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.  

 

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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.

Massive.

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.

 

 

 

Mayer, zombies, & honesty.

Seattle broke a 122-year-old record for rain last week (ugh) but all I can think about is wearing sunscreen to prevent any more sun damage from being inflicted on my already-peeling skin.

Huh?

I spent last weekend in the beautiful, ever-sunny Los Angeles laying by the beach and seeing JOHN MAYER in concert. Emphasis on John and Mayer because if you know me at all, you know that’s a REALLY big deal.

I developed a deep love for Mayer my freshman year of college. I had recently ended things with my boyfriend of four and a half years and all I wanted to do was cry and listen to break up songs. Fun fact: John Mayer has SO MANY good break up songs. I guess relationships don’t last long when you’re rich, famous, and a grade-A jerk.

Anyways, the concert.

It was amazing. So good. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and melt into the floor as I listened to him serenade me with his perfect break up songs forever. As I looked around me though, I saw something different…the dim blue light of screens everywhere. I watched a girl ahead of me record every. single. song. on her phone.

As I watched her, I thought to myself, why? Why would you go to a concert just to end up watching the whole thing through a screen?

Part of me wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. She must really love Mayer and wants to be able to go back and watch all of those videos later on. But I knew better. She wasn’t going to do that.

She wanted proof. Proof that she went to the concert. Evidence that she was cool… that she was out on a Friday night doing something fun. I watched her upload the videos to Snapchat. Those videos would be gone in 24 hours and she’d never watch them again, but she would be content knowing that her followers got to know that she was there.

I feel like I need a quick disclaimer. I took some videos at the concert and I posted one or two of them, so I’m not saying I’m immune to the desire to let people know JUST HOW AMAZING John Mayer was live, but recognizing the sea of iPhones at the concert brought up a valid question; what were we really there for?

Distraction.

I’m a senior communication student at the University of Washington and I’m currently taking a class about inequality in the media. My professor lectured on the new zombie craze in the media recently. Have you noticed it? I mean, it’s pretty hard to miss. Zombie games, zombie movies, zombie 5k runs…apparently we’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of these insatiable post-apocalyptic crazies and maybe that’s because they’re a lot like us.

Now wait a second, before you tune me out, take a second to think about the first thing you did this morning when you woke up. Or how you spent your lunch break. Or what you consider to be relaxing in your leisure time. I don’t know about you, but I’m sure I must resemble a zombie when I spend my break time during class scrolling through my phone.

Like I said, we want distraction. We crave it. We prefer to spend our time thinking about ourselves and what other people think about us because that seems easier to change than our broken health care system or poverty or scarcity of resources.

And sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

This world we live in is brutal. We live in a society where people are enslaved and oppressed, where equality is preached but not practiced, where there is suffering and heartache and pain…and we are only human. Sometimes we need a break from the chaos. We need a moment to tune out and find relief. And that’s okay.

But we can’t stay in that place. We can’t walk away from the pain and suffering of reality and think that it’s acceptable.

Reality demands consciousness. It begs for our full attention. It requires action.

Distraction leads to despair. It offers temporary relief but follows up with empty promises. It tricks us into spending our time and energy on things that don’t matter. It tricks us into believing that making sure that our followers see that we went to the John Mayer concert is important or that having trendy clothes and the newest iPhone is going to make us more likable. It deceives us into thinking that the world revolves around us.

News flash: it doesn’t. The world isn’t about you and it sure as hell isn’t about me.

And praise God for that because we are fallible, fragile human beings.

What is your purpose? What is your why?

In other words- what do you care about? At the end of the day, when all is said and done, what are you willing to place your stake in the ground for?

Is it money? Name brand clothes? Expensive food? More followers? Success? Being cool?

The likelihood is that it’s not. At the end of the day, you’d probably say that lifting people up is what you care about the most. Or loving your family well. Or finding genuine joy. Or maybe you want to reflect the character of Jesus through service and mercy to others.

Whatever it is, spending all of your time thinking about yourself probably isn’t the answer.

