The New Rules of Community

The funny thing about new experiences is that you’ve never had them before.

Our experiences build up and we start to think, “I know what I am doing.” But then one day, poof, you encounter something totally different and new.

Recently for me, this newest experience is community after college.

I thought if I had learned anything in college, it was how to do community. You just roll up to the event being hosted so that you can make friends with people with similar interests, say “we should get coffee sometime”, and then boom: one million best friends.

Turns out that isn’t how the world works. First of all, people are older than you and younger than you. They have jobs that are nothing like yours. They have different backgrounds and beliefs. They can have a lot in common with you but they can also be literally grandparents. And suddenly, all of these people are a part of your community.

And you have no idea what to do with that.

Can I trust you with my hurts? Can I be of any help to you in your struggles? Do I have anything to contribute to your life? Will I be rejected after I have invested in you or will I be rejected if I don’t invest in your life?

The clear, concise rules of community were stripped away and instead you are left with a host of what if’s and how to’s. And that can be really scary. When I found myself in that place, half of my heart said, “just give up, you can make it if you stick to the surface. Keep your cards close and play what you have to.”

But that isn’t what God had intended for us. Over and over I heard, “Loneliness is a gift that calls us back into community” or “Press into these relationships and seek opportunities for vulnerability.”

I had preached words like these before to people. I have written blogs about vulnerability and belonging. So why has it been so hard for me to be intentional and be myself? Why was it so different this time?

I think ultimately, I couldn’t place myself and when I couldn’t place myself, I thought the community didn’t have the room for me. I was isolating myself before I had the chance to be isolated. I wasn’t willing to give it time to organically grow either. I was desperate for those deep, three year friendships three weeks in. In case you were wondering, that is impossible.

Luckily, God didn’t let me fall into a trap of my own self-doubt and insecurity. Starting at work, I grew into the community with my co-workers. Sure they valued me as a part of the team, but they loved me too. That is rare. That is a big deal. And I love them too. Deeply. Just like I had with my roommates and committee members. I got to do life forty hours a week with people I love. It is something I won’t take for granted.

Then I had a foundation I could build from. And it gets a little easier once you know you can make it out there. So now I have to keep risking awkward silences and small talk to get to the bigger, deeper connection.

The way I see it, we are all human beings. Whether we admit it or not, we are all afraid of the same rejection and disappointment. But we have the opportunity to step out and do as Christ commanded us, love God and love our neighbor. When we live in accordance to God’s will – and God wants us to love and live in community – He will help us get through the unknown and connect our hearts. You can endure the “get to know you” because it’s the only way to become fully known.

So brothers and sisters, as we keep on living in this crazy world, let’s trust God in the process. Pressing in when things get hard, and giving thanks when things are easy.

A Love Given Freely

I spent a lot of my time hustling for love. I could write a book full of ways that I have tried to earn love. It would be a very bad book, though. You would read it and cringe. Here is a small sample of ways I have attempted to earn love, but read these at your own risk. I will not be held responsible for any vomiting or nightmares.

  • I sang “You Belong With Me” to a boy who already had a girlfriend. One that I was friends with.
  • I took ballroom dancing lessons in case a boy asked me to dance in Middle School.
  • I took tennis lessons for a boy that wasn’t allowed to hug me.
  • I started drinking coffee black to impress boys in college. (So brave!)

I have done hundreds of awkward, weird things to earn love. I still know a lot of people who are trying to earn love like me. A lot of you are incredible. You are usually beautiful, funny, and completely worthy of love.

I thought that maybe my problem was that I needed to get married so that I could always have someone to love me. Or maybe I needed a boyfriend so that people would know how likable I was. Or maybe I needed more friends so that people could pay more attention to me. I sometimes thought maybe, I just wasn’t worthy of love.

 

But there was always a flaw in these theories: Jesus. 

I had heard one thousand times that Jesus loved me deeply. That He was willing to die for me. That He chose me before anyone I knew was born.

But for some reason, that love never felt the way I wanted love to feel.

Did you catch that? If you did I am impressed, because it took me 21 years. That love never felt the way I wanted love to feel because love – true love, from the creator of love Himself – is not a feeling. 

It is a choice that spurs us to make similar choices. It all comes from one place. There was one model we should follow: God’s love for us. It wasn’t a love we had to ask for. It was a love given freely.

The key to being loved isn’t saying please, it’s saying thank you.

It’s recognizing that when we pour love into others, it is because God has filled our cups. It’s knowing that love isn’t ours to keep. It’s not a feeling we find. It’s a choice that chases us down for thousands of years until we are brought back home.

