We had all been at Caleb and Kelsey’s wedding the night before and had decided to carry the party into the next day to celebrate Bethany’s birthday. I sent a text in the morning saying that the main dish would be provided, but asking for others to bring side dishes to help fill stomachs and give some variety. Having just returned from a Mexico mission trip a couple days before, I decided to continue with the Mexican theme, so when Bethany and I went to the grocery store it was in search of taco salad ingredients. We got home and started preparing the food. Friends began trickling in, but what do you know, most of them were empty-handed. Kristin brought a pie for dessert (our Bethany is not a cake fan) but other than that, no side dishes appeared. Sometimes we twenty-somethings are good at being adults and sometimes we’re not. (Liam brought his own lunch which I still don’t understand.) I had a moment of stress and frustration realizing that all that was available to feed the people who continued to walk through the door was my offering of taco salad. Before we started eating I gave a disclaimer that we would see how far the taco salad got us, but if we did not have enough to eat we could just order a pizza from the Little Caesar’s down the road. Plates were set out, people lined up, food was grabbed, and the back patio became a dining room. Once everyone was seated, I looked around the table and all the plates were full. After we had eaten our fill, I went back inside to find a tiny bit of salsa left over, but everything else had been perfectly scraped clean. Later we went on an adventure to buy some ice cream for the pie, but that was just for fun, not for rumbling stomachs. We ate and were satisfied.
I was at Monticello earlier this summer, as any self-respecting native Virginian should be at some point in their life. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the layout and situation of Thomas Jefferson’s home, it sits regally on a hilltop overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though the sun was hot that day, the air was perfectly comfortable because of the breezes whipping around the hill. Joined by my friends Kurtis and Elise, I toured the heck out of Thomas Jefferson’s home. If there was a tour available, we took it. One such tour took us through the sprawling gardens.
While meandering through the flowers, we learned that TJ was constantly trying to introduce new plant life to his personal mountaintop. He was a botany enthusiast and loved experimenting. Sadly, many of his attempts met with failure as the trees and flowers that he planted failed to adapt to their new environment.
After walking through the lawn, we descended into a grove of trees. Our tour guide once again explained that no matter how badly TJ wanted certain trees to thrive in the grove, many of them were simply not meant to survive at that elevation and in that dry atmosphere. For those that did manage to eek out an existence in the grove, they were unable to bloom to their full potential. My favorite were the chinaberry trees. According to our tour guide, if they had been planted in a warmer valley that received more rain, they would have bloomed even more elaborately and beautifully than what we saw in the grove.
I can understand TJ’s desire to see things bloom on the mountaintop. It feels peaceful up there, safely removed from the wildness of the river valley, from the crush of people and traffic and agendas. You want to sit and stay a while, taking in the view and the fresh air. But there is a sad truth associated with planting yourself on the mountaintop.
Try to keep things on the mountaintop, where they don’t belong, and they die. Perhaps worse, they survive but only as a shadow of what they could have been. Without the rain, without the descent into the valley, growth is stunted.
Does this mean we never get to experience the mountaintop? Of course not. I just told you–I went there this summer with a couple of pals. But now, it’s 3:34am and I am sneaking in this writing time at work between measuring patients’ urine output and drawing blood and making sure the fever breaks for my patient just down the hall. There is not as obvious beauty and joy to this job as gazing out over the Blue Ridge Mountains with two best friends at my side. Yet I can list many more ways that I have grown in this particular valley than that one time on the mountain. I have learned to grit my teeth and have frighteningly honest conversations, I have learned how to diffuse peoples’ anger without being a doormat, I have learned how to speak clearly and say what I mean when I’m bone tired.
We don’t always have to live in the valley (can I get some woops?) but let’s not spend our time resenting it while we’re there. Make like a chinaberry tree and flourish in the valley.
My older brother got married on July 7th to a precious girl who had already felt like a sister-in-law for quite some time, in the best sense of the word. I loved being present at the rehearsal dinner, listening to heartfelt, on-the-spot toasts from close friends and family. I loved teaching other members of the bridal party the flash mob that I choreographed as a firestarter for the dance floor. I loved getting to hug Robbie before the first look and (slightly) calm his nerves. I loved introducing cousins from either side of the family to one another. I loved getting to know better the friends who love Robbie and Kristen so well. I loved hearing sincere vows, with a few silly jokes thrown in. I loved getting to toast the new couple and share my hopes for them. I loved tearing it up on the dance floor with some of the people I hold most dear.
In other words, I was pumped to be there. When I get pumped, the dance moves get a little berserk and the cheering gets a little loud. I literally had one guy ask me during “The Wobble” if I was ok after yelling a long and low “yeeeaaaaahhhhh.” Yes, I’m fine, I just enjoy The Wobble, thanks.
For reference, this was me at my cousin Julia’s wedding five years ago:
The day after the wedding one of my aunts commented on how much fun I had been having the night before. I sheepishly said something about getting a little hyped up about things. In response, she said, “Thank you, God–what a gift–thank you, God.” Her response of sheer gratitude took me aback.
In my celebration of good things, whether it’s weddings or tasty food or sweet dogs or good books, I have often felt that I am over the top. I think that I’m too passionate, too loud, too opinionated. I once heard somewhere that women are often told they are both “too much and not enough.” I am not sure where the phrase came from originally, but I identify strongly with it.
Too much “girlish” enthusiasm, not enough being “one of the boys.”
Too much overthinking, not enough letting go of things.
Too much height, not enough eyelashes.
Too much sensitivity, not enough ability to brush things off.
Too much ballet, not enough athleticism.
Sitting there with my aunt, hearing my capacity to celebrate lifted up to God as a precious gift, was revelatory. To hear the enthusiasm that I had often thought of as “too much” rejoiced over opened up a new perspective. I have regularly fought through those feelings of being too much and not enough, but to have someone sincerely celebrate my enthusiasm was like having someone take over the fight for me. It was freeing.
Sadly, I know there are many more people out there who have felt similarly pressured to shut down their too much-ness. Friends who laugh a little “too loud” or get a little “too excited.” If you are someone who feels like they are both too much and not enough, I pray that someone rejoices over your “too much” and speaks truth over your “not enough.” I pray that those things about you get scooped up like a precious treasure and presented to God’s face and marveled over as they deserve to be.
Shriek and dance and scream and cry and pound the table. Your passions, your praises, your laments need to be heard by this world. Do not let anyone talk you into a boring middle ground where you are careful to not express anything lest you rock the boat. Rock that boat. Capsize it if need be. Anything to get the people who are trying to drown you out to start drowning in the goodness and depth of being alive in this world.