AJ Bares All

If I was going to most accurately name this post I would probably call it: WTF Just Happened: The Blog Post I’ve Avoided for a Year. But I thought that might be a little offensive, so we’ll just include the title here.

At the beginning of my junior year of college I hated men, feared the world, and felt more alone than I have in my entire life. Continue reading “AJ Bares All”

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Europe, It’s Been a Month.

I am currently positioned in the middle seat of a full airplane on its way to Washington, trying desperately not to jam an elbow into the ribs of my seat-mates as I transcribe this… so here’s to three hour flights (aka unadulterated writing time), too small public transport seats, and bladders the size of peanuts (see my future memoir for the time that I flashed an unsuspecting business man trying to muscle my way to the back of the plane – on a Washington-Arizona flight nonetheless; also that pun was somewhat intended…)

It has been just over a month since I came back from England and my heart hasn’t stopped aching since. There is something inside me that can’t let it go, even as I write this my computer window gives way to a sunset picture of King’s College on my desktop. Studying at the University of Cambridge was a literal dream come true, and besides the fact that it makes me feel like a badass because I can say that I studied at one of the WORLD’S premiere universities and survived, it was so much more than the academics that have left my heart yearning for the unimposing university. *insert wink emoji*

I was wholly unprepared for what I would experience during my time in Europe, and I am completely and utterly beyond grateful that I made the decision to be there. I cannot imagine a better, more life-giving and life-changing way to have spent the summer, my time at Cambridge was the hardest and greatest months of my life. I think that’s why I am still staring at pictures of formal dinners and thinking about rainy summer days on the daily.

And now that its been a few weeks, I think I’m ready to try to articulate the ways that living in England this summer has changed my life and the things that I have learned.  Continue reading “Europe, It’s Been a Month.”

Words

Recently, as my sophomore year of college has met its end, I have been thinking about a variety of different things, and I figured I might as well word vomit them onto a webpage so that the entire world can see the frantic mush that my brain has become.

This is basically the sales pitch versions of random thoughts that I’ve had or things I’ve been processing recently.

Continue reading “Words”

Sophomore Slump Almost Did Me In

I survived the first semester of my sophomore year… barely.

Its been over a week since break began, officially leading to the close of the first semester of my sophomore year of college, and in the time that I’ve been back home with my family I’ve already had two hysterical crying episodes and lost sleep over the horror of the semester that unfolded much to my chagrin.

Between a twenty credit workload, a failed quest for a profitable job, living off campus and paying bills for the first time, medical failings, fractured relationships, professors without my best interest in mind, a university system which failed to advocate for me, a GPA on a steady decline and the weed out classes for my major it’s safe to say that this semester traumatized me.

I failed a lot this semester – academically, in my friendships, in my own faith, in basic humanity. I have very seriously considered calling it quits — pulling the blanket over my head, holing myself in, and hiding from the world.

I think that my brain is actually broken. I have been trying to write this post for almost two weeks now, but the simple function of formulating sentences has become a luxury which my brain rarely affords. What little sleep I get is permeated by nightmares of the past semester and the horror of returning to do it all over in the Spring. My family has more than once commented on my state of disarray, but I feel powerless to change it. Sophomore Slump has become my kryptonite.

This semester feels like a season of life that is never-ending.  I am in a constant state of longing to be anywhere and everywhere else in the world, and somehow recognize amidst that that God has placed me uniquely where I am at, now. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t bitter.

Bitter is actually an understatement. I think that I am pissed at God.

This past semester he called me to a new church, pulled me out of relationships that I loved, and has continuously confronted me with the nastiness in my own heart.In the pressure and nonstop mundane of college, I’ve been able to push Him out. To tell Him I’ll deal with my heart when I have the time, that I’ll spend time seeking Him after I get my life in line. But I never got my life in line. It continued to crumble, and I continued to run from it, at a price.

 

When I am put under extreme amounts of stress, just like I believe most normal people also do, my body starts to shut itself down. Subsequently my body goes into panic survival mode, and this semester I wound up having almost three or four panic attacks per day until I completely blocked it all out. The anxiety attacks mostly manifest themselves in shaking fits, muscle spasms and an accelerated heart rate, sometimes accompanied by a flare up of my asthma. Naturally, when my body begins to panic I become anxious, further feeding the vicious cycle, and on and on it goes.

I am so tired from contracted muscles and the mental stress after an episode that the last thing that I want to do is get back to the school work which has piled so high its led to the physical decline of my health. I am so tired.

And I have never felt farther from God.

In trying to do the right thing I hurt the people that I cared about more times than I would prefer to recount. In striving to live right I refused to deal with my own crap and continuously hurt the people that I love, failed them over and over because I was terrified to be disappointed in their failures. I have realized so many things these past couple months – but the biggest thing that I’ve realized is my absolute terror of commitment.

I have sabotaged so many relationships because I thought I was doing the right thing. Not consciously, not out of spite, but something in me is convinced that I am not worthy of love from the people that I love and therefore I must sabotage the relationships I care about before I’m disappointed.

This semester I wanted nothing but to just completely shut down. The ultimate extrovert who is me was so terrified of spending time with others that I would rather spend my time bent over vomiting up my anxiety than trying to find the corner of a room where no one can see me.

