Undoubtedly

It’s been almost a year since I said “yes” to the biggest, scariest thing I’ve ever chosen to do. I graduated from college, packed my life into a couple of suitcases, raised a few thousand dollars, and moved across the world to serve with a non-profit for a year.

This is what I wrote in my journal eight months ago:

– – –

It’s a beautiful thing, really, to be in this place. This willingness to strip my life of safety and security and trade it for faith. Trade it for the opportunity to walk alongside others through the darkness, though I lack answers and am ill-equipped. I think oftentimes we are afraid to go because we look at ourselves in the mirror and are overcome with a fear  that we don’t have what it takes. There are so many reasons why it makes more sense to play it safe. We need more training, more time, more energy. We are waiting. We are stagnant. We are stuck, stifled by a lack of confidence…by the voices in our heads that tell us that we should stay. That safety matters more than following our dreams and desires. That someone else could do the job much better than we could.

I have found that the expectations put on us by the world form a certain dichotomy that becomes difficult to traverse when you’re in the season of life that I’m in. As a child, I was told that I could be and do anything I wanted when I grew up. Cliches such as, “chase your dreams” and “follow your heart” were drilled into my head until they found a home deep in my soul, and now that I’m ready to do just that, the chorus of people who used to tell me to chase my dreams are telling me to stay here where its safe. Here in this city whose street names I know and whose people are familiar and where I am known.  Here on this coast where people think like me and love the same mountains and ocean I do. Where the risk of failure is limited to a ten mile radius. Where fall-back plans exist and plan B and C and D. 

I took a personality test today called the Enneagram and it categorized me as a “Reformer.” Reformers are known as those who “have deep convictions about right and wrong, what is just and unjust. They are often dedicated to reform and social causes since they feel personally obligated to improve the world and leave it a better place. They put themselves on the line for their values and ethical convictions—if it means risking their jobs, their fortunes, or even their lives. [They] are convinced that there are indeed some truths—some values—that are worth both living and dying for.”

I told a friend of mine the other day that, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m really starting to “fit” into the person I was made to be. I’m really starting to like who I am…not because I think I’ve “made it” or believe that I don’t have any more room to grow. I am still learning. I fail daily, but I’m not at war with my personality. I’ve been told by plenty of people that I am naive for thinking the way I do, but I like that I want to make the world a better place and I believe that in time, I will (though it might require a less-than-graceful dance of a few steps forward and a few steps back). Frankly, I think it’s naive if a person doesn’t believe they have the ability to make a difference in this world. 

My friend told me something the other day that stuck with me. 
“We are undoubtedly going to make mistakes,” he said, “but we are undoubtedly moving in a beautiful direction.”

I think when we find something that we love and we believe in, we owe it to the world to cling tight and press in. I think our purpose is to run full sprint toward whatever we are inherently passionate about- no matter how big or impossible it may seem. We owe it to the world to dedicate our time and energy and heart to our dreams and make them realities, no matter the cost. And when fear creeps in in the form of self-doubt or jealousy, we owe it to ourselves to push back. Failure is probable and mistakes are inevitable, but they are nothing to fear.

A coworker of mine asked me the other day, “What would be more terrifying than moving to Thailand for a year?”

“Not,” I responded.

– – –

I’m five months into my time here in Thailand now and it hasn’t been easy. The truth is that on most days I feel like a failure at my job. I am unqualified to do what really needs to be done and I daily doubt whether I’m making any kind of impact on my co-workers, let alone on the world.

I could use more training, more time, more energy…but I know that if I  would have waited to have “enough” of those things, I would have never gotten here because that’s how fear works. Fear tells us we can’t. Fear tells us we shouldn’t. Fear tells us we’re small and insignificant and we don’t make a difference in this big world.

Fear is a liar. 

There will always be a reason to stay home, play it safe, and put off doing what we’ve been created to do, but we’ve been given voices for a reason. We get to tell fear to shove it and run forward, clumsy and awkward as we might be.

We’ll stumble and fall some days, but messing up in the midst of passion and courage and determination is not failure, it is the recipe for boldly living out our purpose- for doing what we have been created to do.

Macklemore has this line in one of his songs that I really love. “Don’t try to change the world,” he says, “Find something that you love and do it every day. Do that for the rest of your life, and eventually the world will change.”

I look back at what I wrote in my journal all those months ago and I can’t help but echo the same sentiments now…

It’s a beautiful thing, really, to be in this place. This willingness to strip life of safety and security and trade it for faith in the hopes of making a difference.