Whatever our why, we must look at our actions and determine whether what we care about matches up with what we’re actually doing.

You see, I’ve come to realize recently just how important actions are. We’ve all heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words,” but how often do we use it as a measure for our own lives?

I recently experienced a major life transition that left me asking myself a lot of hard questions. After making the decision to step back from a commitment I’ve had for the past four years, I spent an evening sitting in my bedroom, writing down a list of my priorities arranged by importance. I then did my best to objectively write down another list- this time it was a list of actions. They didn’t match.

We must align our actions with that which we profess as priorities otherwise our souls suffer from dissonance between our deepest desires and our superficial cravings.

It isn’t easy and it requires honesty. Honesty about what we want, what type of person we want to be, and the types of sacrifices we are willing to make to become that person.

So ask yourself: what do you want?

What are you willing to give up to get it?

Letting Go

How? How did this become a familiar feeling?
How did my body come to know what to expect next?

The time between the here and there is excruciating for me, though I know what hurts me most will finally set you free.
You are just seeking a place of peace.

I watch the life leave your eyes,
I watch the breath turn to air.

How? How did this become a familiar feeling?

I find myself frantically searching for answers that aren’t there.
Though the feeling is familiar, it isn’t kind. The sting stays the same as I sit with your body, now cold. It is lifeless, a shell of what used to hold so much abundance.
Where is that abundance now?
I just want to know.

I want answers. Tell me, tell me, do you have any?
I just want to know,
Where is your soul?
Where did you go?

And did you leave a map for me to find you later?

I wish I could have come along if only to know what you feel. If only to have the satisfaction of assurance that the pain is really gone. That the choke hold of death has released you. That you are free now, breathing deep.
Breathe deep, my love. Be free.

But in my hope for your freedom, I am still searching.
Frantically, frantically, where did you put the map?
Doesn’t anyone have any answers? Where do I go from here?

People continue to walk through life all around me, moving forward through the hustle and bustle.
They go to the grocery store, pick up their kids from school, they study for tests.
I look down at my phone. A text from mom.
“Can you pick up some coffee and bring it to the house?”

My stomach turns.
Don’t you know I’m grieving? Don’t you know the world just lost a bit of light?
How do we carry on? How do we move forward back into “normal”?
But what does that even mean? What is normal? No one knows. No one has answers.
There is nothing normal about this…
yet there is.
This, this is the cycle of life. We live. We learn to love people and things more than we even know we could. We find beauty in the way an uncle laughs, the sweetness of a grandmother’s smile, the loyalty and unconditional love of beloved pups.
We lay with them as life leaves their eyes, as breath becomes air.
And though we wish the world would stop and mourn with us, life goes on, and we must too. We learn to enter back in to the hustle and bustle.

But for now, in this moment, there are no answers and there isn’t moving forward.
There isn’t much to do.
Because loss is loss,
and pain is pain,
there aren’t any answers,
and even if there was, the hurt sears through the heart all the same.

Time to fight.

Before you read any more of this post, I have to be honest. I hate New Years resolutions. Please don’t be mistaken, I mean absolutely no offense to you if they’re your thing. They just aren’t mine.

I just can’t support the idea of a new year as a good reason to start making positive life changes. A new day or a new minute seems more valid to me. 365 days seems like a long time to decide to start changing your life. Why wait? Why not just start as soon as you feel discontent?

So, if you are looking to read a post about new years resolutions. This isn’t it. Although I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find one if that’s what you need. Instead, I have taken some time over the past few weeks to reflect on 2016 and write down the lessons I’ve learned through the opportunities I’ve had and the mistakes I’ve made in the last 52 weeks.

I think its important for individuals to be able to point out ways they have stretched and grown. It’s important to be able to celebrate our victories, big and small, and remind ourselves that we are moving in the right direction. My biggest fear would be to come to the end of a year and not be able to point out ways that I grew through the challenges I faced. As human beings, we thrive on growth. Stagnance is one of our greatest enemies in regards to every aspect of our lives: our character, physical health, spiritual life, education (the list goes on forever). In order to avoid stagnancy, we must take time to be deliberately aware of our growth.

