My God, My God: Finding God in the Brokenness

I feel like my life has just fallen to shit, I said to one of my pastors, and  new found dear friend, over coffee this morning. I’m having a hard time even staying alive, and there are many days where I doubt God–his existence, his goodness, his unfailing love. For so long I’ve felt like I have to pretend that my life is perfect, that I don’t struggle every day with anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. I felt like I had to pretend that I wasn’t raped and that I don’t struggle with doubt and my faith. Sometimes I feel that when I needed the church the most, it abandoned me. When I needed the love, support, and encouragement of people walking along beside me, they left me high and dry.

Is there room in the church for doubt? Is the church a safe space where we can ask the tough questions like: if God is real, why do bad things happen? If God loves me, why was I raped? In a culture where millennials and Gen Xes are leaving church at an alarming rate, many people have theories as to why this is an increasing trend. (If you don’t want to do a Google search, I have searched for you here.)

As a Gen X’er, with strong ties to the Millennials, I have my own theory, a theory that will be hard to hear for some people: young people are leaving the church because the church tries too hard to be perfect. We focus on the goodness of God and the power of God and the love of God, but at the same time, we fail to discuss the brokenness of the world. I mean, sure, we can mention the brokenness of the world outside: the homelessness in our community, the bombings in the Middle East, the Hurricanes in Puerto Rico. But we fail to acknowledge the broken people within our four walls.

It doesn’t happen to us, only them.

But it does happen to us. Bad things happen to Christians; Christians hurt; Christians doubt; Christians struggle to stay alive. I struggle with all these things. 

I’ve attended the same church for my entire life, but it wasn’t until recently that I felt like it was home–like it was a safe space where I could discuss the hard topics, share my brokenness, express my doubt.

And maybe part of the reason young people are leaving the church is because we are more connected to the world than we’ve ever been. With the advent of Social media and online news sources, we are more engaged in the world around us, with the people around us. It’s easy for us to hear about the shootings and the genocide, the bombings and the hate crimes. Social Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement are everywhere. We don’t have to search out the brokenness and the hurt; it finds us in way that it never used to.

We used to be so isolated from each other. Not anymore. Now our smart phones and laptops are constantly informing us about what’s happening in the world–the latest technology, the latest celebrity news, the latest School shooting. All of this information is at the tip of our fingers, and the church has lost touch with the younger generation.

We’re all hurting and broken people, but the younger generations are more eager to talk about their pain and struggles than the older generations, and the church hasn’t caught up. And it needs to because now, more than ever, there are people out there who are hurting, hungry to feel accepted, hungry to feel love, hungry to find a community where the formerly taboo is now openly discussed.

Right now, more than ever, need that.

Right now, need to know that I can walk into church on a Sunday morning and have it be ok if I breakdown.

Right now,need to know that I can pull someone aside, anyone aside, and say Hey, look. I’m really struggling today and could use some prayer, instead of just saying I’m fine. How are you?

Right now, need to know that I don’t have to pretend to be perfect. I don’t have to hide my struggles. I don’t have to hide the fact that I struggle with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, that I was raped and I self-harmed. I don’t have to hide any of that.

Right now, need to know that it’s ok to share my past and not be judged, not be told to “Get over it,” not be told that I’m a bad Christian, or that how I am is not enough to be loved by God.

Right now, there are a whole bunch of people out there like me: born and raised in the church who are seriously wondering if the community and acceptance they’re searching for can actually be found with the people they worship together with on Sunday morning.

We are so desperate to find places where we feel like we belong. We are so desperate to find places where we can discuss the tough questions; where we have the freedom to openly doubt, openly question our faith; where we have the ability to love, to be encouraged, to grow.

How can we believe in God when there’s so much hurt and pain in the world? How can I believe in God when I’ve been hurt by the church?

I believe in God because I believe in his power, his love. He saved me from myself. And for every day that I’m convinced I’m not going to make it, somehow, I make it through.

But, I also believe in the human side of God.

