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.

 

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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.

How to be single.

November 1st, 2016.

It was late. I laid on my back with my hands interlocked over my stomach, staring at the ceiling as I talked to God.

This is frustrating. Every time I think I’ve got it figured out, something happens and I realize there is more to learn. More growing to do. More stretching. More healing. I just want to be done. I’m ready to be done.

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

And then, I understood. The growing, the stretching, the healing…will never be done. It is a process without end.

I am writing this post because I am single and I have been for a little over a year now. And I don’t talk much about my singleness on this blog because I have really struggled with the idea of being single throughout my life. You see, I have spent my whole life buying into the lie that singleness is just an in-between period. I have looked at it as a waiting game. Like if we work hard enough on ourselves and do enough of the whole “growing and healing” thing, Mr. Right will show up at our doorstep and we will finally be able to start living real life.

Society fans the flame with ideas about “becoming the type of person you would want your future spouse to want to be with” as if personal growth is only a journey meant for satisfying another human being. As if one day we will suddenly wake up as a perfect version of ourself and be ready to spend the rest of our life with someone.

Here’s what I know to be true: we are in process. We are always going to be in process. Michelangelo has the most beautiful way of saying it, “ancora imparo.” It means, “Still, I am learning.” If we are doing life the right way, we are always learning. Always growing. And that doesn’t change when we meet someone. Other people can’t “complete” us. We are human beings, not puzzles. We are fallible and broken. Broken plus broken doesn’t equal perfect.

Being single isn’t a cruel waiting game. It is part of the process…and a beautiful one at that. So with that being said, I’ve been reflecting on the last year or so of my life and wanted to share a few lessons this season of singleness has taught me.

#1 Don’t be afraid to be alone.

We live in a world full of individuals who are terrified of being alone. Silence is deafening. Solitude is punishment. We feel bad when we see people eating alone at a restaurant. Society says being alone is weird and sad. Society is wrong. How much of our life will be wasted if we can’t learn to experience joy on our own? We must learn to be present. You don’t need a partner to start living a life you love. Figure out what you want to do and go do it. Climb the mountain. Travel. Buy yourself sunflowers and take yourself out for Thai food. It’s not pathetic. It’s not stupid. It’s standing up on your own two feet and choosing to believe that joy isn’t just for the future. It’s for right now.

#2 The best investment you’ll ever make is in your own personal health.

Cliches are cliches for a reason. They are true. And I have found this one to hold true in my own life: You can’t expect to be able to love someone else well if you can’t even love yourself. Being a human is messy and hard. We make mistakes. We hate it when we make mistakes. We keep making mistakes. We are hurt. We are broken. We are fragile.

We have STUFF. Hard stuff. Really really hard stuff. and oftentimes we avoid it. We tuck it away for a while and hope that if we ignore it long enough it’ll go away and never resurface. We build walls around our hearts and turn off emotions that don’t feel good.

We have to work through it. We have to face the pain. We have to look our monsters in the eyes and slay them, one by one. Do what you have to do to slay your monsters. Go to the counselor. Go to the gym. See the doctor. Take the meds. Take some time off. Get out of the city for a few days. Pick your battles one at a time and fight them. Your capacity to love will increase exponentially when your energy isn’t being sapped by the emotional exhaustion created by suppressing pain from the past.

#3 Two words: I’m sorry.

Who needs makeup when you can just be humble? Humility is beautiful. Admit when you’re wrong. Be the first to apologize. Get good at saying you’re sorry without trying to justify your mistakes. Accept other people’s apologies and learn to forgive. If I haven’t said it enough yet, we are humans. We are inherently fallible. Own up to your mistakes, say you’re sorry, and keep moving forward.

Last but not least: Don’t give up on people.

We live in a world of instant gratification. The minute we want something, we can have it with just the click of a button. If we don’t like something, we can exchange it. It literally takes seconds for us to change the things around us when we feel uncomfortable. And sometimes that becomes our mentality toward people. All of a sudden a friendship gets rocky or a relationship gets hard and our first instinct is to find something else. The world tells us to run to something newer, something better, something more convenient. Staying is underrated and seldom celebrated. But staying is good. Relationships aren’t easy. Love is hard. It isn’t a series of fireworks. It doesn’t just happen. It is a choice. We choose who we love. We choose to stick around and care for people or give up. Don’t give up. Be the one who chooses to stay.

