What If I Don’t Want to Guard My Heart Anymore?

Whether you grew up in the church or spent the majority of your teen years in a youth group, you were probably told that your heart was “deceitful” (Jer. 17:9), but that you should “guard” it, because “everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). I mostly heard it in relation to how to navigate the already confusing landscape of dating, particularly when I fell in love for the first time when I was only thirteen.


Yet that responsibility was also being imparted to me (in a non-religious way) before I walked through the sanctuary doors. I learned to subconsciously believe that being liked and accepted meant that I had to present myself in a certain way. That I shouldn’t allow anyone to see my complex or emotional side until we had known each other for a while. And if I wanted to be loved, I needed to put on a happy face.

I tried to act in a way that was safe and comfortable, but was put off by the concept of friendship (and perhaps more) becoming a revolving door that people would walk in and out of. It was a cycle of hoping, overanalyzing, and then closing myself off. Deep down, all I really want was to get to know others and be known, but I couldn’t tell the difference between what was healthy and unhealthy. I carried it with me from junior high through college, and even today I’m still shaking it off.

But it’s not just about what we learn from our upbringing; unfortunately, we live in a culture that constantly warns us against the dangers of taking risks and getting too close. From relationships to careers to fulfilling our lifelong dreams, it’s all about doing whatever we have to do in order to avoid pain.

Nearly everything these days is saturated in fear. In some respects it’s completely understandable, but when it comes to personal interaction, it’s getting kind of ridiculous. There’s no formula that guarantees love and acceptance after opening up to someone. And because we’re all flawed human beings here, we’re all going to get hurt at some point. But there’s a difference between pain that results from our own impulsive or bad decisions, and pain because we knew what we were getting into and the other person did not show up.

As my own convictions and beliefs have been reshaped through the years, I’m beginning to see that taking “guard your heart” so literally is actually more harmful than it is helpful. It gave me the false idea that I had more control in relationships, and that if I went about it so carefully, I could in turn make people care about me without taking too big of a chance. It led me to believe that I was responsible for others’ emotional reactions and making sure that they didn’t disappear as I peeled back the layers. I glorified self-protection, and eventually became self-reliant. What I thought would bring me closer to God actually took me away from Him, and I regret what I missed out on as a result.

On the contrary, I don’t propose blindly following feelings and emotions either: you can want something so desperately that you can’t stop thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Treating your heart like a runaway train is just as dangerous as treating it like a caged animal that has to be under lock and key. If God created us with this thing that is essentially the center of our bodies and physically keeps us alive, then it can’t be all that terrible; it just needs a little guidance.

I’m entering into a new season, and one that involves a lot of vulnerability and taking leaps of faith. I don’t want to guard my heart anymore as much as I want to guide it. The process itself is for another post, but it really comes down to getting real with God about everything, and being grateful for new opportunities, regardless if they’re just for today or for a lifetime. It’s a matter of trusting Him completely, rather than relying on my own limited understanding of what’s happening at the moment (Proverbs 3:5-6). And it’s experiencing the peace that comes from gratitude and surrender, allowing that to act as a protector rather than trying to do it all myself (Phil. 4:6-8).

Discernment is important, but I refuse to resort to legalistic measures, hoping that God will somehow bless me if I follow some silly formula or outdated process. It’s entirely possible to proceed with caution and listen to your instincts while still enjoying the journey of exploring something new and putting yourself out there. When I don’t do that, I miss out on the joys of learning, growing, and perhaps even healing. Yes, that is the real tragedy in putting up walls; it’s a refusal to have faith that He is in the business of healing and miracles, even those that come from pain, suffering, and re-piecing a broken heart back together.

I’m not going to tell you to not get hurt, because a painless existence is not of God. The truth should set you free, but it shouldn’t hold you back and keep you hidden either. Pay attention, but remember that experiences are meant to be treasured, not dictated.

And remember this: You’re going to be OK.

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What Your Twenties REALLY Mean



She had come to give a presentation for the “Last Lecture” series during Iowa’s Senior Week. With a month or so left before I graduated college, I was anxious for the change and transition ahead. Listening to her speak was like talking to a like-minded friend; apparently I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to Carpe Diem or base my decisions off of “you only live once.” Her belief that your twenties are a defining decade, setting the foundation for years to come, resonated with me. The actual book was both insightful and refreshing.

Reading it was one thing, but living it out was an entirely different story. As I applied for jobs and made a genuine effort to meet people, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was on a race against time. It had less to do with Meg Jay’s Millennial-based philosophy, and more so with the horrifying tragedies that seemed to occur on a daily basis. Do I really have enough time? What if it all ends before I actually accomplish something? I was told that it was normal to struggle, but the urge to do more and to be better still lingered.

My personality and interests were also changing and evolving, and I wondered if I was turning into an old lady who didn’t know how to have fun anymore. My alcohol tolerance was going down, and I could barely fathom the idea of staying up past midnight for a consecutive amount of time. I longed for a partner, and to be surrounded by those who let me be as serious or as silly as I wanted to be. These were natural desires that related to growing up, but I needed confidence to understand it.

An enlightening conversation led me to watching Meg’s TedTalk, having forgotten the majority of her previous presentation. She frequently discusses women’s fertility and marriage, and insinuates that females are less desirable after the age of thirty. She can spell out what young people should be doing, as though there’s a type of concrete formula that bridges certainty with success. I could see how her ideas would not bode well with some, and leave others in confusion.

But what if it’s not about having to choose between prolonged adolescence and responsibility? What if our twenties were the starting platform of merely being intentional with our dreams and decisions, rather than just taking it to one extreme or another?

Sure, you’ll still stumble around and make mistakes, and things might not happen when you want them to. But there’s a difference between exploring/pursuing, and trying to conform to some BS culturally infused identity because either you’re scared or you don’t know what you want.