Right now, that’s the side of God I need. I don’t need an all-powerful God through whom all things are possible.

I need the God of John 11:35 who wept. I need the God who cried out as He was being crucified “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Because that’s where I am in my life. Right now, I feel abandoned and forsaken and some days, I’m full of doubt.

But it’s ok–because Jesus felt those things, too. And I take comfort in that.

And I think the church needs to take comfort in that, too. Because, yes, God is perfect and all-loving and all-powerful, and it’s ok to praise Him. But there are people out there who need to hear about the human side of God.

Because Christians are human too. None of us are perfect. None of us should have to pretend to be.

And on my darkest nights, the ones where I’m not sure I’m going to make it to see the sun rise, I think about God crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I take comfort in the fact that Jesus weeps right along with me.

That’s why I believe in God in a broken world: He understands the broken; he sought out the broken. He loves us anyway.

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The End is Nigh: Graduation

Tomorrow is a big day for me: I graduate from college.

It’s a terrifying prospect, really, because the future is a great unknown, an expanse of uncertainty, a looming sea with uncharted waters.

It’s terrifying when you don’t have a plan, and you probably should.

For years, people have looked at me incredulously when I’ve told them my major: English?! What are you going to do with that?

I’ve always responded the same way: I have no idea.

Now, here I sit, on the eve of graduation, and my answer hasn’t changed. In the long-term I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. I bleed words: sentences and stories run through my mind, records on repeat. I want to write because words have power.

There are so many stories out there in the world that are waiting to be told. There are so many stories inside of me waiting to be awoken.

Psychologists and neurologists have studied the power of the mind to think, to feel, to connect, to create. Imagination is a powerful thing, and it can provide insights into a person’s brain, which is why Art is so important.

Since I’ve started this journey of writing, my stories haven’t really changed, at least superficially, but when the layers are peeled back, the true meanings are revealed. They’re like an onion: multi-layered, can make you cry, and are sometimes smelly.

Writing has been my therapy; it’s been my way to process life, and there is so much more life out there to experience, not just mine, but others’ lives, too. Stories have a way of changing the world, and so I want to write.

But with the way this economy is set up, writing is not a practical short-term solution (to the chagrin of budding writers everywhere whose sighs are heard all over the worlds). So I need a job to help supplement the writing, at least for a while. And on this brink of adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with it, I don’t have a plan.

And that’s ok because I’m looking, and I know life has provided me with a toolbox full of tools and knowledge to help me along the way.

Tomorrow, I graduate from college. I’m not the same person I was when I graduated from High school. Words cannot express how thankful I am for that.

As a senior in High school, I thought I knew everything. I was cocky and arrogant and so sure of what I believed.

Life has a way of knocking you off your feet when you get too confident. Mostly it uses gravity.

As a senior in college, I relish in the fact that I don’t know everything; there’s always more to learn. Thank goodness for that because life would be pretty boring if there was nothing else to learn.

I enjoy the fact that our finite human minds can’t comprehend the infinite nature of the universe; it keeps the appeal of mystery and wonder.

College has taught me how much I enjoy learning, how much there is to know. There are so many things to learn about other people, literature, history, philosophy, history, math, science, and the universe. One person can’t possibly learn it all.

If you’re not learning, what are you doing?

Emily Dickinson wrote: Lad of Athens, faithful be / to Thyself, / And Mystery – / All the rest is perjury.

Life is a mystery; embrace it. Learn, learn, learn.

College is the perfect place to learn from other people. And boy, have I learned.

I’m not the same person I was when I graduated High school because I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve come in contact with. I’ve learned more about the world, more about people. I’ve become more open-minded; my beliefs have changed because of the people I’ve met, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I graduate from college tomorrow, and it’s bittersweet. I’m ready to move on and to handle what’s next. My Liberal Arts education at this private Christian college has taught me more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible.

However, it’s going to be hard to leave people behind. In the past few years, I’ve found my niche, my posse, the place where I fit, the people who have taught me the most. And for that I’m glad. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the friendships I’ve made along the way.

