The Guy You Have a Beer With

Inspiration can come in the most unexpected places.

Sunsets, mountains, cups of coffee, a good book, the perfect autumn day. These, among other things, spin my creative wheels, and inspire my work.

I love, however, when inspiration sneaks up on you. Like the parking guy who does his job with such joy, or the way the train rumbles at just the right decibel to lull me into a sleepy dreamland.

I never thought a serial-dating, midwesterner-turned-city-slicker-designer could say the exact thing I had been trying to for so long, but could never put into words.

Aside from both working in the creative circuit, Timothy Goodman and I are two very different people.

I hopped on the 40 Days of Dating train pretty early in the project’s online debut. Like a middle school girl tearing open the latest issue of Tiger Beat, I pored over the daily entries  from a pair of designers in NYC doing a relationship experiment. (Don’t worry, for every 40 Days post, I listened to one hour of NPR, just to balance out.) 

While I admit, I did enjoy the gushy antics of their story in a Ross and Rachel “will they? won’t they?” kind of way, what I enjoyed most about the project was the way the couple processed and learned along the way. Even if I didn’t always agree with it.

When Tuesday morning came and the Great Discontent arrived in my inbox with the subject line: Timothy Goodman interview, I opened the email with the same enthusiasm as the 40 Days posts. Make that double the enthusiasm because I love TGD (TGD interviewed Jessica Walsh in September 2012, pre-40 Days).

When asked about what legacy he hopes to leave, Tim mentioned three things: to push creative limits, be supportive of people he cares about and,

“Maybe I’ll be remembered as a guy you were able to have a beer with.”

And that was it.

I expected his accomplishments, accolades, and creative passion to inspire me. It all does. But this caught me off guard.

In so few words, he sums up a worldview bigger than I think even he realizes. It is simple, yet inspiring. Almost so easy, most people overlook it altogether. I think what Timothy says is the same message Jesus wants us to get.

We think we need programs and projects and conferences, when all it takes is eyes that say trust me and ears that say I’m listening. Why make it complicated, when the answer could be as simple as gathering around the table with a friend?

Jesus did it, with disciples and sinners alike. The idea of meeting over a beverage or around food transcends cultures and beliefs and backgrounds.

Be the kind of person people want to grab a drink with. Not because you’re the richest, funniest, most talented, most attractive, or even most spiritual. Be the kind of person people have a beer with because you are just the kind of person who will take the time sit across from someone—be it at a bar, in a coffee shop, or around the kitchen table—and listen, love, and pour life out.

I may never win a Nobel Prize or discover the cure for cancer or invent the next greatest app (although I am still holding out on that one), but I can leave a legacy of compassion.  When people remember Carrie, I hope they say, “she loved and she listened and she believed for great things.”

I want to invite people into my life and into the freedom the love of Christ offers.

So let’s go get that drink. {Cheers}

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Saving the Last for Last

Before Jennifer Lawrence became the girl on fire, I read the Hunger Games series. And I reread the books just before the release of the first movie.

Around the same time the Hunger Games film came out, a friend lent me a book. “If you loved the Hunger Games, you will love Divergent,” she assured me.

Another young adult novel about teenagers holding the fate of a postmodern dystopia in their hands? Oh you mean a poor man’s Hunger Games, right? Got it. 

Everything in me wanted to skip ahead and get to the meat. Forget all the preliminary mumbo jumbo and setting the scene stuff,  I wanted to feel the emotions, and know the end of the story. I wanted to know the characters in the new book the way I knew Katniss and Peeta.

Recently, I moved to a new city and started a new job. I am slowly trying to create a life here.

Scratch that.

I am not slowly trying to create a life here. I am in all-out, super-speed, lightning mode to create some kind of life here in Austin.

I got a job, joined a small group, volunteered with an organization, found roommates, and located the nearest Trader Joe’s ASAP.

When I came to Austin, I had a handful of friends already living here. Since being in the city, I have made quite a bit of acquaintances, and find my schedule quickly fills with shows and groups and coffee dates and dinners.

But I am still lonely.

For awhile, I couldn’t figure it out. I have plans every night of the week, when did I have time to feel lonely? Between work and church and CASA and pure-Austin living (read: live music, coffee shops, food vendors, and the outdoors), I don’t even get enough sleep.

I began to doubt my decision. Because surely if it were God’s will it would feel better and not so lonely. At least back there I had my people. At least back there people really knew me.

