Monday, August 31, 2015

The Dorm Diaries: A Letter to the Class of 2019

To the Class of 2019:

I have so many words for you - so many hopes and dreams for you. You stand at the beginning of four years. The best four years, you've been told, of your life. By now you've heard it all: the advice and warnings and anecdotes from parents, adults, and those who have walked this path before you. You've been told to study hard, to call your mom, do your laundry, go to church, don't do drugs, and to avoid parties. And after a while, it all blurs together in your mind and you start nodding politely, thinking, "I already know this; I've already been told this."

I'm here to tell you something a little different. I stand here as a senior, at the end of this college journey with three years of joy, heartache, experience, loss, love, and conversion behind me. And I have four things to tell you, Class of 2019. Four rules, if you will, for these next four years of your life. The first two are simple, and if you've seen Kenneth Branagh's film Cinderella, you already know them:

1. Have courage
2. Be kind. 

Right now, you might be feeling intimidated - you're a new place, surrounded by new people, with your first year stretching out in front of you and you have no idea what will happen. But have courage. You will make it, you'll find friends, and you will grow. Jesus is the source of courage, so never be afraid to ask Him for some. All things are possible in Christ!

Secondly, be kind. You will encounter people who disagree with you, who hold different opinions, who might challenge you. No matter what, be kind. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to belong. To be loved. As a Catholic, people will look first and foremost at how you live out your faith. So treat everyone around you with kindness, just as you want to be treated. Years from now, you will be remembered, not because of your grades, but how you treated others. 

3. Don't be afraid of failure. 
I've learned firsthand that by trying not to fail, when I inevitably did, there was always an overwhelming sense of I'm not good enough. I couldn't keep it together. Something's wrong with me. 

But guess what? You will experience failure at some point in your life.


I know it's hard, I know it's painful and embarrassing. But I need you to breathe those words in and believe them. Even more importantly, sometimes it's not always your fault. Sometimes life just throws a really nasty pitch at you...and sometimes things go bottom up.

I will fail. And it is okay. Because I am human. I am not perfect. 

Because we all fail at one point or another. You are never alone in that.

Failure teaches us how to stand back up after falling. Failure is what allows us to rebuild ourselves into something better, stronger. Failure is what teaches us humility. Because if there's one thing we need as young people, it's a reminder of humility. We like to feel invincible and passionate and on top of the world; but sometimes, we need a reminder that there's a bigger picture, that we are not the center of the world. God is.

Failure is what teaches us that when no one and nothing else is there for us, God always is. Because to Him, you are never a failure. 

4. Remember that God loves you, no matter what. 
There will be times when you feel far away from Him - distant, detached, alone. There might be times when you'll be sitting in these very pews, exhausted feeling like you have nothing to offer God because you're just trying to hang on and survive the semester.

Switchfoot sings, "I was lost but not alone," and I think that sums up college perfectly. We're all trying to find who we are, find our way - find The Way, The Truth, and the Light - and sometimes it feels like we get lost along the way. But we're never alone. You're never alone. 

You have some amazing opportunities in college - to ask and search for answers, to deepen your knowledge and your mind, to receive the sacraments daily, to join a bible study, to discuss the intersection of faith and reality in our modern day world, to serve alongside your fellow students in ministry, to explore different interests, and to experience this new community around you.

To live and breathe the Body of Christ that is here around you and within you. Supporting you and lifting you up in prayer. 

Someone once said, "Not to spoil the ending for you, but everything is going to be okay." It something I've needed to hear again and again, and something you'll need to hear each year in college.

So I say it to you now, no matter what happens this semester (good or bad), this first year, or at any point during these next four years in college:

 Not to spoil the ending for you...but everything is going to be okay.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Feelings

Heeeeello there, friends! It's Friday. And I have a lot of feelings (when do I not?), and I've missed this. Missed you lovely readers and writing posts. I've kept quiet on here since returning from Paris, just a post here and there.

