December 31, 2014

Cultivating Hope

What a year it has been: a lot of accomplishments and dreams being realized, as well as growth in my faith and in the relationships in my life. But there also was a lot of change, two transitions (at the same time) to be specific. And while those changes were necessary, they were no less emotionally exhausting. And with that being said, I'm glad that 2014 is coming to an end. 

With New Years comes the talk of starting over, which realistically can happen whenever you decide that you want to begin again. I do believe that God's mercies are new every morning, but there's something beautiful about the turning of the calendar year, knowing all that happened is truly in the past. It's a formal permission to move forward, but without the dryness and heavy heart that I've felt when trying to do so at other times. It feels natural, welcoming, and fresh. 

This also marks the end of my Reverb14 journey, which I did somewhat differently this year. I chose not to purposefully write every day because I'm still processing a lot of what 2014 has brought me and I wasn't ready to put my thoughts out there while still in the thick of things. In some way certain changes will carry over into the coming year and I hope to reflect on them when I have a broader perspective, and can share from a place of gratitude rather than hopelessness. 

Going off of that, I want 2015 to be all about cultivating hope. 

May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

That verse has slowly become one that I want to live by, despite the fact that I don't always show it. As I began the process of transitioning out of college, I was honestly such a wreck and overwhelmed enough to where I was barely able to function. I couldn't think, let alone do anything without feeling crippled by what was about to happen. The unknown, the concept of going out into the wilderness and trying to find my own way with less structure and fewer milestones to look forward to was terrifying. Worrying and wondering about it was my way of trying to prepare myself, as though it would hurt less and be less heartbreaking when it was time. 

And yet, the anticipation and going through the what-if's was what made it so depressing. You think you're doing yourself a favor by being pessimistic or ruminating in the worst-case scenario, but you're not. It's more a waste of time than it is a way to make things easier. If I could pick some kind of mantra to include in what I'd like to accomplish, it would be that worrying isn't worth it. 

Worrying ain't worth it, OK? 

But I can't do it on my own, which is why I'm making a point to fill myself emotionally and spiritually. When I do that, engaging with others is easier because there's no pressure to prove myself (at least in the way of friendship); I can rest in the fact that I am loved unconditionally in a way that no human being can fathom, and that is enough. It gives me motivation to exercise and eat healthy, as a way to honor and take care of the body that I was given, rather than solely wanting to have a nice figure. In other words, when you feed yourself, you have more of an ability to love yourself. And once you recognize what self-love is, it helps you to give and receive love with others. 

Leaning into hope does not mean ignoring pain, but finding another purpose for it. I'm willing to acknowledge anger, frustration, and even depression, but I will not despair in it. If I stress or worry, I will ask for peace. 

Live lighter, and leave what isn't needed behind. 

Choose joy.

photo credit: Martin Huml via photopin cc

December 21, 2014

My Tribe

Who did you connect with this year?

The last half of 2013 and the entirety of 2014 was the first time in a while where I truly knew who my friends were. Not only was I aware of it, but I was fully comfortable and therefore able to embrace it. They were a fairly sized group where I could look at each one of them and say “these are my people” without questions or doubts. They don’t all know each other and some of them probably wouldn’t even get along real well (hence why getting them under one roof probably wouldn’t have worked, despite my attempt at it multiple times), but when I picture them they’re all clustered together. Not only did they have an impact on my year, but they’ve had an overall impact on my life.

And as I sit here writing this, it’s hard to describe what that looks like. During my final semester of college I became more open and vulnerable, realizing that face-to-face conversations would be rare (or at least every so often) once we graduated and moved onto the next chapter. I wouldn’t say that I poured out the contents of my heart, and much less to each person that I bonded with, but it was close enough. At some point we shared our dreams, our hopes, and even our fears for the future. I vividly remember admitting how terrified I was of moving back to my hometown, wondering if I would lose all the progress that I’d made and automatically shrink back in to who I was before going to Iowa. For the first time, somebody offered to sit with me during a session or two if it meant that I would start seeing a therapist again (I hadn’t stopped entirely, but it had been a while and I convinced myself that it wasn’t necessary). It was OK to cry and be broken up over my family falling apart. They never failed to remind me how well I was handling the situation and how I overcame so much in the time that they’d known me. Occasionally they would say things in such a way where I’d wind up crying tears of gratitude, but they also knew how to speak the truth when it was needed.

“You hold too many things in.”

“You beat yourself up too much.”

In my heart, I knew they were right. The pain of it was having been conditioned years beforehand to believe otherwise, and I wondered if one day I’d become too much to handle and they would walk away without notice, as some have. It wasn’t a question of whether or not to let them in, but how; it’s one thing to share your story with a person the first time around, to have certain conversations as you learn about each other. But talking about the same stuff, especially the hard things, eventually becomes exhausting for me. Talking is good, but so are hugs and doing something fun in order to take my mind off of something. It’s not running away if you accept that you’re not in control of what’s happening, and have to focus on doing what makes you smile in order to move forward.

I didn’t want to drag them down with my depression, let alone be remembered for it. Then again, they never failed to remind me how well I was handling the situation and how I overcame so much in the time that they’d known me.

Friends, I’ve discovered, are the mirrors that show us what we don’t see in ourselves. My biggest inspirations are the ones that have taught me how to relax, laugh, and look out for others.

