting through hundreds of names to cheer for that special one, groups are heading out to big dinners to celebrate and moving boxes are piled up, waiting for trucks to take them away.

I was the kind of college kid who loved the adventure with every ounce of heart and soul I could find and then some. I loved it so much, in fact, that I banished the word “senior” from the vocabulary of all my friends our last year and as graduation loomed closer and closer, the dread only built. It felt like my school and I had fallen deeply for each other, which is why I couldn’t understand this polite push they were giving me out the door.

No one told me how traumatic the transition to post-college life could be which makes me want to run up to all the college grads I see around town now, give them a big hug and tell them that they’ll get through it. Get through what exactly? Oh, just you wait and see – talk to me in a year or even two and you’ll know what I mean.

What I’ve found in the years since college is that my experiences were not unique. A lot of friends, people with dreams and goals, talented, driven people, wrestled with the same issues and confusions. Not everyone will have the same story, but I do know two things for sure: done right, college is a lot of fun and done right, adulting is hard to say the very least. Moving from the first to the second isn’t easy so with that in mind, sweet college grads, here are a few things I wish I had known when I finished school:

Toward the end of your time in college, people start to fall into two categories: those who have a plan and those who do not. Some people will be moving on to a graduate program they’ve already been accepted to.  A small number of friends will have a job ready and waiting for them. And others, well, you’ll see them in just a few weeks at their wedding. Then there are others, like me, who had no idea what the next step was.

When I was about to graduate, I envied friends who were headed to medical school, teachers who had a classroom waiting for them, accounting majors who had had a job lined up for months. None of them were lying awake at night, afraid of what they would be doing in a few months’ time. The hard truth though is that no one gets a free pass into adulthood. Everyone has challenges to meet so whether you have plans or not, even if you are the only one in your group of friends to not have an answer to the terrible “So what’s next?” question, it’s okay. Breathe. Having no plans is incredibly scary, but it’s also unbelievably exciting. For the first time, you have nothing waiting for you to get to. The world is holding every option in front of you and saying, pick a place, pick a dream! Let’s get to the adventure of living your own life.

This leads me to the next important matter, one that you would do well to start preaching to yourself now: When you and your friends walked across your graduation stage, it was the last time you’ll cross a starting gate together. For years you’ve kept in step thanks to being in the same grade at school and for the most part, you’ve hurdled the same transitions together, but this is the last time you’ll all be in exactly the same place. From this point on, people will get jobs at different times, develop passions and careers at different speeds. Everyone will have their own timing for falling in love, getting married, seeing the world, experiencing tragedies, buying homes and growing families. Your timelines may no longer match up but that does not mean one of you is living a better, richer life. You run in the places, heart spaces, people groups and gifts that God has given you and cheer your friends on as they do the same. You are all running different races now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need each other – it’s quite the opposite actually. Make a point to celebrate each other’s the mile markers together.

Next, when your car is packed to the ceiling and you’re heading out of your college town, it’s okay to be sad. If you even want to cry, go for it. Two days after I graduated, I filled my car with what the U-Haul hadn’t already taken home with my parents and made one last stop before leaving town at my favorite coffee shop. After getting my drink and shrugging of the slight suspicion that I was now a has-been, I got back in my car and in less than three seconds had thrown myself over the passenger seat sobbing. I mean, it was shoulder-shaking, can’t-see-straight, the-world-is-ending sobbing. After a few minutes (or a half-hour, who’s counting?), I pulled myself together enough to safely drive home, but I cried the entire hour and a half drive, and then I cried the rest of the night too. Walking out of an experience that has been unimaginably transformative, out of a town and school that you deeply love and away from a life filled with best friends and ridiculous shenanigans at every hour is a lot to leave. Add to it that you’re heading into a vague future and new way of life and it’s no wonder you’re sad. You have all the permission to miss it even though it’s only been over for two days. You’re headed into the rest of your life and from the outside, it’s inconceivable, but like my mom told me, you’ll feel better in the morning.

And yet, while you might emotionally have it more together the next day that doesn’t mean that the next step will be waiting for you with your morning coffee. Transitions take time. Dreams take time. Answers take time. Your life, whether or not you know your next step, will not be built overnight or by the end of the summer. The process of building your own life requires patience, grit, hope, forgiveness, grace (mostly towards yourself), love, prayer and work. You are not doing it wrong because it feels unsure or unsteady. Truly, it can be excruciating at times, but here, in the plowing, in the figuring out, in the praying and waiting, in the trying and trying again, this is where you find the good and real life you’ve been waiting for.