Showing up.

“What does it feel like to have an anxiety attack?” she asked me.

I told her I wasn’t sure that I’d ever really had one. But if I had, it felt heavy and confusing. Like everything is chaos and you are drowning in it.

“Are you having panic attacks?” I asked.

She didn’t know. She didn’t know what was going on. She didn’t know what was happening with her body.

It was sunny outside and we fell into pace with one another along the familiar sidewalks of our normal route. She recounted her week to me. The ability to listen well is a unique characteristic in the realm of humanity, especially in today’s culture. She is someone who listens well, which is why it never surprises me when she describes a week filled with almost a dozen coffee dates. It’s rare and beautiful the way that she can have a conversation with just about anyone. She listens well and people start to divulge without even meaning to. They feel comfortable and the fear of being vulnerable melts away as she sits in silence. So they tell her the sources of their deepest pains and their biggest struggles. And she doesn’t tell them to slap a smile on and deal. She just asks more questions and tries to understand.

But then she comes to me and I know her well enough to sense the heaviness. She is a “feeler” who by nature loves deeply and cares immensely. So their pain becomes hers and their burdens shift to her shoulders.

“We are human beings. We are not life boats. We do not get to save people. We cannot save people.”

I learned that lesson the hard way about a year ago. I had just moved back in with my parents and my mom had been sober for the first time in my life for almost seven months and the day that I moved back in, she started drinking again. The next few months were some of the most difficult months I have faced in my life. I was angry at my mom. I was angry at God. And I was angry at the people around me. Nothing in the world around me seemed to make sense and I remember being so frustrated when a dear friend looked me in the eyes and said, “You can only control yourself. You have to focus on what you can do and forget about everything else. Focus on what you can control.”

You see, for some reason, “Focus on what you can control” felt like a cop out to me. It felt like a weak mentality. Now as I look back, I think it’s because I was so painfully aware of how much was out of my control. I couldn’t stop my mom from drinking. I couldn’t make her take medication. I couldn’t make my parents go to counseling or exercise more or spend their money differently. I couldn’t choose the words that came out of their mouths or the way they spent their time. And the end result was a feeling of helplessness. Of weakness.

A year later, here is what I know to be true: focusing on what we can control is really our only option in this life, and it is a truth that once internalized, we can allow to embolden us or squash us in fear. But as my favorite author puts it, we don’t write fear love songs, we punch it in the face.

We have a choice and in light of the world today, the decision seems obvious.

What do we do when fear shows up for battle?
We suit up and fight back.

Not with fits of rage or jealousy. Our tactics are not that of hatred and disdain. We do not use force. We do not use deceit.
We fight with love that is fierce. We build up. We encourage. We empower.
Our words are not our swords except to cut through the hate with truth and affirmation. Our weapons are our actions fueled by generosity and service to others.

It is easy to say and hard to do.

We cannot control the actions of others, but we are not without power. If ever there was a time for us to show up for the people around us, it is now. We cannot take the pain away. We cannot save people. But we can show up and listen. We can enter in with empathy. We can stand in solidarity. If ever there was a time for us to move forward in grace and mercy, it is now.

Our role is the same today as it was yesterday as it will be tomorrow. To stand up, to show up, to speak up. For the broken, for the marginalized, for the persecuted.

We have a choice. To control what we can control. To do what we can. To speak out against injustice.  We are the peacemakers. We are a generation that can and will lead with love. And we will start by showing up.

(un)stuck

I sat in the other room, listening as she sobbed and muttered senseless words of lost hope to herself. This has become routine lately. I come home, sit down, and I listen. Because what else is there to do? What is there to say?

She is lost in herself. Lost in the pain and the confusion. Her mind is clouded by the wine she steals from my room when I’m away. She thinks I don’t notice. The depression has deep roots that grip her soul with dark twisted lies. She needs help. Real help. And I can’t give it to her.

