rewrite the dream

Be bold enough to rewrite the dream.

You know which one I’m referring to: the one you’ve held onto too tightly. The one that only causes pain in your soul by burrowing its home there, though the pain is comfortable and normal all the same. The one that had you writing your future in permanent marker.

The one you had hoped you’d need not ever erase — permanent marker is hard to get out of clothes, much less heartstrings — but the one you now wish you had originally written in pencil.

It’s hard to let go.

It’s hard to let go of a person, a place, a home, a hope. Anything really is heartbreaking to see go, if even the emptiness it leaves behind will be for the better.

 

Our beings weren’t originally created to break. We were designed for completion, for wholeness. But we live in a currently dark world, one full of accidental and often malicious hurt, heartbreak being high up there on the list.

It’s easy to spiral downward. To think that by letting go, you were either too much or not enough. Or when the dream crashes and burns, to believe we’re to take full blame. We’re the failure for not seeing it come to pass, for not making it come to pass.

We think letting go means loss and loneliness.

In some ways, yes. Saying goodbye to a place you called home for years will leave an empty space in your being. Watching that person walk away — whether they decided it or you did — hurts in a way I can only describe as my chest splitting open from my heart’s immense sorrow. That kind of pain feels like loss. It is loss.

But letting go is not failure. Goodbye doesn’t mean “the end.” Sometimes, but not always. I hope by now you’re realizing perhaps you should set aside the permanent markers.

Letting go means new opportunities. It means you need to pull together your weary bones, hold your head high and refuse to settle for emptiness.

 

Choose to be bold and rewrite the dream.

* * *

Quite honestly, I’ve held on far longer than I ever imagined I would to this dream. I saw this dream everywhere I went: gold cars on the freeway. Cool coffee shops. Grey hoodies. Everywhere in my hometown.

Dreams are full of tomorrow’s hope until dreams are full of yesterday’s heartbreak and pain. Dreams can drive us until they divide us.

 

And it followed me relentlessly. It tainted my perspective of my past, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. I had written this dream in dark permanence at a naive age, and it seems I am now carrying the wounds of such a large decision.

Rewrite the dream.

It’s occurred to me to do so here and there. In ways I have rewritten pieces of this dream. For one, I left. I left everything of my past behind in my hometown, and promised myself I would move on.

And I did, for a good while.

But it never stopped haunting me. It would flicker in and out of my dreams. I scrubbed and scrubbed at the permanent marker in utter chastisement and frustration toward myself, but it was never enough.

Then I moved back to my hometown, back to the roots of this broken dream and all reminders of loss, failure and shame. After years of running, endlessly trying to erase such permanency, I was forced to face it full on.

I gave myself pep talks and penned journal entries, convinced I was going to be ok in the healing process. Facing things is far from enjoyable, but it does bring freedom. That much I knew.

But I didn’t know how much my heart would fall for this dream all over again. I was writing in permanent marker over and over and over, and I couldn’t seem to stop.

The dream was in every coffee shop and around every corner for days. Months. Too long. Shame cloaked my frame, mortified at how much I clung to something that no longer existed.

The thing about healing is that you know it’s good, but you never know what it’s going to look like until hindsight shows you. Healing is almost as equally painful as heartbreak.

 

Last week I felt a lot of pain, nothing necessarily new, but it was the healing kind. I sat on the other side of a wall from this dream, my mind and heart unsure of how to connect.

I kept my eyes forward, head up. I walked past it, and said no in my head for the millionth time. No, you stupid idealistic hope, you will not consume me tonight.

I made it to my car, and let out a tight laugh. I did it. I let go. I said no, and in a way, erased a little bit more of the permanent marker.

While I can’t say last week was a milestone in my healing, I’m continuing to realize how important it is to not only face things but also learn to forgive and rewrite them. Especially if that means forgiving yourself.

In its purest form, my dream is beautiful. In my anxious humanity, I saw it as something I had to control. If this dream didn’t turn out the way my permanent teenage decision had made it, then I’d be a failure. I’d be the one who wasn’t good enough, the one who would never move on.

But it’s not true. And it doesn’t have to stay this way.

I long to return to this dream in its purity, untainted from heartbreak. I want to rewrite it–in pencil –and learn to keep my hands open. Palms up.

I think that’s what letting go really means. Being bold and brave enough to mourn the broken dream, and then rewrite it. Take pages of the good stuff and throw out the rest. Remember the past love and loss, but start hoping again for freshly coined dreams in the future.

It’s possible and beautiful and messy. But be bold enough to rewrite the dream. One day you’ll look back and thank yourself for it.

soul care by journaling

how slowing down could save your soul

“So, when are you gonna write another blog post?” My sister asked, her back toward me as she washed dishes in the sink. Perched on my usual bar stool in her kitchen, I paused before answering her question. The truth was, I didn’t really know.

“I’ve had one rolling around in my head for a few weeks now,” I responded. And while that was true, there was more to it: I was unsure how to roll it out of my head and onto paper in complete colorful glory.

I didn’t really know what my soul had to say because it had been a while since I’d really asked.

 

When I first moved back home, I knew the inevitable “American grind” sitting in my future would be tempting to embrace wholeheartedly. Meaning: the busy, individualistic and fast paced flavor. I knew how quickly my fingers grabbed planners and scribbled them full, how my vocabulary translated “busy” to mean complete, content and worthy.