My favorite way to unwind after a long day is by writing. I keep a journal by my bed that holds all of my thoughts, feelings, rants and raves from most days of my life. It’s how I unload. It’s how I free my brain up to think about new ideas. As of late, it’s how I’ve been processing 2016 as one of the most immensely challenging and fruitful years of my life.

I have learned a lot in the last year. Way more than a single blog post could convey (hence why I blog throughout the year, duh!). But what sticks out to me as of late is the idea of showing up for people. I talked about it a bit in my last post and it just keeps rooting itself in my heart more and more each day.

I wrote a post on Instagram the other night about it. I was reading a story in the Bible about a paralyzed man who is healed by Jesus in Capernaum. The man is brought to Jesus by his buddies, and the remarkable thing about the story is that Jesus is teaching to a bajillion people at a house that is so packed that the guys aren’t able to carry their paralyzed friend through to get to Jesus. So they turn around, defeated and sad, to go home. FALSE! The guys actually climb onto the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching,  cut a hole into it, and then lower their buddy THROUGH THE ROOF down to where Jesus is. WHAT?!

I just love that story so much because it’s such a beautiful depiction of how we are called to love and show up for the people in our lives. These guys loved their friend so much that no obstacle was going to stop them from showing up for him. They could have said forget it when they realized they weren’t going to be able to squeeze through the crowded room. They could have quit because the easy route was shut down. But they didn’t. They showed up. They stayed, and they fought for the one they loved.

I think we live in a world right now that fails to fight. Our culture seems to be more fearful than ever of confrontation. We have this tendency to hide behind screens and walls we have built around our hearts in order to avoid difficult conversations that require emotional transparency and a willingness to admit that we are fallible.

When things go wrong, we don’t stay. We move on to the next thing. We choose something bigger or better or faster. Or easier. We love to choose what is easier. We gaze at the golden facade of instant gratification with greed in our eyes as we move from thing to thing, desperately seeking a satisfication that arrives on our doorstep with a suitcase never packed for more than a day or two.

We seek happiness instead of contentment and when we don’t find it, we move on immediately. We search and search. We never stay. It’s true of our jobs. I talked to a friend the other day who said that my generation (not-so-lovingly referred to as millennials) is less likely to stick with a single job throughout their lives than any previous generation. It’s true of our friends. The attitude among people nowadays tends to be an “oh well” mentality. So my best friend and I got into a big fight? Oh well. I have 7,854 friends on Facebook who have the potential to be my new best friend. It’s true of our significant others. Have you seen divorce rates lately? It’s true of most everything in our lives. We are professional nomads when it comes to seeking contentment. Our culture doesn’t teach us to fight. Our culture tells us to move on and find something new.

But where…where is the satisfaction in gaining something without effort? There is beauty in the fight. There is sweetness in a steady resolve to remain steadfast despite obstacles. There is joy that comes from staying when stuff isn’t picture perfect. When school isn’t exciting. When work is under-stimulating, or underpaid or under appreciated. When we face loss or heartache or financial barriers. And most of all, there is beauty in choosing to stay and fight for people.

Relationships are hard. We have parents who have neglected us. We have siblings who have hurt us and friends that are easier to avoid than spend time with. We have people who have unintentionally caused us great pain. Choosing someone in the midst of heartache is difficult. But it’s worth it. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it seems easier not to, we should choose to stay and fight for our people. Because at the end of the day, if the people that we have poured our love and time and energy into aren’t worth the fight, than who is? Or what is? What is worth the fight? Ask yourself that.

There are people in your life that are worth showing up for. They are all around you. They are the ones you choose even when life isn’t full of fireworks. They are the ones you show up for even on the worst days. It isn’t easy. It is messy. And like I said in my last post, staying is underrated and seldom celebrated. But it is good. And there are people in your life who are worth it. So show up and stay for them. They are worth it and don’t forget that you are too.