This Christmas (is not what I expected it to be)

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The other day I was attempting to finish up my Christmas shopping. I had just returned home from a long drive back from college and wanted to try and avoid the day-before-Christmas crowds. Frazzled, tired, and going through a transition I set out to find a hooded sweatshirt since it was on my mother’s Christmas list. It had to be a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood that was in a lighter color than black. Should have been simple enough, right? Wrong.

After four stores, three parking lots, and a lot of sorting through jackets I was unable to find what I was looking for. Wandering aimlessly through the jackets at Sports Authority I was almost in tears because I could not find this impossible gift. A few hopeless minutes later I found myself in a store that sold calendars and purchased an NCIS calendar instead of a sweatshirt.

As I was buying the calendar I thought of something: the tighter I held on to my narrow set of expectations, the more frustrated I became. I was so caught up searching for something within such narrow, impossible parameters that I missed out on the bigger picture. I nearly walked past the calendar store because it was not in the plan. I let my unwillingness and, frankly, inability to think out of the box drag me down to a frustrated, sad place.

I feel like this series of events describes my holiday season. My dad had a stroke on Thanksgiving which threw everything off. To make matters worse, my mom managed to sprain her ankle pretty badly not long before he was supposed to be released from the rehab facility. I moved from Southern California back to Oregon which was an ordeal in and of itself as it left me home merely two days before Christmas Eve. Needless to say, I was not feeling the holiday cheer. Everything seemed to be falling apart around me. A state of frustration became my default as I found myself overwhelmed and disappointed. Nothing was turning out right.

Really, my definition of “right” was what was throwing everything off. My expectations of what Christmas was all about were wrapped up in the state of my family’s health, my own stress level, the presents I could purchase, and all of the things that I could do. Christmas became about me. Christmas was not what I wanted it to be and was therefore wrong.

Yet as I stood at the shopping counter buying that calendar I realized that I was missing the entire point of the holiday season. Somehow in the midst of all of the insanity I forgot the real point of Christmas. Christmas is not about me, or my family, or what I can possible do to make it a shiny, perfect holiday.

 It is about living in the light of a Messiah who came to earth as a baby and conquered through sacrifice.

When that becomes the center of the holiday suddenly everything else seems to work. I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how my sister managed to find a hoody the morning of Christmas Eve for a good price. I don’t know exactly how all the food got made or how my parents managed to be well behaved and cooperate with all of the family around. It all worked out.

The holiday wasn’t about everyone being in perfect health, or the food being gourmet, or all of the decorations being up, or even all of the gifts wrapped. It was about being together as a family to rest, if even for a moment, in the peace of Jesus Christ who came and died so that we could live.

Find peace in the love of Christ and let that be the center of your holiday, because when we do everything finds a way to fall into place. 

Graduation Reflections

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Yesterday I graduated from college with a BA in Psychology. Of course this has left me rather thoughtful as I look back over the past five semesters.

I did not graduate when I planned to, but I think I graduated when I needed to. That is the first thing that sticks out to me. I remember the moment my advisor told me that it was not going to be possible to graduate in May of 2013 unless I was willing to take 18 unit semesters and take courses outside of the University I was attending. I was mortified. I felt like my plans were falling apart and that I had somehow failed to achieve my goals.

In reality the timing worked out better than I had expected because I don’t know what I would have done without this last semester. If it were not for my December graduation date, I would not have gotten the chance to spend a summer living in Southern California. I would not have been able to take a trip to the Grand Canyon, invest in a new church family, or get as connected with my university as I was able to.

It continues to astound me that God’s timing really beats mine every time…and for the better.

I’m grateful that my family let me chase my Southern California dream, and thankful for everyone who encouraged me to leave. I cannot imagine who I would be if I had not packed up my 2001 Buick Century and left for a tiny little private school in the middle of Orange County. The people I have met, the friends I have made, the things I have gotten to do, and the things I have learned have shaped me. Walls were torn down and better, healthier, more functional walls were built up. I made friends and met mentors who will continue to walk with me through this crazy life even when almost the entire state of California is between me and them.

You see, post-graduation I am sad because I am going to be leaving all of these wonderful things, but at the same time I take joy in the fact that I get to leave wonderful things behind.

When I came down to Southern California I was running. I was running from my family, from my past, from the clouds, rain, and cold. I wanted a fresh start, something new, something different, and a place where I could hide from everything that had surrounded me for so many years. Instead of hiding I found a home, and in that home I found people who have taught me that I don’t have to run anymore.

There is nothing I have to try to escape. I’m free.

I am free to live, be joyful, sing, laugh, form new friendships, and continue with old ones. I do not have to separate myself from my Southern California life because it is just as much a part of me as my life in Oregon will be. Slowly but surely I have managed to become an integrated person. My life is no longer a series of separate little boxes, with each one having its own expectations of who I am supposed to be and how I am supposed to act. I am me, a dynamic, living, breathing person who is the same in Southern California as she is in Oregon and will be anywhere else I end up.

