When it all falls apart

What do you do when you’ve let yourself slide back into who you were?

What do you do when the supports you were used to vanish and you feel like you’re failing on your own?

When you’re drowning, when life is uncertain, when everything feels like it is falling apart, what is it exactly you should do?

You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and remember that it is a new day and another chance to make a different choice; a better choice.

In the end, I’ve learned that I am my best advocate and when I stop advocating for myself and allow myself to fall into a hole, the hole just gets deeper and deeper. Even the people who reach out, who notice I’m digging the hole, who throw down a rope and say, “hey, grab on!” can’t do anything more than wait for me to take hold and pull myself up to the level where they can assist.

Moving back home is hard, working two jobs that include taking care of other people the entire time are tedious, having uncertain hours and a weird schedule that sometimes includes working overnight is exhausting. Add in the fact that old supports were left in Southern California and the new supports I fashioned out of scraps I’ve managed to unearth are actually not that sturdy in the long run and I find myself living in a world of instability. My environment acts against me and foils me at every turn but the worst thing I did was give into it.

I began consuming the negative, I became a victim of circumstance, I began to blame the universe for something that was ultimately my choice.

Then I had a moment of clarity, a breath of fresh air, and it hasn’t changed anything; it has empowered.

I can change. I can self-advocate. I can engage in self-care and I can do this.

Because I am stubborn and strong and willful and by golly I have a purpose and I haven’t been doing a great job at living it out lately.

Time to pick up, dust off, and get back to work.

Go and do

There are days when I’m very critical. I get mad at the world, angry at political commentators, frustrated with the general state of our country and other countries. I sit around and fuss about the government and about people and I come up with a list a mile long of all the things everyone is doing incorrectly.

The government shouldn’t have to be the one we turn to in order to help the poor, people should.

Controversial words slapped on pictures hold way too much sway on the current generation.

No one fact checks.

Everyone hyperbolizes.

The rich don’t give enough.

The poor don’t do enough.

See? I could go at this all day, pointing out everything that other people are doing poorly. I could probably create an entire game plan on how to fix everything and submit it to the President if I wanted to. There’s a problem though: sitting on my rear end being critical doesn’t do a single thing. Nothing is going to change because I sit around complaining all day.

It comes down to a phrase that the Christian writer, activist, and hugger Bob Goff uses and I always come back to:

Love does.

The love I have for this world isn’t going to be expressed through a detailed critique of everything other people are doing incorrectly. The love I have for people isn’t going to come through the more I sit around yelling at the government or yelling at the wealthy to help people. My love isn’t even truly expressed through writing these words and posting them on a blog. The love I have for this world and all of the people in it can only be expressed in doing.

Maybe I write well, maybe I’m good at pushing through logical fallacies and calling people out on their bull, maybe I’m really clever and smart and can humiliate those who disagree with me. Ultimately none of these things matter because I’m not actually doing what I’m called to do. See, I’m not doing and that is the key.

So instead of lobbying for a certain political position or piece of legislation, maybe I should put that money and time toward helping families. Instead of complaining about the failing education system in this country, I could jump into it and reach into the lives of kids who are struggling. Maybe instead of condemning young women who have had sex and are pregnant and looking for an escape, I can come alongside them and walk them through the process and whatever process they choose let them know that they are loved through it all.

Why do all of this? Because Jesus has walked with me through my hardest times, through my darkest patches, and continues to pick me up when I fall.  He does. His love manifests itself through the people that step into my life with encouraging words, who come alongside me and tell me that it is okay to not have a job and that God has a plan, who tell me I will kill it in graduate school, and who insist that I can be a powerful force in the world if I just let myself be.  

I don’t think my life has ever been genuinely impacted by anything less than the people around me doing something. Actions speak louder than words and I believe actions carry the message a lot further. 

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.

A Man Named Chris

As I was walking out of church and toward my car I saw a ragged looking fellow sitting on a bus bench surrounded by all of his belongings. I had seen him there before, in the parking lot behind the bus stop, but hadn’t ever paid attention. I noticed him, would think to myself ‘maybe one day I’ll offer to help him out,’ but nothing more than that.