We will undoubtedly make mistakes. 
We are undoubtedly going in a beautiful direction.

 

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Woman.

I look in the mirror and take note of every single imperfection.

A mental checklist that I’ve spent years and years subconsciously compiling from magazine covers and Instagram photos runs of all the things I want to change.

I cringe at the countless scars and sunspots and stretch marks and wish I could remember a time that they weren’t there. A time when this body was pristine. But I can’t.

I remember skinned knees from falling off my bike when I was little. Growing up, my twin brother and I ruled the city from sunrise to sunset on our bikes.

I remember summers on the boat and hiking to the tops of mountains and hours spent in swimming pools.

I remember the first time I looked in the mirror and realized that my body had shape to it. My body was becoming mine. I felt like a woman.

I am thankful for this stretched and sun-exposed skin…these muscles and bones that house my heart and mind and my soul.

How incredible. How beautiful. How awe-inspiring to think that this small frame carries within it something larger than life.

Honestly, that’s how I feel more often than not; larger than life.

Bigger than my body gives me credit for.

I am distinctly aware that I am so much more than my flesh. I know that there is more for me after this body deteriorates. I am eternal, yet these skin and bones are necessary for now and this body of mine continues to work every day. Blood pushes through my veins, my heart pumps, air rushes in and out of my lungs. I am alive.

Every crack, every mark, every groove…signifies triumph. Reminders of my daily decision to participate in this world. How sad would it be to have lived on this earth for 22 years and still be pristine? These scars are proof of my unwillingness to settle for being an innocent bystander.

This life is beautiful and challenging and it requires us to show up in our entirety, willing to walk through the trenches and get our hands dirty.

This is life and I refuse to be ashamed that my body is proof that I’m living it.

Within the tension.

I do my best to take mental notes of the things that strike me as interesting or unusual or painful throughout the day, but the list tends to fill up rather quickly and I’m afraid I probably forget most of it by the end of the week. When I have the capacity, I pull up my phone and dump my stream of consciousness only to return to half-thoughts that I don’t understand later.

Still, some images remain intact.

Like the dogs. There are so many of them here. Roaming about….seeking refuge from the sun, begging for food. I scan quickly over them more often than not…afraid to linger. They are wild and not groomed and no one seems to be bothered much by them here, but where I’m from, they are best friends and companions. I wish I could take them all home and give them names and baths and tennis balls and my entire heart, but I cannot.

Then there’s the women. The older ones in the villages with wrinkled faces and kind eyes. They sit at tables outside of their humble homes selling jackfruit and vegetables and Thai goods I can’t pronounce. I smile at them and say hello. They grin back and let me pet their cats. I get frustrated with my inability to speak their language because I want to know more than just their name, but where words fail, eyes suffice. I look down at cracked hands and can tell that they have labored hard for many years. No doubt some of the wrinkles around their eyes are from years of squinting at the sun. And those smile lines might just be from the joy (and stress) of having children…and grandchildren…the loud ones running around the street barefoot playing tag. I smile at them and wave. They giggle and hide their faces behind their mother’s legs.

I am learning how to exist within the tension of beauty and brokenness.

Day by day

I grew up with graphite-gray stains on my hands. Ten-year-old me would get home from school and spend hours drafting stories and speeches and petitions (social justice looked like higher quality chicken nuggets and more time to play tag at that age).

I love words. I always have. I love the way simple syllables can be strung together to communicate complex thoughts and ideas. I love how one word can have dozens of meanings depending on the context it is placed in and the person using it. I love that words are one of the most tangible ways that we connect with one another. They form the foundation of our relationships. Words are important. I know that.

They are so important in fact, that I pursued a degree in the art of perfecting words. I received a degree in Communication last August. A little less than two months ago, I packed my entire life into two suitcases and moved across the world to Northern Thailand to work as a communications intern for an international human rights organization. I have spent the past four years of my life studying every type of writing you could think of. I’ve written blogs, essays, press releases, and news articles. When people ask me what it is that I want to do with my life, I tell them I want to write. Words are the foundation of my career. They are my tool of choice for the rest of my life, yet here I am, terrified to admit one thing

I. Have. No. Words.

I have been living in Thailand for almost two months now. Before coming here, I told everyone back at home that I would be blogging about my time here consistently. I figured it would be easy to come up with fresh, exciting words in a brand-new environment, culture, and season of life. In reality, I sit down at my computer every night with the intention of wrangling my thoughts into complete sentences and essay-worthy paragraphs and I find myself paralyzed at the keyboard. My words don’t seem to do justice right now.

