Sister, You’re Going to Kenya

Dear Sister, 

I know that “we” don’t do sappy, but I do. I do. I feel. I worry. You’re going to Kenya. With Bible Quizzers, which are your favorite group of people on this planet.  And I’m so excited for you! But I’m oh so very nervous. 

And I know I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier. I worry about anything and everything, and I always jump to the worst case scenarios. But I’m not going to jump this time, because you’ll be fine. 

You’ll be more than fine. You’ll be great, spectacular. 

But just in case, you know, because you’ll be there and not here where I can make sure you’re safe, and because it’ll make me feel better, I’m going to give you some advice (not that you need it, but I need it because I’ve done a missions trip before, and it’s my job to teach you).

So, here’s what I know, what I hope you learn. 

When you wake up one morning and feel like you can’t do this, like you can’t minister to people, and trust me, you will wake up one morning on this trip and feel like it’s all too much, I hope you remember that while leading people to Christ is important–it’s our duty as Christians–sometimes giving people what they need in that exact moment is just as important. If you can lead even one person to Christ, good. If you can give one person what they need in that moment–a listening ear, a friend, food, water, clothes–even better. 

God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes one simple act of kindness is all you need to open the door. 

Your comfort zone is being left an ocean away, but I hope that by the time this trip is done your comfort zone will have expanded to include the ocean. Because the most amazing, life-changing, heart-wrenching moments happen when we step out of our comfort zones and let God do what God does. And I hope God does some amazing things in your life and on this trip.

If you can do this, you can do anything. And you’ve already done so much–overcome so much. I hope you’re proud of that. 
I hope you hold on to every feeling you have, every emotion you feel during this trip. Embrace the fears, the sadnesses, the happiness, the triumphs. Wrap them up. Put them in the pocket of your favorite jeans. Pull them out when you need a reminder of who God is, what He’s capable of. Pull them out when you want to reminisce. When you want to remember the first time you really challenged yourself. 

Because this trip will challenge you in ways I can’t even possibly begin to describe. And I hope it changes you. I hope it leaves you on fire for God, for His kingdom, for spreading the news that we are all one under Him, for showing his love.

When people ask me if I’d do a Missions Trip again, I say yes. And when they ask, why, I respond, “because of the people I’ll meet along the way.”

The people you meet will change you. I hope they have as much of an impact on you as you do on them. I hope the mark they leave on you will last a lifetime. 
Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re not the only ones in the world. You know, you and me, we’re pretty privileged here. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not, even the ones who live here. 

I hope you don’t forget the people you meet, both those who are in Kenya and those who are going with you. I hope you don’t forget they way they challenge you, inspire you. I hope you learn their stories, help them shoulder their burdens. I hope you share your story, too. 

We all have a story. Nobody’s is unimportant. 

I hope you going into this asking yourself, “What can I learn?” Instead of “What can I teach them?”

They will teach you more about yourself than staying here ever could. They will teach you more about God than you ever thought possible–even if they don’t believe in God, God will work through them like He will work through you.

I hope you remember what they teach you. I hope you leave a small part of yourself in Kenya when you leave, so you remember to pray for them when you return. Because it’s so easy to come back and return to everyday life, forgetting everything that just happened, and return to normal.

I hope the life you live when you come back is anything but normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way that inspires you to change the world, to have an impact, to create a mark, to leave the world a little bit more beautiful than it was when you entered. 

And when you come back and begin college, I hope the skills you learned while in Kenya you carry with you while at college. 

There will be people there who challenge you, whose beliefs don’t line up with what you believe (yes, even at Roberts). Listen to them. Learn from them. Expand your worldview. Believe what you believe because it’s what YOU believe, not because it’s what you grew up believing. 

Go into all of these new experiences with an open mind, allow God to work, allow your views to change if that’s what needs to happen.

Don’t let what you believe stop you from seeing other people’s beliefs.

Don’t let what you see stop you from seeing what other people see. There is more than one way to view the world, and each person has only a very limited scope made up of lenses of their experiences and where they live. Sometimes understanding means putting down your scope and picking up someone else’s, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone else. 

I hope your time in Kenya changes the way you see the world, the way you see God, the way you see yourself. 

But most importantly, I hope this trip leaves you energized, hungry for God, eager to change the world. 

I hope you share your stories of your time in Kenya. I hope you hold close the most precious moments. 

When you become weary of the future, I hope this trip serves as a reminder that you can do anything if you let go and you let God do what He does.

 
I hope I can remember the same. 

So, go in peace, go with joy, go with eagerness. Go with the hope of a life-changing encounter with God. 

I’ll be here. We’ll all be here, praying for you the whole way. 

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Reasons to Keep Breathing

The sun will come up one morning, and you will realize that you haven’t yet slept. On days like this, when it feels like you haven’t slept in weeks or months; on days like this when you wake up at 2 am, heart pounding, with unwanted memories circling around your head; on days like this, when you’re too anxious, too nervous to close your eyes, or the drumming of your heart can be heard in your head, which makes it impossible to sleep anyway; on days like this, when the night is long but not long enough, and the shadows threaten to swallow you whole, promise me you’ll keep breathing.

