July 24, 2013

Those Days

Everyone has those months or specific times of the year that are particularly difficult to get through; a special person was lost, a once joyful memory has now become heart-wrenching, or a series of painful moments that you had no choice but to endure and try to survive. Regardless, you have to remember (and perhaps relive) that time over and over again as each year passes. I've always hated January due to the ridiculously cold weather and not being able to go outside a lot. However, I'm beginning to realize that July is often a tough month as well. 

From 2006-2012, always on July 31st, I never failed to acknowledge how much me meant to me. I wouldn't call it an anniversary in the slightest, but it was a marking of a day and a person that would change my life from that point on. There was never a huge celebration; it started out with letters and boiled down to Facebook statuses, praying that he would read it and know that I still cared for him. Even when things changed between us, the significance of that day never did; at least until now.

But that wasn't the only day. I can't recall the specifics, but it was right after  the fourth of July; perhaps the sixth or the seventh? I'm not really sure. All I remember most is standing outside on my back patio, still in my work uniform and hearing the words "he's not here and we don't know if or when he's coming back." That was a defining moment because our relationship was never the same afterward. While I don't regret the small stuff, I should have let him go after he left. I don't want to say that the following five years were a waste, because we did talk. Yet, it became such an emotional roller-coaster to where it started to affect other relationships, the people who were fully present in my life. And that's when I knew I couldn't keep going; I couldn't keep holding on to someone who clearly was not willing to hold on to me. 

There were other guys; some I met through my day to day life in college, and others in my season of dating, which was mediocre at best. Through all of that I realized that while we do get to choose, there is such a thing as people being an influence on those choices. I didn't, and still don't have many strong male figures in my life. I don't have the best examples of what it means to genuinely give love and respect in a relationship. No, that's not an excuse for putting up with someone who treats you like dirt, or treating another person like dirt. But when you don't have others (particularly someone who's older and possibly more experienced) to guide you in that aspect, it seems only natural to just go with what's right in front of you.

 It's not just a matter of avoiding the wrong things, but knowing how to choose the right things as well. 

And that is what I'm specifically working on in therapy. Along with the lack of examples, I've been given a lot of mixed messages regarding expectations, settling, and other stuff. It has honestly gotten to the point where I don't know what to think anymore. Between the (overly bitter) Cosmopolitan view and what seems like a legalistic Christian view, it is very confusing. I want to be able to have my own personal convictions rather than just jumping on whatever bandwagon may be passing by at the moment. More so, I want to live by those convictions without needing anybody to validate them. There's a strong sensitivity to being left behind, for whatever reason. While I can't control who does that and why, I can learn how to react in ways that don't involve becoming so angry that I'm driven to do dangerous things, such as drinking until I can't remember why I was mad in the first place.

I apologize if maybe that all came across as incredibly harsh. However, I've been going through this ridiculous cycle for years and I'm more than ready for it to stop. I have taken a few steps backward at times, but that motivates me even more. I do know what I want, and I have always known. As I said, it's about taking the necessary (and healthy) steps in order to get it. 

As far as the guy is concerned, it's over and has been over for a long time. I hold no anger against him, but I'm not going to overlook the fact that he hurt me and the impact as a result. There will always be a part of me that cares for him, mostly because I will always have the memories. When you invest yourself in someone for almost eight years, it's hard to act like you don't ever think about that person. The way I've been trying to look at it is that God brought him into my life for a purpose, and that purpose has been fulfilled. 

That being said, I still have knee-jerk reactions and the grief is still there. When that happens for anybody, it doesn't mean that you're not willing to move forward; it's a way of acknowledging reality. Just as the good changes and stays with us, so does that bad. As time goes on, you eventually learn that there are some things you're not going to completely get over. You learn to accept that this is your normal and do the best you can with what you have.In some cases, you learn to live without whatever/whomever isn't there anymore. Or maybe, just maybe, you learn to live again.