It isn’t that I lack the ability to write cohesive thoughts about what is happening around me, it’s that I don’t feel like I can do it well. The true problem is that I am guilty of comparison. I oftentimes find myself giving side-eye to the people around me, trying to size up my competition. I am guilty of looking to my left and right so much that I start to drown in the stagnancy of jealousy and self-pity. I become so consumed by how well everyone else is doing…how effortlessly their prose falls onto paper, that I can’t imagine doing any work of my own.

Comparison is toxic, especially in the environment we find ourselves in today. It’s a losing game with two outcomes; you either conclude that you are better, leading to a loss of humility, or you conclude that you are worse, leading to a loss of self-esteem.

It’s easy to conclude the latter in our air-brushed world.  We are surrounded by brands and organizations and individuals that are experts at presenting finished products. We see the end result and we are stunned by its beauty…dazzled by the seeming perfection, but we are constant consumers of partial realities. The end results are real, but they are exactly that: end results. There is a process that must be undergone in order to reach the presentation stage and that process is a messy one. It’s hard work and sometimes it really sucks. It’s late nights and early mornings and no sleep and lots of practice. And sometimes…a lot of times…it’s failure. A lot of failure. 

I do not have any end results yet. I am here and I am in process. I can’t produce thoughts for you that can be neatly packaged into poetic life-altering sentences or tidy “aha!” moments. I’m afraid to publish the process because the process doesn’t sell as well as “ten easy steps to being happier,” but I’m going to do it anyway because I think it’s what we need. I doubt I’m the only one who gets bogged down and discouraged by the polished versions of life that are plastered everywhere around us. I think that at a soul-level, we crave the chaos, the assurance of knowing that we are not the only ones who are figuring it out day-by-day. We want real stories and I am going to do my best to start sharing mine sans airbrushing.

This is my commitment- more process, less product.

Inside

I look around me and desperately search for something familiar, but there is nothing. I know nothing. I reach and reach, looking to grab hold of something I know, but there’s nowhere to reach but inside. So I do. I reach inside. Surely, this must be familiar. Surely this heart I’ve carried through 22 years of life will feel like home. I reach, yet I don’t recognize what I see. I feel like an imposter in my own body. This house doesn’t feel like home at all.

Who is this person? How can she be defined?

The things that once defined me have been slowly stripped away over the past year.

I am no longer a brilliant student. I am not a victim. I am not the girl who never left Tacoma. I am not a daughter craving a relationship with her mom.

And lately, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t feel like much of a writer either.

My whole life I’ve been using context clues to tell me who I am. I have defined myself by the city I’ve lived in, the activities I’ve been a part of, and the people I’ve been surrounded by.

One month ago I hopped on a plane and moved across the world. Everything is new. Everything is different…and I must admit that I feel a little bit like I am drowning because using my context to define who I am no longer works.

You can’t use your context to define yourself if you can’t even define your context.

So you are forced to reach inside and figure out who you are when everything is stripped away. When there’s no one around you to tell you who you are and no landmarks to point you in the right direction. When you can’t define yourself as anything other than “you.”

That’s where I am.

That’s where I’ll be for the next 11 months.

Figuring out “me.”

Mama.

I remember crying. Bitter tears. Angry tears. I thought of myself as a victim and I wondered what I had done to deserve the kind of life I was living.

I remember screaming in the living room, pleading for her to choose me over the bottle. I called her selfish in between sobs and then ran out of the house, slamming the door behind me.

I remember finding empty bottles under her pillow and at the bottoms of laundry baskets.

I remember feeling hopeless.

Some stories are beautiful, but not mine, I thought. Some people get happily ever afters, but not me. Life had looked the same for 22 years. How could things change now?

I came home on my 22nd birthday to her sobbing. She pulled up her shirt to show me the bruises up and down the side of her body. She could hardly stand. The house reeked of vodka.

I hated that day.

When I called the next morning, she told me she was going to start treatment. I told myself not to get my hopes up. We’d been here before. I learned at a young age to accept most promises as empty. Words were just words. Sweet like honey to the ears, but never satisfying.

Two weeks later, she started outpatient treatment. I called to ask how it was going and she said she liked it. When I came over a few weeks later, we sat out in the backyard together.

I laid in the sun while she worked on an art project for treatment. She grabbed a big rock from the back of the house.