And we did have fun: we danced, joked around, bonded over a semi-reality show that involved roses and dating multiple people at once, and so much more. These were the times that I learned how I put more emphasis on being with people that mean a lot, rather than just drinking or doing things for the sake of not being alone. It’s how I discovered that I prefer experiences rather than material gifts because of what you carry with you afterward. It taught me how to just enjoy being with these people and how silence isn’t always a bad thing. I can go a whole night without saying a lot and still have a good time, but that’s just me.

If I could pick a favorite moment, it would be this last October when I visited Iowa City for the first time as an alumnus. A friend and I ran into each other at (one of) my old stomping grounds and we hadn’t seen each other in months. It was hard to carry on a conversation with the place being so crowded, but I do remember us affirming what we meant to one another before going off in different directions. It didn’t mean anything beyond that, but it was nice to hear given that we did have our rough patches, and especially after such a long period of time.

Going off of that, there were tough times with everybody. It’s hard watching two people you equally care for argue over something, even to the point where the relationship changes or disintegrates. There has been discomfort and there has been hurt, but it has taught me that I have to work on meeting people halfway, even if I don’t agree with certain actions or choices. Doing life with other people is intentional and not always based on how well you click or can avoid conflict, but recognizing that they’re flawed and imperfect while choosing to love them anyway.

I will respectfully disagree with the fact that having a tribe means seeing these people every week or talking day in and day out. I am beyond thankful for advances in technology that allow me to send a simple “thinking about you” text or words of encouragement, but I don’t necessarily expect (or demand) a regular response. When you get out of college and get into the workforce, it’s not always possible to keep up with everyone, much less keep up with them all the time. You can proclaim that the only people you need in your life are the ones who prove that they need you in theirs, but what does that even mean? As much as I hate how the term “busy” is used these days, it does happen and people get carried away. The best thing to do is cherish the time that you have, despite the indication of change and possibly distance.

In my personal experience, being part of anything means that I’m never without friendship or support, regardless of how close or far away they are. I feel blessed to still keep in touch with those that live in different states or different parts of the country, and we make a point to let the other know that we’re there. I am in their corner and they are in mine, and that’s what matters. The beautiful thing is though there is pain in leaving and moving on, those circles keep growing: the latter half of this year I’ve found and connected with a great church community, and could write a whole other post on how that has helped me.

No matter where we are or how often we communicate, what I do know for sure is that these people have a special place in my heart, and there will always be some common thread because we shared four years of life experiences together. Whether you have good moments or tough ones, that sense of mutual understanding in good times and in bad is a reason to celebrate, to pray, and to give thanks.

For now, and for always. 

December 18, 2014

Talk Bravery

Choose one moment of bravery and write a letter to yourself back at the beginning of 2014, letting you know how brave you're going to be this year.

Dear Al,

The year 2014 is a year filled with so many possibilities; people to meet, places to see, and ways to strengthen and grow. But this is also a year to be brave, though you may not grasp that in the first moments while reading this. And not that you weren't in years past, but this time around you will do something that you've shied away from for a very long time. Given the turmoil within the family and being away most of the time, it's understandable why you haven't given much thought to it. That doesn't mean it hasn't been a long time coming, close to a decade to be exact. 

Not only will you leave the familiarity of Iowa City and embrace the uncertainty of post-graduation, but you're going to have two very difficult conversations, each with your parents but at different times and for different reasons. The common thread is that you'll come out of both of them with various perspectives but a deeper understanding of what has happened and why. The anticipation will become unbearable because you can't predict how either of them will react, but you know it needs to be done. 

Sitting down with Dad is a little unplanned, but you'll be relieved that he initiates the conversation. You won't realize it until days later, but this will be the first time you have ever sat down and had a deep, emotional conversation as father and daughter. It doesn't matter what was said as much as how it made you feel close to him. You discover that he has wanted to be there for you all these years, and that just because he's a reserved person does not mean that it didn't hurt watching you struggle or that he doesn't deal with his own feelings. You won't necessarily agree with everything that he says or thinks, but you'll appreciate his compassion. 

You will write Mom a letter (edited and re-edited multiple times) and read it to her in a therapy session. It's a little more tiring because the both of you will go back and forth about doing a session together for weeks, so it will definitely be nerve-racking. But it won't be as dramatic as you picture it to be. There will be emotion and there will be tears; she'll say a lot of things that you're already aware of, but it's different when your therapist affirms her perspective as well. You will walk out of there feeling relieved that you did it, but extremely overwhelmed by the discussion and all that you have to process, much of which you will continue to do for a while. The best thing is that you'll be able to say what you need to say so that you can move forward

Some will try to warn you that this might have made things worse, and others will repeatedly ask you what was said. But you know that this is between you and your mother and no one else's business, so you stand firm. That is exactly where bravery comes in: choosing to tune out the noise and gradually come to your own conclusions, despite the outside influences. This is the first time that you'll understand how everything your parents did and continue to do for you was an act of love. You think that because your parents know you so well, that they should be able know what you need. But here's the thing: every person gives and receives love in different ways, and doing so in a way that you might not recognize doesn't indicate a lack of love. It more or less shows that all of us have limitations, including you. It's not a question of whether or not they love you or you loving them, but how to communicate that when you have different love languages.

Know that you will wrestle, doubt, and wonder, and that is all OK. It's not always easy to accept people for who they are, particularly when it's easier to picture change in your head. You won't admit this right now, but deep down you do struggle with that: You don't want to be walked all over (due to someone else's behavior), but it's also frustrating feeling like you have to adjust to every one else's flaws, yet no one has to adjust to yours. You're not sure how to accept their past choices without denying how each one affected you personally. 

That's OK too. You'll get there. You might have to do it more than once, but you will.

