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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Woman.

I look in the mirror and take note of every single imperfection.

A mental checklist that I’ve spent years and years subconsciously compiling from magazine covers and Instagram photos runs of all the things I want to change.

I cringe at the countless scars and sunspots and stretch marks and wish I could remember a time that they weren’t there. A time when this body was pristine. But I can’t.

I remember skinned knees from falling off my bike when I was little. Growing up, my twin brother and I ruled the city from sunrise to sunset on our bikes.

I remember summers on the boat and hiking to the tops of mountains and hours spent in swimming pools.

I remember the first time I looked in the mirror and realized that my body had shape to it. My body was becoming mine. I felt like a woman.

I am thankful for this stretched and sun-exposed skin…these muscles and bones that house my heart and mind and my soul.

How incredible. How beautiful. How awe-inspiring to think that this small frame carries within it something larger than life.

Honestly, that’s how I feel more often than not; larger than life.

Bigger than my body gives me credit for.

I am distinctly aware that I am so much more than my flesh. I know that there is more for me after this body deteriorates. I am eternal, yet these skin and bones are necessary for now and this body of mine continues to work every day. Blood pushes through my veins, my heart pumps, air rushes in and out of my lungs. I am alive.

Every crack, every mark, every groove…signifies triumph. Reminders of my daily decision to participate in this world. How sad would it be to have lived on this earth for 22 years and still be pristine? These scars are proof of my unwillingness to settle for being an innocent bystander.

This life is beautiful and challenging and it requires us to show up in our entirety, willing to walk through the trenches and get our hands dirty.

This is life and I refuse to be ashamed that my body is proof that I’m living it.

Within the tension.

I do my best to take mental notes of the things that strike me as interesting or unusual or painful throughout the day, but the list tends to fill up rather quickly and I’m afraid I probably forget most of it by the end of the week. When I have the capacity, I pull up my phone and dump my stream of consciousness only to return to half-thoughts that I don’t understand later.

Still, some images remain intact.

Like the dogs. There are so many of them here. Roaming about….seeking refuge from the sun, begging for food. I scan quickly over them more often than not…afraid to linger. They are wild and not groomed and no one seems to be bothered much by them here, but where I’m from, they are best friends and companions. I wish I could take them all home and give them names and baths and tennis balls and my entire heart, but I cannot.

Then there’s the women. The older ones in the villages with wrinkled faces and kind eyes. They sit at tables outside of their humble homes selling jackfruit and vegetables and Thai goods I can’t pronounce. I smile at them and say hello. They grin back and let me pet their cats. I get frustrated with my inability to speak their language because I want to know more than just their name, but where words fail, eyes suffice. I look down at cracked hands and can tell that they have labored hard for many years. No doubt some of the wrinkles around their eyes are from years of squinting at the sun. And those smile lines might just be from the joy (and stress) of having children…and grandchildren…the loud ones running around the street barefoot playing tag. I smile at them and wave. They giggle and hide their faces behind their mother’s legs.

I am learning how to exist within the tension of beauty and brokenness.

Day by day

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

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

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

I. Have. No. Words.

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

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

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

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

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

This is my commitment- more process, less product.

Inside

I look around me and desperately search for something familiar, but there is nothing. I know nothing. I reach and reach, looking to grab hold of something I know, but there’s nowhere to reach but inside. So I do. I reach inside. Surely, this must be familiar. Surely this heart I’ve carried through 22 years of life will feel like home. I reach, yet I don’t recognize what I see. I feel like an imposter in my own body. This house doesn’t feel like home at all.

Who is this person? How can she be defined?

The things that once defined me have been slowly stripped away over the past year.

I am no longer a brilliant student. I am not a victim. I am not the girl who never left Tacoma. I am not a daughter craving a relationship with her mom.

And lately, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t feel like much of a writer either.

My whole life I’ve been using context clues to tell me who I am. I have defined myself by the city I’ve lived in, the activities I’ve been a part of, and the people I’ve been surrounded by.

One month ago I hopped on a plane and moved across the world. Everything is new. Everything is different…and I must admit that I feel a little bit like I am drowning because using my context to define who I am no longer works.

You can’t use your context to define yourself if you can’t even define your context.

So you are forced to reach inside and figure out who you are when everything is stripped away. When there’s no one around you to tell you who you are and no landmarks to point you in the right direction. When you can’t define yourself as anything other than “you.”

That’s where I am.

That’s where I’ll be for the next 11 months.

Figuring out “me.”