“Don’t you think this looks like a cat?!” She had a huge grin on her face, but I couldn’t hold in my laughter for long. “Mom!!! That’s a rock! It looks….like a rock!” I said in between laughs. “Oh you just wait. Give me a minute to paint it.”

An hour later she showed me the cutest, funnest, greatest cat-rock I’ve ever seen in my entire life. My insides were bursting at the seams with joy as I watched my beautiful mom, with clear eyes and a big smile, express herself through art…something she hadn’t done in years. She is so talented and so fun. I owe every ounce of my creativity to her.

That was in August. Tomorrow is November 22nd. It’s her birthday and it also happens to be her six month mark. Six. Months. Sober. 

I’m crying today, too…but these tears aren’t bitter. They aren’t angry. Or hopeless. They are full of joy and hope and pride.

I used to tell people that I just wanted a mom. I wanted someone to look up to and admire. Now I know I have that. I used to think that I became strong and resilient in spite of growing up with a mother who is an alcoholic. Now I know that I’ve learned that resilience from her. I used to think that her drinking was selfish. Now I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me and she was loving me the way she knew how despite facing a relentless and brutal disease.

I guess my story is a beautiful one after all.  

 

My team.

It was the summer after my senior year of high school and I was at a camp called Malibu, 100 miles north of Vancouver BC, knee deep in dishes. I was there to spend a month serving over 700 high school students each week who were there to experience every ounce of fun and beauty and awe that the Louisa Inlet had to offer.

I remember being three weeks in and washing my hands after finishing up the lunch dishes when I heard a voice say, “Hey! You’re the cookie girl!”

I turned around and smiled, “Yeah?!”

You see, I grew up in a “Figure it out for yourself” household. What I mean by that is that in many ways, my parents were hands-off throughout my childhood, partly because that was their parenting style and partly because of the circumstances I grew up in.

Figuring it out for myself looked different throughout various seasons of my life. When I was in middle school, it looked like learning how to make my own meals and do my own laundry and pay for my own school clothes. My sophomore year of high school it looked like registering and paying for drivers ed.

My junior year of high school, figuring it out for myself looked like finding a way to get myself to Young Life camp. My boyfriend of three years at the time was going and I was promised that I would have “the best week of my life” and those two reasons were good enough for me to want to go, but when I looked at the $800 price tag, I was suddenly hesitant. I knew my parents didn’t have that kind of money to spend and I didn’t have a job, so I decided to figure out a way to earn it.

Long story, short, I baked and sold over 2000 cookies that Spring in order to (almost) fully fund my trip to Malibu where I did in fact have the absolute best week of my entire life…and I figured it out for myself.

When I have filled out job applications in the past, I have caught myself lying during the sections that ask about teamwork.

How do you feel about working in teams?

Written answer: I LOVE teamwork! Every person has something unique to bring to the table and when people show up and give what they have, it makes work more effective and efficient.

Real answer: Teamwork makes me want to vom. Give me a task and I will stay up all night getting it done for you all by myself and it will get done faster and better than it would with a team and I guarantee it will ROCK. Just please don’t make me communicate and problem-solve with other humans.

“Figure it out for yourself” has become a deeply ingrained mindset for me. It makes sense to me that if I want something to happen, I have to do it on my own because that is how my life has been and to be honest, I think that’s OK. I believe that a certain amount of independence is necessary and healthy, especially as we enter adulthood…but I’m also aware that with the onset of adulthood comes complications and problems that aren’t always easy to solve. We aren’t just cooking meals and doing laundry anymore. We’re doing our taxes and buying homes and attending funerals and finding out that our loved ones have cancer and dealing with break ups. We are doing hard things. Things that aren’t figured out by baking and selling 2000 cookies, so we need other people…LOTS of other people to help us figure out the hard things. We need a team.

Five years ago, as a college freshman, I knew very little about the meaning of “team.” That boyfriend I went to camp with? I dated him for four and a half years in high school and he was the extent of my “close friends.” I had other acquaintances and girls that I knew from school, but he was the only one who really knew me. After breaking up with my boyfriend a few months after graduation, my team suddenly became a team of one. I was lonely and depressed and the trials and tribulations of life were relentless. I wanted friends, real friends. I wanted a team. People I knew I could call on at any time of the day when life threw curveballs my way.

And then magically one day I had thirty best friends and we all lived happily ever after.

^^ Ha. No.

