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 just so frustrating you know. The minute I think I’ve got it figured out, 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.

And then, all of a sudden, it clicked. There is more to learn. More growing. More stretching. More healing. And it was Never. Going. To. Be. Done. Ever. EVER.

Here’s the thing. 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 just keep our mouths shut and don’t complain, God will one day decide that we have been patient enough and poof! 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.

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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.

 

 

Cobwebs

I met her in tears and she met me with a hug. We started our loop and for every step, another drop hit the ground as we moved forward in silence. Neither of us felt the need to fill the quiet. There wasn’t much to say. After a mile of muted moving, the nights events started gushing out between tears.

I had spent the evening having dinner with family and the pain had been tangible in every moment. We had been sitting on the front porch, watching the sunset when I looked over helplessly to see my aunt’s tear-filled eyes as she recalled a multitude of health problems on either side of the family and the stress of her overwhelming job. There was so much pain in those eyes. So much pressure. She was holding the weight of the world on those shoulders and she didn’t even realize it. And there I was, paralyzed. Unable to help. Unable to take the pain away. So I didn’t try. I just sat and listened. I decided to just be. Be there for her. Be present. Present in the pain. Present in the heartache. Present in hope.

We continued to walk forward in renewed silence.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked. She told me she had been praying.

I realized the other day that life won’t always look like this. We were walking early in the evening and the two of us acknowledged that someday this sacred time when the air is warm and we are free to share stories and giggles and tears won’t be so convenient. Life will get in the way. Priorities will change.

But for now we get to stay in this sweet season. And it is very good. So we walk through life together, quite literally. Late, when the sun has gone down and the neighborhood gets quiet, we start our 7 mile loop. And I walk ahead sometimes to get the cobwebs before she does. And we run up hills when we get to them because she would rather that than walk. And late at night we re-enact The Notebook and lay in the middle of the road to look up at the stars.

I tell her my stories and she tells me hers. We talk about our days and laugh about boys. We share in our struggles. We wrestle with our dreams. Sometimes we don’t talk at all and just keep moving forward…one foot in front of the other, because that’s all we really know how to do. But we keep moving forward nonetheless, even on the extra dark nights, when the moon doesn’t light our way and the streetlights are out. Because at the end of the day, we know we’re in it together and that is comforting.

And I thank God for putting someone by my side who listens. And prays when I forget. Someone who is present. Present in the pain. Present in the heartache. Present in hope.

 

Knees.

We sat in anxious anticipation, making our way down a bumpy dirt road, sticky from a long bus ride without AC. 60 high school freshmen buzzed with excitement behind me, unaware of the epic demonstration of God’s great love that was in store for them in the coming days…minds tangled with enthusiasm and fear.

As for me, fear had no place. We passed the welcome sign to camp and a tangible sense of peace moved through my body. This was home.

Young Life camp is the one place in the world that feels like home to me. I breathe deeper. I sleep better. My head and heart feel clear. The burdens of the world melt away. Things just seem to make more sense.

I had the privilege of spending the last five days at home. I laughed until my stomach hurt, danced until my feet were sore, and cried all sorts of tears because twenty (TWENTY) high school girls somehow managed to steal my heart in the midst of all of it.

I sat next to one of my dearest friends on the way home tonight and tried to ignore the inevitable… but the heaviness wrapped around me like a cloak. The campers were heading back home, but I was leaving mine. And it hurt.

She looked at me knowingly and asked if I would be okay. I told her I would be, but I think sometimes she knows me better than I know myself. We picked up thai food and found a quiet place outside on the grass to giggle over our inability to use chopsticks correctly and we praised God for a stunning sunset.

She asked questions and the tears flowed from my eyes as I realized that five days at home wasn’t enough and I wasn’t ready to be back in the place where such a huge abundance of past hurt lingers like a thick fog in the air. A mosquito bit her forehead and I laughed so hard that I spit a mouthful of chicken out, so we hopped the fence and made our way back to the car. She asked more questions. The tears continued to fall.

And now I’m back at my house and things haven’t changed since five days ago when I left. And I find myself on my knees, praying. Because it’s hard when the place that you’ve called home all of your life doesn’t feel like home. It’s hard to feel committed to people and things in a place that holds so many reminders of past pain and hurt. It’s hard to leave the comfort and beauty of home.

