Chasing Sunsets (When Trials Come)

Have you ever noticed how God knows exactly what you need right when you need it?

For example, today was an overwhelmingly difficult day for me, and I cried so much that I legitimately had to put tea bags on my eyes to reduce swelling (for the record, I have never been so grateful for baseball caps). There are days when you simply want to disappear and make the world forget you ever existed — and today was one such day.

Yet, as I lay in bed listening to Joni, there came a text message from one of my best friends. Trivial thing, really… until you factor in not seeing her since April, or that this has been one of the loneliest summers I’ve ever experienced, or just needing a friend at that moment in time… and then, you see, it becomes far more than trivial.

This summer has not turned out as expected. As a matter of a fact, it’s been almost precisely the opposite of expected. I had all these goals and aspirations set up, and then… BOOM. Everything changed. Almost dying does that, you know? Your perspective shifts. Things start to look different.

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:2-5

I am in the weirdest place right now. Halfway grown up and halfway still that little girl who hid in a book for the first eight years of her life… and it is impossible — impossible — to figure out where to go from here (Why has no one written an instruction manual on this business? Talk about a best-seller.).

But even in that, I see so many unexpected blessings. I mean, good gravy, I am blessed. I have a job that I absolutely adore — and I love my coworkers. I have a small group full of girls who love me and care about me and pray for me and are truly some of the loveliest, most Christ-seeking young women I’ve ever known. I have this pen-pal who somehow understands my heart like no one else does. I have opportunities to sing, and write, and take pictures, and laugh and play and live… and the list continues on and on.

I stated earlier that this is one of the loneliest summers I’ve ever experienced — and that’s not a lie. Too much work, too much being sick, and having two of my three closest friends totally out-of-reach makes for lonely with a capital “L”… and that was me in every single way. Then, seemingly out-of-the-blue, God put Elisa in my life, and the Bible study girls, and the folks at work… and suddenly, things weren’t so lonely.

Funny how suffering leads to hope, isn’t it? And right in the midst of it all is character — becoming the people we are made to be.

If this summer hasn’t been one of character-building, I don’t know what is. Looking back on the past month is like looking through years and years of archives — because so, so much has happened to change my heart… and is still happening, for that matter. I don’t know that I can honestly say that I enjoy the process of character-building… but in the end, if I’m being sculpted into that woman that God designed me to be, it’s worth it.

I suppose the point I really want to get at is this. It is so easy to let myself get disheartened… but in the midst of this life, God has blessed me beyond comprehension. Trials happen and they suck. But even when they do happen, there’s still so much hope to be found in the little things, you know? God provides.

There is too much beauty in the world to dwell in the valley. Too many sunsets to miss. When trials come, remember that there is hope in the glory of God — and all you have to do is chase a sunset to see it. Blessed.

In Dark Moments.

There are moments in life when your heart is breaking and all you can do is cry.

Then there are moments when you remember the blessings that you have been given. There are moments when you remember the friends who care about you. There are moments when you remember the God who has always led you through the valleys to bring you back up the mountain.

I would be a big fat liar if I said I was okay right now… but as a dear friend reminded me a few weeks ago, if Psalm 88 is our cry in the night, then Psalm 89 is our joy in the morning — and I have too much to be joyful about to dwell on sorrow.

“Still, my soul be still, and do not fear, though winds of change may rage tomorrow. God is at your side; no longer dread the fires of unexpected sorrow. God, you are my God, and I will trust in you and not be shaken. Lord of peace, renew a steadfast spirit within me to rest in you alone.” — “Still, My Soul Be Still,” Keith and Kristyn Getty

My God has bigger plans for me than this. And despite the shock and the hurt and feeling of overwhelming brokenness, there are lessons to be learned and peace to be found.

Tonight is a night of mourning, but tomorrow… tomorrow is a new beginning, and I am blessed.

From High Expectations to ICU

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Do you ever feel overwhelmed because of all the expectations placed on you? Expectations to be smarter, prettier, happier… more than you are? I do. Goodness gracious, I do. My whole life feels like one big, giant expectation to be more than I can be — and that is exhausting.