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July 18, 2013

What IS Broken?

I'm taking excerpts of my own thoughts from my personal journal, because I hadn't originally intended to write this as a blog post. But after reading Elizabeth Esther's riveting piece  regarding how we teach children about being broken vs. being whole, I couldn't ignore the urge to write about it for myself.

I've been thinking a lot about brokeness, particularly in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, as well as the drug-related death of Cory Monteith. There is no denying that it exists, but how do we go about living in the face of all of it? One can only run from it or avoid it for so long, but ruminating in it doesn't seem to help either.

There are two definitions that seem to be spoken of the most: 1.) We all have pain and problems to deal with; No one is exempt from it, regardless of how good you are at putting on a happy face about it.  2.) That we're sinners, God hates sin, and ultimately we will never be good enough because of that. 

I'm not going to dispute whether or not sin exists, nor will I dispute that not all people are good. There clearly is evil out there, especially after realizing how many horrible events have taken place.  however, I don't think it is as black and white as some people make it out to be. Over the years, I have come up with my own definition, which can easily be summed up in two words: hitting bottom. The point where you can no longer go on unless you get some kind of help. The point where I so often realize that I need God in my life; not just to get through the tough times, but in everything I do. 

What frequently leaves me asking questions is the way being broken is taught both inside and outside The Church. We all fall short in one way or another; we will never measure up in the sense that we will never come close to being perfect. With that being said, those imperfections should not define a person's worth. My struggles and flaws should not be the deciding factor in whether or not I'm able to give and receive love. This is true in terms of both to/from God and people. While certain areas and relationships in my life may be faulty, that brokeness is not me. 

And that is why there is Grace; sin may be slapped over our heads or rubbed in our faces, but Grace is meant to be received with open arms. For some reason, I thought of Romans 8, and these verses in particular brought tears to my eyes: 

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of of the life-giving spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death (v. 1-2). 

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow---not ever the powers of hell can separate us from God's love (v. 38).

I wish that was talked about more in church. I'm not against discussing sin and the consequences that come with poorly made decisions. But when that is the constant focus, the true message of Jesus seems to get lost in the cacophony of finger-pointing and condemnation. When we spend so much time and energy beating ourselves or each other up for wrongdoing, we leave no room for forgiveness or compassion. Therefore, we can't live out our ultimate purpose, which is to love. 

I used to walk around telling myself, I'm a broken person and that makes me useless. I believed that I would be stuck in that place of self-deprication, never fully getting out because of all that I had done/been through. I didn't know how to embrace the healing process, or at least do so in a way where it felt real.

Jesus came to set us free, not to hold us back, which is what we do when we think or talk about the bad things so often. There needs to be a balance; you can teach both sides of the coin, but it is a matter of how you do it. 

Which is why it bothers me when some people say/preach that there is no such thing as self-esteem or depression. When you're constantly told that you're first and foremost a bad person , or you don't deserve love or acceptance, what do you think happens? Worse is when you're told to "pray the pain away" and everything will be fine. Dealing with that level of pain takes more than just prayer or a one time conversation. These things take time, and for some it can turn out to be a life-long battle. I know that I will always have somewhat of a hard time with feeling "good enough" especially when it comes to personal relationships. But I refuse to allow that fear to keep me from having meaningful ones. 

As far as I'm concerned, self-worth needs no reasoning or justification. If anything, worth should come from being a child of God, or simply for being human. And quite frankly, I think I'm OK with that.