Promise me you’ll keep breathing, even if the weight of the world seems too much for your shoulders to carry, even if the floor doesn’t seem too steady, even if you can’t get out of bed. Keep breathing.

Keep breathing because one day you will find things to believe in: God, a cause, a person, yourself. And even if you can’t believe in God because it seems like He left you a long time ago, I hope you can believe in yourself.

I hope you can believe in yourself because even though you are one finite person in this infinite universe, there is an entire universe inside you. There is an entire system of neurons and nerves, synapses and cells, bones and muscles, genes and ideas, hopes and dreams that make you unique. And if the idea that all of these things exist inside of you and make you one in 108 billion (which is the estimate of how many people have ever lived) isn’t enough to blow your mind, imagine this: the probability of your existence at all is 1in 10^2,685,000., which is basically zero.

You are a miracle. And miracles are beautiful.

If you can’t find the beauty in yourself right now, one day you will. But for now, find the beauty in others, in the world around you. Find the beauty in the laughter and the smiles, the rain and the sun, the snow and the fall of the leaves. Find the beauty of people falling in love, and out of love, and upside-down in love. Find the beauty in the way babies and old people are so much alike: all they do is eat and sleep.

Life has a way of repeating itself.

Find the beauty in the expected and the unexpected. Find the beauty in the colors of fall, sunrises, and sunsets. Find the beauty in the smell of freshly baked cookies, puppy kisses, and the taste of snowflakes on your tongue. Find the beauty in the way there’s a cycle to everything: life and death, the bloom and the harvest, the dawn and the dusk.

Remember this: even the hardest winters bring beautiful springs.

Keep breathing because you are still becoming. Who you are now is not who you’ll stay. Where you are now is not where you’ll end.

Keep breathing because even though the journey of becoming sometimes seems too hard, I promise you it’s worth it. You will touch so many lives. You will impact more people than you could ever know.

Keep breathing because one day, you’ll wake up, and you’ll be in recovery.

This is how you know you’re in recovery.

One: you sleep through the night.

Two: the sun is shining just a little bit brighter.

Three: the numbness goes away, and you begin to feel again.

Four: you eat again.

Five: you smile again.

Six: the scars begin to fade.

Seven: the nights seem a little less dark.

Keep breathing because there are so many stars left to count.

Keep breathing because sometimes having the air knocked out of you is all you need to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

Open Letter to Wide-eyed freshmen and eager seniors

Sitting at the reception desk this morning, watching all the new students stream into the building for their first day of classes, my heart aches a little bit. I want to be a part of it all: the hustle and the bustle, the reunion of friends after a summer hiatus, the meeting of professors and new classmates.

It is when I look at my bank account and realize I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on books and supplies that it hit me I’m not a part of it anymore—college life continues without me. I can stay on campus as long as I want, but I still won’t be an active participant: my friends will go to class and will leave me sitting alone. And they did. And they do.

I am now that alumni that refuses to leave, the one who, maybe, doesn’t even know how.

So, I sat in the café for four hours after my shift ended, taking it all in—the sights, the smells, the sounds—like a person on a diet, trying to quell their cravings by immersing their senses. Or, better yet, a reader who lives vicariously through the characters in a favorite book.

Looking at the sea of faces in front of me, I don’t recognize half of them. The ones I do, I say ‘Hello’ to. The ones I know well, I hug. The ones I don’t, I say a prayer for, asking God to bless their time at college like he did for me.

I’m a whole different person now than I was when I started college—thank God for that.

I was a wide-eyed freshman who thought she knew everything, and somehow along the way I turned into an alumnus who realizes she still has a lot to learn. Life would be pretty boring if I knew everything.

One day, you wide-eyed freshmen will turn into eager seniors who are just ready to be done: ready to be done with all the all-nighters, ready to be done with the 2 am fire alarms, ready to be done seeing that one professor you just don’t agree with.

Embrace the time you have in college. Trust me when I say that someday that ‘one day’ will turn into tomorrow. Tomorrow comes sooner than you think.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will be at least a few times when you doubt everything. The first will come when you meet someone whose life challenges everything you thought you knew. You may go to a small, Christian, liberal arts school, but the people here are as diverse as NYC. You will meet someone who causes you to question every belief you learned growing up. Embrace these people. Learn from them. Listen to them with an open mind. It’s only after your beliefs have been truly questioned that you can stand firm.

I believe what I believe not because it’s what my parents believe. I believe what I believe because I have questioned.

Wide-eyed freshman, you will doubt yourself again when your senior year draws to a close, and you wonder if you are going to make it in the ‘real world.’ You will. The skills you have learned along the way have prepared you for this moment: you are eager to learn, you can cooperate well with others, you’ve learned how to manage your time. The things you haven’t learned yet, you will learn along the way.

You will doubt yourself many times between these two and many times after. But, remember this: there are people around you cheering you on, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Wide-eyed freshman, it might take a while, but you will find the place where you fit. You will find friends you encourage you, challenge you, laugh with you, cry with you, rejoice with you. Hang on to them. The friends you make in college will be some of the best friends you ever have.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will come a day when you stop feeling homesick. Don’t forget about your family. Write them, call them, text them. Let them know how you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the hard things, the parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden. You will make mistakes. It’s ok. We all do.