Tonight though, as I walked to my car I realized I wanted to go talk to him. I put my purse in my car, took out my wallet, and stood by my car for a few minutes wrestling with myself. He seems to have food, maybe he is taken care of. After all, there was a food bag near him. I know I have been praying that I would reach out to people, but maybe there will be another chance. Then I looked up, took a deep breath, asked God for strength and the next thing I knew my car was locked and I was walking over to this strange man.

It took a moment to get his attention and I asked him a simple question: Do you need anything?

Little did I know those four words would lead to an hour of me listening and learning about this amazing individual.

He told me that he did not need anything. He had his little stove, he had a new coat he had picked up for $1.44 somewhere, and he had coffee. His name was Chris, and for an hour he shared a lot about his life and what it is like to live on the street day in and day out. He told me that he was forced out onto the street because housing was too expensive, but said that he did not blame anyone.

He gave me advice, too. He told me that sometimes people have to make the hard decision even if it means giving up achievement and success. People get stuck going in one direction and they never stop to look around or see if it is really worth pursuing. They pursue success, but sometimes success is not all it is cut out to be. He said even animals know to not head in the same direction all their lives and that even though he had chosen a difficult direction he would figure out a way to get back to a good place.

Chris mentioned that he did not like Starbucks coffee; he was a Folgers guy, but that the lemon loaf was delicious. He then offered to give me money to go buy one for myself to try. I said if he wanted to buy one for me, then he should come with me and we’ll go enjoy some together. He then told me about life on the street, about how he could not just leave all of his stuff because people would come and steal it. He said rarely gets a good night’s rest because he always has to be half awake in order to protect his few possessions.

The most amazing thing, though (really everything that came out of this man’s mouth was amazing) was his willingness to forgive those who stole things from him. He told me that he tried not to dwell on it, that he often hoped whoever stole something of his really needed it, and that one day he will save up money to replace the things that were stolen so he would have no reason to ever hold a grudge. It was just stuff.

Did I mention that this man told me he was over 80 years old? He was born and raised in Texas, moved to Santa Ana where he lived and worked for 42 years. He did not explicitly mention that he was a veteran, but he kept mentioning his various visits to the VA hospital so I suspect he was. He told me his brother was the most decorated black man in the Army during the Korean War and that he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Chris also told me about the restaurants that turn him away when he asks for a cup of ice or even when he has money to spend and tries to buy food.

I spent an hour at that bus stop talking with him and by the time I was ready to walk away, I could not believe the encounter. He told me that there is a church in downtown Orange where he gets dinner a lot of nights and he would be happy to have a sandwich and another conversation with me. I told him where my church was and invited him to try it out one Sunday night. I figure if nothing else, he could sit in the warm lobby and maybe have a nap before he had to face the evening.

In the end I do not really have anything to share except this encounter as it stands. I did not approach this man by my own means, but through God’s strength I overcame my fear, I overcame the pressures of conformity, I overcame everything I was ever taught about not talking to strangers and learned more than I had ever anticipated.

We ended the night with a fist bump and a promise to say hi to each other if we see one another again. 

God is wrecking my life

What is this, a scandalous title? The crazy thing is, it is true…God is wrecking my life.

He’s destroying the life I once lived and giving me a new life in the light of His glory.

Let me break that down for you.

I am shaped by my experiences. I have been shaped by my upbringing, my schooling, my friends, and my interactions with the world. For so long I’ve taken in what the world gives me and have considered it true. I had a less than ideal childhood, so I believed I was worthless. I struggled with depression through middle and high school and I believed that I was broken. I would hurt myself out of this profound sense of brokenness and believed that I would never be okay. From all of these things I carry with me a profound sense of anxiety that is always waiting to strike.

For so long I’ve lived in these things and have allowed them to define me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had little victories. I stopped hurting myself. I got medication for depression. I took all of the outward steps to try and fix myself.

The problem here is in that last phrase: I was trying to fix myself.

I still try to fix myself.

I look to other people to fix me, too. I look to professors for advice, friends to make me feel better, family to make up for what I was given growing up, and while none of these things are inherently bad the focus on was what I could do to fix me. The focus was on the fact that I was trying to control my life, and only once I felt like I had accomplished this or that I could turn to God and say, “now you can love me. Look at how smart I am!”

