When It Hits You All Over Again

The atmosphere in Wrigleyville seemed weird and off-kilter. Every sports network seemed to be talking about The Big Sell Off, and in that particular neighborhood there was no getting around it. I walked past a popular mural of Kris Bryant, simultaneously chastising myself for getting emotional. When I shared about it two days later, I was teased for acting like someone had died. And while no one had, the past two days had me thinking of someone close to me that did. Back in 2016, I came down to Wrigley Field (after the Cubs had won the World Series) to stick a note on one of the brick walls in his honor. And since that era has officially come to an end, I found myself wondering how he would have felt about it. What he would think. And I hated having to wonder instead of ask. 

A few months prior I couldn’t sleep, my surroundings unfamiliar. I thought of his little sister’s upcoming wedding and all the ways he could be honored during the occasion. “Together Again” by Janet Jackson played like a loop and I felt the tears before I could register the specific emotion. It wasn’t long before the sniffles became muffled sobs, and I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t be heard. What’s up with you, woman?! You were euphoric a half hour ago. 

It wasn’t as much sadness as it was vulnerability.  One of the many waves I’ve experienced in the last five years. 

More recently, I was watching a documentary about the life and music of Eric Clapton. He had lost a young son with the same name. And there I was, bawling until my tear ducts had nothing left to give. 

And I suppose that’s just one of the facets of grief; the outpouring of love that you feel like cannot give because that person isn’t physically present. It happens when a memory pops into my head, one that I haven’t thought about in a while. Or I’ll start making correlations between songs, movies, little things that don’t immediately register but hit me later.

There is something about losing someone so young and so suddenly that can only be expressed from the deepest parts of me. I’m not afraid to weep, and I weep to this day because it still seems surreal. Wait, this actually happened? This wasn’t just a bad dream?

My saving grace has been the way so many that I’ve grown up with came together to celebrate his life, and still do to this day. I’ve experienced a similar loss before and didn’t mourn openly, and it led to near disastrous outcomes. It’s easy to say that everyone has different ways of coping, but to go on as if someone didn’t exist, to never mention their name again, that seems almost unfathomable to me. I give thanks that while Connor’s body is not here on earth, his memory and his spirit continuously live on. I see it in my hometown, which I have a different appreciation for compared to a decade ago. I see it in the things he loved, from hunting and fishing to the different bodies of water he spent his days on. I see it in the color green, and in country music. I remember his laugh, his smile, and his sense of humor. 

I knew that fun side of him, but one regret that keeps showing up was that I never got to truly know his heart (or at least we never sat down and had one of those deep conversations). 

I wish he could tell me somehow that he’s okay, and that he’s been reunited with those who went after he did. 

My anger has never been at God, but at the way the rest of the world seems to keep turning while trying to deal with the fact that this has impacted me without words to describe. Even as we’re still going through a pandemic and death is common, many of us hold grudges, live with hardened hearts, or don’t think before speaking, as if it could be the last time. Conflict should not be avoided at all costs, but discussion and resolution should always come from a place of love, regardless if those involved see eye to eye or not. 

I wrestle with that on a daily basis. That and wanting to tell certain people I love them without making it weird. 

I miss you Connor, now and always. 

I know you’re here in some ways, and until we meet again.

Inside

Off like a rocket it went

A brother dodging danger

A brief relief with a birthday and the beach

But when spring began it’s usual bloom

The warning signs began to blare

A virus, novel and like no other

From one corner of the world to the next

//

“Stay inside” reverberated some

While a so-called president twiddled his thumbs

Playing it off like a failed casino bet

Omission of truth, for who’s sake?

Declared a pandemic, despite the questioning and ignoring of common sense

Daily news briefs were almost too much to bear

Anxiety, chest pains, and lack of appetite by day

Depression descended as evening fell

//

“Routine, Productivity, Positivity!”