Eager seniors, you’ve done it! You’ve made it this far, and now you’re ready to be done. I was too, and now I realize how much I’m going to miss (not syllabus week, or finals week, or the all-nighters trying to write the paper that’s due tomorrow that I procrastinated on). I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day. I’m going to miss having conversations that challenge me to grow as a person and an intellectual. I’m going to miss taking time away from studying to go to Taco Bell (because sometimes taking a break is the best thing you can do).

Eager seniors, don’t forget what you’ve learned along the way. Dream big. You will do great things with the talents you’ve been forgiven. When you become rich and famous, don’t forget about the people who helped you along the way. Don’t forget to keep learning, exploring. There is so much world out there to explore, so many different kinds of people to meet, so many cultures to experience.

The best advice I ever received came from one of my favorite professors. One day he said to my class, “Trust me.

Wait, don’t. Don’t trust me. Question everything.”

I went from a wide-eyed freshman to an eager senior to a college alumnus who is still trying to figure her life out. And that’s ok. Because the more I question, the more I learn; the more I learn, the more risks I take; the more risks I take, the harder I fall; the harder I fall, the stronger I become; and the stronger I become, a better human I will be.

That is what college is all about: becoming a better human.

I stayed on campus for four hours after my shift ended, trying to take everything I could in because I’m still trying to become a better human. And the people I met in college have helped me along the way.

continue reading: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

Open Letter to My Cousin and Every Other Young Girl on the Verge of Womanhood

We celebrated your 14th birthday last night, and after dinner had been eaten, presents opened, candles blown out, and cake devoured, you made a few comments that caused me to worry.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans.

I feel bloated.

My butt is too big.

I know these phrases. I’ve heard these phrases. I’ve said these phrases. These phrases became my worst enemy. They ate away at my self-image until I refused to eat.

I thought that in order to be beautiful, I had to look a certain way. I knew I never would look this way because it’s not in my DNA, but I tried to anyway.

I tried to make myself smaller to fit in the box labelled ‘Perfection.’

I was willing to give up my individuality, what makes me me, to gain a definition of beauty that I realize now I don’t want to fit.

And I’m not saying you’re going to be like this.

I’m not saying you’ll struggle with an eating disorder. I’m hoping you don’t. But I’m saying to you, watch out. Eating disorders are uncomfortably common in society today, and it’s easier to fall into their trap than you think it is.

I never thought it would happen to me.

Unfortunately, it did. I started to believe the whispers in my head that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough.

It starts with a whisper, and then it escalates to a scream in your head that you’re not beautiful enough.

And not everybody develops eating disorders, but everybody compares themselves to others.

If I had her legs, her face, her hips, her hair, maybe I’d be beautiful.

It starts with comparing, but it can escalate from there, which can be extremely dangerous.

So, when I hear you make comments like this, I have to respond.

I need to lose some of this (referring to your barely existent stomach).

I can’t fit into last year’s jeans (it’s called “growing up”).

I feel bloated (did you know your weight can change from day-to-day?).

My butt is too big (it’s not too big. You’re getting hips. You’re a woman, not a 2×4).

One day, you’re a girl. The next day, you’re on the verge of womanhood. And society is so quick to rush the process along, we forget to teach you that it’s ok to take your time. It’s ok to not look like everybody else.

It starts with that wonderful (but not-so-secretly terrible) gift that Mother Nature gives us every month. Then it moves to developing breasts and hips. Your clothes stop fitting the way they used to. You’re becoming a woman, and it’s terrifying.

You move from child to woman overnight, and suddenly you’re wearing adult clothes. One day, you wake up, look in the mirror, and see your mother. When did this happen?

You see all these magazines and movies with women who don’t look like you. And that’s ok. We can’t all look the same.

You’re beautiful anyway.

You’re beautiful despite your insecurities (and it’s ok to be insecure. We all are at times).

You’re beautiful despite, and because of, your imperfections.

You may have a bigger butt than you like. Your hips may be wider than you like. You may be too tall, too short, too fat, too thin. You may have too many curves or none at all.

That’s ok.

You’re a woman, not a 2×4.

I need you to know this now before you become like me and enter your Freshman year at college and realize you can’t remember the last time you ate a full meal or three times a day.

I need you to know this now before you lose yourself trying to become like other people.

I need you to know this now because it’s harder to unlearn poor body image later. It’s harder to unlearn your insecurities than it is to learn what you like about yourself.

I need you to know this now because you’re beautiful. And maybe looking in the mirrors some days is painful. You don’t have to look. The mirror can’t tell you how other people see you. The mirror can’t tell you how smart you are, how funny you are, how athletic you are, how musical, how bright your future is.

I know society teaches us that beauty is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important thing.

I’m telling you to be more than pretty. Be pretty amazing, pretty smart, pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty eager to change the world.

A five letter word does not describe you.

Me of 2014, Here’s to You: A Year in Review

At the conclusion of every year, I like to make a mental list of things I’ve learned throughout the year. This year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also written a lot. So instead of making a mental list, I decided to write what I’ve learned down. What I’ve learned turned into a list summarizing what I’ve written about, what I’ve talked about with friends, and what I’ve thought about late at night. It turned into a list echoing a letter, partially inspired by a wonderful friend I went to Guatemala with. Do with this list what you will, but I’ve discovered the importance of reflecting on how much a year can change you, on how much you grow over the course of twelve months. Without further adieu, what I’ve learned in 2014.