My life has improved but I’m still fighting to maintain control.

I still walk as the Gentiles do, “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:17b-18 ESV). I continue to cling to my old self because it is what I am comfortable with. I know how to survive and get by in my old skin. Sure, it is miserable sometimes (most of the time), but at least it is controlled misery. I am a Pharisee, who in the face of Jesus performing miracles and changing the status quo thinks, “No, I’m okay with how things are right now thank you very much. I don’t need any of that.” I’d rather drink old wine and pass on the new, because at least I understand the old wine (Luke 5:39).

God offers me love, grace, and new life but I turn my nose at it because I’d rather be in control.

However, in the past week and a half it has become abundantly clear that when I’m in control things don’t work out very well.

When I’m in control I wake up dreading the day because I expect so much out of my time and know I will never be able to meet my own expectations. I go through my day avoiding relationships and avoiding deeper connections because I’d rather be safe and in control than put myself out there to be hurt. When I’m in control I ignore my needs, ignore God, and live an ultimately shallow life.

I live with a hardened heart.

God has been breaking that hardened heart wide open and I’m overwhelmed by it. I’m scared of it. Everything I’ve clung to is dissolving in the light of God’s healing glory.

God is wrecking my old life, my old expectations, my old status quo…

I’ve been made new. I’ve been created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

God has offered me a new identity, but it means I have to let go of the old and embrace it.

That’s where it gets hard.

Purpose in the Moment

As I was cruising down Yorba Linda Blvd today on my way in to work I heard a story.

Ryan Tedder, one of the founders of the band OneRepublic, had called into the radio station I was listening to. He was asked to share his 9/11 experience. He told listeners that on the day the planes crashed into the World Trade Center he was crushed. A few days later he went down to a Navy recruiting station with every intention of joining the military. They told him no. He was an only child and it was highly likely there would be deployments in the future (and there were, as I think we all know the story of Iraq) and Ryan’s family did not need to lose their only child.

Disheartened, Ryan left and in that moment probably felt pretty helpless. Later in life, after his band took off the ground and he was well into his musical career, OneRepublic was able to play for the combined armed forces stationed in Hawaii. After playing a show for them on the 4th of July a woman came up to him, explained she was a sniper and had just gotten back from a tour of duty, and that OneRepublic’s album had gotten her through that hard time.

When one door shut, another door opened, and it ended up helping another individual through a hard time.

I think there is a huge lesson to learn from this: Everything has a purpose; good times, bad times, open doors, and closed doors. We may be going along in life, doing what we think we’re supposed to do, only to find a door we thought would be wide open is closed, locked, and boarded up. It is disheartening and hard to stare at that closed door, wondering what happened. However, a closed door for us in that moment might mean a door opened for someone else who needed it a lot more than us.

We’re such a small part of life that what seems like a tsunami to us is really just a ripple that reaches someone else and changes their life. Ryan Tedder wanted to join the military, to make a difference in the world, and when that door closed he was crushed. Yet that door closing meant he would go on to produce music that would touch the hearts of millions. There was a purpose for that rejection, even if it stung in the moment.

A professor of mine once wrote this on an exam and I think it sums up my point, so I will leave you with this:

There is as much purpose in the present moment as there is in your future. Don’t wait for your life to be meaningful, it already is. Have you ever considered that you already have everything you need?

The Ruby Project Revelation

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Sometimes it is too hard to try and write a polished, pretty blog entry.

So I’ll just wing it. Tonight I went to a showcase put on by a non-profit organization called The Ruby Project. In short, they help young women who have been through abuse, trauma, or other painful things in life get back on their feet. They help these young women realize that they have worth and that they can rise above their circumstances. This showcase ended their weekend retreat and let me just say this: The things The Ruby Project ladies are doing for these girls are amazing.

Tonight I sat in the audience with tears in my eyes as these young girls shared their stories through poetry, dance, and storytelling. Girls who have been through so much for people so young got up and shared stories of being sold into sex trafficking (yup, that happens in the United States boys and girls), of getting into drugs, of being abused by family members or people related to the family. These girls were brave, beautiful, and in love with Jesus. I admire them for their courage and for their willingness to fight against all odds to live a better life.

