Undoubtedly

It’s been almost a year since I said “yes” to the biggest, scariest thing I’ve ever chosen to do. I graduated from college, packed my life into a couple of suitcases, raised a few thousand dollars, and moved across the world to serve with a non-profit for a year.

This is what I wrote in my journal eight months ago:

– – –

It’s a beautiful thing, really, to be in this place. This willingness to strip my life of safety and security and trade it for faith. Trade it for the opportunity to walk alongside others through the darkness, though I lack answers and am ill-equipped. I think oftentimes we are afraid to go because we look at ourselves in the mirror and are overcome with a fear  that we don’t have what it takes. There are so many reasons why it makes more sense to play it safe. We need more training, more time, more energy. We are waiting. We are stagnant. We are stuck, stifled by a lack of confidence…by the voices in our heads that tell us that we should stay. That safety matters more than following our dreams and desires. That someone else could do the job much better than we could.

I have found that the expectations put on us by the world form a certain dichotomy that becomes difficult to traverse when you’re in the season of life that I’m in. As a child, I was told that I could be and do anything I wanted when I grew up. Cliches such as, “chase your dreams” and “follow your heart” were drilled into my head until they found a home deep in my soul, and now that I’m ready to do just that, the chorus of people who used to tell me to chase my dreams are telling me to stay here where its safe. Here in this city whose street names I know and whose people are familiar and where I am known.  Here on this coast where people think like me and love the same mountains and ocean I do. Where the risk of failure is limited to a ten mile radius. Where fall-back plans exist and plan B and C and D. 

I took a personality test today called the Enneagram and it categorized me as a “Reformer.” Reformers are known as those who “have deep convictions about right and wrong, what is just and unjust. They are often dedicated to reform and social causes since they feel personally obligated to improve the world and leave it a better place. They put themselves on the line for their values and ethical convictions—if it means risking their jobs, their fortunes, or even their lives. [They] are convinced that there are indeed some truths—some values—that are worth both living and dying for.”

I told a friend of mine the other day that, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m really starting to “fit” into the person I was made to be. I’m really starting to like who I am…not because I think I’ve “made it” or believe that I don’t have any more room to grow. I am still learning. I fail daily, but I’m not at war with my personality. I’ve been told by plenty of people that I am naive for thinking the way I do, but I like that I want to make the world a better place and I believe that in time, I will (though it might require a less-than-graceful dance of a few steps forward and a few steps back). Frankly, I think it’s naive if a person doesn’t believe they have the ability to make a difference in this world. 

My friend told me something the other day that stuck with me. 
“We are undoubtedly going to make mistakes,” he said, “but we are undoubtedly moving in a beautiful direction.”

I think when we find something that we love and we believe in, we owe it to the world to cling tight and press in. I think our purpose is to run full sprint toward whatever we are inherently passionate about- no matter how big or impossible it may seem. We owe it to the world to dedicate our time and energy and heart to our dreams and make them realities, no matter the cost. And when fear creeps in in the form of self-doubt or jealousy, we owe it to ourselves to push back. Failure is probable and mistakes are inevitable, but they are nothing to fear.

A coworker of mine asked me the other day, “What would be more terrifying than moving to Thailand for a year?”

“Not,” I responded.

– – –

I’m five months into my time here in Thailand now and it hasn’t been easy. The truth is that on most days I feel like a failure at my job. I am unqualified to do what really needs to be done and I daily doubt whether I’m making any kind of impact on my co-workers, let alone on the world.

I could use more training, more time, more energy…but I know that if I  would have waited to have “enough” of those things, I would have never gotten here because that’s how fear works. Fear tells us we can’t. Fear tells us we shouldn’t. Fear tells us we’re small and insignificant and we don’t make a difference in this big world.

Fear is a liar. 

There will always be a reason to stay home, play it safe, and put off doing what we’ve been created to do, but we’ve been given voices for a reason. We get to tell fear to shove it and run forward, clumsy and awkward as we might be.

