January 30, 2018

I swear I loved.

“So how’s your night going?”

I was waiting for my latte, hoping it would warm my belly and wake me up some, when the barista asked.

“Oh, it’s been so good! I actually just drove up here for the day. To spend time with a friend. That’s what the coffee is for- got a long drive back home.”

He nodded, a smile spread across his face, as he handed me my cup.

“Be safe.”

I drove off, replaying the brief conversation in my head. I always appreciate the kindness of strangers, but especially when it allows me to pause for a moment and just consider where I’m at. To consider how blessed I am to say I came all this way because there’s someone I love and share life with here.

You know these moments, I’m sure. You’ve seen them in movies.  The moment someone’s whole perspective changes. A moment of clarity in an otherwise loud, fast-paced, and crowded world. And they’re always set to the most positive, upbeat soundtracks- ones with lyrics that make your very bones come alive with gratitude and ambition. They always send us off in the direction of a life lived well.

So… naturally… God cued one of my current favorites as I merged onto the highway:

“Hope that you spend your days

But they all add up

And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup
Oh, oh
I wish that I could witness
All your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes
I’ll say
I…I did it all
I…I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived”
(You should probably have this song on as you read the remainder of this post for the full effect. Just saying!)
With only the first few notes of the song, I was right back to being 17 years old- a teenager so very close to tasting freedom. I had so many ideas for what my life should be then. Now here I was  driving the same little yellow Pontiac down the highway and promising myself every lyric I sang out with passion again.
There was only a slight difference.
I was still reveling in songs with lyrics about living fully, but my spirit and my heart had since translated them.  With every mile my car traveled, I understood it a little better and sang it out a little louder… (my own version)
 But until my moment comes
I’ll say
I…. I loved them all! 
I….I loved them all!
My arms were wide open with all I could give
I saw every person before me
and they all became friends
Yeah, with every beat of my heart
I swear I loved

 At 17, my daydreams looked a lot like Sandals Resorts commercials. I dreamed of traveling to far-away places, trying exotic foods, and crossing items off an exhilarating bucket list. I dreamed of an effortless marriage full of laughter, and a career that I could change the world through (but that wouldn’t prevent me from traveling whenever I wanted, of course). It was always about where I could go and what I could do. So many people had told me I had the whole world at my fingertips that I had begun to believe it was made just for me. At 25 though, the scenery in these daydreams has faded away. It’s the faces of the people around me in them that have come into focus. I am less concerned with the places I will go or the things I will do. I just want to be fully present with the people around me.

In the past I would never have planned a day with a friend unless there had been a specific activity I knew we were going to complete. I would have invited a friend over to bake and decorate cookies for some event, to pamper ourselves with face and hair masks, new nail polish and body lotion, or to work on something for our own goals but beside one another. It just would not have crossed my mind to have a friend over simply to see her and catch up with her. Especially not if it meant giving up an entire day. But this day, I had driven an hour to sit across the kitchen table from a college friend, listening to her share her simple thoughts on life. To watch her face light up when she got on the subject of the things she loved. To offer a word of encouragement at the mention of her struggles and to say, with all honesty and vulnerability, “Girl, me too.”
As the blue skies turned dark, we moved from the kitchen table to the couch and lit a strand of white Christmas lights. She worked on some things for school and I read a book. We sat beside one another in silence occasionally broken by a thought too good not to share. And, when it was time for me to head home, we promised to plan a day just like it as soon as we possibly could. It was so refreshingly beautiful.
These are the moments I’m learning to live for.  I mean, really…What would it mean to accomplish your dreams, but to have no one to celebrate them with? To travel to the world’s most romantic travel destinations, but to have no one’s hand beside you to hold? To gain all the wisdom of the world, but to have no one to pass it on to? And even more importantly, what would it mean not to be able to do these same things for others? I say I am “learning” because, well, I definitely have not arrived yet. Even on the days that I think are going well, I find that I make mistakes. I mean,  I stopped at a smoothie shop on the way to this very friend’s house this weekend. As I got my smoothie and walked out of the shop, a woman was coming in. I held the door open for her, only to let it slam in the face of the people who had been waiting behind me to come out. When I realized what I had done, I spun around and gasped. “Oh! I’m sorry! I didn’t even see you there.” And while the apology made all the difference to them, it quieted and humbled me because I realized I hadn’t even seen them. How many people did I pass every day that I never really saw? In that moment I understood every person as an opportunity to come to know and love someone, and I realized just how many opportunities I was missing. An urgency to open my eyes and reach out my arms overcame me.
It’s my dream now to really live out this “I Lived” song. I  joke around a lot about having it played at my funeral. Yes, my funeral. It’s not creepy. Actually, what’s creepy is probably how not creepy at all I think it is to discuss my own funeral. In high school, I read Tuesdays With Morrie and fell in love with the idea of a living funeral. An opportunity to gather all of your friends and family before you actually die, so you can be a part of all the wonderful memories they share about you. I think it was that book that made me fall in love with the idea of having a hand in my own funeral. It really bothers Justin, but that’s also part of what makes it fun for me I think.
It’s just that when the Lord welcomes me home, I don’t want a crowd of people to gather in my name just for the sake of formality. An awkward crowd of people who never really knew me whispering, “Well, she seemed to be nice. She got a lot done, but she never made herself available to know the people she worked to impact.” I want a crowd of people who knew me intimately to gather in celebration of a life lived with abundant love. Love that reached out and wrapped up everyone it passed. Love that changed lives. A crowd of people who would meet for an honorary flash mob and say to the person in front of them, between dance moves, “Nicole was like a sister to me!  She loved deeply and she laughed loudly. She found joy in the ordinary, and took every opportunity to celebrate the people in her path.” A crowd of people who would collapse on the ground after all the fun and say, “That was nothing compared to that time Nicole came with me to ___,  and we had the time of our lives! She really loved me a lot to do that.”
 I want to be able to look down on the party from Heaven’s gates and say, I swear I loved.
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See my bucket list here!