The thing that really stuck out to me, however, was this: This is what the church is.

My friends, the Church isn’t supposed to be a building you go to on Sunday morning and don’t think about the rest of the week. Church isn’t just a weekly thing. Church isn’t just a place where you learn about the Bible. The Church isn’t supposed to be static and unmoving. The Church is a living thing. It is dynamic. It should penetrate every part of our lives. Why? Because it is the only thing worth living for.

To be the Church is to be a part of the body of Christ. It isn’t to be a member of a ton of people who make an agreement to meet every Sunday. It is to be a living, breathing, dynamic, loving force in the world. The Church is supposed to love each other and love others. We’re supposed to be out doing things and living out the Word.

Yet I find myself sitting, fretting about the future, fretting about grad school or what I’m going to do once I graduate. I get so caught up in what I have to do to get to a place where I can be someone significant, where I can be good enough to really do some good work for the Lord…that I miss out on a beautiful truth:

I have already been called and equipped to do what I need to do. I just need to do it.

Instead of thinking, “once I get a graduate degree I can really start helping people,” or “once I get to a place where I know enough of the Bible and can earn my place in God’s church I can do great things,” I need to accept the fact that I have been called even in my brokenness. Did those girls at the Ruby Project Showcase have it all together? Were they perfect? No. Yet they put their hearts out there, they put their pride on the line, and they let the love of God shine through them.

Where I am deficient, God is sufficient. The more I’m willing to own up to the fact that I have got nothing, the more God gives me. The more I give up and surrender to Him, the more I’m able to love because it isn’t my love coming out…it is God’s.

 

If you would like you support The Ruby Project, please check out their donation page. Your donation will help them with future projects, including next year’s showcase. 

Why I Gave up on Politics

You might not know it by looking at me, but I used to be really into politics.

I grew up in a household where politics were a constant. My dad was always watching the news, giving his own commentary on the events of the day. I remember when I was four years old and would run into my dad’s room and jump on him to wake up him, only to end up lying in bed listening to Rush Limbaugh. I was raised to be interested in politics.

So when Twitter became a thing, and political commentators and activists took to it to make their points known, so did I. I started a blog and started listening to radio shows online. I began to show up to meetings in my area and went to protests. I made signs, showed up, and walked around to try and make a point. I put in a lot of time and effort to educate myself on the issues, and did my best not to feel hurt when people hurled insults at me.

I met some amazing people who are still my friends to this day and are people I consider to be family. I got to experience a lot of cool things (including meeting a US Congressman). All in all, I don’t regret the time spent engaging in politics because it gave me a lot of experience and a lot of perspective.

However, there came a point where I just stopped. Somewhere along the way I realized that all of the energy I was putting into political dialogue wasn’t doing any good. Instead, it was doing a lot of harm in my everyday relationships. At some point I had begun to put “being right” over being in relationship and noticed some people had backed away from our friendship. When I saw that a couple people I’d been trying to reach out to and establish a relationship with had unfriended me on Facebook and didn’t seem interested in engaging with me anymore, I knew I’d stepped over a line.

That began the slow process of learning that relationships come first, even when I disagree with someone.

Today, I still engage in political discourse when it is appropriate. My friends and I will get into lively discussions about what we think and why we think it, but we do it in such a way that relationship comes first. If someone feels attacked we will stop and move on to something else. We give up the right to be right, for the sake of maintaining a friendship.

This makes the most sense to me because thus far I’ve come to one conclusion about politics: Everyone is wrong and no one wins. Why? Because in American politics it is about crushing your opponent, not working to understand them. It is about opinions, not facts. Both sides, all sides, only care about one thing and unfortunately that thing is not what they should be caring about which is people. We sacrifice relationship, we sacrifice loving our neighbor, because we have an opinion that we think is right and we refuse to back down from it. Instead of changing the world we live in and changing lives, we hurt and alienate people.

So put relationship first. That’s how we’ll change the world.

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.