We Don’t Do That Here

 Photo credit: Dylan Spitz 

Photo credit: Dylan Spitz 

“24 karat lies, we don’t got the time…” — Mat Kearney, “Kings & Queens”

How did you decide on your nonnegotiables? You know, the list of things you won’t partake in no matter the circumstance or who is asking.

I made the decision early in my life to never get drunk because I’d been around too much alcohol growing up. Showing up for people through bad times? That was honed when I realized how much my friend from college changed the trajectory of my day every time he sat with me in between elevator banks after my grandma died.

***

People change and challenge people. The right people will help you if being a good man or woman or person is what you’re after, the wrong people can take your already weak foundation and pour even more quicksand on it.

I was flipping through two essays when I got the text that helped me anchor myself in some new nonnegotiables. Present Over Perfect rested open on page 103, in the middle of an essay titled “Agency,” at the top of the page I’d written “Cried all the way through this page.”

The text message simply said, “We don’t do that here.” The lines on page 103 that were underlined read, “You get to make your life. In fact, you have to. And not only can you make it, you can remake it.”

There was context to the conversation, more content to the text, but those 5 words resonated more than the pages I’d taken up in journals trying to navigate my way through explaining what was right for me and what had started being wrong. Sometimes too many words can suffocate truths that are simple in nature. At the end of the day, we just don’t do that here.

Where “here” is my life and “we” is anyone I let into it. I’m all heart, no attack. I’m anchored in substance, allergic to superficiality and pettiness.

I am a well that for too long others had taken from, but rarely poured into. This season changed that. At the top of my list I wrote my name in permanent marker, to the side of the list were bullets of what it takes to deserve a place in my life. 

The shoes I’ve stepped into will tell stories of how I’ve showed up and how I’ve done so with little expectation. But if God asks us to expect to reap at some point, why wouldn’t I expect the same from my friendships and relationships?  

***

So, while I learned to fill shoes that I didn’t ask for, shoes that I bought on discount and have turned into favorites, ones that cost me more than I would have expected, it’s the new pair I’m enjoying the most.

They’re not the shiny ones that everyone is mesmerized by and consequently blind to the reality that a couple of wears in they hurt more than they bring pleasure. These are canvas white and ready to get dirt on them. Together we aim to leave footprints in cement. 

It felt nice. For once, I was voluntarily deciding to step into myself and give myself the quiet I needed to take inventory of where my life was and where I wanted to go. New York City rolled off my tongue like it was home, my roots though were all over the states. You could find me in Austin, a big piece of my heart was in Chicago, the wind blew into me in Ohio, Florida gave me skies full of stars and pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that I was still a part of. That no one else would be able to fit into like I do.

I drew crisscrosses on maps until the only point that mattered was the dot that found me exactly where I was — in the middle of New York City, figuring out what my values were and how to hold myself, and the adults in my life, to those standards. Because I want to be a good woman. The journals, the dogeared pages in books, the text message soliloquies, they all prove that above all else, in seasons that are hard and trying, where finding God feels like looking for a needle in a hay sack, I just want to be a good woman. 

I want to know that I'm anchored in something that's bigger than myself. I want to feel my humanity deep in my bones, to understand that my ego has no place in humbling moments, in relationships, in the mirror. I want daily reminders that I'm in the process, and will forever be, because growth isn't only necessary in your career. If you're not challenging yourself to grow in positive ways as a person, you're selling yourself short of grace and unconditional love and people staying for who you are and not just what you do. 

The fear, it will always scream that staying the same would hurt less. It's comfortable, and gives off a false sense of anchoring. Dealing with feelings we define as opposite of happy, untangling trauma, leaning into hurt...all of it is uncomfortable, but necessary. Because what's the alternative? Always running from yourself and being too scared to sit in your own mind? That sounds sustainable but looks like broken relationships, skewed perceptions of reality, having no one who will pass the NyQuil when you're buried under four blankets. It looks like lines on the back of palms that you know not to touch, rhetoric that you create for yourself to avoid stepping on landmines. It's walking on eggshells. Within boundaries. Without values. Forever. 

Your core knows better. It yells back at the fear, that it's lying.  That it did hurt more to stay the same, it would mean more punches in the same spot, it would mean less growth. For me, it would mean taking a step off the path of being a good woman. 

Standing at crossroads, you volley all the scenarios in your mind of ways you won’t have to show up for yourself. Miracles. Jesus Christ himself coming down to rid you of the responsibility of being the frontline for your values. 

But, you’ve looked into sets of eyes before that housed everything from regret to an emptiness and disassociation that made you want to throw up — you don’t want those to be the eyes that look back at you in the mirror.

***

So, you send texts and write lists and give yourself clear sentences that when lined up together add up to a boundary. You look at your shoes, how they’re covered in salt and have maneuvered over New York City corners just fine, and you remind yourself that moments are slippery, but not impossible. If you know your true north, what centers you, moments are slippery, but not impossible.

You think back to your friend’s white board, how every time you settle into one of the comfy chairs in her office and look up, you’re met with words like “purpose” and “principles” and how “standing in line with your integrity” has been the catchphrase you associate with her since the minute you met.

On cold days, you’ve wrapped your coat around yourself a little tighter, a tangible reminder that you will always be able to keep yourself safe, that this shouldn’t be a question sitting on your mind. You’re capable of providing safe spaces. These values, they help you do that.

There will always be someone wanting to push the truth to fit their own reality, your job isn’t to convince them to not be blinded or even to see life through the same values you do, it’s to know that you always have the right to uninvite people from your life, to walk through doors when reality turns into a playdoh set. If it’s malleable to each person’s will, it has stopped being reality. Facts are facts and values are truths you don’t have to compromise on.

“We don’t do that here.”

It’s not a reprimand of how anyone else is deciding to live their life, it’s the adult response to knowing that you are in fact the compilation of the people you most surround yourself with. You get to determine the culture of your life, the way a brand determines the culture of their company.

I like the words that describe my people, my culture — rooted, givers of unconditional love, grace giving, funny, present, loyal, mine.

To the rest, we just don’t do that here. In the meantime, I'm putting one foot in front of the other on the "change now" path. I want to be a good woman.