There were all the feels this week, so this morning right now feels like a small gift...I call them "moments in between." A small, hallowed moment of quiet and calm in the ordinary things of life. I'm curled up on my couch typing away with a cup of creamy, steaming coffee at my feet. Light spills in the window behind me, tumbling over my shoulder and the cozy, warm blanket wrapped around me. Great American songs of swing and jazz permeate the air from NPR's The Jonathan Channel.

It's a moment in between. A simple Tuesday moment on a Friday. A bit o' loveliness for my soul.

Today will be a good day...and even if it goes wrong, at least I had this morning.

An another note, can we talk about how life really is a rom-com but with WAAAAY more of the awkward/life-shatteringly embarrassing moments but none of the sweet, romantic resolution? I've finally come to terms with the fact that most people don't actually say what they feel and confess their undying affection or literally chase the taxi/plane/bus. And that's ok, yo. Just let me still watch it play out on the big screen and cry into a box of tissues. It's an oddly painful yet cathartic experience I crave on especially sucky days.

The other night at work I was listening to Leonard Bernstein's version of "Maria" from the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack and thinking about how wonderful Bradley Cooper is with his heart-melting smile, baby blue eyes, and gorgeous scruff. I need some more Bradley in my life.

I think everyone needs some Bradley in their life. Can I get an amen?

My first day of senior year was surprisingly "meh" was one of those weird days that should have been good, but in some way. The second day, however - Tuesday, which is quickly becoming my favorite day of the week, thanks to Emily - was much better. Wonderful, in fact. I'm exhausted since I went non-stop from 7:30am on, but all in all, it was a good day.

I saw Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot) in concert last night - which means 800 souls, who love Jon + his hallowed music almost as much as I do, gathered in the backyard of a coffeeshop and had our souls shaken loose while he sang and played accompanied by a fantastic cellist and drummer. I'm very, very blessed to have gotten to see him play this way twice.

Jon is one of those rare people who seems made of silver and gold and teeming art, as if the soul in him shows through more than his earthly body. He always reminds me of C.S. Lewis's words: "You don't have a soul - you are a soul. You have a body." 

Jon is a soul, through and through, and his words + music reflect that. When he plays and sings his heart out, flashing that warm grin at the crowd - seeming genuinely happy and overjoyed to play to a select crowd in a crowded dark coffeeshop, something transcendent and transformative happens. The metaphorical gap between the stage and audience if he can sense that we, like him, are hungry for meaning and comfort, longing to express the inexpressible in each of us. And something changes in the air, a crowd of strangers becoming something more, something larger than any of us. The closest thing I can compare it to is worship. To our souls opening up, being stirred, and sensing a Presence larger than anything else.

I believe there are some special souls in this world whose creation + art make us more ourselves, blurs the line between the earthly and the heavenly. Souls who make + create with every fiber of their being, in an act of living worship and carrying out their purpose.

Souls like Jon Foreman. Emily Freeman. Jess Connolly. Sarah Clarkson. Just to name a few.

Enjoy your Friday, friends. May it be one of living out art...and enjoying the moments in between. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

All Will Be Well and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

It's late - far past midnight, and I'm reading blog posts about life + hardness and listening to gentle soundtracks with notes falling like golden drops of kindness, notes that soften the harshness of reality and remind me that maybe maybe there is still hope.

All of the above is happening because like every month in college, I'm learning, change has sprung upon me in a matter of moments - before the first week of school has even happened - and I'm being reminded of and being forced to swallow the bitter pill of change that feels like brokenness, the one I've become all too familiar with. 

But this is college. This is life. This is my reality on this green earth. Being broken open time and time again, feeling the swell of loneliness and disquieting solitude rising beneath my skin. Oh, pain - again. 

It slips in like an old friend, and it and I are so well acquainted that I'm no longer surprised to see it...rather, more of a "ah, I didn't realize you'd be here too. You were just over there last month." She shows up frequently and in new places, despite running into her recently. 

She's a herald of change, that Pain. Always offers a half smile as if to say Yeah, I know. Me again. I know you weren't expecting me, but really, we should talk - it's going to be good for you in the long run. It always is and we both know it.

