April 30, 2015

A Safe Place in Unrest


It’s terrifying to show people who you are
When many see it all in black and white
I tend to live a life in color
Yet with questions always in my mind

Am I right, or am I wrong
To be emotional and be strong?
To feel deeply and appreciate all the little things
While pain comes easily
My thoughts get messy
Joy is translated into a lack of maturity

I walked a lonely road in childhood
Close friends were few
Until I discovered a haven on a college campus
And given gifts of acceptance, love, support, and encouragement
Where silliness, messiness, and sensitivity were welcomed with open arms
“Let yourself be loved”
The cry and prayer for ourselves and one another
I found them, and in turn I found myself

So the road continues into adulthood
Returning to a place that feels too small and confining
Like wearing jeans that no longer fit
Surrounded by those set in their ways
Love when the chips are down, but adamant on keeping walls up
Connected by blood, but distanced by experience

Torrent rain falls
Instead of the touch of grace, one gets the bruising of stones
It’s one thing to show the world who you are
But another to consistently be yourself
 When you’re still figuring it out
Hearing “We love you, but we’re just not good at showing it”
But love is not silent
Love overpowers self-hatred
And what is love that makes you question if you’re living well
Because you’re not living exactly like everyone else

In between such questions is the truth
One’s own truth
That what makes us different, the quirks and set apart’s
With time become gifts
Gifts from God’s spirit
That help us to love and live better

So with these gifts we must create a haven
A haven to feel like heaven
On an earth that sometimes feels like hell
For anyone that questions or seeks or longs to belong
Because we belong to each other
We are meant to grow together
To need connection, faith, and strength
That is where I build my haven
And I invite you to come in

Be a haven with your words
 Speaking with peace and comfort
Be a haven with your actions
 Giving shelter and safety for those that feel lost or rejected
Be a haven with your heart

Knowing that little things do make a difference

photo credit: October Warmth via photopin (license)

April 24, 2015

Friday Finds

It's been a busy month, but I still want to share some beautiful things I've discovered around the blogosphere (and the internet).....

Expanding The Ways We Experience God (via Relevant Magazine)

An interesting perspective on those that feel mentally different (via Momastery)

-I love this so much because I can relate to this on many levels. For years I felt like I had to be happy all the time; that once I could somehow "fix" the way my mind worked and the way it dealt with emotions, all would be right the world. But somehow I get the sense that the world needs people that aren't afraid to show that their sad, angry, or down right pissed off. And this article gives me hope.

With Love, from Bob (Via Willow Creek Community Church)

-The author of one of my favorite books, Love Does, spoke at my church during our Celebration of Hope series. His words are soul stirring and his personality is so infectious that I literally want to jump up and dance. Despite how whimsical and out there it all seems, just take his words for what they are. Oh, and read the book too!

Every decision should include this one question (via Stephanie May Wilson)

Inspiration from Jamaica (via My European Adventures)

-Written by one of my closest friends from college. She is an incredible person with such a big and beautiful heart! I wanted to share it because it was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes. 

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

photo credit: vert.jpg via photopin (license)

April 17, 2015

An Encouragement Drought

I've been noticing something lately, both in the online and offline spheres that has begun to bother me. I've seen it in blogs and articles, and unfortunately in my own circle. It's nothing new, but I've witnessed and experienced the sting of this negative trend, and I feel like I can't keep quiet anymore.

Regardless of the subject and regardless of the environment, it seems like all we do is criticize and focus on the bad, more than we encourage and focus on the good. What more, we'll make a list of everything that's wrong, but refuse to acknowledge that we have the ability to make a positive impact and change, if only it be a small ripple. We do this to our leaders, our neighbors, and even our loved ones, not even willing to admit that chances are we're only aware of one part of the story. We point fingers at each other instead of joining hands.

I am not exempt from this: in the months following graduating and leaving Iowa City, I lashed out at people, mostly family, as a way to protect myself. I had held a lot in for the sake of not being an inconvenience, and was tired of being made to think that my pain and struggle (particularly regarding my parents situation) didn't matter. Did the screaming and yelling out a list of grievances help matters? No. But I didn't want to be looked at or treated like a doormat. I was not wrong, but yet I was not right either. It was an act of desperation, one that wouldn't have been necessary had I recognized that I've always been strong enough to express myself, and that I didn't need the guarantee of a positive reaction to do it.

The conversation is not about eliminating criticism in and of itself; people need to be called out on when doing harm to others. Mistakes should be brought to light so that they can be rectified. There are times when a different, much more edifying path can be taken than the one a person is currently on. True criticism is when somebody is willing to balance out the strengths and the need for improvement. Real critics tell the truth and give direction, but they're firm and encouraging in the process. 

It appears that from observation (and my own experiences) that there is very little of that. That's why I have such a hard time talking about work-related and personal goals with certain people; it's not that I can't or am unwilling to have a conversation, but I have an acute sense of when a person is crossing the line from being a critic to a bully. My defenses go up because I refuse to be around someone who points out problems for the pure sake of doing so, rather than also offering suggestions or solutions. It's somewhat of a knee jerk reaction from my younger school days, where I would get picked on and emotionally shut down because I couldn't get them to back off. The sad part is that currently, this kind of exchange often happens with those who should be willing to say "I'm proud of you," and more than just at graduations or big life steps. 

Yes, I'm sensitive; part of it is due to my own nature, being a creative and having a responsibility to notice and experience things in the deepest way possible. The other part involves being told throughout my life that I needed to be better, stronger, more able, and without an equal amount of praise that I was already doing well. Now I'm in a place where I don't feel the need to be pushed or prodded, because I already do enough of that myself. 