And as you wait, embrace where you are. If you find yourself back in your childhood bedroom or job hunting with nothing to do but nap and visit coffee shops the rest of the day – embrace it. If you have parents gracious enough to let you come home, have family dinners together, get to know them and their daily lives again. If you are job hunting like a madwoman, but haven’t landed the job yet, keep at it but don’t beat yourself up. Remember: You have your own timeline to keep. Your story will be different than the rest of us. One day soon, you will be over your head with projects and deadlines and you’ll dream of an afternoon where you could take a nap and read a book. You’ll get there when you get there so please enjoy the benefits you find along the way.

Television and movies lied to us. Rare (actually, never) are the people, fresh out of college who:

-Land their dream job which, of course, pays $100,000
-Live in a sprawling city loft
-Have an amazing, eclectic, tight-knit group of new friends
-Feel completely at home in the world

Don’t believe it and don’t feel bad because it’s not your life. There’s a good chance that life is actually going to get quiet … realllllllll quiet. Without roommates and friends and classes, without group projects and social events to fill your schedule, things come to an abrupt halt. And when the screech stops, it may be just you for a while. Remember the part above about jobs and plans taking time? Well, in the midst of that waiting you’re going to be tempted to feel like you’re on your own in this great big world. Along with that, as the waiting and trying stretches on, you may be tempted to think that God isn’t working in this newly quiet life of yours. You felt Him in the community, home and places you had in college, but out here in unchartered territory, well, it all feels different. It’s here and now that you need to throw yourself into the deep waters of the Bible like never before. Let the words of God’s presence wash over you and let Him teach you more about who He is and more about the life He’s making for you right now. He is with you. Lean in and hold tight.

Now, my sweey graduates, if all of this has made you run under the covers, come on out because I have one last thing to tell. Post-college life is hard at first – let me go back, I can’t handle this hard – but it’s also the boldest of beginnings. In a few years, if you do the hard work of pressing forward and leaning in to God, you’ll look around and find that a lot has changed. The people that used to fill the details of your everyday life as classmates, roommates and friends have spread out and are pursuing what they love, living what they believe, rolling up their sleeves and going about the business of a thoughtful life and yet, if you do the work of cheering each other on, the friendships will still be there. Your lives will all be different, but that’s okay. In fact, it makes it all the more exciting. This is the wild time when no two of you will be in the exact same place. So instead, make time to meet up, catch up, learn the details of each other’s normal and cheer each other on.

You can do it, my college grads. I know you can and I’m cheering you on from here.

Joy

I don’t know how the trend started, but a few years ago people got really into choosing a single word as their theme for the new year. I’ve never been interested in resolutions, but words well, that’s a different matter.

A few days before my 26th birthday, I was laying in bed thinking about those mysterious words and how someone goes about picking just one in a galaxy of millions when I wondered, nearly absentmindedly, what word could describe year 25 for me. Almost immediately, SOULFUL popped into my head. Really? I thought. So what about this next year?

In the three years that I’ve walked with a word in hand, it has stunned me how intricately the word is woven into the events of that year – how they speak exactly to what I need and who Jesus wants to be to me in that year. What I’ve come to discover as the key to picking a new word each year is simple: the word, when it’s time, will always come find you.

I heard someone say once that outside of Scripture, God doesn’t necessarily speak to each of us the same way. However, to each individual person He consistently speaks the same way over and over — like a personal language between the two of you. I’ve come to discover that my personal back and forth language with God lives in a million details – colors, sounds, dates and of course, words. To the passerby they mean nothing, but to us, the two who know our conversations, have heard my questions, know what I’ve been reading, thinking and praying — well, to us it is no coincidence.

First, the word pops up on the edge of my brain. Hmmm. That’s interesting. Like waving a flag from the far side of a field, it’s announcing its presence. Then slowly, slowly it makes its way into my days and thoughts through conversations, things I read, things I’m listening to. Hmmm. That’s interesting I’ll think again. In time, it wiggles in far enough that I can’t reason it away. I start seeing it in Scripture and begin turning the word over and over, wondering what kind of work this new word might bring with it. If I’m not careful, my eyes will get wild with imaging how good I’m going to get at this word, how in a year’s time I will be able to practically teach a course on this word, how THIS IS THE WORD THAT WILL FINALLY CHANGE EVERYTHING! You would think I picked the word, not the other way around. No, at this point, I like to imagine that the word and Jesus exchange a glance like, Oh boy, there she goes again. Laughing, because tool box in hand, they know how small my understanding actually is of the work they are about to embark on.

