“It’s Hard to Listen When You Preach”

I wrote an entirely different post prior to this one that was supposed to be inspirational or encouraging or something along those lines, but it felt wrong to be handing out advice that I don’t yet follow…because most things are much easier said than done.

I made valid points that I stand behind, but they shouldn’t be my points to make if I can’t listen to them myself. I’m obviously not perfect, I have a lot of lessons yet to learn and sometimes I’m hesitant to learning them. I’m human. Maybe a little too human sometimes. I’ve always just shared my thoughts and experiences while offering a listening ear. I’m not here to be disingenuous, and posting advice on a subject I don’t know first-hand seems to be exactly that.

As Bono puts it so eloquently, “It’s hard to listen when you preach.” (If you haven’t listened to the song Every Breaking Wave, I implore you to do so. It’s heartbreaking in the kind of way that makes you reevaluate where you are in life and with God, especially if your life isn’t in the best spot at the moment. I’ll link it here if you’re interested.) So instead of preaching at you about stuff I don’t personally relate to, I’ll stick with telling you about something that I’m actually learning right now. Long story short, here is a lesson that is personal to myself (as I hope you get something out of hearing about my journey with it to this point):

Living in the moment.

It’s a cliche expression that people overall have a tendency to use in order to justify bad decisions (in the realm of YOLO, except no one really says that anymore…I hope), but I have to constantly remind myself that this right now is my life. It’s happening as we speak. It’s happening as I’m sitting in my bed at 1 a.m. writing this. Every second, every breath, all of it is happening in real-time. And it seems so obvious when it’s written out in front of me, but for all of us detail-oriented/future-thinking/keep-moving-forward thinkers, it’s often a challenge to take a step back and realize that life isn’t going to start in three years. It won’t start when I reach a specific goal or accomplish something important. Life started, in my case, 21 years ago and it’s not going to stop until my last breath.

Goals are great, they keep us motivated, but it’s best to maintain a healthy balance in all things and not wish your life away (thank you, mom, for teaching me that lesson…it only took about a decade for it to sink in).

I love certain aspects of my current position, and I’m not as fond of other parts. Yes this is, admittedly, a particularly challenging time of my life, but no matter what stage I’m in there will always be plenty of both positives and negatives – good parts, bad parts, and stuff to look forward to.

So I’ll make the best of right now, while not completely losing sight of the future. I can make right now just as important as tomorrow.

I can appreciate the good in every moment – not just the highlights yet to come.

And that’s what I’m currently in the process of learning. It’s still a process, I’ve faltered and will inevitably do so again, but I’m making progress everyday as I remind myself that every second is equally important to the next.

So this is less about giving advice from the perspective that I have already reached the metaphorical finish line – that I’ve learned the lesson to it’s fullest extent, I’m a finished product, it’s not a challenge for me anymore. Of course it’s still a challenge. I’m a work in progress, and always will be. But I am progressing, and that’s what is important!

I’m not good at telling people what to do because that’s just not my personality, but mostly I personally think there are way too many people out there who are telling everyone else what to do without admitting any personal fault. So I’m saying that I am just as flawed as the next person, but this is what I am learning right now and I hope someone else can benefit from hearing about it. That’s what I can offer, in good conscience.

 

 

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Trying (to Find Peace)

I’ve been tired for a while.

The past year has felt like saying “I’m trying” on repeat. And that’s exactly what I have been doing – still trying to curb my rising stress levels, still trying to go wherever God leads me, still trying to make progress in my life, still trying to improve myself so I can be better for those around me, still trying to find a healthy balance between being constantly focused on what lies ahead and living for what is right now.

Still, I’m trying.

One of my biggest fears, for example, is the potential need for my dream of being an author to be altered. The older I get, the more that seems to become a reality. When I was younger I’d sit quietly at lunch listening intently to other kids tell stories and prattle on about their daily adventures, and later while they ran around on the playground getting their energy out, I was alone regaining mine – writing down their stories and making them my own – playing fantasy games like they did, just a bit more quietly. Writing has always felt both like home and an adventure, and in more recent years, it makes me feel close to God. It’s the one thing that I don’t feel the need to be the very best at, because it just feels good to do it; but in doing so, I also improve. So, with this intense passion for writing I have developed from the moment I could string sentences together comes an intense dread for compromise. For settling. For giving it up because life may one day get too much in the way. Yes I will always be a writer, but I may not get the opportunity to write in the way I always hoped I could, and that saddens me. Even though I’m aware God has a plan regardless of what happens (as long as I keep putting in the necessary effort and listening to His guidance) what will be will be and I will make it through, the idea still keeps me awake some nights. I’m human; I falter, but I’m improving. I’m trying.