The good news is that by the time I'm done writing this, you'll be in a place where you're more self-aware, and therefore can overcome it. You don't have to hold onto certain ideals or myths anymore, because you're no longer trying to just survive. In fact, you want to do more than that: you want to succeed, you want to grow, and you can't do that unless you loosen your grip. It's scary, not knowing what it will all look like when the divorce is over and done with. You want to lean into hope, but not so much that you become blind. Believe me, I get that. 

You have done a lot of brave things, and will come through to the other side. Have faith, and trust that God will carry you and mold you, and all will be well in the end.

photo credit: Mike_tn via photopin cc

December 16, 2014

Palms Up

I picture myself as a modern-day Woman-Woman, using my superpowers of to-do lists and pure force to get what I want. Is there something you would like to try harder at because you believe it would make all the difference? Conversely, what is something that you could stop trying so hard at that might actually help you manifest what you'd like? (Prompt credit: Kat McNally

Wonder Woman; those words, the icon, was how I attempted to define myself throughout high school and college. It embodied a choice to overcome limits and make naysayers think twice about proclaiming what I was and wasn't capable of. It was the reminder to do better and be better, and if I couldn't do that, then I had to try harder. Some of it was ingrained in me, while the rest became an armor that I often wore to shield myself from pain. Or maybe less severe pain, because some thing still hurt regardless of pretending otherwise. 

Over time, the want to do all and be all slowly diminished; I've slowly discovered that it takes more energy to hide and pretend than it does to be authentic and vulnerable (albeit the latter is terrifying). Yet I'm not entirely sure of how to do away with that complex, at least without feeling like a walking target. That, and the prospect of accepting that I'm always going to be/act a certain way and that growth is no longer possible.

On one hand, I could tell you that I'd like to be less impulsive; to stop reaching for my phone when I'm experiencing an extreme emotion, or several at one time. I'd like to be less of a worrier where the worst-care scenario is not at the forefront on my mind. More than anything, I'd like to stop fighting for the wrong reasons. 

On the other, all of this can be described in several ways: 

The demolishing of a wall.

The lifting of a veil.

The deflating of a piece of plastic (think floating inner tube).

Turning over your hands and lifting you palms upward.

 This is actually one of my favorites because it symbolizes release and surrender, which in a way is what we choose when being authentic. This is what I often do at church and when I am praying; it's my way of letting God know that this experience is fully about the two of us.

I could go on, but this ultimately shows what it means to have the courage to show who you are. This is not easy for me to do because I have several layers and it's too daunting to peel them back all at once. I'm not saying that what you see isn't what you get, it's only part of it. There are many aspects to my personality and displaying them all at once is draining, and at times seems impossible.

Yet if there's ONE THING, and I mean ANYTHING that I feel inclined to actually work at in 2015, it's asking for what I need. 

I have never been particularly good at that; a constant fear of being labeled as a burden, ridiculously needy, and the like have plagued me for years. Case in point, the number of conversations that involved "I do all these things for you and this is the thanks I get?!" along with the fear of being told no, flat-out and without explanation. No, because having another person wrap their arms around you and holding you there for at least a minute is too intimate and personal. No, because baring your soul to another human being (without advice or a solution) is like asking to do open heart surgery when he/she hasn't been to medical school. No, because few people actually have the time or energy anymore to spend time with someone they care about. Wrap it all up in a tightly twined package and call it "The Way The World Works" (supposedly). 

Silly? Yes. A complete load of crap? Most definitely. But it is what I have carried, yet I am now determined to leave it behind. 

Just Be. Do what feeds your heart, your soul, and your spirit. 

It is making decisions out of love rather than out of fear. Asking someone for something is an act of love because it indicates that you care about them and you want to share an experience with them. It does not guarantee that the other person will agree to be present for you; I've learned the hard way that different people give you different things, and not one alone will be able to give it all in exact. It's a tough reality, but a reality nonetheless. 

It will not be easy. There will be times where I would rather someone else ask me than boldly doing the asking myself. There is still the self-exerted pressure of having to be a specific kind of woman in order to be loved, let alone cared for. However, I'm done twisting and turning; I don't want to change and shape for the sake of having to tolerate someone else if they refuse to do the same for me. 

Surrender. Put the cape down. Palms Up.

photo credit: bbaltimore via photopin cc

December 15, 2014

An Inward Love Letter

Write a letter to yourself as an offer of love and kindness. In other words, give yourself a great big hug. Afterward, make a point to discuss how you will do that in the upcoming year.

Dear Al, 

2014 has been an incredible year filled with small moments and huge accomplishments. But let's be honest, you're sitting here right now kind of exhausted, aren't you? You turned twenty-two, graduated from college, closed a chapter in life that you absolutely loved, and are now slowly but surely acclimating to being an adult. It's been a crazy journey and when you look back, you find yourself wishing that you had done more, said more, and ultimately been more of this or that. This is not the first nor the last time you'll hear it, but forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for what you didn't know. You did the best you could with what you had, and though it probably ruffled a few feathers and ended up on one or two ish-lists, you did good! If that wasn't true, you wouldn't be as self-aware or as wise as you are in this moment. 

This was the year that you finally began taking down the walls you built up as a young girl. It was brick by brick, piece by piece, and it was enough to allow the person on the other end to look into your eyes, but more importantly, they were able to look into your heart. Don't worry about projecting yourself in a certain way or what that person's reaction will be. And I get that you have a hard time letting people walk with you in the dark; you want them to remember the happy things about you, the fun memories, rather than the times you bared your soul or cried because you couldn't hold it in anymore. But honey, it's not your place to decide what anyone should think, because you can't control it. And chances are, they probably see in you what you haven't been able to see in yourself. You're kind. You're strong. You're loving. You have a sense of humor (albeit an offbeat one). More than anything, you have a heart. 