—–

Now that you know about the word process, I think it’s time to clue you in on a conversation I’ve been having on a regular basis for about a year:
Holy Spirit: Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Me: Eh ….
Holy Spirit: Joy comes in the morning. You’re going to dance again.
Me: You know … thank you, but I’d rather just not. I don’t even see how that’s possible honestly, but even if it is, I’d rather not. It’s not okay that Rhett isn’t here – I hate it, in fact – so thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want it. I’m willing to make it without joy.

Something I’ve grown mindful of in regards to grief is that like anything else, it can be turned against you and used to make you feel like you’re not “doing it” right. Am I feeling too much? Am I not feeling enough? Have I been crying for too long? Should I have moved on? Shouldn’t this be easier to talk about by now? Should I ever even want to move on? Emotions – they are champion feelers, but sometimes the very worst at telling you the whole truth. I’ve decided that when it comes to grief,  there are no rules and everyone’s journey through it is a new trail in the wilderness, one they must cut for themselves. Pick up your machete to the right please.

So about a month ago, as I started to slow down and listen for Year 28’s word, nothing happened for a long time. It was quiet, so quiet in fact that I had started to think we were maybe done with this word thing when softly and slyly, a tiny word showed up in the corner of my mind. It was like God saying, Oh hi there. I know you’re not ready for this so I’m just going to it way over here, off to the side. It’s not going to bother you. Let’s just all get used to being in the same room together. To which I said, Ohhhhh no. Nope. It can’t sit with us. Nooooooo thank you. It’s not time, it’s not right. No, no and oh yeah, no.

Would you believe it then, that after my incredibly authoritative “it can sit with us” argument that joy got up and started hopping closer? The word began popping up during my day just to say hi in conversations and songs. Then, well, then joy got bold. It jumped inside me at the oddest times. I’ve found myself dancing to Taylor Swift songs in while getting ready in the morning. Walking down the street, it winks with the twilight sky. Driving home from the store, it shows up on the radio as MMMbop blasts in from the past. It meets me when I wake up in the morning.

I don’t really want it, to be perfectly honest. The joy that comes in the morning, that He replaces mourning with … it makes me nervous because that same voice that tries to make me feel like I’m not grieving right, it also tries to tell me that letting joy in means letting Rhett out. It sells me the fear that joy means moving on from missing Rhett, from feeling the ache of an empty chair at our family dinners, of feeling the weight of a broken world inside my heart. I’m not ready to give those things up. I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready truthfully. Thankfully, here’s the TRUTH of the matter: God, in His complexity that is beyond my greatest  imagination, is a good Father stooping down to hand me a birthday gift. He’s the friend that’s felt all the feels and He gets it, the ache, the empty chair, the weight of a broken world, but He also sees up over them and into eternity up ahead.

For the past year and a half, it’s been quiet. I’ve pulled back and made friends comforts like Netflix and food. I’ve barely written, haven’t reached out to a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of days walking the line of normal life on the outside and hazy fog on the inside. Now, hear me say that I think that was, for the most part, okay, maybe even necessary. You don’t get walloped by death and then stand up and run the next day. I am not the same person I was two years ago and I expect to carry grief with me the rest of my life – but I’ve sensed something shifting, something  pushing up and around the grief recently. I feel a little bit like I’m waking up and I’m starting to get thirsting for people and the world again. I feel a tug toward stories again. Honestly I think it’s Jesus, knocking with joy in hand and trying to make me hear Him say, “You’ll carry him forever, but my love, you’ve got work to do and you can’t stay still and quiet and still get it done. Joy has to come in. I know you’re resistant, but do you know what joy brings with it? Strength. Fire. Thankfulness. You’ve seen the inside of grief, you’ve felt the cold, muddy bottom of its pits and I was there with you every moment. Now, I want you to know joy – not that happy-because-everything-always-goes-right feeling but joy – JOY. Joy that turns the light on deep below. Joy that hums and buzzes because of Me.”