My body responding differently

I didn’t want comfort as much as I wanted personal connection

To physically feel common threads

My extroverted self a little lost in the hubbub

Afraid of losing the confidence I’d gained in the last year

//

So I stayed inside

Detesting “new normal”

Preferring currently reality

Though the unknowns loomed larger 

Than dormancy

A reprieve through walks and sunshine

Access to the water

Mom started a new chapter

The city came alive again

//

Behind closed doors

The desire to walk through fire

To support those who were struggling

To keep living, keep going

They needed me, and I needed them

Late nights

Deep conversations

Protective, patient, and learning how to hold space

Finding different ways

To carry them however I could

Capped by a reunion

A long time coming

//

And then the second wave

Predictable at one point

But could have been avoided

By collective responsibility and respect

The plea to stay inside again

Saved by the grace of changing colors and important milestones

I relished the tv specials

The snuggling up to read, watch, and just be

Real rest, without fear of missing out

My work in progress for as long as I can remember

//

But the fatigue is real

Body aches with unknown origins

Colder weather?

Lack of usual activity?

A response to stress?

//

Yet the most challenging aspect

Was not the confinement of four walls

But the confinement of thoughts inside my mind

Swirling around like storms

To reach out or give space?

To tell the truth, or pretend I’m ok?

Are you ok? Are we ok?

To ask for what I want/need

Or hold it in for as long as possible

//

Distraction could only do so much

When the healthy distractions weren’t always available

Overthinking, deeply feeling

Jealousy, more questions than answers

My prayers feeling dry and without heart

Sitting in the tension

I’m still learning

//

And as the calendar turns again

Cautiously Optimistic comes to mind

With new leadership

New possibilities

Changing seasons

A new year

//

I dream of music and dancing again

Lots of people

Opportunities for living

Being in nature

Assertive

Growing Confidence

Expression

Thriving

Roaring

Resilience (In The Age of Dumpster Fires)

One could say that I’m an embodiment of it. .

Resilience, before I could even comprehend it.

And yet, trying to harness it in 2020 feels like a joke. For most of us anyway. 

Cliche? Kind of. Overrated? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely, yes. 

It feels weird to say this, but in a way it’s almost as if the pain from previous years has prepared me for this one. 

What Hurt You Isn’t Going to Heal You. 

My early twenties were full of anger and angst, mostly regarding transitions where I felt neither protected nor validated. There was some resurfacing of past trauma, and then retraumatization all over again. I spent a lot of time stuck in my head, which brought on intense loneliness and fear of abandonment.

I thought I needed an apology to move forward, and pursued it with reckless desperation. I longed for a kind of nurturing and assurance that I wasn’t going to get from those around me, and it would be a while before I learned how to set boundaries and have reasonable expectations. 

A few months ago, an ex (whom I’ve referred to as Ben) tried to come back into my life. While grateful to finally have answers, his explanation regarding the circumstances didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to be with someone who attributed a serious situation to bad luck, rather than taking responsibility for his actions. It was emotional, bringing up a lot of what I had already closed the door on over a year ago. I had to mourn the end of that relationship all over again, and for what? 

My point is, apologies for causing pain aren’t always the balm we think they are. They have to come from a genuine place of contrition, rather than manipulation or lip service. But to demand or wait for one is almost always going to hold you back, rather than push you forward.

There Is Room For Both. 

It’s becoming one of my favorite sayings, especially when it comes to dealing with feelings versus logic, or many all at once. Anger, sadness, frustration, and the like can equally coexist with relief and hope for the future. You’re allowed to acknowledge hurt and pain, while recognizing that everyone involved was doing the best they could with what they knew at the time. 

I can remember a sit down conversation that was a long time coming, and afterward my mind went blank. It was partially due to emotional exhaustion, but additionally I wasn’t sure how to feel. At the time, it seemed like I had to be completely at peace in order to put the situation in perspective. And then as I was sharing it afterward, somebody whom I admire and trust dropped a truthbomb.

“You don’t have to decide anything; feelings come and go, and what’s more important is how you deal with them.”

It was life-changing, and I wish I had grasped it sooner.

Reframing Helps.

Moving forward is tricky, especially in regards to when and how to do it. Ruminating on anything takes a lot of energy, and eventually I get tired of being pissed off or upset. Yet, it seems like the modern-day definition of letting go is to do so and never talk about it again, let alone think about it. But what if there was a better way? 

A different viewpoint does go the distance. The things that happen to you might actually  be happening for you. A relationship that ends is painful, but it can also be a freedom or a catalyst for much needed change. Job loss doesn’t mean that you’re not enough, or that you’re not cut out for your field. What might be right in one respect could turn out to be wrong in another. 

Life happens in seasons, and not all can be there to walk with you through each one of them. It means you’re growing and evolving, and that is more than okay. 