Whether you’re a young one or a few decades in, adulthood is always going to involve adjusting to both the messy and the beautiful. It’s the time to learn about who you are and fully embrace it, even if that means setting an example and being a leader for the people around you. You’re no longer living in this ridiculous, unrealistic bubble that surrounded you in high school, and maybe even college. Every path is different, too complex and layered to have a singular “classic” experience.


The thorn of it is that nearly everyone is going to try to give you advice. Age might make a person wise, but it does not always make a person right. With social media, comparison is almost unavoidable, especially in regards to careers and personal relationships. The internet is one big smorgasbord of opinions, and if you ‘re not careful they’ll drive you crazy. You’ll feel like you’re in a tug of war, like you have to choose one side or the other.

But you don’t; you can be proactive without an insane amount of pressure. You can have fun and be curious, while still setting boundaries. You can spend part of the night at a bar with your friends, and then go home and watch Netflix in your pajamas. You can be romantic and realistic. And you can go through changes on the outside, but still be exactly who you are on the inside. Anyone who says otherwise is probably insecure or has an extremely narrow view on life.

Maybe you’re comfortable with who you are, and self-doubt still persists. Maybe tuning out the noise seems exhausting, and you can appreciate the occasional affirmation once in a while. It’s not about being ignorant of the fact that you’re human, but rather keeping it all in perspective.

At some point you have to ask, why am I doing this and who am I doing it for? If your answer doesn’t involve you or God, than you need to take a step back and figure out why.

The “Glory Days” exist because someone was willing to put a vision into action and make the most of the opportunities they were given. It’s not about age; you experience different things at different times because of maturity (or lack of it), surroundings, and recognizing what you can’t control and what I can’t. I was a bit of a late bloomer in certain areas, and I understand now that it’s because I wasn’t ready. Yet I’m grateful that I took risks and chose to be vulnerable, because it’s better to discover that something isn’t right than to wonder I have regrets and wish I had gone about it differently, but if I got everything I ever wanted at one time, I would probably take it for granted.

Forget the list of cliche things you should do before you’re twenty-five or thirty. Traveling, marriage, independence, cultivating habits, and so on are great, but don’t make it about a checklist. Focus on experience, and making every experience count.

It can be overwhelming and frustrating, knowing that you have time but not necessarily all the resources or ability to do what you want.  I can’t predict where my own path will lead, but I do know that I intend not to waste any of it; and in hindsight, when you have the right attitude and surround yourself with good people, you never waste anything at all.

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Faith (In Moments)

“Where is your Hope tonight?”

The guitar chords began to strum faintly, signaling us to stand. I could feel the tears start to prickle at my eyes, the weight of the week threatening to overcome me. I was homesick, exhausted, and a little overwhelmed. It was my first time at camp ever, away from my parents, having all these experiences and emotions that I didn’t know what to do with.

My camp counselor leaned over and quietly asked if I wanted to go talk. Without a word, we both stood up and began making our way out of the makeshift sanctuary toward a nearby park. We sat down on the edge of a sandbox as I attempted to explain all that was going on in my thirteen year-old mind. 

She asked me if I wanted to know God, though I thought I knew him well enough from all the pleading and bargaining I did in the past. Part of the reason why I was on that trip in the first place was because of going to my neighbor’s youth group for the last six months. The pastor explained everything in a way that made more sense than multiple years of Catholic religious education ever could, and this whole week I could feel a deeper sense of longing. I wanted that connection, that wholeness that was discussed literally every single night, but I couldn’t find the words.

“Alyx, you are a treasure, and God desperately wants you to know and understand that.”

I nodded and bowed my head, something deep down indicating that I had reached the end of my rope. I closed my eyes and prayed along with her, something that in various Christian circles is known as the Sinner’s Prayer. I recall that when I opened my eyes, the sun was shining almost blindingly through the Montana pine trees, and I seriously wondered if I was witnessing a supernatural phenomenon.

 I would not recognize the impact of that decision for a very long time, but in that moment I was just grateful to feel lighter, and actually have a smile on my face.
This past Monday marked ten years since that day. Ten life-changing, wonderful, awkward, painful, side-splitting, breath-taking, joyful, insightful years.

I look back on that time and can now admit that I had no idea what I was actually doing. Not that I didn’t want it or didn’t mean it; I had scars on my wrist and on my heart that needed healing. I had anger and self-hatred that was consuming my whole being, and continuing down that road would have killed me. That being said, I was young and hadn’t been raised with any particular set of beliefs, having to investigate and practice my faith on my own. When you’re only thirteen, fourteen years old, you can only grasp or comprehend so much.

As a teenager, I often equated my relationship with God to my relationship with church. Church was my safe haven, a place I could go to when school or life at home became too chaotic. If I understood the sermon, I understood God a little bit better. If I felt close with my friends at youth group, I felt close with God. We would go on weekend trips and experience a kind of “Jesus high”, then come back and lose it in the midst of every-day, real-life stuff. It was very surface-level, and on the outside it probably looked like I was doing everything for the wrong reasons. The next four years were like being tossed around in a tiny boat in the middle of violent storm: my parents’ marriage was collapsing, and I was using every ounce of emotional strength in me to hold onto the idea of my family that I had grown up with. Being a sensitive and observant person, I was more aware of the tension than I needed to be. I had very little self-confidence, and that definitely affected how I interacted with others.
My need to survive eclipsed a willingness to fully embrace and rest in God’s love.

Love and validation from family, friends, and peers seemed more tangible than eternal promises in heavily interpreted texts.

I knew that God loved me, but genuinely believing it was and has been a different story. And that has always been my struggle, causing me to chase after false hopes and depend on circumstances that had no guarantees.

When I went to college, I realized that church was slowly eclipsing God, and I did not want to relate to my creator based on a checklist, performance, or exclusiveness. That is another post for another time, but I stepped away from church for a while. I needed to learn how to separate the two, to measure myself by Grace instead of perfection.
There was no singular moment, no epiphany of sorts, but a lot of moments that I revisited on a regular basis. A lot of writing; poetry, journals, essays, questions. Praying for the anxiety to subside and the tears to dry.