There’s been a lot of self-reflection in my life the past three weeks. Three days in ICU and a near-death experience can certainly make one think… and think I did. Let’s face it, readers — how many times have I blogged about needing to be a Mary, and how many times have I actually been a Mary? I get so bogged down in doing that I forget to just sit and be.

Someone once asked me what my favorite animal was — an analytical question, because he believed that we choose animals with traits that we admire. My answer was (and still is) a hippopotamus.

“Megan, that is bizarre. Why a hippopotamus?” you might be asking as you read this. “What traits can a hippo possibly have that you desire?” And to that, I say many — because, you see, hippos have it made. They’re huge. Scary as hell. No one would dare to bother such an intimidating creature… and then there is the sitting. They sit, nostrils and eyes above the water, the rest just floating in whatever watery spot they’ve found… and no one bothers them. No one expects anything of them. They just are.

I’ve made a name for myself as the “Social Butterfly.” First given this oh-so-lovely nickname in third grade, it’s followed me through the years and seems quite reluctant to relinquish its grasp on my life… and with such a nickname there come expectations. “Are you okay?” “Why aren’t you talking?” “What’s wrong?” The world seems to believe that I (the girl who wishes she was a hippopotamus) am quite possibly the most talkative girl in the entire world — automatically making something quite wrong when I’m not jibber-jabbering away like a madwoman.

As I sit in my favorite Knoxville coffee shop listening to my best friend sing “Take It to the Limit” in the most beautiful way imaginable, it’s hard to imagine a world in which I don’t feel the pressure of too many expectations. Billy Joel sang it best when he said, “And you’ll have to deal with / Pressure / You used to call me paranoid / Pressure / But even you cannot avoid / Pressure.” Leave it to Billy to put my thoughts into song!

My post-hospital life has been unique. I’ve had to reevaluate the things that are most important to me and rule out the things that aren’t. I’ve gone from two jobs to just one (a job that I love, at that). I’ve gone from spending time with every single person who asks to telling folks that I simply need time for myself… and I’ve gone from doing too many things I don’t care about to making time for those I do care about — Bible study. Music. Photography. My passions.

I do an excellent job of sitting and stewing and making myself unbearably anxious… but when it all boils down to it, the expectations I place on myself are ridiculously unrealistic — and by making myself anxious, I’m not doing anyone any good. It’s funny, because in this short time, I’ve felt more peace about slowing down than I ever thought possible.

The world is too beautiful to rush through it without smelling the roses — and even if there are a few thorns, isn’t that what life is really about? Dealing with things. Learning things. I wouldn’t wish for another ICU visit EVER again… but the lessons learned are valuable and not to be taken lightly. Sit down. Take a break. Breathe.

So… the next time you see me trying to be SuperWoman, do me a favor and remind me to take a breather, would you? And thanks for sticking with me, readers. Y’all are the greatest.

Seeking Perfection (Run, run, run!)

I found myself growing increasingly irritated as I tried to complete a project for work last week.

“Why,” I muttered under my breath, “is this so incredibly difficult? A five-year-old could do it! What is wrong with me?!” You see, I am perfectionist through-and-through — and that, my friends, is a problem.

This is the busiest I have been in my entire life… and that’s saying a lot. Work, guitar lessons, house-sitting, photography, music, weddings, Sertoma, Jesus, family, friends, food, diabetes, Greek, and trying to sleep… I have always been a busy girl, but this is more than busy. This is non-stop, go-till-you-drop havoc.

Suffice it to say, I am exhausted.

Luckily, I visited my cousin Jessica this weekend. The perks? A, Jessica, period. B, visiting Jess never feels stressful. We eat yummy food, watch movies, go to vineyards, and sleep. J’adore. And C? The drive. I love to drive. It is my safe place: just me, the radio, the road, and a head full of thoughts.

(My view as I drove today — and no, I was not driving when I took this. Stupid question.)