And a big heart at that, one with a lot to offer and a lot to give. Don't let personal and/or professional rejections make you believe that you're worthless, because that's far from the truth. Your career does not define you, nor do your relationships. You are a human being and a child of God, and that is what matters. You don't need a whole list of reasons to justify being enough. You'll probably make mistakes and you won't always do the right thing, but in no way does that mean you're less deserving of love and grace. 

Yes, sweetheart, make the upcoming year a year of grace. As you write your book and have hard and deep conversations, do not shy away from telling your story because it is messy. Embrace messy. Celebrate messy. Despite that it doesn't always make sense and it's tough to swallow, your story is one that needs to be told. Not just for the sake of moving someone else, but so that you can continue to set yourself free. Have the kindness of a lamb but the voice of a lion. 

This seems like a time of uncertainty, but realize that God is molding you and working in ways that you have yet to see. Take this time to continue learning how to love yourself and how to best love others, both as individuals and as those in the same tribe. Express happiness and joy in the best way that you know how, even if it means looking like a little kid or a goofball in the process. 

Remember that the only barriers are those that exist in your head. Seek to understand rather than seek out people to constantly understand you. You think that people are waiting for you to screw up, that they want to make you feel small and insecure on purpose. The fact of the matter is that in most situations, you are your own worst enemy. Those things come from THE enemy, and whatever comes from that is a boldfaced lie. 

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Stop worrying about every little detail and hand over the paint brush every once in a while. You can paint a beautiful, breathtaking picture, but it's never a bad thing to ask for help. You are meant to have a helper, and you always do (though you don't always recognize it).

You are who you are for a reason. You will never have it completely figured out and that's OK. You have been through so much and have grown because of it. You have come a long way and that is a reason to give thanks. 

And that is how you love yourself. 

Keep shining Darling.

photo credit: Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ via photopin cc

December 14, 2014

When You're Made For More

What did you let go over this year?

I’ve written semi-extensively about my “Wild Child” phase, which started shortly after my twenty-first birthday and continued throughout much of the last two years. Somewhere along the lines the curiosity began to fade and a pattern would slowly develop. Whether it was getting jealous of my friends or just wanting dance with a guy, nine times out of ten I would usually end up looking for somebody. And it was very rare that there weren’t expectations of where these interactions would lead, so most nights ended with me beating myself up for allowing certain things to happen. Why did I let him touch me like that? Why didn’t I stick up for myself and tell him off? Damn it, I drank too much again. I was lying to myself when I thought less alcohol would cancel out my raging hormones. The next day I would say that I was sick of getting myself into these situations and that I was done. However, something would set me off to make me want to jump right back in again, and the cycle would continue.

I had a fear of missing out, especially during my final semester of college. It was like a race against the clock, where I had to spend as much time as possible with my closest friends before we all went in different directions. When plans fell through or there was a lack of communication, I’d get pissed and decide to go have my own fun. I no longer felt weird about going out alone because it was more than likely I would run into at least one person that I knew. However, they were usually with another group and I didn’t want to be rude by tagging along. By the time the night was it over it was always the same: I was trying to force myself to feel something for a stranger, while deep down wishing that I was with at least one or two in particular that I actually cared about, and I knew they cared for me.

Not all of it was due to loneliness, at least at first. I started talking to this guy whom I’d impulsively met after spring break, and I thought he was incredibly attractive. When he broached the topic of spending time together (meaning just the two of us), I set boundaries and explained that I needed to get comfortable hanging out in public first. He seemed to respect that at initially, but then every conversation would end with dropping a subtle hint about coming over to his apartment or trying to reassure me that I could trust him. When I called him out on his intentions, his response of wanting “something new” made it obvious that either he didn’t know what he wanted, or was trying to keep it casual. 

There was something off about the way all of this was happening, but I convinced myself that maybe he didn’t know how to talk to women and to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn’t long before we segued into the “how far are you willing to go?” territory; he made it clear that he expected a physical relationship and kept prodding about my decision to wait, and why being alone together was such a big deal to me. It caused me to wonder if a genuinely good man would care about how much or how little sexual experience I actually had, and maybe I was getting anxious over nothing. Despite all that had transpired the previous year, I still felt na├»ve and frustrated that I didn’t know what certain things were like.

I confided in a few friends who didn’t discourage me or encourage me to make any kind of decision. They reassured me that I didn’t owe him anything, and that however far I wanted to go was my prerogative.  I appreciated that they let me wrestle with the situation so openly without calling me crazy or an idiot, especially given my past choices. I decided that I would meet with him in person, if only to confirm that this confusing pseudo-fling needed to end. I prayed for God to give me peace in my heart, even if that meant throwing a figurative brick at me in the process.

The following weekend I randomly got a text from him asking for the billionth time if I wanted to stop by his place, to which I reminded him of our previous conversation (about meeting up another time)  and that I was at a birthday party.

But I’d rather see you now, he countered.

I’m actually kind of drunk and that’s not a good idea. Never mind what I’d told him multiple times before, there was no way I was walking seven blocks in the dark, and in a neighborhood I wasn’t familiar with.

So what? I’ll sober you up ;)

That did it.

