The Secret to Being Loved—and Why It’s So Hard

The Secret to Being Loved—and Why It’s So Hard

Today I know I am loved. Radically, abundantly, lavishly loved. And, maybe for the first time in my life, I’m not just trying to convince myself that I’m loved based on the evidence. I’m not giving myself a pep talk in the mirror, convincing my heart to feel all the things my head knows to be true. I’m not trying to convince anyone that I’m lovable by attempting to earn their approval through my good behavior. I’m not grasping for an emotional experience I desperately long for but fear I don’t actually deserve.

No, this is different than in the past. Today, my heart and my head are aligned, and it’s no small miracle. Like turning my face toward the sun, I am holding still long enough to bask in the absolute goodness of knowing I am loved more than I can fathom—and I have done nothing to deserve it.

Why does today feel like such a victory? Wouldn’t anyone feel loved if they were surrounded by gracious friends, part of a generous family, and married to the best human on the face of the planet? Unfortunately, no. Just being loved (even when loved abundantly and well) is not enough to make someone believe they are loved.

Sometimes it takes breaking into pieces to experience the love that has been there all along. 

The last several weeks have been exhausting. Strike that—it has been a moment-by-moment battle for my sanity. Every single day for the past month and a half has been filled with some of the most difficult conversations, excruciating pain, spiritual heights, intimate moments, and crippling fear of my entire life. It’s been enough to make a person feel crazy—or at least worn down by intense emotions to the point of deep soul fatigue.

I’m sitting here writing for the first time since before all hell broke loose, watching the rain fall in torrents from the sky. Not even five minutes ago, the sun was shining and the sky was the brightest shade of blue. It happens like that in the spring, the weather changes quickly and unexpectedly. It’s a normal pattern each year, yet I’m still caught off guard when I’m outside without a coat and the rain pours down.

Pain always catches me off guard, too. Even though it’s a normal, expected part of being alive.

A few months ago, I had told a few close friends this was the year I wanted to be done with the insecurities and anxiety that had come in waves on and off for as long as I can remember. I told them I was ready to be free—I wanted to be my truest self, uninhibited by the old stuff I kept wrestling down, pushing it back below the surface of my heart.

No more working harder than I should because I am afraid of disappointing someone.

No more shaming myself for eating too much dessert or panicking if I miss a workout.

No more striving to prove that I’m competent even though I’ve been out of the professional world for several years.

No more hiding the pain of public humiliation from past failure.

No more fear of failing at whatever new thing I’m brave enough to risk trying.

No more longing for some other role that might satisfy my soul more than the humbling job of motherhood.

No more wishing to live any life other than the beautiful one I’ve been given.

No more pretending. No more hiding. No more performing. Only freedom.

I had no idea what freedom would cost. I didn’t realize it would require me to face every fear, forcing me to drag my husband, family, and closest friends with me through the muck and mire of my overwhelming emotions. I didn’t realize that in order to release anxiety, I would actually have to walk through it, allowing panic to fully surface in its various forms.

I didn’t expect freedom to cost so much.

But the miracle unfurled slowly, as my inability to hold myself together decreased exponentially with each passing day. I was falling apart, and I couldn’t hide it. Friends kept checking in, and I was too tired from so much heartache to pretend I was okay. The harder I worked to stop hurting, the more out of control I felt—I just couldn’t stop the storm from coming. But they never stopped checking in. They never stopped praying.

When I deserved it the very least, when I had absolutely nothing left to offer except my embarrassment over what a mess I was, my people just kept loving me. And because I was exhausted from my own battle with fear—my fear that if I couldn’t pull myself together, they would give up and walk away from my broken pieces—I finally couldn’t help but let their love in.

I needed to be loved, but I didn’t get to choose how—I just had to receive love in whatever form it came.

The rain has stopped now and the sky transformed back to blue, maybe even a clearer blue than before the storm. The air feels fresher from the rain, and somehow my lungs have a greater capacity to breathe in the gift of oxygen after so many tears.

I’ve never needed to know that I’m loved more than I do these days. Yet, the miracle is, because my heart has broken wide open, there is nothing left to keep love out. So I’m going to just keep letting it come. And maybe, just maybe, it will get out a little bit easier now too.

 

How to Stop Competing and Start Celebrating

How to Stop Competing and Start Celebrating

I love playing games…when I’m winning. Games that I don’t win aren’t fun. It’s kind of an issue.

I blame my drive to win on my days as a competitive athlete. Playing volleyball through college taught me the value of hard work, the beauty of team, and the necessity of discipline in training for a goal. It also taught me to compete. Competition fueled my desire to perform at the top of my game, motivating me to work harder than if there wasn’t another player trying to outscore me.