So I stay. Stay in this place that doesn’t feel like home. Stay vulnerable, without all of the answers. Stay on my knees. Praying to a God whose love is more faithful than the morning.

 

Our loop.

Our recently established loop has quickly become one of my favorite parts of this season of life. No topic of conversation is left untouched as we meander through side streets and back roads, picking out houses we like and stopping occasionally to smell the lavender. We go in the evenings when the neighborhood is hushed and we feel free to discuss our days and our dreams and all of the in-betweens.

Over the past few months, her and I have cultivated a sweet friendship with a single unspoken rule between the two of us; a promise to let the truth run wild and rampant from our mouths, even when it is raw and unrefined and scary. Our unannounced honesty hour is a sweet space without filters or hesitation, a sacred space to gush and vent and praise.

It was on that route during a particularly frustration-fueled rant that I uttered the sentence, “I just want to get out of here and be a writer already.”

I had suffered through 3 hours of painful rush-hour city traffic just before we had left and my patience was at a low. I had been in the car with a dear family friend who had spent a decent amount of time trying to convince me that I belonged to the medical field, “not writing. Please not writing, Alyson.” I tried to explain to him that my “I want to be a nurse” phase quickly ended after my inability to stomach a semester of hanging out with a skinned cat in an introductory bio class freshman year. He shrugged off my sad experience with poor little whiskers as “quitting too soon.”

We walked along the back streets that had grown familiar to us and I expressed my frustration from the car ride and the way people seem to react every time I tell someone that I want to be a writer. A look of disappointed pity spreads across the face of the questioner as if to say, “Oh come on, you could do better than that sweetie.  You’re so smart! Have you thought about nursing? Maybe business?”My reaction is always uniform. Bite my lip and respond cooly with, “I think there’s always a need for intelligent writers in this world.”

After two-miles of a toddler-style “I want to do what I want to do” type of tantrum, she responded with, “Okay, so then write.”

I could feel my heart tense up immediately as she said it. Fear was my heart’s newest guest and it hadn’t bothered to knock.

“I don’t know if I’m good enough though. I don’t know if I’m a natural. I don’t know if I have the creative ability or raw talent or the ability to grow a big platform.”

There was the truth. The unrefined kind that we had promised. The uncomfortable, “I wish I hadn’t said that out loud but now it’s too late” kind.

She scoffed. “Do you want to write? Is it what you love?”

“It’s all I want to do. It’s when I feel the most like me. It’s how I stay sane.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you suck and would you believe them if they did?”

“Well no, but…”

“So write. It is going to take work. It is going to take time. But if it’s what you love, then you should go do it. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says.”

I knew she was right. About all of it. I love writing, so I should do it. But it won’t be easy.

I think it’s a common misconception people have that if we’re really meant to do something..if it’s truly our “calling,” then it should come easy. We act as if inherent gifts and abilities should equate to effortless success and achievement, despite the fact that no major success in the history of the world has come without hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. A garden doesn’t come to fruition without water and sunshine and fertilizer. In the same way, our hustle is a muscle. We have to put work into our dreams in order to keep them from becoming weak and stagnant. Our biggest dreams deserve our most dedicated work.

Writing isn’t easy for me at all. I had a good friend tell me once that he assumed my writing just flowed out of me the way that you see it on this blog, without any need for editing or forming. He thought I just write and it is good. Far from his sweet assumption, my writing takes time and energy. It is a process of examining my heart, identifying and differentiating between facts and feelings, and then crafting stories in a way that is true to who I am while also being compelling enough that others choose to read what I have to say. It is a total dissection of the heart, kind of like Bio 101, but more fun because no pointy tools or blood.

I’m learning that our dreams require hustle. We can’t just sit around idly waiting for something big to happen. We have to be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the grunt work without complaining(!!!). We have to be willing to dance with our fears instead of letting them trample us. We have to devote time and thought and action to what we choose to love.

I texted my favorite author the other day and asked who her writing mentor had been in college. It turned out she never had one.

It’s easy to complain and come up with excuses to let our hustle lose it’s muscle. I don’t have the resources. This isn’t the right time in my life. I’m not surrounded by the right kind of people. No one understands my work. I need to be living in a different city. I need a different degree. I need the right technology.