So back to perfectionism. That dreadful disease is in my blood. I have no problem overlooking imperfections in others — humans are imperfect, after all — but when it comes to myself, I am my own worst critic. Imperfection is not okay… which led to today’s drive.

Today was not a “fearfully and wonderfully made” day for me, although that might be what you’d expect — and let me be very, very clear: there is nothing wrong with those days, and I have to remind myself of that often (see Broken: Journeying Through Depression for more on that) — nor was it a Mary-Martha day (The Business of Busy-ness (or How to be a Mary)). Today was different.

As I drove, these two verses kept running through my head.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 2:23-24 (ESV)

Let’s be honest here. The pursuit of perfection can be just as much of a sin as anything else — if you let yourself idolize perfection, you’re sunk. Perfection doesn’t exist (at least not here on earth), and it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen.

But at the same time… we should still strive to be our best. Glorifying God through our actions is more of a testimony than our words ever can be (You know what I mean: “Actions speak louder than words.”). We should seek excellence so we glorify him in all things, not just some things. This isn’t a journey for the faint of heart — it’s a roller coaster ride, and once you strap in, you’re in for the long haul. It takes work.

(NOTE: We are saved by faith, not works — so don’t get any silly ideas, Mister!)

But if we approach life as though we don’t need to do our best, what are we saying about Christ? What image does that put out?

In my life, once the muttering begins, it’s time to take a step back and regroup — and it all comes back into perspective. I’m overwhelmingly blessed, so why would I waste time on a fruitless pursuit? I never got that perfect finish on my project… but I did the best I could, and that just has to be enough.

I will do my best at all things — but I will not let myself get up in the pettiness of perfection.

On a side note: I made an awesome tortilla pie today. Mexican lasagna. So delicious. First person to comment that they’d like some pie gets a night of pie, wine, and Megan — and I’ll even throw in a (properly made) chocolate-orange mousse! Any takers?

It’s Called Intentionality (Couch-Conversations)

I am a big proponent of couch-conversations.

You see, there is something very special about those conversations – you know, the ones where you curl up on opposite sides of the couch and just talk – where vulnerability isn’t just optional, but is actually expected? Those conversations.

I recently realized that my most cherished conversations have taken place not in the kitchen, nor at a fancy Italian restaurant, nor in a romantic alcove of the park… rather, the conversations I hold most dear to my heart have all taken place with me sitting on one side of the couch while my fellow-conversationalist (whomever it may be) sits curled up on the opposite side. A couch-conversation, if you will.

So today’s question: what is friendship? How does one truly become one of those friends – the couch-conversation kind of friend? What does it take?

I personally do not have the answers to these questions… and yet, I know without a doubt that I am overwhelmingly blessed by the friends I have. My friends are like a kaleidoscope – you never know what you’re going to get. There’s the bold and beautiful New York pen-pal, the mind-bogglingly intelligent Classicist, the AK-47-shooting mother of two, the snake-charmer of a skydiver, the Mumford-and-Sons-obsessed Catholic (my wonderful roommate), and the list goes on and on – and yes, they are all incredibly unique and interesting.

But what is it about these people that make them such good friends? Is it the great conversation? The fact that I could go to any one of them and cry for hours if need be, and they would stay with me as long as it took? Or knowing that they love me unconditionally… all the time?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of these friends about how frustrated I got when he (or anyone) didn’t listen when I had something important to say, and he said to me, “Megan, I might not be the best listener once I got there, but I would drive as far as you needed just to give you a hug. You know that, right?” (You shouldn’t be surprised that we were sitting on a couch when he said this)

The funny thing was… I did know that. This particular friend will never be the world’s greatest listener, but he is the world’s greatest friend when it comes to a shoulder to cry on – and he is always there when I need him. THAT is a friend.

This past weekend, my New-York pen-pal came in town for a wedding, and I was lucky enough to snag a few hours with her on Sunday afternoon. Not surprisingly, we ended up sitting on opposite corners of the couch having one of those heart-to-hearts I mentioned above — and what a blessing it was! There is so much to be said for honesty and vulnerability in relationships, and couch-conversations lend themselves quite well to these two traits — which is why the whole conversation was such a joy.