I graduate from college tomorrow, but I didn’t do it on my own.

And I have so many people to thank:

My family for their endless support and love. My mom for helping me get to this point. My dad for the coffee dates. My grandma for making sure I was always fed. My grandpa for letting me “borrow his knowledge.” My sisters for showing me how to laugh in the midst of stress.

My friends for letting me vent, for showing me what it’s like to have people who truly understand you, for letting me into your lives while you share your struggles and hardships.

My advisor, Prof Q, for being that guiding light, for knowing what to say at the right time, for giving advice, for listening to me pour my heart out when I was having difficulty, for encouraging me in my writing and in life.

You, the readers of this blog, for letting me share with you my struggles, for your feedback and encouragement, for sharing your stories with me.

The whole Roberts Wesleyan Community for showing me that not everybody is the same. There are so many reasons why I didn’t want to come to Roberts, but I’m so glad I did.

These last few years have been a blast (while also being a struggle, a nightmare dressed like a daydream, a daydream dressed like a nightmare, and so much more).

So, yes, I graduate from college tomorrow. And it’s terrifying and bittersweet and everything in between. I’m 50 shades of anxious disguised as cool and collected (at least most of the time. I’m sure tomorrow there’ll be a few gallons of tears). But for now, this is it.

Time waits for no man. The world doesn’t stop spinning for you when you’re life is about to change. Change is inevitable, and I’m welcoming it with open arms. (Even if I have to wear a hefty trash bag in 90 degree weather)

Bible WhatNow?

Disclaimer: Bible Quizzing is not for every one, and I was not paid to write this post, nor was I asked to in any way, shape, or form. This post has stemmed out of several conversations I’ve had over the past few days about Bible Quizzing, and you know, since I’m better at writing than I am at talking, I decided it would be more conducive for me to write it all out.

Question. Question Number 1 is a two part question. Question number 1 in two parts. Question. What is Bible Quizzing, and why do you do it?

What is Bible Quizzing?

That’s a complicated question. In the approximately 10 years I’ve been involved with Bible Quizzing, I still haven’t been able to string a set of words together to accurately describe what Quizzing is to those who haven’t seen it. But I’ll do my best because you all seem so interested in the topic.

First off, it’s not a room full of students sitting in neatly arranged rows of desks, taking a test on the Bible like an SAT or an AP. And it’s most definitely not a “Quiet, No Chatting, No Fun” Zone.

It’s like Jeopardy and Family Feud got together and had this child that also gives you a great leg workout if you do it right (And trust me, you want to do it right because one day you’ll know the answer but be outjumped and outgained by the kid from the other church you’ve been trying to beat for years). It’s an individual team competition, and I know that doesn’t make sense to those of you who don’t quiz, but it makes sense to those of us who do.

Because while we are trying to beat the team in the seats across from us, we are also trying to beat ourselves. How much of this can I memorize? How fast can I get up? Can I get more questions than I did last month?

And I don’t really know how else to describe what it is, except that I know I wrote a post about what Bible Quizzing is a while ago. You can read that if you like.

As for why I participate in it, that question is easier to answer.

I was forced. Or not, I can’t really remember.

If I was forced, it’s because I was a painfully shy child. And I’m not talking like “Won’t talk to strangers” type of shy; I’m talking “You’re my grandfather but I can’t ask you to play this game with me because what if you say no? So, I’ll just passively aggressively set this game up on the table and hope you get the hint that I want to play the game” type deal.

If I was forced, it’s because I needed to pop this “fear of people, rejection, and any type of social interaction” bubble that was surrounding me.

If I was forced, it worked.

If I wasn’t forced, it’s because I wanted to be involved in Quizzing.

If I wasn’t forced, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

I haven’t been a quizzer in three years, but why have I kept coming back?

Simple: the relationships.