There is no such thing as tough love, at least in the sense that it can be applied with such force and still have positive results. You can nag at, belittle, and yell at somebody and there's a chance that they can still grow and do something great with their lives. But let me tell you, that will not be without a hardened heart toward real love and beauty that surrounds them. It will not be without an inner struggle of agony, which could eventually lead to tragedy. I put up walls, and I have been at the brink several times. For those that don't believe in coddling, I get it. But far too many confuse coddling (a lack of boundaries and relying on fear) with real nourishment. People can still be leaders, innovators, and hard workers while still being compassionate and having a backbone.

It looks that way with the different generations, especially when it comes to older ones talking down to the younger (and the younger ones flipping the bird to the older). It's true that laziness, lack of motivation, and entitlement do exist, but that seems to relate less to age and more to personal history. Instead of using ageism and stereotyping as an excuse to put  everyone into a category, why not give each group a chance to learn from one another? We all have a story, and we all have something to offer. What might look like laziness may actually be someone trying to keep themselves sane, to feed themselves emotionally and spiritually in the midst of navigating the real world. I don't want to put my identity solely in my work, so I need to make time for God and friends and doing things that fill my soul. 

I want to build a career, yes, but I also want to build a life. With only so much physical and emotional energy in me, I have to rest and recharge. And I think that's true for everybody. 

There's a knowing that deep down, you can't force anybody to be outwardly loving, affirming, and a giver of grace. I don't want to simply lay down and accept that this is the way the world works, and convince myself that it's me versus whomever. There's hope in the idea of the way that we treat others does not completely reflect who we are, but what we choose to do. In addition, knowing that my God is for me, and because of that, baseless opinions should not matter.

There are days where I'm sure, and others where I have absolutely no idea. I can ignore the noise and simply nod my head without having to agree, but only so long before I want to collapse from exhaustion.

Sometimes the hardest thing is doing for yourself what you wish that some would do for you. It's being able to see past what you don't have and recognizing the abundance that's already there. Show the world who you are in confidence, regardless of who's watching and who isn't. Be willing to give, but be willing to accept what others have to give in return. You are strong and you can do this. 

Listen. Be willing to meet in the middle. Learn, build, and lift people up.

It's never too late to try.

photo credit: fadedlove-tiltshift via photopin (license)

April 10, 2015

Back To The Beach

It was my first Southern experience, and about six years since I'd been to the ocean. I admit to being partial to Florida, but was slowly captured by the Carolina charm: there are at least a dozen radio stations playing country music and you can't really go anywhere without hearing it. People call you darlin' and say "bless your heart" without even having to know your name. I discovered that crab cakes aren't half bad and have taken a liking to pink lemonade mixed with sweet-tea flavored vodka. I was once again painfully reminded that it's possible to get ridiculous sunburned on a cloudy day, but also when it's only sixty degrees. There are junk shops and tacky eateries for miles, although I found quite a few things that I don't regret spending money on.

The weather kept us on our toes, as it usually goes whenever we travel somewhere with sand, palm trees, and water. It actually turned out quite all right, though I was determined to savor this trip either way: I kept my TV and internet usage to a minimum unless it was for work, as I usually do when I'm intend to relax. It made me wonder why people are so eager to unplug when away from home, but don't try to give themselves healthy breaks the rest of the time. Why is it that we can't incorporate the occasional umbrella drink, a nice meal, or quality time with those we care about into "real life"? Isn't relaxation just a much a part of it as work?

I discovered that to truly savor something, you have to embrace all things encompassed in that moment, including your emotions. In the beginning, there were a few times where I ached for my Dad and brother to be there, as I miss all being together at once. I became frustrated over my sister's anxiety about the lack of sunshine, and at one point we debated on making the ten hour drive just to see a few rays.

We stayed, and I'm grateful for it. The sun did makes several appearances and I came home looking like a bronzed lobster.

But nothing compared to the joy that I experienced when on the beach: the smell of saltwater and suntan lotion. Walks on the edge of the tide and finding a mixture of seashells and Bible verses written in the sand. The usual regret of thinking that anything below SPF 15  was enough, and the comfort of cool sheets at night that soothed the itch and burn of my Midwestern skin. I'm not sure if I would live in such a climate year round due to the danger of hurricanes and intense humidity, but the sound of the waves definitely makes me feel at home. It's a place where I can experience God on a deep level and cry happy tears, surrounded by everything involving the natural elements of creation. 

The week culminated in people-watching at a beach club, while carrying on an unexpected but needed conversation. I don't want to call it an epiphany per say, but in the days that followed I realized how emotionally liberating the exchange was. And I started to see that maybe it's not necessarily about "letting go" as much as it is choosing to look at a situation differently.

It's no secret that I've been struggling with family-related changes these past eight months. There's been sadness and confusion, which is normal when there are a lot of unknowns involved. Yet I was also angry and scared, as though I couldn't let it out and terrified of losing what I've always known, even if most of it was complicated and imperfect. Realistically, it's completely natural (if not expected) to start building your own life once you've hit your twenties. I was recently reminded of something that my best friend said to me before we left college, that change doesn't mean that relationships have to end, they just take a new shape. And while in one aspect something is coming to an end, in turn I'm creating my own traditions and pursuing my own path. Granted, divorce is still hard and hurts everyone involved, and in a way there's no fully getting over it. But I do believe that there is light after darkness, and new beginnings after big changes. 

There's a lot more that's tough to articulate in one post, but I came home feeling like new life was blooming, despite the twenty-degree chill and bits of snow still on the ground. My heart is full and my soul is feeling less heavy, even if on certain days it doesn't seem that way. 

Spring is here, and sometimes all it takes is a trip to the beach to see it.