Family Ties

I miss my family.

The fact that I can say those words and mean them is really a testament to how far I have come. Two years ago I don’t think I would have been able to honestly say that. When I first began my out of state college experience I was ready to be out of the house. I was ready to be away from the relationships that I had struggled in for a good portion of my life. I wanted to be away from the dysfunction, from the reminders of past hurts, and from the town I grew up in.

I was ready for a change and I do not regret taking the leap to get in my car and drive to Southern California to attend some little barely-heard-of Christian school.

Nearly two years after this journey, though, I’ve come to realize that I miss my family.

Relationships have been repaired and are at the best point they have been in recent memory. I enjoy my family. I enjoy late night conversations with my dad and going places with my mom. I enjoy eating dinner at my sister’s, having a beer with my brother, and playing with my unbelievably adorable niece.

Had you told me, as a recently graduated high school student, that there would be a time that I would miss my family I probably would have laughed at the thought. I was not in a place mentally, emotionally, or spiritually to understand the concept of missing my family. At the time I wanted to get as far away from them as possible, so why would I miss them if I had been able to get away?

Healing happened, though. God happened. People in my life happened. Suddenly I was dreading getting in my car and heading back to California for the fall. The moment I crossed over the Oregon/California border I felt tears in my eyes as I realized I really was leaving them again. After a summer of healing and rebuilding relationships I realized as I pulled up to the fruit check point in tears, trying to compose myself so that the fruit Nazis wouldn’t get suspicious, that I was going to miss my family.

The thought of not going home for Thanksgiving was unbearable, so I bought a plane ticket and left. It happened again over spring break when I realized that I wanted to surprise my parents and be with them, so I bought another plane ticket. I had changed from an angry, damaged, hurt young woman who wanted to get away from her family into someone who grew up and realized that repairing family relationships and getting over old hurt is worth the work.

As my 22nd birthday steadily approaches I’m once again realizing just how much I miss my family. I want to wake up to flowers on the table from my parents. I want to get to see my sister and get a hug from my niece. I want to share a beer with my brother and rejoice in another year of life completed. I want to be with my family because for so many years I took spending my birthday with them for granted and now that I can’t have it I realize just how much I have loved it.

That’s healing, and it is beautiful. 

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Thoughts on Memorial Day

Today I’m glad I get to celebrate life even as I remember those who have fallen while serving their country.

Honestly, Memorial Day makes me a little bit emotional just because of my connection to the armed forces. My brother joined the Marines straight out of high school and served two tours in the Middle East. It was hard on my family, hard on me, and of course hard on my brother, but he made a sacrifice to serve his country in one of the riskiest ways possible. He put his life on the line to defend and protect.

So I’m very glad this Memorial Day that he came back from those two tours and that I can have a beer with him when I visit in June. I am blessed.

I know other families out there, however, do not have stories with happy endings like mine. My heart goes out to them. My heart goes out to those with new wounds and old wounds alike. I can understand the sacrifice these families made when they gave up their sons, daughters, husbands, and wives to pursue their passion to serve their country but I will never be able to understand the loss they’ve experienced. God bless the families left behind.

My final thoughts go out to those who have returned, but not without paying a price. As a psychology major I’ve learned about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I understand the basics of it, the symptoms, and the damage it can cause, but nothing compares to the fact that I have seen it up close and personal in people I love. PTSD is a serious problem for the men and women who come back from serving their country and I hope that our country continues to address the problem as it arises.

I also know there are those who come back from war with physical wounds, and my heart goes out to them and their sacrifice too. In the end, I hope people can come to understand just how much Memorial Day really means and what serving in the armed forces is. Young people leave their homes and their families to fight for something greater than themselves and rarely return unscathed, if they return at all. So this Memorial Day I pray that there would be a solemn awareness of the lives that have been put on the line so that we could have BBQs, parties, and a day off of work.

Don’t ever forget that.

If you’d like to help those who have come back from battle hurt and scarred, please consider donating to the Wounded Warrior Project. This is a great organization that works with returning soldiers and their families to help them acclimate to civilian life after an injury.  

The Struggle

It sucks to know what is going on in my head while having no interest in fixing it.

Often times it is easier to succumb to the voice in my head that says I’m not good enough, that I’m unlovable, that I’m annoying, that I’m a burden, than it is to constantly fight against it. It is easy to be cranky, to isolate myself, to tell the world to leave me alone because I can handle everything just fine on my own, thanks.

Yet it is in the fight that there is growth. It is when I grapple with these voices, these concepts, and these beliefs I hold about myself that I begin to see change. When I cease to blindly accept that I am worthless, unlovable, and annoying I find that underneath it all that I’m actually okay. The lies that I tell myself crumble under the slightest pressure and I feel freedom.

