May 12, 2014

When You're Eighteen

(A couple of weeks after the start of freshman year, right outside my dorm room) 

When you're eighteen, you think that college is the perfect time to start over; you can leave your old town and your old self behind. You think that you'll never get lonely when you're surrounded by all these new friends almost all the time. You don't want to admit to Mom and Dad that it's harder than you anticipated, and that this phase in your life does not happen with John Mayer's "No Such Thing" playing in the background. And as a side note, you'll analyze that song for a presentation

When you're eighteen, you think that making friends will be easy because everyone is supposedly more mature. You do meet many of your closest friends at time: in your dorm room, in the middle of the cafeteria, at a church visit, and surprisingly what turns out to be a pretty fun class. Not everyone accepts who you are (at least until later) and that's hard. But these six or seven people will stick with you when others seem to be going in and out.

When you're eighteen, you discover that you like alcohol and party animals, but sororities don't like you. It's hard to understand why at first, but down the road you'll see that not being "in" with either crowd was a blessing in disguise.

When you're eighteen, you think that you can predict what's ahead, but you have absolutely no clue how much you'll change.

(It keeps reverting sideways and I'm not sure why. But I did like that top).

When you're twenty, you'll discover that you are physically and sexually attractive. Men will see it in you and you will see it in yourself. You like being wanted and pursued, but it's also confusing and terrifying because you sense that they don't care about whether or not you feel safe.  And you feel like it's your fault, because to a certain extent that's what you were brought up to believe. 

When you're twenty, you will realize that when multiple people tell you not to do something, it's best to listen to them. And while it's OK to always try and see the best in people, it doesn't have to warrant trying to be their hero. 

When you're twenty, you will learn to love country music again. It represents three aspects of your life that you cherish the most: faith, family, and friends. And you'll realize that you do need your parents, regardless of how old you get.

When you're twenty, you'll begin to understand that friends do come and go from your life, but God always keeps the best ones close. You might have times where you're apart for a little while, but you'll always come back together somehow. 

(Celebrating my 22nd birthday with a little glam!)

By the time you're twenty-two, you will have kissed a little and drank a lot, and that culture will start to get old after a while. At the same time, it's hard to get out of because there are times where you want to feel anything but hurt or pain.What you do appreciate about those wild nights, it will be because your closest friends had your back the entire time. They'll never judge you, but they will you call you out when you don't stay true to yourself. 

When you're twenty-two, you will be more self-aware than you ever have been. It's a blessing because you know how to stay grounded, but a curse because you resort to beating yourself up a lot. By this time, you will have been in therapy for three years and it will be one of the healthiest decisions you've made in college. Remember that you're a human being and that you do not have to be perfect in order to be loved. 

When you're twenty-two, your eyes will be opened in terms of what it means to love and truly accept people for who they are. You will learn a lot about change and loss, and that there just isn't time to invest deeply in every person you meet. There will be times when it seems like your circumstances (especially those related to your past) are hell-bent on destroying you. But your faith is going to keep your anchored, and you will become closer to your Creator than you've been since you were in middle school.

When you're twenty-two, you will look back and be able to genuinely say that these last four years have most the most pivotal years of your life, at least thus far. You'll know that sometimes it's OK to do things simply because you want to, and you don't need a reason beyond that. You'll accomplish a number of things, including staying up all night raising money for cancer,getting into one of the top creative writing programs in the country,  running in a 5K, doing a bar crawl, and the list goes on. You wish that you had been more assertive and and less concerned about the opinions of others, but everything has a time and purpose. 

But the best part is that this journey is yours. You have very few regrets, because at one time it was something that you wanted, and it led you to where you need to be. As your mom told you, have gained so much more than a college education, and you have so much to give because of that. Keep walking. Keep growing. And keep loving. 

Iowa, Forevermore. 

I'm taking a bit of a break from blogging for a couple of weeks; I need some time to process this transition in my life and to spend time with friends and family, but I'll still be updating my Facebook and Twitter pages if you want to connect through there. See you all real soon!