But friendship… what is friendship?

To me, friendship is intentionality. Leah (Miss NYC) and I weren’t great friends when she moved to New York in December – but five months later, we’re in a place where we can bare our hearts in a couch-conversation. Our relationship is based entirely on intentionality — because despite the obvious hardship of living 706 miles (or 1,136 kilometers, for you metric folk out there) apart, our relationship is consistently getting stronger. It’s all about intentionality.

I’ve seen so many relationships fail because one member of the relationship puts in all the effort, while the other sits around and doesn’t do anything… but true friendship isn’t one-sided. True friendship takes dedication. Work. The knowledge that sometimes you might get reeeeeally frustrated with a friend… but that they’re still worth your love. It requires passion, and effort, and a desire to learn from each other. Listening. Caring. Hugs (so many hugs).

And more than anything, true friendship requires honesty — and it requires vulnerability. This isn’t easy… but since when is anything worth having easy?

As one of my favorite theologians says, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival” (C.S. Lewis).

It’s not going to be a simple road — there are twists and turns in every path you can take, and friendship is no exception. But taking time to be intentional — to seek out those you care about, to make it clear that they have value, to show that you truly love them? That, my friends, is worth it. That is what friendship is all about.

As an off-topic blog-closer, I’m going to include a shot of the sunset I got last week. I was downtown when I realized how beautiful the sun was, so I hopped in the car and hit up my secret sunset-gazing spot… and this was the result. Stunning. Knoxville really surprises me sometimes!

Community (And No, I’m NOT Referring to the TV Show)

I have had such a truly fantastic morning after a rather stressful yesterday.

Let us not mention the fact that I woke up at 4:57 this morning and was instantly wiiiiiiide awake. Nor will we discuss the fact that I didn’t get to bed until two… no, we shan’t discuss either of those (unimportant) points.

We can, however, discuss my morning. You see, I am lucky enough to live right across from the yummiest breakfast spot in town. The Plaid Apron is by far one of the most excellent eateries in Knoxville, and they also happen to have the best grits I have ever had. This morning, I woke up with such a hankering for their grits and Cinnamon Hazelnut coffee that I couldn’t stand it… so at 7:44 this morning, I put on a pair of moccasins, grabbed my Bible, and rolled (okay, walked) over to TPA for a nice big bowl of grits and some coffee.

It was the best decision I could have made. THE best. A little over an hour later, I looked up (having read the entire book of Romans, Jonah, and Zechariah), realized that I had finished my third cup of coffee, and came back home.

Isn’t it funny how God speaks to you when you most need to hear it? Lately, community has been heavy on my heart… and suddenly, I stumbled upon this passage.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
— Romans 14:5-8

Does this make sense to you? No? Well, that’s quite alright. Let me explain!

Lately, there has been disunity amongst my different communities. The way I see it, we are all part of one distinct body — but though the right hand is working towards the same goal as the left foot, there isn’t recognition of this common goal. That is to say, the hand doesn’t know what the foot is trying to do and the foot doesn’t know what the hand is trying to do… there’s a lack of understanding.

I am as guilty as anyone of not taking time to fully understand people. I jump to conclusions, make suppositions, ignore tell-tale signs saying, “Megan, slow down,” and don’t leave room for explanation. My cognizance of this problem has led to many efforts to fix it in myself… but when it extends to entire communities? Therein lies a problem of more epic proportions.

I belong to several different circles. I oftentimes consider myself a “fringe”-person for many of these groups: a member, but not full-fledged. I work to bridge the gap between them, act as a connection to the greater body. Now, I don’t always do this well, and I’m certainly not the only one (not by a long shot), but I do feel that I hold this place amongst several different communities.

That is why it breaks my heart to see disunity.

We are all working towards the same goal… to love one another and honor the Lord. Sometimes the means with which we strive towards this goal are different. Sometimes the ways we show love are different. Sometimes the ways we worship are different — and that is okay. That is more than okay. That is what being part of the greater body is all about.