I’m just me and I’m okay with that, because somehow God still uses me to do cool things. That last statement, more than anything else, is worth more than my college degree ever will be. 

The story doesn’t end with a single chapter

Through the years I have looked at the phases of my life and considered them chapters. When one chapter is done it is time to close it out and move on to the next one. Yet tonight I’m staring down my college graduation date and have realized something: I’ve been working off of a misunderstanding of chapters.

You see, I like to package everything up in a nice little box, stick a bow on it, and call it done. When one chapter ends I move on to the next and try to conceal what happened in the last. I finished high school and then started college as if high school never happened. I ignored the events of four years of my life simply because I had considered the chapter to be complete and believe it to be the only way to move on with my life.

Tonight, though, I’ve realized that chapters are not about endings and beginning. After all, if each chapter of an overarching novel were its own contained book, the story would not make much sense. Rather, chapters are connected by lessons, memories, and character development. They are woven together by relationships and meaningful conversations. The things that happen in the last chapter often carry over into the next. So why, for so many years, have I boxed up each season of my life and tried to separate myself from it?

What am I running from?

As I prepare to go back to the Oregon drizzle and leave sunny Southern California in my rearview mirror I have realized that this chapter is not over, it is just going to be continued in the next. I do not have to run away and separate myself from everything and everyone I have learned to love in Southern California. I do not have to ditch the memories and seal them away never to see the light of day again. The end of a chapter does not mean the end of the story, and I still have a lot of pages left to fill.

My story is a finely woven tapestry and each chapter blends into the next as I grow, change, mature, and learn.

When I leave Southern California I will take with me all of the things I have treasured up in my heart. I am a different person than the one who showed up on my university’s doorstep that first, fateful August day. That different person does not end here. Rather, the person I have become will go with me to the next destination, and the next one after that, and even the next one after that one, and along the way my chapters will continue to be woven together to create a beautiful story filled with all of the things that make good stories.

The chapter is ending but the greater story isn’t, and God and I still have a lot more to write.

Four Years of Freedom

I don’t really like to talk about self harm. Strangely enough I’d prefer to discuss pornography and the Church than talk about self harm.

Today, though, I get to celebrate four years of no self harm. So I’m going to talk about it. 

I have a difficult time being proud of that because there is always a little voice in the back of my head that tells me it is a dumb accomplishment. Every year I feel as if I’m able to conquer that voice just a little more and this year I’m shoving this blog post in its face because four years of no self harm is something to celebrate.

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to be a self harmer. I had some dysfunctional family dynamics growing up that led to some unhealthy coping mechanisms. One was porn, which I’ve blogged about before, but another was self harm. Out of a place of utter desperation and frustration I used to cut myself. It is hard to even type that because it seems so irrational. Even as a former self harmer I have a difficult time explaining exactly why it helped. All I know is that it did. It was not healthy, but it got me through moments where I felt like I had no other choice.

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding self harm. The biggest one is that people self harm for attention. I hear a lot of people use this one when they see teenagers hurt themselves and it breaks my heart. Even if there is some truth, maybe it is time to give that hurting teenager positive attention, because if they need attention so badly that they resort to harming themselves then odds are there is a deeper issue.

Don’t just dismiss the deeper issue because someone is doing something for attention.

Another one is less of a stigma, more of an assumption. When I talk about self harm most people think it refers to cutting. In my case that is true. It is not, however, true in all cases. There are many other ways people hurt themselves and unfortunately a lot of them are easy to hide. Some people bruise themselves (“Oh, I just ran into a door”), others burn themselves (“Yeah, hurt myself baking again”), others pull out their hair, bang their heads into things, claw and pick at their skin, and a million other things that constitute self harm. Self harm is more than cutting.

So on the fourth anniversary of my sobriety, I wanted to bring attention to something that is very much a problem. I also wanted to share because I know there are strugglers out there who need to hear that they are not alone and that there is hope. I won’t lie and say that everything is perfect. There are moments where I feel like I am spiraling out of control and all I want to do is track down a knife and cope in my old unhealthy ways…but those days are few and far between, and thanks to the people in my life I don’t have to go through them alone anymore.

My biggest advice to anyone struggling, whether it is with self harm, pornography, or anything else that hinders your ability to find joy in life and brings you shame, is to reach out. Tell someone. E-mail a pastor anonymously, post it on an anonymous board, tell it to your dog, to your hamster, or if you’re brave tell it to a friend, an adult, a parent. The first step to learning how to cope in a healthy manner is this: Learn to cope with people, not alone.

As always, my e-mail inbox is open to anyone who needs to share: rdlenix@yahoo.com

Above all else I give thanks to God for being with me every step of the way. Here is to year five.