Dear Me of January 1, 2014,

In 2014, you will:

  • be challenged, step out of your comfort zone, learn so much, cry, laugh, heal, celebrate, and mourn.
  • experience the healing power of forgiveness without expecting an apology.
  • be pushed to the breaking point (again) with one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters. You will learn from this and follow it up with one of your easier semesters. Thank yourself for this.
  • receive an unexpected apology.
  • experience God in new ways: through the first sunny day after a long, dark winter; through the cuddles of a toddler on Friday mornings; through the strength you find to get out of bed in the morning.
  • deepen old relationships, discover new ones, and cut ties with toxic people.
  • celebrate milestones marking things you’ve overcome.
  • rediscover yourself, redefine yourself, learn to love yourself.
  • make it through another year. Sometimes you’ll fight an uphill battle; sometimes you’ll walk on solid ground.
  • be knocked down, knocked down, knocked down, but you’ll get back up over and over and over again.
  • stop writing your book after a long period of self-doubt, and then you’ll start writing again after revamping and reorganizing because you have so many stories churning inside that sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the words inside your head won’t stop screaming until you give them live. And you learned a long time ago about the power of words–how they should not be silenced.

In 2014, you will:

  • realize it’s ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people in. You should not be ashamed of your past.
  • learn more about the world, and in doing so, your views and beliefs will be challenged, but in the process you will become more open-minded. What you believe may not line up with what those around you believe. Embrace this. The world in not black and white; it’s a complex amalgamation of issues that cannot clearly be defined. Life is not a math equation, no matter how many people try to define it as such.
  • learn that you don’t agree with the way everyone lives their lives. That is ok. Some people don’t have the same beliefs as you. Don’t push yours on them. Love is more important.
  • learn to appreciate the little things.
  • have a hard time getting out of bed somedays, but you will anyway. Although it may not be until after you have an argument with yourself in which you way the pros and cons: it’s safer here, but you won’t get to see your friends. It’s warm and I’m tired, but you won’t get to learn. You will learn to have faith that the floor will hold your weight, and when you feel like the burdens of this world are too heavy for your legs, God will carry you through it.

In 2014, you will:

  • come face-to-face with the ignorance of people. You will be forced to validate your existence to people who make jokes about your past. Look them in the eyes as you ask them to explain how the joke is funny. Watch them squirm as their face turns red. Do not apologize for embarrassing them. Do not accept their apology for cracking that joke. How else will they learn? Somethings are not meant to be joked about.
  • learn that some professors wil make insensitive comments. Next time you hand in a journal about a depressing poem, compare the poem to your own life.
  • learn that some professors are the most caring people on the planet and give so much time to their students. They will stop you on the sidewalk because they know you are having a hard time. You will pour your heart out to them. Tell these professors how much they are appreciated. Don’t take them for granted.
  • encounter people who make you feel insignificant. Don’t speak softly. Assert yourself. Make your presence known. Do not apologize for existing.
  • call people out on their behavior.
  • realize opinions and beliefs you previously held were wrong. That’s ok, because now you know better. You have matured and learned.
  • learn that people are the worst and the best. You will be horrified at the way people treat others, but in the midst of it all, you will realize the good of humanity: out of darkness comes light. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad.

In 2014, you will want to change the world. You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You will start fighting. You will continue fighting.

For 2015, promise yourself you won’t stop. Life is too beautiful to give up.

In 2015, you will:

  • graduate from college.
  • find a job.
  • learn to love yourself more.
  • ?

It’s a blank book, a blank slate. Embrace it. You’ve come so far in 2014, and 2015 holds so much more promise despite the unknown.

“How do you prepare yourself for another 365 days of uncertainty?”

  • pray
  • hope
  • trust.

Sincerely,

The You of December 31, 2014.

Eggs and Elephants

I was told once that I should be happy because when I was sexually assaulted, I wasn’t actually “raped”, whatever that means.

Who are you to tell me to be thankful that “the act wasn’t completed” if you know what I mean? How dare you. There’s no scale on sexual violation. It’s not “on a scale from 1 to 10, how raped were you?” To think otherwise is to perpetuate the idea that reporting a rape can ruin a man’s life. Politicians today are arguing about what constitutes rape and all these other things. My experience is not greater, nor is it less than, anybody else’s.

We are the same.

Lots of things in life have scales. The weight of how much I was raped is not one. My burden of being a victim weighs the same on my shoulders as everybody else’s.
When I went to the hospital for my appendectomy, I was asked to rate my pain on a scale from 1-10. I said 7 every time.

When people ask me how I am, I reply with “good.” The people who know me best ask me, “on a scale from 1-10, how much does it hurt today?” I live my life at a 7. My number is 7, but the effect this 7 has on me changes. The number is constant; the weight of the number changes.

Confused? Yeah, I know. It’s confusing.

But, imagine this: 7 bowling balls are heavier than 7 eggs. 7 microwaves are heavier than 7 bowling balls. 7 elephants are heavier than 7 microwaves.