If I'm being honest, it's why I haven't blogged lately. I felt too all over the place with post ideas during the summer and now words don't seem to want to come. And sometimes you don't want a perfectly composed post...sometimes you just want to read something raw and real and honest. 

Or at least I do. I call them "real" posts, posts about life and the restless murmur of its fragility and confusion and depth. Posts about shadows and doubt, about the haunting ache of love, and the quiet whisper of loss. 

I've learned a great these past few years and months. And I know I only have more to learn - that life will continue throwing curveballs, that I will continuously be broken again and again and have to rebuild myself.

So far, I know selfness is a fluid concept, that God can feel as far away as the other side of the universe and yet as near as in your room at the same time, that the ones you dream of are the ones you either miss or fear, that loneliness is not a one-time thing, that you will always feel young and scared to some degree no matter how experienced and old you become, that someone can listen to the truth you speak and not hear what you are actually saying, and that people change. 

Sometimes not always for the better.

That's the hardest, I think. 

Change is many things, but it feels most like a river. Like water gently trickling in calm streams that cannot be held back by any force. At times calm and steady, at others rising in rushing eddies - streaming faster and harder, the current a little more forceful. Still other times, it is an ocean in a river bed, roaring and rushing in waves that knock you under with choking coldness and tumultuous force that prevents you from resurfacing no matter how hard you try. 

Sometimes you finally claw and kick your way to the surface, gasping for air, and look around in sudden startlement and flickering despair because suddenly you are not where you were minutes ago. Your surroundings are different, unfamiliar, perhaps even harsh and foreboding.

And in moments, everything has changed.

Sometimes, I think, it's for the best that we can't control change, that we are inevitably swept up in it and carried away, further down the path we are meant to be. We have a tendency to hold on, you see. To cling, with tightly gripped fingers to places and people and things that we wish to remain the same. We refuse to leave, to move on, to say goodbye.

Most of us don't know how to let go. 

And we keep clinging to our little islands, the rocks in the middle of the river - isolated from shore and new adventures further down the river. But eventually...we get pulled away and what we've been clinging to slips out of our fingers. And everything changes.

It doesn't matter if  you do or don't know how to let go. Sooner or later, you're forced to.

And we look around us after resurfacing, realizing that we are somewhere different. And it's for the best. Change, painful as it may be at times, is always for the best. It might not feel like it at the time. But it usually is, and years later, you look back and see that it always was.

It doesn't matter what the river is like right now...eventually all shall be well and all manners of things shall be well.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

It's Okay to Feel Broken

Broken - it's a scary word. We don't like it...and we like assigning it to ourselves even less. But guess what this wide world full of optimism and cheer and positive Pins doesn't tell you?

Girl, you will feel broken so many times in your life.

And I want you, need you to know that. it. is. okay to feel broken. Because you are an incredibly complex, breathing mass of emotions and thoughts and humanity. And that means sometimes life dashes us down and for a moment, we can't breathe because the waves keep coming and by heaven, they get rougher and rougher and it is so hard to keep swimming.

A little blue fish once told the world to: 'just keep swimming, just keep swimming.' But even the most valiant of us can only try for so long.

So this is me telling you that it's okay to stop swimming sometimes. Not that it's a good thing that any of us like...but rather, it's an undeniable fact of life.

We. are. human.

And that means sometimes we can't go on, that we run out of steam, and all we have strength for is to curl up somewhere hidden and dark to cry tears we didn't even know we had. This is me telling you I see you. I know, because I've been there too. Tossed high and plunged deep beneath icy waters that stole my breath and my bearing to finally resurface, exhausted and disoriented and completely utterly lost.

Sometimes, you have to just let it all go and stop fighting the current - sometimes you have to whisper 'I don't have the strength' and just float...float where the waves take you. even if it feels like you're trying desperately to hold the pieces of yourself together. It's okay, girl. There are and will be moments in life where you have to drive yourself to an empty parking lot to break down in tears, or hide under your bed or in your closet, shut away from the daylight and eyes, because sometimes you need to cry and cry.

Sometimes it will feel like there a million different pieces of you that have been dashed apart by someone or something and it's terrifying because you don't know how to put yourself back together.