How I carry on often comes down to these two questions: What do I have control over, and what do I not? Occasionally it’s what other choice do I have? I’ve had my heart broken, and despite the passage of time, am still triggered by a song, a place, or an event. The bitterness and sadness resurfaces, where the best thing I can do is acknowledge it and then let it be.

However, there are definitely exceptions: I will never tell a parent who outlives their child how to grieve, and vice versa. There are no silver linings when it comes to abuse and/or assault, and putting that on survivors is a slap in the face. Yes, there is healing, but that and the tragedy should be treated as separate circumstances. 

Practice Real Self-Care.

It sounds like a fluffy little buzzword, but taking care of yourself is a combination of doing the work and also seeking out joy. I’m an advocate for taking time to reflect through therapy and writing, seeing what role I played in a situation and what I’ve learned from it. Books and podcasts are like an extension of that, but in the sense of soaking in and meditating on it. As human beings, we should always be striving to grow and improve ourselves, even when it’s incredibly difficult. I don’t like realizing that I’ve hurt people, or most likely I contribute to a problem. But the work never hurts as bad as the wound itself. 

Like working any muscle, you have to allow yourself time and opportunity to rest. Go for a walk. Blast your favorite music and throw a dance party. Eat your favorite foods. Dress up merely for the sake of doing so. What makes you feel alive is just as important as crossing things off your to-do list. Whatever you do out of love and enjoyment is never a waste of time.

Staying grounded, particularly on a spiritual level, is important to me. I’m learning to turn off the news and put my phone down, even at the risk of missing out. While necessary to be informed, it doesn’t help if I’m in a constant state of anxiety and distress.

As I write this, I’m experiencing what is now being called pandemic fatigue. I understand the need to follow the guidelines, but from a mental standpoint, it doesn’t make it any less tiring. I’m now just getting comfortable asking, “can I cry with you?” while holding space with loved ones who are struggling. When I’m being vulnerable, it’s not always about looking for comfort, but wanting to feel connected and close to people. It’s unfortunate when real, honest expression is mistaken for negativity, and it bugs me. 

It’s one thing to be independent, but another to do so where you’re afraid to need anybody entirely.

Many of us are in the same storm, different boat scenario right now. We all want something to look forward to, and a light at the end of the tunnel. 

And we keep going; one day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

A Virus and A Reckoning

 

There were initially whispers of warning

Something is coming, sickness will spread

That were largely quieted by selfish ambition

Self-preservation  over people

Stocks over saving lives

Drowning out concern with cries of “hoax!”

Denying experts the right and necessity to speak

And hiding the truth from all who needed to hear it

Not a big deal

It will go away

 

But it hasn’t, and now hear we are

Hunkered down to ease the rise and chaos

Daily life, collectively, has come to a screeching halt

Like misbehaved children, we are forced to think about

What we should have done 

In terms of heeding the cries of science

Weaponizing faith and privilege instead

Of being mindful and prepared

 

For extroverts, a new territory

How long has it been since I last stayed home this long?

No social gatherings, church, or bopping around the city

Like living in an alternate universe

How the actual hell did we get here?

But I welcome the resting, reading, and reconnection

 

And from this I’ve seen

That connection is essential 

To the human experience

Conversation, vulnerability

And physical touch

The latter which I crave

And miss the most

 

But where do we go from here

When a lack of leadership and transparency

Have brought us collectively

To such a dark place in history

A legacy stained by lies, corruption, and sickness

Those on the right side of history trust facts and science

More than blubbering buffoons 

 

I pray for healing, restoration, and protection

Accountability for politicians that looked the other way

That we may learn from this devastating season

Taking a damn good look at ourselves

What many have enabled

 

There might be dollars and so-called power in big business

But solidarity in the small and local

Heroism belongs to the every-day workers who cannot stay home

God go with all of those on the front lines of this crisis

Let us support them, honor them, and lend them our hands

For there is speaking truth to power

And power in speaking the truth

 

I anticipate the day

When I can wrap my arms around the people I love

Dance in public

And worship in community

A celebration unlike one I’ve ever felt or seen

Until then I pray for peace and ease

Waiting and expecting

Let it be so

Intentions and Direction

I’ve never been one to make concrete “resolutions” per se, a wistful, yet gargantuan to-do list that seems easy to dream up, but difficult to keep. Over the past several years I’ve discovered the concept of setting intentions, which relies on the balance of discipline and grace rather than depending on the happy-go-lucky feeling of a New Year carrying one through the next twelve months. It doesn’t have to involve a timeline, and can evolve and reshape itself in whatever way helps you to grow. 

