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. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Stuff that Sucks

Things can be hard, ya'll. I wish I could say that 7 months after my husband left and 1 exact month of being for real divorced, I am a fully functioning, emotionally stable being who is over it because God is still good and blah blah blah. But that wouldn't be true.

I will admit that I'm doing a decent job at being a functioning human being. A majority of people who have met me in the last few months have no clue that my life was stomped all over with a boot covered in dog poo. And certainly, I will be the first to tell you that God is still good.

But this sort of hurt, the stuff I have been through- it doesn't just go away. 

And that sucks. It sucks because there are no quick fixes or magic potions. There is no amount of will power that can keep me from going ice cold at the thought of running into him one day. There is currently not enough truth in my head to keep me from doubting myself.

In this unknown territory, on this road I never thought I would have to walk, I have tried to give insane amounts of extra grace and love and kindness. And the Lord Himself knows that I have failed in many ways. I was not a perfect wife and I will not claim to be. I am a broken human. I tried my best to give all I could with what I had.

Yet, the lies and doubts in my head still creep up to tell me that it was not enough. That if I just hadn't been depressed, that if I could have done this or that, I wouldn't be where I am now.

But those aren't truths. I was not left because of something I did. I took the blame for so long but this was not my fault.

Many times in the Psalms, David praises God and in the same breath asks Him to murder his enemies. I get that. It is really hard to watch someone who harmed you seem to prosper. It brings up all the ugly feelings you try not to have and then it makes you feel guilty for having the ugly feelings.

Thank goodness for the truths.

That God has grace for us no matter what comes out of our mouths.
That He holds us tight even when our anger exceeds our compassion.

This past week was a tough one. It was one of those weeks that makes you feel like you took ten steps backwards. But thankfully, as I try to be still with God in this season, I am reminded by the beautiful people who shower me with truth, that grief comes in waves. When it hits again it is not a step back. It is just another opportunity to dig in, to question, to grow, and to process.

I hate it sometimes. I hate the process, the waiting, the questioning. But I also am grateful. I am grateful that God doesn't mind me wrestling with Him to understand what life looks like now, what my relationship with Him means now.

And I am grateful, that when this battle continues to rage on, He fights for us.

I may not be "over it," but I am slowly learning what it means to grow from it.

And that, I suppose, does not suck.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The weirdest 24 hours in online dating

Ahh 2018. The sound of a new year. The sound of new opportunities. The sound of trying to figure out how dating has drastically changed since I was last looking for a potential person to date.

The world is not like it was in college, my friends.

They say that kind, single men in their thirties exist. But I don't believe them. So I decide to see what the fuss is all about. After all, there are plenty of online dating success stories. It worked in You've Got Mail. So why not try to find my own Tom Hanks in a chat room?

With the click of a few buttons (and a lot of google searches to figure out how it worked) I created a profile on a dating app.

I must say, it was weird.

First of all, its so judgey! You get six pictures and a few words to not sound awkward, not accidentally make any sexual innuendos, and convince someone that based on photos and the wit of your profile, they should give you a chance.

And the guys. The catalogue of guys. Oh man. Most of them lost their shirts somewhere and had to go without one. And they all own dogs and take pictures with their moms. And are actors. Or attorneys.

But despite it all you finally find one that looks like maybe he is just like you, a fun person who hates this but is giving it a chance.

So you press the button or swipe the correct direction or whatever. And you are connected.

This could be it. The person that gets you. The one that will eventually see you in the ugly pajamas.

All it takes is the first opening line. All it takes is an amazing conversation starter.

My mouth goes dry.

Its like I've never started a conversation with a male stranger I met online in my life.

Oh wait. I haven't. In fact I am pretty sure this is one of those rules your parents tell you from the time you are born.

I let that thought go and start typing.

I say the most ridiculous things. I try different angles. Different jokes. I remind them that its hard to text a stranger on the internet.

And no one responds.

I question the quality of my selfies. Should I have left the part about loving cheese out of my profile? Should I be better looking? How the heck do you start a conversation with a stranger???

Shout out to "Paul," whoever you are in the world. He responded and thought I was funny. Or at least funny enough to send me some "lols" and ask me some questions. I hope you find your mate, Paul. You seemed like a decent fellow.

I close the app. I've wasted so much time. There is no way I have the energy for this.

I pick up a good book and my pup and I decide it will have to go the old fashioned way.

Perhaps I'll hang out in the produce section of a Whole Foods instead. You never know what can happen when standing next to the tomatoes.

I fall asleep with my glasses still on.

I decide that best case scenario I live an awesome life. I decide that worst case scenario I live an awesome life.

I delete the app and watch 3 episodes of Gilmore Girls instead.

I mean, my dog thinks I'm a catch and really that's all that matters. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Hello 2018!

Today I went to Target for the first time in ages and I bought a new doormat. I almost bought the doormat I had at my house in Arizona- a cute brown and black one. But at the last minute I switched it out for a new one, full of color. Sure, it was just a doormat, but for me it was also a moment of switching out the old for something that was fully me and mine, instead of holding on to what was.

On the way home my friends Tiffany and Jeff called. It was an absolutely encouraging and strengthening conversation as we talked through what God is doing in our lives.