Girl, I see you. And I'm hurting for and with you. Because this thing called Life is unbearably hard and no one ever tells you that growing up, and 'broken' is a label we give to things that have culminated into a horrible crash of failure and wrongness.

And we think it's a one time thing, being broken.

But no one ever tells you that broken is what we all are, from the moment we're born. And there's a wild beauty in that, a hopeful grace, because if we're all broken to begin with, then these moments of not being able to swim or breathe or even feel God?

That's okay. That's normal.

Because it means being "broken" doesn't mean there's something wrong with me or you - that we're the few defects of society, the unhappy one in our group of friends, the sole black sheep in our families.

It means that we can admit, again and again, 'I am broken...I can't do this on my own. I need Something. I need Someone....I need You, God.'

 So girl, next time you feel broken...know that you are not alone. And there is hope and beauty in brokenness. We find the sacred, the defining moments, the sweetness of Him in the brokenness.

We are remade, stronger and clearer and better

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Confessions Part II

Previous Confessions...

- Still full blown obsessed with my "Jesus sandals" as my brother calls them. Best $9 I ever spent at Walgreens. 

-I haven't watched Keeping up with the Kardashians since the early '00s (there was a dark period in my life where my mom, little sisters and I watched E! News religiously every day) but I have longed adored Kourtney's husband, Scott Disick, also known by the Internet as Lord Disick. So I'm heartbroken at the news of their breakup because he was the best part of that family - primarily because he was the only one who openly acknowledged how insane the his sisters-and-mother-in-law are. 

-I fell in love in France with a beautiful golden-haired, green-eyed waiter.

And then found out afterwards he was 17. #mylife

- I love dancing in nightclubs. Those places really get the importance of having the right atmosphere: sick beats, swanky interiors, colored light beams, and fog machines. I go always for the dancing, never the drinking. I prefer being able to remember my nights. 

- I'm not really a drinker. At all. I love mocktails 99.99% of the time more than alcoholic drinks (although my mother makes a mean margarita) - sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice + lime? Mmmm. I will say, though, that France gave me a healthy appreciation for a good glass of white wine. Chardonnay is a favorite and I am still mourning the fact you can't order a good class at any cafe for $4-5 in the States.

- my fondness for an occasional said glass of white wine led me to hop in the car the other night with my two younger sisters and drive to the grocery store at 9pm, the Chainsmokers remix of Tove Lo's Habits blaring (such a good role model, I am) and wander the grocery isles dressed like a 90's child.

We're talking navy tank top, leggings, a grey sweater tied around my waist, and sandals. All I needed was a backwards baseball cap and heavy dark lipstick ala Topanga. Word.

- I've had ice cream for dinner more times than I should admit since getting back from Paris, which was a month ago. I'll let that sink it.

- I had an eye appointment the other morning and my mom gave me the keys, only to receive a horrified stare from me: "You're making me go...alone???"

I swear the older I get, the more social anxiety about small talk I have. Case in point - my little sisters asked me to come to some function with them and my parents. And again, it was just a blank stare. "But...I'll have to talk. To people."

- I no longer hate summer, promise, but I have to admit I'm already ready for cooler weather...mostly because I miss wearing BEANIES and heavy scarves and winter clothes. Sniff sniff. I am loving my tan, but today made me crave rainy, chilly weather, thick coats, ankle booties, and the excitement of the holidays!

Jokes because it's not even August yet, and the South is just starting to heat up. Things won't feel fall-y until late November at best.

Commence the all the tears.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Why I'm Done With Being Safe

There's a lot to be said for safe.

You can make a good case for it: we've lived our entire lives chasing it, being told it's what we need.

But I sit here twenty-two years after coming into a world that is anything but safe...after being raised to be a good girl, to look when crossing the street, to know who to call in an emergency, say 'no' when pressured, to drive inside lanes.

Safe is good. For many things.

But I sit here, realizing that as much as I love to cling to shreds of my childhood, I am not a child anymore. That today I am anything but safe. That I need to be okay with not being safe.