I neglected to pray because I thought that I was too far away for God to hear. I neglected to dig into the Word because I lost my enthusiasm for it. I neglected my own well being because I was too tired to deal with it. I was stressed to the maximum and with that came second thoughts that sent me questioning everything.

Do I really want to keep going? Is the effect that school is having on my physical health enough to call it quits? Am I a quitter? Do I believe the promises that I have been speaking to others on God’s behalf? Do I genuinely believe that God will never leave me or forsake me? Do I believe that God cares about me?

I know the truth. But I am having a hard time believing it.

Without God what hope do I have to keep pushing?  With a lost hope in His plan I have no interest in foraging forward.

This semester broke me in so many ways, and as I have continued to lose sleep over it these past weeks I wonder what the future can hold. But there is one thing that I know to be true:

Its okay to doubt. Its okay to be scared. Its okay to be confused. Its okay to not feel great all the time.

But I don’t get to live in that.

This semester sucked, and theres no doubt about that, but perspective is a game changer. Away from Pullman I can think about things separate from the University, I can think about the long term, and with that in mind I can’t wait to get back to campus and kill Spring Semester.

Until next time, wonder on.

Meat.

I am the vice president of a club on campus called “In It To End It,” which is part of a national initiative to end human trafficking, and in order to raise money to free people from modern day slavery we decided to sell pizza to drunk college students during homecoming weekend.

This is what happens when you are a girl standing on greek row at 2 a.m.: Boys come up to you and point out the size of your breasts, they tell you that they’ll only buy your pizza if you give them your number, they openly rate girls in front of you, and if you’re lucky a forty year old pervert might even decline your pizza in favor of a girl who he says “has legs impossible to close.”

Greek culture, and the party culture that goes along with it, is entirely foreign to me.

I’ve watched alcohol ruin lives and families of people that I love, and I’ve realized that in college and high school, there isn’t a  problem with underage drinking so much as there is a problem with drinking to lose all inhibition. People don’t drink to be sociable anymore, they drink to lose themselves. I’ve had countless conversations in the past month alone where people who are drinking tell me that it’s hollow and empty, but they continue to do it because without the buzz of the alcohol they are afraid that they aren’t enough, that the alcohol tricks people into thinking they’re better – friendlier, bolder.

And thats where dehumanization begins. Thats when it becomes okay to look at people like they are nothing more than meat.

I am not a piece of meat.

I am a full human, with a brain and a body which houses it.

And so is every other human on this campus.

In walking to my classes I catch countless appraisals of girls as if they’re livestock. I watch the flicker of boys’ eyes as they run up and down the passing bodies, and I watch as they lick their lips and punch the shoulders of the boys with them, begging them to catch a glimpse. On Greek row boys assign numbers to the girls that pass by them, openly evaluating their hotness, openly discussing all the things that they want to to do them in the dark. Girls are naught but a toy for their filthy desires. They aren’t ashamed of their appraisals, and they aren’t sorry for their reactions.

I can feel eyes on me when I am walking to and from class, occasionally I’ll catch the eyes of an onlooker and downturn my face so as to pretend I didn’t see him mentally undressing me. There is this stigma that accompanies the appraisal – am I a ten or a two? Some part of me will always wonder, and that’s what breaks my heart the most.

Multiple times in my life I have been told to “sit down and look pretty.” I’ve been put down, an item to look at rather than inspire. There are others, my sisters, who have treaded the paths of sexual violence and abuse, found themselves in the mentality that they aren’t good enough – that they’ll never be good enough. We live in a porn-saturated-society, every fantasy and desire can be quelled at the click of a button, so why tell a woman that she’s beautiful when you’re looking for nothing more than to validate your masculinity by telling your frat brothers about all of the girls you’ve screwed during the weekend?Masculinity today is no longer about protection, it is about the release of sexual tension.  We are the faceless generation. Slaves to desire because no one is willing to remove the chains which have already been unlocked.

I am losing heart.

Recently my university hosted a screening of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which follows the stories of multiple collegiate women who have been raped and silenced. Their respective universities told them to be silent because to point the finger meant losing valuable athletes and income for the universities. And this is not an unusual story. Girls that I know and love have been the victims of sexual violence, but it is an injustice that carries so much shame that often they are silent. What could happen if they did speak? They don’t want to be the demise of the boys, they rationalize that its normal, that its not a big deal, and then they drink themselves into oblivion to avoid the truth. What do boys do about that? They laugh at them being so drunk and the cycle repeats.

At the screening of the documentary, everyone left as soon as they received credit for being there, they could care less about the injustice, they just wanted the extra credit. People get uncomfortable when they are put face to face with an injustice as potent as this. We all hear statistics – 1 in 3, 1 in 4 – the list goes on, but the victims are more than a number and their pain is more than a story.

Meat. A puppet for desire. How did we come so far? When did the woman’s body lose its mystery and beauty in favor of debauchery?

I know that this is not all the world has to offer. I know that there are men out there that genuinely care for their sisters and strive to protect them; even if 90% of them do suck.

So what happens now?