To remind myself of what’s important, I decided to make a vision board. I taped up phrases, quotes, pictures. I distinctly remember writing “busy does not equal worth” and “Sarah, God wants you to pursue him and stop chasing after the wind.”

So when my sister asked me about my writing–something I’ve allowed to collect dust on the back shelf of my mind–my vision board jumped into my, well, vision. It’s still hanging up by the way. I’ve gotten used to it just decorating an otherwise largely blank space.

Sadly, I’ve become a really good wind chaser. Like really good. To the point that even doctors appointments and small talk exchanges are enough to keep going (my social life is still growing ok?).

And perhaps for so long I haven’t seen anything wrong with this until I actually stop and think about it–heaven forbid having down time–because everyone around me seems to be doing the same.

 

“I’ve been so busy,” we exclaim with a dramatic sigh. “I’m so tired,” we reply when asked how we’re doing. Because I’m not the only one who believes that “busy” and “tired” are the equivalent of successful and wholesome.

But really such statements are surface value answers protecting wounds underneath. “I’m so busy,” could mean a smattering of things:

I’m overcommitted and don’t know how to say no because I fear I’ll lose people in my life.

The only way I keep myself together is by filling my schedule. If there’s any white space for breathing, I fear I’ll fall apart when left alone.

I need help, but I don’t know how to ask, so I’m just going to keep plowing my way through life.

The cries for deeper connection are endless–and they are there. I’m one to know, having used these surface answers too consistently lately.

* * *

Last week as I sped up to enter the freeway entrance, I coincidentally had the thought, “Sarah, maybe this whole time was supposed to have been about rest. You haven’t really been good at that lately.”

As most sane writers do, I agreed with my inner self. But I kept driving. The time and my schedule didn’t permit me to stop and have a healthy existential discovery on the side of the freeway.

It took me until today, sitting in a zero gravity chair at the chiropractor’s office, to realize that twenty minutes of “forced” rest goes by incredibly fast. Both my body and my mind desperately craved more.

I didn’t want to get up. My dreams danced before my closed eyelids. I thought about new things to add to the book I will one day get around to finishing. Who I’d dedicate it to.

Is it funny or pathetic how being forced to relax at a chiropractor’s office is the only way we stop going?

* * *

The other night I watched three sisters sing and harmonize every molecule of their imperfect beings, and it reminded me of days and times and seasons where I had done the same. Where I had poured every fraction of myself into something.

And ironically enough, none of those memories were of the past few months, the months packed with busyness.

It reminded me of the stars in Botswana.

 

I didn’t recognize their stars, and the sky was enchanting and new. I remember claiming a spot on the gravel driveway with a well loved lawn chair and curling my feet up under me. My imagination was wild, fearful of the poisonous snakes that could slither out of their hiding places while I, the innocent stargazer, became their prey.

But I also remember how disconnected I was from everything worlds away. I had no wifi, no media, no one but who I was physically with. I laughed with girls who had become sisters to me. We cried over our brokenness, but also the grace that abounds still more. We feared the snakes together, and shared whispered thoughts underneath the canopy of brand new stars.

Life in Botswana was so slow, painfully at times. But I was present.

White space on a calendar wasn’t even a topic worth discussing then. You simply lived, relationships being the priority.

That was over two years ago.

Today I’m easily immersed back into my American culture, just another individual at a coffee shop table. I wrestle with whether I should completely delete my Instagram account, because it just adds more unhealthy comparison and wasted time to my already fast life. I’m more “connected” than I’ve ever been. But am I present here? Am I able–no, willing and desiring–to stop and take time to notice the stars I actually do recognize?

Yes, struggling to delete an Instagram account is a fairly trivial decision in comparison to some on the other side of the planet, but to us it’s a valid and very real deal. It’s our world here. As is fighting to fill white space and hoping to find wholeness and happiness.

We may not have to wonder where our next meal is coming from, but I sure do wonder if we’ll ever experience the relational depth I did under those African stars.

 

This isn’t what I intended to say to my sister in response to her question about my next blog post. But as I preach to myself here, I’ll remind you too: don’t chase after the wind. 

Sit under stars and ask your soul how it’s doing. You haven’t for some time, and it really misses you.

Paint something. Buy a stranger a coffee. Remember the feeling of that person’s head on your shoulder, whether it’s your baby niece or your significant other. Don’t forget the beauty of such a small and intentional moment.
Slow down. Take a breath. Instagram–and your schedule–won’t break if you choose to step back every once in a while.

table for one: the fear of being alone

It’s been ages since I’ve sat alone in silence. Somewhere behind me a clock ticks, or perhaps I’ve mistaken that for the melting snow dripping from the roof. It’s a steady rhythm, one I’ve not heard in awhile.

I recently attended a weekend retreat, surrounded by people every minute of the day. Community, many would call it. It reminded me of what I’ve had before, and how little of its consistency I have experienced lately. “I felt alive again,” I texted my friend. She’s used to me throwing this phrase around. I latch onto the feeling of aliveness.

The danger for me–and maybe for you–is to fill all my still and quiet spaces with lists and people. When my quiet spaces are filled with a healthy hum of noise, I genuinely feel the most fulfilled. I laugh a lot more, I realize how absolutely insane my jokes are, and I surprise myself with the words I speak. I forget all these things, easily, when noise isn’t in my life.