When I asked Hannah how she managed to grow, she responded with, “A lot of discipline. Practice. Willingness to fail.”

It’s simple, but I think it’s worth a blog post. We can’t let others choose how we spend our lives, but we risk doing just that if we aren’t willing to put the time and effort into cultivating our dreams and passions into more than just side-hobbies. We can’t be afraid to fall down and fail. We have to get up and get back to work.

I know the saying is a bit cheesy…but it’s kind of catchy too, don’t you think?

Hustle is a muscle. Time to go work it. 

Missing pieces.

It was 10pm on a Saturday night. We sat at a coffee table in a little lodge in the middle of the Olympic rainforest. The glow of the fire lit the room as we sipped on red wine and worked to fit a 1000 piece puzzle together.

It was a picture of a cottage in the middle of a field, surrounded by trees and wildflowers with mountains in the background. The ultimate Pacific Northwest puzzle. We began by building the outside frame (because everyone knows only amateurs start from the middle, duh). As she started putting pieces together, I sifted through the box with a furrowed brow. Before even half of the edges were done I said, “We’re missing pieces.” She kept building. I spent the next forty minutes going through the box, sifting piece by piece, convinced that there weren’t enough pieces to build the edges. Piece by piece, she kept building.

I don’t know if there were actually any pieces missing. We never ended up finishing the puzzle, but as I sat and watched her working to fit the pieces together, I realized something. I think the way that I approached that puzzle in the rainforest is a lot like the way I approach life sometimes. Instead of working with what I have and building piece by piece until I have created something big and whole and beautiful, I spend my time fighting and claiming that there are pieces missing. Important pieces. Pieces that are preventing me from being able to plant my happiness stake firm in the ground.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.

We are a generation of people who believe that we are missing pieces. We are a waiting generation. We are waiting for a spouse. For a dream job. For a better platform. For more followers. For graduation. For the next thing…the best thing. We have fallen into the trap of believing that what we have now isn’t enough.

The truth is, the idea of the “best” thing that we have constructed in our minds is a big fat lie. We don’t need to add something new to our lives in order to be happy. What we have is what we need. The best thing isn’t a thing, it’s a mindset.

I laid in the grass in the middle of a park with a friend the other day and listened as she told me about her plans to live life the way she wanted once she was done with school. She was going to travel and find a job she really loved and start making time for the experiences she really cared about. As I laid there, staring at the clouds above us, I felt sad for her. Sad that she believed she needed to wait two more years to start enjoying the world…as if being finished with school was some magic missing piece that was going to make her world of gray turn vibrant and colorful all of a sudden. My heart felt unsettled as she spoke. She didn’t need to wait to be happy. She wasn’t missing anything.

I’ll never forget what my most favorite human and wisest friend told me about a year ago when I was in the middle of a rut. I didn’t feel like I was growing creatively. I felt stuck and uninspired and caged in. I didn’t love my living arrangements or my major at school or the way I was spending my time. I was run down and exhausted all of the time. I remember calling her in tears, telling her about how much I didn’t like the life I was living. How I just wanted to be finished with school, working a big girl job, spending my time going out with friends and being a fun twenty-something.

“You know, you don’t have to be unhappy right now. You have power over your joy right now. You don’t need to be in the next stage of life to like your life. It’s about finding what you’re passionate about and pursuing that. Build a life you love and then live that life. Now.”

Live a life that you love. It’s simple, but I think that string of syllables is powerful and it holds an abundance of truth. We were created as individuals with unique passions and desires and gifts. Our only job in this life is to pursue those inherent gifts with passion and determination. And if we are doing that one job well, then there won’t be any missing pieces because we will be doing what we have been created to do. We overcomplicate it when we start to believe otherwise.

As cliché as it is, I think the whole “The grass is green where you water it” saying holds true. Water your damn grass and find joy in it. You don’t need anything other than what you have to start loving the life that you’re living.

I think Haley had it right when she kept working on that puzzle as I looked for missing pieces. Let’s not overcomplicate it. Joy is right here and now if we choose it. Contentedness is here. Satisfaction is now. Put your head down, follow your passion, and live a life that you love. There are no missing pieces.