But there were also times (I’m ashamed to admit) when my competitive drive led to a disdain for the opposing team, when the athletes across the net became more than just opponents—they became the enemy. In those moments, my desire to win changed how I viewed those I competed against; competition dehumanized my rivals.

I don’t play collegiate sports anymore, but you can’t take the competitive streak out of this girl. This week in an exercise class I go to (I can’t tell you that it’s Jazzercise because you’ll assume I wear legwarmers and a leotard and lose all respect for my athleticism), competition inspired perseverance when I did NOT want to do another lunge. The gal next to me was a former college volleyball player too, and working out with her motivated me not to slack because once an athlete, always an athlete and I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!

I told you, it’s an issue.

I love it when Ali the ex-volleyball player is in class because she inspires me by her example to give every move my best effort. When I’m sucking wind, I can look over and see that she’s tired too, but she’s not stopping. She gives me the look back that says, “This is SO HARD…and we are SO AWESOME for not quitting!” And because I don’t want to be seen as the one who couldn’t hack it, I keep squatting, jumping, and lifting those weights. She inspires me to do more than I could on my own.

Competition at its best motivates us to become our best.

But there is another side of competition that plays itself out more often in groups of women than I care to admit.

When we walk into a room and size up the other women there to see how our outfit, our hair, the size of our thighs compete;

when we evaluate our success based on how it compares to the achievements of those around us;

when our insecurities cause us to feel threatened by the beauty, strength, or opportunities given to others.

There is no winner when we compete out of our own sense of inadequacy. Jealousy robs us of the chance to make others better. It steals our ability to see the beauty in those around us. It keeps us bound by insecurity instead of releasing others to become their best selves.

Brené Brown talks about the principle of “scarcity” in Daring Greatly. Scarcity is basically the cultural fear that there isn’t enough of ______ to go around. We never have enough time, enough energy, enough money, enough of whatever we think we need. Scarcity tells us that life is a competition for limited resources.  It’s what makes us jealous of something others have that we want because we feel like they are leaving less of that thing for us. Scarcity tells us we better compete or miss our chance to live the life we hope for.

Scarcity is lying.

I have some amazing friends who are committed to cheering me on in my gifts and passions. (Like writing, for example—these are the same friends who told me I should start a blog and then read it and told me I should keep writing.) They are generous with their words of encouragement and love. They see beauty in me that I can’t see in myself, and they are relentless about saying those things out loud. I feel safe and loved and known by these women.

These same friends are incredibly gifted and breathtakingly beautiful. I’m not just saying that because they are my friends—it’s really true. One friend has an eye for beauty and can capture it in the most mundane, ordinary moments through the lens of her camera. She is generous and gives the most thoughtful gifts, and she opens her peaceful home to others as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Another friend creates beauty out of anything—ribbon and paper, hair and bobby pins, sticks and string, paint and canvas, furniture and color—her artistic creativity leaves a wake of pretty wherever she goes. But her beauty is deeper than just what you see; everything about her heart, words, and actions genuinely and sacrificially loves those in her world.

I have other friends who are organized and disciplined with their time and possessions. Their homes are tidy, their bathrooms smell good, and they structure their days with intention so that the most important things always come first. Some of my friends love to cook, some love to garden, some love to exercise, some love to travel and find new adventures all over the world.

I have amazing and talented and beautiful friends who are gifted in ways that I am not (ahem, especially in their areas of cooking and creativity), but their giftedness does nothing to threaten the unique way I am wired. In fact, being surrounded by women who freely use the gifts they have been given inspires me to lean more fully into mine.

So why is it that the most beautiful and gifted women I know leave me inspired instead of insecure?

Because secure women are generous with their words of love and belief in others.

My friends genuinely celebrate with me in success and grieve with me in failure. They are uninhibited with their encouragement and frequent in expressing their affirmation. My friends have taught me that women who cheer one another on can celebrate the uniqueness of others without competition.  

Women who tell one another the beauty they see in each other prove that scarcity is a lie. Competition subtracts but celebration multiplies. The more we believe in those around us, the more belief comes back in abundance.

There is more than enough beauty and meaning for every human on the planet. Like the air we breathe, there is an adequate supply of grace for every person to live the life of purpose they crave. God’s limitless creativity is reflected in the awe-inspiring diversity of humankind.

So who can you celebrate today? Let’s all go tell someone what we admire about them. May we use our words to point out the the beauty of God reflected in the people around us. Let’s use our belief to set people free to become all they were made to be.