The people I’ve meet through quizzing are easily the best friends I have ever had. It’s easy to say that you are best friends with someone when you see them almost every day, but when you only see them once a month, it’s a lot harder to call someone your best friend.

The relationships I’ve made through quizzing are easily the ones I cherish the most, no matter the miles or states that may separate us. The friends I’ve made through quizzing are the “I know it’s 3 in the morning, but I’m having a hard time. I feel like Atlas, holding the world up on his shoulders. But unlike Atlas, the sky is falling around me. It’s 3 am, and I called you because I knew you would answer” type friends.

I’ve stayed involved with quizzing because I want to be that friend for somebody, and I really love watching the quizzers grow and mature right before my eyes.

Quizzing is hard. I know that. It’s a lot of work, and sometimes the thought of studying and competing is overwhelming. Trust me, I understand. I’ve been there.

Numerous times throughout my quizzing career I thought about walking away. Between studying for school, balancing my Mental Health, and studying for quizzing, I didn’t think I could do it all. I couldn’t quit school, because that was frowned upon. I tried to quit life, and yet I’m still here. So, I tried to quit quizzing.

That didn’t work either because the relationships I made were too precious for me to give up on. So, I decided to focus less on the competition, which was never really a focus of mine anyways, except for that year and a half when I decided to memorize EVERYTHING.

Which was fun and all, but I realized winning isn’t everything. I cared more about my allies than my PPQI (which for all you sports fans out there is like a batter’s RBI). I started caring more about quality than quantity, but not everyone does, and that’s ok.

Quizzing is a combination of competition and fellowship, prasing and winning. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because all of these aspects put together contribute to the greatness that it is. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And you win some, you lose some. And I’ve won some great friends, some great confidence, and a greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Because my greatest enemies in the quizzing room became my greatest friends when the final question was finished.

And that’s the beauty of it all.

So yes, I think every body should try quizzing at least for one year, because you can’t really understand the fullness of its greatness without experiencing everything: the practices, the tournaments, the weekend getaway, the week long nationals, the victories, and the defeats.

It’s more than “you have to see it to believe it.” It’s more like “you have to experience it to understand it.”

And I hope you can experience it at least once, and if you can’t, I hope you at least are a spectator once because miracles do happen, and this is one.

Late Night Thoughts: I’ll Be Ok

The most common question I get is, “What you were wearing?” As if that makes a difference. I was in 8th grade, and my whole life I had been taught that, as a woman, I have to be careful what I wear because it could be distracting to boys.

I was wearing jeans and an extra-large hoodie if you must know.

The second most common question I am asked is, “what did you do to provoke him?” Nothing. Unless you count him asking me out and me saying, “no,” because he was a jerk who slammed my locker shut every day, who used to pull my hair because he liked the way it curled.

Now before you say, Boys will be boys, or, that’s how he shows you he likes you, let me tell you that I grew up hearing that if a guy is mean to you, he likes you.

“He’s pulling my hair.” He likes you.

“He stole my ball.” He likes you.

I took that to mean that if someone is mean to you, they must like you.

“He beat his wife for years.” He loved her too much.

“Why didn’t she leave?” She loved him too much.

For years, I was mean to my body: I cut myself open. I watched myself bleed. I starved myself. I belittled myself because I believed that in order to love my body, my being, I had to first be mean.

Meanness, I thought, was the way people showed love: Love is born out of hatred; Abuse is a symbol of love.

How messed up is that?

“Why did you do this to yourself?” I was trying to love myself.

“Why didn’t you leave?” Trust me, I tried. But something pulled me back.

You’ll be ok.

People like to believe that most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by strangers. However, that’s not the case. (Trust me, I’ve done the research. I know the statistics. 1 in 5. 1 in 7. I wrote a 12-page paper on the prevalence of rape in society and the way society treats the victims and the perpetrators. Sometimes, society doesn’t get it right).

I knew the guys who did this to me. I went to school with them. I saw them every day before and after until they dropped out. Win for me.

I graduated High School. They didn’t.

I am going to graduate from College soon. I’ve come a long way.

