Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Mountain Ahead

The other day I was out with a stranger (you know, as I do) and we were talking about our lives, our passions, etc. As this person talked I noticed that they described their life in terms of dates. When I mentioned this to him, he paused, and then replied, "I do talk in terms of dates. You talk in terms of blessings."

If you are just joining the story, the last year of my life has been a doozy. Here is the run-down:

A year ago my husband started the process of leaving our marriage

11 months ago he left me and I moved from Arizona to Georgia.

10 months ago I unjustly lost my job.

9-7 months ago I struggled with the divorce, the job loss, etc. and also worked at a pizza restaurant. The pizza was delicious. Oh and I lived in my parents' basement. It was glamorous.

6 months ago I started a new job.

5 months ago divorce papers were finalized.

3 months ago I randomly applied to a job in Dallas, Texas.

1 month ago I quit my job in Georgia, moved to another new state, got an apartment, started a new job, and did a few hoots and hollers of absolute joy.

1 day ago I got some unfortunate news about an issue with my health.

Yea. It's been a hell of a year.

Living these past few weeks in a new city I have had plenty of opportunities to meet new people, introduce myself, and tell them pieces of my story. It is a beautiful thing to discover who you think you are by what and how you choose to present yourself. Continually I find myself integrating the painful chapters into the story I present. The darkness now serves to magnify the light. My story is not defined by chapters of sadness, but of the resulting blessings and joy.

When someone says, "Wow, you have a really positive outlook on life."

I can say, "Yea, that's because I have seen the valley and know the beauty and brightness of the light."

My story has so many threads that weave together to make me who I am, and the blessings of my life have significance because of their permanence in rough waters. They say you find out who your friends are when things get rough. I think I have also found out who my God is. Every good and beautiful thing reflects to me the depth of His love. My God isn't tangible. I can't see Him. I can't be held by Him. But He has manifested Himself through the blessings by which I mark my life.

Now I am about to climb another mountain.
Does it suck? Absolutely.
Will it be fun? Nope.
But am I anxious and stressed?


Weird, right?

The fact is, I've been to hell already. I walked in darkness for a long time and my God and my friends never abandoned me. So as I face the unknown of this new challenge I begin the climb honestly overwhelmed with peace.

There is such a difference in this mountain.
I have no doubt that I will overcome it.
I have no question about my strength to handle it.

Despite the challenges I have been through and the ones ahead, I continue to be the happiest I have been since college. I have a joy that isn't from avoidance of facts, but from a unwavering faith that all will be well.

I believe in miracles. And I will ask and beg for them, but all the while knowing that everything will be ok no matter how God chooses to see me through this.

I believe in the good things coming. Its been a hell of a year. And it might be a hell of a few months ahead. But I love my job, my apartment, my city, my dog (:D), and I know nothing will shake me.

I've never felt more joy. And this new mountain? Well I am simply going to conquer the damn thing.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Week 1 in Dallas

Well ya'll, four days ago I officially moved to Dallas! For my second move to a new state within ten months I hopped in my car and drove twelve hours back out west on my own. Sometimes I step back and it hits me that this has been one crazy year. With multiple cross-country moves, huge life changes, and a smattering of different jobs, it has been quite the year of change!

Thankfully, this move has been easy in almost every way. I signed a lease on an apartment I had never seen and when I arrived I found that it was perfect. The right size, the right amenities, and a beautiful view, I had stumbled upon my perfect oasis in the city.

I began work on Tuesday to find that I love the staff, the organization is healthy, and the kids are phenomenal. After one afternoon I felt like I had been there for years. Even though it was a new set of kids and I have so much to learn about this organization, I have felt so at home every day this week.

What has been so amazing to me about this move is that it has been filled with joy and peace.

For the last four and a half years I have been stressed out and unsettled. Each year could bring crazy changes, there were no healthy boundaries, and the stress was unreal. I had a lot of joy in the last 4.5 years too, but they were pretty tough years.

So it is no small thing that for the first time in years, I found myself completely without stress or anxiety. I moved halfway across the country and started a brand new job, and all I have felt is complete and utter peace and serenity. It is amazing. It is such a settling thing to feel like you have finally found a place to call home. 

