Change and lies of mediocrity.

We sat outside, soaking in the last rays of September sunshine before the gray makes a semi-permanent home in the sky for the next 8 months. Fall is a time of change. The leaves show it. Our hearts feel it. The weather follows suit. We can’t avoid it and we have two choices for how we deal with it; sit in misery with furrowed brows and crossed arms as we attempt to deny the inevitable, or choose to embrace the hope and excitement that comes with change and a new season.

I watched her face closely as I sipped my lavender latte and asked her questions about the upcoming year. Her countenance was heavy with the weight of the season ahead. The season wasn’t the only upcoming change in her life. She was working on applying to college. Trying her best to figure out where she will call “home” for the next four years of her life. The next year will be filled with some of the biggest changes her life has seen yet. Next fall everything will look much, much different. And I wondered how she would choose to wear the change.

“How’s the essay going?” I asked. I had gotten a few texts the night before from girls who had been struggling to put pen to paper.

“Not that great.” There was defeat in her voice. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to make myself stand out in 500 words. I don’t feel like I have done anything extraordinary in my life yet. I kind of feel mediocre.”

I stopped to think about what I said in my college essay and drew a blank. I have no clue what I said,  but I remember the pressure. Such tremendous pressure. To stand out. To have an epic story. To have the longest list of accomplishments. To have survived the most difficult set of circumstances. To be the most unique or the most marginalized.

And I realized just how absolutely ridiculous it is. This terrible pressure to figure out how to make complete strangers magically swoon over you by perfectly crafting a few dozen sentences.

She was circling the rim of her coffee cup with her index finger and waited patiently for her eyes to meet mine. “Your belief in your own mediocrity is a lie. You are unique. You are enough.”

We live in a society where “to conform is the norm.” We are constantly bombarded with messages from the media that convey that the only way to be cool and succeed and win is by following in the footsteps of the “cool kids”- you know, the ones with the right clothes and the good hair and the trendy Instagrams- and this trend is especially magnified among the tweens and teens of the world. I see it every day in the girls that I spend time with. They’re told to dress the same, talk the same, and walk the same. They are fed the twisted lie that in order to stand out, they must first fit in. And then all of a sudden, they start applying to colleges and they don’t know what to say, because they’ve spent more time trying to figure out how to fit in than they’ve spent leaning in to who they really are. It’s no wonder they feel confused and discouraged when it comes time to express themselves as individuals with unique gifts and passions.

Who on Earth really has the room to claim that any of our lives are mediocre? That fact that we are here, living in this big world with breath in our lungs and hearts that are beating and eyes that are reading and brains that are processing makes us anything but ordinary.

Fall is here. Change is inevitable, and as I look forward at the year ahead, I can’t help but pray that change shows up in more than just the colors of the leaves. In the same way that we choose how to react to change, we have the choice to view ourselves as boring and commonplace, or unique and able. To conform is the norm, but it is also a choice that we make. No one is forcing us. We have space and ability to choose to go against the grain and dare to believe that we are individuals with unique and important purposes in this world, and I hope we do.

 

To run.

It had been a while since I had a day off, but this day had been circled in the calendar for months. August 27th. “Tacoma Narrows Half” was scribbled in my planner. I was supposed to be running 13.1 miles. I had signed up earlier that May, after completing my first half marathon days before my 21st birthday.

But when the day finally came and I woke up confronted by the red circle around August 27th on my calendar, I chose to throw on flip flops instead of lacing up my Nikes. I packed a bag with a blanket and a change of clothes and got into the car with my best friend and Mayer. We sang and talked as cruise control had us headed towards the coast without many plans besides hanging out by the ocean for the day.

Although I haven’t been training for my marathon over the past few months, I haven’t gone without running. Day after day, I have been sprinting from one thing to the next, amazed at how easy it is to fill up every minute of every hour, every day. I’ve been caught up in the idea of growing up, trying to learn how to care of myself while caring for others…something that all of the people I admire most seem to have mastered. I have wrestled with the idea of balance as I have continued to move through life at an unsustainable pace, with more questions than answers on most days.

But after months of sprinting, I needed space to catch my breath. I needed room. To escape. To slow down and breathe in salty air. To dig my toes into the sand and scream as freezing waves crash over my ankles.

We smiled in line for coffee as the barista told us about the beach 20 minutes South where he proposed to his wife. The man in front of us flashed a smile after paying for our Irish cream lattes. We rolled down the windows and turned the heat on high on the way to that very beach, curious to see the sandstone caves where the kind barista had gotten down on one knee. The car doors slammed shut just seconds after I threw the car in park and we were skipping down the big hill to the water. My heart raced when I saw the vast stretch of dark blue ahead. The day was gray, with overcast skies and misty air that made the afternoon feel like it was still morning, but it was beautiful and I remember thinking, “this is my favorite place to be.” Frothy white waves crashed over the blonde sandstone. Trees and plants of a million different shades of green flourished above the dark caves. We walked along the beach laughing at the people taking selfies and the little ones chasing seagulls.

A hundred yards down, we came to a path of sandstone that made a bridge over the water to a secluded beach where no one else was. Neither one of us spoke as we breathed in the beauty of the solitude we had stumbled upon. She walked over to the right and laid down on the sand, but in that moment, in the cold air, with the sound of the waves hitting the shore, I didn’t want to sit and rest. I wanted to run. Really, really run. Not in the exhausting way that I had been sprinting over the past few months. I threw my flip flops behind me and my legs moved quickly beneath me. Faster and faster. The wet sand was cold on the soles of my feet. I couldn’t help but laugh as my stride lengthened, energized by the freedom of the empty shore stretched out before me. I ran. I pumped my arms and closed my eyes and breathed in the saltiness. And when my lungs felt like they could burst, I stopped and sat down.

There was joy in that place where God was so evident, where life made sense not because we could control it, but because it was so grand and epic that we didn’t feel the desire to. Suddenly all of the time I had spent trying to “grow up” and have all the answers seemed silly. That morning, I had been overwhelmed by guilt at the thought of not completing my race. Life had commanded that I continued sprinting to the next thing. To my race. To be all of the things to all of the people, all of the time. But I didn’t want to keep sprinting, bound by the chains of “have-to’s” and the desire to impress others.

I wanted simplicity. I wanted less control. I wanted freedom to run in the way of love and joy. Less “shoulds” and “coulds” and schedules filled with life-suckers. I needed more space. Less white knuckling. More love.

So I ran.