Spring Formal meets the Renaissance Faire

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I went to two events this weekend and learned something about myself.

Friday was my university’s “Spring Formal.” Essentially it is prom for college students. The student activities’ team did a bang up job of finding a location, planning food, and supplying a dance floor. I do not typically go to events like this. I didn’t attend a single dance in high school (not even prom) and have yet to regret it. This year though I made an agreement with myself that I would step out and try new things, so I decided to go. With a lot of peer pressure guiding me along the way I donned a dress, outrageously uncomfortable flats, covered my face in make-up, and curled my hair with every intention of having a night out.

It did not go so well. Not because anything was lacking on the event side of it, but more because it just is not my thing. Dressing up and going to fancy parties is not something that brings me joy. From the moment I arrived up until the moment I left I felt out of place and uncomfortable.

Saturday was an entirely different experience. I donned my cloak, my favorite raven shirt, a lot of sunscreen, and headed to the Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale, California. I had a blast. The entire time I was there the only reason I had to check my watch was to make sure my merry band and I were able to make it to the next show we wanted to see. I ran around pretending I was a sellsword looking to earn some coin. I watched numerous variety shows starring amazing guys like BrooN and MooNiE. I brushed elbows with people in full, authentic costumes, laughed as my roommate got swindled by gypsies and cheered so loudly for a very evil knight, that by the end of the day my voice was fading.

When I got home I was exhausted, hot, and covered in dust from head to toe but I was happy.

That is when I realized something: Being true to oneself is the right thing to do every time.

Society tells me a lot about whom I should be, what I should do, who I should hang out with. There are all of these “shoulds” swimming around in my mind that direct how I behave and yet at the end of the day leave me feeling empty even though the world seems pleased. Karen Horney, a psychodynamic theorist, called this syndrome the “Tyranny of the Shoulds.” She claimed that people spend so much time doing what they feel that they should, or not doing what they feel that they shouldn’t, that they end up not doing the things that they want to do or that are true to them.

People allow expectations, both external and internal, to rule their lives and it ends up with a lot of miserable people who feel unfulfilled and fake.

At Spring Formal I felt fake, at the Renaissance fair I felt real. I felt like me, in all of my imperfections and silly little quirks. I felt confident, more-so than I do in a typical day wandering around campus. I felt safe. It was somewhere that I could be me without having to worry about what I should or shouldn’t be doing because there was no one around to judge me.

It is that spirit of me-ness that I yearn to tap into more often. It is that spirit that I’m striving to have whether I am at a Ren Faire or on my college campus. To put it in Rogerian terms I want to be congruent with whom I truly am. I want to be the young woman God has made me to be. That is my quest for myself this week and my challenge to anyone reading: Be you. There isn’t anyone else on this planet just like you…so stop trying to be someone else and just be you. I think you’ll find life is a little more enjoyable that way. 

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The Battle to be Worthy

My name is Katie and I struggle with self-worth.

There is a psychodynamic theory in psychology called “Object-relations.” I first learned about it in my Theories of Personality class and never really understood it. There was a lot in it about infant relationship with caregivers, internalizing things in the world, and a bunch of other psychological gobbly-gook that did not make much sense at the time.

I still do not completely understand it, but I think the more I wrestle with this theory the more I resonate with it.

I internalize just about everything. By this I mean I take in what the world says about me to be true without really analyzing and questioning it. Someone doesn’t like me? Then I must be an unlikeable person. I did not get enough positive attention growing up? Then I must be someone who is not worth the attention. To internalize is to take the opinions and actions of others and make them truths within our own minds.

I do that a lot. I have a feeling other people do too.

A lot of the time this constant internalization keeps me from being who I truly am and instead leads me to believe I am someone completely different. In my head I can look at all of the good things I do, the powerful relationships I have, the love I have for others, and my successes and see that they make me a worthy person. I’m someone worth knowing, loving, and caring about. When I try to translate that into how I feel about myself, however, I find that there are all of these internalized opinions of others that get in the way of me being the person I intellectually know I am.