Some days I’m 7 elephants. Some days I’m 7 eggs.

That is the scale of Depression: eggs to elephants, not 1 to 10.

Right now, I’m about 7 eggs. I’ve been 7 eggs for a while now, which is good. But, I’m cautiously optimistic, because I know one day (maybe soon; maybe later) I will be 7 elephants, again. The weight of 7 elephants is a lot harder to deal with than that of 7 eggs. Elephants poop a lot; the only problem with eggs is if it put them all in one basket.

That’s why I haven’t been writing a lot lately. The weight of 7 eggs doesn’t weigh heavy enough on my chest to make the words flow. I write my best work when the pain of 7 elephants is unbearable.

My friend messaged me the other day. She told me she was horribly depressed and angry at herself because she has every single reason in the world to be happy.

I told her, happiness isn’t a choice. People say it is, but it’s really hard to be happy when you feel like you’re drowning on solid ground. I can choose to put a smile on my face, but my inside isn’t getting any happier, because inside I feel like I’m dying. When people say happiness is a choice, I ask them if they have a remedy for that. Because Jesus is supposed to fix this hole in my heart, but even with all this prayer I feel like I’m bleeding out. So don’t tell me Christians aren’t depressed, because Jesus was human once, so I know He understands pain. And I know He loves me despite all of this.

I told her, it’s not her fault if she’s depressed. She didn’t do anything wrong.

She asked me, but isn’t there a way to manage it? I’ve had it for a very long time, but there were times when I was happy and satisfied with life, when things that I enjoyed filled me, and now I just feel empty. Is it just that we go through phases?

I told her, phases. It’s like a spiral. Life is like an ocean filled with waves of Depression. Some people are Michael Phelps: they swim through life easily, breathing in-and-out expertly as they keep their heads above water. You and me, we aren’t Michael Phelps. We struggle day-in and day-out to keep our heads above water. Some days we are thrown a life preserver or other flotation devices. Some days we aren’t. And we have to do the best with what we have, with what we’ve been given.

She asked, can the waves come on sporadically, not from a certain situation?

I responded, yep. Those are the worst, because you can’t figure out what’s triggering you, so you can’t find a way to stop. But, one day you’ll wake up and realize it’s easier to get out of bed than it was the day before. The ground fills firmer beneath your feet. And you’ll feel this way for a while, until you don’t. Over time as the cycles continue, you’ll be able to recognize the signs, and deal with the feelings better.

With 7 eggs, I give pretty good advice.

Recently, I turned 20, which is a huge milestone. I survived my teenage years.

I attempted suicide before my 16th birthday. I didn’t think I’d make it to 20. But I have, and despite everything I’ve been through, I’m stronger than ever.

I was asked recently what I would do if I had a time machine. Would I go back and change the past? Would I stop my sexual assault, which would have bit the cutting and anorexia flower in the bud before it happened?

Honestly, no. I wouldn’t. There was a time when I would, but standing here and knowing where I am now, I would not.

I am who I am today because of my past. I’ve met some wonderful people because of what I’ve been through. I’ve formed friendships with people I might not have otherwise. My story has helped others from the United States to Guatemala. From Romania to Australia. And that’s all I want out of life: to help others.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the weight of 7 elephants isn’t so bad when you have people around you, supporting you, and helping you carry that weight.

If a group of ants can make light work of a potato chip, a group of people can lift elephants. (Really, we have machines that can do that now.)

Faith can move mountains (or mole hills that seem like mountains).

All we need to remember is that we’re not alone.

I Need to Sleep

People annoy me. 

Ok, technically, people don’t annoy me; people annoy my Depression. And it’s not like people annoy me all the time. They just annoy me when my Depression is at it’s worst, which pretty much sums up my recent days.

And when I find myself in this state, the state where every single thing anybody does makes me want to punch them in the face with a snarky comment, I find it best to stay in my bed, in my room, secluded from the world. It’s better for everybody if I sleep it off, or at least attempt to. (But that’s not to say I don’t ever use sarcastic comments, because I do. However, they are reserved for situations, and things, like Intro to Sociology or other 3 hour night classes, not people. Unless of course I consider you a bro. In which case, be prepared for the sarcasm.)

And personally, I don’t think it’s that people annoy me. More than anything, I think it’s that I annoy myself. I have all these dreams of things I want to do, but I never have enough motivation or faith in myself to do them. And it’s not as though I can got to the store and pick up a bottle of motivation or purpose in life. So, I pretty much have to make do with what I got. 

And I want to go out with friends and do things, but sometimes being around people is exhausting. And sometimes, doing things that used to make you happy don’t always make you happy (which is one of the biggest paradoxes I’ve ever heard). And that makes me feel even worse about my present predicament. So telling me to go and do something does more harm than good. 

You also shouldn’t tell me or ask me any of the following:

1)      Snap out of it. If I could snap out of it, I wouldn’t be here right now in this moment. Yes, I know everyone feels sadness at some point in their life, but in my case “at some point in their life” translates to “every freakin’ day,” or a hopeless pit of despair where it’s so dark, I’ve forgotten what light looks like. And I know everyone feels anxious, but that’s not the same as having an anxiety attack, which is best described as: “a terrifying lightning storm of despair, self-hatred, and the absolute certainty of my immediate death.”