The few times I stepped away from the large group of people that weekend, an unsettled and anxious feeling grew in my chest. I was scared to be alone.

I don’t know how to be me by myself, as odd as that sounds. I don’t know how to sing for joy with or be kind to my aloneness.

 

What’s more, not only do I not know how, but I don’t want to know. I don’t want to discover who Sarah is as an individual because I fear she’ll continually be a disappointment.

* * *

A few Thanksgivings ago, I sat in a small circle of fold out chairs with fellow dreamers and storytellers. We went around answering icebreaker questions, one of them being to share one of our favorite authors. I mentioned a girl whose blog I follow and who just happened to be living in the city we were in. After what felt like incessant pushing for me to contact her to meet up, I in my most flustered form said, “I don’t like meeting famous people.”

The hostess looked me square in the face, and with no hesitation blurted out, “Why, are you insecure?”

Shocked by my own transparency and her intuition, I immediately responded, “Yes.”

She went on with conversation, as if she hadn’t just called me out in humiliation, forcing me to vocalize my deepest vulnerabilities in a one word response.

I haven’t forgotten that encounter, and I have far from forgotten the feelings and thoughts of that moment. My inner dialogue took over as I tried to calm my racing heart and escalating shame. Just wait, Sarah. Just wait: one day you won’t be defining yourself as insecure. One day you’ll be strong, confident, assured. This will pass, you’ll outgrow this.

I mostly haven’t forgotten that story because I daily battle with those exact same feelings and thoughts. I still argue with anxiety, and often let it win. I still don’t like the thought of meeting famous people, but would send a letter to a stranger if they needed one. I still am an aspiring writer and toss the word insecure around far more than words like strong, confident, and assured.

I put on doubt like a cloak, grab the hand of fear, and believe that in some twisted way, I am losing myself to my own aloneness.

 

That is why being alone is paralyzing: there’s no one else but you and your closet of skeletons. The good others see in you and call out is buried deep beneath the self-loathing. And fears become a self fulfilling prophecy.

We all go through layers of seasons in this life; I imagine there’s at least one other person out there whose feelings reflect my own. And if that’s you, or if that’s ever been you, can we just stand up for a minute and declare, “Not today, fear. You don’t get today.”

I know. It is so much easier said than done. The negativity and loathing behind our eyes and buried in our beings is difficult to break.

Because the lies we hear and believe aren’t anything new. But they’re certainly comfortable.

 

This may be one of my least favorite blogs I’ve written; I don’t have the answers. Actually, I take that back–I do have the answers, but I don’t like them. They’re painful and deliberate. They’re uncomfortable but necessary to implement into the rhythms of life.

It’s looking in the mirror and saying, “You are enough. You are not your insecurities or anxieties.”

It’s replacing one negative comment with five positive ones–because that’s how many it takes for our brain to overcome the negativity.

It’s learning to be alone, to be just one.

I wish people could rush through my front door and save me like I’ve so often let them. Not this time. This time, I–you, we–have been purposefully placed in a room completely alone surrounded by silence.

For we must discover how to dig up the goodness from underneath the criticism, how to cover the wounds of self-loathing with the healing balm of grace, and how to breathe normally in our lungs again.

 
I so badly hate it, but dear reader, from my empty table to yours: Persevere. There is good to be found here.

the new year didn’t bring magic (but i’m still going to believe anyway)

We pulled up to my sister’s house, the driveway icy and slick. Our conversation had just begun, pent up words freely spilling in the dark toasty space of the car. My brother’s frustration so deeply echoed my own worst fears, and I wondered truly how people five years apart in age could be struggling with transitions so similar.

I didn’t have the answers. I still don’t.

“But I have to keep believing that this isn’t going to last forever,” I said, gesturing at the winter outside our fogged windows, but also the winter of my own ragged breath and hibernating soul.

 

For the past week I was deathly ill (deathly meaning I believe the stomach flu can only be described as such) and had little time to accurately look back at the past year and quietly prepare my goals and resolutions for the new start ahead. I was too busy praying that God would relieve me of my stomach’s sorrows.

Having since returned to life recently, I’ve thought about how ringing in the new year is ecstatic and hopeful, full of so much potential you could scream (and generally most of us do when the countdown ends and fireworks erupt).

But also how silly it kinda is to put so much stock in starting over. We quickly forget that the first of the year follows the final double digit day of December when you had sweat stains and forgot to call your mother.

A new year isn’t going to fix those things. Discipline and a good detergent will.

You’re still the same human you were yesterday, and you still have the same amount of choice and hours in the day.

 

Starting fresh is clean and good, sometimes almost easier. But pulling unwanted albeit necessary lessons from the previous year and instilling them into future days–that’s a challenge worth conquering. That’s something worth smacking the word “resolution” onto and declaring that you’ll commit again and again and again.

Just as days turn into months and months into a whirlwind of a year, so seasons can fly by. It doesn’t feel like it, when winter’s frozen your heart and you forgot the placement of laughter deep in your belly. It feels like darkness is all consuming. It seems like you’ll never make it out with dry eyes and people to call friends.