There’s so much to stress out about; to make me want to hide from the world and hope it stops nagging me. But I have a Music Appreciation test tomorrow and pages of notes still yet to take, I have a job to go to in the morning, a book to finish writing at some point, and laundry to fold. So much laundry. The world isn’t going to ever stop nagging me to do a thousand things at once and pulling me in every possible direction. It won’t stop giving you or I reasons to feel inadequate or scared or stressed or, more likely, some annoying combination of all of those and more. The world will throw problems at you left and right. Some bigger than others, of course, but it’s the daily stressors that sneak up on you – building up until you feel like you’re going to burst. (Luke 21:34)

But God’s just looking at you, probably stroking his beard, tapping his foot, whistling as He waits; wondering when you’ll finally realize you’re going to be fine. He’s got this. Even if you have no idea what’s going on, thank goodness He always does. (John 14:27)

Believe me, I have to remind myself of this about ten times a day and I still have my moments where I question it entirely. A million questions starting with “…but,” pop in my head daily, and yet I’m still okay. I’ve made it this far and every situation I didn’t think I would get through, I did. “Just calm down and stop overthinking” is a phrase I use mentally about everyday. The only way that phrase has any weight, the only way it ever works, is when I combine it with prayer – when I direct it to God. Life just seems easier to handle when I pray everyday, and that’s no coincidence. The only time I truly feel at ease is when I prayer journal, which I’ve been getting back to doing at least once a day. You can’t expect anything from God if you don’t ask, you can’t expect answers if you don’t listen, and you can’t expect change if you can’t handle honesty. “Our prayers may be awkward. Our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference.” (Max Lucado)

So my point is that life is stressful and uncertain and there is a lot to worry about, but you don’t have to let that hinder you. You don’t have to be held back by fear of the unknown, because God knows what lies ahead. Talk to Him about it and then build some true faith. What will happen will happen and you can choose to make the best of it by talking to God and being open to what He has to say.

I’m going to wrap this up with a story about a woman I visited in a nursing home today, because she inspired this entire post:

One of my closest friends and I decided we wanted to start scrapbooking, which she ended up mentioning to her grandmother. A week later, we were on our way to visit her so she could lend us some of her supplies. I tagged along, unsure of what to expect and wondering why someone I’ve never met would be kind enough to lend me things that are precious to her. But we get there and I’m greeted by an older woman with a kind smile and upbeat attitude, and I instantly feel at ease around her. She giddily shows us around the building while leading us to the small apartment-style room she and her husband share. When she opens her door, it isn’t the size of the space that I notice right away, but the fact that she made it feel warm and inviting. I didn’t notice the hospital curtain until the end of my visit, because all I initially saw was an inviting couch, photos of family members on most of the walls, and an overflowing crafting table. She talked endlessly about family and friends, but what struck me the most was the fact that she was open about her hesitation with living there. She did not want to move to this place. She’d given up her car, her home, and her friends to live in an assisted living home in which she can’t even cook for herself and her husband. It took her a long time to adjust to the environment. Though she hadn’t pointed it out herself, it was obvious that she was in the best shape, both physically and mentally, out of probably anyone else in the facility. She didn’t feel like she belonged there. She was depressed for a while, and still goes through some “weepy days” as she put it, but she said all this with a smile because she was learning to make the best of it. She put her crafting abilities to use and holds weekly card-making classes, she charges a couple dollars for her pre-made cards (as she pulled out a hundred cards she had made to show us what she can do), and she is lobbying to hold a craft fair so all the ladies in this community can have the opportunity to sell what they make as well. Her crafting classes have gone so well that she has gone from using her own supplies to the staff saying “buy what you need and we will reimburse you.” She proudly told us, “I found my niche,” and she went on to tell us that she believes she was put there to be a caretaker of sorts. To be a ray of sunshine to these people. She took her less-than-ideal situation, made it a God opportunity, and through it she found an overwhelming sense of peace.

She gave me hope that I hadn’t realized I needed until today.

