Valentine’s Day

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Even as a single female I really like Valentine’s day. 

I don’t deny that it is commercialized and that is feeds America’s need for romance. It is definitely a holiday that tells men they need to do x, y, and z because they’ve left a huge, gigantic, gaping love-shaped hole in their partner and they need to scramble to fill it. It is a holiday of obligation, cards, and cliches. 

Yet I find Valentine’s day to be useful and awakening. It is a day that allows me to reflect on how I’ve been loving people all year round. Have I been doing a good job? Have I told people I love them, shown them that I care all throughout the year? Have I been a loving sister, daughter, aunt, and friend? Valentine’s day reminds me that love is an action, a reminder that I appreciate. 

Valentine’s day also gives me the chance to see hurting people come out of the woodwork. It is a day that provokes a lot of emotion and draws out people who have been hurt all year and finally have an appropriate day to voice their hurt. Maybe this reason isn’t great because it means people are feeling lonely because of a holiday, but it gives me a chance to see who needs more love. Who needs someone to get them coffee? Who needs to hear some encouraging words? 

Ideally I would be doing that sort of thing all year and I really do try to, but Valentine’s day reminds me to be on the lookout for people who need someone.

I also enjoy the fact that friends and family often love on me on Valentine’s day. I don’t need a romantic partner, I just need relationships. For a long while my best friend and I, when we were in the same state, would go out to a nice dinner and buy each other gifts because we chose to not let our singleness get us down. 

Tonight, I’ll spend my Valentine’s day with my niece (who turns two tomorrow – oh man) so that her parents can go and enjoy a night out unhindered by a baby and I am going to enjoy it. I get to show my niece love and in the process give my sister and her husband a break. 

Valentine’s day, as with any holiday, is all about what you make it out to be and I make it out to be about a love that serves. 

Happy Valentine’s day my dears! ❤

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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.

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. 

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. 

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.