That I'm done with being safe. 

And of course, I don't mean common sense safety. I still plan to walk in lit areas, stay in the lane, wear my seatbelt, and listen to my gut instinct always.

But I don't want to live a life that's safe - where fear and uncertainty sleeps in my bed, holds me back, taps me gently on the shoulder and says quietly, "What if it doesn't work out?"

Next month, I will begin my last year of college and the future - my future - is suddenly looming ahead. Gone is the shy, meek, but bubbly girl of eighteen who graduated from high school wrapped in the safety blanket of having four years to figure out her life. 

Those four years are nearly over and while I don't quite feel like a ticking clock, I can sense a change...a deepening. A shifting.

I'll be twenty-three next year. I'll be a university graduate next year. I'll be on my own next year. So "safe" doesn't really seem to do it for me any more.

 Like a skin being shed, I can feel the beginning - a slipping out of this world of safety.

It's a culmination of things, I think. Watching my younger siblings, high school students, even college freshmen...and feeling the overwhelming difference. How I am still incredibly young  - and yet forever no longer young, as anyone "young" sees the old college senior who doesn't use Snapchat every moment or say "fierce" (that last example alone dates me). I think Europe started the shifting within me, proved the catalyst. Speaking a different language, living among strangers, missing the ones I loved and yet not able to do anything about it, because if anything happened there was no one to take care of me but myself.

I sit here, much older and wiser, sadder and quieter than the eighteen year old girl who dreamed of the four years ahead of her. Who didn't look too far into the future. I'm quite fond of her. And yet glad to not be the same as her. I've learned to treasure both laughter and tears, the comfort of company and the sweetness of being alone.

I'm ready for a life that is real and wild, dangerously real. Safe is a mindset, one to which I clung to many times.

But life is not safe or tame, as one beaver reminded us in a snowy tale of lions and wardrobes: 

"'Safe?' said Mr. Beaver. 'Who said anything about safe? 
Course he isn't safe. But he's good.'"

Your heart will be broken, life will be terrifying, people will make you feel small and unintelligent, mistakes will be made. But this is all a part of living real - and so is the independance of surviving in another city, of driving hundreds of miles alone, of scheduling interviews, of believing that you have strengths and no one can make you feel inadequate about them, of opening up to someone even if the outcome is not what you hoped, of trusting that you have a voice and you are valid in what you say, of holding steadfastly to your ideals and principals in a crowd.

We weren't made to live in boxes labeled "Safe." Like Ann Voskamp said, we were made to be dangerous disciples of the Unsafe God. So I'm opening up my mind to what that going deeper in and further up, to being split open and trying to understand the messiness in my soul, to breathing in change, to let the untamed and unsafe lion tear through the layers I've built over the years.

When you're young you think you know best (I still do most days), but then tonight I sit here and it's as if I've turned around to look back over my shoulder at what lay behind, at what I'd been clinging to and wrapping around me like a dragon skin. What had been wrapped around me, what was so much so the skin I lived in that I didn't even realize it was there.

The band Daughter sings a song of aching truth that thrums in the blood and lingers in one's chest:

Underneath the skin there's a human
buried deep within there's a human 
and despite everything I'm still human

I'm shedding this skin, still human underneath somehow - through some mad, wild grace. And grateful for all I've learned, for this process of shedding and changing.

And I'm ready to live wild and real.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rainy Days are for Stories

Today it rained - I woke up to the gentle, melancholy drumming of rain against swaying green and stained grey wooden fences outside my windows.

It's a day for chocolate-colored mugs, slender and tall, full of swirled coffee and pale creamer. For lighting fall candles - the rich, woodsy scent of Fireside lingers in the air, intoxicating and cozy all at once - and quiet murmuring music. It's a day for breathing in the moments in between, for stories flashing before eyes, for emotions swelling, for ink staining paper with graceful sloping. 

My fingers move over the keys, and I think of the myriad of stories within me, bits and pieces scattered throughout - here and there on shelves, intricate and delicate and strong and raw. It's days like these when I wish I could press my fingers to paper and the stories would spill out in their entirety, whole and complete and finished, ready to be shared and read and felt. 

