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.


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.”


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.



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.


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.


I used to view myself as a victim.

Of neglect. Of addiction. Of abuse. Of a failing economic system. In short- of hurt.

I used to lament my pain as I watched the seemingly perfect lives of people around me play out beautifully while my world fell apart. I felt isolated and alone in my suffering. There were days when I would scream in rage at the injustice I felt. I tried hard to be happy. I must say, I put on a phenomenal show. No one could have guessed throughout my time in school that I came home to abusive and neglectful parents each night. No one could have guessed that we had no money and were always fighting. No one could have guessed the hell I was living in. I excelled in school and had good friends and from the outside, everything looked lovely…but at the end of the day, I could only watch with envy as my peers enjoyed time with their big, happy families and luxurious lifestyles.

“This is isn’t the way life is supposed to be,” I would whisper between tears at night. “Why is everything so hard?”

It’s true that life isn’t supposed to look the way mine has, but I think “why” is the wrong question to ask.

Asking why life is hard is a question founded on the assumption that life is normally easy.

Don’t get me wrong. When God breathed life into creation, He intended for things to be AWESOME. The original design was for peace and perfection…but then there were two humans and a sneaky snake and the original design got twisted real fast and life no longer looked beautiful the way it was supposed to.

I was listening to a sermon this morning by my favorite pastor on the topic of unanswered prayer and he made the statement that, “Life is tough. Some prayers aren’t answered because creation is subjected to frustration and has not yet been fully “liberated from its bondage to decay.” (A quote directly from Paul in the New Testament) Tragically, life in such an environment is inevitably going to be acutely difficult at times.”

He explained that in middle class America, we’ve lost sight of the fact that life is hard. It’s always been hard. The tough stuff, the “acutely difficult” stuff, is NORMAL…and in fact, it’s inevitable. My generation (90’s babes, hey!) is one that was born during a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity in the West. In the few decades before 9/11, peace and economic growth swept across the United States. It’s really the only thing we’ve known, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Jesus tells us that, “In this world you will have trouble.” He doesn’t say you might have trouble. He says you will. We need to adjust our expectations and our responses accordingly.

We are a generation that operates under the impression that life is supposed to be easy.
The truth is, we are living in a false reality that makes promises it can’t keep.

We are living in a time that has commodified the idea of ease. Take the technology industry for example. Every new iPhone, app, and gadget is advertised under the pretense of making our lives more easy or simple. As our world becomes more busy and fast-paced, we cling tight to promises of simplification and somehow manage to start believing that life as a whole should be just as easy and simple as asking Siri the weather.

In some sense then, I have been a victim. Not necessarily of hurt, but of the constructions of a false reality.

I’m not alone. I think many of us wrestle with the difficulty of this life. It isn’t easy when we lose loved ones or get fired or get broken up with or get our car stolen. But we also have to remember that we aren’t alone in our experience of suffering and how we manage our suffering determines our character.

One of my favorite quotes is by Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet who wrote that, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

I think our scars serve as symbols of victory if we let them.

I sat at a bar with some friends a few weeks ago and we talked about my upcoming graduation. I will be a first generation college graduate. My family is poor, to be blunt. We had absolutely no money to put me through college when I graduated from high school. I worked the entire time that I was in school…mostly multiple jobs at one time. I transferred  schools twice. I studied hard so I could get scholarships. I took breaks from school so I could work to pay for tuition. I took a social work class my freshman year of college and read statistics that literally said that someone in my situation was almost guaranteed not to finish college. Today, I am one week away from graduation.

As we were talking, one of my friends looked at me and asked, “Would you change your experience if you could? Would you change it to make it easier?”

Honestly, my answer is no. Would it have been nice if my parents could have paid for me to go to school…or at least been able to take out loans for me to go to school? Absolutely. Would it have been convenient if I could have spent my weekends studying or hanging with friends instead of working multiple jobs? Yes. But would I be the person I am today if my experience had been different? Of course not. And the truth is, I like the person I am today.

My experience of suffering has changed me all for the better. It has made me empathetic. It has given me a story of redemption. It has produced great character in me.

But my character hasn’t come without great intentionality. Suffering inevitably leads us down one of two roads. We can use it to fuel anger and become bitter or we can use it to learn and grow. I didn’t want to be bitter. I didn’t want to resent my family or my life situation. I wanted to take my life and use it to understand others better.

Instead of asking why life was hard, I started asking what I could learn from the hard stuff.

It’s easy for our hearts to grow hardened against a world that’s hitting us with all it’s got. It’s tempting to numb our feelings when we feel overwhelmed by pain or grief or frustration. Hard hearts aren’t the strong ones, though. The people who are numbing themselves to their pain are oftentimes the ones who believe that life should be easy and are bitter because it isn’t. Bitterness is an awful, awful thing and it hurts the feeler more than anyone else. I have never wanted to become bitter, so to avoid it I’ve had to be willing to sit with my emotions and deal with my pain even when it is hard.