She ended our visit with a piece of advice: “I’ve seen the top of a mountain, and the while the mountain itself is just rock and ice, the view is amazing – like nothing you’ve ever seen before. But it is in the valleys that the wildflowers and grass grow. Both are equally important.” (James 1:2-4)

 

 

 

 

 

I Went For A Run (And Learned Some Things)

I went for a run today.

Okay, so it was more of a brisk walk with a few spurts of jogging…but I did it!

Before I get into my reasons for spontaneously going on a three mile (sort of) jog-ish thing, you’ll need some backstory. Last week I went running with a friend (who is actually a runner, so she has also been acting as my motivator for getting back into shape) and after talking about it for ages, she finally convinced me to go with her. What ended up being a disastrous turn of events also turned out to be a huge push for me in the right direction.

We got lost as we distracted ourselves with talking, assuming the trail would eventually loop back around to where we parked (surprise, it didn’t). All in all we ended up walking/jogging a total of ten miles. My left foot is still not very happy about that excursion, but the rest of me is thankful because I forgot how much I actually enjoy exercising. I forgot how much my body is capable of if I’m having a good time – that I’m not as weak as I always think I am. I forgot that I love to run and let my anxieties melt away. I forgot that I don’t really equate running with working out, because I only ever “worked out” to look better and never actually enjoyed it, but running feels like an escape from reality.

I wanted to go again, alone this time, and though I needed a week’s break after those ten miles for the sake of letting my foot heal, I found myself back on the familiar mulch track she and I started on seven days prior.

I’ve been pretty transparent on here about my past struggles with body image and one thing that held me back from exercising for the past year is how I have abused my body in the past. I spent a lot of time not eating and in that time I was exercising relentlessly – hours upon hours upon hours of trying to tone and shrink the body I taught myself to hate. Since then I have had an aversion to anything involving exercise because I’m afraid of becoming obsessed again or doing it for the wrong reasons. Which is a silly thought because it’s been a year since I’ve seriously struggled with it and while I know some fears may never fully go away, I also know better than to believe something so miniscule could ever be more powerful than the strength God taught me to find within myself.

Today I woke up knowing that I needed to be alone, just God and I. I needed to reevaluate some things within myself and allow for time in which I could reassess a few lessons I have let fall to the wayside. So I escaped to the familiar quiet park where I could reflect, and while I planned on simply sitting on a bench and reading my Bible or praying, I felt God tell me to run instead; to let go and feel free for a little while because I’ve been in a constant state of stress. So here are some things that I learned.

  1. It’s not always about being the best or the fastest. Sure, strive to be the best you can, but also keep a rational mind. I felt God while I was running; I felt Him in the sound of the sea breeze moving gently through the trees above me and the distant murmur of children on a playground. I felt close to Him because it was just He and I in that moment; the world still existed, yes, but it was more beautiful than I’ve seen it in a long time because I saw it all as God’s. It was very meditative, but it wouldn’t have been if I was solely focused on “go faster,” “push harder,” and so on. It’s more about the journey than the destination, or however the expression goes.
  2. Take detours when you can. I found a path off to the side that I knew wouldn’t lead me in the direction I had intended to go, but it was beautiful. I’m all for being focused on your goals and whatnot, but sometimes a distraction is necessary. Sometimes a distraction is put in your place to give you some perspective – a chance to reflect, breathe, and take a moment to be introspective. I ended up enjoying myself the most on my ten minute detour. There was an expanse of grass with benches to sit on, trees towering over me for optimal shade, a place off to the side where someone had a bonfire the night prior, and there were birds everywhere – from huge turkey vultures lurking in the corner to a baby bluejay hopping in the grass. It was serene and a little magical, like it was hidden away just for me to discover right then, and I found myself really smiling for the first time since I had started running. That’s where I felt God the most, but I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it if I had been so focused on staying on the path that I didn’t allow myself to explore at all.
  3. Don’t eat Skittles before you exercise. This may not seem like a real lesson, but I’m just telling you that you should make better decisions than me because I was fully aware that I should have eaten something healthy, but as I sat in my car for twenty minutes psyching myself up to actually run I realized I had been tearing through a bag of Skittles in my purse. It was like someone else took over my actions in that moment and I didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late…and by that I mean I was really hungry, I only had skittles readily available, but I honestly probably wouldn’t have chose anything else even if I had had the option. Baby steps. I’m getting healthy in baby steps. But still, don’t do something that dumb. Jesus would be smart enough to eat a salad or something, but I chose Skittles and very much regretted it. Just FYI.
  4. Speaking of sitting in my car for twenty minutes psyching myself up, that’s a thing I did. And that’s possibly the biggest lesson learned today (or, actually, more of a reminder since God and I have been over it a few times at this point): stop allowing fear to keep you from doing what you should. Stop allowing yourself to be your own worst enemy. Stop allowing unimportant things to hold you back. I was anxious about people watching me run because I don’t do it often and I don’t always go into new situations feeling super confident, but there’s a reason God spent all of last year making sure I was alone learning independence in spite of useless fears. Today He reminded me that I allowed fear back into my life and it’s time to let go of it, so I did. And I ran. 