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July 10, 2013

Cobwebs, Rabbit Holes, and Hope

"You look a little lost"

I tried to reassure the person that I was fine and that I was just looking for somebody, which was true. I had been on a date that night, which had lasted for no longer than twenty minutes. Our animated banter from a week of text messaging was obviously absent, leaving us to sip our drinks in silence. I went to the bathroom in order to figure out what to do next, while a few feet away that decision was already being made for me. When I returned to the spot where we had been standing, he was nowhere to be found. It didn't take me long to realize that he wasn't coming back. In other words, he flat out ditched me.  I can't say I was overly upset about it, at least not at first. The disappointment set in an hour later, when it hit me that I really was lost

I don't want to go into the details, except that on the way home I ran into a friend, turned around and went back to the bar. There was a good looking guy and dance floor, a kiss, and an unbelievably annoying frat boy/wingman. I was hoping that something good could come out of being left behind for the umpteenth time, which is what made me angry in the long run. I probably shouldn't have been there, especially since my instincts screamed at me that it was not going to go well. Yet, I wanted to go out and have a good time. At the end of it all, I walked home alone feeling empty and aggravated, like a piece of cardboard or paper that gets thrown away when there's no use for it. 

Even a few days later the typical response is, "you're young and in college; what's the big deal?" To be perfectly honest, it was fun the first few times, especially when I didn't have any experience with kissing or dating. I'm not going to deny that. Yet, it has gotten to the point where I've become bored with it. It's not about being wrong or right, good or bad. It's the fact that I know deep down doing those things doesn't make me feel good, nor does it reflect who I am or what I value. And yet, I keep going around in circles. 

Lately I've begun to see that the hook-up culture, whether it involves sex or not, is like eating pretzels: no matter how many you eat, you never feel completely full. Therefore, you end up eating more and more until the bag is completely gone. Lo and behold, you're still not satisfied, and deep down all you really want is a glass of water. 

Then there's the whole notion of experimenting and trying to figure out what you want. Everybody goes through a phase like that in life, some multiple times over. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that in some cases you have to make mistakes in order to understand who you are and what's best for you. However, I'm way past that point. Since the end of freshman year, I have always known what I want, especially in terms of relationships. But it's not just about what I want, or what I even deserve. It's about what I'm made for. And that is for another time. 

In reality, this is all coming from a place of grief, and not just because my friend's death. I have actually been grieving since my birthday, and it has gotten to where I feel practically drenched in it. In February, I permanently ended a relationship with the only guy I have ever really loved, at least thus far. Over the past two years, my family dynamic has been changing, and from my perspective, it's not for the better. It actually hit me not too long ago in regards to the one reason why I hate getting older: growing up can also mean growing apart. So when I take a step back and really think about all that has been going on, it becomes very overwhelming. 

That being said, there are instances where I don't want to talk about any of it; I would rather go out and focus on having a good time and being with people, rather than wallowing in the hurt and the anger and the confusion. It's not about the alcohol, nor is it about the guys. It's about needing to get away for a little bit, even if getting away only involves walking a couple of blocks to downtown

And then when I do want to talk about it, the hardest part is being unsure of who to talk to. I don't feel all that safe in the church right now (and I don't mean one particular church, but THE church as an institution). I have a lot of questions and some doubts that I fear will just be met with an onslaught of Bible verses and Christianese, which is not what I need right now. Not to mention my frustration at how Christianity has become more about how to look good as opposed to loving and serving others. Once again, that has been a big issue for me and I will elaborate on that another time. 

But that doesn't mean that I haven't been seeking God or community. I pray all the time, whether it be out loud or writing in my journal. I feel Him when I'm with a group of friends in someone's apartment, and they don't shudder when I say, "ya know, this all just fucking sucks sometimes!" with tears rolling down my face. I feel God when my best friend looks me straight in the eye and tells me that she loves me and she's worried about me, as she tries to keep her voice from cracking. And I feel and see God when another person recognizes my love language of physical touch, and we can embrace each other for a minute or two without saying a word. 

I sense that God is there, behind the cobwebs of the supposed to's, do's and don'ts, and other crap that people often hear when they've been sucked into an emotional rabbit hole. I know that God is there, even in the moments when I feel like I have to deal with everything on  my own. 