The struggle is still there, though. I went out with a friend tonight and we talked about the struggle. We talked about how, in the midst of all our issues, things seem so bleak and so uncontrollable. All we want to do is be on the other side of them, to be done with them, to be on to the next thing because the next thing just has to be better. We want to be on the far end looking back and admiring how we’ve grown.

It is funny because we both came to the conclusion that when we look back, odds are we’re looking back from a place of new struggle wishing that we were back struggling with the old things. There is always going to be a new struggle or a new lesson to learn. That’s just life, honestly. I’ll discover something about myself, put it into practice or do something about it, only to find myself in something deeper than I hadn’t realized before.

I find out how to cope in one environment and when I’m thrust into another suddenly I’m drowning in old temptations and struggle all over again.

That’s kind of the cool thing about life though: We never really figure out all the answers. I’ll figure out little bits and pieces about myself and understand more about my mind and how I function, but the moment I grasp that I seem to unlock a whole different level. People are like video games, except there is no final boss battle or kill screen. We just keep advancing to the next level and in the process get to turn around and help people out who are a few levels behind because we’ve been there, done that, and know all the secrets and cheats.

It is a process that I’m not particularly fond of, especially on days like today when I’m in the midst of a struggle to adjust to an entirely new situation…but I know in the end I’ll come out of it more refined than when I began.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Cheers to the class of 2013

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Today I watched my friends and my peers graduate.

My heart is filled to the brim with joy.

Not just because of graduation, but because I know these people are going to go out into the world and make a difference. I’ve gotten to know them, I’ve learned their stories. I’ve laughed with them, cried with some of them, and had deep conversations about psychology, faith, and life. I have gotten to know these people, my friends, and I’ve gotten to see where their hearts and passions lie.

I could not be more proud to see them all graduate today.

As they move on in their respective fields, either into a job or further schooling, I just pray a blessing over them and their lives. This extends to any graduates who will be seeing the fruits of the last four years of their labor in the coming weeks.

May the spring graduates of 2013 go forth into the world and make it better. Not for their own profit, not because of their own selfish desires, but because they have learned that it is simply the right thing to do. They have done something amazing these past four (ish) years and I pray they take these experiences and go forth feeling empowered to serve, work, and most importantly love, no matter what path they end up taking.

From the graduation ceremony today:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”  – James 4:13-15

So go forth, my friends, and live for something greater than yourselves.

Congratulations to the spring class of 2013!

The Problem with Life’s Carbs

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The end of the school year has always been an interesting time for me.

It means saying goodbye to friends who are going to their respective homes for the summer. It means a break from the structure that school provides. At the end of the school year there’s no more homework, no more papers, and suddenly more time than I know what to do with.

I have a hard time with not being busy.

When I’m busy it is easy to live. When I have a set schedule, when I have to show up to classes at a certain time, when other school obligations keep me hopping from one thing to the next, it is easy to drift on by. Structure keeps me from having to stop and just sit and be “un-busy.” Structure keeps me safe.

I’ve found, however, that it is in the times I step out of this structure I’ve built for myself that I grow and learn the most. Classes are great, school obligations are great, even work is great. However, none of them will ever truly fulfill me on a deeper level. They fill up my time, they take up space in my head, and they keep me moving but in the end they are just empty carbs. When they’re all burned off they leave me just as hungry as I began.

So as I’m looking at the summer that lies ahead of me I can’t help but wonder how I will handle being outside of the structure. When I stop eating carbs, what will fill me up? What will take the place of the hole that is left when everything that school and business brings crumbles away for three and a half months?

It is going to be the relationships I step into, the things I do because I’m passionate about them and called to them that will fill me. The good leafy greens and proteins that will help fill me and build me up will be the memories I make engaging with people instead of a textbook. The good stuff will be the times I get to go and just exist for a time. I will be filled by those moments where I get to be a human being instead of a human doing as an old pastor of mine used to say.

Being outside of the structure is going to be hard and won’t always taste good, sure. After all, sometimes the stuff that is good for us isn’t always the most rewarding from the get go. Who wants broccoli when they could have a warm, right-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie? Alright, I know a few people, but I think the majority would agree that the cookie is far more tempting, even if it is far less filling. Yet it is broccoli that is going to give my body the vitamins and minerals it needs and in the same way the harder things in life are going to be the most edifying.

In the end, when in previous years I would dread the oncoming summer, I find myself in a different place. This summer will be challenging, no doubt more-so than all of the ones preceding it, but I have a feeling that it is going to be one where I will come out of it feeling full of new lessons, new friends, and new experiences.

And of course every now and again I’ll snack on a cookie, bask in the structure of work and educational pursuits, and that will be okay too.