And yet how easy is it to believe that we can just leave it all behind in last year’s triumphs and trials. If only that first day of the year were as magical as we believe, gyms packed with resolution makers and notepads full of goals.

Last year was a year of realizing that I live very much in the black and white. I don’t know how to operate in a space of gray. It would seem much of the human race lives the same. We become lazy in front of a TV or don’t allow time for leisure in our schedules. We either go to the gym in January or don’t commit at all. I eat three bowls of ice cream, then deprive myself of all things sweet for a week.

This next year, I want to believe two things:

1. This darkness isn’t going to last forever.

Light shines brighter in the darkness, and where there is light, darkness cannot hide. Darkness is deadly but it can also have the dramatic affect of propelling us toward the flickering light that remains. May it not last forever, and may it continue to prepare us for what’s ahead and direct us toward the light.

2. It is possible to live in the gray.

Words like “home” and “open road” can happily coexist in my vocabulary. Right now they don’t–there’s a bit of tension between them–but much less than there was a year ago. Things like exercise and ice cream (in moderate portions) can also coexist. It is possible to find a space between extreme living, and may we choose to take baby steps toward such a challenge.

So while no magic fell with the confetti at midnight this new year’s entrance, and while last year’s struggles are still in the ring with me today, I’m choosing to believe. This isn’t going to last forever.

I desperately hope you don’t need the flu to help you realize such things as I did. I hope you were able to throw confetti with fistfuls of strength and anticipation. But just in case you’re not quite there, know it’s not too late to believe.

We may be a few days into the new year, but you still got time. Pick up a pen and start writing. Say yes to the gym–every month of the year.

Keep battling last year’s anxiety with today’s grace. This isn’t going to last forever; what will you do with the time and colors of this season?

I’d love to hear from you as we move forward together.

it’s going to take time: coming to terms with reality

“It’s just going to take time.”

I kept repeating the phrase to my sister as I explained the day’s painful events. “I know this season of life is for good, but it’s so hard.”

I’ve officially decided to stop saying “I never thought life would be like this.” I’m slowly learning it rarely ever looks how our idealized glaze would have it.

 

There’s this beautifully frustrating analogy of life being a mountain to climb. You’re walking along, and you see a tree. A giant pine. You look up at its thick branches, you compare your smallness to the thick trunk. You keep walking, climbing.

Maybe a day goes by or even years. You’re higher up now, and you think you can grab the clouds. Then you look to your left and there off the path is a tree. You recognize it, but now you’re looking even with the branches rather than straight up at them. Perspective. Around and around you go on the mountain, crossing paths with this tree every once in a while, but always at different heights.

Life lessons tend to be this way. I think I’ve wrestled something through to its root, claim victory and move on. I climb my mountain, and then I stumble upon it again: the same struggle but to a different degree. Each time I walk away stronger, albeit exhausted. Climbing and wrestling call for every little bit of you.

I remember first hearing this analogy while bundled (though basking) in Georgia’s winter sun. I remember swallowing hard, not at all liking what I was hearing. I remember thinking–and probably verbalizing–that I just wished life could be a checklist and there’d be an arrival somewhere on this mountain.

Arriving is a stinking lie. And it’s just going to take time.

It’s going to take time to work through what seems like the hundredth battle against the past.

It’s going to take time to fondly call a place home when for too long home meant packed bags and an itinerary of goodbyes.

It’s going to take time to invest in new souls, and clean out old wounds.

Life wasn’t built in a day.

God took six of them to create the world.

 

Probably the most freeing and equally irritating advice I’ve been given is to “have grace for yourself.” You too? If only it were that easy, right?

If all you know is to be hard on yourself (and often we don’t even see it until an outside party points it out), throwing grace into the equation seems impossible. It means uprooting rocky soil and deleting years of thought patterns. Grace can be bestowed so easily, like a snap of the fingers, but it also takes time.

Believe me, I wish it didn’t. I wish we could walk through our days snapping every five minutes, adding a little Mary Poppins magic to our lives’ mayhem.

But it’s just going to take time. And yes, have grace on yourself while the clock ticks and tocks.

Meaning:

Breathe. Always breathe. Don’t let the tennis match of anxiety vs. your heart consume you.

Count. List out your gratitudes. The rain on the airplane window, the extra hour of sleep yesterday morning, your sister’s empathy. There’s so much to be thankful for (anxiety fails to recognize that).

Throw the theory of arrival in the trash and set fire to it. You can get creative if you wish.

* * *

We’re all climbing mountains and running into familiar pines. And we need each other. We need each other to remind us that we’re not back at the beginning of the path or starting over at square one.

 

We need each other to look us straight in the face and say, “hang in there” while also rooting for us all the way. We need each other to keep believing that while it will take time (so much more time than we ever imagined), the mountain climb will not defeat us. We will not be consumed, not even when painstaking darkness hides the path. Not even in loss or getting lost.

It’s going to take time. It’s going to hurt, and your heart will develop blisters.

But keep walking anyway. I need you to, just like you need me. We can inspect our pines together; I’ll show you where I carved my name in the trunk. And we’ll both be better for it.

when winter comes, pray bold prayers

Someone recently told me to not be afraid to pray big prayers. To pray for the bold things, the quiet desires burrowed deep within.

The thought has circled around in my head in recent weeks, but never long enough to actually put into action.

