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.

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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.

 

Everyone Is A Bit Of A Mess

I am broken.

So completely, unabashedly broken. Well at least the “unabashedly” part is a work in progress.

There is no definitive line between having it together and falling apart. Daily life is not set in black in white; even if it’s not always a rainbow of colors, it’s at least hundreds of variations of grey. Depends on the day.

Lately, I’ve been having some grey days. There are ups and downs, because among the “downs” I choose to let myself have some “ups,” which is an important lesson I wish I had learned a long time ago. But in the grey days I have learned to look closer at the reality of other people’s lives.

I am not the only person facing demons. Far from it, in fact.

Sure that seems obvious when actually saying it aloud or putting pen to paper, but it’s so easy to get caught up in your own head and not realize that your problems, while they have merit, are not exclusive. I would be wasting my time trying to compare my life to other’s because I can see their lives in easy black and white moments – I’m not feeling everything they feel or seeing every detail exactly like they can. To put it more eloquently, Steven Furtick says “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Even with the people I am closest to, with whom I get a glimpse of most of their good and bad moments, I could still easily point to all the ways in which they have their life more figured out than I do.

Me? I feel like a mess 24/7. I’ve never not felt like a mess. I’m a terrible communicator when it comes to my emotions (and I have a lot of them), I procrastinate out of fear, I push some people away and let in some that I shouldn’t, I think too much about self-improvement to the point of not actually doing anything to improve, I don’t pray enough. I’m going to stop there. You get the point.

Your immediate reaction, if you’re anything like me, may be “Yeah, but…”

But nothing. I am a mess in some ways, but not in others. It’s just not always easy to look past the ways in which you are a mess because those qualities tend to be more prevalent and problem-causing. The people in my life that I admire for their abilities to handle things all the time have their own faults and shortcomings that I’m not paying attention to because I’m too busy thinking about how much better than me they are.

A better use of time is, if you notice a quality you like in someone, point it out to them and learn from what they do. You can’t always mimic what other people do because you still have to be your own person and focus on the gifts that God gave you, but maybe there’s some sort of lesson in there for you as well.

Otherwise, calm down. Get it together. You’re fine. Everything is fine.

That’s pretty much my mantra when I’m freaking out about anything ever. But seriously, calm down and do something productive. Even if it’s not perfect, move in some sort of positive direction because sitting back and watching other people live their lives “better” than you is only going to bring you down and get you nowhere. My mom says something to the effect of, “If you’re not moving forward, you can only go backwards.” There is no safe middle ground.

Everyone else does not have it all together and you aren’t 100% a mess. Most of us are somewhere in the middle; our shortcomings are just way more apparent than other people’s. However that’s also no excuse to sit back and say “I’m doing fine.” It means that you may not be exactly where you should be, but you can work on that. In doing so, you can also remain positive and remember that no two people are doing or have done this ‘life’ thing the exact same way.

We’re all trying to figure it out.

 

Choosing “Magic”

When you’re a kid, life has this almost surreal quality to it that tends to get lost somewhere along the path to adulthood. It’s more than simply allowing reality to set in, like the realization that money is really difficult to come by and relationships aren’t constant rainbows and butterflies. It’s the heightened emotions that made life a little more interesting. It’s going to Disney World and totally believing you’ve been transported to another planet. It’s scraping your knee on the sidewalk and convincing yourself that nothing could feel worse than what you feel in that moment, until your mom comes along and scoops you into her arms and you’re instantly reminded that that’s your favorite place to be. It’s black and white emotions running at a mile a minute.

Adulthood is more like thousands of shades of grey (insert inappropriate, overdone joke here). I struggled with accepting this fact, this lack of constant rollercoaster emotions and noticing the everyday minute details that make life extra special, because I was convinced I would never feel it again.

I thought life was never going to be as interesting as it used to be. In some ways, maybe I was right. I won’t feel the same glittery magical array of emotions that comes along with an endlessly imaginative childhood brain, but that doesn’t mean I have to turn into an unfeeling robot. My decisions now carry so much more weight than they used to. I get to have a say in the path I take in life. My emotions are, roughly, within my control and just like my decisions, they carry more weight than they used to. Maybe they aren’t as magical, but they’re bigger.