I spoke of how deeply I feel joy now. Having been so entrenched in the darkness I now find joy so much more precious. I rejoice deeply in the joys of my friends and the joyful moments in my own life. I know how bad life can be, how despairing and hopeless, and so I seek to be grateful for every good thing now. The joy of my friends and the world around me is the most precious of gifts. Joy moves me and I hold tight to its beauty.

Tiffany and Jeff ended our conversation by praying a beautiful prayer for me in this new year and season. As she spoke, she prayed that this would be a year of color for me. That it would not be black and white, but colorful.

And that struck me.

Last year was full of darkness. It was all black and shades of grey. It was sadness and anger and despair. But as I start 2018 my word for the year is going to be "color." I am going to seek the color in every moment. I am going to be grateful, find joy, adventure, and laughter. I am going to spread color into the darkness.

And I am going to hold tight to every moment of joy.

It turns out I bought the right doormat after all.

Friday, December 29, 2017

D-Day and the Shame of a Situation

Throughout this whole process I have questioned myself. I have questioned my actions, my response, the things I should say, the perspective I should take. I have wondered if I should write about it, and if so, with how much detail. I have questioned because I wanted to figure out the “right” thing to do. 

But I had no guide, no map, no precedent to follow. After all, I am a Christian and we do not talk about these things, let alone let them happen to us. 

So a few days ago when I listened to a relatively transformative podcast by Rob Bell, I finally was able to take a breath and realize. . . I don’t actually need a map. I am the committee. 

I can question what is “supposed” to happen or what everyone else thinks I should do, but really, I don’t need a committee to make my decisions for me. I am the committee and I can make those decisions for myself. 

So, a few days ago was the anti-climatic “D-day,” the day my not-husband went to court to get the judge to sign our divorce decree (therefore divorce-day=d-day). We did a DIY divorce (as I like to call it) so I had no lawyer and honestly, I got all of my legal advice off of the internet, so I ended up not appearing in court (for a multitude of reasons I can explain later). It was the official end of my marriage, though it has been over for almost seven months already, and it signaled the start of the next season of my life.

If you know me, you know that I am not the kind of person that goes around talking about my "situation" all of the time. I never wanted to be the friend that people hoped they don’t have to hang out with because I can’t talk about anything other than my asshole husband or something. Even in the throws of it I tried not to dominate conversation with the topic. In part, this was also because my story was my shame. I never believed in divorce as an option. I married with a full commitment for life. But I wasn't given a choice in the matter. He left and I couldn't stop him, no matter how hard I tried. And I felt that from this day forward I would be judged negatively by what had happened to me. 

Then I listened to that podcast and I changed my mind. I decided, as the committee, that I don't have to be defined negatively by what has happened. 

My story can be my empowerment. 

My prayers weren’t answered as I wanted them to be, but I still believe that this is a story of hope. Even though I didn’t want this, it is a story that understands pain from a place of perspective. 

Sharing my story, even here on virtual paper, puts me in a place of scary vulnerability. As Christians or as people in general, we don’t talk about things. We aren’t transparent because it isn’t the image we are supposed to have. 

I am going to be transparent. 

I am a woman that is made up of pieces. Every moment of this experience is still a part of me, a detail in my composition. 

Seven months ago I was a pile of broken and fragile shards and I have been put back together to create something more complex, more beautiful with its scars and patched up edges. 

I am all of what has happened, what is, and what I am striving toward. 

I am the committee, making the decisions about what I do with it all, no longer bound by what he, or people I know, or strangers think I should do and be. 

I am a Christian, a missionary, a person who loves love, a hiker, and a believer in the good things coming. 

And I will share my story. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

For the Love of Love

Today, on Christmas Eve, I sat in church and I felt the emotion of the Christmas story in a deeper way than I ever have before. Every song gave me chills, the scripture made me teary. I was overwhelmed.

For here is a true fact:

I love love. 

Maybe it is because I now know that true love is such a rare and amazing thing, but any time I see or experience real love I feel the greatest joy. I love seeing my friends happy in their marriages or engagements, I love seeing families having fun together, I love how my grandparents care for one another. I absolutely rejoice when I see acts of love. It gives me life to see other people's joy.

My therapist recently explained God's love in a way I hadn't imagined before, with an imagery that spoke to me:

The short version of the Genesis story is that once there was the garden and everything was perfect, but we chose sin and had to leave.

In that moment, God could have said, "Good luck out there, in the imperfect, difficult, sad, and sinful world. One day I will let you return to the garden, to perfection, to being with me."

But He didn't.

Instead, God left the garden and He came into the darkness with us. He left the perfect, sinless, place to enter into the darkness at our side.

This act of great love brought me to tears as I considered the Christmas story tonight. I love that God sent His son, fully God, to walk with us. And I love that He didn't send His son in a cushy, easy way. He sent Jesus as a child, in a manner that is equivalent of having a baby in a taxi and then having to sleep in a tent. He sent Him in a manner that made Him just like us. He had to enter the sadness and the pain and the suffering, just like us.

He decided to walk with us. 

This whole past year God has walked through the mess with me. He has never abandoned me.

And that truth, as I lit the candle for the candlelight service at church, made me cry. Because He loved us in the most overwhelming and beautiful way.

And that changes everything.