 

Start Small

I initially started out with a no-holds-barred journal entry of all that envisioned for the coming year. After splitting it all up into categories (Mental Health, Physical Health, Spirituality, and Creativity) I noticed that a lot of the changes I wanted to make involved regular habits. I thrive when I have a routine, and developing a solid rhythm  makes goal-setting both manageable and realistic. These habits include waking up early (6 a.m. during the week and 9 a.m. weekends), daily exercise and stretching, taking vitamins and medication, and making time to both read and write. While starting early doesn’t always guarantee productivity, it’s better to at least try than risk having to play catch up and foregoing basic needs (i.e. eating breakfast). I’ve learned multiple times over that an evening routine is just as important as what I do in the morning. 

 

Write It Down

And not only in the first few pages of a brand new journal. Set reminders in your phone. Put sticky notes in places where can you actually see them. Buy a planner (a first for me since college!)  Make your to-do list based on what will push you forward, rather than something to just cross off. But nothing will ever be accomplished if all you do is let something live inside your head. When I see it, it’s more like that I’ll follow through with it. 

 

Find Accountability

There is usually at least one person who is thinking along the same lines as you, whether they aim to be more disciplined in a certain area or you need a buddy to help take the scariness out of trying something new. Good therapists can help you get to the heart of why you’re putting something off (Writing essays are often terrifying; not so much due to the topic, but because of the possible heavy feelings/emotions that can and do follow). Ultimately, a healthy network, community, etc helps me to see the things that I often can’t see in myself, and reminds me to keep going when I simply don’t want to. 

 

I don’t remember where exactly, but a short time ago I came across a post that portrayed intentions, resolutions, and so on as a false sense of trying to have control over all aspects of our lives. I scoffed in response, but it stuck with me to an extent, reminding me of how busyness is often displayed as a badge of honor. Don’t forget to leave room for the unexpected, the magic that happens when you’re not planning things down to a science (especially if they involve deep conversations and laughter). If it seems like you’re doing something for the sake of pleasing others more than honoring yourself, it’s perfectly okay to pause and take a step back. And if you change your mind? There’s absolutely no shame in that either. What matters is that you walk with presence, in purpose, and to stay open to all possibilities. 

 

Here’s to a new year, and a new decade; Happy 2020!

When You Want To Be Ordinary

“Do you want to know why I bop around the city so much?” I asked him one day. 

“Why?” 

“I could be wrong, but I feel like there’s this whole thing about how twenty-somethings should be traveling and seeing the world as much as possible, and more so be willing to do that by themselves. For me, I can barely get through an airport without needing some kind of help, and being alone in a foreign country for an extensive amount of time seems scary and dangerous (especially since I have a physical handicap). By adventuring in Chicago, or even other cities around the country, I have that freedom to experience and try new things while still having that sense of safety and comfort of home.” 

///

It started during my junior year of college, where I began to wonder if I was giving as much as I was taking. 

After graduation, during a conversation with my primary care doctor, he told me that I needed to be an “example” for other adults with disabilities, and show them that there was more to life than just playing video games and living off supplemental income. It left a bad taste in my mouth, as most primary care doctors do when they act like they know what they’re talking about. 

And now as I’m job hunting and simultaneously reevaluating what direction I want to take my life in, that question continues to plague me: Am I doing enough? Am I living up to my potential? Am I fulfilling my purpose/calling? 

And while these questions are worth asking, the answer is much more complex than just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ These questions are a symptom of our busyness-is-a-badge-of-honor culture. As a woman with Cerebral Palsy, it stems from realizing that those with disabilities are either pitied or put on a pedestal, and the latter becomes the subject of inspiration porn/objectification. And that’s what scares me about doing The Big Things, such as writing a book, speaking in public, and/or becoming a full-blown internet celebrity: I’m terrified of losing my humanity, and becoming a stationary fountain of wisdom in the process. 

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but most people that I’ve seen slaying and hustling and making shit happen all at once  are also suffering on the inside: they’re physically and emotionally exhausted and they have to practically go off the grid in order to recharge. This is what marketing is. This is what making a living is. And if you want to make an impact, this is the kind of sacrifice you have to make. 