Men of character its time to stand up. We live in a world where a man’s voice carries real weight. A man who speaks out on the issue of sexual violence and dehumanization has a voice as potent as twenty girls speaking at the same caliber. Men of character its time to set the example, its time to establish a new precedent of respect.

Ladies, you are so valuable, you don’t need the approval of a douche to believe it. Its okay to say no. It’s okay to deal with your hurt. It’s okay to be hurt. Its okay to tell someone to leave you alone. And its especially okay to speak up.

Its time to end the perversion. What happened to the respect?

Will the real men please stand up?

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What It’s Like to be Off the “Happy Pills”

Quote from “This Is What Depression Really Feels Like” by Elise Jamison in the Huffington Post:

“I have seen so many of my peers tweet about how depressed they are and they’re lives are so awful blah blah blah. Yes. We all have bad days. I get it. But depression is defined as severe despondency and dejection, felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. There is a humongous difference between temporary sadness and dissatisfaction with your life, and the sinking desperation that is depression. It sucks when you don’t fit in and you are lonely, but that isn’t depression. Depression is the dark emptiness you feel that makes you believe you can contribute nothing to anyone or anything. You feel like your life means nothing to anyone.

My inspiration for this article was frustration. I was diagnosed at age 14 with depression, and I am so frustrated with all of the people around me who cannot differentiate between angst, PMS and mental illness. I have worked so hard in the last couple years to overcome this illness and it is still a daily battle. It took me years to even be able to acknowledge that I mattered and realize that people cared about me. There is nothing more frustrating than someone who says they are clinically depressed because they are feeling sad that day. It devalues the struggle I and so many others have endured. And to all of the incredibly ignorant people out there who think just because someone has a nice family, cushy home and pretty belongings does not mean they can’t be depressed — they lack the chemical serotonin in their brain. It has nothing to do with the fact that they wear Ferragamos or Target flip-flops.”

This might be the single most raw post that I ever write.

In all honesty, I hate that I am writing it.

But this past week has been a living hell for me, and I think that deserves to be addressed.

For those of you who don’t know – I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety.

Some people are shocked by this, and others are complacent – but most are simply ignorant. Most often I am met with sideways glances of disbelief and frustrated looks of disproval; people struggle to understand what it even means and they refuse to acknowledge it as a legitimate sickness. They tell me that happiness is a choice. They tell me that I am just tired because of college. They tell me that I am just blowing it out of proportion. Mostly, they just don’t understand. Simply put – none can comprehend the scope, and so they often disregard it entirely. Which is utterly and heartbreakingly invalidating for me in every aspect.

This is a mental disease. Wait, did you catch that? This – depression and anxiety -are legitimate mental illnesses. But who seriously ever believes that?

It is so important that people understand that this has nothing to do with happiness or choice, and everything to do with brain chemistry.

The truth is, every single day of my life is like swimming through a pool of molasses.

People toss around the phrase “depression” like it’s some sort of easy way to get attention. Like its some kind of lighthearted joke to easily describe how you feel when you’re having a  rough day.  I think that is the worst part about it –  because my sickness does not manifest itself externally, people are quick to invalidate me for it.

Most of it is unintentional. I don’t believe that people set out with malicious intent to beat me down, but because of the lack of understanding I often fall prey to thoughtlessness.

The amount of times in the past week that people have spat “What’s your problem?” at me are innumerable;  and each of these was coupled with expressions of absolute distaste. No matter where I went this week, the criticism was inescapable, and relatively constant.

And it was completely invalidating.

I hate this disease. I hate that I can’t function like a normal human. I hate that I have to suffer through it. I hate being a freak.

I have been on the same medication (fluoxetine) since I was diagnosed my junior year of high school; at the time the doctor prescribed it mostly out of desperation. She wasn’t sure that it would work in my case, but because of how high I scored in her routine depression assessment she was more concerned with regulating  my brain with something rather than letting it stew as we tried to figure out the best option. Fluoxetine is basically the gateway drug to depression medicine, most people start there and mess with it until they find out that something else works better. However, like I said, I scored high – so high in fact that the doctor basically wanted to put me on suicide watch.

Fast forward to now, almost three years later, and the medication has stopped working.  With all the stress and sleepless nights of college I found myself hyperactive or robotic but never in between. The medicine was messing with my brain, and I was sinking deep. I lost all my passion. I lost my will. I lost my motivation. When you suffer from a mental illness like depression something as simple as getting out of bed in the morning can be the most difficult task that you face all day. After suffering from a migraine for four weeks I decided it was probably time to see the doctor, oh – and the fact that I ran out of the fluoxetine and my prescription was expired. No surprise, he gave me the same test. I got the same score. Even on the meds, this doctor was extremely concerned and wanted to put me on suicide watch. He highly recommended counseling, but he gave me a new drug.

Which leads me to why this last week was a literal hell.

Because this illness has to do with the function of the brain and any medication for it deals directly with regulating it, I had to ween myself off of the fluoxetine before starting the new medication. Which meant an entire week of no medication for me.