Being My Truest Self

I had a friend show up at my house recently, kids in tow and coffee in hand. She walked in as I was making dinner, handed me my favorite drink and burst into tears. We hugged as she cried, and my husband ushered all our kids outside to play (bless him!) so that we could talk uninterrupted. The coffee had been a reason to get her out of the house—she went on to tell me about the ugliness of her day, parenting battles lost, discouragement over moments she couldn’t take back.

I didn’t have much wisdom to offer in that moment, but I felt deeply honored to sit by her side, heart aching with her pain, as she poured out her real-life, human struggles. And I loved her more than ever because she showed up at my door, weakness exposed, defenses down.

There is something precious about being invited into the parts of someone else’s story most people don’t get to see. Vulnerability is a gift both when it is given and when it is received.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a mess I am. I don’t say that to berate myself or hint that you should tell me otherwise. I’m just trying to own the fact that, just like everyone else, there is stuff I need to work through. No matter the life stage or season, there is freedom in admitting we still have room to grow.

If I’m honest, I’ve got a lot of room to grow in every single area of my life. I used to think that if I worked hard enough, I could actually make people think I had my act together. Now I realize that having my act together isn’t actually the goal—freedom is. Freedom to be myself, completely authentic, fully alive, whole-heartedly engaged, bringing the fullness of who I am—my weakness, insecurity, beauty, talent, pain, compassion, and unique story—wherever I go.

The world needs more of that kind of freedom.

It’s more exhausting to pretend I’ve got my act together than to admit that I don’t and embrace the mess—or really, to let those who love me embrace me in the mess. I love how Donald Miller put it in Scary Close when he says, “We don’t think of our flaws as the glue that binds us to the people we love, but they are. Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either.”

This fall the reality of what it means to be loved as I truly am hit home more deeply than ever. I had been planning and praying for months about a new thing I felt compelled to help start in our town. For the first time in the five years since we moved here, I would be leading in a public setting. It forced me to wrestle again with fears I thought I had conquered—fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of losing my reputation (whatever that is).

As I stepped out of the safe little nest of our home, I realized how deeply rooted is my need to do all things well. Deeply rooted and crippling. Similar to old patterns, I found myself trying to shoulder the weight of the entire thing single-handedly.

We are not made to carry our burdens alone.

I finally asked some friends to intervene. I needed to get to the root of my stress—my fear that I won’t have what it takes and that people will walk away when I let them down.

(Out of curiosity, do you know anyone who is perfect? Me neither. In fact, the people who are closest to seeming perfect are the hardest ones to be around. Maybe because you know they can’t be real—you almost want to poke them with a stick to see if they flinch. Or maybe because the pressure they put on themselves to be so close to perfect makes you feel like I have to act more perfect to be in their presence. I don’t want to make anyone feel like that.)

Even though imperfect people are the ones I’m most drawn to, I still struggle to give myself permission to be an imperfect friend, an imperfect wife, and imperfect mom, an imperfect daughter, an imperfect sister, an imperfect leader. If grace really sticks to imperfections, I want to be less perfect and more grace-covered.

So my friends prayed for me. Several from far away, some from their own homes, and a couple right in the same room. They prayed prayers of love and life and hope and freedom from the lonely prison of perfectionism. And even more than anything they prayed for, I felt so incredibly loved that they showed up in that moment.

They wanted to walk with me through my messy parts that make me feel most unlovable. They didn’t have to, but they chose to be with me in my fear and failure and insecurity. They were willing to stop everything else to put their hearts and faith and our friendship on the line so that I would know I’m worth loving.

Talk about feeling vulnerable. To ask for help is one hard thing, but to actually receive it exactly where I was most weak, that took all the courage I could muster.

I don’t want to forget the power of being myself. Not the shinier version, or the skinnier version, or the funnier version, or the more together version. Not the more thoughtful version, or the version who always knows what to say. I want to be the truest version, mess and all.

Because the messy, imperfect, real-life version of myself is the one who most needs to be loved anyway. And that’s the version I want to use to love others in their mess. Hiding who we are is the loneliest way to live—and the only way to be fully loved is to be truly known.

Being Seen and Loved

Being Seen and Loved

I waved good-bye to a treasured friend last week. As she pulled out of my driveway, her car loaded down with the last remnants of her now empty apartment, my tears flowed. Tears of grief over the loss of time together. Tears of gratitude for the beauty of hearts connected. Tears of love for this friend who is forever a part of me. Tears of hope for the new life that awaits her.

And I was overcome by the preciousness of being known, understood, and loved by another human.