Now when I “feel loved”, I feel gratitude, joy, patient, kind – all of the things I was told that love could be. I don’t want to keep love for myself, I want to share it with those who don’t have enough. This is because when we know God’s love, we are able to become that same love. We are able to step into choosing Him and His people over ourselves. Love wasn’t cheap, but it is given freely.

 

Chapter 2: Not a Horror Story After All

Unknowingly, I have operated under the assumption that if my life after graduation was different it automatically meant that it was bad. File that under incredibly dumb things that I believed as a twenty-something.

I had a really hard time trusting that I was where I was supposed to be. Everything changed. I felt alone, I was scared, and I could not stop comparing myself. It felt like everyone else was so satisfied, progressing so smoothly. I felt fragmented, like I had lost my sense of belonging.

But I was in a chapter that I could not leave and could not skip. I prayed for gratitude. I prayed for patience. I even prayed for change. One of the major issues I was running into was that things had changed, and I assumed that was a loss.

My parents had told me a hundred times while I was in school that college was “not real life”. I had completely rejected that statement like any kid who knows way more than their parents would. How could it not be real life if I was living it?

When January came so did the culture shock of living in Cleveland without Lee. I didn’t realize how celebrated I had felt as a Lee student. To me, Lee students were heroes. I stepped off my pedestal and into reality.  (Cue existential crisis #1)

After losing my identity, I lost another portion of college life. Conveniently having a thousand friends. I didn’t realize how easy it was to have so many friends in college.  Sure, you are busy in school, but more often than not, you are doing whatever you have to do with your best friend by your side. Now I had a schedule unlike any of the people that I had previously spent all day, everyday with. Community looked completely different when the vast majority of my time was spent alone. (Cue existential crisis #2)

And then there was school. Minus the four years I spent developing basic human functions like walking and talking, I had been a student. To end that chapter – essentially the only thing I had ever known – was confusing. Measuring success in school was as easy as a GPA. The course of correction was simple enough. As a life-long perfectionist I was very comfortable with this system. I knew when I was smart, hard-working, and capable of success. And then, poof. No more grades. What was the new measure of success? Was it food on the table? Money? Hours spent in prayer? Books I had read? (Cue existential crisis #3)

After about four months of everything from “I’m okay” to “oh wait am I literally dying” moments I started to think about what my parents had said. I knew that my college experience was indeed real life, but it was nothing like what I could expect the rest of my life to look like. The majority of the world does not live the way college students do (thank God).

People don’t fit neatly into categories.

Friendships and love require lots of hard work and rarely come naturally.

Success is different to every person, you will never look successful to every person you encounter.

The “real world” is different. It is a change. It feels nothing like all of the life experience you have ever had. This unknown is hard to get used to and at first feels a lot like failure and loss and all of the bad things you fear. But this change is just that, different.

Transitions will come through out your entire life. Navigating the newness of marriage and parenthood and retirement and every other chapter can easily catch us off guard when different = bad. Learning who you are in each chapter comes back to knowing who you are in Christ. The changing chapters will never out weigh the importance of following God. We can’t predict our stories, but we can know that the Author has our best ending already written.

We can never know the bigger picture in this life, yet somehow, we have to know it is so much more important than this moment. Faith is what gives us the power to conquer fear. God moves in transition. Count on it.

What are you doing with your life?

So I graduated from college. You know what that means… I get asked 278,342 times a day what I am doing with my life.

Every time I get asked that I want to turn to sand and blow away in the wind. Or shake the person and ask them what they are doing with their life. I want to say several different things like, “having this conversation with you” or “if I told you I would have to kill you.”

But the reality is that right now, I work in retail. At first, I was really ashamed. It isn’t fair to be ashamed of my job, great people – thousands of people, have jobs exactly like mine. When the question inevitably pops up in conversation, I would feel like I was letting the interviewer down, even if they were a complete stranger. I felt like everyone expected me to do something really great right away. After all, not everyone graduates from college at 20. Surely, if anyone was going to start off as a CEO right away it would be me.

Friends, family, that right there is some nasty, toxic pride. In a way, I think God very intentionally placed me where I am right now because if I am being honest, I have let people judge me by my performance since day one. It worked for a long time, too. You could ask me about what was going on or how I was and I could provide a three minute explanation of how busy I was with so many great things.

I was doing great things, but too often, for the wrong reason.

