red-rimmed, clear eyes + full, broken hearts {part 1}

For the past couple years, Allyn and I have been slowly working our way through all five seasons of Friday Night Lights, which is perhaps my all-time favorite TV show. We are on the last disk of the fifth and final season, drawing out these remaining episodes slowly, like savoring the final bites of a rich dessert. I love Friday Night Lights because of the nuanced, complicated characters; the vivid small-town setting; the dramas of high school and relationships and football. I also love Friday Night Lights because it makes me think of my mom.

My mom is a huge sports fan, particularly football, and she is the one in our house who first started watching Friday Night Lights. When I was living at home with my parents for a year, after I graduated college and before I moved to Indiana for grad school, she watched the show religiously. That was the fourth season. I started watching it with her and, before I knew it, I was hooked too.

When I moved away, I bought the first three seasons on DVD and, throughout those lonely and cold months when I missed my parents with a breathless ache, I methodically worked my way through the episodes. Even though I have never lived in Texas, I felt a bit closer to my hometown as I watched the familiar characters move around onscreen against the flat, dusty land and big blue sky. Eventually, I bought season four on DVD, and then season five. By the time I watched the fifth season, I was combing the plotlines and analyzing the characters, searching and searching. As if the episodes of this TV show could give me answers. As if it could help me smooth and mend the tangled mess of my own life.

In the fifth season of Friday Night Lights, I remember a particular scene when two of the characters got ready to go out to dinner, the guy holding the door open for the girl, the two of them heading outside together, smiling, an ordinary everyday happiness, an easy comfort that seemed so elusive to me at the time. I remember the quiet desperation that settled within my ribcage. I was jealous of these fictional people and this fictional relationship. I wanted to jump inside the television screen and escape my life.

During that time, I was ensnared in a deeply unhealthy relationship. Somewhere within my gut, I knew that it wasn’t right. I knew I had to get out. But I was scared. I kept searching outside of myself for answers, when really the answer was in my heart, beating right there inside my chest for every moment of every day. The answer wasn’t really elusive. It was effusive; it was everywhere. Still, for a while, I ignored it. I thrust my head into the sand. Until one day I realized I was choking, and I yanked my neck up, gasping for air, blinking the grit out of my eyes, staring at the world like it was an entirely new place. Which, in many ways, it was. When I found the courage to leave that relationship, my world opened up again.

There are some seasons in your life that are shockingly terrible and shockingly beautiful at once. This was one of those seasons for me. It has crystalized in my mind as a period when I was living purely. My emotions were raw and my needs boiled down to the bare essentials: eat, drink, sleep. Teach my classes. Honor my commitments. Finish my graduate degree. In some ways, I was learning to live all over again. Uncoupled, I was learning to live for myself again. It was painful and it was cleansing.

When I think back on that time, the days seemed so long—so empty and so full at the same time. I remember walking up the big hill to campus from my friend’s apartment, where I was subleasing a room for the remaining six weeks of the school year. I remember soaking in the early spring sunshine and the cold breeze on my face. I remember long evenings, binge-watching the Hulu show “Battleground” and reading until I felt tired enough that I could maybe fall asleep. I read so many books in that period—nearly a novel a day. I remember sorting through my accumulation of papers and possessions, trying to create something out of the scraps: making baby blankets for some friends; writing cards and mailing them; donating bags of clothing to Goodwill; cooking strange recipes out of the random assortment of nonperishables in my pantry.

It is a strange time of my life to look back on with fondness. But I do. I was a butterfly emerging from my chrysalis; a phoenix emerging from the ashes of my previous life. I was my whole self, and nothing but myself. After a long time of ignoring that deep inner voice, after a long time of lying to myself, I was finally living my truth.

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

year of kindness challenge: wrap-up + reflections

year of kindness button

Last week’s kindness challenge — the final challenge in this Year of Kindness — was to forgive someone. I am a fierce believer in forgiveness. When you forgive someone, you set yourself free from the cage of anger and pain and bitterness. As I mentioned before, this past year was a tough one for me at times. There was so much love and growth and laughter, but there was a lot of pain, too. The hardest part was knowing that I caused others pain, in particular two people I cared for deeply. I can’t know, and can’t control, whether they ever forgive me. But this past week, crossing the bridge from 2013 into the sparkling new year 2014, I knew I had to forgive myself.

Sometimes, real life is messy and difficult. Sometimes, being true to yourself and listening to your gut creates collateral damage. Sometimes, you are confronted with a decision and there is no pain-free choice to make. But I know in my heart that I made the right one. Sometimes, pain is necessary to avoid a much greater avalanche of pain in the future.

So this week, I finally wrote a letter of forgiveness. To myself. And I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It was a fitting end to this year of kind acts: being kind to myself.

I learned and grew so much from this year of kindness challenge.

kindness collage

Here are my top 5 take-aways:

1. Aesop is right: “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” This year has solidified my belief that even small acts of compassion and joy — smiles, cards, a few minutes out of your day to help someone — can make a big difference. You never know how very much your kindness might mean to someone!

2. Want to be happy? Be kind. I learned that if I’m in a sad or grumpy mood for whatever reason, the quickest way to turn my day around is to do an act of kindness for someone else.

3. Little by little, big things can happen. This time last year, the idea of doing 52 unique random acts of kindness seemed like a huge, overwhelming task. But by focusing on one act per week and integrating it into my routine, doing acts of kindness became a habit — something I soon looked forward to every week! I was also so inspired by the support and encouraging words I received from readers and fellow bloggers. Special thanks to Lauren, Lindsay, Danica, and Gayle for contributing kindness act ideas for the project!

4. Being brave and putting yourself out there is SO worth it. There were times I was nervous to do acts of kindness. Striking up conversations with strangers, buying coffee for people in line behind me, reaching outside my comfort zone … it can be scary to put yourself out there! But every single time, I was left with a huge smile on my face and gratitude in my heart.

5. Have faith. It’s a magical world we live in. Time and again, I have been blown away this past year by the wonderful connections and coincidences that have happened — and by the acts of kindness that others have done for me! Keeping track of acts of kindness has also made me more aware that we are all connected.

bday girl

As always, in love & kindness,
❤ Dallas

P.S.: Head on over to this Year of Kindness Challenge page to see all the archived posts from the entire year!

Questions of the day:

  • What is something you need to forgive yourself for?
  • What are your final thoughts & reflections on this year of kindness?