2)      You don’t look depressed or conversely, you look depressed. Thank you, really I appreciate it. Thank you for letting me know I can’t be sad, because I don’t look sad. Conversely, thank you for letting me know you can see my sadness. I appreciate knowing that it must be real now.

3)      You must have asked for it somehow, or you must have done something wrong to be depressed. I asked for a pony, but all I got was this lousy feeling of impending doom. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

4)      What’s wrong?  I don’t know what’s wrong. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be here, right now, in this moment. Yes, it’s true that a particular event sparked what would eventually become known as Depression, but right here, right now, in this moment, everything’s wrong and nothing’s wrong, and I’m still trying to figure out how that can be. (You can ask me what’s wrong, but don’t expect a coherent answer).

5)      Stop focusing on the bad stuff. Thanks, now I feel horrible about myself, because I’ve tried this many times. I’ve listed out all the good stuff about life, but it hasn’t worked so far. And right now, I’m not feeling very hopeful, because the Evening News begins with “Good Evening,” and then proceeds to list off all the reasons why it isn’t. And yes, they usually conclude with a little “bright spot” showing that there is in fact light at the end of the tunnel, but this tunnel isn’t getting any smaller, and I’m not getting any closer, and really, right now, the light bulb is rather dim. I think it needs to be changed. And you know it’s bad when a listed side effect of anti-depressants is: increased suicidal thoughts. I’m sorry, but isn’t that why we started taking this little happy pill to begin with: to make us just happy enough so we weren’t thinking about suicide all the time?

 6)      Just pray about it. I have witnessed the power of prayer, but prayer can’t fix everything, and you’re making me believe that I don’t have enough faith. Are you implying that the way I feel somehow equates to my lack of faith? Because if so, let me explain to you that my faith is quite intact. Because it takes a lot of faith for me to get out of bed in the morning, to believe that the ground won’t fail beneath my feet. I have enough faith for the both of us.

 7)      Being busy will help distract you. Ignoring an issue, doesn’t make it go away. I’ve discovered this when I ignore homework.

 8)      Sleeping all the time isn’t healthy. Maybe not, but it’s the only escape I get from my feelings. If I could sleep for a week straight, I would. Because sometimes I have too much pain to be awake for. Sleeping is like death, without the commitment, because I know one day, I will be temporarily happy, and I want to be awake to see it.

 9)      You’re doing this for attention. This is literally the worst thing to do for attention. If I wanted attention, I would wear a clown costume as I was riding a unicycle while juggling. It’s much easier. And that way, the stares and whispers would be because of something good.

 10)   I understand. No you don’t. The only way you’d understand is if you have the same feelings I do.

11)      How are you doing? (or similarly, How you doing kid?)

Right now, I’m not doing much of anything except trying to survive. Some days I use up all my energy getting out of bed in the morning because the ground looks pretty shaky, and sometimes it takes everything to believe that I will be ok. Those are the days when I know I won’t be able to get along with people, so I hide away in my room. But really, this is pretty normal for people like me. So a better question to ask me would be…

12)      How’s it going?

It’s going. Because life moves quickly but also so slowly, and I move right along with it. Although sometimes it seems as though I’m moving in slow motion, because I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going, and I’m just trying to figure it out. So I’m going with the flow and also against the flow, because if society is going to tell me that I’m not beautiful, I’m going to prove them wrong, because my battle proves otherwise.

13)      Can I see your scars?

No, you cannot. Over the years, I have learned to wear my scars boldly, because they are a reminder of where I’ve been. And they serve as hope for the future. And I’ve had too many people make fun of me because of my scars. Self-harm is not a joke. It is not funny, and it is not something you should make fun of to get a laugh out of people. It’s a serious problem. It’s not ok to diminish the severity of this issue by taking pictures of fake blood in the shape of a heart or whatever because you think it’s beautiful. Because let me tell you, every time I cut into my skin I felt a little bit less beautiful, and I hated myself a little more, and I’ve spent the last three years trying to undo it. IT’S NOT OK. It’s horrible when you get to that point when you feel self-harm is the only way to feel pain. It’s horrible when you become addicted. And I hope I never walk that path again, but every day the struggle is real. It’s not a joke. And it’s not ok to use my scars or anybody else’s as a joke or an example of what not to do. Everybody deals with pain differently. Don’t make anybody hate themselves more than they already do.

So no, you cannot see my scars, because while you may think they’re beautiful, I don’t. I do my best to hide them, because all I want is to feel beautiful.

14)      How are you feeling?

I don’t know how I’m feeling. I’m feeling happy and sad and sometimes nothing at all. And I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to be cautiously happy and overwhelmingly sad. I’d give anything to not feel this way—my left kidney because I only need one, part of my liver because it’s the only organ that regenerates, my lungs because I feel like I’m drowning, my heart because I doubt anybody could ever love me, and if I still had my appendix, I’d probably give that too. 

So really, I’m feeling everything and nothing, but most of all I’m feeling terrified. Because life is unpredictable, and I don’t know if I can deal with anymore hurtful suprises, and I’m trying to make sense of this chaos, because out of chaos comes beauty, but when I look in the mirror all I see is ugly.