Living pushed back and quiet is not supposed to last forever, I know. I’ve lived in that time for nearly a year and a half. I’ve felt all the hard as hell feels. I’ve let the grief in, knowing that the only way to get past it is to feel your way through it. And now, because joy seems adamant in its mission, I’m starting to believe that instead of replacing anyone or anything, joy means Jesus showing up every day and saying, “I’m here. I am bigger than your grief, I am stronger and more steady than your heaviest, darkest emotions. I’ve sat with you in every pit, we walked up and around the mountain of mourning – and I won’t stop joining you step for step, but I’m bringing joy with us now too.” I hear Him say it’s time.

What about you, friend? Are you waking up and feeling like it’s time as well? Is there something you sense God at work on that you are afraid of? You can trust His timing; it’s never wrong. You can trust His love; it’s always right. God chose you for something and every day He sits at the table, sleeves rolled up, ready to enter into that work with you. What an honor, right?

Let’s trust Him together. I’m standing just over threshold of 28, trying to uncurl my fists and lay them flat for what He wants to give, for what He wants to do. I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m moved by a God who loves me in such a way that He wants to spend a year teaching me about one small, three-lettered word. I’m choosing to trust that He knows what He is doing.

Joy comes in the morning, we’ll see, friends. We’ll see.

Learning to Live with Our Number of Days

Two days before Rhett passed away last January, God stopped me in my kitchen. I was rushing to grab coffee and get out the door when it happened all of a sudden. It wouldn’t be right to keep him here if he’s tired and ready He told me. I had spent months trying to bargain with God, asking that He change Rhett’s diagnosis, miraculously sustain him or even take me instead. Months and months of these heavy, desperate prayers and in a flash, in just a few words, peace rushed in and took their place. I know now what I couldn’t know then: God was making way for what was to come later that week.

It’s been a whole year since that moment – today marks one year since Rhett passed away and tomorrow is my birthday which means that every other day has been a reconciling of how to live with both those things … life and death. Processing Rhett’s rare condition and death over the last year and a half has meant confronting a lot of questions that I used to consider basic. God, are you good? Do you love us? Are you with us? God, can I trust you … do I want to trust you? What I’ve discovered is that in trying to answer those questions, emotions are not always your friend; they build up like a swirling ocean that roars and rails so loud you can’t hear anything but feelings. To hear that voice from the kitchen, the one that you can trust, I’ve found that you sometimes have to go looking for Him.

So for the past year, I’ve often started that search by visiting to Rhett’s chapter, Psalm 139. When my brother and sister-in-law dedicated Rhett at church in November 2014, they boldly read verses 13 and 14 aloud: “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” I’ve fought for months with those verses, trying to reconcile them, trying to understand how it’s both true that God knit Rhett together with a terminal genetic condition and God desperately loves His children. My search, in time, pushed me further into the chapter to verse 16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

It’s funny, we walk this earth expecting to live long, spread-out lives of 70 or 80 years, but all we really are ever told is that God numbers our days before they begin. In Acts 17, Paul declares to the people of Athens that it’s God who determines our times and places. Job tells God, “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months.” Queen Esther, encouraged by her uncle, is told, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” In the stretched-out line of forever, it’s God who chooses specific times, down the the day for each of us to live. Still, it’s hard to make peace with six and a half months.

In these moments, when I’m lost in the details of Rhett, his genetics and the timing of it all, I’ve had to start training myself to return to Psalm 139. When my emotions start to roar, I have to preach to them what I know:

I tell them that with great hope I believe this was all woven together for a reason. That each of Rhett’s days was purposely planned. I imagine God – the I-live-outside-the-bounds-of-time God – saw all of this long ago. From way out, I imagine Him bent over this flash of time and knitting Rhett together. And as He worked, I believe He sang a mighty song of life over him and smiled seeing the wonders that He and Rhett would accomplish together — lives, hearts, stories. Those genes, I shout that God did not miss them. No, I dare to believe God picked this amazing boy to be the one to crack open the hearts of his family, friends, even strangers and forever alter them. I am believing that God chose Rhett to be someone He could breathe the joy of His strength into so that with every breath his life would be an exquisite song of surrender for the world to behold. I can see Him, eyes lit with joy, telling the angles to gather around, pulling His children on earth together and telling them to Look, here at this boy that He had knit together wonderfully well; I see Him telling them not to miss this testament of absolute dependence on Him. “Watch Rhett dare. Watch him fight, watch him live.”