She spends her days taking care of her brother. He has been given six months to live and he is in excruciating pain every day. I can feel the heaviness as she walks into the room after a long day of pushing his wheelchair around from place to place. She is exhausted.

Meanwhile, I spend my days waking up early, grabbing coffee with young girls who are making big decisions about where to spend the next four years of their lives and little decisions like whether they are going to winter formal or not. And then I make small talk with strangers for hours on end as I make almond milk lattes and beloved #PSL’s. And in the evenings I head to school and I learn about the political economy of media and the importance of concise writing. And I come home tired. And to be honest- drained of grace and patience more often than not. So I sit and I listen. And I feel stuck. Because what is there to do? What is there to say?

I walked into a meeting last week with my academic advisor. I have been avoiding scheduling a meeting for a while because when you’ve transferred multiple times and changed your major about a trillion- and then taken almost a year off of school in the time between- the finish line doesn’t really ever feel like it’s in sight. She met me with a smile as I walked in. My palms were sweaty and my heart raced as I prepared for “You have two more years of school left and none of your credits are going to transfer.” She spent a lot of time clicking and typing. I asked her how her day had been and commented on the weather.

“Wow- I can’t believe I am going to say this to you, but it looks like you could graduate this spring if you wanted to.”

Jaw. On. The. Floor

I asked her to clarify, thinking she had misspoke. You mean the Spring of 2018, don’t you?

“No. I mean this Spring. Spring of 2017!” She was smiling.

I squealed. Like a child who gets a puppy for Christmas. My mind started racing. It was really happening. I am going to finish college. I am going to have a four year degree…a whole entire year earlier than I thought I would. All of a sudden the finish line was in sight and I could only feel one thing; proud.

You see, anyone who knows me well knows that my journey through college has been a hard one. Finances have been tight. Classes haven’t transferred smoothly. Meetings with academic advisors have left me in tears. On top of all of that, I am a first generation college student. No one in my family has completed college and gotten a degree.

As thankful as I am to have the opportunity to further my education, I have also become painfully aware that the odds are stacked against me. You see, statistics would say that due to the atmosphere I’ve grown up in and my family’s financial instability, the chances of me being successful in life, or even graduating from college, are slim. It sucks to write that, but it sucks even more that it’s true. I took a social work class my sophomore year of college and I went back to my dorm room crying one day because my professor told us that most kids who grow up in poverty stay in it their whole lives. Combine that with a childhood full of abuse, neglect, and turbulent relationships and according to science, I was bound to be a screw up. I was a statistic and not the good kind. What was there to say? What was there to do? I felt stuck.

As I walked out of my advisor’s office the other day, I started thinking about feeling “stuck.” I think so often we become dissatisfied with our lives and start to believe that we don’t have a fighting chance at becoming unstuck. We start to believe that we don’t have space to move forward. We forget that the world has better and more abundant for us if we choose.

We are our own worst enemies in regards to stagnancy. When we speak the word “stuck” over our lives, we enter into dangerous territory. More often than not, we aren’t stuck, but we must be willing to move ourselves. We must be willing to believe that we are more than casualties leftover from the poundings of a cruel world. We have to rid ourselves of the victim mentality that we so often cling to. Yes, I am a victim of abuse and neglect. My life hasn’t been an easy one.  But I am not destined to repeat the mistakes the people around me have made. We do not need to be held by chains of what used to be and we don’t need to feel confined by the chains of our present circumstances. We have the choice to walk forward. We have the choice for our lives to look different.

Eight months from now, I will step onto a stage wearing a cap and gown and I will hold a diploma in my hand stating that I have a four-year degree from the University of Washington. I will be a first generation college student, not defined by poverty or past abuse, or by the house I live in or how I spend my days, but by my determination and character. I will be the best kind of statistic and I will stand, proud of my life and proud of who I am becoming. I am not a victim. I have freedom to move forward and be different…and I will be. I am not stuck. We are never stuck.

 

Change and lies of mediocrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I ran.