God is in every part of life, not just in church or the Bible, and He can teach you a lesson in sometimes the strangest, most unexpected ways. Today was one of those strange, unexpected lesson days and I’m grateful to have a God that calls me out when I need to readjust my thought process and actions.

 

Change

Last summer I spent an evening in Savannah, Georgia. My mom and I embarked on our yearly trip to meet some family members in Tennessee, and what was supposed to just be a fun rest stop amidst a 14 hour drive turned into a sort of turning point for me.

After a bad breakup and several attempts to find love (or more like comfort, in hindsight) in all the wrong places, prior to this day I hadn’t thought about how much I needed a new outlook . My mom has always been the person who understands me better than anyone else could dream of, and a week of me and her on the road did more good for me than I realized at the time.

To most people, this photo looks like nothing more than a semi-blurry picture of a girl in a restaurant. But I see a hundred problems hiding under the surface: a girl who has lost her sense of direction in life, who is beyond frustrated, mentally counting the calories in the meal she just ordered, and wondering how much longer she can stand to be alive.

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I was obsessed with appearances. I had to be the skinniest, prettiest person I could turn myself into. I had to be fit, working out for hours upon hours everyday until I felt sick. I learned to love the feeling of an empty stomach. I still do, though now I wish I didn’t. I  piled on makeup to the best of my ability and wore outfits that I thought made me look smaller. I had to fix everything, but found new problems with myself everyday. I took selfies and posted them on Instagram to prove to others and myself that I had confidence.

There is nothing wrong with taking care of oneself, or wanting to look nice and be healthy, but I took it to an extreme. I loved when my extended family commented on how great I suddenly looked. I loved that boys suddenly paid attention to me and girls wanted to be my friend. I loved that I had a secret, that I could reinvent myself by choosing who I spent my time with, that I could pretend to fit in with people other than my immediate family for a change.

But those things did not equate to happiness. I did not find salvation in any of them. All I felt was a constant ache for more, but I didn’t get anything more until I proved that, while I may not necessarily deserve it, I could work hard for better things. I could have the best intentions, be positive, and be genuine as often as possible.

I needed God, and acted (even believed at times) that He and I were perfectly okay with each other, but I found that I couldn’t simultaneously be abusing/lying to myself and be in a healthy relationship with Him. Praying means next to nothing if I turn around and act irrational the next minute, whether that be in the way I treat my body or the poor decisions I make to feel less empty.

Relying on frivolous things like appearances, other people’s validation, and success to bring you joy will only result in feeling worse off in the end. I was never more broken than I was at that time, but it was in the brokenness that I was able to make a change.

I didn’t figure everything out on that trip. I didn’t suddenly turn into a new person or have a great relationship with God in a day. Even now, our relationship falters. I’m human and while it’s not an excuse, it is a fact that I’m not going to be perfect. However, it was a turning point.

Throughout that single week, I made decisions that I truly believed would better my life. And sanity, if we’re honest. I had incredible conversations about salvation, thought a lot about what God wanted me to do and how He wanted me to treat myself, and it was because of those decisions that I finally was able to move forward with my life.

I have never been able to say that I am happy. Even in the best moments, I didn’t feel a constant sense of joy. But even on my darker days, I have hope now. I wouldn’t have that if I hadn’t made difficult, but responsible decisions back then. I had to face reality instead of complaining about it, and as soon as I did, my entire outlook on myself and my existence changed. I changed. I grew.