 

So, yes. Sometimes people annoy me. But being annoyed is better than feeling nothing at all. But, just so you know, if I think you’re annoying, I’ll probably just shut my eyes and take a nap. 

Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

Students are beginning to move back onto Campus. And even though the most moving I’m doing is the 7 minute commute to school everyday, I am being fed glimpses of the hustle and bustle from my on Campus friends via Facebook and Twitter. I can imagine the heaving of boxes and crates, and the unloading of suitcases and backpacks. I can imagine the unpacking of childhood memories, the storing up of hugs to save for a rainy day when things aren’t going the right way, the parents lingering in the doorway–not quite ready to say goodbye, but wanting to see you spread your wings and fly–the hushed “I love you”s, and the long, drawn out “Goodbyes.”

Freshman, eventually this feeling will become familiar. Right now, the car is unpacked after numerous trips of carrying things one at a time, but eventually the car will be unpacked after two or three trips of stacked up boxes that defy physics and gravity. Right now, you want your parents to help (or maybe you don’t), but eventually you won’t. And it’s not because you don’t want them to stick around; it’s because little-by-little, step-by-step, you grow up. Don’t fight this feeling. Embrace it. Embrace your independence, but also be time conscious. Because, yes, you have all the time in the world to complete that project, but eventually you will realize that all the time in the world is less time than you think.

Just like things in your room will find a niche, you will too. But before you do, you will walk into the Dining Hall the first day of classes and feel overwhelmed with the amount of faces you don’t know, the number of places you don’t fit. When this happens, do not walk out. Do not retreat to the library. Push yourself out of your comfort zone little-by-little by sitting with people you don’t know. Join clubs. Get involved with activities on Campus. Eventually, the places you don’t fit will be outnumbered by the places you do. And eventually your dorm room will become your “home away from home.” You will find comfort in the rearranging of beds, the sound of the person breathing 5 feet from you, the closets that aren’t really closets but they get the job done, and the mattresses that aren’t quite as comfy as yours at home. And maybe you won’t sleep well at night, but that’s what naps are for. Because in college, everywhere is a bed if you try hard enough.

Speaking of bed, you will learn there’s a time and a place for decaf coffee: Never and in the trash. I’m just being serious. No, but for real: caffeine and Ramen noodles will become your best friends. But don’t complain about the food. I know it’s not as good as your Mother’s or whoever’s, but it’s certainly better than going hungry. And speaking of hunger, you will feel this ache in your stomach from missing your home no matter how near or far home is. Call your parents. Call your friends. Call your family. And when the nights are great, and the days are going right, write a letter addressed to you. Mail it to yourself. Walk to your mailbox. Open the box of metal. Pick up that letter, and save it for a day when the nights are longs, and the days are going wrong. And know that present you might not be your friend, but once upon a time, past you was on your side.

And if you’re not into the whole letter writing thing, have your family write you one. Have your family write one about what they’ve been doing with their lives. Because when I went to Guatemala, I knew my family missed me, but they carried on their lives as if they didn’t. Because missing someone is a sign of loving someone, and it’s better to be missed when you’re gone than not to be missed at all. My friend told me once about the best letter she received from her Dad. He was telling her about going to McDonald’s and ordering a large fry, and not having anyone to share it with. And it wasn’t about French Fries and throwing away the excess. It was about being missed in absence.

This journey is about losing yourself and finding yourself. And one day you may wake up, look in the mirror, and not recognize the face staring back. This is ok, because one day you will find yourself again. You will find yourself in the friends you make, the friends you leave behind, the choices you make, the laughs you share, and the hearts you break. And success doesn’t depend on grades, but that doesn’t mean don’t try. Because, I don’t want to sound cliche, but you don’t know what you can do until you try, and sometimes you need to spread your wings and fly.

And life is filled with disappointments, believe me, I know. This journey is hard, but I want you to know people are willing to walk it with you, willing to be a crutch when you fall hard, willing to lend a helping hand or a listening ear, and willing to be a friend.

And don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, because the most rewarding friendships I’ve made are the ones that have sprouted out of my openness. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up, because you are braver than you believe. Some days you may feel small, but you are big enough–big enough to make a difference, big enough to matter, big enough to succeed.

I Press On

When I tell people I’m a Bible Quizzer, they give me a strange look. I know they’re imagining me sitting in a room, taking a test on a book about a guy who’s been dead and alive again for 2,000 years, and they’re probably imagining me to be crazier than I already am. So when I have the audacity to tell them “Bible Quizzing is a sport,” they have to bite their tongue and hold themselves back to keep from screaming “off with her head.”

And I want to tell them:

Life is a sport. You can play for the good guy or the bad guy. And I chose the good. And while your sport has you running around in circles chasing a ball, my sport has me learning how to think about a question, synthesize an answer, and respond in 20 seconds, which is faster than most people can say the alphabet backwards. And while you’re learning how to increase your time off the starting blocks, I’m learning how to sit on a chair just right, because I can’t be too heavy or too light. Because when the correct time is nigh, I need to flinch, have the fastest reaction time in getting my Gluteus Maximus off a ridiculously tiny rectangular pad, all so my light can shine next to number 1, which is really code for “I can jump faster than you.”