I can’t say I was surprised, but it bothered me that he didn’t seem to care about consent or whether or not I could give it. The following morning I told him that it was best for us not to talk anymore because I had too much going on in my life and I wasn’t in a place to get involved with anyone (which was true to an extent). He waited several days to bring it up again and claimed that he couldn’t even remember texting me because he had blacked out. Suspicious of the timing and not sure what to believe, I let him have it; regardless of where this was going, I was still a human being and deserved to be treated like one.

There was no arguing or trying to meet halfway. We weren’t on the same page and never would be, so I blocked his number in order to keep from being pulled into communicating with him again. Naturally, part of me did feel bad about it, but I couldn’t take it anymore. Had I kept giving him chances, I would have dug myself into a deeper hole.

Thinking back on it now, I see that a lot of it was rooted in shame: not of what I did or the reasons behind it, but admitting that hook ups and casual flings were messing with my head and I didn’t know how to stop. There was self-pressure and buying into various lies about being mature, but what truly held me down was second-guessing my instincts and believing it would get better. Out of everything I’ve learned but what’s healthy and what isn’t, it’s that when you realize something is not going to work, no amount of time or finding a silver lining will help.

In order to truly let go of what’s toxic, it’s important to embrace what’s good. I wasn’t wrong in the sense of being morally above or below anyone else, but I was wrong to go against the way God made me. I feel deeply and I love deeply, so keeping people at arms-length is pretty much impossible. Part of that denial had a lot to do with how I was brought up, specifically as a teenager. Whenever I talked with certain family members about dating or liking a guy, I was told that wearing my heart on my sleeve would only result in disappointment. I saw that intention was to instill self-protection, but it made me afraid to be honest about what I really wanted. I didn't understand it then, but there's a way to do that without being cynical and putting that much responsibility on only one person.

The beauty of adulthood is the realization that I have my own values and standards, and that there’s no need for comparison or setting a timeline. I’m becoming more confident in taking ownership of my dreams, my opinions, and my feelings, even if others don’t understand it. It’s not a bad thing to want to experience real, romantic love: the kind of love where we take care of each other, make each other better, and possibly even share a life together. Instead of keeping my expectations low, I’m choosing to be open to the possibilities and be grateful for the growth I experienced, regardless of how it turns out. And instead needing reassurance that I won’t get hurt, maybe it’s time to start trusting that even if it does happen, I will heal and I will be OK.

 It’s a process that makes me thankful for therapy, writing, and being surrounded by awesome people. My goals are to get to know myself and prepare my heart so that I have a solid foundation to stand on. Despite my mistakes and imperfections, what keeps me going is that God loves me has a plan for me. In this moment, that is enough.

photo credit: tankgirlrs via photopin cc

December 12, 2014

On Favorites, Blog Edition

Sometimes writing about deep things can get emotionally taxing, so I've decided to mix it up a bit by going through some of my favorite blog posts that I wrote this year. Just because it isn't recent doesn't mean that it isn't valuable, right?

The Bubble
-I've started to refer to this as the night where I didn't give a damn; not for any negative reasons, but I chose to be present in the moment and it made me incredibly happy. It was the beginning of my understanding that the only barriers that exist are the ones you set up between yourself and other people. This poem is an excellent reminder of something that is often hard to stick with.

The Invisible Line (Ten Years and Counting)
-It's been ten years since I became fully aware of having Cerebral Palsy. Despite the insecurities and challenges that have come with it, it's something that I've found peace in. 

Where I'm At
-A Part 2 of the post I mentioned above; there was so much to write about that I couldn't do so in one without making it feel like a novel (and a poorly written one at that).

When Words Wear Me Out
-I know how to express myself, and in the eyes of many friends and family I do it well. That being said, there are times when talking about a problem or situation doesn't bring comfort. Different circumstances bring out different needs, and I'm getting better at being able to openly communicate that. 

When You're Eighteen
-College only lasts four years, but the ways in which I grew and what I learned from the process made it feel like a decade (but in a good way). So much can happen in that time, and it's amazing how it can change you.

On Technology and Being Alone
-It's not just about a culturally imposed addiction, but learning how to genuinely appreciate (and make time for) solitude. 

A Letter To My Cousin
-She was just going off to college as I was coming out of it. We're two different people with different personalities, but I still had wisdom that I wanted to pass on.

For My Guy Friends
-A revised and updated tribute to some of the incredible men in my life. No matter how many times I re-read it, it still makes me cry a little bit.

On Streets and Safe Spaces
-Whether you've been through it or not, street harassment does exist and it's something worth talking about. Regardless of gender or the kind of life they live, everyone deserves to feel safe and treated like a human being.

My Wilderness
-For months I'd been struggling to describe how I viewed my current transitions. I loved including the imagery, as it's something that I don't always use in my poems. 

Thanks for reading!

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December 11, 2014

Sacred Mornings

What was your routine like this year? Was there a specific part about it that you enjoyed?

It's as though 2014 was broken up into two halves: the first six and a half months were about finishing and savoring every last moment of college, while the other part involved acclimating to life in the "real world." I've swapped out classes for job hunting and interviews, homework for applications and test projects, and my sleep patterns are a bit out of whack. I get teased for typically going to bed before midnight (even on weekends, though there's the exception of the occasional night out). With that being said, my schedule is still a bit unpredictable right now. Some days I go on interviews, some days I'll spend hours in front of the computer pouring my soul into a word document. I try to work out at least three times a week and read before falling asleep. Typically there will be a to-do list of phone calls and sending out emails, and most of the time it doesn't all get done in one day. 

Regardless of where I'm at or what I'm doing, the one thing that has to be consistent for me is the morning. 