I’m never going to have Prince Charming sweep in on his white horse to save me, but I will probably have a caring partner who loves and supports me. I’m not going to go to Disney World and believe that Winnie the Pooh is not a guy in a costume (sorry), but I can go on vacation and make my own kind of fun that is catered to my personality.

However, there is a familiar feeling of dread that tends to creep up on me this time of year when the holiday season has begun and I think, “here’s another reminder that I’m not a kid again” because I built up the holidays so much back in the day. “Will all the days I used to spend months looking forward to feel like just another day of the week now?” the pessimistic part of me asks myself every year.

Until the light outside begins to change.

Considering the fact that I live in South Florida, the changes of season here are beyond subtle. So subtle in fact that most non-natives, and a lot of natives too actually, don’t notice the change from summer to fall. But I can tell the exact moment when everything is different. Summer consists of hot wind, harsh bright light, and a constant buzz of life and excitement. Then one day, usually sometime in September, our little corner of the world seems quieter, the light outside turns into a soft golden tint, and the air is at least not deathly suffocating. It’s my favorite day of the year and I never know exactly when it will happen, which makes it that much more exciting. I usually end up skipping around telling people, “It’s fall, it’s fall, it’s fall!” which typically elicits a response that insinuates I’m clinically insane considering they are still miserably sweating.

But it’s the beginning of something different, something beautiful and dare I say a little magical. I like beginnings. They’re happy. Middle’s are nice because they’re comfortable and you’re invested at that point, and endings are an important part of life, but nothing beats a good beginning. All the excitement is just irreplaceable.

So, soon enough other people start catching on to the change of seasons and we collectively start drinking Pumpkin Spice Lattes, attempt to recreate crafts we found on Pinterest, plan our Halloween costumes before we even know where we’ll wear them, all because it’s fun. Do we always need a good reason to do something beyond it simply being enjoyable? (Within reason…dear Lord, please don’t use this logic as an excuse to be lazy or do drugs or anything else really stupid.)

So maybe life as a whole doesn’t feel exactly the same way it did when we were kids, but it’s still special. When we were younger, we felt everything with little to no basis for feeling it, whereas now we have legitimate reasons to feel the way we do. You will still feel that “magic,” as long as you’re willing to feel it. You can watch a Hallmark movies and feel absolutely nothing and mock them for being unrealistic, or you can love them for what they are and love that they capture the holidays like your childhood-self felt them. You can get annoyed when kids knock on your door screaming “TRICK OR TREAT,” or you can be friendly and realize that they’ve been looking forward to this all month and there is nothing stopping you from getting in on the fun in your own way. You can be upset that you went to your mother’s house for Thanksgiving and she bought food instead of making her famous homemade casserole-of-some-variety, or you can revel in the fact that you get a day to spend with those you love. Even if they don’t make your favorite casserole.

My point is that life changes when you get older and you can roll with it, making the best of every stage, or you can get swept up in “…but,” and never be satisfied. Everything may not be exactly like it used to be, but isn’t that exciting in itself?

The older you get, the more you get the chance to appreciate the out-of-the-ordinary moments if you choose to make the most of them. To experience a little less grey every now and then. And the fact that these moments don’t happen everyday makes the magical moments ones you won’t soon forget.


 

On a sidenote, happy Halloween! I’m finding out that, as an adult, you get quite a few different opportunities to dress up, which I think is pretty unfair to the kids. They’re the ones that live for this kind of stuff. I’ve worn a pig costume in a preschooler’s play, a cowgirl costume to a party, and this Tardis inspired outfit at work today. I’m exhausted. I had a few other chances to dress up that I didn’t take as well. And yet, kid’s typically get just the one day. Young me would be pretty unhappy if she knew this information.

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If you dressed up this year, what did you wear? How did your view on the holiday season change from childhood to now?

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