It was Maya Angelou who wrote how you can learn a lot about a person by examining the way they handle these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
Rainy days have always been my jam and lost luggage is just a sign to be patient with the imperfect gods of Delta and circumstances in life beyond your control. But it’s those Christmas lights that have me tripping— straight-up, worried sick.
You see, I lack patience. I try not to and I am constantly needing Big Mac portion sizes of grace in this area. I hold a secret wrath for the slow walkers of this earth and the tasks that take a person 4 hours to execute when I know I could have handled it by myself in 15 minutes. I was the intern supervisor back in the day who wanted to do all the work for the interns just so it would be finished and done well. I had to take my sticky fingers off so many situations, breathe, and just say, “Girl, let someone have a breakthrough and a moment of celebration on their own. You once celebrated over your small and slow victories too.”
In the words of Michelangelo, “Ancora Imparo” (Still, I am Learning).
So when it comes to Christmas lights and other cords I’d rather not untangle them. I tell myself life is too short to sit on the floor and untangle cords. I mean that. The evidence would be the fact that my hair straightener and curling iron have been tethered to one another for nearly seven months now. The cords are so tangled that you have to stand close to the outlet in order to use them. You have to get your head basically next to the outlet if you want to use the straightener. This is the definition of someone’s worst nightmare but I somehow let the tangled cords make my life more difficult daily instead of just stopping, unplugging the devices from the wall, and taking the twenty minutes necessary the detach the two for good.
Embarrassing to admit but I actually raised my needy palms up to the ceiling yesterday and asked God, “What does this say about me? What does this honestly say about me?”
I’m the silly girl who finds life revelations in tangled product cords but that’s just because I’ve only ever known how to view every inch of life as a series of small encounters meant to improve your character. Really. Truly. I can analyze the snot out of how people maneuver holding glasses of wine and cheese plates at weddings. There is a science to how people order things off Amazon or tackle the grocery list and how both tactics might improve their state of humanity. As you can imagine, I’m instantly the life to any party.
Truth told: I’d choose not to untangle things.
If this was my show, which it used to be, then I would choose to not face things or untangle them and just let life be ruled by more difficulty. Things like “loves lost” I’m cool to untangle because I like to be poetic about the past and cry over things lost. Something like “singleness” I’d prefer not to untangle or even look at. I hate admitting that I’m single. I hate knowing there isn’t a person for me yet. And then when it comes to a thing like “fear,” I’ve been left with no choice but to try and untangle it— little by little— every single day.
I am learning the truth: if you untangle your own mess then you give other people the permission to try and maneuver through their own. We all want some kind of permission to look at our messes without fear of what we will find when we sink our hands in deep to them.
“You are not the Christmas star,” he whispered.
Clearly. He said it. “You are not the Christmas star.”
I was sitting cross-legged on my bed. Christmas had just rolled to the back of the calendar. I was stuck in a headlock of anxiety and fear for most of that December and crying out every morning for God to just speak to me. “Just tell me,” I would pray. “What are we fighting for? What do you want to take out of me? Just take it, God. Take it.”
His answer was audible that one morning: You are not the Christmas star. A chill rushed down my spine. I ran downstairs to my mother, standing by the countertop fixing drip coffee.
“He told me I am not the Christmas star,” I announced to her.
“Who told you?”
“God told me.” You see, in the relationship between my mother and I— God is a third person. He’s an everyday contributor to conversations. He’s like the third homie. The third member of the Hanson band— probably the wise one, Isaac. If my mother is Kelly and I am Michelle then God is the third member of Destiny’s Child— Yonce. If I am Lisa Left Eye Lopes, and my mama is Chili, then God is definitely T-Boz of the TLC group. Let’s be real: T-Boz was the ultimate boss.
“Are you sure God says those sorts of things? That’s a stretch.”
“He definitely said it,” I retorted. “Because I know exactly what he meant.”
He meant to say, in a gentle and nudging way, “You are the not center of the universe, sweet girl.”
I’m not. I’m not every person’s favorite person. I’m so far from perfect that it hurts. I was not made to be front and center. It’s exactly like that bible verse that I’m simultaneously finding shelter and a roundhouse kick of reality to the face inside of these days: John 1:8. “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” That’s about John the Baptist. It could very well be about you too.
I think that’s God’s way of saying, “Maybe you are gonna shine but I never called you to be your own power plant and gobble up all the credit. You don’t need street cred, little one. You need a smaller purpose.”
“I want to start a movement.”
I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard those exact words blurted out before me at a speaking engagement or networking event. I want to start a movement. I want to create something big. It has to be big. I want to change the world.
Trust me, that was me 5 years ago. I was 21 and obsessed with making an impact somehow and someway. I could barely see the people around me because my worth and value were tangled up in what I could offer the world. I wanted the big titles. I needed the big names. Baby steps would never serve me. I was always, always that girl.
And wanting to do something bigger than myself was always the driver until I realized that baby steps are queen and God sets the course. He sets the course.
Since the start, he set the story. My mother leaving me love letters. My ache for people I didn’t know. My fascination with New York City. My love for the internet and how it binds us all. He put all those pieces together and it wasn’t until I was stepping and stepping and stepping that I could look up and realize, “I’m not the star. I’m just the vessel. I’m just the instrument.” I’m not the star. I’m not the point.
I have to remind myself of this daily, hourly, when I want to get too handsy with gifts in my life and control every aspect of them. I get way too proud. Way too proud when I think I was born for big assignments— Christmas star missions that just allow me to stand there and shine bright.
There’s a certain and unquenchable beauty in untangling the Christmas lights. It’s humbling. There’s something desirable and lasting when you take your position as the tiny little bulb on the string of lights, instead of the centerpiece who sheds light to the whole tree. When you are a tiny bulb, you become an intricate part of the untangling process and you learn the coolest truth about humanity: when we untangle things, like the lights, we allow more of those little bulbs to stand apart and shine. When he squash our pride for small work and just help others out, we teach others to be lights. And with more little lights, we illuminate more space and territory in a darkened, hollowed place.
I am trying to untangle the things I am afraid of.
It’s the only thing worth giving my life to anymore these days. I could continue with a prideful saunter and talk loudly about the things I already know but that story is tired, it’s rehearsed, it’s heard. So, instead, I listen to the whisper that tells the truth I am afraid to face, “Little one, you’ve built so much of your life out fear. It’s time to build with love instead.” It’s time to build with love instead. And the first step of love is exactly what you’re shaken over: untangling the mess and realizing you’re okay.
Build with love. Untangle your fear. Be a small light.
Build with love. Untangle your doubt. Be a bright light.
Baby steps, baby. Baby steps.