I ran into walls multiple times over, reminding me that partying, boys, and climbing the career ladder was not going to give me what I needed.

And I knew deep down that I needed God; I always have and I always will. Knowing the challenges that I’ve faced, I can’t go through life just simply existing without some sort of foundation, an anchor that keeps me grounded. I want to seek Him in the midst of all the cacophony, without the fear of becoming hateful or judgmental. That’s why I’ve hesitated to immerse myself in my faith, because of what Christianity is associated with now a days. I have my own opinions about a variety of topics, but it’s easy to start second-guessing them when I hear enough people screaming and shouting about Truth and love and supposedly being right. It makes me want to run.
But I don’t want to run anymore, at least not for the sake of survival. If I’m going to run, it’s going to be towards something.

From the outside, I don’t always act like a Christian, and haven’t really been during this last year or so. I curse. I drink. I let my imagination go for joyrides. I’ve learned more toward anger and defensiveness than forgiveness.  I raise my voice (and am tempted to raise my fists), when I should be hitting my knees.

When I reflect on the last ten years, I’m honestly not sure how to feel. But when I think about now, and occasionally down the road, I want more than anything to just be healthy, free, and secure. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To not live inside my head anymore, but to live out what is on my heart; to be vulnerable, so that I can be reminded of who I am and why I’m here. That will take time, discipline, strength, gentleness, and accountability.  And perhaps it’s not necessarily about forcing myself to change, but allowing myself to be changed in the process. To be molded by the unseen, but still shrouded in love.
May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
-Romans 15:13


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Stepping in Different Directions


What was the biggest decision that you made this year? How has it affected you?

On the outside, it didn’t look like that big of a deal because it was informal and we rarely ever talked at that point. But in my heart, cutting my first love completely out of my life was by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; perhaps not as a whole, but definitely this year. I didn’t want to, but there wasn’t much of a choice because everything involving him was starting to become unhealthy. Adding to that, it wasn’t fair to put my fears and insecurities onto others; if I was going to get past all of those, he needed to be out of the picture for good. There were no words exchanged, just deleting his number and making sure he could no longer see my Facebook profile. It was a relief, but also just flat-out-weird; I had no idea what to do afterward, and ended up going on a bit of an adventure for the next six months in trying to figure it out. I prayed, wrote, kissed, dated, drank, talked, and cried. Not only was I letting go of a special person, but the person whom I believed I would marry one day. 

Looking back on it almost a year later, I fully understand that it was for the best. It’s a pain in the heart when you’ve invested in somebody for almost eight years, but our relationship had become one-sided. I didn’t really know him anymore and I’m willing to admit that I might not have known him at all. But I wouldn’t trade any of the time we spent together for the world. 

Not many people are aware of this, but the whole reason we got so close in the first place was because I was going through a very rough time. My self-esteem was a roller-coaster in the midst of changing friends and distant family members, especially my parents. I should have gone to a pastor or another adult at my church that I was attending, but I didn’t trust adults back then. He supported me without judgment and ultimately helped me survive. He was the first person who ever told me that God loved me, and convinced me that cutting my wrists and popping pills wasn’t the answer, among other issues. I know there were those that looked at us with raised eyebrows, but the idea of having to explain that stuff to anyone else was unbearable. 

That’s why I choose not to be angry or hold a grudge; he took care of me in ways that I needed to be, but I had no idea how to articulate. I am not ashamed to say that it’s nice to be taken care of, regardless of all the crap out there involving self-reliance or what the true nature of a relationship is. While God should always be one’s true foundation, we weren’t put on this earth with others to walk through life alone. It took me a long time to get that, and I’m still learning. 

I did go through and grow from a season of dating, but also made the decision to take a step back from that for the time being. Most of the dates were fine and I appreciated the experience, but a lot of the guys weren’t the type that I genuinely want to be with. I totally support giving chances when appropriate, but when your instincts are telling you that it’s not going to work, it’s best to listen to them. I often had a “down the road” mentality, where I thought I would find a reason to like a guy once I got to know him better. And while I believe that can and does happen, the chances are slim when hardly any of your values line up. But the subject of dating in itself is for another post. 

I’m not going to say that I don’t miss him at times, but more so I miss the affection and the sense of intimacy that we had. However, not having him around has been like a breath of fresh air: I have standards for a relationship that go beyond just being nice and the willingness to accept me as I am. And it’s not just about deserving better, but actually needing better. By looking at the bigger picture, I understand that I need so much more than what I thought I did at thirteen or fourteen. 

Knowing what I know now, I wish I hadn’t taken him for granted. But despite all that has happened, I think it all turned out the way it was supposed to. Just because something or someone isn’t forever doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. He does and will probably always have a place in my heart: not in hope or wishful thinking, but in gratitude. And that’s why I’m writing this; I choose not to be cynical, but instead thank God for that particular blessing and that special time. It doesn’t always make moving forward easy, but it makes it doable.

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A Letter To My Sister

Dear Sissy,

  I know that we haven’t called each other that for ten years, but since you’re on the brink of going into high school, I figured now was a once-in-a-blue-moon chance to use it again. And just so you know, I’m writing this because I know that realistically you probably wouldn’t read it had I wrote one by hand and left it at home for you. So in that spirit, I will do my best not to be overly sappy or sentimental, but no promises. I hope you will somehow come across this, so that I can pass on the wisdom that I’ve gained over the years

I can’t believe that in a couple of days, you’ll be walking through the doors of both mine and our brother’s alma matter as a high school freshman. It’s still incredibly easy to picture you as a rosy, chubby-cheeked four year old asking way too many questions or dancing around to Brother Bear and High School Musical. Regardless of how old you get, I will always somehow picture you as that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the young lady you’re becoming. It’s likely that we’ll have different experiences, but I would like to offer some insight as well.