I often like to pretend that depression isn’t as crippling as it really is. I try to believe that off the medicine I’ll be fine. That I’m not such a freak that I absolutely need a “happy pill” to get me through the day. But, like I said before, since it is a regulatory drug my body was basically in panic mode all week. There wasn’t a second where I wasn’t shaking, and opposite of normal when I am entirely robotic, there wasn’t a second when I wasn’t on the verge of crying. I was just trying to hold it together. To get through the week without too many breakdowns, heck, to even get out of bed in the mornings, was my sole goal.

Imagine how much harder that is when everyone is constantly reminding you how dysfunctional you are.

So, I write this not so that you will pity me, in fact, I think I would be pretty frustrated with that outcome. Rather, I write this because this week has waged war on my soul. Every part of me aches.

My constant thought as I navigated the week was that if I was just “normal” I would be able to handle it. If I wasn’t such a freak that I was shaking like a Chihuahua and navigating the campus like a zombie, then everything would have been fine. If I was “normal” comments about me being “pissy” wouldn’t have mattered so much, sideways glances of disgust wouldn’t have made me burst into tears.

When your brain is so used to being on medication and then you suddenly rip that away it sends everything into a tailspin, and because of that everything is ten times harder to navigate. Everything feels like the end of the world.

There are moments when I legitimately think that I am going insane. I genuinely feel like my brain is betraying me. And to have people point that out when all I am trying to accomplish is basic life functions is crippling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could control it?

My brain is a force of it’s own. It is a machine completely independent of me. It is a broken contraption of hurt and longing, of ache and pain, of disgust and shame.

And shame is exactly what I feel, all the time. I am so ashamed of my illness. Not because of what I believe about it, but because of the way that society has made me feel because of it.

I refuse to apologize for my sufferings because they make you uncomfortable. I refuse to let your lack of understanding be the source of such crippling shame. I refuse to let the confines and dictates of your carelessness set the course of my life.

And let’s be honest, even if I wasn’t suffering from any of these mental sicknesses, don’t you think it’s already awful to address someone’s lack of enthusiasm with such harsh comments? Isn’t the point to love each other, not shame one another into acting in a socially comfortable and artificially happy way for the sake of your wellbeing?

I’m begging you to think before you speak. I’m begging you to think about the repercussions of your words.

This week was already hard enough as I waged war with myself, and the commentary was no welcome guest.

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Affirmation & Valentine’s Day

Hey you lovely people, happy day of love!

Here we are in the first half of the day, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still in your pajamas watching YouTube videos and not thinking too much about the fact that your instagram feed will soon be clogged with gushy declarations of love. Or, if you’re even more like me – that’s exactly what you’re thinking about.

Much like a surprising majority of people, I hate Valentine’s Day. The only person that this holiday is actually good for are the card company CEOs. It’s an institution. We should rebel. Anyhow, it’s days like today that simultaneously mean nothing and everything to me, depending on the way that I’ve tilted my lens.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of affirmation. Where does it come from? Where do we seek it? What does it mean? What should it mean?

It comes to mind that Valentine’s Day is nothing more than an instrument to force you into the world of affirming – both your partner and yourself.

In the past few weeks I have been bombarded with the knowledge that there are people who have recently come to the conclusion that they hate me – only, plot twist – they’ve never even bothered to speak to me. Girls think that I am some sort of mega slut because I would rather spend my time with my guy best friends, and then there are others whose jealousy dictates that I am an awful human in general. Countless others have pegged me as a brash and intimidating girl. And then there are others who think that I am an utter airhead.

It’s really unfortunate, not to mention discouraging.

The other day I was getting breakfast with one of my best girl friends and she was telling me about how she smashed her PT test for our campus’ ROTC program, but she prefaced it with, “I don’t want to sound conceited but…” (or something to that affect), and in that moment I was suddenly hit full force with the devastating nature of the concept of affirmation that our society offers. She, honestly, had no reason to be humble, she did an amazing job and she earned her pride, she earned her pat on the back because she worked hard, but, because of the world that we live in, she was afraid to admit how great she was because she was afraid to sound stuck up.

It strikes me how unfortunate this is.

As a culture we are really, really good at being dissatisfied with what we have. This comes in the form of possessions or body shapes, anything. We are professionals in the game of unthankfulness.

Here we are, sitting in our cozy homes, on Valentine’s Day – a day whose very lifeblood is essentially based in the concept of affirmation – and we if we are single we are hating ourselves, and if we’re not we’re probably dissatisfied.

Valentine’s Day can carry a lot of weight if we let it.

For me, it was the first day that a boy ever called me beautiful. It was the first day that a boy made me feel special and sought out. It was the the first time in my life that I felt wanted.

It’s unfortunate that all of these things came from boys, but is that not what our culture has engrained in us from day one? I have always been the “friend,” the “wing-woman,” in the latest vernacular – the “duff.” It’s a role that I’ve recognized time and time again. I’m the friend that the guys use to get access to my friends, I’m the one whose told that my friends are beautiful not the one on the receiving end of the compliment. And because of that society has painted  picture for me that makes me feel utterly unwantable.

But you know what I’ve started to realize?

I don’t care. God wants me.