I thought the only way that I could serve God was if I did everything, perfectly. Jesus would have gotten the internship with the non-profit that saves babies right? He would have immediately been promoted to Director? He would still sleep eight hours and get coffee with his friends and followed the Whole 30?

First of all, no.

True, Jesus did amazing things, but his life wasn’t so extraordinary that the kings felt inferior compared to his resumé. (He was also the perfect son of God and I am the daughter of a navy nuke guy.) Jesus served God by the way he lived. 

He took time for people, he prayed, he taught, he celebrated others, he made time for family and disciples. He did not compare himself, brag about miracles, turn loving others into a start-up with a cool logo, forget about his Father.

Jesus and his disciples model a life that reminds us that fisherman or tax collector, the most important thing about your life is how you are living it. That is something I missed in my busy-all-star-greatness. I am not saying that I was an all-together garbage person the past three years, but there was an undue anxiety to prove myself as a worthy servant of Christ.

Jarod Noel said at the Focus conference when we humble ourselves in our communities, we are able to focus on God’s will being done instead of whether or not God is using us. Humility doesn’t keep score. Along that same line, Tim Keller said in Every Good Endeavor, understanding work as being the hands and feet of Jesus “elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.”

Do I need to say that again? Understanding work as being the hands and feet of Jesus releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves. 

When we frame work that way, it becomes clear that every detail of our ordinary lives adds up, and should ultimately paint a much bigger picture. Work proves that Jesus loves our neighbor, not that we can do great things. We then have the opportunity to make room in our lives for the pieces that the world may not value as much as our Creator does. Learning these lessons in my post-grad season may not have done much for my resumé, but has helped heal me and brought me a new peace I am excited to take into the next season.

I have hope that God does have a bigger plan for my life than the answers I can give you right now. I hope that He will make me a teacher and wife and aunt and mother and bridesmaid and secretary and so many other things. But through it all, it is so important that I remember the most important title I can ever adorn is “loved daughter of the Heavenly Father.” The works I carry out due to my faith in God are the most important and most valuable.

Forget the Formula

When I was a young preteen I used to go to the McCracken County Public Library basically all the time. I was home-schooled so hanging at the library was the cool thing to do. I had read practically every single book in our small young adult fiction section. I was starting to think that I had read every single book ever written when one day out of sheer boredom I wandered into the young adult non-fiction section.

That was the day I discovered a whole new world. A world where instead of reading about cool guys and middle school romance, I could un-lock my own successful love life. I snuck over to the section to read American Girl book after American Girl book. I had finally found it. The wealth of knowledge and science and formulas that would help me understand how to have everything I had ever wanted.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 1.47.41 PM

A lot of my present frustrations stem from my constant search for guaranteed formulas. Although, it feels silly now to put so much faith in those purple and pink books about how to tell if someone likes you, things haven’t really changed all that much for a lot of us. We still ask, what do I have to be/do/say/have before I can find love and connection?

I ask engaged couples how it feels to be in such a secure place of knowing that you are loved. I ask them how they knew and how they ended up in a place where they were “Ready To Commit”. I hear a lot of the same things. They stopped looking. They stopped waiting. They reached a place of completion and then boom, God gave them the love of their life.

This made me really scared. I had gone through a lot of periods of waiting. Sometimes I grew tired of waiting and impulsively liked some boys I knew were bad news. I have looked back on some seasons and thought, you know what, that makes sense. And it’s not like I don’t like a lot of the parts of being single. I can serve, live for God, and grow in him with absolutely no true outside commitments.

But there is a part of me that knows that this is not how things are supposed to be for me forever. I can be content, patient, and even whole in Christ. But I am not created for a life without love and connection.

I have fought with this a lot over the past few years. When it became clear that I was not getting married right out of college I was honestly thankful. There are a lot more pros than cons to starting my post-grad experience without a ring on my finger. But that doesn’t diminish the fear that I have.

Every time I tried to plug myself into the formulas I had seen, I knew things weren’t going to work that way for me. The avenues other people took to find love were not going to lead me to the right place. I did not know what to hope for or work towards.

I cannot and will not deny that I want to be married. I want to be married to a person who loves Christ more than anything, that serves with their whole life, and that shows me everyday how to love like Christ. That isn’t wrong. That is biblical. That feeling isn’t going away.

Not denying that longing is my version of the formula. That is still following God’s will. Not letting it consume me, but also not drowning it out to the point where I have a creeping anxiety that my desire is preventing me from connecting with God. Casting your anxieties, sharing your joy and your pain with the Lord does not mean that you suppress yourself and become an inactive protagonist in your own story.