And I realized I am judging this season’s beginning off another season’s end.

Like starting a new book, I didn’t care about character development or plot lines because it wan’t the Hunger Games and these aren’t my people and they haven’t had my experience. I wanted to feel at Divergent‘s beginning the way I felt at Hunger Game’s end. And it just seemed like too much effort to get through all of that again.

“I just wish I could speed this whole process along,” I lamented to a friend. “I just want to be known the way you know me.”

I want to pick up the remote of life and fast-forward to the good parts, just skip ahead a few chapters.

The community I had in Georgia was a rare, beautiful, messy, hard-fought gift. When I really think back on it, all that mess we went through together created the camaraderie we shared. We didn’t go from shaking hands to sobbing on the couch together in an instant. Life happened in between. Real, raw, messy life.

The moments when it all fell apart were the moments I had people come alongside me, and believe with and for me, and when the time came, we celebrated the heck out of each other. In feast and famine, we loved each other the best we knew how—but it was the famine that made the feast taste so good.

Some of the great friendships of history—Woody and Buzz, Milo and Otis, Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins—birthed out of a journey trekked together. Upon meeting, they shared no instant bond,  some of them even disliked each other.

To wish away the time is to skip over the cultivation process—the gestation of new life, the fermentation of good wine. I want to surrender to the process and live fully in the in-between. I don’t want to skip ahead to the end, I want to save the last for last. And live the best today and everyday.

There is something about experiencing life together, the good and the bad, that brings us closer. If you ask me, it’s vulnerability.

“A year ago that’s the last thing you wanted, to go deep,” my friend laughed at the irony of my sorrows.

“See what you people did to me!” we both laughed into the screens of our facetime call.

Experiencing the journey is what makes reaching the destination beautiful and worth it. I am not going to miss out on that.

Please Play This Song at My Funeral

I’m no scientist or doctor, but when you’re doing pretty much anything in life, I think it’s important to breathe.

In high school, my friend Holly and I cheered together. I’ll never forget the day she moved from flier (the one on top of the pyramid) to base (the one holding the flier in the air). She is a tiny person — her heart is the only big thing about her — so the day she decided to be the muscles of the group shocked us all. I remember helping her, coaching her through the process. Bend at the knees, don’t arch your back. 

After every dismount Holly would let out the biggest gush of air from her mouth. Guuuuuuhhh. I couldn’t figure out how  such a loud noise could come from such a small person.

Then came time to add the cheers to the stunts. Yelling for our football team and throwing human bodies into the air — at the same time.

No words came from Holly’s mouth. Her grand exhales came after holding her breath for the entire stunt sequence. Ready, one, two, inhale… no exhale. No breath until the stunt ended and her flier landed safely on the floor.

“Don’t forget to breathe, Holly!” our coach would remind her during practice. “You have to keep breathing!”

Today, I need someone reminding me of the same thing.

A couple weekends ago, two of my best friends became one in marriage — and I couldn’t be happier. On the drive home from Austin, I spent time reflecting, praying, and thanking God for the people in my life.

Then Gungor’s This Is Not The End came on my car stereo. At the words, “This is not our last, this is not our last breath,” the tears began streaming down my cheeks.

Why that song? Why those words? I had heard them a dozen times before. What was it about the reassurance of breath — a job I typically leave up to my lungs and brain to work out — that broke me?

2013 has been one tough year. In desperation, I had gasped for air, taking in all my lungs could hold. I became lightheaded and dizzy, and lost sight of all truth. Instead, I started believing lies of inadequacy and disappointment. I have been holding my breath for jobs, for relationships, for provision, for heartaches, for health, for the way it should be 

Stale air continued to cycle and recycle. I couldn’t exhale because what if those last breaths were all I had.

Eventually, my face turned purple and I could not even see the life right in front of me.

I never let that last breath go to invite the fresh breath in.

There on Highway 290, I sat puffy-eyed and splotchy while this song reminded me of something I had forgotten along the way: there is another breath after this one. There is always one more breath.

Even in death there is never a last breath; life continues in the heavenly realm. Life started when Adam first drew in the breath of God, the inhale, and it continued when he exhaled the kingdom breath out into the garden.

There will be another inhale, but we have to let go of the breath we’re holding onto first.

There is always one more breath. 

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This is not the end, this is not the end of this. We will open our eyes wide, wider.

This is not our last, this is not our breath. We will open our mouths wide, wider.