First, it’s normal to be nervous on the first day, and even for the first year. I recall being absolutely terrified of the possibilities and things that could go wrong. Not only did I not trust very many people at the time, but I wasn’t completely comfortable with my decision to attend a private school over a public school. Not I don’t know where exactly you are, but you seem pretty confident in your choice. However, my fear was more than just about making the right decisions and making new friends. It was about losing the friends that I already had at the time.

With that being said, always be open to meeting new people, and don’t try to hold on to how life used to be. People will come in and out of your life at different times, but the ones who are meant to be there will always be somehow standing in the doorway. My closest friends are the ones that I didn’t (and still don’t) necessarily talk to every day or spend a ton of time with. Yet, we always are able to love and support each other. Sometimes we grow apart for a little while, but eventually we come back together.

My point is to appreciate who and what is right in front of you. They say not to have regrets, but my one big one is not really taking the time to genuinely get to know my classmates; not everyone will become part of your inner circle, but just because you aren’t besties doesn’t mean you can’t care about each other.

Most likely you’ll have your share of ups and downs; it’s easy to look back and say “don’t sweat the small stuff,” but I also remember what it’s like to be a teenager and not be able to see beyond certain things. Part of me wants to tell you not to worry about the boys and getting dates, because the chances of them caring about you the way you should want and deserved to be loved are pretty slim at your age. Yet, I never had a serious boyfriend for any of those four years, so I can’t say whether you’re better off being single or not. If one comes along and takes the time to get to know you for who you are, don’t deny yourself that experience. But don’t tie your worth and energy into one person’s opinion of you. Know when to hold on and when to let go, and that goes for everything. You have more fun when you’re willing to just let it happen if it’s meant to. I’ve found that the greatest joys frequently turn out to be the unexpected (and unplanned) ones.

And this might be a little awkward coming from me, but I’m guessing you’ll probably become curious about experimenting with alcohol at some point. I’m glad to see that you have little interest in it right now, but that can change over the years. It’s easy to proclaim that you’re never going to do something (I should know because that was me at your age), but you never know what kind of environment you’ll find yourself in, or how things and interests can change at any point. I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t do in this regard, because it’s honestly not my place. It should be a conversation for you and our parents to have together. I can only hope that when you’re faced with any kind of temptation or pressure to do something risky, you’ll ask yourself if it’s worth it. Regardless if it involves drinking, drugs or sex, you’ll ask yourself if it’s worth giving up your dreams, your goals, and even your life for. 

But it’s not so much about being a good person or never messing up as much as it is about being a kid. People now a days are in such a rush to grow up without realizing that there is a reason why childhood spans as long as it does. And granted, there is always something special about every phase of life that you go through, but don’t constantly try to find shortcuts when one might be better than the other. That’s not to say you won’t ever make a mistake, but there’s a difference between doing something out of curiosity and doing something when you know very well that it’s a bad idea. 

My hope and prayer for you is about so much more than just making good choices, it’s about the kind of person you become. When our brother and I were in high school, people had the tendency to compare us to one another; not to say that I didn’t mind that, but it was tough at times trying to establish my own identity apart from him. I felt like not many of the guys wanted to get to know me because they were afraid of what he would do, or they would look as me as just “the sister.” My point is, you have a chance to become more of your own person. Don’t just wait until your senior year to make your mark, but leave a legacy for other people to follow. I have no doubt that you’ll be a strong leader as an athlete, but there are other avenues of respect as well. I hope you’ll become a young woman of kindness, compassion, and faith. While I’m not sure what you think of God, but I also hope that someday you’ll find a spiritual foundation. It’s not about religion, but realizing that there is something bigger than you out there, and there will be times where you have no choice but to trust it. 

I want you to be able to confide in me if and whenever you’re struggling, but that’s easier said then done. As I said before, we’ll probably have different experiences and it’s not always easy to relate to someone when there’s a seven year age gap. I do want to hear about things like homecoming and classes and sports, but if you’re comfortable enough with it, I want to hear about the tough stuff as well. And if you feel like you can’t talk to me or Mom about it, it’s always good to find someone who’s a year or two older and has a good head on their shoulders. My closest friends from high school range from a year to three years older than me, and having them in my life has been more of a blessing that I can describe. 

By the end of it all, it may turn out that these next four years aren’t your “glory days” and that’s OK. It might just be a stepping stone to something greater, as it was for me. While the ride may not be the smoothest,  that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t throw your hands up and make the most of it. 

I love you so much, and I know you’re going to do well. Despite that I may be away from home a lot of the time, I will always be here to support you and take care of you in whatever way you need it, which is why I’ve written this. I wish you the best for your first day, as well as for this new and special chapter in your life. 

Love always, 

photo credit: demandaj via photopin cc

For My Guy Friends

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the importance of having girlfriends and what it meant to me. As I read over it, I started to think that my guy friends deserved to be honored as well.