“The longest distance in the world is the 18 inches from the head to the heart” has never meant more to me than it has in the past few months. There is this disconnect between what I believe about myself and what I feel about myself and I think it comes back to the things I’ve internalized.

So what am I supposed to do? No matter how many good things happen in my life it seems like I continue to fall back on these dusty old internalized ideas that were imparted on me throughout my child and adolescent life. I think the answer is simple but difficult: It is time to kick out the old internalizations and begin to internalize real truths about who I am and how God sees me. It goes back to one of the questions Bob Goff told me at a conference to ask myself. Who am I?

According to God I’m a new creation (2nd Corinthians 5:17). I’m an adopted child of God (Romans 8:15). I am loved by God for no other reason than because he loves me and in that I have inherent worth. Those are the truths I should learn to internalize. Not the things bullies in schools said, or the misspoken words of my parents and siblings, or of friends long gone. I deserve a shot to be happy with myself for no other reason than because God is happy with me and created me in the best way he deemed fit. God loves me and that should be reason enough to love myself.

Easier said than done, but I’m working on it. 

Keep your Eyes Open

It is really easy to get lost in the stress of a busy life.

I fall for this too often. Between work, classes, scheduled fun, school events, leadership activities, and friendships, I find very little time to take a minute to breathe. It is easy to fall into old patterns of coping, specifically putting off dealing with stress and letting it pile up. 

Lately though I have been realizing, with the help of a lot of solid people in my life, that it is very important to take time to reflect and accept everything that is happening. My counseling skills professor claims that one of the more important things we can figure out as people is how to sit in a room with all of our issues and let them just be for a while. To be able and sit in a chair, lay in bed, stare at the ocean and acknowledge all of the things that have to get done, that are coming up, all the things that take up time and energy, are simply there and they aren’t going to crush us. 

In order to do that, however, I believe we need to be actively engaging in fellowship. I am the greatest offender of this concept, as I have a tendency to avoid anything except shallow fellowship and keep all my problems to myself. It is safer that way a lot of the time, easier even, yet my lack of vulnerability leads to more stress and just encourages the problem. It leaves me stuck in a nasty cycle of trying to take care of everything myself and never letting anyone in, which leads to stress, which leads to greater attempts to take care of everything myself, which eventually leads to more stress…and I think you get the picture. 

With all of this in mind I’ve been trying something new recently: Being honest about where I am. Maybe this seems like a completely elementary concept, but it is one I have never been able to grasp. I’ve always lived in a world of my own making that dictates I keep things to myself and don’t trouble other people. There is a lot going on behind this thought process that can be left to another blog someday in the future, but for the moment the important thing to know is that this thought process exists for me. 

Being honest has been hard but each step of the way I find affirmation from people I care about and who, get this, care about me in return. They actually find joy in helping shoulder the burden of stress. They actively pursue a relationship with me because they care, completely and genuinely. That’s the beauty of true fellowship: We find joy in helping each other. It isn’t merely a duty (you shall love your neighbor as yourself), but is something that we can find joy in. They get excited when I share with them and that means the world to me.

So, in saying all of this I guess my point boils down to one thing: Don’t get lost in the stress of life. It might be easy to just keep pushing through and going it alone, but in the long run it is going to leave you beaten, battered, and powerless to help others. Let people in, let them love you and care for you in the same way that you care for them. Life is a little easier when you’ve got friends by your side helping you along. 

The Art of Play

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Sometimes life is really stressful.

I’m the type of person who likes to have all her ducks in a row before moving forward with a plan. Unfortunately that is not usually how life works. When everything is a big question mark and when all my plans are in the air waiting to solidify, I get stressed.

I will be the first to admit that I have handled stress very poorly in my life. Often times I will push away whatever is stressing me out and try to ignore it. Or else I will stress myself out all the more as I try to take control of an uncontrollable situation. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to take on a position of submission when everything seems to come crashing down.

Today, I’m throwing my hands up in the air. There is nothing that I am able to do about the situation I am in currently. I have done everything there is to be done and it is time to let other people do what they need to do and get back to me. It is harder said than done because the “doer” (control freak) in me wants to be able to hold onto everything and puzzle it all out. I do not want to have to wait for other people to come through for me because I want things done in my time, on my schedule.

