Yesterday, my 8-year-old niece came over and we were sitting on the couch chatting when I caught her staring at the picture behind me. I could tell that she was thinking deeply when she asked me, "What does that picture mean to you?"
I was taken aback by her question and I wasn't sure what kind of answer she was looking for (I am often in conversation with a 3-year-old), so I said, "That is the Chapel of Memories at Mississippi State."
She wasn't satisfied with that answer, so she said, "No. What does that picture mean to you?"
Her curiosity reminded me of my 8-year-old self - except I would have been too shy to ask. Her question touched my heart and I was excited to have a more meaningful conversation with her.
I hesitated for a moment and thought back to the day when I was standing in front of the chapel taking that picture. The chapel had always been a special place to me until I was sat down time after time in its pews in 2004 and told that I was going to hell . The day I took this picture in 2016, I went intentionally to sit in its pews to revisit the past and to feel my sadness, so I could move on. When I stepped outside, the light was just right, and there was one door open while the other two were closed.
It struck me in that moment that if I look at what felt like rejection for too long that I would miss all of the open and loving hearts around me. It was up to me to open myself up fully to life again. That same year (2016), Clare and I moved our lives and our business to Starkville (my hometown) and although we have been faced with many challenges along the way - our intention was to always look for the open doors. We kept walking through each open door, often not knowing what we were walking through, but trusting that our hearts knew best. And it has paid off.
If we had not moved back to the place that I was most scared of returning to, we wouldn't have our little Merit, we wouldn't have the home and land that we love so much, we wouldn't have Clare's mom living with us, we wouldn't have the opportunity to have my parents to be such a big part of my family's life, we wouldn't have the businesses we have today doing the things that we love, we wouldn't have walked in Starkville's first pride parade, we wouldn't have had so many things. Mostly, I wouldn't have such a full heart.
I've put myself out there again and it has been worth it. It has been hard, but I'd do it again and again because this community has enveloped us.
I snapped back to the present and told Etta, my niece, "This picture reminds me that when it feels like life is against me that there is always an open door. A lot of times we look at the closed doors so long that we forget to look for another way - there is always another way."
She was silent after that. I could tell she was thinking. She didn't ask any follow up questions.
What's funny is, someone saw this picture last week and asked to buy a digital copy of the photo. Clearly, this picture is trying to to get my attention.
I've been thinking about the chapel again and the moment I took this photo - inside all of it I can find everything true about life. There's hope, there's fear, there's pain, there's courage, there's love, there's rejection, there's compassion, there's suffering...there's everything.
Thank you, Etta, for making me pause and reflect. There is so much love inside of me each and every day and I am so grateful for the journey. I am so grateful to be grateful.
There is always a way. There is always an open door - somewhere.