And for that I am grateful beyond words; to the people in my life that have kept me grounded and held me up, encouraging me to keep going. One of the reasons why this summer has become so special is because I am surrounded by my girlfriends, creating the most random yet beautiful memories. I'm thankful to my mom who reminds me that she loves me, no matter what kind of stupid decisions I make or how often I make them. Yes, I am going through a rough patch right now. There are good days and some absolutely terrible ones. All I can do is cling to the faith of a child: a belief that eventually, it will be OK. It may not make a whole lot of sense, but it will be OK.

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July 03, 2013

Happiness Vs. Joy

Are you happy with your life? You don't seem like it. 

I get this question every once in a while, mostly from family members who read my Facebook posts or the blog. There are one or two of them that occasionally add in "I hope you will be happy one day." And not that there is anything wrong with asking that question or wishing that sentiment for someone else. I just don't think it is as cut and dry as the majority of the world believes it or would like it to be. 

From a cultural standpoint, happiness is all about what you're doing, what you own, and the people that you have in your life. We're beaten over the head with commercials, books, and the like, while so and so claims to have all the answers (or at least the answers that they believe they need to hear). The pursuit of happiness is a lifelong journey for many, with some even making it their goal to be happy no matter what. 

As a teenager, my mom would ask me why I couldn't just be happy. I never had an answer, because what I didn't get at the time was how layered the whole concept really was. Not complicated necessarily, but layered. And somewhere in between my sophomore and junior year of college, I realized that maybe I was getting it all wrong. My lack of happiness was not the problem; it was my lack of joy.

Which then I began asking, what is joy? 

From my own experiences in these last two or so years, I'd say that joy is the combination of what you see or feel, but often what you see or feel that no one else does. It does not rely on circumstances that can change it any moment, but can be found in one way or another. It is often embedded in the events that shape our lives, but is most recognized when one chooses to make the ordinary into something extraordinary. Joy is not arbitrary, but authentic and real. You don't have to hide it, because you can't hide it. When you're filled with joy, everyone around you is aware of it

So whenever another person pegs me as emotional or sentimental, I have been learning to let it go in one ear and out the other. On the outside I appear overly sappy, but in reality that is just my way of finding the good in what might be an incredibly sad moment/occasion. If you want to get down to the bare bones of it, joy is when you look at what's right in front of you instead of what's ahead. When life gets tough, it's a way of taking the crappy aspects and molding it into something good.

A long time ago, an old friend once informed me that his New Years resolution was that he was going to be happy no matter what. If he had said that to me today, it would be very hard to resist the urge to look at him and say "that's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard." It's just not possible to live like that. You can be good at acting, but the act can only last for so long. At some point, the mask has to come off. 

Are you happy? 

Yes, but not in the traditional way of looking at things. I am not particularly comfortable with where I'm at in my life; there have bumps and setbacks, and I do get frustrated. I may not be exactly where I want or expected to be right now, but I have a feeling that I am where I'm supposed to be. And my goal is no longer to be happy; it's to have joy. 

To me, joy is waking up in a place where there is no fighting or tension. It is creating something beautiful, whether it be a piece of writing or a meal. Joy is when you look into the eyes of someone you've just bared your soul to, and they're filled with such compassion and understanding. Joy is the deep, unexpected conversations that come up after eating half-baked brownies and watching The Bachelorette. Joy is when you can dance with your best friends without having to be stupid-drunk or worry  about whether or not you're going to find a guy by the end of the night. And joy is also when one of those best friends sits you down and tells you the honest, hard to hear truth; and therefore, you experience joy by setting yourself free. 

I could go on, but those are just some examples that I've experienced in my life. They weren't expected or planned; rather, they just happened. That what has made them and so many other little things so wonderful. 

Please stop trying to be "happy" because it isn't going to work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a positive outlook on life and trying to find that in any and every situation. Just remember that it's not something that can be achieved, only lived in. 

Then again, life is not about always being happy. It's about doing the best you can, with what you have, while you have it. 

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