Our lives, our stories, are a shared conversation between ourselves and God. We are giving ourselves to him and he is living in us. I can give my heart to heaven, but if I don’t invest love and care back into others in the world, then heaven never gets back to earth.

So if you are like me, let me remind you that God’s plan for our lives and love is much better than a formula. Just because it worked for your mom or your roommate doesn’t mean your story will be the same. Free yourself from the pressure to stop searching for connection. Come to God with every part of your heart. He knows you, and He won’t let you down.

Lost Plans

The person I thought I would become is very different from the person I am.

When I sent my application into Lee University I imagined where I would be in the Fall of 2017. I would be engaged. I would be working, doing whatever it is that people do in PR. I would have been involved in a few areas of campus. My friend group from summer honors would hang out together every week, just as tight knit as we were during those two weeks. I would have made it through the best two years of my life, learning and growing into this incredible person. You know, safely following God deeper than my feet could ever wander (can I get an amen?).

I loved my plan, my dreams. I prayed that God would grant me my prayers for this incredible life changing experience.

But, wait a minute, with all of these safety nets and sources of validation, where was the life change?

If you ever read anything from my old blog you know that going into Lee I hard-core struggled to go day-to-day without knowing the purpose of my life. I have been frustrated over and over by unanswered prayers and all of those situations that force me to be still and know that He is God. Every encounter was a quick, harsh, judgement. Yes, this is it. My best friend, my new roommate, my first love, my college, my major, my career. This is the answered prayer, right? I was a one and done kind of gal.

Entering into relationships and commitment, I didn’t question my own judgement. I followed open doors, just hoping that these were the doors that would lead me to the right destination. There was rarely “prayerful consideration”. There was mostly “yes”.

Now, where did that get me? Honestly, in a lot of cases, into some really great places. The issue came about when I started to lose myself to the situation I had entered myself into. I took on identities based on learning experiences. Instead of seeing a path, I set up camp, hoping that the outside world would just let me be. I didn’t want the plan to change.

But when this April hit, I realized that my time was running out. The identities and titles were stripped away. All of my “God-given-masks” were lifted. It was me, God, and a brand new season.

And I was crushed.

It hit me that I was still on a journey. Lee had not been the final destination. As soon as the plans changed I threw my hands up, saying I don’t know if I can do this. 

One of the best things that has ever happened to me was having my comfort stripped away.

As I pushed further and further to try to find myself again, I was finally forced to look outside of myself. I had to cling to my family and my community. I had to ask God the hard questions. I had to seek His peace. I had to be broken enough to ask Him to put me back together.

I’ve learned that my belonging can’t come from anything I can do. My belonging can’t come from anything I can be.

My sense of self, my purpose, must always be to love God and know him more. Learning that I can never satisfy myself, that I won’t meet my expectations, I won’t follow my own plan, taught me that the only thing that will ever satisfy me is looking at my life the way that God does.

Everything is temporary, my brothers and sisters. We have nothing to cling to. No expectations for tomorrow. All we can do is be grateful for everything given to us. The plan is to follow Him with everything we can. Our plan should never to be to make a name for ourselves. I want your favorite part about me to be how I earnestly seek after the Lord.

So I am done writing my own plans and giving myself directions. I won’t let you or myself or anyone else decide who I should be. When I became who I wanted to be, that was the problem. I made it about the opinions of anyone other than God.

I am so, so glad that He has reminded me for the 32,473,947,985th time that He is all I need.

Humans Drool

When I was 14 years old I went bowling with my youth group. My ex-boyfriend was there looking handsome. But he wasn’t the only one looking good. I had just gotten my braces off. As my favorite artist at the time Ke$ha would say, I was feeling “hot and dangerous”.

We were in the bowling alley, talking, and I was doing everything I could to express “don’t you wish you hadn’t given up on me? Look at me now.” I don’t remember what we were talking about but what happened next is forever engrained in my memory.

When you get your braces off, it takes a while for your mouth to get used to it. It is not uncommon for you to produce more saliva than usual. That is exactly how I ended up drooling in front of my ex.

“Did you just drool?”

“No.” I denied it. I had obviously just drooled. It was a lot of drool. It just poured out of my mouth. But I looked him in the eye and denied what had just happened, even though we both knew it wasn’t true.