There are challenges ahead, that is for sure. And I may only know how to get to three places in this whole city. But for being four days in, I would say that everything is exceeding expectations in the most divinely beautiful way.

Moving to Dallas was certainly unexpected, but I am starting to believe that this is the best decision I've made in years. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Big News!

The other day a song came on when I was at work. It was one I had heard for the first time when I was in the depths of my sorrow. The song begins with the words "It feels like an ocean of sorrow is under my skin. Even the ocean eventually meets with the sand. Sorrow on sorrow I'm waiting, heavy I'm anticipating, trusting the current will carry me." 

It brought tears to my eyes because in an instant I was back there. As if watching a playback of the last ten months, I saw myself in the depth of my pain. My heart broke for the girl whose world had fallen apart, who would sob hopelessly into the phone, in the bathroom, in the car. I couldn't get out of bed for weeks, and it was months before I was able to go outside of the house for more than an hour. It felt like an ocean of sorrow was welling up within me and I was certain it would never end. When I read back on the journal I kept I want to hold tight the me who felt so hollow, so empty, so ready for darkness to envelop what little life she had left. 

During the hard times I clung to music to get me through, and to my friends who always answered my calls, always listened, and never pushed. They let me process. They held me up when I had no fight left in me. I feel like for a while I was just a wisp in the wind, so close to disappearing, so ungrounded. But my people held me down (goodness the thought gives me tears!). They refused to let me disappear, to be overcome, to give up. They cried with me and held me tight.

I truly believe that it is the beautiful people in my life, even those that just sent a message of encouragement, that kept me from disappearing from the world completely. And now, amazing things are happening in my life. 

You know, a man I once loved used to tell me that I would never get a job with my degree. My passion for working with underprivileged youth was unfortunately never going to amount to much of a career and accordingly, his suggestion was that I go into a different field. 

Well, as a woman who now has gumption and perseverance, I am pleased to announce that based on my experience and education, I have accepted a paying job as the Program Director for an after-school program for at-risk youth in Dallas, Texas. 

The journey to this position has been quick, unexpected, and to me, divinely influenced. After 10 months of healing from my sorrows, I feel that God has given me the go-ahead to return to that which He has called me. With the support of my family and friends, I head back into the work that God has prepared me for, the work that He has placed as the utmost passion in my soul. 

This is a big step for me in a lot of ways. I have been staying with family since leaving Arizona and I will now branch into this next chapter of my life on my own (with Gidget the dog in tow of course). After months of waiting and questioning, surrounded by moving boxes I never unpacked, I will begin my life again. 

I will unpack. I will settle down. 

I will be challenged, yes. I will have unsteady steps, rocky moments, and a gamut of emotions. It won't be easy, but it will be the end of the valley. It will be sunshine. It will be steady ground. 

It is a beautiful thing to be at this juncture. It is a beautiful thing to step into the next chapter. And I do not take for granted the fact that no matter what I am not alone. 

I told my mom the other day that when I was in the midst of my sorrow I felt that my body was built out of toothpicks instead of bones, like the bridges we had to build in physics class. With just the slightest touch I was certain I would collapse. I had been so unsteady, so fragile. She asked me what I felt my bones were built of now. 

Without hesitation I answered one word: 


Friday, April 13, 2018

Finding Freedom at the End of my Twenties

The other day I celebrated a birthday. Here I am, another year older, in the final year of my 20s. My friends and I have talked extensively about what it feels like to be almost thirty. The truth is we like it. 

We feel more confident in who we are, more settled in some ways, definitely more sophisticated and healthier. In our twenties we have had different jobs, gone back to school, had relationships that blossomed and relationships that failed, and we have grown into woman that we like and that we want to be friends with. 

Yet, as much as I feel like a confident and sophisticated 29-year-old woman, I have to admit that I still sometimes struggle with really owning who I am. Dating kind of makes you realize how confident (or not confident) you are in who you are. I have found myself often worried that I am “too Christian” or “too divorced” or “too tall.” I get nervous that I will be defined by something that in and of itself I am not ashamed of, but that perhaps other people would like me to be less of. I begin to hide these pieces of myself that define me, out of shame or fear of rejection. 