It’s like Physical Effort, “My Legs Are Sore”, Jeopardy.

And I was probably most likely not even close to nowhere near the best Quizzer ever, but I can still find my way around scripture, because I know where to find God. And I’ve quoted the book of Help Me, Jesus so many times that it’s verses are tattooed on my lips because I once forgot the name of the one who saved me when I couldn’t save myself.

So I may be able to tell you where a passage of scripture is found, and maybe if you’re lucky, I can even complete the verse. But probably not.

Because we all can’t win the Alpha and Omega Trophy, but we all can win people for the Alpha and Omega. And isn’t that what this about anyway? It’s more than just memorizing the location of words on a page in the precise order they are presented in order to hopefully answer some questions about who, what, where, when, why, how much God loves us. Because I know the answer to that question. It’s about taking what you’ve learned, applying it to your life, and using it over the long haul. It’s about planting the seed and watching the garden grow, which is incredibly cliché, I know, but if the shoe fits, wear it.
Trust me, competition is fun (because I’m the girl who flips the Monopoly Board), But winning isn’t everything.

And there’s something beautiful in this brother and sisterhood, close knit family. Because I wanted to quit so many times since the day I forgot how to get out of bed, but I kept coming back for more. Because I have this thirst that cannot be quenched by any water from this earth.

There is something inspiring in the faces of victory and the faces of defeat. And I want to be a part of inspiration. There’s something inspiring in the encouragement given after wins, losses, good tries, good quizzes. Everybody needs encouragement sometimes. There’s something powerful in the way opponents during a quiz become best friends after hands are shaken. Because when our world is shaken, we all need someone to lean on.

So even though last year I upgraded my ticket from “Quizzer” to “Coach,” I want to tell you this: no matter how many times you are beaten by the same team/ person over and over again, never give up. One day, you will be triumphant (even if that means sitting back and waiting until they move on to bigger and better divisions). The same is true with life.

So don’t you dare tell me Bible Quizzing is not a sport because it’s trained me for what lies ahead. It’s formed me into the person I am today. It’s taught me life is pretty much impossible without a great group of friends, and I have the best. It’s taught me that even though big groups make me uncomfortable, I can be myself and people will still love me.

So when I forget how to get out of bed, when my lips forget how to form a prayer, when I want to pack my bags and leave, I remember the scripture I have stored in my heart, and I remember you.

Yes, I am a Bible Quizzer. But I’m also a fighter. I’m a warrior, and I’m a runner.

Because every day I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Accidental Inheritance

In her kitchen, my Grandmother prepares enough food for a small army, which is more than enough food for our 13-person family. She’s not afraid of food, but so many people are.

Sitting in the dining hall, I watch young women count the calories. They say they don’t deprive themselves, but my instinct tells me better. I’ve learned to find hidden meanings in every movement of the fork pushing the food around their plate, in every held back tear as they take one more bite. I wonder if they eat when no one’s around.

I wonder if this is why the world feels so big: it’s proportional. As girls shrink to fit themselves in the box labeled “perfection” by society, the unoccupied space around them increases exponentially. This world seems increasingly vast.

And it’s not that we are scared of food, because our lineages are intermingled with stories of big, strong women who knew how to eat. As humans, we are genetically-bred to love food, but we’re not bred to love ourselves. This world is focused on obesity and malnutrition, plenty and need, excess and want.

And somewhere in our history women were taught they were lesser without a man, and men only wanted women without excess fat.  Somewhere in our lineage, excess women turned into less women: shrinking women made space for men to enter their lives.

I have been taught that everything’s better in moderation, but I’ve learned not to accommodate others if it means devaluing myself. We’ve been taught to have a relationship with food. A love-hate relationship: love the taste, hate the calories.

The world needs more confident women. Women who know that they are beautiful despite being excess, women who know how to exude confidence when they open their mouth, women who know how to mix the words they speak into the food they eat to fill everyone up. Women who don’t begin every sentence with “sorry.”

The previous generation teaches the next generation, and even though genes are inherited, behaviors are replicated, which is why I don’t know how to knit. But I can still feel the silence weaved by the previous generation onto this collective blanket of “Topics Society does not talk about.” This blanket feels heavy as it covers this ever-growing world.

And we unknowingly pick up the habits of society when we deem somebody less because they are excess. And we pick up the crumbs of food dropped by a fugitive stealing food she does not deserve. We are prisoners to society.

I watch these girls as they figure out how many bites they are entitled to, and I’ve learned to mimic them. Because sometimes inheritance is genetic, but sometimes it’s accidental, and while I try so hard to unlearn this learned behavior, a girl more perfect than I walks by. I don’t know whether to hate her or be like her, but I don’t want to do either anymore.

We don’t want to do either anymore, but the burden of society has wrapped us up tight, which is why we don’t know the requirements we need to graduate, but we know how many more calories we can eat.

Because we spend an entire lunch time deciding whether or not we deserve another piece of pizza, a circular obsession we never wanted, but have accidentally inherited.

And all we want to do is not start every sentence with the word “sorry.”

 

see also: https://alltherestisunwritten.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/game-of-comparisons/    AND https://alltherestisunwritten.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/your-body-is-not-your-own/