Three years ago I was a recent high school grad with little sense of direction or purpose. I did what it took to feel liked and wanted. I was really good at the whole “mask” thing. I had the heart of a gypsy and knew little about being rooted in one place. The word “stay” wasn’t in my vocabulary.
Soon after graduating high school, I decided to move from Atlanta to Birmingham to pursue ministry. When I started college, those feelings never went away. At the end of every semester I said I was going to leave. Ask my friends, they’ll tell you. Leaving was all I ever knew.
The biggest events in my life happened while living in Birmingham. I lost one of my closest friends. I traveled out of the country for a summer. My Dad’s disease took his life. Lots of friends disappeared when I needed them most. I failed a class. I didn’t get the internship I wanted, I was angry and lost and isolated. Quite frankly, Birmingham turned into the city I watched all my dreams fall apart in. Birmingham was a place of brokenness and pain. Birmingham destroyed me.
Every part of me screamed to run away. Leaving always seemed easier. Not facing the music always seemed easier. I think the biggest wake up call I’ve ever had was when I realized ignoring reality doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring the truth doesn’t make it any less of the truth. Sometimes the truth is scary. In fact, it’s the truth that often breaks people. But maybe the point isn’t to avoid the truth so we don’t get hurt. Maybe the point is to face the lights to prove you showed up. Get some bruises. Get some scars. Get your hands dirty. Our biggest fear shouldn’t be getting scraped up from life, our biggest fear should be living a life that doesn’t exist. Live a life that exists. Know that there will always be people who undermine your success. Not everyone is gonna be your #1 fan. Bullies will come. People will say mean things. They’ll tell you you’re not good enough or pretty enough or smart enough. The ghosts in your head will whisper lies of doubt. They’ll haunt your every decision. But that’s the thing: they’re lies. You’re not the things the lies tell you on repeat. You’ve done the time. You’ve walked through the valleys. You know what it’s like from the bottom and you’ve fought like hell for the mountain top experiences.
It’s important to celebrate the victories in your life. Both big and small. They happened. You did it. Throw some confetti in the air and say good job. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it, babe.
Don’t let what people do and don’t say tell you if you’re valued or not. You’re valued, okay? You’re good enough. You’re worth loving. You’re absolutely stunning. You’re full of purpose and creativity and spunk. You don’t need to wait for someone else to tell you those things… they’re already true. Believe them with every ounce of your being. Write it on your mirror. Tape it to the ceiling above your bed. Recite it to yourself time and time again.
In the midst of it all, choose to stay. Choose to say yes to what’s uncomfortable. Stop playing the victim song. Turn it off. You’re better than that. Take a victory lap. You don’t have to fake it. In fact, stop faking it. Take off the mask. It’s more brave to be real. You’re not brave for your mask. You’re brave because right in the middle of your mess and chaos and uncertainty you chose to be real. Be real. Decide right now. Make up your mind that you’re gonna be an authentic human. You’re gonna show up for yourself and for other people. You’re gonna give yourself unruly amounts of grace. We all need some grace. Everybody. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, It means you’re strong enough to do something even though there is a chance you might fail. You’re gonna fail from time to time and that’s okay. That’s what makes you human.
Give it all you’ve got, even if that’s only a little bit. Get rid of the impossible expectations you have for yourself. That doesn’t mean stop dreaming. It means to dream but also live the life that’s in front of you. Don’t run away. When the voice in your head says to leave, shut it down. Press in. Seek more. Dig deeper. Grow where you are planted. You don’t have to move across the globe to find purpose. It’s already here. Look yourself in the mirror and say those words: I have purpose. Do it five times. Do it ten. Let every bone in your body feel the weight. No one might tell you that today, so let me: You were created with beauty and purpose. Surround yourself with people who believe that about you. Prove the others wrong.
When it comes to falling in love, fall for someone who chooses all of you. Don’t settle for mediocre love. Fall in love with someone who treasures the parts of you you’re insecure about. Wait for the kind of love that stops you in your tracks. Wait for the one who honors you and leads you with integrity. Wait for the one who opens your car door and doesn’t pull away until they know you’re safe. Wait for the one who is proud to be seen with you. Wait for the one who is honest with you, even if the honesty is dark. Everybody has their darkness. Wait for the one who chooses to fight the darkness with you. Wait for someone who believes in you and celebrates you. Someone who encourages you and pushes you to greater heights. I’m not saying “the perfect person” exists, because no one is perfect. But love exists. It’s out there. I know it. I’ve seen it. Don’t settle for mediocre love, you were never meant to.
A couple weeks ago a friend told me I needed to throw away my old playbook. They told me I needed to stop running back to what felt safe and comfortable.
Last Saturday I graduated from ministry school. Two and a half years of questions, adventures, and frustration (basically every emotion that has a name, plus some) all leading to this day. Now here I am… choosing to stay in the very place I wanted so desperately to get away from. I’m sitting in the coffee shop I spent most of my days dreading. I’m facing the things I never wanted to face. I’m choosing to trust that God has a plan and is working all things for His glory and my good. I’m finding home here. I’m learning to love. I’m building community. I’m showing up. I’m showing up though I feel like a mess. I’m making up my mind to roll out of bed in the morning and say those words: Hello Birmingham, let’s do this thing.