I like waking up somewhere between five and six o'clock before brewing coffee and then making my way to the living room. Granted, I don't set my alarm on Saturdays and allow myself to sleep in if I'm feeling exhausted, but naturally my body is up and moving before nine. I read a chapter in my Bible or a devotional before taking a little bit of time to pray. Typically this is done in my journal or out loud, depending on what kind of mood I'm in. After about an hour or two I take a couple of minutes to say "good morning" to various friends and family members. It might be somewhat cheesy, but it's my way of letting people know that I'm thinking about them when we don't have a ton of time to talk. And yes, being able to do so is one of the few reasons I'm grateful for texting. 

It all comes down to feeling productive and feeling alive, with an added bonus of a beautiful sunrise most of the time. There's nothing like the success of getting stuff done by the time lunch rolls around, and the later I wake up the harder it is to do that. 

The reasons beyond those are hard to explain, other then being part of who I am. Mornings make me happy. They fill me with peace and a sense of encouragement that makes me able to conquer and accomplish. Of course I know that it's not set in stone and that things will change as time passes. Reading might have to slide over to the time I spend on a bus or train. Writing in my journal might get pushed back to later in the evening because I can only squeeze so many thoughts in a five minute time period. Writing stories or essays might become weekend-oriented, and that's OK. 

No matter what time it all takes place, I have to do so slowly. The pace is what makes it sacred to me, because that's how I grow from it.  It fills my soul, and as long as I make the time for it, that's what matters most.

December 10, 2014

I Was Here

What did you accomplish?

Lord knows where I should start with this one. 2014 in and of itself should be an accomplishment, filled with tiny victories that are honestly still in progress. But there's one thing that stands out above the rest: maybe some of you, Dear Readers, have been there. Maybe some of you have witnessed it, and multiple times over. I know that a multitude of loved ones were there, when I walked that stage and turned that tassel. For you it might have been anti-climactic, or so hectic and emotional that you might not remember it.

But for me, it was everything.

The recollection of that early morning is vague. You can recalling getting ready, slowly taking out our cap and gown and putting it near the edge of the bed so that you don't forget anything The family starts pouring in as Mom prepares breakfast on your kitchen counter, and in a matter of minutes the apartment is bustling with people. Your sister, aunt, and cousin walk in and take a look around; this is the first and only time they'll see the place. You take a picture or two while your hair isn't messy and your make-up isn't running. You're too busy making sure that you know where you're going once you get to the arena. 

It's a very bright day outside and you're surprisingly in an upbeat mood, mostly because you're trying to focus on the fact over twenty people have come to see you today. Your parents ask you how you're doing and you say, "it's the end of an era" with a little too much emotion, despite being unsure of how you're supposed to be feeling. 

"Do I look OK?" you ask multiple times before snapping a picture with Herky and then with your parents. The arena is already swarming with students and families who attended the first ceremony earlier, and it takes time to get to the entrance.  You don't want the doors to open, but you know they will and you know you have to go.  

It's time.

As you and Mom make your way to the main floor, you look over and realize that she is starting to cry, and that along with the Iowa Hawkeyes logo stretching across a min-jumbotron makes you choke up too. Do not break down! You tell yourself as the coordinator points to the front row, indicating where you'll be sitting and that the formal procession will begin shortly. You're glad you're not walking down the stairs (how is that possible when you have to go quickly, and much less in heels), but being in the front row makes you feel uneasy. There were no rehearsals, so all you can do is hope you don't look like an idiot. 

The ceremony begins as professors and students proceed down the stairs. The commencement speakers are teachers of either philosophy or theology, and one even encourages people to tweet his speech while talking. It was so long and therefore difficult to remember everything, but he touches on going out into the world and crediting parents for getting you all here,  which the crowd takes about a minute or two to applaud. He encourages graduates to ask for help, and the phrase "Hawkeyes stick together" causes you to well up with emotion all over again. You suddenly experience chills, an indication that something big is happening, and you better remember it. 

This isn't a day to be sad, you realize, but a day to be proud. It's not about getting a formal piece of paper or proving anyone wrong. It's about how you laughed, danced, created, kissed, cried, lost, hoped, prayed, grieved, rejoiced, loved, and savored. But you also found: God, friends, but most importantly, you found yourself again. 

And it was all in this beautiful place that some call college, others Iowa City, but you know that part of you will always call it home. 

I was here. Holy crap, I really was here. In this place, with these people. I did it!!!

You pay enough attention to walk up and get your diploma (holder), despite that your cap is slightly crooked and you probably blinked during the formal picture. You don't quite get why the tassel turning took place in the middle of it all, but after every name is called and the Class of 2014 is presented, the arena erupts once more. 

And all you can think of doing is this: 

The family joins you on the floor for hugs, flowers, and well-wishes, but before you can make it outside you sneak into one of the private bathrooms in the tunnel, because you have to go that bad. After more pictures and congregating, your family drops you off near the business building to meet one of your best friends on a popular walkway; you didn't get to sit together during graduation so you decide to make up for it by snapping a photo in front of the chemistry building. So many memories of this one little walkway, particularly when you were a freshman. Every block is a flash of something and by the time you make your way back to your apartment, you're mind is starting to go numb due to sensory overload. 

The Pentacrest is a zoo, but you're still hoping to run into someone you know. In this moment, you just want to be held. Ideally it would be by one person in particular, but how good would it feel for anybody to put their arms around you and just hold you there for about a minute. 