I’m afraid to pray for big things. I’m afraid they won’t come true once I speak them. Because I’ve spoken words larger than me before, and large words are an invitation to be taken down a path we never would have desired to encounter otherwise.

 

Another someone recently asked me what my long-term dreams were. I couldn’t help but laugh, because what does that mean anymore? I sat in the backseat of his truck, between two high schoolers and said, “I don’t really know. I’m more focused on the short-term and what life looks like here.”

Advice and questions like that rattle my heart. My immediate reaction is to find a reason to buy a ticket to somewhere else. Maybe somewhere else is where I’ll find the answers to my long-term dreams and be able to pray bold things.

The holidays are a beautiful but odd time, I think. They make my eyes water, because it feels like another mile marker in life when I don’t feel like I belong.

This was my first hometown Thanksgiving in six years. I hugged familiar bodies and wrote the word “home” in cursive on a giant pumpkin that people signed with what they were thankful for. The period I permanently dotted after that word–home–seemed to dig into my soul, poking at unspoken and painful things dwelling there.

It’s natural and human to desire belonging. Yet I seem to want to speed up the process, or at least give myself grief for not being in a place I thought should exist by now.

 

I’ve been buying chunky sweaters and lighting candles and writing in at least three different journals. I’m desperately trying to find belonging, a place to land, if even in lined pages of a gifted journal I wouldn’t have picked out for myself.

I’ve flown on a handful of airplanes in the past two weeks, one trip to visit my grandparents’ markers in the ground (it’s quite a strange experience to look for your own last name in bold letters surrounded by other dates and names of strangers) and another trip to the deep South for a friend’s wedding. I thought traveling–for I claimed the most peace and home I had on this earth was found amongst the clouds soaring to another destination–would help me sift through my soul’s confusion and provide a sense of belonging.

It didn’t. It frightened me even more, for up in the clouds, I found more unsettledness than I did in this place I’ve claimed as home with a permanent period at the end.

The sky is giant and gray today, accentuating even more of the gray homes surrounding mine and the barren trees swaying to an invisible force. It’s equally melancholic and tragically beautiful. I think it’s a picture of what life can look like when we pray for bold things. We formulate the sentences in a season of vibrant color and full leafy trees, and suddenly–we’re wearing chunky sweaters and mindlessly wandering dark afternoons wondering what happened.

Bold prayers are frightening because they can lead us to places we never thought. It’s how I landed here and wrote home on a pumpkin. And that’s why I’m afraid to pray boldly again, because what if it leads to more gray days and thinning candles and barren trees? What if it’s just another mile marker holiday where I’m wishing for answers and a sense of belonging, but yet again, it’s not arrived?

I have asked lovers young and old alike how they met their significant others. “How did you just know she was the one?” I’ve demanded, laughing of course. I’m looking for the formula.

I have sat in a dark room, crying onto my sleeping niece’s hair as I rocked her and asked the darkness around me, “How do you get from here to there? How do you find belonging?”

Perhaps the bittersweet taste of this post–for I truly am thankful, both for a place to call home and pumpkin pie gatherings–won’t provide answers or a hopeful push into vocalizing bold things. Perhaps it’s just a giant chunky sweater hug in which you can sit and rest and know that other people are waiting and wondering too. Other people find holidays to be odd dates on the calendar.

May we one day gain the courage to pray bold prayers. May the barren trees grow green again. But if winter sticks–when it sticks–may we choose to say, “I’ll keep fighting. Tomorrow I’ll get back up, light my candle, and fight again.”

i want to arrive (lessons from the midst of the process)

There was a time when a white blank page was a close friend.

We went everywhere together–that blank page and me–inspiration and life just around each corner. The process of documenting live and chaotic events with typed words was thrilling to me.

There was a time when my ukulele and I wandered down barren dirt paths or sat on curbs in pit-stop cities. Together we rhymed frustrations, heartache, and joy. My voice rubber-banded to new highs and lows, and singing became therapy.

But now is a time where my voice is exhausted. I sing along to the radio as I drive down bumpy dirt roads (construction in this city is endless), but I don’t like the sound of it. It’s strained. My rhymes are repetitive, boring. Singing reminds me of what once was.

And sadly, same with writing. I’ve taken to hating the idea of it, though it once was the very thing that kept my insides aligned and inspired. It taunts me now, my disorganized explosion of written dreams, the first draft of my book collecting dust.

Yet oddly enough, I’ve never felt more myself. Perhaps grounded is the right word. Because living in the desert of waiting forces you to face yourself, demons and all. You’ve camped in empty and boring terrain, and there’s no one around to fight the battles for you.

You have to do it yourself: respond to the alarm, rise before the sun, and build yourself one day at a time.

 

Maybe you’re really good at this, but I’m not: the art of patience. Of waiting.

I so badly want the day to come where I can write “Dear Diary, today I finally hit puberty and actually look my age.” Or “Dear Diary, today was the day I stumbled upon my dream job that also pays and I no longer have to feel confused about the way I’m wired and what I’m good at because it exists beyond my daydreams.” (disclaimer: I don’t actually pen “Dear Diary” entries, but for the sake of charm, I figured it was worth writing in this post.)

But those days will never come. Not in that way at least.