I call bs. Not because I have all of the answers, but because that type of rhetoric comes from listening to a cacophony of popular opinion as opposed to actively listening to individual experiences and one’s intuition. 

And while I’m still learning, this is what I know now: 

What you are capable of doing matters. You do not have to defy the odds all the time, or ever if you really don’t want to. You do not have to kick ass for the sake of making anyone feel better about themselves or more comfortable with your situation, especially if they’re able-bodied. Embracing what’s true for you does not equal mediocrity, but maturity. 

You are allowed to set boundaries, and you are allowed to have fun. Whether it’s shutting down your phone/computer at a certain time, or saying, “I support you, but I’m not qualified to treat you or heal you,” limits are absolutely necessary. I’m a huge advocate for discussing mental health and a host of other topics, but I also need play time and pleasure. It’s part of why I often send my people memes as much as I send inspirational quotes.  It’s part of why I enjoy watching Disney movies and reading People Magazine on a weekly basis. There is a lot more light to life than just listening to podcasts/sermons and reading self-help books. Especially if you experience brain overload or vulnerability hangovers quite easily. 

‘Living Your Best Life’ DOES NOT make you better than anyone else. You wanna be the next sexy, glamorous, entrepreneur? Godspeed my friend, and more power to you. But you are not superior to those that choose a trade school over a traditional university, or are doing what they have to do in order to support themselves It’s not always possible or practical for people to pursue something just because they’re passionate about it, and your passion might not be the thing that provides a paycheck. God needs those who are willing to do the every-day as much as He needs those who do the once in a lifetime. Your worth does not depend on how you contribute to the economy, or whether or not you contribute at all. And if you feel the need to preach about doing things, ‘like everyone else’ please check your damn privilege. 

Life is filled with a rhythm of rest and movement, and one that many overlook because they’re worried about living up to old, outdated expectations. It’s entirely possible for self-love and self-improvement to coexist, without the supposed need to choose one or the other. And just because you take a particular path for the time being does not mean you can’t ever change direction, change your mind, or just stop and be for a bit. Comparison is not only the joy, but the thief of everything that matters. 

I’m all for finding treasures in this world, but I’m also one for exploring my own backyard. 

Some call that backyard a jungle, I call it a playground.

Where some see loneliness, I see freedom and opportunity. 

Writing. Public Speaking. Advocating. Creating.

Maybe it’s unconventional, but I’m just doing my thing with great love. 

Perhaps it’s just a season, or maybe more. I do what I can, and let God take care of the rest.

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(photo by Rachel Loewen Photography)

Twenty-Seven

“Most people try to forget their birthdays, but you revel in it!”

I wasn’t sure if this was sarcasm or a compliment, but I couldn’t deny that I was trying to put some effort into making my twenty-seventh birthday worth celebrating. In previous years I’d struggled with expectations and feeling loved on this particular day, and it’s taken a lot of learning how to be vocal about what I want while also being present and appreciating things for what they are. I was filled with awe and gratitude over what happens when I allow whatever it is to unfold and not get caught up with the anxiety of the prison that often is my own head.

Twenty-six was unexpected, and a lot happened to where I still reflect and wonder how I got here. There were career ups and downs, most of which I didn’t see coming. Some of my dating experiences were amazing, but some were also disrespectful and even violated my personal boundaries. When it was good I was on top of the world, but when there was pain my first instinct was to close myself off and allow bitterness to seep in. I’d like to think that I’m a resilient person, but there were a number of times where all I could think about was, “I don’t want to go through this again.” I’d even get angry when a blessing that came after a long season of waiting seemed to be taken away faster than I could blink.

Life changes, and Life happens. You can hustle and pursue and try like hell to be perfect, but there will always be circumstances out of your control. I’m still learning, but I’d say the best resistance toward unforeseen storms is to be present and not take any of what you have in this moment for granted. It’s the balm that softens the loss of a job, the change in a relationship, or being rejected for whatever reason. And you have to allow yourself to feel and process before you can even think about there being a reason for it.

It’s been a constant back and forth between connection/closeness and feeling threatened, as though I’m in some kind of danger. I don’t like the extremes, and I want a kind of balance that allows me to interact with the world while still being aware of it. I believe in being both soft and kind-hearted, while being strong and not allowing what might just be temporary to break me.