My hips may be wider than the average girls. My shoulders may be broader than the women on the runway. My eyes may be smaller than the models, and my eyebrows thinner. My lips may not be as full and my ears may be pointed, my waist may cinch to early and my calves stretch out farther than others. I may have a birthmark on my temple and Orion’s Belt fashioned from freckles on my arm, and my nose may be smaller than others and my hair shorter than those beachy beauties…. But you know what, I love all those things about myself.

Because that’s exactly what God had in mind when he created me.

Our culture has sadly promoted an idea that we are the judges, that our affirmation should come from one another and the media. This means that we’ve bred a society of people who either validate via tearing others to pieces or people who are all together too scared to admit that they’re actually pretty cool.

Lately though, I’ve started to realize that I’m actually pretty awesome… but more than that, I’ve been realizing that it’s okay to say it. I am smart, and passionate, and funny, and loving, and beautiful – and no amount of chocolate shaped hearts or punny cards are going to change that. 

I didn’t wake up to a “good morning beautiful” text this morning, but I did wake up to a Great God who is in ceaseless pursuit of my heart. Tell me which is better.

I may not have a “boo” to spend today with, but I do have the company of some really genuine friends, and the open arms of my Lord. That’s sort of a big deal. Bigger still is the fact that my life is going to go on, and one day I’ll be married and then I’ll have a Valentine forever – but even then, it’s not about me, and it’s not about him – it’s about celebrating the unique masterpieces that we are, and all of the things that we will accomplish together. 

Today my affirmation doesn’t come from compliments, or chocolate, or extravagant displays of affection, instead I’m choosing to believe that I really am awesome. I don’t think that God messed up when he put those extra ounces of curve in my body, or encouraged the laugh lines around my eyes, or cut himself off short when counting the hairs on my head. I think that I am the way that God wanted – flaws and all.

So for those of you celebrating Valentine’s Day alone, take some time to celebrate yourself – after all, you’re pretty dang awesome! And for those of you who are celebrating with your boos, appreciate each other and recognize that it’s because each of you as an individual is amazing that your relationship is working – not because one of you is really good at affirming the other.

Happy Valentine’s Day lovies. Party on.

Double Degrees and Collegiate Exhaustion

I’ve been drinking so much coffee these past couple weeks that I’ve begun to get heart palpitations.I swear I’m losing my mind. In the worst way, I’ve been so stressed that I’ve actually been making myself ill. And its almost shameful to admit. I’ve been forgetting things more rapidly than I should, and losing my train of thought in the middle of my sentence, and forcing myself through the day with copious amounts of coffee is beginning to make my head spin.

Like many others, my pre-University college impressions were largely shaped by the schema of cinematic and entertainment based portrayals of it.

I thought that I was going to end up somewhere where the sun consumed the sky and the campus was over-crowded with sun-kissed hotties and the warm waves crashed onto golden sand outside the gigantic window of my massive room which housed a queen-sized bed. In the times when I wasn’t hanging around in the beautiful sun, I would be in the library with my glasses prettily strewn across the bridge of my nose and my focus deeply rooted into whatever I was reading while attractive men knocked down book shelves to get to me. I pictured a world where class time and social time were hand in hand, and yet there always seemed to be more time for the latter.

My first semester of college has all but completely smashed every aspect of this portrait.

I somehow thought that I would play the role of Paige Morgan from The Prince & Me while the rest of the world played the part of the unfortunate souls in 22 Jump Street – no walks of shame for this princess.

Turns out college, much like life, is nothing like the movies.

College is more difficult than I ever imagined. It strains me in aspects of my life that were previously completely unknown to me. It leads to long nights full of tear stained pillows and tightened chests. It is the birthing ground for unrest. It is one of the hardest things that I have ever done.

For so many years it feels like everyone has been so quick to tell me that college would be amongst my greatest joys. One of the biggest highlights in the reel of my life – why then does it feel so much like I’m a fish trying to fly? I haven’t slept in what feels like weeks, and at this rate, sleep seems like a forgone luxury – I’ve got to pay my four years before I am able to reap the benefits of that sweet pleasure again.

College, much like adolescent life, is an awkward half-way between adulthood and prepubescence (Well, maybe not the latter because I’m hoping that my cohorts have already enjoyed the benefits that puberty has to offer), and I find myself in what feels like a perpetual stream of awkwardness as I navigate the waters of pre-adulthood life.

This thing called life – yeah, it’s not easy. Not in any way.

For months I’ve been working my tail off, desperately trying to stay afloat in a world that seems so determined to swallow me whole. I find that in the collegiate realm I have trouble finding the time to just simply breathe. It’s an interesting phenomena – the suffocation of an institution, in all honesty, I’m still gasping for air, and I feel like I’ve got so many more months and years full of collapsed lungs.

However exhausting it all is, there have recently been some huge developments in my own screenplay:

I’ve decided to pursue a double degree!

This was a big decision. It means that I’m adding about thirty more credits to my course load, and in order to complete all of the requirements I have to complete 150 credits total. Nonetheless, I’m incredibly stoked. This means that I am officially part of four different colleges with all of my majors, minors, and specializations considered – needless to say, the advising appointments have been long. I certify for my first degree this spring and in the next year I will be able to certify for my second.