This is not the end, this is not the end of us. We will shine like the stars: bright, brighter.

A Choice Drink for Victory

Then all the people went away to eat choice food and drink, and celebrated with great joy because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:12

“Wait, Jesus is coming back?”

I remember that light bulb moment as surprise swept across her face. Her eyes, wide and bright, looked straight into mine, searching for an answer. “He’s alive? He’s coming back?”

“Yes, he is,” I assured her.

For the teenage girl in my cabin that summer, it all became real sitting on the picnic tables by Sky Lake, and she could not hold back her excitement. Turning to her cabin mates she exclaimed, “Did you know? Can you believe it?!” For the rest of the week, she told everyone she could: Jesus is coming back! For real!

In the dining hall, on the blob, going down the waterslide: Hey, did you know? He’s alive!

Brittany, like the people of Israel, deemed this newly discovered information worth celebrating. When the Israelites heard and understood the Law of Moses they celebrated with a week-long feast! (Where do I sign up?)

Remember discovering something, be it knowledge or experience, and the feeling it stirred within you? Like riding a horse for the first time, that first sip of a good wine, your first kiss.

A wise woman once said, “Information mixed with an encounter becomes a revelation, and that’s when transformation happens.”

If this season has been about anything it’s learning. Learning a new craft, learning to be broken, learning to be loved, and always learning more and more about God: who he is and how he sees me.

I am finally understanding and experiencing some things for the first time. Because of the brokenness and vulnerability I’ve reached lately, I figured

it is due time I start celebrating the victories. 

Information, encounters, revelations, transformations. The stuff made known to me.

Nope, still not perfect, I have yet to arrive, and I will probably cry at least once or twice by the end of the week. But what is this life I’m living if I cannot see the victories in everyday? Will I allow the fear of failing at the slightest glimpse of weakness keep me from celebrating my victory? No, sir.

Cheers to victory, I raise my glass of choice drink.

To the beauty of the sunshine dancing across tree branches colored in fall-flavored hues. To brownies covered in Blue Bell peppermint ice cream. To driving with the windows down. To crying with friends over Skype though thousands of miles lie between us. To late-night conversations on the balcony. To writing in moleskine journals. To coffee dates and lunch gatherings and dinner parties. To being held by the people who love me most. To the reprimands and hard questions that always challenge. To the little hallelujahs whispered in the darkest of nights.

To gleaning from the harvest and in the shadow of death.

To walking in my identity as a daughter, a worshiper, a prophet, a lover, a believer.

To freedom.

To knowing that I am enough.

To God be the glory.

Cheers.

How to Fake Your Own Death

I couldn’t breathe.

I felt my body being pulled out of the water and onto a backboard. I heard the Velcro of the neck brace pull apart just before someone lifted my head and stabilized my neck.

My eyes squeezed shut.

Sounds of whistles blowing and worried voices filled the air. I tried not to move.

“Has anyone called for an ambulance?” I heard one lifeguard shout to another. “Yeah, they’re on their way,” the response.

Stay still, just a little longer. You can do this.

“Okay, everyone calm down this is just a drill. Carrie, you may open your eyes now,” the Programs Manager announced to the crowd that formed around me. “Everything is fine. She’s not hurt.”

I faked it. The whole thing.

In a swimming pool full of high schoolers at summer camp, I jumped off the trapeze and didn’t come up when I hit the water. I did the dead man’s float until someone came in after me. The Programs Manager and I schemed the whole thing as a drill to test the lifeguards.

A lie, a trick, a sham. A “drill.”

Recently, my roommate said something I think rings true with many of us: “I am fine to talk about the stuff in my past that I’ve overcome, it’s the stuff of today I don’t always want to open up about.”

The stuff that we’re “over” is easier to talk to people about, it’s not a part of us anymore and we’ve improved and we’re great now. Talking about the stuff of today means admitting we are not perfect.

The truth is most of us are just faking our own deaths.

Death to envy, bitterness, insecurities, fears, addictions. We trick people into believing the old mess is dead. Done. Gone forever.

I am really good at faking my own death. I pretend to not care when I am hurting, to be independent when I am lonely, to say, “It’s fine,” when it absolutely is not fine. The old me used to care or feel this way, but not anymore, not Carrie 2.0, she has moved on from all of that.

Wrong.

I still hurt. I still feel lonely sometimes. I still get jealous when she gets everything handed to her on a silver platter, while I have nothing to show for my work. I am still prideful, performance-driven, and selfish most days, but I will talk about these issues like they are a thing of the past. Pat me on the back, I’ve defeated resentment! (Not!)