A day will come when I finally look old enough to stand my ground against high schoolers, but it’ll be a slow process. The wrinkles will set in, one day at a time, at first without my notice. And a day will come when I am smack in the middle of fulfillment, but it’ll be a slow process.

Waiting feels so slow. It’s painful. We sit in hopeful anticipation for what’s next, but we don’t sit in the moment of right now. Because the right now doesn’t provide answers. But it leads us to some.

 

A few days ago, I sat in a coffee shop with a dear woman I’ve looked up to since I knew her at 16. I talked at lightning speed, so many years and experiences of life to share. My hopes and dreams and confusion spilled all over the table and onto the floor. To me, it was a mess, because to me, I feel like a mess.

She looked at me and said, “People are many layers. There’s so much to us, and we’re always going through something.”

We looked over at the baristas as the object lesson, my eyes quickly scanning their busy and happy faces. I wondered what they were insecure about that day. Or whether or not they were content in that coffee shop and if they thought they’d be somewhere else at this point in life. Or if they’d been able to fulfill their dreams.

We all want something. We’re all hopeful for at least one thing right now, though the levels of hope may vary for each of us. We just want to get to that place, find that fulfillment.

But life calls us to wait. Life calls us to commit to the process, not necessarily the arrival.

 

And besides, all those times we have arrived or achieved, we often look back at what we’ve walked through to get there and practically almost miss it. Because in hindsight, we’re able to recognize the importance of committing to the process.

I desperately wish it didn’t take hindsight to see such things. But I suppose the unknown of the desert is what keeps us going.

And I desperately wish that the desert didn’t strip me of my joys like writing and singing. Often the desert sucks creativity. There aren’t many colorful stories to tell in the slow, long days of waiting.

But waiting also keeps us grounded, in a weird way. It reminds us that we’re fallible, that sometimes we think we’re capable of more than our blistered hands allow. That, in the desert, there are small and simple pieces of ourselves that are beautiful too.

It’s ok to not move mountains today. It’s ok to only take a couple of steps in the hot sand because it’s all you can handle. It’s ok to have a strained voice or a strong dislike for writing in today’s phase of life.

We are many layers, and we go through many seasons. Don’t worry, your strength will come back. Your feet will run miles again. Hopefully, someday, I’ll be able to write colorful stories and sing new rhymes.

And maybe there will be a day where we write, “Dear Diary, today I moved the final piece of rock and realized I had moved an entire mountain. And I didn’t think I ever could.”

how to find contentment in a barren land

“So what do you want to do with that?” she asked me.

 

“Well, I have a degree in–”

“Yes, but what do you want to do with that?” it wasn’t a question, but a demand.

I had walked into this interview entirely unprepared for what would meet me behind the closed door. Hair thrown up in a bun, and wearing a dress more lazy day than interview standard, I thought I’d be handed the instructions and schedule for volunteering. Little did I know I’d walk away wondering–yet again–what I was doing with my life and on the ever searching quest for contentment.

The woman’s emphasis on the action, on the doing aspect of life caused tears to jump to my eyes. I looked out her window desperately searching for an answer, and found none. No manna fell from heaven, and the sun was far too cheery.

“I don’t know,” I stuttered. Her judgment and disapproval were like claws digging into my soul. She turned her back to her computer–”I’m still listening,” she said over her shoulder–printed off two front and back sheets of paper and handed them to me. I continued to ramble about things I enjoy and am passionate about (ugh the ever cliche passion) and how I can’t seem to find a job description encompassing those things.

Long story short, this woman was convinced she’d found the answer for me; the career path was spelled out on the pieces of paper in my hands. While I told her plainly I don’t and never have had a desire to climb a career ladder, she seemed to dismiss the idea and try to land me on a direct path anyway.

I drove away both relieved and defeated. Relieved because I knew this volunteer opportunity was absolutely not what I wanted to do, but defeated because I didn’t know what I did want to do instead.

There is so much emphasis on what we do as human beings, it’s no wonder we rarely, if ever, find contentment.

 

For two months, my days have consisted of nothing. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I kiss my 3 month old niece, and make food, and have conversations with people. I drink bad coffee and look for a job. I sit in anxiety and an unmade bed because nothing seems to be panning out the way I thought it should.

It’s already October. I thought surely by this point, life would be happening, and I’d be making money, laughing with new friends and settling into some sort of routine.

But it’s already October, and few things look different than they did two months ago. And I’m defeated, because I’m not doing. I feel purposeless without some form of doing.

We’ve bought into this lie that we’re only good enough for what we do.

 

This lie makes me stand as tall as my small frame can and spit truth into the faces of those who believe their job description is who they are. It causes my hands to go flying as words spill from my mouth and I do my best to get across to the beautiful human next to me that they’re so much more than the busyness of life.

But when it comes to me, it’s far from easy to fight for myself. I’ve heard it said that we talk to ourselves in horrific ways we would never imagine speaking toward other people. Why? Why do we struggle to accept ourselves exactly where we’re at?

I’m learning this horribly difficult lesson about contentment. See, I keep telling myself that once I get a job–once life walks by and grabs me to join in–then I’ll be content. Once I have my own place then I’ll be content. Once I’ve arrived, after solving all mental illness problems and maybe world hunger, too, then I’ll be content.

***

A few weeks ago, I stood in a dark room with hundreds of other people of my community. I felt foreign. Despite whispering to myself, “this is your city, too” I doubted it. I’ve constantly doubted if I belong, because I am not content.