My advisor told me that I’m ahead of the curve considering planning, and it’s been great. When I graduate the aim is to have a BA in Communication with an emphasis in Journalism and Media Production, a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, a certificate from the Honors college, and a minor in Comparative Ethnic Studies. It’s a full course load, and a little overwhelming to think that all of it will be completed in four years, but I could not be more stoked to pursue each of these different passions of mine.

Which leads me to my next thought!

I will be studying abroad!

During the Fall of my Junior year I will be studying abroad in Aberystwyth University in Wales!!! Yoo-hoo! The road ahead is paved with countless applications and long nights, but I am excited to spend a semester abroad since it’s been a long time dream of mine to study English abroad.

Amidst the stress of finding a place to live next year, the preparation for my summer mission trip, and my working toward certification, everything feels like a mess. But, the exhaustion and planning are finally beginning to lead to a plan.

Just yesterday my friend Garrett turned to me and told me that he thinks that we are “slowly figuring out this whole college thing,” and in the moment I wasn’t sure, but the more that I thought about it, the more I begin to recognize my wings.

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“Sometimes when it feels like things are falling apart they may actually be falling into place.”

Photo courtesy of my friend Jacqueline.

My Place of Quiet Retreat

4-cdaLet me begin by saying that I wasn’t going to be a part of this retreat until late in the game. It was over my brother’s birthday weekend, and I’ve been planning to go back up home for months now. I was excited to spend time with my family, especially because my brother has recently become immersed in the world of creative media and we have become rather great pals in our shared passion. It has been unbelievably refreshing.

(Eli, if you’re reading this, I am so proud of the man that you are becoming, continue to think for yourself and pursue passions on you’re own because you’re pretty great and I think that you’ll make the world pretty great too. I know that high school is tedious and people are annoying, but you’re bigger than that, and I’m so happy that I was blessed with the opportunity to be your sissy.)

That same weekend (the last two days of January) my church was hosting a retreat in the lakeside town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and they had invited me to be a part of the “leadership track” which was specifically designed to cultivate the future leaders in our church. It was meant to be a period of reflection, when we all removed our distractions and focused on the Lord and his goodness instead of the stress of college. With the invitation to the leadership part of the retreat I was given a discounted rate and the opportunity to spend the weekend with my friends in one of the northwest’s most beautiful towns.

I was torn. It seemed like no matter which option I chose I was wronging one of the parties. Long story short, after my going back and forth with myself and many phone calls and text messages to my mom, my family was gracious enough to push me to go and be a part of the retreat and then come home for the tail end of the weekend – so I guess we all sort of won.

I wasn’t sure what the weekend would hold. I have been to Coeur d’Alene before because it’s so close to where I live, so I knew a few of the things I wanted to do while I was in town… but I suppose I was unprepared for the weight of the weekend.

12-cdaWith my entire weekend booked, I packed my bags and headed out after my Friday classes, my friend Sam (who also has a blog that you can read here) kept me company on the ride up and we managed to make the trip incredibly quick – which meant that we had more than a few hours to waste before the rest of our friends, and our church, arrived in town.

If you know me at all, then you know that I crave opportunities for exploration. I had made sure to take my camera with me – armed with excessive amounts of memory cards and fully charged batteries, stoked to soak up the beauty through the lens of my rig. But the foggy northwestern day cannot be done justice by these snapshots. The beauty of the blue-tinted world is something that even the greatest camera could not capture. 5-cdaWe headed in the direction of the lake, the sun setting behind the clouds, shrouding the world in a darkness that echoed the blue of the night. The water seemed to fuse with the sky, and in the midst of the adventure I couldn’t help but pause and just soak it in. The lights reflecting off of the water, the fog hanging low – weaving itself between the trees on the bank opposite us, the serenity of a quiet town, the sound of the water lapping the shore and the steps that led into it. It was all a dream. Standing there on the edge of the lake, I wasn’t entirely sure that my reality hadn’t somehow shifted to be something entirely imagined. It all felt too picturesque to be true. It felt vast. It felt infinite. I felt infinite.

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It’s probably pretty annoying to go out with me, the majority of my time is spent gasping at the beauty of the world around me, and the process of walking even a foot takes about an hour when I have a camera on hand. Sam was patient, (thank God) and I made him pose for a few shots around the bay – and by pose I mean I just caught him when he didn’t think I was taking a picture.

1-cda7-cda8-cda11-cda6-cdaHe’s probably not too keen on the idea of me posting all of these. The truth though is that I don’t care much because I want to share the adventure, and he just happened to be a part of it. I had a pretty fantastic night. Everything about it felt mystical, I dreaded it’s end, I dreaded the descent back into reality – the world full of collegiate stress, strained relationships, and hard decisions.

So I sunk my claws into the moment and clung to it, walking the strip of dock attached to the resort and snapping pictures of everything that I set my sights on.
9-cda13-cda 14-cda 15-cda 16-cda21-cda19-cda18-cda20-cda17-cdaFollowing our dock-side adventures, we somehow managed to make it into the resort where we were met with glances that let us know that everyone else knew that we didn’t belong there – the dynamic of the high profile life is thoroughly intriguing. So, once we made it out we stumbled our way into the shops where I got to show Sam the cool toy-store “Figpickles” where I made him play me a little tune on the bells – I mean, a realistic request considering he is a music major.