Cognitive Dissonance

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When I found a yellow sheet of paper in my school mailbox I was expecting it to be an advertisement for a school event. Instead, on that yellow sheet of paper, were words telling me that I was going to be winning an award at Honors Convocation Chapel. For those not in the know, at the end of the year my school puts on a special chapel for graduates. Everyone graduating in the spring gets to wear their cap and gown and all of the professors wear their regalia as students who have gone above and beyond are recognized for their hard work.

As a December graduate I was not expecting to get anything, so when I found that fateful yellow piece of paper in my mailbox I was over the moon. Somehow I was finally good enough.

Yet the joy that piece of paper brought me was soon diminished as my anxiety set in. What award was I getting? Was it stupid to be so excited about it? Was there someone else who deserved it more than me? What if they made a mistake? There is no way that I have done well enough to get an award…

The thoughts ran rampant and I slept terribly the night before Honors Convocation Chapel because all I could think about were the things that could go wrong. I have anxiety issues. I’m working on it.

I think above all of the anxiety issues and unfortunate events that arose after I received the award (the ceremony going off without a hitch as I didn’t pass out or trip on my way up or down the stairs), I learned something: I put a lot of thought into all of the reasons I don’t deserve an award and completely neglected to pay attention to the reality of the situation. I fight to talk myself out of being happy about being recognized. Why?

I’m posing the question and I don’t even know if I have an answer. There is something about being recognized as someone who is good and successful that directly opposes this other part of me, a part of me that is the exact opposite. Cognitive dissonance comes into play and because I can’t come to some compromise between wanting to be happy in being recognized and validated and this underlying lie I’ve always told myself that I’m not worth it. So instead I justify: I didn’t deserve it or want it anyway.

The best illustration of cognitive dissonance comes from one of Aseop’s fables. A fox sees some grapes and wants them. He gets up on his hind legs trying to reach them but cannot. Then, he decides he really didn’t want the grapes after all because they were probably sour anyway. The award is the grapes, my inability to see myself as worthy of receiving recognition is the inability to reach, and the denial of wanting the recognition in the first place is my justification. Now the question becomes this: How do I move away from that?

Well simple, by admitting that I am someone worthy of being loved and recognized because I am someone who is able to do good things.

Easier said than done most days, but I’m working on. Tonight I’m just going to sit with the idea that it is okay to be proud of the certificate I now have framed on my shelf. After all, I have to start somewhere. 

On High Mountain Peaks

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I have a very difficult time accepting blessings in my life.

This past week I had a lot of things confirmed that I had mentioned being stressed out about in my “The Art of Play” blog entry. Both of my jobs for the summer have been confirmed, so I won’t be having to scrimp and save to survive living in Southern California this summer. I was able to book a flight home to see my family. Due to the fact I will be staying down here in Southern California, I can officially say I’m going to Comic Con 2013 in San Diego, CA. To top it all off, I checked in my mailbox here at school and found out that I’m getting some sort of award at Honors Convocation Chapel on Thursday.

In short, I’ve been insanely blessed this week, so why do I feel so anxious?

You would think someone who has seen everything come together in a single week would be on cloud nine and without worries. In a way I am and did my best to celebrate throughout the week as each new thing came into being. Yet there is this deeper inner dread that something is bound to go wrong. I can’t help but worry that the second job I got is too good to be true and will fall out from under me, that something will happen and my plans for Comic Con will fall through, or that I won’t be able to see my family for some reason.

Even when everything is going well I still fear that it will all go to hell in a hand basket because I don’t trust.

Trust is a daily struggle for me and one I imagine I will take with me to the grave. Can I trust my paychecks to come through? Can I trust people to do what they say that they will do? Can I trust myself not to screw up along the way? There are all these questions that drown me and suck the joy out of me just as soon as I find it again.

The beautiful thing is, though, that I realize how silly a lot of these fears are and I can start combating them. I can reach out to God in times of fear and doubt and he helps me limp through. I’m learning to accept the possibility that I might fail and that if I do, the world will not end.

I have a hard time trusting because I’m petrified of failing if I put trust in the wrong people or things. There is an inherent need to protect myself at all costs, even if it keeps me from enjoying the blessings that are raining down around me. I have to shoulder everything alone because no one else is dependable.

How silly is that, though? How much trouble could I save myself if I just came to accept the fact that I will fail somewhere along the way and that will be okay? The worst part is, I’m so focused on everything that is going wrong I forget to rejoice in the things that are going right.

So this week I’m going to accept that good things happen and that the bad may come, but it does not have any place in my life when I am so richly blessed. Focus on the good and let the failures come when they will, because in the end it will all be okay anyway.