But I stood there, in the back, looking at beautiful humans with hands and voices raised. The dim lights on the stage seemed to cast some eternal glow in the room, and I wanted to weep. For the goodness in that auditorium, for the person I used to be (and so very much miss), for the words being sung.

As one of the songs came to a close, the female singer prayed, “Help me not to overlook small things in search of something greater. Help me to be content in this pasture right here.”

 

I practically laughed and cried all at once. Because she nailed it. I’ve not at all been content in the pasture I’m currently in, one that seems full of cow patties and weeds. One that seems to be going nowhere but the view is hopelessly endless.

And yet–”Help me to be content in this pasture right here.”

It’s not necessarily a prayer I want to pray, because I desperately hope life moves at a pace where I’m doing and busy again. But the truth is, some days (or seasons or pastures of life) we just have no option but to choose to be content. Life can seem so bleak and empty unless we choose to stop our downward spiral of negativity and spit truths to ourselves too.

And while life (and for heaven’s sake, this blog) is going places I am so uncertain of, I have the choice to hold onto gratitude and accept it. To tell my anxiety that there is in fact a lot to be thankful for, and listing those thanks out loud. To sit in seemingly empty days but see them as opportunity for more niece kisses and hard learned lessons.

By choosing to accept it–and accepting ourselves–maybe then we’ll find contentment.

staying

staying put: what a nomad has learned from finding home

Last summer, I was running with a heart full of wrong promises.

 

See, I had promised myself to remain a nomad, traveling and floating through life. I had built a wall of both pride and fear around my soul; to stop nomadically living would mean the end of who I knew myself to be. Traveling the world for a year had only whet my appetite for more adventure further and further away from any remains of home. As far as I was concerned, home was found amongst the puffy white clouds while flying to another new destination.

Oh, how humbling it is when your heart’s desires—however thwarted or pure—end up being restructured. How excruciatingly painful it is to see a good deal of your Facebook news feed packing up and heading out again into the world of foreign currency and spicy food.

I’ve spent a good deal flying a pen across paper at the confusion of my own soul’s emptiness. I wondered what could possibly come next after a whirlwind year of travel and new experiences. Nothing could measure up or exceed such a season, I believed.

 

Yet, packing up my belongings a year ago to move again, I experienced a deep rooted pain that hadn’t occurred before. My spirit was begging me not to go again. It was exhausted. It was tired and sore and ready for one calm geographical location.

Needless to say, I fought hard against this small whisper. And needless to say, it won, because I have since returned to my hometown.

It’s been a few months now since I “settled down.” (I put this in quotes because I’m still not sure I like the taste in my mouth.) And so far, here are a couple things I’ve learned.

1. Settledness encompasses consistency.

I have been repeatedly humbled in reciting, “You know, I’m not really sure what I’m doing next,” and am practically embarrassed about my loneliness and empty schedule. But I’m recognizing the consistency in being in one place for an indefinite amount of time.

People don’t want you around because you’re new and foreign, they want you around because you’re you. You’re there. They can call you up and ask for help on a random Thursday, and you have the freedom to say “yes” because you’re not halfway around the world. There’s a level of consistency and loyalty I’ve not experienced in the sweet chaos of travel that I have tasted in just a few short months in one place.

2. It’s only geography.

A few weeks ago, I was dishing my insecurities and frustrations about following God into this season of staying put. “I never imagined I would move back to my least favorite place,” the angry words met a forkful of hash browns as I prepared to continue my rant.

“You know, I don’t think it’s anything more than just geography,” my friend piped in. “If you look at it that way, the place being the problem, you’ll always find an excuse to be running from something or someone.”

 

Her words stopped me, and I could only say, “You’re right.” Because the truth is, it really is only geography. I think we can build up a place to be far too reminding of old wounds and heartache, but in reality, we are the ones who have taken geographical parameters and placed them around painful things in our own hearts. We use location as an excuse to not deal with them. So returning to and sticking around this place has only pushed me to work through those harbored wounds and see it as nothing more than just a dot on a map.

3. Dreaming exists in “staying” too.

I was recently encouraged to make two lists: one for travel dreams and one for hometown dreams. I was more than excited to make the list of “big” dreams for seeing the world, but what I didn’t expect was to be excited for the hometown list too. By the end, I had almost the same amount of dreams on each list, and I was actually looking forward to digging into the hometown dreams.

I’ve remembered the smaller moments and details of life that I’ve secretly wished for even while traversing a foreign city. Details like sitting across the table from a person I could weekly meet, and having a barista know my order because I’d found a coffee shop home. Or falling in love with a single place, knowing I could come back to it any day of the week.

Dreaming doesn’t have to always be big and far away. Dreams exist in the regular everyday, too.

4. Staying put means grieving and letting go.

For a long time, I defined freedom as traveling and moving to multiple places. I defined myself by my lack of roots. And while I both know and want to stay in one place for a little while, I also have been experiencing a sense of loss. My life has turned out to be very different than what I thought I wanted and imagined, and there’s a peace in that. But there’s also grief.

It’s important to take time to grieve the loss of how life used to be, even if the season ahead is a beautiful one. Change is the most constant thing in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we get used to it. There’s always something to let go of in order to more openly receive what’s in the present, and I think grief is the process of getting us to a place of open palms and expectant hearts.