Soft and Strong.

To not let the size of an opportunity make me feel small and insignificant.

To heal and cope with what I’ve buried in the back of my mind over time.

To not let the harshness of the world turn me into a shell of who I truly am.

Amen, and here’s to another life-changing year!

“Let Go, Let God” (And Other Things I’ve Learned)

A prompt and link-up, originally posted by Addie Zierman; I didn’t have time to join the official  train, but this nevertheless has been poking at me for a while.

 

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Let Go, Let God.

It was out of a Christian romance novel, spoken by the grandmother of a bride leading up to her wedding day. Calming and a lot less cliche than other phrases I’d grown accustomed to, it piqued an interest but I didn’t make much of it. A few years later, as I was still learning the ropes of being a freshman in college, I began to remind myself to “do what you can, and let God take care of the rest.” It seemed powerful enough, giving me peace and reassurance on some physically draining days and even lonelier nights. The words themselves have taken different shapes over the years, but the truth is still the same:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

I will hold you by your right hand, and I will guide you (Isaiah 41:10).

These verses have become pearls that I hold dearly, as I find myself in a position similar to eight years ago: this season of life is wonderful, but it’s also incredibly exhausting. The days (and tasks that come with it) are incredibly long and demanding, summoning a kind of strength that wouldn’t be possible without such promises. There’s a lot of joy in having a more defined purpose (professionally), though my anxiety has skyrocketed because everything involved is rather unpredictable. I have a less active social life because both my body and brain are so tired, where I’m less inclined to plan things and have even skipped out on birthday celebrations because I don’t want my immune system to crash. And while I have never worn busyness like a badge of honor, I have experienced the guilt that comes with saying “no” or “another time.” I have to trust that people will understand that I’m only practicing self-care, and that I shouldn’t spend my energy on those that don’t.

Of course that kind of surrender feels passive at times; oh, our country is in chaos and everybody wants to be savage and aloof, but God will fix it all. We don’t have to take care of the planet because one day He’ll wipe it all out. And there’s no need to believe in modern medicine because faith is always more than enough.

Everybody wants a miracle, but nobody actually wants to be a miracle.

When I show up and do my part, so does He. Wherever I go, He will meet me there (even if it is in the wrong direction). The question is knowing what my part is in whatever I’m being led or called to, and how do I make a difference without compromising my mental health?

For someone who battles anxiousness on a daily basis (and feels like she has to be accountable to everything), there is ultimately comfort in knowing I can only do so much. It’s a relief to be reminded that there are often other people and other factors involved, and one cannot bear the weight of an entire situation or relationship.

There is room for both intention in the future, and contentment in the present season.

And there is room for both comfort and confliction.

Going Back To Church (Or Trying To)

 

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I go to church, but I have not gone regularly since I was seventeen years old.

Around the 2008 election, I began to hear the hissing whispers of what now seems to define the Evangelical Christian movement on the cultural landscape: You have to be a Conservative Republican. Pro-life and Anti-Abortion. Do not support marriage that does not involve a man and a woman. And having sex before that means you will not have anything to give to your future spouse (especially if you are a woman). The Bible is clear on X, Y, and Z. If you don’t fully believe in any of these things, you must not truly love Jesus.

Uh, what?

That led to an even bigger question: should I believe these things because I feel that they truly right? Or have I just been spoon-fed every Sunday to do/say what a pastor tells me to?

I froze, spiritually, as if merely speaking that out loud turned me into an outsider. I was terrified to bring it up with anyone, given the friendships I’d cultivated since that first summer at a youth group camp were beginning to fade and I feared being brushed off and simply told to “check the Bible.” It seemed much easier to just sleep in, rather than try to sing words that sounded hallow or nod along to a message aimed at the absolutes rather than those who dare question and investigate.

God and church. Church and God. Such an intertwine was all I had known back then, and needed to take time to untangle.

College made me both curious and apprehensive to see what faith looked on campus, attending various groups and giving each one a genuine try. There was an emphasis on being different, and I already was fighting a separate battle with unintentionally standing out in the face of ignorance. There was always something off about the atmosphere, a superior us versus them mentality. I was only a freshman, and didn’t want to get pitted against a place I was just beginning to love and would be at for the next four years. I would attend Sunday services every so often, but continued to keep lingering doubts to myself. I wanted belonging, but not enough to risk rejection.