I am training myself to trust that the number of days we are each given is not necessarily a reflection of the breadth and depth of mission we are each given. I am believing that God is still using a boy named Rhett to carry the truth that we are all small, weak and in need of tender care. And I’m celebrating that God, while standing above time and space, saw hundreds, maybe thousands of people and countless future stories and said Yes, I will tie them all together through Rhett. Yes, I choose Rhett as the way they will draw near to me, as the reason they will remember that they themselves are not gods and cannot fix this world’s problems or their own. I see Him, I see Him bending over our prayers for Rhett, our dreams of him and saying Yes, I choose you to be their once-in-a lifetime person.

Once we knew about Rhett’s condition, I asked God on more than one occasion to somehow choose me instead. I was trying to bargain with God — life in place of life. In the months since then, I’ve begun to understand that life-for-life is not how this works. No, our lives are uniquely numbered, as Psalm 139 tells us, written before they begin with specific length, purpose and circumstance. And that’s not something to fear — it tells me that He has woven a plan that is perfect in size and purpose.

There’s just so much weaving of details and plans, you guys — there’s no choice but to trust Him. If we could actually see it all I think we would be dumbfounded, in total awe. If we saw the whole picture of our lives and the threads that run here and there, up and down, I think we would let go and realize how foolish we are in worry and control. The weaving tells me that He is with us and knows. It tells me there is more happening than I can see, that God is at each start and each end and He stands in the middle, ready with walk with us through the works He created for each of us to do.

Of course, we can’t see all this because we live with our noses pressed to the tapestry; we don’t catch the weaving, the timing, the numbered days and routes we are running. We can’t see God seated at the loom, eyes blazing with the glory we have yet to behold. We have no choice but to take Him at His Word and trust that He’s there, here, everywhere weaving, weaving weaving for glory, glory glory.

This is the hard part, friends – the painful, sometimes I-don’t-think-I’m-going-to-make-it part of the journey. And there are plenty of moments when I’m not okay with any of it – I want Rhett here, I want the tapestry ripped to shreds; but our days are numbered and there’s purpose in every one of them. That’s what Psalm 139 tells me.

In almost 28 years, I’ve never met someone who has changed me, taught me, moved me like Rhett has – and it only took him six and a half months. In that too-short amount of time, he became my once in a lifetime heart, life and faith-changing coach who bends down to tell me to keep going, to trust that God is at work and to believe that we will all be together again.

Weaving, weaving, weaving, Lord, help us to trust Your weaving. Glory, glory, glory, give us hearts that believe You are the Hope of everything and fill us with the fight to live our days as Rhett did … and then let’s go home.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night … So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! -Psalm 90

Remembering That Girl

I moved to Paris five years and one week ago today. Some days, remembering the normalcy of metro cards, baguettes and twinkly Eiffel Towers feels like squinting to understand the meaning of an abstract painting. People tell you it’s there, but you have to tilt your head and halfway pretend you understand before finding it. It just doesn’t feel real.

I’m not the kind of writer who wrote her first book at age 6 or interviewed the whole neighborhood to sharpen my teenage journalism skills. No, writing for me was a bit more like throwing up – it happened almost all of a sudden. Thoughts had been swirling, clawing and building up to a scream and then all of a sudden when they couldn’t be held in a moment longer, I started this blog. Sprawled out on the den floor at my parents’ house one summer night, I started writing what I was learning and seeing, sharing things that crawled up and surprised me as ahas! and what ifs. I wasn’t aware of it then, but I was waking up to something God had been at work on for a long time. This was the moment when I started my part of the dance.

The last year and a half, grief has cut in on that dance — this thing that happens between my heart, head and fingers. Because we’re friends, I think I’m ready to tell you that I stopped showing up here because grief is like a stage curtain falling. It forces a separation between your outer and inner selves: the outer keeps moving at its normal pace, going to work, birthday parties and the grocery store, but your inside self moves at half-speed, stumbling numb in the dark. Straddling the width of the two to share my inner self in the this outer space was just too much. In the wake of Rhett going to heaven, nothing felt worthy of disrupting the halt and silence that his physical absence brought. Some days still feel like that. Truthfully, there’s no coming back from this loss, at least no coming back as the same person.

