An Open Letter to the Struggler

Dear Reader,

I have friends who struggle and it breaks my heart. I’m sure you struggle too and my heart goes out to you as well.

I know it is normal to empathize and yearn to help my fellow strugglers but sometimes I want to get on my knees and scream with frustration because I can’t make it better. I cannot miraculously get the strugglers of this world to believe that they are beautiful, that they are worthy, that they are a necessary part of this world, and that they have purpose. I can tell them these things until the world ends but it won’t matter until they begin to actually believe those things about themselves.

Above all else I want to help the strugglers because I have been there. I’ve been in the pit of despair and on my last leg. I’ve felt the world weighing down from above as it crushed me. I have felt the soul sucking pain of loss, abandonment, of being forgotten. There are still nights where all I want to do is crawl under the covers and never wake up because in the midst of it all I feel too tired to move on.

The thing that keeps me going, though, is the fact that I’ve tasted hope.

I’ve seen the brighter days. I’ve overcome exhausting obstacles. I have experienced the light of forgiveness, of letting go. It sure as hell hasn’t been easy and I really hope that I never come off seeming like it is anything short of life’s work to overcome the crap we carry with us every day. But the tastes of joy, of peace, of love, and friendship, they keep me motivated. They keep me fighting. Even when I’m stuck in a valley I know somewhere up the hill there is something worth pursuing and I have the strength to get there.

The crux of it though is the hardest thing to admit and that is this: it’s on us. It is on the individual to make the choice as to whether or not they are going to pursue a new path. It is up to the person to decide if they are going to fight or continue to live with the status quo. I will always remember so clearly the day I was sitting in my chair at church and realized that if I kept doing what I’ve always done, I’d keep getting what I’ve always got, and I was tired of what I was getting.

It wasn’t a friend who made the decision for me. Not my parents or my siblings, and it wasn’t God’s decision on my behalf or any other sense of divine intervention. It was my choice and mine alone and once I made it, everything else could fall into place.

I was sitting in church, during my first year in Southern California, and the pastor got up to speak. He told a story, something he was very good at, and I listened eagerly. He spoke about therapy, how he went to meet his therapist one day and they sat down and started talking. As their conversation went on there came a point where, after the pastor shared his story, the therapist looked at him and said four words,

“It is your fault.”

As a psychology student I was mortified. I felt myself tense up. I wanted to fight for my pastor, and more than that I wanted to fight for the little girl inside of me that objected vehemently to those words. How could the pain I felt be my fault? How could the circumstances of my upbringing which so heavily influenced me be my fault? The bullies, the people who tore me down, how could their actions be any fault of mine?

The pastor continued.

You see, he wasn’t upset about it. He had been at the time, but what the therapist said after the fact made sense. It came down to this: You have to choose to move on. Crap happens. Crap happens every single day of our lives whether it is happening to us or happening to someone else. We can allow the crap to bog us down and make us victims. We can blame the people who have hurt us for our bad habits or our terrible thought processes. We can even blame society for its part in our misery.

But in the end blame isn’t going to change a damn thing.

Waiting for everyone else to change, to apologize, to repent, is stupid. Hoping to control other people’s outcomes and get what is owed to us will just leave us bitterer in the end. As the saying goes, unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.

Your parents can never parent you the way they should have. You can’t go back in time and change what that boy said to you on the playground that made you feel like you were worthless. It is impossible to erase the harsh words of a teacher who said your work wasn’t good enough, or wash away the feeling of betrayal when a friend left you high and dry when you needed her most. Society will never stop telling you that you aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, or fashionable enough.

The only thing you can change is how YOU see yourself and others. And that starts with owning up to the fact crap happened but you’re no longer willing to rent out your headspace to it. Tell your father to get the hell out of your head and cover his lies with truth. Tell the image of the bully at school that sits in the back of your mind and laughs at your flaws that he’s done, he’s being evicted. Unfriend the kid on Facebook who makes status updates that make you uncomfortable in your own skin.

Choose to move on. That’s the first step. It has to be the first step. Because anything else we try to do before we choose to really move on is going to fall flat on its face because we’re still clinging blame and bitterness and ignoring our own power to change our status quo.

I’ll end on this note: there are pains that far surpass choosing to move on and I highly encourage people who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise hurt to seek out professional help. Yes, everyone still has to make the choice to change but once the choice has been made you do not have to do it alone. Also find strength in the fact that making the choice to move forward gives you back some of the power over your life that has been taken from you along the way.

Flip those voices in your head the bird and choose to stop letting them be the ones that dictate who you are and how you act. 

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The Dreaded Question

What are you going to do after you graduate?

I’ve begun to dread this question.

It seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue whenever I bring up my December 2013 graduation date. If I had been asked this question last fall I would have been able to give a long-winded, five-year plan for my life. As it stands today, my only answer is this: I don’t know.

You see, I’ve learned that my life seems to work in two-year increments. I try to plan further ahead but those plans never see the light of day. In high school I was sure that I was going to go to a four-year state college and study English. Plans changed my senior year when the local community college offered free tuition for two years to any graduating high school student with a 3.5 GPA or above. I put in two years and in those two years I graduated with my associate of the arts degree, switched my major to psychology, and had grown a lot as a person.

My next plan had been to go to a state college and finish out a degree in psychology, but even those plans fell by the way side. The Dean of Students at my community college encouraged me to apply to at least one school in Southern California on the off chance that I would be accepted. You see, I’d fallen in love with Southern California after a few vacations and it was my dream to go to school there…but I nipped that in the bud because it seemed so impossible.

I found Hope International University and instead of going to a state school like I had planned, I packed up all my stuff and moved. It is a decision I have yet to regret. Yet my tendency to plan did not stop there. By my second semester at Hope I had decided that I was going to eventually apply for a 5-year PsyD program. I would put in my time and then figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

Then last December happened and I realized that planning away five years of my life was not what I wanted, nor was it what God had in mind. I think I’m finally beginning to understand why my life has to work in two-year increments. When I get caught up in the plans I have for myself I forget to live, to serve, and to love. I begin to cling to my plans instead of to God. I begin to pursue my own desires instead of the paths that will bring me closer to God and refine me into a more loving, mature individual.

So when people ask me what I’m going to do after I graduate and I say “I don’t know,” what I really mean is, “I’m leaving my future open because I can’t predict where I’m going to be spiritually and fiscally, where my family is going to be, or what opportunities might arise if I just wait for a while.” It is hard for me to proceed without knowing exactly what is in store for me but I know this: It is going to be good.