I was far from the pews, but not from the foundation; I still prayed regularly, kept a journal, and read the Bible. I knew that I needed God, but I also needed to see what that looked like between Sundays. I had lived a shelter life as a young girl, and didn’t want to be confined by four walls while on my own. I still had many a spiritual conversation in bars, coffee shops, and even after a weekly summertime tradition of The Bachelorette.  I’m grateful for the friends that reassured me this season was normal and human and nothing to be ashamed of.

A transitional nudging led me to one of the most popular megachurches in my local area, yet real connections were sparse, and I kept wondering if I would ever find a gathering place to call home, especially as I was evolving into adulthood.

Writing this, home seems to look like a hodgepodge of different cultures and ethnicities, neighborhoods that have their own distinct vibe and flavor. Whenever the fundamentalist/progressive divide becomes apparent, I remember how important it is to be aware, but not afraid (at least to the point of running away from real community). I don’t see the point in debating, because ultimately we can have the same beliefs but different convictions on how to live out those beliefs. I’ve learned that it’s okay to disagree with those you admire, and still gain knowledge and wisdom from them. But yet I cannot deny what has been tugging at the core of my soul for a long time:

There are some things that are just between a person and God, whether it has to do with their body or their sexuality. Sometimes, “speaking the truth in love” means simply listening, and remembering that we humans have a limited perspective in comparison to the One who created us.

Leaving church (for however long) does not equate to abandoning God. Yes, we are called to gather together, but that is no reason to invalidate wounds, pain, and abuse caused by it. There will be seasons where Jesus Calling and online podcasts feel safer than walking through sanctuary doors.

Anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health struggles have absolutely NOTHING to do with a lack of faith. Pastors are not the same as doctors or psychiatrists, and be wary of those who act like they are. It is wise to seek counseling, and it is just as wise to take medication if you feel moved to do so.

If you don’t want to be lumped in with those that feel they need to hate certain groups of people in order to be “good Christians”, then stand up and live out who you say you are.

I am still wrestling with a lot, especially when it comes to gray, or even flat out bad theology. I don’t like the term “broken” because of how it was used against me as a young girl by those that bullied and ultimately misunderstood me. Phrases like “hungry” or “thirsty” often make me want to draw closer to God than the former; reminding me that I still desperately need Him without feeling less than human.

I could never be an atheist; I have been through too much and experienced enough miracles to know that we didn’t just get here by simply appearing out of nowhere. There is something much bigger than you and I, although I cannot pretend to understand or comprehend all of it. That is why faith is often referred to as a mystery.

Funny how when I first started attending church, I sought out a safe place from what I had no control over. Nearly ten years later, I find myself in similar circumstances, though my brain is still a sponge.

I still have questions and am skeptical at times, but the beauty of faith is being able to discuss it all on a deeper level and be able to grow from it. Wherever my journey takes me, I trust that what is hurt will lead to healing, and what needs transforming will lead to grace.

Unconventionally Feeling

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It’s a choice, a destination, and the only “good” emotion within the spectrum. It’s something we pursue not for the sake of enjoying life, but in order to avoid dealing with the realities and complexities that come with it.

Perhaps the concept of happiness has become a total cliche. 

Why can’t you just be happy?

As a young girl, I didn’t know the answer, and still have a hard time with it now . I look back and see the irony, as this kind of question usually came from those who were miserable in their own circumstances or couldn’t deal with their own pain, and therefore put it onto me. But still that one phrase followed me around like the plague, to the point where I started to resent my feelings, emotions, and even my personality for not being able to automatically plaster on a smile.

The fog started to lift as I began my freshman year of college; I had a sense of belonging, a group of friends, and was no longer in the thick of dysfunction. I was fully alive and present to what was happening around me, and I held onto it to where I can still recall most memories. But slowly, the spark began to dim, and I didn’t know why or what it meant. I went to therapy and took time to sort through a hefty amount of baggage, but even after five years of doing so, the heaviness is still there most of the time.