I will go on a date or talk to a new friend and automatically be preoccupied with the thought that they will find this blog and never speak to again. It's crazy, I know, but it is the story I tell myself. I believe that my honesty about my story via this blog is vital because it tells the hurting people in the world that they are not alone, that I have felt it too, and that there is a light ahead. It is something I do not because it is fun, but because I hope that my vulnerability will be a light of hope that so many are desperately and quietly grasping for. But when I go on a date, I secretly hope that my blog won't show up when they search for me on Google. Haha :) 

I worry, sometimes, that I will be judged harshly for my story. Often I feel like a part of my story, which has impacted me but perhaps given me more positive characteristics than negative, is a piece of the story that I always have to try and hide. When I am dating I leave it out. When I am in a professional setting I worry that it influences how capable people think I will be at my job.

And I hate that. I hate that this one thing that happened to me sticks a little voice in my ear that tells me lies about what other people think of me. The lies say that people will assume that I am broken or irreparably damaged, that they will think I have too much baggage.

But the truth is that all of the people that truly know my story don't think of me that way. 

They know that my story is not one of brokenness, but of the utmost resilience. The truth is that this part of my story is what makes me brave and strong. That experience is part of what makes me confident in who I am and compassionate to those in hard times. It gives me perspective on the pain of the world and the greatest hope and positivity, for I have seen the pit and I know that there is a future beyond it. That part of my story gives me depth, and I shouldn't have to hide it. 

would be lying if I did not say that I wish my divorce had never happened, but I think I would be remiss if I hide that part of my story in a corner with my head hung in shame. My experiences have made me a better, stronger, more solid and happy individual. And that is a beautiful thing.

As I walk through the first few days of my 29th year, I hope that I can learn to throw away shame and hold my head high as I talk about about my deep love for the Lord and His goodness in the best and worst times. Perhaps some boys won’t want to call me back afterwards, but that’s ok. This is a beautiful story of overcoming and I am proud of the woman that it has made me to be. 

You know, all of the good books have highs and lows, characters who are equal parts fierce and afraid. Complexity is what makes us human. Sharing our complexity is what connects us. And I would much rather be full of depth and complexity than a boring silly girl on a date. 

So here is to 29. May it be full of beauty and honesty, complexity and joy. 

And perhaps a boy that thinks my story is part of what makes me great. :) 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Return of Pure Happiness

This post can be summed up in three beautiful words that give me the greatest peace and joy to say:

I am happy. 

For so long it seemed like I would never again get to this point, that I would be dreary, sad, and angry forever. And yet, here I am, able to say that I have crossed the mountain that was before me. I am on the other side, and yes, as I predicted I am happier and stronger than I have ever been.

The circumstances of the past year of my life cannot be erased and I will always walk with that experience shaping who I have become, but now I find myself walking on a path looking back at the mountain I have climbed and descended. It is behind me. I am free. And I am moving forward.

The past few weeks have been filled with beauty. I spent a weekend by the river and the mountains of Chattanooga with some of the most amazing and fun women I have ever met (here is your shout out Mikella!). It was a weekend that made me feel sophisticated and proud of who we are as women in our late twenties. Everyone that spent the weekend together was so different and yet so strong in their own way. It was beautiful and a weekend I will always cherish.

And this past week I went on dates! I explored Atlanta, met new people, ate fantastic pizza, and put myself out there. Dating is so good for me because it builds my confidence and helps me to remember that I am worth something and that I am awesome. Many people hate having to date in their late 20s. I absolutely love it. I have met some really kind, fun, and interesting men and I am grateful for the experience. Plus getting to try new restaurants and breweries is always a plus!

Then, last night I celebrated the beautiful wedding of my friend Amanda to her true love Mark. Yes, I cried. But in a good way. I know true love when I see it, and I know how precious it is to find the one to whom your heart connects.

Mark and Amanda are wonderful together, and they throw a damn good party. It was a night full of joy and as I laughed and sang and danced I was reminded once again of what this past week has made clear:

I am so happy. I am so in love with where my life is right now. I am so grateful for the person the experience of this past year has made me. I am so excited to see where the future goes.