The things they called me, the things they told me, still echo in my ear.

Slut.

Bitch.

You’re asking for this.

You’ll never amount to anything.

Nobody will ever love you.

 

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not.

But I love me. It’s taken me years to get to this point. It’s taken me years to realize how beautiful I am I have the advantage of knowing where I’ve been and can compare it to where I am now. And with all these facts laid out before me, how can I not love me?

There are days when I want to go back in time and say to my 13-year old self, It’s ok. You’ll be ok. It will get better. I want to take her by the hand and show her the people she’ll touch, the people she’ll meet, the lives she’ll change. I want to tell her the story of her 19-year old self going to Guatemala, sharing her testimony with a group of Junior High students, and leading a young Guatemalan teenager to Christ because of her story. I want to tell her about the hard days and the sad days and the in-between days. I want to remind her that one day the sun will come out, and she’ll feel better. I want to tell her that despite the cyclic nature of Depression, she can get through this.

I’ve learned life is beautiful, and I want her to remember this.

I want to tell her that one day she’ll learn about the power of words, how writing can change a life. When she discovers this, she will have found what she wants to do with her life.

I guess those guys must have been wrong about me then.

My 13- year old self would love me.

My current self loves me.

God loves me.

He’s the One who called me back that day.

You’ll be ok.

Some days I have to remind myself of this, especially on the days when the weight of the world is on my shoulders.

God loves me anyway, and I’ll be ok.

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.

Survivor’s Paradigm

How do you define yourself is a question I have always had difficulty answering. To outsiders, it would be easy to define me this way: human, female, daughter, sister, friend. But from the inside, it’s not that easy.  It’s easier to define somebody when you don’t know their past, when you’re not inside their head, hearing their thoughts, walking their paths. It is a whole lot harder defining yourself when every thought you have is telling you that you’re not worth defining.

. . .

After I was sexually assaulted, I viewed myself differently. I looked in the mirror, and I saw somebody who was broken, impure, unworthy, unlovable, dirty, ugly. The mirror has never been my friend, but now it became my worst enemy.

It’s never easy to admit our struggles. So I didn’t admit that I hated absolutely everything about who I was. I didn’t admit that I was broken, self-harming, starving. I didn’t admit that I was so depressed I wanted to die. I didn’t admit that I tried.

I was scared.

I was scared of being defined by what happened to me. I didn’t want to be defined by an act done to me, the scars on my skin, the calories I deprived myself of. I didn’t want to be defined by my Mental Illness. I didn’t want to be defined by my own worst enemy: my thoughts and inner demons.

Sometimes, I’m still scared.

When I tell my story I’m scared that the first thing out of somebody’s mouth will be what were you wearing? Because what I was wearing has no bearing on how much my rape has affected me. I’m scared that the first things someone will tell me about my depression is just snap out of it. Because, oh, honey, I would if I could. But it’s not that easy. Depression is to the mind what cancer is to the body. It attacks, and it’s aggressive, and some people don’t make it out alive. But I’m lucky to have made it this far.

There’s a stigma in society about Mental Illness and Rape, and I tell my story anyway because I want people to know these things do not define me. They play a part of who I am, but I am so much more than what goes on in my head. I am so much more than an act committed against me.

Sometimes, I still have to remind myself of that fact. It’s like a broken record, playing the same stupid motivational tape on repeat: Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Your past does not define you. Repeat ad nauseum.

You see, I spent so long concerned with how society would define me, I forgot how God defines me. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a broken girl, unworthy of being loved. But when God looks at me, He sees a girl who is pure, clean, so worthy of being loved that He sent his Son so I could live.

I am the Daughter of the King, a Princess, an Inheritor of the Kingdom. My body is a Temple, but it was turned into a Den of rapists and demons. I tried to tear it down, and God built it back up. He turned my red back to white.

I’m learning how to see myself as God views me: whole, pure, worthy, lovable, clean, beautiful.