5. It’s a new level of dependence and bravery.

I’m used to trying new places and cultures; there’s no option but to be brave and dependent on what you know or who you’re with. However, staying in one place—settling and planting roots—that’s another level of dependence entirely because you have to fight for it.

It’s far too easy to let mundane swallow you whole and remember bravery only in days past. It’s far too easy to succumb to apathy and give up because the simplest of things give you anxiety. However, the choice is yours to continue to be dependent. Sure, it’ll look different than foreign brave days of last year, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less brave. For me at least, walking into familiar territory has been the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. But I’m choosing to believe and depend on what I know is true. And part of that truth is that I’m still the same brave human being I was anywhere else on this planet. I know the same goes for you, too.

***

When I first opened up about my “going” turning into a season of “staying,” I encouraged you that you would move mountains in ways you never could on the open road. I still stand firm in that. Right now, they may be anthills, and the open road is far too tempting to flee to again. But keep staying. Keep planting roots and shaking hands of new people and being intentional. Keep facing fears and putting bravery on over your sweatshirt.

And one day—I hope for both of our sakes that it’s a day coming soon—you’ll find yourself declaring freedom in one settled, beautiful place.

The Power of Depression: A View of the Inside

Author’s note: This post is written from the perspective of a struggling mind, and is a peek into the mental battle of depression vs. truth. By no means is it meant to downplay or serve as a fixed solution to mental illness.

Depression is a very real thing, sometimes needing immediate and medical attention. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope this post can be a reminder and encouragement to you. You’re not alone in the darkness you face.

Depression is smooth, kinda like the boy you had a crush on in eighth grade.

 

You know you shouldn’t, but sometimes it just happens, and you have a head and diary full of feelings for the bad boy. You don’t even realize you’re being lured and enticed until too late.

Depression seems to feast upon your naïveté, until one mundane moment of any given day, it slinks its way between your thoughts of running errands and what to cook for dinner.

“You’re not ok, you’re just fooling yourself. You are depressed again, and this time there’s no escaping.” It’s a tightening feeling that sits in your throat and sticks to your membrane long after all other thoughts leave.

 

You both can’t wait for and dread sleep. Tears kiss you goodnight, and dreams (though what defines a nightmare, because these may be them) keep your subconscious up all night. You wake with relief until you open your eyes for yet another day of strangling thoughts and fatigued vision.

You’re just so tired, you’re just so done. There’s no escape, and you wonder how you ever found one before. Have you just been lying to yourself this entire time?

“Is this who I really am?” you question. Depression is quick to answer with a confident yes. Depression has that advantage on you: confidence, assurance. So obviously you must be in the wrong, and depression’s telling the truth: this is you in isolated, quivering existence. There’s no finding life again.

You’re just so tired.

You’re tired of being exhausted all the time but expected to function as a normal human being. Tired of anxiety making decisions you never would. Tired of thinking so damn much. Tired of being trapped in your own skin. You always wanted different skin anyway, skin that loved the sun and looked good in yellows and whites.

Maybe this is your way out. To keep going would just be a disgrace anyway, right? Besides, everything ahead is daunting. Intimidating. Grown up. Deadly. You don’t want to make those decisions, give in to those societal pressures like finding the right person and paying the bills on time. You’d rather just avoid it all completely like you’ve avoided the laughter and sickening happiness outside your bedroom window.

“So do it.” Depression states. You don’t need the clarification. You know.

 

It’s scary. You’re not brave enough, you chastise yourself. You couldn’t; what would people think of you? Of your family? You hate yourself further.

The cycle starts over again.

What would the world be like without your existence? you wonder. A lot less questions, that’s for sure. Probably happier, freer. Probably–

Stop.

Because here’s the flip side of that question we rarely, if ever, ask ourselves: what’s the world like because of  your existence?

Who has been heard because of you? Who has met their significant other or best friend because of you? Where have your friends explored because of your sense for adventure? What have you taught others through all your questions?

Write down your answers. Seriously. Grab a pen and literally write down answers, because I know you have some. Depression doesn’t think you do, but think bigger if you can, just for a second.

And then: go watch my friend George Bailey. Who cares if it’s not Christmas. Who cares if it is. Pop in the ol’ VHS of It’s A Wonderful Life. Cry with him and reunite with Clarence and hate Bedford Falls together. Fall in love with Mary again because it’s not too late.

It’s not too late.

You didn’t choose this, but you can choose to fight back. You can choose to take a deep breath and say, “No. For the next five minutes, depression and emptiness will not control me.” It takes two to play the game. Get out your boxing gloves and serve a good one to bad boy depression.

You’re worth the fight. You don’t believe it yet, but there are people around you who do. They’re fighting for you with everything they can, hoping and praying and guarding your front door when depression tries to come in. Trust them. You’re not going to want to, but trust them. Listen to them.

Cling to truth. Truth that’s beyond the darkness. Remember the words to your favorite song and how you used to spell “definitely” wrong. Hold onto the funny memories and good days. There are more ahead.

You will be ok. You may not be for a very long time, or tomorrow could be sunnier than today. But one day in the mundane, between a to-do list and laundry, you’ll hear it: “I’m ok. I’m gonna be ok.”