The celebration kicks off with an intimate family dinner at a (now closed) local Italian place, and you have a couple of hours to rest before the real fun begins. By nine o'clock you're seated at one of your favorite hangouts, sipping cherry-lime long islands as you introduce your brother to your closest friends. You dance and drink and celebrate in order to remember, knowing that you'll probably relive these moments in your head for years to come.

By the early hours of the next morning you collapse in exhaustion, but thankful not to have turned into a hot mess. Your body is tired but your heart is full, and the words keep repeating around in your head, that of which you recall today. 

I Was Here. 

December 08, 2014

Writing with Pixie Dust

As a writer, what piece or project are you most proud of from this year? 

This my friends is a tough one to answer. I worked on quite a few pieces this year (both fiction and non-fiction), and I have to say that I'm extremely proud of all of them, though most aren't entirely finished yet. But if I really had to choose, it would be the reinterpretation of Peter Pan, but from Tinkerbell's perspective. When I started with it, I experienced a kind of excitement that I hadn't felt in years. I'd written fictional stories throughout college, but the subjects were heavy and even depressing at times. But with this particular work, I felt like a kid again: not only was it revolving around a classic that I absolutely love, but there was a kind of wanderlust about it. There were many different directions I could go in, and the idea of incorporating a real-life aspect into a fairy-tale was fascinating. I appreciated the feedback that I received from my workshop group, along with the guidance from my professor in that particular class. 

I could easily write an entire post about the topic, but for now I will say this: I find it sad and disheartening that there are people and groups out there who discourage others from reading literature that doesn't resemble "real life." I get that some do struggle with separating fantasy from reality, but I don't see what's so terrible about getting lost in a beautiful story, particular if that kind of escape helps you to stay sane. That's partially why I wrote about Tinkerbell in the first place; the concept of graduating from college was terrifying and dreadful, and I needed something to help me to stay present. That even though that chapter was soon going to come to an end, there was still time left to enjoy it. That was one of the ways I did so, and I will continue to defend that notion as long as people are still bringing up ridiculous charges against it. 

I had planned on sharing an excerpt, but unfortunately I couldn't find a section that seemed to fit as a stand-alone. However, I do have plans to publish it, most likely as an ebook with other similar pieces (I wrote a modern metro version of Cinderella in another writing class and am brainstorming other ideas). It may not be for a while, but I intend to make it happen at some point. 

And when it does, Dear Readers, you'll be one of the first to know.

photo credit: ♦ Peter & Ute Grahlmann ♦ via photopin cc

December 07, 2014

My Voice

What is the sound of your own voice? (Prompt credit: Kat McNally) 

This was honestly a tough one, so I thought that I could best capture it in a poem. 

My Voice

Soft with a slight rasp
Like velvet with a tinge of vinegar
Smoke without the cigarettes
Coffee and mulled wine warmed over fire

A Midwestern twang rolling off feathered cotton
Snark and Sass as she grits her teeth
Giving way to her Chicago roots

A woman’s mind with a child’s heart
That girl still slides down the chords from time to time
When she’s excited:
That part of her comes out to dance
When she’s tired: feeling small, perhaps hidden by
Her own circumstances and other’s pain
When she’s comfortable, and the walls come down
She laughs the same way she has all her life, regardless of age
Giggle, pause, giggle; a short whimper, sly like a secret-keeper

Let’s not focus on the sound, but how she uses it
A near whisper, but fierce
Soft, but strong
Becoming braver as a time passes
Calling to be heard against those that flutter above her
Like a flock of obnoxious birds
The ones that tell her what tone defines who she is
When they struggle to stop and listen

She wants to scream, but stands firm instead
She celebrates without a second thought
A voice of joy that aches with passion
Never going out

photo credit: -Reji via photopin cc

December 06, 2014

On Beauty As A Feeling

When did you feel beautiful this year? Why? (Prompt credit: Project Reverb

It was my twenty-second birthday celebration, and I struggled with picking out something to wear for the occasion. I've never totally subscribed to the usual college beauty standard, which seems to involve showing as much skin as possible, wearing heels that you can barely walk in (at least by the end of the night), and applying a lot of make-up. After going as Audrey Hepburn that previous Halloween, I had taken a liking to the Old Hollywood Glamour look and wanted to somehow incorporate that. 

It resulted in this....

I felt beautiful because I felt sophisticated. I felt confident in the fact that I could dress up in order to simply feel good rather than to impress someone. Yes the neckline is low, the jewelry sparkles and I'm wearing somewhat dramatic eye make-up, but is it fair to assume that it's for the sake of attention? I preferred to see it as a sign that my standards of beauty (and personal style) were changing, and in a good way.

I did struggle with trying to dress fashionably while still being tasteful about it (and some will argue that I was hardly ever "tasteful" at all, but modesty is different for everyone). It was less about trying to prove that I was a better person and more about reflecting where I was at in life. I was getting older and naturally outgrowing certain things, particularly when it came to my clothing choices.

The same could be said for how I wore make-up. From my final years of high school until probably my junior year of college, it was all about partially smokey eye-shadow and piling on the eye-liner. Due to my oily skin, that typically resulted in looking like I had dirt all over my face by the end of the day/night. As the years went by I created different looks, mostly depending on the occasion but also my mood. The look in the picture above has gradually become one of my favorites, because it's both timeless and versatile. It's not always easy to do and I have days where the liner goes on unevenly and my eyelashes look clumpy, but I'm learning to be OK with that. 