Yet in the moment, I have exhausted all of my resources and now have to sit and wait. I have to have patience even in the stress and anxiety that uncertainty brings. I have to wait for work situations to resolve, for school issues to unfold further, for life to take its course. I have to wait, even when waiting is stressful.

So on Sunday I bought a big, bright red bouncy ball. It is one of the ones that are in those big cage-like bins at Target. Tell me that you the reader were never tempted as a kid by one of them and I will call you a liar. They are the crème de la crème of childhood desire and I went out and bought one. Why? Because in the midst of all the stress, all the anxiety, all of the things I have to do and the things I have to wait for, I decided to indulge my inner child and play.

I do not play enough as an adult which is a tragedy really.

There is something in the art of gathering a bunch of friends and creating some sort of inane game that relieves stress. It takes me back to a time when I was a kid and did not have to worry about work, schools, my future, my family. It does not fix the situation but it gives me some room to breathe and enjoy life for a little while. When I have a big red bouncy ball in my possession, it is hard not to crack a smile and let the stress melt away.

Therefore, my challenge to anyone reading this is as follows: PLAY! Go do something fun this week with other people. Go pick up a basketball, get some friends together, and go shoot hoops. Get some squirt guns (if you live in Southern California like I do) and stage a neighborhood or campus squirt gun fight. Go and get some finger paint and a poster board from the dollar tree and create something.

Or you can do what I did and pay $3 for a giant red bouncy ball at Target.

Whatever choice you make, try to engage in play this week. I promise you will not regret it.

Of Trains and Togetherness

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I’ve always liked the sound of a train horn echoing through the night.

There is something about it that is comforting to me, especially as I’m lying in bed in the middle of the night, feeling alone and disturbed after a strange or frightening dream. It is interesting because I have always lived somewhere where I could hear trains. It doesn’t matter how far away I am from the tracks. Somehow that long, haunting train call makes its way through the still night and greets me where ever I’m at.

It reminds me of when I was little, lying awake in my bed scared out of my mind of the things in the dark. Silence has always been scarier to me than the loudest of noises. There is something about dead air that leaves me feeling more alone and vulnerable than the onslaught of sound. So in the middle of the night, wrapped up in the terror of childhood nightmares, I would hear a train call in the distance and know that I wasn’t alone in the world. The sounds would break the illusion of silence and isolation.

Even now, at 21, I feel that same sense of comfort whenever I hear a train. I’m not scared of the dark anymore and it is never silent here in Southern California, but something about the sound of trains still soothes me.

I feel like there is a bigger metaphor there but I can’t see it. As it is, the sound of the late night train horn also brings me comfort because it reminds me of God. Not so much that God resembles a train horn or that he is calling out to me, or anything of the sort. Rather, it reminds me of God because it reminds me there are other people out there in the world. There are weary travelers on an Amtrak heading to their next destination. Tired freight train drivers making their way to their next delivery. Even when I’m alone in my room, bundled beneath my blankets, feeling completely isolated from the world I feel connected when I hear the sound of a train.

There are people out there in this big world that I’m a part of and through the lonely call of a train in the dead of night I’m connected to them and therefore connected to God. You see, I think that the best way to connect to God is through realizing we’re connected to other people. How are we supposed to acknowledge a higher power is with us when we cannot even acknowledge that real, tangible human beings are with us? We can’t. I can’t. I think in order to know God I have to know other people because we were created to be in relationship. We see God through being in relationship with each other.

So when I hear the old familiar sound drifting through the night air, meeting me where I’m at, all curled up in my bed alone, I remember that I’m not actually alone. It helps me sleep a little easier.

Go Big or go Home

It is difficult for me to come off of an inspiring weekend.

Monday rolls around and it seems as if everything I had learned and felt over the weekend gets crushed by the responsibilities of the week. This past weekend I got a chance to go to a leadership conference and hear Bob Goff speak. I also had a chance to worship with student leaders from all over California to celebrate the work we get to do in the coming year for God on our campuses. With emotions running high I was completely exhausted but felt completely blessed.

