Pleasant Surprises

People will surprise you, if you let them. People will love you, if you let them.

The last three years of my life could probably be summed up in those two sentences. I tend to be pessimistic, unfortunately, and the world can be quickly be stripped of color and joy after one terrible incident. My most sacred places were wounded before I was old enough to understand how sacred those places were, and since then, my mantra has been that people are unsafe. The world is unsafe. You have to constantly watch your back because it’s the ones you think you can trust that’ll hurt you the most. Fortress built, sword in hand, queen of my lonely land.

But every now and then, someone sees past the defenses and sees the innocent, silly, lovely little girl hiding behind the walls and chooses to love her. And a large section of that insurmountable wall is torn down. And then it happens again with someone else. And another and another and another. All that’s left now is a rather flimsy barrier in comparison to the enormous fortress that once stood before.

I’m amazed at how many men and women have proven me wrong, and have shown me that there is good to be experienced even when you least expect it. I constantly catch myself being surprised that she remembered and texted, or that they drove down to hang out just for a few hours, or that he sent a postcard just because. I didn’t realize that I expect people to forget me when I (or they) leave, until I left and I wasn’t forgotten. I didn’t realize how terribly I ached to be cared for until I was repeatedly cared for in the simplest, yet incredibly profound ways.

I’ve never regretted anything that I’ve chosen to do thus far in my life. Acknowledging that there might have been better choices is one thing, but I can recognize that I need to chart my own path, make my own mistakes, fill the chronicle of my days with humorous mishaps. I’m okay with that. So, to me, it is monumental that this is the first thing I’ve ever regretted. I regret how much time and energy I’ve put into self-preservation, fortifying walls and hiding from life. I regret not realizing sooner that the more pain you shut out, the more joy you shut out, too. I regret not giving myself a thousand more chances to be surprised by care, and love, and hope, and joy.

Because the thing I’ve learned is this: people will love me, but only if I let them. I’m learning to let them. And I’m thanking God everyday for those dear friends who surprise me constantly. What sweet treasures they are to me.

Stretch Marks

I’m covered in scars, mostly up and down my legs, but truthfully, I’m covered in scars everywhere. I wasn’t the most coordinated child or adolescent and I frequently walked into windows or caught my knees on sharp nails sticking out of terribly designed classroom tables. I clearly remember catching the same spot above my right knee three times in one week on the same nail. Or that one time I felt so joyful, an uncharacteristic emotion for my 8-year-old self, that I decided to twirl through the long hallway in my favorite childhood home and slashed my left elbow on a window pane. Somehow, my brain and arms miscommunicated when I was supposed to be reaching up to catch a key thrown in my direction, and it landed right in the center of my forehead and knocked me out. The scar’s so tiny now, but I could point it out to you within a few minutes.

Oh, and the chicken pox. I mean, I was pretty responsible and didn’t go to town on my face or any other typically visible parts. But the parts that offered me reprieve have a multitude of scars to tell the story. And then there are the trillions of mosquito bites that I simply couldn’t resist inflicting equal torment on, some of them leading to malaria, most of them filed under the “Annoying Bug Bite” category. I learned the banana peel trick, and gained some self-control eventually, but I am certain that my blood type is especially attractive to mosquitoes.

Then there was the appendectomy when I was 14 and the tiny little gash it left on the right side of my abdomen, a constant reminder that I am without an appendix. And there’s the tiny scar above my left eyebrow from when I rolled a 4-wheeler on a little farm in Kansas and had to go to the ER. And the odd scar on my left hip from slipping on a sheet of ice and scraping my side while trying to hurry into the hot tub. I still got into the hot tub, bloody wound and all. Yikes.

And that’s not nearly all of them. I’m a walking museum of stories and scars, and it took a million trips and falls and oddly-placed nails for me to get to this place I’m at. This place where I fondly reminisce about each story and laugh about the strange child I was. It’s not a perfect body by any means, but it has so much character and depth because of all it’s been through. And I love it so much more because I know of the stories it carries, of its pains externally and internally inflicted.

And then I think about my heart, and the scars it has collected. Its elasticity and durability constantly surprise me, and with each passing year, I fall in love with my heart a little more. These days, I have become increasingly more hopeful about the concept of successful, happy marriages. Thanks to grad school, I’m learning a lot about relationships and how they work, and the more I learn, the more I think, “Maybe I can actually do this.”

To me, marriage is an expansion of the soul. There is a stretching, a widening, a creation of room for another to live in what used to be your space. It isn’t always comfortable or easy, but the work it does within you is incredibly beautiful and lasting. You don’t believe you can stretch any wider or love any deeper, and then your soul expands just a tiny bit more and you – and the world – are better for it.

I’m finally excited for that process of enlargement, after spending my whole life terrified of it. In the same way the scars on my body are a treasure map to all my stories and secrets, I want the stretch marks on my heart to tell the stories of the times I let my life be less about me and more about other people. Or the times when I danced for joy with someone I love even when the very thing we were celebrating had the potential to make me cry. Or the times when I saw the higher road and took it. I don’t want just a few stretch marks, spread out and easy to miss. In the words of Andrea Gibson, “In the end I want my heart to be covered in stretch marks.” I guess these days I’m just feeling especially honored and grateful for the opportunity I might one day be given to rearrange the furniture within my sacred internal space, in order to make room for someone else to stay.