This life is not an easy one. This world can be cruel. And I am not convinced that anyone…especially me, can make it out of here in isolation. We weren’t built to do it all on our own and I recognized that during my freshman year. I saw the brokenness of the world and recognized my aching heart and realized that I craved community, but that community wasn’t going to happen all by itself. So, in my true, “Figure it out for yourself” fashion, I started working to create it for myself. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and asked people to sit down and talk with me over tacos and cups of coffee. I invited them into my life and asked them to let me be a part of theirs. I was honest about when I was struggling. I learned how to start asking for help. I had awkward conversations. A lot of them. I learned to embrace the crap out of the awkward conversations and kept having them until it got less weird. I kept investing in people even on the days when I was exhausted and frustrated and felt like I’d never have the type of community I’d been dreaming of.

Two and a half months ago, I set off on a mission to raise $20k so that I can live in Thailand for a year serving with a nonprofit that fights slavery around the world. That’s right, $20k. Surely not a number that could be raised by selling cookies. Over the past two and a half months, I have sat down over coffee and dinners with dozens of people who I have been investing in over the last five years. I’ve been sitting down with the same people who I used to feel uncomfortable and awkward around to share with them confidently about my hopes and fears and dreams as I prepare for the year ahead. Five years ago, when I decided that the “team-model” was infinitely better than the “figure it out for yourself” model, I had no idea that I was building a support team that would be encouraging and partnering with me as I prepared to move across the globe. It’s been challenging and humbling and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

All I can say is, what a gift. What a beautiful gift it is to be able to look to your left and right and say, “These are my people. This is my team. These are the people who show up at 2am with hugs and wine and ears to listen. The people who mourn with you and celebrate with you and make you laugh until you feel like you have the rock hard abs you’ve all been trying to get at the way-too-expensive all-women’s gym you all signed up for. The people you share tears, victories, memories, and pizza with. What a beautiful gift.”

This is what it looks like to be part of a team. And now I don’t have to figure it out for myself.

 

Goodbye.

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?

 

broken bones

I was in elementary school when I was first taught the “perfect” comeback to bullies who used their words as weapons against me.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” I’d scream at my taunter across the field during recess.

We’re taught when we’re young that words are just words, that when someone says something hurtful we shouldn’t let it bother us. It’s not true. It doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t care.

But if that’s true, why do we tell people that we love them? Why do we feel emotional connections to the lyrics of our favorite songs? Why do we read books and poems and listen to speeches and podcasts?

Words have power. A lot of it.

I didn’t realize it, but things had changed. In a matter of weeks I had gone from being wanted to not… and the only tangible reasons I had to hold on to were in the form of a few vague sentences strung together in an abrupt and unexpected conversation.

That string of sentences has played on repeat in my head for weeks now, leaving more questions than answers, and they’ve formed a complicated and long-winded narrative about who I am and what I’m worth.

You see, the problem with words is that we can’t always mold them perfectly to convey what we are feeling and thinking. Humans are fallible creatures and we’ve spent our entire existence figuring out ways to try to improve our (very imperfect) communication system into something desirable and effective. “Communication is key” we say. We have classes on it, podcasts, and books. We hold conferences about it and spend hours and hours rehearsing conversations and speeches. Yet more often than not, in our day-to-day interactions, we stumble to find the right string of syllables to express our emotions clearly and end up with vague half-expressions of what’s going on in our hearts.

This inability to communicate well provides a playground for the liars in our heads to run rampant with false narratives and half-truths that engrave themselves deep into our souls. We create stories around words that were never said in an attempt to come to grips with a reality that doesn’t always make sense.

I’ve been writing a story in my head throughout my lifetime about rejection. At a young age, I convinced myself that I needed to earn the right to be loved. I lived in a household where love was the reward for an outstanding academic record and athletic ability. I developed a deep fear of being unloved and my experience with neglect provided the foundation for an ongoing mental narrative based on rejection.  No matter how great I was or how hard I tried, I was never going to be enough, and as a result, no one would ever want to be in relationship with me. That is the story that played on repeat in my head for most of my life.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I had an experience that changed my whole world. I went to a summer camp and the speaker told a story one night that flipped everything I had ever thought about myself on its head. He stood at the front of a room packed with high school kids and told us that as human beings, our value isn’t determined by our actions, but by simply being alive.