I’ve learned a lot about friendship in the past few years. I used to think that it was the result of a shared history—just live enough life in proximity to one another and you have friendship. But now I know that real friendship—the kind of friendship makes you feel safe and known and like your best self—doesn’t just happen as time passes.

Real friendship takes inviting people into your house with a sink full of dishes and not even picking up the kids’ toys. It takes a willingness to tell you there’s something in your teeth—or listening to you so deeply that they don’t even notice it. It takes crying together over the fear of the unknown and not forcing words into a silent moment. It takes time spent on your knees together, for one another.

Real friendship takes work. Intentional investment. Mutual commitment. It takes time–there is no shortcut for time. My closest friendships also have also grown out of shared laughter, walks, coffee, fashion consulting, parenting advice, marriage counseling, meal delivery, prayer, tears, food, and varying amounts of wine. Most of all, real friendship takes a willingness to show up and be seen, just as I am.

Real friendship gives me the courage to stop performing, pleasing, hiding and start embracing my authentic self.

After I shared my last post on failure, I had one of the worst vulnerability hangovers I’ve ever experienced. (Yes, a vulnerability hangover is a thing. Just ask Brené Brown–she’s a vulnerability expert.) I immediately questioned the wisdom of publicly sharing one of the most painful, shame-filled journeys of my life. I felt naked and exposed, vulnerable to potential criticism, judgment, and misunderstanding about who I really am.

But I’ve learned through friendship that we all need to hear about others’ struggles, assuring us we’re not alone and that there is real hope for our story. The beauty of vulnerability is that it invites others to share their stories by having the courage to go first. 

My safe, life-giving friendships are where I feel brave enough to tell my whole story, not just the easy-to-share, shiny parts.  This type of friendship disarms me and gives me permission to be exactly who I am. Friends in this category believe in me, even when I can’t believe in myself. They see me as I am and encourage me to grow into who I want to be.

I didn’t always know how to be this type of friend. I wanted so desperately to be who people needed me to be that I couldn’t necessarily identify what I really needed in return. I cared too much about how I was perceived to give myself freely to others—I just wanted to be loved, even if the version of myself I revealed was tightly controlled and incomplete.

There have been so many beautiful women at different points of my life who have modeled real friendship. They’ve shown up for me when I had nothing else to offer.  They’ve pursued me when I’ve tried to hide out of fear that I wasn’t enough. They’ve let me into their struggles and shown me the beauty of authenticity.

Last year, one of these women gave me a book that has forever changed the way I view friendship, and set a new standard for the way I want to do life with others. As I read Freefall to Fly for the first time, I heard my own unspoken voice in the pages, pieces of my story articulated as Rebekah Lyons shared hers. One of my favorite parts of her story was the description of friends who gathered weekly to encourage one another by speaking out loud the gifts they saw in each other. I want to be a friend who gives life to others with the words I speak, cheering others on to become their best selves, celebrating their uniqueness while resting in the security of my own.

Sometimes hearing how other people see us changes our view of ourselves. I’ve experienced this firsthand. Friends who are willing to speak words of life to me–identifying gifts, casting vision, encouraging dreams–have transformed how I see myself, giving me courage to pursue my purpose and calling.

My friends are the ones who encouraged me to start a blog. They told me that I was good with words, that I was able to express things they felt in ways they couldn’t articulate. “Really?” I asked, incredulously. I’d honestly never thought about that before. And vulnerable as I feel stepping into this blogging world, their words of affirmation are what make me brave enough to keep pressing in.

And as step into what feels like an exhilarating/terrifying/life-giving new undertaking of sharing my heart with the world through the words I write here, I feel more alive in my own skin than I thought I could. Because they saw (and said what they saw) a gift in me that stirred a passion for words I had never explored, I’m embracing a part of myself I didn’t know was there.  And I couldn’t have believed in myself without their belief in me.

Friends who know us completely and love us just as we are give us courage to live fully as we were designed. The thing about these friendships, though, is that for people to see us fully in all our giftedness and potential, we have to allow ourselves to be fully seen. It takes a willingness to share struggles, fears, insecurities, and the ugly stuff most people don’t want others to know is in them.

Nothing builds authentic community like transparent hearts. And authentic community transforms us.  Being seen and loved frees us to take off our masks and stop pretending to be something we are not. Friendships where we are fully known and fully accepted give us permission to admit we’re not perfect. It sets us free to live in our real story as real people in real life together.

But someone has to go first. Someone has to be courageous and vulnerable, to ask others to join them on their journey. We’re all just waiting to be invited.

I’m so thankful for the friends who have invited me into their stories. It’s an honor to share mine.