It feels good to be on the other side of that mountain. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Tragedy Far Greater Than Mine

We tend to think of tragedy as those awful moments by which we can chart our lives. Thankfully, for most of us, those moments are few and far between- a one to five occurrence at most. But for a lot of "my" kids who live on the White Mountain Apache reservation, tragedy is commonplace. It comes knocking so often that eventually they just leave the door open. It becomes an expectation rather than a fear. It is always around the corner.

Death, tragedy's best friend, strikes young and hard on the reservation I love. It isn't a thing reserved for grandparents or the occasional accident. It happens monthly. It affects people weekly.

Young people on the reservation die in numbers that are unacceptable. The youth suicide rate on the reservation I love is 13x higher than the national average. That is beyond heartbreaking. In my four years working there 3 girls in their teens were brutally murdered. One woman was killed just a few yards down from our youth center while we were hosting a movie night. It wasn't an accident. And those were just the murders I was somehow connected to.

Death and tragedy happen so often on the reservation and it breaks us down, those of us who love, or live in, that beautiful land. Just a few weeks ago a teenage girl died by suicide. This morning I received the devastating news that one of the first girls I knew on the rez died in a car accident. She was in her early twenties.

I have a picture taped to my desk at work of that first group of kids I worked with in the summer that changed my life. These were the kids who introduced me to their culture, their traditions, their heartbreak, and their joys. They were the kids I traveled to Missouri with for a conference, and the kids I spent the summer getting to know better. I looked down at it this afternoon, lost in thought and heartbreak, to see her smiling back at me. She was one of ours. And she is gone too soon.

I hate that death is a thing. I hate that it happens so often on the reservation that I love. Sometimes I feel that my heart will jump out of my skin when I think of the rez that adopted me. I miss it every day. I feel guilty being so far away when there are so many amazing young people that need a reminder of hope in this continuous onslaught of tragedy. I feel helpless not being able to hug my kids and tell them their worth.

I am returning in May to celebrate a bunch of "my" kids who are graduating high school. It will be one of the proudest moments of my life watching them walk across that stage. Those kids have survived and they have thrived. In the face of adversity and hardship, unexpected trials and heartbreak, they have refused to give up. They have pushed forward. They have become leaders. They are my pride and joy. If my whole life's purpose was just the years I spent working with them, then my life was worth it. They are the best kids I know.

Beyond that trip in May I don't know what my work with the reservation is going to look like.

But I do know one thing.

It isn't over yet. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Unexpected Normalcy of Living

There is this thing that happens when life changes suddenly. For a while everything is chaos. All you think about is where you have been and how you got here, and every present moment just seems to be a moment of transition. Your life past isn't here, but your life future is still to come. The mindset of transition colors every idea, thought, and emotion. 

There is this thing that happens when life changes suddenly. 

It turns out that it is hard to get used to peace when you have lived in chaos. 

I lived in chaos. The lives of the kids I cared for were chaotic. My significant other was chaotic. Our life together was chaotic. And when everything blew up, the chaos seemed to reverberate in my eardrums and my vision became jarred with flashbacks. Because I was still stuck in the chaos. 

Even in peace, I didn't know what it looked like to live without the constant barrage of everything constantly being one tiny step from completely falling apart.

But eventually, all of a sudden, as you are doing something normal like buying olive oil at the grocery store or getting dressed for work, you realize that you aren't actually in transition anymore after that sudden life changing event. You realize, almost as if you can see yourself from somewhere else, that what you are doing every day isn't waiting. 

Its living. 

The job you have, the place you live, the life you lead, it isn't "the meantime," its life.  Without even recognizing it, you somehow came into your new normal and stopped living in the transition. 

It feels a little weird when you realize it. Shouldn't there have been some big book that slammed closed? Shouldn't there have been a fork in the road and the physical movement of turning in a different direction? Shouldn't I have stood at the top of a mountain and raised a flag for the new era? 

I think for a long while I was consumed by timelines- timelines of how long it had been, or when I moved, or when I got a job- and I thought I was waiting for something. But instead it turns out that my life has been moving and I have been living my life as it is and will be.

As I consider this I realize something. 

I want to be joyful with the life I have. I want to live it fully. I want to be present and stop waiting for whatever I think this is supposed to lead me to. 

My life is in my hands. 
I am living it day in and day out. 

And honestly, it isn't half bad.