My world was shaken. Someone who didn’t know anything about me stood up and told me that I was valuable and worthy of love, no questions asked. He didn’t know that I had a 4.0 GPA and was taking advanced placement classes while working 30 hours a week. He didn’t know that I had placed on varsity as a freshman in softball. He knew that I was there…and that was enough.

Since that year, I’ve spent countless hours trying to rewire the way I view myself.
I’ve filled dozens of journals, scribbled quotes on my mirrors in eyeliner, and written reminders in sharpie on my hands.
You are lovable. You are loved. 

 

But there are days when I struggle…days when the truth doesn’t always win. Those days have been more consistent lately because of those sentences that have made a home in my head, and I’m in the process of grieving. Not because the narrative of rejection in my head is true, but because it hurts and its hard to battle that narrative every second of the day. To be honest, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to look those lies in the face and tell them to back the hell off. Sometimes I’m tired of fighting and I fall prey to the deceitful nature of the voice inside that tells me I’m not wanted.

Someone once told me that as human beings, our deepest desire is to be known, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think in addition to being fully known, we want to be loved, because to be loved but not known is superficial and to be known and not loved is torture.

So we run away in fear and we pretend to be something we aren’t. We wear masks and put on facades and shy away from being ourselves because we’re afraid that who we truly are isn’t lovable.

I think that fear is valid in this world that we live in. I think we live in a culture that tends to value people based on how much money they make, what kind of clothes they wear, and the type of car they drive. We live in a society that views success a destination that can be reached through hard work and determination. We present the American Dream as the ultimate gospel of hope and we tell people that being lovable and successful are synonymous.

Though our fear of rejection in this harsh world is valid, it isn’t true, and we have to store that somewhere deep into our souls. Another person’s inability to stay isn’t a determinant of our value. Deeper than our narrative of rejection has to be a narrative of unconditional love and a recognition that this world is broken and imperfect. Louder than the liars in our heads has to be a story that we could never imagine in our wildest dreams….a true story of hope that looks us in the face and sees us just as we are, without any evidence of our failures or success to taint the reflection, and says,

You are known. You are loved. 

That “L” word.

There are days when I’m convinced that our human ability to feel is the bravest, most beautiful quality we possess. It takes courage to walk through the ups and downs this life hands us. It takes strength to let our emotions wash over us and make waves in our hearts.

But then there are days when I’m not so convinced. Feelings are complex. They are beautiful, yes. They allow us to connect with each other. They help us to understand one another. They are immensely powerful…

But they are also temporary.

We can’t be angry forever. Or sad. Or happy. We feel a million different things on any given day depending on what’s happening in the moment.

We are emotional creatures, designed to feel a whole range of emotions. Sometimes that’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s weird. Other times we wish we could just turn it off.

I think all too often we think of love as being just another one of our feelings. We say we love someone and treat it like it’s just another temporary emotion that we only feel under certain circumstances.

Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice.

I think about my childhood and the way I pictured love. I used to entertain daydreams of romance and knights in shining armor sweeping me off my feet. We’d ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

But that’s exactly the problem. Happily ever after.

Happily.

Happy is a feeling. You know… the temporary kind. The kind that doesn’t last “forever after.”

Turns out my fairytale dreams weren’t as dreamy as I thought.

As I’ve grown older, my picture of love has changed. I see it with a bit more grit now. If it’s easy all the time, it probably isn’t love, because love doesn’t equal happiness.

If that sentence offends you, I want you to take a second to think of all of the things you’d do for the person you love the most. I’d go a whole month without showering if I needed to. CONTEXT ALERT: I LOVE showering. I shower every day. Sometimes twice a day. I’d shower four times a day if I could. Being clean is my favorite thing ever. The point: unshowered me = SUPER unhappy me, BUT I’d do it for someone I really love.

So again…love doesn’t equal happiness.

Love isn’t about butterflies and excitement. Don’t get me wrong, those feelings are great, but they aren’t the foundational characteristics of love.

Love is hard.
It isn’t practical. It isn’t convenient.
MY GOODNESS. Love is SO inconvenient.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s messy. It requires humility and sacrifice….a lot of sacrifice. It demands that we admit our mistakes and commit to putting others before ourselves.

But love is good. And when we choose to stay and stick through the inconvenience and frustration, it builds into a painstakingly beautiful mess of selflessness.

So we should pick who we love with great care, knowing it’s a commitment that requires great effort, and when we’ve chosen who we will love, we must choose to fight through the good seasons and the bad. And we must know that at the end of the day, that is the stuff that makes up love- and to love is the bravest, most beautiful thing we can do.