256953_10150267391243410_6593131_o(Photograph: circa 2011, aka: time I drooled in a bowling alley)

Even though things have changed since I was 14, a lot of things have remained the same. Mainly, my insecurities regarding perfection. For years I have struggled to let my guard down to see the slobbery, awkward mess I am behind the leader, student, daughter, friend, potential love interest (Anyone? No? Even after that drool story?) and all the other things I want people to see me as.

Perfectionism tells me that I cannot mess up, I cannot be flawed, I cannot do anything that would make me have to say, “Yep, you’re right I just drooled.” or “I am late because I was eating a burrito.” I know that sounds funny but seriously, imagine if you did that thing that you hate when other people do it – and it wasn’t even for a good reason.

Perfectionism convinces us that if we are good enough, we won’t ever need anyone to give us grace. We will have it all under control and we will have earned the love and respect of others. Hold on though, that includes the love of Christ.

I started to get really anxious about what I was supposed to be doing with my life as I got closer and closer to graduation. I wanted to be able to do everything, take every opportunity on with excellence, proving without a shadow of a doubt that I am capable of any career. I wanted to never be late and never make a mistake.

But that isn’t being human.

Imagine working for someone who is always on time, never misses a day of work for anything, is always the last to leave, and basically everything about them oozes “I am better than you and you will never measure up.” I don’t want to work for that guy. I want to work with people who say it is ok to not know the copy code or take a day off when you are sick. When I think of it that way, I always ask myself, “why would I want to be that guy?”

You can lead people by example by embracing your humanity. Showing grace for yourself and for others. When you humanize yourself, it becomes so much easier to humanize the people around you.

Humans make mistakes. That is why God gives us grace. Not because we asked for it, because we thought we could handle it – He gives it to us because we need to learn to use it. Accepting you are human is the first step to building a healthier lifestyle.

So next time I make a 65 on a quiz I will tell the girl sitting next to me so she feels better about her 75. Next time my boss is running late, I will remind him that I get how much of a struggle mornings can be. Next time I am human, I will reach out and share that with my neighbor.

Because I want to love people well. Your neighbor doesn’t need a critic or a measuring stick, they need the same grace and love that Christ offers us everyday.

Enough is Unattainable

One of the words that I hate most is enough.

Enough feels like a chain around my ankle that keeps me from coming up for air.

I will never be beautiful enough. I will never be smart enough. I will never be funny enough. I will never work hard enough. I will never be loved enough. I will never have enough energy, money, or time.

Sometimes, the weight of the pressure to be enough for myself – not even for others – is crushing. It is always present when I walk into a room of new people or even when I sit down around a table with my friends. When you factor in the expectations that I perceive that others have for me it will always be a losing battle and I will never be enough. If I have to be enough, then I can look forward to a lifetime of getting home and feeling sick as I analyze every part of my day to see where I didn’t measure up.

Because recently I realized that for me, enough isn’t even perfection. Enough is being better than the absolute best. It means comparing my worst parts of myself to the best of others. It is collecting all of the good things I hear people say about others and working day and night to make sure that I go above and beyond to make sure I can be more than that.

When I am not enough I am a failure.

This practice of measuring up is not only unhealthy, it goes against everything I am actually trying to be according to the gospel. When you have to be enough there is no room for humility. There is no grace or gratitude for your gifts or others. Instead of seeing the kingdom all I can see is my own perceived brokenness.

I believe lies in the “enough competition” like “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” actually means “If you are doing enough others will do unto you”. I believe God stops fighting for us when we don’t sit down for a Instagram worthy daily devotional. I believe that I have to be an invaluable member of the team in order to take part at all.

But all of these beliefs are lies. They are standards that can’t be reached and they prevent us from hope, joy, and love. They breed competition and insecurity. They make it impossible to be the person I really want to be, a person with faith and hope for the future.

I wish I could tell you that it is easy to just stop the “enough competition” with a simple prayer or just being aware. But it’s a fight that takes everything you’ve got. Prayer and awareness certainly help. Vulnerability is a key player. Gratitude can go a long way. The most important thing is that we keep fighting together. I still don’t have an easy fix for you but I promise to be vulnerable along the journey.

I hope that is enough for you.

Share Your Joy, Share Your Pain

I struggled this week with the same ole weaknesses and fears. The same doubts of my worthiness. But through it all I have refused to avert my own joy.

I don’t think I ever expected to be sitting where I am right now. Not physically, I mean, I am in my bed which makes sense because it is 1:30 A.M. But emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I never knew that my heart could be both so heavy and so light.

It’s one of those weeks where you look back and think “Am I even the same person I was seven days ago?” The answer is honestly no for me. Usually these weeks of exponential growth come after I receive a big ole yes from a job, a club, a class. That isn’t actually the case this week.