 

It comes in Small Pockets and Waves

Being a writer makes me observant and detail-oriented. I love things like coffee, wine, and pasta. I go on walks a lot, and it’s amazing what thirty minutes to an hour outside (or even just exercising) can really do for me both physically and mentally. There’s nothing like the excitement of a hockey game, or a somewhat long hug where both of us don’t want to let go. I’ve rediscovered the joys of singing to my favorite songs and not thinking too much about how I sound, and if my body feels inclined, I’ll go ahead and dance. Candles are calming, especially while reading books when I feel like yelling, “ME TOO” because the author seems like he or she could be a kindred spirit. I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas and will stop at nothing if I’m craving chocolate or ice cream.

But it’s not just about me; I share memes and funny pictures because I’m hoping it might make the other person laugh the way I did. I’ll send interesting or quirky articles because they remind me of that particular friend, and in a way it’s my way of saying, “I like this about you and I’m glad we have this in common.” I do get a little self-conscious about going overboard, but I’d hope that that person would tell me if they didn’t appreciate it.

Feelings are often momentary, which is why I refuse to wait for reassurance that it’s safe to let myself enjoy something, or wait to see if the other shoe drops. Even if I only have it for a certain amount of time, that’s time I might not get back or have a second chance at.

It might seem unbelievable, mostly because I do these things by myself. Therefore, not everyone sees when I’m in a good mood. But it’s there, and I shouldn’t have to constantly document it in order to prove it.

 

The Darkness Exists

It’s a black cloud that often manifests itself in the form of depression and anxiety. I can’t say if I have either or both and to what extent, but I can sense that they’re there. Whether they’re professionally diagnosed or not, mental health conditions make constantly thinking positive a little bit complicated. I experience what I’ve begun to call “dark moments” that are either triggered by something, usually on social media or loud arguments. Not too long ago, I sat in my bathroom thinking that my friends and family would be better off if I just disappeared out of their lives, or at least didn’t come back for a little while. I felt unwanted. I wondered if I mattered. I nearly convinced myself that I was worthless and unlovable. I wrestled with texting friends that I sensed would understand, but I didn’t want to worry/burden them on a Saturday night while most of them were busy. And I didn’t want to be a bother if it would only last for a night as opposed to a period of days.

We also forget that puberty and hormones play a role, or the fact that life ebbs and flows. It impacts. It changes. And it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to stay the same throughout the years that follow.

 

A Different End Goal

There’s a lot less pressure when it comes to setting a goal to feel good and/or whole, as opposed to reaching a destination based on circumstances or expectations. One is not required to have a sunshine and rainbows persona in order to take care of themselves and ultimately live a healthy life. Rather than looking at the glass as half full or half empty, it’s possible to give thanks that there’s even water in the glass. And you have to do these things for yourself, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s ideal of who you should be or how you should feel. No one should ever have to prove that they are “OK” despite what they have to deal with, nor should they have to prove that their pain and struggle is valid.

But in retrospect, a lot of it has to do with the type of person I am I’m a deep feeler and have a tendency to both cry and laugh pretty often (and easily, might I add). Sometimes I genuinely wish I could switch it off like the rest of the world seems to do, because at least it would be easier to blend in and therefore not seem like a lame duck. I’m told that I’m better off for it, yet am not always sure myself.

Everybody handles their own sense of well-being differently, so I get when those on the other side of the fence become frustrated if someone they care about seems constantly down and out. But rather than asking about why they can’t seem to get it together, ask how you can help them and support them with whatever they’re going through. In my experience, I do get particularly emotional (waterworks and all) when I’ve been holding things in for a long time, and have no idea how to talk about any of it without fear of being judged or condemned. Having a safe space (for lack of a better phrase) or a listening ear is much better than a to-do list of how I should fix myself or the situation.

If nothing else, l want to be free to live in the moment when those good moments are present. For instance, I’m prone to start giggling or smiling at incredibly random times, usually because there’s something that reminds me of another something that happened previously. This is usually in public, like at a grocery store or while I’m out walking, and an (unnamed) family member will jokingly warn me that everyone else probably thinks I’m crazy. That might be true to an extent, but if it helps me to smile and not feel the weight of the world for a little bit, then that’s a small price I have to pay.

Despite the exclusivity, at the heart of things I’m beyond grateful that I allow myself the ability to feel, whether it’s happy or sad. Not everyone can say that, and what’s worse is not all will allow themselves to experience it.

You don’t have to choose between being Tigger and being Eeyore. You can teeter-totter between both, and chances are more people do that than they’re willing to admit.

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