 I didn’t start investing in those kinds of friendships until seventh or eighth grade. Part of it was by natural inclination, and the other part was because I was wary of being around girls too much. I was picked on and bullied for a majority of those two years, and I needed to be able to get away from the cattiness and gossip. As a teenager, I carried a lot of insecurities, particularly when it came to having a handicap. When I was with them, I felt genuinely accepted and cared for, which carried over into high school as well.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate them for more than just being confidants. There were those that I met in my first year of college that frequently took me out on the town, because they saw where I was coming from in terms of wanting to just let loose and be a regular college kid. I liked that they weren’t overly worried about my physical safety and trusted me enough to speak up for myself if I needed anything. They would regularly ask if I was OK, and in turn I was able to take responsibility for myself and the choices I made
But as a whole, I’m grateful for how they treat me as a person; I feel more normal when I’m around them than any other time. It is very rare that we ever touch on the fact that I have cerebral palsy, regardless of who they are or how long I have known them for. Some have asked out curiosity, and that is why I have tremendous respect for those that are willing to openly discuss the matter instead of make assumptions.
 And whether anyone asks or not, I’ve realized that it’s probably not a big deal to them, nor does it define me. I’m still “Al” or any one of the dozen nicknames I’ve been given (one of them was from a car commercial, and another was because I constantly wore a pink fuzzy Northface jacket around campus). There are those that have an amazing sense of humor and we often spend time joking around about stuff. And despite that I sometimes appear to take it seriously, it’s only because I’m not sure how to respond with something as equally funny. Half of the time I just sit there and laugh until I can’t breathe.
It’s nice to do different things with different people, and creates a healthy balance.  I think everybody needs to have friends who can challenge their perspective and motivate them to be the best person that they can be. Not too many of mine know it, but a lot of them have been positive influences and strong examples since the day I met them. My instincts told me that there was something about them that was special.
Having those people in my life has taught me a lot and in turn enabled me to be a better person. I have so much respect for them, and can only hope that if I haven’t done it already, I will one day be able to do for them what they have done for me.
Update: It’s crazy to think how much has happened in the last four years. I was only nineteen when I wrote this, and was actually struggling with keeping friendships for a little while. I was meeting new people all the time, but it was more of a matter of finding those that I genuinely meshed with after the sense of “newness” and excitement of being in college wore off. I was still in the process of trying to figure out who I was and where I fit, along with feeling confident that not knowing was perfectly OK. It takes a lot of time and courage to truly get to know someone, a lot of which I didn’t think I had because I’d been burned in the past.
That fear intensified after my first brush with sexual assault (one of several that I dealt with several times afterward). I’d become well aware that most people (especially young women), were either perceived as good or bad based on what they did, more so when it came to their bodies. Our culture is borderline obsessed with victim-blaming instead of focusing on the attacker, and I was already dealing with enough judgment and shame from not having taken the right precautions to get away. I didn’t want to run the risk of changing anybody’s opinion of me when I wasn’t ready to talk about it.  
Of course, there was always the question of why bring anything up when they don’t need to know? Sure, they didn’t need to know about my parents’ imminent divorce or how the events leading up to it affected me. They didn’t need to know that I struggle with depression or that I’d been in and out of therapy for years. Yet not talking about it started to feel weird after a while. When it came to my closest guy friends, I spent more energy trying to avoid those subjects, which created a huge barrier between us. I’m not sure if they sensed anything, but I don’t like depending on people as emotional crutches when trying to cope with a difficult situation. I had a lot going on at once, and when I did finally start discussing my history, it was because I was in a good place and the timing was appropriate.
However, I wish I had been more clear about how there are times when I don’t want to talk about it. My struggles are not problems to be solved, much less in a short period of time. In lieu of deep conversations, I’d more prefer a hug or doing something else to get my mind off of whatever I’m going through. I appreciate those that went and got drinks with me when I suggested it, because there are a lot of fun memories that came out of those nights. I still wonder if certain friends were able to witness my bubbly, goofy side when we spent time together.
There were rough patches, a falling out during freshman year, and thankfully a falling back in before graduation. I had my pet peeves (lack of communication with cell phones among them) and I’m sure I equally drove them crazy with my own shortcomings. There were a lot of times where I wanted to yell “you don’t get it!” or “you’re not listening to what I’m saying!” because of personality clashes. Through it all we stayed in each other lives, and that’s a true testament to what they meant to me, and most likely what I meant to them as well.
I’ve often focused on what they’ve done for me rather than what I’ve learned from them. A lot of it has to do with self-acceptance and not being ashamed of who you are both inside and out. I know that I am my own worst critic and that I tend to self-blame for matters that aren’t my fault. I’ve spent a lot of time loving and trying to be who I feel like I should be, rather than loving and being the person I know that I am. Not all of these guys know each other personally, but they all have good hearts. Do you want to know why?
They were able to see in me what I couldn’t see in myself, at least not for a very long time. And I think that’s why God gives us friends.
I’m now comfortable saying that I appreciate being taken care of and protected. It doesn’t always have to be in the traditional sense, but for me it means being close to people. I don’t want or expect anyone to hold my hand, but just let me know that you’re walking through this with me. Sometimes it means just being heard or validated. That’s more than enough.
The goodbyes did not happen all at once, but they were no less painful and difficult to do. I still recall the last hugs from each of them and crying for at least an hour once I was alone. I’m at least a hundred miles away from each of them now and I’m grateful for the convenience of texting and calling when there’s time. Yet nothing compares to bonding over classic rock music, being competitive over our favorite sports teams (particularly if and when they’re rivals), or just being goofballs. I miss the traditions and typical weekend happenings. Those are the little things that I savored and continue to look back on.
I care for them each in my own little way and I hope that despite the distance, we will one day cross paths again (or at least use technology to our advantage). Though I’m still a little sad, I give thanks and I count my blessings. Not everyone can say they’ve had several years with such amazing people.

What Faith Means to Me (Part 2)

If you’d like to go back and read the entirety of Part 1, you can find it here

If anyone had asked me at the age of thirteen/fourteen what particular words came to mind when I heard the word “God” it would have been peace, comfort, joy, understanding, love, acceptance, forgiveness and patience.I can’t recall the exact moment or time when that particular view began to fog up, but it was somewhere in the beginning of my junior year of high school. I wasn’t exactly questioning what I believed in, but rather why I held fast to those particular beliefs. 

And than came the politics; I guess one can say that I might have very well been wearing rose colored glasses if I even thought that the concept of faith didn’t include politics. But when I was younger, I honestly wasn’t very aware of what was going on in the world, nor was I aware of the stance(s) that most church-going people tended to take on those happenings. When I would hear my religion teacher talk in class or overhear the chatter going on in the lobby after Sunday services, I would think to myself, “What? Really? Ok….um…” The more I heard, the more my personal view of God became darkened. 

All the sudden, I started wondering whether or not I was a good Christian: I wasn’t (and still am not) particularly conservative, I wasn’t homeschooled, only my Mom and I went to church as opposed to my entire family, and chose not to wear a purity ring. Going to youth group, out of the few times that I did go in my junior and senior years, began to feel uncomfortable: it seemed like the teachings of the Bible became less of guidelines and more of a never ending list of chores that I would get punished for if they weren’t taken care of. 