24-cdaFrom there I dragged him to my favorite greek restaurant. I had been craving it all week once I knew that I would be in Coeur d’Alene, and I swear that the second it hit my tastebuds I could barely handle myself. I ordered a garlic and lemon buttered lamb dinner and Sam got one of the classic Gyros and then I made him try the baklava, because baklava is practically the greatest thing since sliced bread and since I’m gluten free now I desperately wanted to live vicariously through his tastebuds. I’m sure it was profoundly delicious.

25-cda26-cdaBut then the adventure ended and the high was gone, and for the rest of the weekend I found myself struggling to even keep a smile on my face.

I’ve recently added an English degree to my course load, and as such I’ve been taking classes heavy in writing content and one of the primary things that I’ve learned throughout the process is that writing was meant to be uncomfortable because it’s meant to be real.

So allow me to be real with you, even if it’s uncomfortable.

I feel like I’m failing.

It’s the fourth week of second semester and I already feel like I’m drowning. A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I had made some hard decisions in response to what I felt God was calling me to do (here), and then I got to spend time with some lovely and Godly women. I felt like I was done with all of it. I thought that I was finally getting my life under control, or at least managing the chaos. But then I went away for the weekend and it feels like I ignited a downward spiral.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of seasons – living your life as a process from beginning, middle, to new beginning – and it’s revolutionized the way that I think about things. It first came to my conscious through Jeff and Alyssa Bethke’s podcast, and since then it’s been a constant process; and in so many ways, getting away for the weekend made me aware of my status in the cycle, and as it turns out, I don’t think I’m as far into it as I let myself believe.

All of the heartache that I was feeling at the beginning of the semester came back in full force. My few hours of bliss exchanged for days of heartache, and it sickened me. Here I was to worship the Lord almighty and I would have rather been anywhere else.

And I guess that’s why it’s so good that I was there.

As part of a collegiate congregation, a lot of the focus of the church is exposing the students and people on campus to a God that they may have never even heard of; but as someone who has been following the Lord for years I sometimes get the feeling that I’m forgotten or pushed into the background to figure things out on my own because I have years of faithfulness as opposed to hours. And that is so hard. Following Jesus is just as hard sixteen years in as it is three years in as it is three days in. It’s difficult. Choosing Him is a daily process, and it’s so hard.

I don’t want you to think for a second that I am doubtful of the community around me, but because I am a follower of Christ I have a massive target on my back, and you can bet that the Devil is quick to fire at it. He makes me feel like I’ve lost prominence, like the people around me couldn’t care less about how my walk with the Lord because it’s old news, he makes me feel invalid for seeking support and community. He makes me feel worthless.

And in my heart of hearts I know the truth, but for the entirety of this weekend I felt pushed to the background, thrown into a corner to stew and be silent.

And it sucked.

I just wanted to be introverted, but instead I was in a massive sea of energized people and I could barely handle myself. By the time we reached free time, I had to excuse myself, the thought of spending the next few hours in the company of others when the only thing that I actually wanted to do was explode into tears made me blanch. It was humbling for me, but I had to ask to be alone.

So I drove to the lake.

I parked my car off to the side of the road, my eyes burning from the tears that I had been holding back and my throat swollen from the welling sobs. I had Housefire’s “Good Good Father” playing through my car stereo, and despite the fact that others were in the car in front of me, and runners were lapping my truck I let out my torrential downpour of tears into the steering wheel. I yelled. I cried. I journaled. I purged my heart.

I guess I didn’t realize how awful I was actually feeling until I really went to God – I feel like church retreats somehow always seem to have that effect – as I sat there in my car I realized that what I was screaming wasn’t random sounds, but the pleading of a desperate heart… “please Lord, please Lord, please Lord”… I could barely breathe… “I tried to listen… why does this hurt so much”… I turned the stereo up to drown myself out… “Please. Please.

I tore into my journal, my heart saturating the page with it’s pleas. I found myself writing out the words to Hillsong United’s “I Surrender”:

Here I am, 

down on my knees again, 

surrendering all, surrendering all. 

Find me here, 

Lord as you draw me near, 

I’m desperate for you, desperate for you. 

I surrender. 

I was on my knees. I was surrendering. And it was hard.

I think that following Jesus is a constant process of surrendering everything over, and God was sure to make sure that I knew that then. 27-cdaI sat there on the side of the lake for a while until I mustered the strength to gather my things and step out to take some pictures, but all of the ducks freaked me out and there was a young woman with a little girl headed down to the beach and I didn’t want my mascara stained eyes and snotty nose to bum them out, so I waited a while longer until I was good to drive and took myself up to the other end of the lake.

It was here that I saw that the clouds were finally beginning to part. The northwest grey was giving way to blue, and it didn’t last for long, but in that moment I needed it. I stepped out of my car, and it was cold and I was still upset, but for a few seconds I got to focus on the picture and not the moment.

I don’t want you to think that everything was magically alright, because I think that’s one of the biggest lies that our culture perpetuates – that everything is alright the instant that you are face to face with something beautiful. No, I was still upset, and I would rather have sat in my car and continued to journal and sing along to the radio, but I know my heart, and I know what I love, so I decided to make an effort and get out.