No longer broken, I’ve been glued together one piece of shattered glass at a time. Society would say I’m missing something, as a rape victim, I’m no longer as worthy as I once was.

I beg to differ.

My value is not determined by my past, by actions done to me, by actions done to myself.

I’m shifting the paradigm, shifting the mirror, shifting the way I view myself, but, boy, is it heavy.

I could turn around and face the other way, but sometimes my feet are glued to the floor. Depression does this.

And though my past does not define me, it does not mean it won’t affect me. Because it will. I will be fighting a battle against depression for probably the rest of my life.

Some days I’m winning; some days I can’t get out of bed. And that’s ok.

Because I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am.

I’ve learned to find joy in the little things because sometimes the little things are what get me through the day.

I’ve learned that healing is painful. It’s about burning yourself to the ground and starting over again. It’s about accepting where you’ve been and discovering where you want to go. It’s about accepting every part of yourself–flaws and all–rising out of the ashes, and making yourself new.

I’ve learned to thank God for every day I wake up because life is a gift, and who knows where I’ll be tomorrow.

How do you define yourself?

I don’t know.

I’m defining myself one day at a time: who I am today is different than who I will be tomorrow. All I can hope is that as time goes on, and as my finite line of time approaches zero, my definition will have reached its maximum height.

And if it doesn’t, at least I tried.

Therefore, no one can criticize me.

Matter of Factual Finiteness

Yesterday, I turned 19. (My Birthday was fan-super-tastic. Thank you for asking.) A common question people ask after one has a birthday is “How does it feel to be a year older?” And I don’t know. Because the thing is, I’m only a day older than I was yesterday, and yesterday I was a day older than I was two days ago. But yesterday was special because the number associated with my age changed. Ergo, yay for me!

(Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful. Really, I am. There was a time when I didn’t think I’d live to see 16, but somehow, I’m still here.)

I’m grateful, but I don’t know what else I feel. Am I supposed to feel different? How quickly do people think it takes change to occur? A day?

Nah, bro. No good.

I believe change happens the way ketchup falls out of the bottle: slowly and then all at once. I am who I am because of who I was. And when you get older, who you were doesn’t just disappear; it becomes a part of you. Inside of you are all these pieces of former yous that help shape who you are today, which is why some people never grow up. When I turned six, I was still five and four and three and two and one, which is why I’m so curious and I learn something new everyday, and why I sometimes forget how to use my legs and trip when I walk.

The same is true today: I’m 19, but I’m also 18 and 17 and 16 and 15, etc.

And life is trying to throw all this responsibility my way, but I can’t hear it screaming my name over the sound of my crayons scribbling furiously. But, I still wonder what these next 365 days have in store for me. I wonder what adventures I’ll have. I wonder what kind of people I’ll meet. I wonder what stories I’ll write. I wonder what kind of person 19 year old me will turn out to be. I wonder if I’ll be able to impact the world at least half as much as it has impacted me. And I wonder if I’ll finally learn what it means to matter, and if I’ll finally matter.

Because popularity and coolness are fluid: they change depending on the container they are placed in. And you spend your whole life trying to achieve a certain level of coolness and popularity, until one day, you won’t remember why you were trying to achieve them in the first place, because they don’t matter.

I believe you matter because of what matters to you. Your level of mattering is directly equivalent to how much what you care about matters to you. I matter because I care about family and friends. I matter because I’m passionate about sharing my stories and about hearing yours. I’m passionate about life and about making beautiful things. And I want to leave this earth a little bit more beautiful than it was when I arrived.

Even though I think I have a lot of time, time is relative, and life is finite. My finite life takes up space on the infinite line of the universe, and even though the space of my line seems rather insignificant, I have enough time and space left to make it significant.

In these periods of 365 days, there’s enough room for me to reinvent myself. I can turn myself into who I want to be. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you can’t stop the future from coming. And why would you want to? Because life is beautiful and also terrifying. And if you try hard enough, so much is possible. I want to be possible.

So, life, I see your finiteness, and I raise you my hopes and dreams.