The hardest thing about all of it was not my own thoughts, but not having some sort of outlet to release those thoughts. There were times when I wanted to desperately talk to my youth pastor or one of the group leaders, but I did not want to deal with any kind of reprimanding or figuratively speaking, get beaten over the head with a Bible. I do not like getting advice or opinions unless I ask, and at that point I just wanted someone to talk to. There was one person who I thought of and who would probably understand more than anybody, but he wasn’t really around. 

I didn’t act out about it, nor did I draw any kind of attention to myself. I just simply went on living life, but without the spiritual enthusiasm that I once felt. I threw myself into friends and boys, thinking that would be enough. I didn’t see myself as being angry with God or being angry with any other Christians that I knew. I was just utterly confused and a little scared, all the while having no idea what to do about it. 

For a very long time, it appeared that there were two kinds of Christianity: the kind that claim to love God with everything they have, yet they will speak out in hatred against differences in sexual orientation. They turn their noses up at abortion, and then turn around and go pointing fingers at pregnant, unwed women who choose to continue their pregnancies. They put others on shaky pedestals but choose to remain on solid ground. 

Then, there are those that “truly live and love like Christ” as it is often referred to. They have opinions about what goes on in the world and they will talk about them, but in a way that is not self-righteous nor ignorant. When it comes to those that struggle, they look at them with compassion and understanding as opposed to writing them off as failures. They don’t condone, but they don’t condemn either. They simply love. 

And if someone were to ask me why I believe people, especially young people, walk away from God or avoid God all together? It’s because they are being simply told “no” rather than openly discussing things like sex or drinking, as well as being given alternatives. They’re not being allowed to question something if it doesn’t make any sense. They’re having views forced upon them instead of feeling like they can decide for themselves what they do and don’t believe. Above all, they’re suffocating. 

It has taken me about two and a half years to figure out there is a huge difference between personal choices and values. In regards to the aspects mentioned in the third paragraph, those are not necessarily values, but the choices that people make in order to live out those values. Not every single one of those things is for everybody. 

At this point in my life, I do want to have a relationship with God. I have been through too much in both past and present to not believe that God doesn’t exist. I still strongly believe in prayer, and have continued to write down my prayers in the journals that I keep. I want to join a church where I go to school, but am a little uneasy about it for a variety of reasons. 

I do know that there is no point of avoiding church because of the not so good things that go on within Christianity; no matter where you go or what you do, you’re always going to get that kind of stuff. It is just matter of being able to focus on God and God alone; the way I did when I was fourteen.

I still struggle with certain aspects. I still ask God “why is my Dad still out of work?” or “Why have I not seen my best and closest friend in eight months, even though we have tried many times over to get together?” I admit that I have been terrified to talk about this for a very long time, and am still somewhat nervous about the reactions of others around me, especially those from my church back home or those that I have met through trying out different church groups on campus. 

please know that I am not out to attack anyone personally, even though at times it may appear to be that way. It is just where I am at in my spiritual journey. Where this will take me exactly, I don’t know. But eventually, I will figure it out.

Living The Gold Life

I used to think that my own personal life mantra came from that of famous football coach Lou Holtz (Life is ten percent of what happens to you and ninety percent of how you deal with it). And while it’s still an amazing quote to live by, I don’t think it completely sums up who I am as a whole. This has especially come to light in recent weeks, when some of my own personal relationships were called into question.

Do unto others as you would want done to you

Widely known as The Golden Rule, it is a simple philosophy that has existed for over a thousand years plus. It can be applied to any gender, religion, ethnicity, political stance, etc. It kind of goes along with the whole “if you hand out crap, you better be willing to take it too”, except in a more positive aspect. It does not necessarily mean that others will be good to you in return, but it’s better to live a life of kindness than one of hatred.

Back in January, I did a post regarding who I am at my core. It started back when I was in seventh grade, and often times picked on by my peers for one reason or another; I refused to fight back, seeing that I would only be stooping to their level and therefore wanted to be the bigger person. In the years that followed, my attitude and reasoning toward treating others in the nicest way possible began to take shape. 

I believe in reaching out to others and completely taking them as they are, regardless of what they’ve been through or where they’re currently at in life. I’m not going to completely solve their problems, but I’ll do my best to encourage them and be a positive role model. I once told my friend who was dealing with his own struggles, “I may not have all the answers, but I do know that I will be there for you unconditionally.”

I believe in giving without expectations and putting the needs of others before my own. If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that it is more than likely that someone around you is going through a hell of a lot worse than what you may be experiencing. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself as well, but you never know what kind of healing can take place when you personally take the time to help someone else with theirs. 

I believe in compassion and understanding; to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and walk at least a mile or two before you make any judgments regarding their current state of being or who they want to become. That does not mean you have to condone their actions, but don’t go pointing fingers and damning them to hell, either. Some people to have to run into a brick wall multiple times in order to see just how much it causes both themselves and the people around them. And instead of holding it against them, there is the possibility of forgiveness and second chances. 

And most importantly, I believe in love; even when everyone else says they’re not worth the time or effort, and that you might as well turn around and go in a completely different direction. 

I am saying these things because I know what it’s like to be on the other side; I’ve been excluded from certain groups or events due to circumstances that were (and still are) out of my control. I’ve felt abandoned by people that once claimed to care about me, but did not want to deal with whatever black clouds I’d gotten caught under at that particular time. When it all comes down to it, I know what it’s like to feel completely alone. If I had the ability to do so, I would make sure that one ever felt that way

However, I have been told that I am too nice at times; at first, I did not think that such a thing existed. My brother told me that people acted cruelly toward me because they knew I would do nothing about it. At that time, I wanted to be anything but a complete bitch and be the one to “add fuel to the fire” as the saying goes. Years later, there were those that would emotionally take advantage of me because they figured I wouldn’t bring it up. I didn’t want to fight, and figured that was the best way to keep the peace. 