I grabbed my camera and slung it over my neck, and out there alone, in the frigid northwest air, I focused in on the things surrounding me that were bigger than the moment. I focused on being present and being alone. I focused on the reprieve that I was getting from the busy world. I focused on being silent.

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The theme of the weekend was abiding in the Lord. Establishing your roots in being silent and tuning out the world in order to genuinely respond to what the Lord was breathing into your life in the moments of intentional quiet.

Out there alone I had no one to talk to but the Lord, and because of that I focused on the creative process and found my heart slowly begin to soften. Running the risk of sounding incredibly cliche – it was in light of my surroundings that I remembered how small I am and how vast God is.

And now, as I’ve been back for a few days, I’m still working on finding my sea legs again. Thrust back into reality with a tired heart is no small task.

I’m trying to dwell on the words of Psalms:

“You’re my place of quiet retreat; I wait for your word to renew me.” –Psalm 119:114 MSG

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Call Me Out

I got coffee with one of my good friends the other day and as we were talking I could see the beginning of tears in her eyes, riddled with sadness, frustration, anger – all of it – and I wanted to cry too.

“You know what one of the things I love most about you is,” she asked. “You listen to the Lord more than anyone I know,”she smiled at me, reaffirming before she caught my eyes and sunk the knife in, “but even though you know what he wants you to do, you don’t act immediately – like you’re waiting for him to change his mind or something.”

I caught my breath. Ouch. But then…is it not true? Here we were, sitting next to each other, my hands shaking and my heart burning from an ache I wasn’t entirely ready to admit, and the only reason this conversation was anything different from any of the others we’ve had in the past couple months is because this time I did something.

I like to think of myself as a bold person. Never slow to speak the truth, and certainly not slow to act on behalf of those that I love… But when it comes to listening to the Almighty I often find that the story takes a different turn. I trust that the Lord has a plan, but I am slow to act accordingly because – even though he’s proven over and over again his faithfulness to follow through with his better plan – I am terrified of losing the things that I, in my humanity, think are the most dear.

And here I was, the Lord asking me to reevaluate one of the relationships that I held most dear, and asking me to dial back my involvement, and I hated it. For three weeks I had been locked in a back and forth with God. He had been telling me to loosen the reigns, I had been telling him no. He had been telling me to chose a different path because that’s what he had for me, I had been telling him no. He had been telling me to give my heart ache to him, I had been telling him no. But, it’s because of his persistence that I knew what was coming…and I knew that it would suck.

So for three weeks I mourned the loss of a relationship that hadn’t even taken a blow yet, for three weeks I asked God if their was another way that hurt less. For three weeks I asked God to change his plan. It was his turn to tell me no.

So I knew what was coming, and I knew what conversation I needed to have, and I knew what in my life was going to have to change. I knew where I felt convicted and where I felt validated.

God told me it would hurt, and I hated that, so I came back to campus and waited as long as I could, but, like I said, God is persistent and he sent a series of signals to me to make clear what plan he had for me.

I always feel weird saying that God is calling me to do something because – unfortunately – it’s not like I have a direct phone line to heaven.

However, it has been my experience that the Big guy is pretty persistent with me in illustrating what he wants from me. Lately he’s shown me how great it is to incandescently believe in the plan that he has for me. He’s been nothing but obvious about what he wants from me – whether that be his guiding my hand as I journal, spontaneously opening my Bible to my convictions, or putting people in my life to call me out on my “ish” (for lack of a better word).

He was right, it did hurt.

But I knew it was coming. I cried before it happened, I mourned it so much that by the time I did what he was calling me out to do there was nothing left. I was resigned.

It sucked. It hurt. I hated it.

But its done.

And that’s where this “call me out” thing comes from.

It was there, the other night, sitting across from one of my most treasured friends when she said “I’ve been waiting for you to say this to me, and I’ve been praying for it for so long.” And then I saw the tears again.

It was a hard thing to hear. I asked her why this was the first time she had said anything and she told me that she had tried before, but this was one of those things that I had made clear I was going to have to learn on my own. It was one of those moments of clarity that sort of knocks the air out of your lungs – it was like the world slowed down and my lens zoomed out to see the entirety of the situation.

For weeks God had been calling me to move – why had it taken me so freaking long to do something? 

I had been scared. I had been unwilling. I had been compromised. I had narrowed my vision to a dangerously small perspective. And it was this moment – this instance of being called out that shocked things back into perspective.

From there I got to talk with some other really incredible and Godly women about everything. It was altogether life-giving and beautiful. I presented an idea, and rather than BS their way through a response, they genuinely listened and then gave wisdom instead of know-how. They reassured me of the goodness of God in situations that don’t feel too good. They gave me an opportunity to remember what it looks like to be in community. They demonstrated to me the beauty of a Godly woman.

They called me out on my crap, but rather than just tell me what I was doing wrong they offered some honest perspective into it.

Here’s the thing – I’m not slow to call people out. I’m learning how to do it in a loving way.

And I have God-fearing people in my life who do the same for me, and I have never been more thankful.

Because it’s these voices who remind me where it’s my priority to fix my eyes.