Now that I’ve found a safe place and my blocks are scattered across the floor, I think I am done faking it, the death of my own mess. Gone are the days of pretending I have it all together and my only faults are from the past. I am not admitting defeat — I am admitting I need help, I am not perfect and never will be.

And I am thankful to say I am surrounded by people who love me enough to to keep me from covering up my flaws and instead work toward stepping into actual greatness each day; people who challenge me — not to be perfect — just more like Jesus.

No faking.

To die will be an awfully big adventure. -James M. Barrie

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Friends Beneath the Sheets

In the same week my Jenga tower collapsed, my roommate built a fort in our living room.

I have long searched for a safe place. A refuge. A place to be me. And unknowingly, a place to be messy.

This week, I found that safety in the form of twinkling lights and linens clothespinned together and draped from the the ceiling. A return to childhood, a time of blissful innocence where anything is possible and I can be whatever I choose.

For a moment, I found myself living in a fairytale.

If you know my love for dinner parties, you know I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a dinner party in a fort. We indulged in fried things and fresh things and belly-laughed when somebody stole the caramel straight from Danny’s apple.

By the end of the night, the dishes were stacked a mile high and flour dusted the counter tops like winter’s first snow.

Under the sheets of the fort that night, people were nourished body and soul. And I felt safe.

This fort made of sheets, clothes pins, pillows, and blankets is a safe place. Within its walls I find refuge, comfort, peace. I’ve sat with friends and I’ve sat here alone. Beneath these sheets, I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve prayed on my knees and on my face under the linens and lights. Under the sheets that make up this fort, I have been the most real I have ever been with my friends, with God, and with myself.

Lately, I’ve been frustrated with how messy I have become and am always telling myself to lock it up and pull it together. I am sick of being a burden to others when I am supposed to be the strong one.

When I looked back on that night and the many nights leading up to it, God whispered something to my heart:

You’ve been this messy all along, but you have never felt safe enough to open up and let others in to see it, not even yourself.

And that is when I suddenly felt okay with not being okay.

Love takes risks. Vulnerability opens you to feel both the good and bad. As much as it hurts, I have to be glad that it does. It means I am finally in a safe enough place to be open, to share, to feel, to cry and be hurt, to not be okay.

I am thankful for my fort, my safety, my friends. The people who have held my hand as we’ve entered into this safe place together.

I love these people. So much.

And I don’t know what my life would be without them, without the safety of my fort. Without the twinkling lights always reminding me of the beauty of life no matter how painful, as long as I am surrounded by people I love who love me back — no matter how messy it gets.

It is painful, yes, all growth is. But the silver lining I am defending is turning gold, soon to illuminate my skies brighter than the darkness of my sorrows.

When the Last Piece is Pulled From Your Jenga Tower

Remember the game Jenga?

The game’s objective is to remove as many wooden blocks from a tower without letting it fall. You take turns with your opponent and if the tower falls at your play, you lose.

You remove each block with steady hands and give a big exhale when you realize the tower is still standing. You didn’t even know you were holding your breath until all the air comes rushing through your mouth and nostrils with a sigh of relief. As sweat falls from your brow  you think to yourself, “Really, pull yourself together, fool! It’s a game.” (Or is that just me?)

The past few weeks, months maybe, my life has been a Jenga tower.

One by one, blocks have been pulled from different parts of me. A struggle here, a heart string there. Family members are sick, friends are hurting, and the goodbyes never seem to stop.

Some of the blocks needed to go. Blocks marked with indifference, defense mechanisms, and lies. Nonetheless, these blocks were once a part of me, leaving me a little wobbly without them.

Leaving me vulnerable. Raw. Exposed.

Last week, someone removed the final block, the linchpin piece from my tower and it all came crashing down.

And I want to tell you I am writing this from the other side, from a place of recovery and reflection. But I am not. I write this from the thick of the apocalypse and pain. And tears.

But I realize in the thick of it is exactly where I need to be. I’ve spent my life getting over it and moving on without ever dealing with anything. Being the strong one, the stable one, the one who has it all together so everyone else can be a mess.

Today, the blocks are scattered across the floor. Jumbled, messy, disheveled. I’ll rescue the ones worth holding onto and throw out the ones that are not part of who I want to be.

I will build my tower again. But not today and not tomorrow either.