Be More Than Beautiful

‘So, I let myself believe that I wasn’t beautiful. I let myself believe that I didn’t have the right to feel beautiful. I didn’t have the right to like a guy. I didn’t have the right to do what I wanted to do. I didn’t have the right to be happy, but I also didn’t have the right to be miserable because “somebody always has it worse.” ‘- the Healing Process

Here’s the thing: society makes it so hard to love ourselves. Everywhere we look we are surrounded by attributes that society tells us we need to have in order to be beautiful. Because, as a woman, society tells me that my worth is encompassed in my appearance.

False. I tell you that it is all false.

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of journaling. I have piles of notebooks filled with 3 am thoughts. I have notes on my phone filled with random “throughout the day” thoughts. I have saved drafts on my computer of writings that I might not ever share.

Last night, I found this one: a journal entry from exactly a year ago, a journal entry from a 17 year old me, crying out in frustration.

look, I’m trying here; I’m trying to be ok and to like myself. But it’s hard to be ok when you don’t feel beautiful half the time. And when you do feel beautiful, people are always so willing to extinguish that thought. As soon as I have the tiniest bit of confidence, somebody comes along and crushes it again. That’s the hardest thing of all.

You know what I want more than anything in the world right now? I want to feel beautiful. I want somebody to tell me I’m beautiful; I want that person to mean it.”

I haven’t felt beautiful in years and on the rare occasion that I did, somebody was quick to criticize something about me. What kind of society is that?

What kind of society do we live in that teaches our children that beauty is looking like her or him? (and you all know the ‘her’ and ‘him’ to whom I am referring: The supermodel with perfect skin, perfect, teeth, perfect hair, and who is skinny, or the perfectly toned Abercrombie and Fitch Model with six-pack abs) What kind of society teaches our children that our value is based on what we look like? What kind of society teaches us that are identity is wrapped up in a guy? What kind of society teaches us that if we are raped, we were asking for it?

Answer: the wrong kind.

It’s taken a toll on me and my self-confidence and my sense of self-worth. It’s taken a toll on my friends and people who I come into contact with every day.

I wake up in the morning and don’t want to look in the mirror. She wakes up in the morning and wonders how many meals she should skip today.

You do realize that despite the years of starving herself because she didn’t feel worthy enough; despite the years of wearing a pound and a half of makeup because she has imperfections that run deeper than her skin; despite the years of staying in abusive relationships, because she believed her identity was found in a guy; despite all of this, all she ever wanted was to feel beautiful.

We are worth more than that.

So, Do not tell me I’m not beautiful, as you walk by with your arrogance on display, drawing the wrong kinds of people to you like a pack of dogs.

Do not tell me I’m not beautiful. I’ve listed the ways on my skin as I cut myself open with my own self-hate, and waited to be stitched together by empty words.

Do not tell me I’m not beautiful. The words running through my mind late at night do a fine job of that on their own.

Do not tell me I’m not beautiful. I’ve eaten my reflections so many times, and I’m still hungry.

Do not tell me I’m not beautiful because I’m not you. Beauty isn’t defined as 1,2,3, and it’s most certainly not a 5×5 grid of attributes to have.

Do not tell me I’m not beautiful because I do not fit in the shoe box of what society deems to be beautiful. Who I am cannot be squeezed into a box with the lid forced on, which is stored on a shelf until I’ve conformed with the rules of manufacturing that society creates to make us all identical.

Just don’t tell me.

Instead, tell your friends and children to be more than pretty.

Tell them to be pretty amazing, pretty smart, pretty kind, pretty funny, pretty eager to change the world. A five letter word does not describe them.

A five letter word does not describe you.

Be more than beautiful.

Be the Change You Wish to See

Friday, December 14, 2012, 27 people were killed in a shooting at an Elementary School. 20 of the people killed were children. It breaks my heart to hear about any loss of life, especially when the loss of life is the life of a child. These children had futures as bright as the stars, and now are not given the chance to grow up; they are not given the chance to change the world. These children had all of life to live, all of life to experience, and in an instant, it was all gone.