Then the dreaded beginning of the week rolls around and I realize that I have to focus to finish my work and my homework. I have to get to classes, run errands, and do x, y, and z before I’m allowed to rest. All of the inspiration I felt over the weekend is sucked right out of me as I fall back into my old patterns of living. Oftentimes I feel like a failure. I lost all that potential, all that energy, and now I’m stuck doing the day-to-day stuff that seems so insignificant.

After all, I’m not out saving kids in third world countries. I’m not able to fly around the world to meet dignitaries and work with them to change the world. I’m just a 21-year-old American college student with very little money to her name and no famous connections to carry my ministry across the world. While Bob Goff spoke about all of the grand, amazing things he is able to do because of the resources he has and the connections he’s made, I stepped away from it all feeling insignificant and thinking one thing:

I’ll never do anything as amazing as that.

What a big bunch of bull I have allowed myself to succumb to. I think in looking at Bob Goff’s message from the direction of, “I will never be that successful” I miss the point he was making. He doesn’t want us to do what he is doing. That is not the point of his insane stories or his exciting life. The point he was making, I believe, was to do what is true to us as believers. We don’t have to roam around the world promoting social justice. We don’t have to become an honorary member of the Uganda Consul. What we as Christians, as people, have to do is make the most of what we do have.

Where we are in any moment is our mission field. I forget that so often and get caught up in the “go big or go home” philosophy that I end up missing the opportunities right in front of my face. My mission field is the Starbucks I get my morning coffee at. My mission field is the school I attend. My mission field in the neighborhood I live in. My mission field is my roommate, my friends, strangers I pass on the street, and even my church. When I start small by reaching out to the people around me, the world starts to change.

Save one life and you save the world entire.

So my goal is to stop focusing on everything I’m not, everything I don’t have, and everything I cannot do. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I am able to do and go from there. Baby steps.

The Boston Tragedy

I am very blessed in that I have never been at the heart of a huge tragedy. I grew up in Salem, OR and there was only one time where I ever experienced a bombing and at the time I wasn’t even aware of what it was until the bomb went off (detonated by the bomb squad, so no injures). So when I try and understand what the people of Boston are going through right now, I find myself coming up very short.

When I first heard the news I was cruising down the 57 freeway on my way to work. I heard something about the Boston Marathon and turned up the radio because I knew a friend’s mother was running in it. The moment they said the word “bomb” I felt my heart drop and tears spring to my eyes.

I’m never sure how to respond to tragedy. A lot of the time I want to come up with something profound, inspiring, or comforting to say. In the end, though, I realize I want to say those things because they will make me feel better. They give me a tiny bit of power in a moment where I feel entirely powerless. So for the sake of not wanting to sound cliché or say something for the sake of my own comfort, I usually refrain from posting on Twitter or updating Facebook regarding the situation until I have had time to think through the situation.

It is hard not to focus on the evil of it all, though. The fact that darkness is very present in the world is something I can usually put at the back of my mind. When tragedies like this happen, however, it hits me hard. My first reaction when things like this happen is to give up on humanity as a whole. I want to distance myself from the evil in the world and want to be hard on humanity for allowing things like this to happen. It is such a pessimistic view and I was grappling with it today until I read a post by Patton Oswalt on Facebook regarding the situation.

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He made such a profound point that I decided to write a response to it in order to try and boost the signal. It is so easy to focus on the evil in a situation like the tragedy in Boston instead of focusing on the good that the evil inadvertently brings out in people. Evil tries to destroy the good but when we really look at it, good seems to prevail. The fact that hearts are breaking all over the nation is a sign that good prevails. If good did not exist in the world, why would this situation provoke a nation to action?

If good did not exist in the world, why would people be rushing out to donate blood? Why would there be people who rushed toward the explosion when instinct dictates they should have been running away? If good was gone and evil won the day, we would not see selfless acts of kindness. We would not see people gathering together to comfort those who are directly affected by the tragedy.

I will conclude by emphasizing this point: Evil has not won and will not win. Yes, today was tragic and so will the days following but in order to get through them we have to focus on the fact that good will prevail. Now and always.