 

The Case for Leaving the Swifting to Taylor

We listened to every single song on every single album. It was late and we were heading home from a day spent in the wind and rain at the coast. It was cold outside but we rolled the windows down anyway. We stopped to for ice cream before hopping on the freeway- lavender flavored for me & coffee for her. Our cones were our microphones as we sang each song with more passion than the last and talked about which green-eyed ghost from the past encompassed each one.

“They all have a song, don’t they?” I asked her. She laughed and nodded.

We spent the rest of the car ride in silence, listening to Taylor eternalize the ghosts of her past with smooth strings of stinging syllables. It was so effortless the way she twisted the love and the heartache into tragically beautiful ballads, every line filled to the brim with passionate emotion. Every line a brutally honest account of all of the trials and triumphs.

I could imagine the kinds of nights she spent writing those songs. The sleepless nights. The rainy ones. The Up Until 3am Because I Can’t Stop Thinking About Him But I Want To ones. Some of her words were so harsh. Clearly written from places of pain and anger. Written before she had given herself time to mature and use her experiences to learn and let her heart stretch and grow in grace.

I wondered how they must feel to hear her songs and know those words were meant for them. She left so little room for redemption in those lines. The spaces between each word weren’t big enough to fill the emptiness created by the heartbreak. They were true and honest accounts of her feelings, but they were hurtful.

I took a writing seminar from my favorite author over the winter and I distinctly remember her talking to us about the art of Taylor Swifting. The art of crafting stories out of our life lessons & ghosts of our past. She talked about the importance of pausing before publishing, especially when writing about other humans. Because words have the ability to eternalize. Words are significant. They hold weight. And although we are humans and we are allowed to have feelings and share those feelings with others, as writers, we have a responsibility to refine those words and intertwine them with love and grace.

Her exact words were, “I think the best kinds of writers, whether they see it or not, are the ones who give grace that expands on the page. The ones who understand that writing about the life of someone else—no matter how boldly they touched you or how much they hurt you—isn’t just the maniac workings of a Taylor Swift burn song.”

And I remember vowing never to Taylor Swift anyone. I even underlined it in my journal.

But five months passed by after that seminar and I was still in love with the same boy and I cared more than I wanted to and the months and months of highs and lows culminated in a post filled with exquisitely scathing syllables intended to bruise the source of hurt.

I Taylor Swifted him. In the same exact journal that I had bolded and underlined my vow not to Taylor Swift. And then I tried to defend it and claim that I hadn’t written the post out of sadness or pain. My friends told me it was beautifully written and I thought I had finally found some amount of peace with everything. But I hadn’t.

I had written out of an unhealthy place. One of sadness and bitterness. There was no “pause before publish” moment, just a burning desire to make my pain known to the rest of the world. My intentions weren’t rooted in a desire to cultivate and build up & I quickly realized that the seeds of bitterness I’d sown would only produce regret.

Later that week, one of my best friends told me that although my words were beautiful, they were clearly written from a place of pain and they were hurtful. In that moment, I felt shame.

I want to be a good writer, but more than that, I want to be a good person. I want to build, inspire, and cultivate. I want to use this space to breathe words of life. I want to be known for my desire to take the tough stuff and stretch it into something beautiful for the big picture. Words are important & even more so when they are published for the whole world to see. They aren’t meant to be eternalized based on temporary feelings. We have to remember that. We have to avoid carrying out actions with  eternal implications based on temporary feelings.

This world is filled with people who will become characters in our stories. Characters whose parts will be big and oh-so-life-changing or small and not so life-changing at all. But whenever we give someone permission to play any type of role in our lives, we are also giving them permission to step into our hearts in some capacity. Some stay and make a home and some only stay for a short while.

The boy I love was the big and oh-so-life changing kind of character and with that comes a lot of the “feel a lot of feels” kind of stuff. It’d be so easy to write a million and one Swift-like love ballads about him, but I think Taylor gets it wrong when she spends rainy nights sealing the fates of her past relationships with lyrics void of grace.

So this is my “I’m sorry for Taylor Swifting” post. I think I’ll leave the damning to the queen. As for me, I’m going to try to remember that we are only human. We make mistakes and touch each others lives in all sorts of ways and we need an abundance of grace- all the time- and we must always always leave room for redemption.