Home

I knew a boy who lived in a sea of rolling hills – the town he grew up in like waves far out in the ocean

I was a boat tied to the dock while he swam along the coast freely

 

We simultaneously put each other first and last while expecting harmonious synchronization

Two people forcing their way into a thing they called home even if it felt like a warzone

 

We got stuck between growing up and being grown up because it was the place we knew best

Comfortable in the discomfort of never knowing what might lie ahead but still feeling certain that we’d both be a part of each other’s futures

 

But a person shouldn’t be a Lighthouse

And we were far from perfect

 

Eventually the ocean turned dark and he went away as the tide swirled around my ankles, untying the rope that held me where I thought I’d always be safe

I drifted alone until he was barely a speck on the horizon, waving to me from the safety of warm grass, solid ground, and sunlight like a halo

 

On my own I found my way to a new place where the waves didn’t crash, just sort of swayed back and forth

I found softer hands to hold, and the hills where I used to hide behind went away with the sunset

 

Now my new home actually feels like a home – nothing like the former secluded hideaway I wasn’t allowed to leave until God or somebody forced me out

It’s four walls and a bed to share, toes in the water, and a Lighthouse to lead me in every direction

 

We work now in tandem

Two people creating and discovering together, allowing for both self-identity and someone to trust

 

There are no hills or a need for them – only open sky and a horizon that is always bright

My tomorrow never seeming dim because I have something to bring me home and someone to go home to

06/18/2018: Adolescence

It’s mid-June in the suffocating heat of a typical Florida evening. Mosquitos are swarming in my periphery as I sit cross-legged on a white spray-painted metal chair. Its 1950’s floral design is typical of my mother’s decorating style – beautiful, but just uncomfortable enough so you aren’t tempted to sit still for too long. Always temporary. The arms dig into my thighs, but I don’t move them.

Chloe is tending to our mother’s lush but quickly browning garden; watering the plants she cannot take care of while stuck in the bulky cast that has snaked itself halfway up her calf, tangled around her like a wild vine on an otherwise pristine home. Watching her wheel herself around, frustrated at her personal freedom having been stripped from her, reminds me of a caged animal. And an almost-trainwreck; that single breath of a moment when things aren’t the worst they can be, adrenaline and sadness running through you because there’s nothing you can do except watch and wait. Except, instead of an oncoming train, it’s an oncoming surgery and a piece of metal stuck in her foot. You can’t really feel empathy until you see someone you love look like their world has come to a halt and try to adapt in spite of it.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is in the side yard running after the puppy he and my sister share. Their black-and-white dog is small, lanky, and he reminds me of an awkward teenager when he walks, but he’s charming. His short snout makes him sound like a pig when he breathes, and he loves to be cradled like a child. I often jokingly call him my nephew, maybe partly because I’d like to have a kid around that isn’t entirely dependent on me for survival just yet. But mostly just because I like his company. It’s harder for any of us to act anything but happy around him, and that’s become more of a rarity lately.

Chase’s laugh is carried toward me with a warm seabreeze that feels like home, and I feel at ease for the first time in a while. Not like my typical quasi-adult self who’s trying to politely fit in and find some place to hide out until a better opportunity makes me move in another direction, but like I’m six years old again. I look at the clear blue open sky and suddenly I’m riding my bike – a light blue Schwinn with a wicker basket and flowers stuck on the side. I’m trying to keep up with my brother and his bright red speed bike as my neighbor yells to me, “He went that way!” Thanking him, my tires skid on the smooth asphalt as I make a sharp left turn. Alex is in the distance and the only thing I can think about is making it to the end of the street before he turns around. Trying to play catch-up.

I am not six anymore. I have jury duty tomorrow and I often think about things like marriage and apartments and the names of the children I plan on having. I worry about money and how in the world I can make a career out of the things I have been passionate about since I was actually six. I am not six, but I can pretend to be for a few more minutes.

 

More

I want your irrationality

More than whispered promises

More than a few words at the end of a sentence

But I know heartache is worse than a little disappointment

 

So maybe that’s why I’m quietly fuming

And why I’ll simultaneously miss you in ways you can’t really understand

Because I can’t really explain them

 

I want declarations

Never asked for and never forced

Never just a secondary character in our own book

But to believe that I am your person, who makes you feel everything

 

Stop me in my tracks

Love me like you mean it

Like I am exciting to you

 

I want more

I’m asking because I’m still holding back

I’m asking because I know you love my company

But you think I want unreasonable things

 

I won’t just be a good decision

An easy path to an easy future

Well-fitting in all the right ways but devoid of long-term passion

 

I have your tomorrow

Your everyday is a constant

Your hand always there to hold when I reach out

But something in my chest remains empty

 

I want more

But you don’t know what that means

And you don’t think anything went missing