It is not just about the children that died either; it is also about the children who survived. Those poor kids, who are still babies, should have had years of innocence left before they realized that life can be cruel. These are children who still believed in Santa Claus, magic, and wishing on a star, whose biggest hurts could be fixed with a Band-Aid and a hug. These babies are too young to be experiencing this kind of grief, pain, and heartache.

It is not just about the children either; it is also about the parents. Parents should not have to bury a child because of life lost at the hands of another. Parents should not have to remember Christmas as a time of grief and mourning. Parents should not have to bury a part of their soul. Parents should not have to have these conversations with their children when they ask why their sibling is not coming home.

It is not just about what happened; it is also about how we move on. It is about how we change. This is not the first time this has happened, and it probably will not be the last. Violence has always been a reoccurring theme throughout history, not just in our society but also around the world. Wars and Genocide, Shootings, Murders and Violent Revolts have rocked the world while trying to solve problems.

I do not know enough about society to start making policy. But I do know about right and wrong. I do know about pain and suffering. I do know that the past can influence the future, and I know that the best way to learn is to look at our mistakes and ask ourselves “what can we do better next time?”

As children we are taught that violence is not the answer, but as soon as we reach adulthood it seems to become the answer. We say to other countries, “don’t mess with us because our weapons are better than yours.” We go to war to prevent future violence. The reoccurring theme is that violence leads to violence.

How many more innocent lives are we going to let be lost before we actually do something? Change starts with us. It starts with you and me deciding that enough is enough. Violence is not the answer; it is the problem.

It starts with you and me putting down our hate, weapons, and fists, and picking up our forgiveness, pen, and microphone. It starts with you and me deciding that our words are powerful enough to change the world. Words combined with actions are more powerful than wars will ever be.

Learn a lesson from this.

Learn a lesson from the first thing my parents ever taught me: “Use your words, Kaleigh. People will understand you much better.”

Beautiful, love

I want to write something beautiful; something that will leave you absolutely mesmerized. Something that will bring tears to your eyes as your throat begins to choke up, which causes your breath to leave your lungs as quickly as it came; I want to write something that will leave you absolutely speechless, render you incapable of forming words, leaving you totally dumbfounded.

But this isn’t it.

This is a misinterpreted love letter that is saturated with the tears of a love once lost, a love not yet known; it is dripping with the leftover drops of despair and pain, a hope once lost, a prayer now found—hanging out to dry on the clothesline of my heart, blowing gently in the wind of the whispers of my soul.

Beautiful, love.

This is a love letter being written one letter at a time as the pieces of my soul come together, allowing me to find myself one breath, one step, one heartbeat at a time; because with each heartbeat the lost pieces of my soul, that were given in little bits to everyone I ever met, find their way back to me.

Beautiful, love.

Thisis a love letter being etched into the earth with every step I take on this journey called life, serving as a reminder of where I’ve been and where I intend to go; it’s been washed down the sewers with the rain, reminding me that every day is a new beginning.

Beautiful, love.

This is a love letter that is not yet written, but being created with every passing glance, every longing stare; because we have not met, yet. It will be created slowly, being sewn together delicately as our souls become one; this moment will be magical, just as falling in love is magical. Fairy tales and pixie dust will not compare. When this moment happens, I will be ready; but for now, I wait.

Beautiful, love.

This is a love letter that will withstand the test of time; because as an extension of my soul, it is written on my bones, which will one day become the earth waiting to be found by a future wandering soul. This is a love letter written to no one in particular—not to you, and not to me—to the world does it belong.

Beautiful, love.

This is a love letter that is being written and rewritten in the sand as the waves change the landscape of the land; but, I don’t worry about the tide. I wait for it to come; because rewriting means changing, and changing means growing. And that’s what I want to do: I want to change and grow and learn with the seasons.

I am scared of being; that is why I am becoming.