May 07, 2014

Who I Am and Where I'm At

(nearing the finish line at my first 5K race)

In a way, this is a continuation of the post that I wrote regarding how I've lived with Cerebral Palsy for the last ten years. There was something that I genuinely wanted to touch on, but I couldn't do it without making the piece longer than it was, or completely veering off the original topic. But this is something that I felt the need to write about, because it doesn't just relate to what I have. It's for everybody who feels small and scared a lot of the time. It's for those who know how to dream but aren't sure how to dare. And it's for everybody, because everybody does it, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not.

As I look back on my college journey, especially in the beginning, I wish that I would have been more assertive and more honest about what I wanted. I may not have gotten it, but I definitely wouldn't have wasted so much time and energy tip-toeing around people that probably didn't care one way or the other. Granted, when you're in a new place and those are the only people you know, it's hard to see beyond that. I didn't want to end up alone and have to see them every day, because I was already feeling isolated on some level. But I did meet other people. I found a place of belonging. Maybe not in the way I expected or wanted at first, but I did. 

It took me a very long time to understand this, and often had to do so the hard way. I wouldn't go so far as to say don't pay any attention to what anyone thinks about you. I think people should care about whether or not their words and actions impact their relationships, particularly if someone ends up deeply hurt because of them. People should want to do their best in whatever situation or circumstances they find themselves in. But life is precious, and realistically there isn't time to dwell on whether or not your peers or colleagues love you, let alone like you. 

It's not about giving the world the cold shoulder, but recognizing that you won't always mesh or find common ground with every person you meet. It's about realizing that intention does not necessarily affect perception; that just because you portray yourself one way, that does not guarantee that others will look at you with the same eyes. And that's OK. There's being somebody, but there's also being somebody for the right reasons. 

Much of this chapter in my life has been centered on my identity, and trying to beyond many of the things that I'd been labeled over the last decade. Admittedly, I've spent a lot of time defining myself based on who I'm not or what I can't do. It's as though I've tried to reassure people, "well I'm not this, but that doesn't mean I'm not a good person. It's great to be authentic and I certainly don't want to put myself on a pedestal, but when I think about it, I don't want to be compared to anyone else either. Even though I'm referring to myself, it's a way of highlighting my flaws more than my strengths. 

It all comes down to being able to own who you are. And if for whatever reason that's not possible, at least own where you're at. 

These days I try my best not to make it complicated. I am simply a child of God. I am a human being. And I also have a big heart, and one that has a lot to give at that. I'm learning to not be ashamed of the way I love, and am slowly learning to incorporate that into how I live. 

That being said, I don't really regret any of the detours that occurred along the way, some which were set in front of me and others I made by my own choices. In hindsight many of them were not good for me, but now I understand that just because something is a popular cultural choice, that doesn't necessarily make it the right choice. It ultimately led me to where I am today, a strong person who's grown and become more mature because of what I've been through. 

This transition is bittersweet, and it won't be easy. If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that I no longer want to be a project, whether it be out of my own motivation or others trying to convince me that I need to change. I'm all for growth and self-improvement, but more so because something is dragging me down rather than because it's what or who I'm supposed to be at this point. It's amazing what happens when you allow yourself to just be changed instead of trying to force it, especially for the purpose of making others feel satisfied.

So often I tried to follow bits and pieces of advice in order to feel better. But honestly, that happened when I stopped trying to hold myself together and started letting people in. Yet, as I go out into the real world, maybe it's no longer about finding a place where most, if not everyone gets it. It's natural to want to be part of a community that makes you feel safe and unashamed, and even more so to actively seek that out. But as I begin to close this particular chapter and go on to another, I have to wonder if it's really less about waiting to find a safe haven, and more so learning about learning to live by your own values and convictions, regardless if others agree or disagree. 

It's a process, and I'm getting there.