I remember the night we first talked. It was right before Thanksgiving and she asked if I had plans. I remember wondering if I should lie as I watched the raindrops fall on my windowshield. It was one of those dark early November evenings. The streetlights were already on and my best friend was sitting in the passenger seat next to me patiently listening.

“No, I don’t have plans,” I told her. I decided not to lie. Normally I spent holidays with my family but it had been an especially hard season and I just didn’t have the energy to plaster on another fake smile and pretend like everything was fine.

I spent my Thanksgiving alone in a dark house watching tv and drinking the lavender soda he had brought to me. He had brought dark chocolate too. He said he had looked up what paired best with it. That was the beginning of my spiral into one of the deepest, darkest, most confusing seasons of my life. It was also the beginning of two of the most beautiful, significant relationships of my life.

I called her that night in November because I was suicidal and desperate. I had spent several days googling ways to kill myself and I knew I needed help. A friend recommended that I try the counselor he had seen after his dad passed, so I mustered up every ounce of courage in my body to make the call. I was honest that night on the phone. I told her about how I felt worthless. I told her that I was exhausted and tired of striving. I told her I was tired of my life looking so different from the people around me. I told her I would die if I could. Her voice was kind on the other end…and full of compassion. I felt hope as she asked me questions. I started seeing her the week after Thanksgiving.

I saw her for an hour every Friday afternoon and he was there for all of the in-between. I met him at work and was curious about the boy who was cute and different and willing to chase after chickens and stray dogs with me. I was just as honest with him as I was with her and I found him to be kind and full of compassion. I stumbled through the darkness and he walked alongside me through it. He came with lavender soda and mixed cd’s and a hand to hold. I fell in love.

The two of them quickly became intertwined in my mind because they were my safest places in that season. They were the ones who got to hear all of the thoughts no one else did. I undressed my soul for them and they remained steadfast through the pain and joy and fear and in-betweens.

But seasons are just exactly that. They are seasons. Inevitably, they must end and I found that sometimes they bring people with them too.

My seasons with those two have ended. They are over now and I just want to know how.

How do you say goodbye when you aren’t ready to? How do you walk away from people you’ve given pieces of your heart to?

I guess I’ve just never understood goodbyes because I can’t reconcile them with love. Over and over I’ve told myself and others that love is a verb. It’s an action. It requires tangible evidence. It involves showing up and doing work. Saying you love someone means nothing if you aren’t doing anything to show it. I have always made love and presence synonymous. And if not physically present, at least in spirit.

They were such a beautiful picture of that kind of love. They met me in my mess and didn’t walk away or ask me to clean up. They laughed with me and cried with me and it was hard and painful but there were sweet little moments and lots of growth. There was love.

And then came goodbye. And I found myself lost because it all ended just as soon as things started feeling sweet and I just wanted to know why. Why did goodbye have to come?

But I’m learning that sometimes we don’t get the answers we want and oftentimes the answers we want aren’t the answers we need.

Sometimes goodbyes are just as inevitable as the seasons changing. And sometimes we aren’t given the option and instead of wallowing in our loss, the best course of action might just be to recognize a relationship’s value for that certain season, because no matter how much we might want to walk through every season with someone, it isn’t always possible. Sometimes it just won’t work. Sometimes it isn’t reciprocal. We don’t always get to choose our goodbyes and honestly, I’ve had to wrestle with that because once I give a piece of my heart to someone, I want control over it. I want to keep it close to keep it from being damaged. I want to be able to keep it within reach and make sure it stays safe, but that isn’t how relationships work. We give pieces of ourselves to others and we must recognize that there is risk involved. Once we give a piece of ourself away, we don’t have control anymore. Relationships aren’t about controlling other people, they’re about two people in dialogue, walking through life side-by-side on the good days and the bad days. And that involved vulnerability which leaves the potential for the most beautiful kind of love but also tremendous heartache.

C.S. Lewis has this quote that I love that says,

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love at all is to be vulnerable.”

We’ve got to be aware when we step into the lives of others that they will leave their own unique mark. And sometimes no matter how much we love someone, that mark will end up being a scar. We can’t let fear lead the way when it comes to love. We must choose to love anyway.

A few months ago my counselor told me about a friend of hers who said that when we love someone and have to say goodbye, we can choose to mourn the loss or we can celebrate the fact that we got to experience something so wonderful in the first place.

I laughed and cried and disagreed when she told me that the first time, but I can’t help but think now that maybe she was right.

Goodbyes are inevitable and not always ours to control, but isn’t it a beautiful thing to experience love in such a way that makes goodbye so hard?