And I'm not saying that I'm against my natural features, or that I don't appreciate articles, blogs, and so on that cater to embracing a bare face. There are days where I get bored with dolling myself up all the time, and I'd like to think that my skin needs a break every once in awhile. But let's be careful about pigeonholing those who do wear make-up a lot as people who are insecure or have something to hide. I happen to enjoy the creativity that goes into the process, and since I have a bit of a baby-face, there are circumstances that call for a little enhancing (such as a job interview or a formal event). In other words, it gives a little "oomph" to what I already have. 

That's my current definition of beauty, and I have no doubt that it will bend and change over the course of time. As long as it helps me to be the best person that I can be, than that's what matters.

December 04, 2014

Getting Quirky

What were the quirky/peculiar things that you noticed about yourself this year? In honor of the approaching 2015, name the top fifteen ones.

Yes, I am a quirky person. Some would take it a step further and call me a total dork, but I'm no longer bothered by it. It makes me feel light-hearted and a much more fun person to be around, and that's what matters. 

1. I have days where I literally forget to eat either breakfast or lunch. It might be stress or having a busy day, but all the sudden I hear my stomach growling and go "wait a minute....that's why." 

2. I typically have nicknames for my closest friends and cousins; most of the time they've never heard me call them that, but I have them listed as that in my phone. And if somebody doesn't have a nickname, I've picked out their celebrity look-alike: I have one friend that looks like Kenny Chesney and another who's a cross between Bradley Cooper and John Krasinski. 

3. The song "Let It Go" (from Frozen) makes me cry a little bit. I have my days where I feel like Elsa....

4. I prefer FaceTime over talking on the phone with someone because it helps me to stay focused on the conversation. But if I absolutely have to, I will make an exception for the phone call. 

5. I can no longer sleep in past eight o'clock in the morning; my body won't let me do it anymore. 

6. My friend made me an Iowa tie-blanket before I went to college, and most of the time I couldn't fall asleep without it because it kept me from getting home sick. Now a days it helps me when I start to really miss Iowa. 

7. There are times where if I can't give a person a hug, the least I will do is send them a nice little quote from Pinterest or one of those e-cards. I'm especially getting a kick out of those "daily odd compliments." 

8. Speaking of closeness, if I'm sitting next to you and begin to gradually scoot next to you, don't take it personally. Though normally if I don't know you that well I'll be fully aware of not to do it. 

9. I've slowed down when it comes to reading books; not because I've lost interest, but because there are some books that are so good and I just don't want them to end. 

10. I still dance around the kitchen when no one else is home. And I still have specific music stations for certain things that I do (i.e. cleaning, cooking, working out, and getting dressed up). 

11. My go-to drinks usually involve flavored vodka and lemonade, Red's Apple Ale (Angry Orchard is a good substitute), or Moscato.

12. I wake up to "Sunny and 75" almost every morning. That song just instantly makes me happy, especially when I don't want to get up.

13. Watching sports is actually nerve-wracking, especially football!

14. I tend to get up super early in the morning when I have to go somewhere; these days it's still pretty dark by then, so I have this habit of turning a lot of lights on so I'm not too skittish when I'm getting ready.

15. I'm typically always the one that's early for things; it gives me time to relax (or prepare) if needed.

Do we have any in common? 

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December 03, 2014

Loving The In-Between (And Unstable)

It’s all too easy to put off loving where we are until everything is perfect. What can you love about where you are now? (prompt credit: Kat McNally

My grandfather has repeatedly told me that the months following graduation are one of the most depressing and frustrating times in a person's life. Not only are you leaving behind what you've come to know, but you're entering into a stage that's unpredictable, where you'll face a lot more rejection than acceptance. It's the time where I have to "be an adult and figure it out," as my mom recently phrased it. It can be confusing and daunting. Depending on the circumstance, it can be down right terrifying. But it's a time of re-evaluating and establishing my own values and way of doing things. 

Despite frequently the lack of positive outcomes and feeling as though I'm running into a lot of brick walls, this is still a time to be savored. 

  • I love living with my grandparents; It's an emotionally healthy environment, and they keep me laughing for the majority of the time. My grandfather has been extremely helpful with mapping out various areas of the city when I have to go for interviews, and they've both encouraged me in my career pursuits. 

  • I appreciate alone time: the time to write, to journal, to deepen my relationship with God, and ultimately grow and become a better person. 

  • My tribe is scattered. I don't get to see very many of my closest friends all that much, and phone calls or Facetime tend only be every couple of weeks or so. Despite the distance and the changes, there's still a mutual sense of love and support. Life may get busy, but that doesn't mean we care for each other any less.

  • I'm now embracing messiness, both literally and figuratively. I'm becoming less afraid of how I present myself and more open letting people see the crazy parts of my journey. It is possible to be raw and vulnerable without feeling hopeless. It is possible to feel sad, low, and depressed without being dragged down by it.

  • Despite the separation the emotional separation, my family does mean the world to me. On most occasions we have different perspectives and don't always agree, but at the end of the day we love each other. They're the ones that teach me about acceptance and about grace; but most importantly, they're teaching me that love is both given and received in different ways, and you have to recognize how to meet halfway. I don't always understand the choices and decisions that are made, but that doesn't mean I love or appreciate them any less. 

  • And on that note, I'm grateful for this time because of how I'm learning to love myself. I recognize that I am a child of God and a human being; that my identity is not in my career, my personal history, or my relationships. It's remembering that I'm doing the best that I can, and that I need to stop beating myself up when I feel that I don't do enough. And again, it's embracing the messiness while still holding onto hope. Not hope that life itself will get better, but that God will give me the strength and tools to build a life for myself.

At the end of the day, all these things allow me to say that while I'm not exactly where I thought I would be, it is well with my soul.

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