We’ll stumble and fall some days, but messing up in the midst of passion and courage and determination is not failure, it is the recipe for boldly living out our purpose- for doing what we have been created to do.

Macklemore has this line in one of his songs that I really love. “Don’t try to change the world,” he says, “Find something that you love and do it every day. Do that for the rest of your life, and eventually the world will change.”

I look back at what I wrote in my journal all those months ago and I can’t help but echo the same sentiments now…

It’s a beautiful thing, really, to be in this place. This willingness to strip life of safety and security and trade it for faith in the hopes of making a difference.

We will undoubtedly make mistakes. 
We are undoubtedly going in a beautiful direction.

 

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Day by day

I grew up with graphite-gray stains on my hands. Ten-year-old me would get home from school and spend hours drafting stories and speeches and petitions (social justice looked like higher quality chicken nuggets and more time to play tag at that age).

I love words. I always have. I love the way simple syllables can be strung together to communicate complex thoughts and ideas. I love how one word can have dozens of meanings depending on the context it is placed in and the person using it. I love that words are one of the most tangible ways that we connect with one another. They form the foundation of our relationships. Words are important. I know that.

They are so important in fact, that I pursued a degree in the art of perfecting words. I received a degree in Communication last August. A little less than two months ago, I packed my entire life into two suitcases and moved across the world to Northern Thailand to work as a communications intern for an international human rights organization. I have spent the past four years of my life studying every type of writing you could think of. I’ve written blogs, essays, press releases, and news articles. When people ask me what it is that I want to do with my life, I tell them I want to write. Words are the foundation of my career. They are my tool of choice for the rest of my life, yet here I am, terrified to admit one thing

I. Have. No. Words.

I have been living in Thailand for almost two months now. Before coming here, I told everyone back at home that I would be blogging about my time here consistently. I figured it would be easy to come up with fresh, exciting words in a brand-new environment, culture, and season of life. In reality, I sit down at my computer every night with the intention of wrangling my thoughts into complete sentences and essay-worthy paragraphs and I find myself paralyzed at the keyboard. My words don’t seem to do justice right now.

It isn’t that I lack the ability to write cohesive thoughts about what is happening around me, it’s that I don’t feel like I can do it well. The true problem is that I am guilty of comparison. I oftentimes find myself giving side-eye to the people around me, trying to size up my competition. I am guilty of looking to my left and right so much that I start to drown in the stagnancy of jealousy and self-pity. I become so consumed by how well everyone else is doing…how effortlessly their prose falls onto paper, that I can’t imagine doing any work of my own.

Comparison is toxic, especially in the environment we find ourselves in today. It’s a losing game with two outcomes; you either conclude that you are better, leading to a loss of humility, or you conclude that you are worse, leading to a loss of self-esteem.

It’s easy to conclude the latter in our air-brushed world.  We are surrounded by brands and organizations and individuals that are experts at presenting finished products. We see the end result and we are stunned by its beauty…dazzled by the seeming perfection, but we are constant consumers of partial realities. The end results are real, but they are exactly that: end results. There is a process that must be undergone in order to reach the presentation stage and that process is a messy one. It’s hard work and sometimes it really sucks. It’s late nights and early mornings and no sleep and lots of practice. And sometimes…a lot of times…it’s failure. A lot of failure. 

I do not have any end results yet. I am here and I am in process. I can’t produce thoughts for you that can be neatly packaged into poetic life-altering sentences or tidy “aha!” moments. I’m afraid to publish the process because the process doesn’t sell as well as “ten easy steps to being happier,” but I’m going to do it anyway because I think it’s what we need. I doubt I’m the only one who gets bogged down and discouraged by the polished versions of life that are plastered everywhere around us. I think that at a soul-level, we crave the chaos, the assurance of knowing that we are not the only ones who are figuring it out day-by-day. We want real stories and I am going to do my best to start sharing mine sans airbrushing.

This is my commitment- more process, less product.

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.