thrive

i was sitting on a blue couch in my counselor’s office when Truth walked into the room.

i’d just spent the last forty-five minutes pouring out my frustration, my sadness, my fear; how sometimes most of the time it feels like i have no idea what i’m doing with my life; and why does it seem like bad things always happen to good people?

i ended my teary rant with a question, though certainly not one i expected an answer to. “so what do i do now?” with the feelings and the circumstances, with the questions, the doubts. with the deadlines and the decisions to be made. with the pressure, the pain, the ache, the lack. what in the world am i supposed to do with it all?

and my counselor was quiet for a really long time, and i knew he was praying about what he should say. finally, he breathed deep and spoke, carefully, thinking about each word before he said it aloud.
for once in your life, elena, i want to see you fight.”

immediately, my defenses went up, and my insides churned hot, because are you kidding me right now? and did he really just say that? and  how. dare. he. see, if there’s one thing i’ve been doing since childhood, it’s been fighting. fighting to make it. fighting to keep going. fighting to pick up the pieces and hold my head high and put one foot in front of the other. i’m a fighter, all right. hell, i’m a survivor, and it’s something i pride myself on, and i had no problem refuting his answer by telling him so.

but that’s not the fighting he was talking about. no, this is different. because it’s one thing to fight to survive, but it’s something else entirely when you make the decision to fight to thrive. i know you know what i’m talking about. we are many, a group of weary soldiers, battle-scarred and heavy-hearted, trudging through the trenches of life. we war and we walk, and at the end of the day, we lay our heads on our pillows and cry, because there’s just gotta be more to life than this.

i see you, brave-heart. i see you. maybe you live most of your days feeling invisible, as if your sacrifice goes unnoticed. you’re not, and it doesn’t. you are seen. i can’t help but remember our sister Hagar, unwanted, left to die in a desert. she met with the divine that day, in the barren wasteland, and as she walked away from that encounter, her heart rejoiced. “she gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me….’ 

i know you. i am you. you are courageous and strong, but oh, you’re also tired. life has been hard to you, perhaps unfair, even a bit unkind. it’s knocked you down, maybe even kicked you while you’re down; and it has hurt, and maybe your wounds are still bleeding even today. but i also know:: you’re a warrior. you’ve gotten back up, brushed yourself off, and kept on keeping on. this, you; it’s the stuff strength + hearts + guts + determination are made of. you’ve got it, dear one. and i applaud you for it today.

but i also want to tell you:: there is another way. it’s one of streams in that desert, blooms in the wilderness. it’s where we stop fighting and instead where we flourish. it’s where we lay down our swords and our shields, where we remove the armor; it’s where the gloves come off. it’s a place where we do more than just survive; it’s a place where we learn to be loved, where we learn to thrive.

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                               [Photo by Madlyinlovewithlife / Creative Commons / Flickr]

won’t you come and stay with me a while? rest. wash the dirt + grit from your soul and put your tired feet up for a bit. breathe deep. the air is sweet; gulp it in. the pastures are green, and the water still, and i promise you, soldier; i promise you:: you are safe here.

sara bareilles sings “i wanna see you be brave”, and though i love the sentiment, i’ve already seen that. in the way you get out of bed every morning even though sick kids and financial woes and marital problems kept you up late the night before. in the way you take the second or third job just to make the ends meet. in the way you kneel down in the mess of life and clench your fist and use the last bit of strength you have to pray to the God who seems to have forsaken you.

no, i don’t want to see you be brave. you need not prove your courage to me. i want more for you. i want to see you thrive.

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[brave]

as i write this, i’ve been back in Liberia for a week. seven short days, yet somehow my life, my world in the States seems like it was forever ago. memories turn to fragments, replaced by here and now and the need, always the need. it’s a different pace, a stronger one, a busy schedule, everything consistent and steady yet somehow unpredictable as well. and i jump into it, this life here, because i want to inhale every moment and suck the marrow from it::

the blanket of heat, heavy in my lungs, on my shoulders. bright sun hidden by hammatan’s dusty haze. dirt under fingernails, sweat on the skin. car horns blaring, music crackling over old, broken speakers. toothy smiles and weathered hands, tattered t-shirts and grimy money balled tight in the fist. plastic buckets full for flushing toilets, a lukewarm shower under the stars. the hum of the generator at night, the ocean crashing, mosquito net tucked into bedframes. sticky rice and oily soups, sweet fruit, cold water. talking on the porch, laughing on the porch, praying on the porch. handshakes with snapping fingers, hugs with a kiss on each cheek. little hands clawing at my legs, little fingers running through my hair. hannah’s head on my lap, mercy’s head on my shoulder, jumah’s head buried in the space beneath my chin, resting on my collar bone.

this. it’s been my life for four years, a stark contrast to the direction i thought i was headed. at first, it was hard, and i fought and struggled against it, simultaneously loving and hating everything about it at the same time. and then i grew into it, grew with it, really, and it has become comfortable, somehow, even in the midst of so much discomfort. it’s familiar, dependable; basically, i know what to expect.

from a survival standpoint, this is good. it helps me to keep going, to move with the ebb and flow of life in Liberia. it helps me compartmentalize–my thoughts, my emotions, my experiences. without it, i would surely collapse under the weight of sorrow and guilt, of poverty, of illness, of hunger, of death, of kids who deserve a better chance, of systems that keep people oppressed and simply…stuck.

still, i feel a conviction, hollow in my stomach, gnawing on my insides. and it all comes down to one little word:: brave.
now, i wouldn’t exactly call myself by that name because frankly, bravery terrifies me. i’m a play-by-the-rules kind of girl. i like plans and roadmaps and explanations for everything. and up until recently, i was fine with all of that.

but now, i feel something shifting. i’ve had this sort of awakening, if you will, and it feels like i’ve been shaken from a long, deep slumber and brought out into the light. and i’ve discovered that i like it, this light i’ve been exposed to, but in order for me to have more of it, i must be brave. see, when i’m content with living an easy story, it makes it hard for me to live a better one. without taking chances and taking risks and embracing the adventure, i will never learn what it feels like to live fully, to live bravely.

but that means, of course, that all the rules might go out the window. it means change and transition, and it’s entirely possible that things might get a little messy. it means that there will be moments when i have no idea what i’m doing, times when i will be unsure. it means things are going to look differently, and i have two choices. i can run away from the mystery, hide myself in what’s easy–or i can be brave and let go, and see where the winds of change take me.

for now, i dig my heels in, determined to bloom where i’ve been planted. i take it all in, every moment, every experience, breathing deep to savor these days i’ve been given here. for it’s only been a week, and i’ve already noticed the difference in how i think and speak and feel.

i am learning to be brave, even in what has become uncomfortably comfortable.