There are so many stories I want to share with you...

The story of a girl in a world bound by song and words, where singers have power and orders of apprentices + masters dwell in an ancient school, and loyalty comes with a price, friendship does not come easily, and everything is grey, never black or white. A story of two people simultaneously drawn together, setting into motion consequences that bring the world down around them. 

The story of three darling children who encounter a pirate with his ship, a land where no one grows up, and a boy + his shadow. The story of second chances, of shipdecks and the salty tang of freedom, the confusing loss of friendship and the betrayal of youth, and learning that to some love is and always will be a forgotten adventure. 

The story of a family, dysfunctional yet dedicated to keeping up appearances and all the balls in the air and always prepared with the answer "Oh, things are fine," until one holiday dinner, when everything comes crashing down. A story about a dying grandmother, a college senior on probation, a depressed father, an unwanted baby, and a therapist. Of falling apart at the cracks, the little secrets that become devastating over time, the reminder that family is unavoidable, and that sometimes the messiness we hide is what binds us together. 

The story of a wolf who once came across a little girl in red...and many years later, returned. The story of the intoxicating thrill of darkness and its secret whisper, of promises made in the dark and the madness of discovering you are not alone in your head. Of a girl fighting to look in the mirror, of the farmboy who hunts and brings her smiles, and of the wolf who knows her better - and worse - than anyone else. 

The story of a twenty-something year old who did all the right things and stayed in school and believed she'd meet her soulmate, only to wake up one day to realize that she's grown up, working in her mother's cafe, and something feels empty. A coming-of-age story about perspectives shifting, of childhood dreaminess hardening into something hollow and confusing, of realizing that perhaps there is no high point in life and maybe soulmates don't exist. A story about the art of finding yourself while trying to find someone else, of the surprises life throws at you, and the danger + thrill of opening yourself up to the idea that love looks different to everyone. 

The story of a small girl in a land not very far away, in a time not long ago, who one day finds a door to another world. A world of elves and Kings, of two races dived from a bitterness as old as time itself; where a thief and a spy roam the halls, where Stones and destiny thread together to form the boundaries of the world. A story of adventure and friendship, of the painful splintering of ideals and hopes, of finding strength in love and sacrifice, and the gradual realization that we are all stories in the end. 

The story of an insolent Wizard with hair as yellow as the sun, of a dragon who hates everyone, including his magical master - and a paradox of a girl, so uncertain that the world passes her by while she sits in the sunlight, eyes closed as she listens and feels the dizzying ache of change and not knowing you are. 

The story of a guard granted entrance to the heart of the kingdom and charged to protect its ruler, renowned for her unflinching lack of pity and softness. The story of a stone Queen, hard as iron and strong as the foundations of the earth - who rules with the ferocity of a warrior and the shrewdness of a spy. Who understands the price of innocence and happiness, and the hardness that destroys it - who knows that ice can melt but nothing can soften stone. 

The story of a boy caught up in a choking tyranny, who was born into a world blind to its faults and horrors. Until a radical prisoner is captured and spreads havoc throughout the land with her strange story, reckless determination, and lack of fear...a story of principals and edicts, of the sharp edge of fear controlled by comfort and ignorance, and the danger of new ideas. 

The story of a girl and four lads in a small English town, where streets are crossed in two steps and everyone's name is familiar to everyone else, and home is a place you can point to - not just an idea. A story of chasing dreams and sweeping floors, of trying to be remembered and tasting the exhilarating uncertainty of youth. 

The story of a girl passionate about the belief that life is an adventure best traveled with a carefully planned map, and a glowing future ahead of her that holds theater, the love of her life, and a wonderful red-headed boyfriend. Only to find herself years down the road with the sobering fact that life somehow stole her map, and nothing is what she thought it would be. A story of the slow, painful, stirring realization that nothing in life is certain - even love - and that change is inevitable; a story of growing up and looking in the mirror to see someone completely different staring back, and learning that perhaps becoming someone else is the best mistake you can ever make. 

Yes...rainy days are days for writing.