So when I see one set of people not taking time to understand the actions of another group of people (or vice-versa), it hurts me. You see, there is too much at stake here to waste our time with petty differences. There are too many people out there who just need to be loved, pursued, encouraged — too, too many for us to bicker amongst ourselves.

I am so unbelievably blessed by my many different communities — beyond expression. They are the rocks which keep me standing firm, and I would crumble without them. Yet, I still think that there is work to be done — and I am just as guilty as the next. Time to make a change.

I place before you this final thought: Romans 14:8 says, “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Is it worth it to be upset about the small things? Or would that energy be better spent reaching out and loving? What is this really all about?

We have a greater calling than this. We have a job to do. Let’s get to it!

21-going-on-Grown-Up (This Is Not the End)

Yesterday I had one of the most difficult conversations I have ever had to have. The precise subject matter need not be mentioned — but suffice it to say, it was very difficult.

I held up quite well throughout the entirety of the conversation itself. Managed to walk away with a smile on my face. Got in my car, pulled to the corner to turn left and abruptly realized that I needed to drive for a while to clear my head — turned right instead, drove and drove and drove and gingerly felt around in my heart trying to decide if I was really okay or if it was just a facade I had put on for the sake of not hurting the other individual involved… realized that I was not completely okay but that I would survive, and headed home. Walked into the apartment, went in my room, putt-putted around for a moment or two, and came out to the living room to ask Ashley to look something up for me.

The sight of my best friend’s concerned face was too much. Down goes Megan into a sobbing puddle on the floor and there she stays for the next fifteen minutes. I have always said that crying is cathartic, but uncontrolled sobbing is even more so — and I was certainly there. At the end of that fifteen minutes, I felt SO MUCH BETTER. You can only hold so much for so long… and I do a damn good job of holding things in.

Honestly, the conversation was difficult… but be that as it may, it was also a very good conversation. One that needed to happen. It was a part of life. Of growing up. Of building relationships and learning how to live with people and finding ways to love them even when it can be difficult.

One statement that particularly hit me during this conversation, however, had absolutely nothing to do with the real conversation… and yet it stuck with me more than 90% of the rest of the discussion.

“Sometime I have to remind myself that you’re just 21.”

“Hmph. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that little fact,” I thought. It seems to me that I’m constantly stuck in this limbo zone of 21-going-on-Grown-Up. And there we stumble across the question. Is there a definitive point in life when you move from almost-grown-up to grown up?

I operate by an interesting set of rules, all of which lead to one single point. You never know who you might meet — and in this day and age, networking is quite important. Yet, I sometimes think that this whole “You Never Know” concept has been a catalyst in the fact that people… oh, all sorts of people… seem to forget that I am still just 21 years old. I might do an excellent job of acting like an adult, but that doesn’t mean I’m there yet.

When I was little, if I was upset with someone, I just wouldn’t speak to them. There was never any concept of talking things out and trying to work through any issues. These days, however, there is a responsibility to face my problems and talk about the things that are going wrong and be honest when my feelings are hurt and just deal with the different situations that pop up. No more pushing things under the rug and running away.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned how incredibly valuable communication is. Honesty is such an important component to any sort of relationship, and transparency is integral to understanding one another and interacting with any sort of confidence. Even so, it can be petrifying to be transparent. Honesty makes my knees shake, and any discussion that could be slightly uncomfortable gives me nightmares.

And yet, relationships that could be tossed aside like so much excess baggage can be saved with just a single conversation, a willing heart, and a desire to learn. There is no reason to end a friendship for the sake of not putting it out on the line.

I saw Gungor in concert last night. It was an incredible show, and I cried for perhaps… oh, I don’t know, 79% of it? But this song — it has always been one of my favorites, and it seems to me quite fitting for this moment.

This is not the end,
This is not the end of this
We will open our eyes wide, wider
This is not our last,
This is not our last breath
We will open our mouths wide, wider

Do I really need any other words?

Thanks for reading, friends. You do my heart good.