Yet, I have also learned that there is such a thing as being a doormat, and in a lot of cases, I’ve been just that. The truth is, there is a difference between being nasty and being firm; when one gets nasty, they often use unnecessary words or anger to get their point across. When one is firm, they stick to their guns and simply say “What you’ve done, or are still doing to me isn’t right.” and simply explain how they feel about the situation. If the one being confronted walks away anyhow, than maybe there is a good reason for them not sticking around. 

Even as I type these words, I wonder if I am opening a pandora’s box here; allowing myself to be so incredibly vulnerable, where anyone who reads probably could and might use it against me someday. At the same time, if I didn’t say it, than I’m not being completely who I am. 

Trust me when I say that I’m definitely not perfect at any of what has been mentioned above. But as long as I live my life trying to be the best person that I can be, perhaps thats all that really matter is the end. 

When you treat others nicely without expecting or asking for anything in return, you may find yourself receiving more than you originally set out for.

For My Girlfriends

Late at night, I tend to find myself thinking about a lot of things; the hours or so between getting into bed and falling asleep is a portion of time that I’ve begun to heavily dislike, given that my stream of conscience often becomes over-thinking. When that happens, I start counting my blessings, mainly those who either or currently or have been in my life. 

I don’t think I’ve ever realized the importance (if not, vitality) of having girlfriends until this year. I had a lot of them growing up, but I was a little boy-crazy and my priorities were a bit skewed. Part of it also related to having trust issues, given some difficulties that took place from sixth grade onward. It definitely took a while to genuinely appreciate them.

As I got older that circle began to widen and even overlapped; there were those from junior high that I also kept in contact through high school. And then some of the girls that I went to high school with ended up at the same University as I did (albeit a year ahead). Then through that time, I’d discover that those from college either were from my hometown or nearby. It was definitely a small world on a number of occasions. 

 For a period of time I frequently gravitated toward those that were older than me; in a way, they understood me better and seemed more receptive to who I was as a person. I did also long for an older sister, and as we got to know each other some of them became those big-sister figures for me.  But the thing with that was when they would graduate, I would spend a lot of time feeling lost and not sure of where to go from that point on.

My grandmother once told me, “don’t worry about the guys. Give thanks for the girls in your life and that other stuff will take care of itself.” Looking back on it, I realized that she was right.

Much of the joy in this year, as well as the ability to be strong throughout the painful times, have come from my girlfriends. There are those that I’ve met within my dorm and have shared plenty of cafeteria dinners, movie nights, and random moments with. There are those that I can go out on the town with, have a little too much fun, and they just reassure me that everyone goes through that at some point. There are those that I can go home to, have coffee dates with and be able to pick up right where we left off. There are those who have supported me in the midst of relationship struggles, a death in my family earlier, and exhaustion when I bite off more than I can chew.

A lot of my girlfriends I tend to regard as sisters, just as I tend to regard my closest friends (from a general standpoint) as family.  And even though I may not see some of them all that often, it helps me to really appreciate the time that we have together.

I understand that some people out there prefer hanging out with boys over girls, given their personalities. I’ve seen Mean Girls and have personally experienced the cattiness and melodrama that often comes along being part of any group.  But the truth is, ladies, you need at least a few of them. I’m sure Hedi Montag (the character who gave up the majority of her friends to be with her boyfriend on The Hills) makes it look pretty easy, but I can only imagine how lonely and isolating it gets after awhile. 

Find your sisters, celebrate them, and cherish them. They’re out there.

Update: It’s hard to sum up all I’ve learned and how I’ve grown since I first wrote that. There was a lot of naivete, and idealizing because I held onto this idea of what college should be. I believed that new friends would automatically get rid of all my insecurities, and that I could leave my handicap (and my past) back at the state line. Friendship is important, but I needed to be the one to love myself first instead of waiting for a group or an organization to do it for me. 

I was not confident back then…at all. And because of that, I’m sure I made connecting with certain people more difficult than it needed to be. But once I began experiencing the pain of rejection, it felt safer to wait for them to figure me out first. I felt like I had something to prove: that I could be strong and fearless and take care of myself. And while that was true to an extent, I still needed help at times. Unfortunately I realized that asking for help sometimes equals resentment later.

And while some friendships did fall apart at first, the ones that mattered did come back together. It’s amazing how the girls I wasn’t particularly close with freshman year became my best friends by later on. Some of them I’d known since the beginning, while the others I’d bonded with while staying at school over the summer before senior year and after graduation. Whatever the length of time we had together, I have never felt more supported or included. And while we didn’t see eye to eye on everything, that didn’t change the fact that we were a unit that genuinely looked out for each other.

It wasn’t something out of Friends or Sex and The City, and truthfully I’m kind of glad for that. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you believe that true friendships involve being joined at the hip, bedazzling life in shopping/money, or constantly avoiding conflict with one another. How you deal with conflict actually becomes the hallmark of going through life with people, regardless of the nature of the relationship or who’s involved. I never personally came to blows with anyone in particular, but when you get to know someone real well, you both run the risk of driving each other crazy because you’ve seen each other both at your best and at your worst. By choosing to allow anyone into my life, I was also choosing to hear them and admit my own faults when they were honest about how I’d hurt them. It’s also awkward and difficult when two or more are on the outs with one another, despite that nine times out of ten I’m hardly involved. But I’ve learned from them and I’ve grown with them, which has been the best part of all.

Yet it’s not always picturesque; Not everyone is safe to confide in, nor can they handle such emotional vulnerability without feeling the need to problem-solve. If it were humanly possible I would be open to the idea of every friend being a best friend, but it doesn’t work like that because you your personalities don’t always mesh. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be challenged in different ways of thinking, or that I can’t grow as a result.

In some respects, my girlfriends have saved me; quite a few of them have kept me from making horrible mistakes, especially when a guy was involved. My best friend sat me down and warned me that I was headed down a bad path with alcohol and partying, and that I need to check it before I wrecked it. They’ve all shown me grace and even busted down walls when I’ve tried to build them up. 