In fact, this week I have gotten a few no’s.

I sat across the table in a coffeeshop and wrestled with vulnerability and God’s timing.

I picked up a test with a grade I was not excited to see.

I sat in the car after a long day of deciding the leadership for the organization I love so much. Realizing that this would be a team I would not be a part of. That I had just replaced myself with one of these incredible leaders.

I struggled this week with the same ole weaknesses and fears. The same doubts of my worthiness.

But through it all I have refused to avert my own joy. Averting joy is an idea I learned from Brene Brown, an author who has specialized her research in shame. The idea is that whenever we approach a situation where we have to risk failure or rejection we cannot downplay our emotions, but instead we revel in the joy the opportunity presents. She writes in The Gifts of Imperfection,

“It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take away the pain when it doesn’t happen. It also creates a lot of isolation. Once you’ve diminished the importance of something your friends are not likely to call and say, “I am sorry that didn’t work out. I know you were excited about it.”

With each step I am taking entering into this next phase of work, internships, stepping down from leadership, new relationships, and eventually the impending doom of whatever lies beyond graduation day, it is so important not to downplay these next phases of life. It is crucial that we invite our community into the joy and the pain that these various rejections and acceptances can bring. That isn’t easy. In fact, it is often terrifying to be honest with people about hopefulness.

This weekend I have experienced so much joy by playing a role in the engagement of two of my best friends. Sharing in their love with our community has been so inspiring. Even as I have faced rejection this week I have not walked alone. Just as they invited us into their joy, I have invited them into my struggle. The same goes for those selected for cabinet and those who weren’t. I can be so incredibly excited for those ready to take on this commitment but I can also empathize with those not selected as I get ready to watch these people form a new community that I won’t get to fully be a part of. When we have empathy for each other out of humility we have the same victories and short-comings.

But the joy I feel is not discounted by my doubt. God is not limited by my shallow vision. The community will not let me feel the highs and the lows alone. I am standing in a place I could have never chosen for myself and for that I am truly grateful.

This week I will turn 20 years old. I will get on a plane and fly to Ireland. I will welcome a new cabinet. I will love people well. I will make time to seek God’s will. I will feel every emotion and every fear and I will not allow them paralyze me.

Risk sharing your heart with your community. Risk walking with them. Risk doing life together. See the difference it makes when you share in this journey with humility.

Choose to Love

Lessons learned from Grama (and God) about Taylor Swift.

In 7th grade I was obsessed with the song “Hey Stephen” by Taylor Swift. One day, I was bopping along at my Grama’s house singing the song, as 12-year-old Halle did. The chorus was all about how you can’t help it if you fall in love with a boy and you can’t help yourself.

My Grama looked over at me as I sang and she said, “Halle, you can always help yourself. Love is a choice.”

I’ll never forget it.

Of course, at the time I didn’t understand or even come close to appreciating her words of wisdom. I was 12. All I knew were crushes and feeling helpless. Love was a feeling, not an action or a choice. I knew so little about unconditional love. I certainly knew nothing about romantic love and how that could ever be a choice. I didn’t even know how the love that Christ asked me to show to others was a choice.

But that is a lesson I have learned over the years, especially this year. That love is a choice you have to wake up every morning and make.

You have to choose to love your parents who challenge you to do more with your life than you ever thought you could. You have to choose to love your roommate even when they are having a bad day. You have to choose to love your best friend even if you’re both too busy to catch up. You have to choose to love your professor even when they keep canceling on you. You have to choose to love your acquaintance even if things between you have been weird lately. You have to choose to love that boy even when he lets you down.

But you can just as easily choose not to love. Or what kind of love you give that person. You can choose to love more or less. You can choose to love them unconditionally or to let love go when you’re hurting. But love is your choice.

Now here is the tricky part, because God calls us to love our enemies. That love is a choice. But God never called our enemy to love us back. When we choose to love others we cannot expect them to return the favor. Even if it’s our friend and not our enemy. We have to pour out our hearts without expectation of reciprocity.

You can’t love with the expectation of that same love being poured back into you. When you make that choice, you do it because God first loved you. That is how we should love. When it comes to love, we flinch first. We start out with an accepting love and go from there, not expecting anything in return.

So, you were right Grama. Love is a choice. For me, for them. I decide every morning how I am going to treat others and the attitude I’m going to have. And the feelings can fade when you understand what it truly means to love someone else. And I can always help myself.