Last week when I looked at the date and realized it was my Paris anniversary, and because I was already squinting to remember, I came back to this blog and the stories I shared those first few months abroad. Reading through funny first-impressions, not-so-great photos and details I had forgotten, I found myself thinking Good for you girl. That girl, who if I can see if I squint and tilt my head at just the right angle, I love that girl. I love how she flew through tears and fear across an ocean. I love how she discovered a city, a cast of characters and a new season of life away from what she had always known. I love how she saw and lived and shared that new life with freedom, joy and gratefulness. I found myself thinking I want to be bold for her.

So, here I am — showing up for her half nauseous and afraid (my inner barometer for knowing I’m on to something good), believing that good will come from this. The dance hasn’t stopped yet. It’s time to pull the curtain up and step back in.

So … will you join me? Is there something in your life you’ve had to step away from, but you still think about daily? Let’s be honest: life, more often than not, is crazy hard. Our hearts get battered, our plans get broken and yet, we have to keep moving. There are things that were planned for us long ago – and they are waiting for us. As much as a I wish some days that I could stay behind the curtain forever, I have to think that stepping back in is part of the rebuilding, part of the redemption, part of honoring those who have gone before us. I have to believe that stepping back in while I’m still afraid means that I’m much more likely to hold tight to the Father as we start. We’re working from His leading, His power, His courage. Life is hard, friends. It’s broken and unfair, but there is a God who has stepped into it for us. We are not alone. You are not alone. Believe that. Repeat that over and over until you start to feel the curtain flutter. Watch for it – it’ll come. And when it does, step back in.

When God Meets You at Chuy’s

Author’s Note: Today is my half birthday. While I normally don’t celebrate July 22, it carries a deeper significance this year. On Wednesday, Jan. 21, my brave and beautiful nephew Rhett ran into the arms of Jesus. He was six and a half months old. The next day, Thursday, Jan. 22 was my birthday.

You probably don’t remember what the weather was like or what you did six months ago today, but I do.

Rain beat hard and relentless against the world. I remember thinking it felt just – this rain – as I watched it from a car window. Our worlds had suddenly turned cold and gray so why shouldn’t the rest of the earth follow along too?

The thing about birthdays is that after years of practiced celebration, they’re completely ingrained in you. Like a cuckoo clock, something flips on and comes alive inside of us on that day. Birth day! Birth day! Birth day! it hoots. I remember probably a dozen times that day tilting my head and thinking, Huh – today’s really my birthday. Every time, it was like waking up and remembering all the facts at once. They crashed into line but couldn’t connect. Nothing made sense. Nothing felt real. I had never lived a day quite like this.

There came a moment later that day though, when my friend David looked at me from across the room. Can we go celebrate your birthday for a little bit? I wanted to say no. Celebration was the last thing I felt like and I don’t even remember how I agreed to it. Yet somehow we found ourselves scooting into a booth at a restaurant we knew well from college. Our dear friend Alexis who lived in Waco joined us too.

And to be fair, it wasn’t anything like any birthday celebration I had ever been to. We sat there stunned and wounded, spilling out tears and Rhett stories, telling memories from the last 24 hours and the past six and a half months.

We talked about how just the morning before I had texted them both to say how weird it felt to know I wouldn’t be spending my birthday with them. Thanks to years at Baylor together, we had grown used to throwing each other birthday parties. In fact, for my 21st birthday, they threw me such a ridiculous week-long extravaganza that we still tell stories about. David said it was like Rhett had known and wanted to bring us together.

A favorite writer of mine, Shauna Niequist writes this in her book Bread and Wine: “The table is where we store up for those days, where we log minutes and hours building something durable and strong that gets tested in those terrible split seconds. And the table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking.”

We’ve spent years of birthdays together, probably had dozens of meals under that roof – and none of us would have imagined this collision of events.

It’s been six months to the day and still I’m drawn to that table and time. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a soft and safe moment on a cruel and cold day.

I know that really, there wasn’t any magic in the words we said, nothing supernatural in the food that we ate, but with so much spilled across the table and between us, something happened at that table. There in our deepest hour of our dark night, Jesus squeezed right into our booth and filled the spaces between us. It felt like holy ground.

On one of the most difficult days I have walked, the Lord showed up – in the faces of people I love, in the words and stories we shared, in the time we spent at the table. When I think about that day and those friends, about their exquisite kindness and love – the beauty of it nearly spins me undone.

What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Not the day, not the hour, not the circumstance. God meets us where we are. In the faces of others, in the stories we share, and yes, even in a booth at Chuy’s.

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