Connecting in the real world is a tricky concept. Distance is one thing, but there is also the point where you’re no longer going through the same seasons in the same direction. For some, careers take off at warped speed while others are still trying to take that first step up the ladder. Some are on the cusp of engagement or have gotten married, while others are still figuring out what they want and what it will take to get it. There are seasons where you can relate, and those where you can’t. And that’s OK, because you celebrate them regardless.

Adulthood is when you have to respect that a lot of people don’t have as much time on their hands. You might go anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months without seeing each other, let alone talking and catching up. To some extent I understand it, because as you get older you have more responsibilities and you have to rearrange your priorities a bit. Age also means that social circles occasionally widen, and it’s hard to keep up with everyone from each stage of life. I personally have never spent time with just one main group of people, so I do experience a push and pull. 

 That being said, I can’t pretend that it isn’t a tough pill to swallow; I’m not one to lean into being constantly busy, or at least to the point of being unavailable. I don’t have the energy to be on the go all the time, and I do get cranky if I don’t make an effort to feed my soul or spirit. It baffles me how anyone can live as if they’re speeding through each day, but that’s for another post down the road.

Technology has become a blessing in terms of maintaining long-distance friendships, and friendships as a whole. I appreciate being able to offer and receive encouragement through texting, snapchats, and so on at the touch of a button. Phone calls and FaceTime are wonderful. And social media is nice to at least be able to know what’s going on when the work grind has you by the horns. But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to seeing someone I love in person, looking them in the eye, and being able to physically put my arms around them. If you asked me what I truly wanted right now, it’s to pile on the couch with some amazing people and just drink wine the entire time (with no-holds-barred, unfiltered conversation included). 

One of my biggest struggles is balancing the pursuit of what I need while completely savoring what I already have. I am beyond grateful for all the love, truth-telling, and support I’ve received in the midst of my parents’ divorce, job and internship interviews, and navigating the unpredictable dating pool. I don’t think I would been able to keep my sanity intact if I wasn’t reminded that I am strong and resilient, even when I don’t feel like that’s the case. 

Love. Gratitude. Intention. Vulnerability. Listening. That is what it all comes down to, and that is how you live well with others.

There’s no answer on how to do it right. We’re all human here, and at some point we’ll mess up and take people for granted. I know I’ve probably come across as selfish and inconsiderate, and on more than one occasion. I’ve allowed my over-active imagination to get the best of me. I’ve cried, gotten depressed, and lived inside my own head because of the silence. It can be lonely, and it can be brutal.

Deep down, I’m aware that a lack of communication doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of caring. We all show love differently, and sometimes things just happen.

The only thing I can think of is to savor the time that you have when you get it; to reach out, but know where to draw the line between that and chasing. To not judge and offer grace whenever possible. To give thanks and hold the memories close to your heart.

That’s what girlfriends are for; to serve as reminders that we all need community, but that we also need family. Life is precious and fragile, but it’s all the more sweeter when we have people to share it with.

Then Vs. Now

Over spring break, I wrote a lot, probably more than I have written in the last few months. For my creative writing class I hammered out a nineteen-page fictional piece, while I also did some journaling and blogging. For some peculiar reason, I found the urge to go through my old journals that I keep buried in my closet. Maybe I wanted to relive some old, yet wonderful memories. Maybe I wanted to see how far I had come in life, being that it’s been about five years since I began writing down my personal thoughts on a regular basis. Or maybe it was just for the hell of it. 

In the beginning, my penmanship wasn’t the neatest and I often times just scribbled down every mundane thought that went through adolescent brain, from what I had for breakfast that particular morning or the amount of homework I had to do come nightfall. Page after page, I didn’t find myself necessarily cringing at what I had written down, but rather chuckling at how niave and somewhat shallow I sounded. I think had I had actually been talking to my twelve and thirteen year-old self, I would have smirked and said, “child, you will one day learn that the next seven years are just all you living in one big bubble.”

And that is something that I believe to be true, at least for me personally. In hindsight, I failed many times to actually look at the big picture as opposed to squinting painfully at the snapshot; I spent months, years even, making a huge deal about things that down the road no one will really care about. I pursued and tried to please certain people; and when that didn’t work and I asked “why?” I failed to realize that they either didn’t give a damn or we had grown apart. It’s a jagged pill that’s tough to swallow, but it’s part of life. 

Simply put, I held on for way longer than I should have. That’s why it took so long for the blisters to heal.

As I continued reading, I wept as well. I wasn’t crying out of bitterness or regret, but rather because I missed the times that I had with the people who were in my life during that period. At the risk of sounding incredibly sentimental here, there are memories that are still crystal clear in my today as they were the moment each one of them took place. For instance, I still remember the day I met one of my very best friends, down to what the both of us were wearing. With others, it was singing along to a mix-tape at the top of our longs in my mom’s suburban and than eating pie at the now bankrupt Baker’s Square. These things that seem so insignificant, yet  also things that I’ll probably remember forever. 

I don’t miss high school or middle school all that much; I wouldn’t necessarily go back to change anything that happened in those last seven years, but rather to change how I dealt with them. I could go on tangents about why it’s best to just taking something for what it is and not rush or force it to happen. I could write a monologue about how plenty of friends will come in and out of your life, but the truest of those will always be standing in the doorway. But I don’t need to, because they’re just that simple. 

I know a lot of people say that those years tend to be the best years of your life; for some, this is true, but not everyone reaches their prime. I tend to think I’ve made more self-discoveries now I did then. 

My writing, as well as my character have definitely matured since then. These days I tend to treat my journal as more of a canvas, where I try to paint a picture with my words as opposed to just scribbling down random thoughts. I write letters to people that for some reason I haven’t come up with the courage to send, or prayers to God. I’ve even begun using the way back pages to write down quotes that I frequently come up with. 

Reading through these old, somewhat worn out stacks of paper gave me an important lesson, despite the fact that I had put the books down for a week: Focus on what matters, and the rest will fall into place eventually.