If I’ve learned anything through my experience with suffering it’s this; the world is harsh, but we must remain soft. Avoidance and denial don’t solve problems. Admitting that we are hurt isn’t weakness. Our culture teaches us that in order to be strong and powerful, we must remain emotionless and push ourselves away from the things that cause us pain. In reality, the only way that we rid suffering of its power is by returning to places of pain with softened hearts and a willingness to learn from our experience.

There is a redemptive beauty in admitting that we are hurt, but not broken, and therefore willing to embrace the growth that can come from our pain.

So I’ll take my scars and today I’ll tell my story with newfound confidence and hope. This life will never be easy and there will always be trouble, but my character is massive because of it- and yours can be too.


Can we talk?

Friday from 4-5pm is my favorite hour of the week, hands down. It has been since November, when I first met my counselor and we made Friday our day.

I remember being so terrified to pick up the phone and make an appointment. My hands trembled and I made a friend sit in the car with me while I dialed.

I’d tried counseling before…unsuccessfully. Therapy turns out to be less meaningful when a counselor looks at you in the middle of deep depression and tells you that they’re hoping to “make you better” in four sessions or less. I didn’t need a quick fix. I needed someone to listen and try to understand. I needed someone who promised to stay even after I divulged all of my deepest darkest hardest stuff. So I decided not to go.

But I got into another dark place this year. So dark that on some days it was hard to know if the light ever really existed or if it was just a figment of my naive imagination…a fantasy I’d been clinging to. Those were the days when it took all of my energy to get out of bed in the morning. I’d be driving on the freeway and fight the urge to turn the steering wheel abruptly and fly off the overpass. Those were the days where the pain of living felt so excruciating that ending it all seemed like the easy answer.

Like I said, the days were dark.

At the end of the day though, I didn’t swerve. That was January and here I am now and honestly I’m not even sure I could pinpoint a reason why. I think there are many reasons.

I have a few people in my life who I give 1000% of my heart to. By that, I mean that I am completely honest and raw with them. Unfiltered, unpolished, ALL ME. They see me in my times of sincerest joy, fiercest anger, deepest shame…you name it. They are knee deep in the trenches of life with me.

They were aware of my darkness. They knew when I was at my lowest and they entered in with me. They showed up when I didn’t ask them to. They called me when I didn’t text back. They brought me dinner and lavender soda when I couldn’t get out of bed.

They told me they loved me and then backed it up with their actions.

I’ve yelled at God a lot this year. I’ve wrestled with doubt. Not about whether God exists, but whether He is good. When you look around and all you can see is pain and death and suffering in the people and places around you, doubt is a normal emotion to struggle with, although I didn’t feel like that at the time.

Christians suck (yes, that’s the appropriate term) at talking about our doubts. It’s this weird taboo subject that we avoid because it might involve other people questioning our faith…and we care so much about other people’s opinions that we are swayed by that potential and keep our doubts bottled up inside of us, which eats us alive by producing guilt and shame.

I made a conscious effort to talk to people about my doubts.  

I started counseling again. I picked up the phone and made an appointment. I showed up despite the fact that I felt like vomiting and I told my counselor the whole truth about everything I could think of despite my fear that being completely known by someone would lead them to walk (or sprint) away forever.

We talk for an hour every Friday. We go over the week. I talk about about how I’m feelings, my fears and my insecurities without wondering if she is judging me. She validates me. She makes me feel heard and known. She makes me feel normal. She reminds me that I am human, life is messy, and we are all still learning. She tells me that she cares for me.

I walk away from counseling each week feeling heard, known, and loved. 

I’m writing this post tonight because I think all too often we fail to be transparent in the ways that we need to be. We hide behind facades and screens and we scrape together paper town lives that look real and wonderful from the outsides but don’t even exist in reality.

Mental health is a scary subject. No one wants to admit that they’re hurting and don’t know why and need help. It isn’t fun to get on the Internet and admit to however many people that I have struggled with severe depression throughout my life. People tend to get uncomfortable when you tell them that you’ve been suicidal before. The subject is swept under the rug for the most part…or people talk about it after the fact.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers when it comes to mental health. The conversation is so much larger than twenty-somethings who feel hopeless and struggle with depression (although depression is a huge conversation in itself).

More than anything, I want to be someone who boldly steps into the conversation with transparency. I struggle with mental health and I think we, as a society, need to do a better job about walking into that conversation with open arms and fighting hearts. We need to be open to what other people around us are struggling with and we need to fight for the health of the people we love.

I don’t necessarily think that friends, doubt, and counseling is the perfect recipe to finding health for everyone struggling with depression. I know people who would tell you that medicine saved their life. I know others who would tell you that they needed to change their schedules and priorities drastically in order to find health. I think everyone’s needs look a little different. And that’s okay.

Just because we don’t have all of the answers doesn’t mean there aren’t any. There are ways to move forward and care for those who are struggling, but we have to be willing to listen. We have to be willing to show up even when we’re not sure what we should give.

But first, we have to be willing to talk.