inspired by sweatpants and coffee breath.

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My goal for 2018 was to write once per month for this little space. It didn’t have to be perfect, it didn’t have to mean anything, but I wanted to stay faithful to a thing on a consistent basis.

Did I make a plan to accomplish this? Absolutely not. Which is how I found myself at 9pm on May 31st scrolling through the Ghosts of Google Doc’s past looking for a semi-finished thought to quickly edit & share here. And — no surprise here — everything sucked.

Granted, I’ve been writing a lot for other projects which is just the best. But if I don’t create space to write for myself then it won’t happen. Because I romanticize the writing process: sitting in a coffee shop and stringing together pretty words as they come to me on a caffeine-induced whim pretending I’m Meg Ryan in her 90’s RomCom prime. It’s all based on the idea of being a “writer” than the struggle of sitting my butt down and writing so many crappy first drafts it makes me question why I like doing this in the first place.

The writing process looks less shiny and more like humbling yourself with your sweatpants and coffee breath, typing the goal of 500 words per day. You end up re-reading what you wrote and realize how much it sucks. This makes me remind myself that I actually have no talent whatsoever, so I might as well give up and make more coffee to soothe me then quit for the day by taking a nap and reading a book. The next day I wake up, re-read the previous day’s work, notice that it isn’t completely terrible, and wash, rinse, repeat.

So here’s what I learned tonight: goals are great. Creating habits to meet those goals is even better. I knew the day would come when I had to create a writing routine. I promise next month will be inspired by sweatpants, stale coffee, and my own self-loathing/doubting tendencies.

But for now, here’s the best I could come up…

A Lazy Listicle of Things That I Know to be Absolutely True

1. Boundaries are love.
2. Bangs are most likely not a good idea.*
3. Honesty is the best policy.
4. The Office truly is the greatest show of all time ever.
5. Your time is limited. It’s okay to guard it for the things that matter most to you.
6. It’s okay not to be everyone’s best friend, but you do have to be kind.
7. Dry shampoo changes the game.
8. Always remove your make up.
9. Say “thank you”. And stop saying “sorry” so much.
10. Do everything in your power to show up for your people.
11. Read non-fiction and fiction. Just read in general.
12. Life is hard, but it’s less hard when you can laugh easily.
13. Like what you like and don’t give a damn if that’s not cool.
14. Trust your gut feeling.
15. You are already more capable than you think.
16. Stay curious. Ask questions.
17. Put your phone away. At weddings, at dinner, at concerts… just put it away.
18. Always have ice cream in your freezer and a bottle of wine on hand.
19. When you stop trying to be seen, you end up being more fully known.
20. Drink water.
21. The best time to see a movie alone is at 1pm.
22. Make sure you move a little every day.
23. Call your mom.
24. Breathe prayer.
25. Follow the Photo Booth Rule.**
*I said MOST LIKELY. Shoutout to all of my fringe-rocking friends who are chic and way more hip than I’ll ever be.
**When you see a Photo Booth, you have to take a picture in it.
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my car insurance broke up with me.

a story about why what you call yourself matters

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My own mother likes to gently remind me that I am good at many things, so I need to hold close the things I am terrible at. This is so I will stay humble and actually have friends who want to spend time with me. Good moms do that. They slip in subtle criticism next to a reminder that they think you are the most special, amazing human being that ever existed ever in order to preserve your self-esteem and have their own contingency plan in place for the amount of issues you will likely bring up in counseling years later. I hope to be exactly like her one day.

It is with this advice in mind that I have become a great passenger. I know how to AUX-cord-DJ for the specific company in the car, I always bring snacks, I can talk about anything in order to stay awake with the brave driver on long road trips, all because I loathe driving. Lucky for me, driving dislikes me almost as much as I hate it.

For years I’ve been in denial, telling myself that I am a good driver but I just don’t like driving. Because I should love driving! It means freedom: it’s a major rite of passage to turn 16 and get your driver’s license. And I didn’t even fail the test my first time! Therefore I must be a great driver. And then one month ago this little narrative was shattered by a seemingly harmless piece of junk mail.

My car insurance sent me a Dear John letter effectively ending our nearly 10 year relationship. It started off sweet by thanking me for my years of commitment but it took a turn when I noticed the kind introduction was soon followed by a list of “incidents” that have occurred over the past three years. When you lay them all out, it really does look like a rap sheet straight out of Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road that all points to one truth: I am a terrible driver.

But I should be a good driver. I drive more often than most for my job, I’m a relatively safe driver (despite my extensive list of offenses, the majority were very minor) and, most importantly, I’ve told myself that I am a good driver for years. I wonder if I didn’t live in a society that says freedom is having a driver’s license and a car if I would even have discovered this part of me wasn’t true? Or what if I took public transportation my whole life, would being a bad driver even define me if I never experienced it?

That letter helped me piece together a little more of my identity: I am Emily, a really bad driver.


It has recently come to my attention that the way I refer to myself when I first met people is not actually the way I move through the world. In the past, I used terms like “awkward” or “embarrassing” or to self-describe personality quirks in social situations. Which everyone does. People can laugh and deal with awkward. It’s the selfishness, fear, and pride I want to distract them from noticing.

Maybe you can relate. If I can get ahead of the flaws, then it would keep the world from being disappointed in my other very real and very not-so-desirable character traits. People like us, we put all of our junk right out in the open so that when we inevitably mess up in front of others we can say, “See?! I told you when we met — I’m the worst. This shouldn’t surprise you. You can’t be disappointed because I already gave you the heads up that I’m imperfect and WILL let you down because this is who I am.”

This is two gross realities wrapped up in one broken-identity burrito: (1) these words are a self-fulfilling prophecy and (2) they just highlight how much of a fraud you’re making yourself. You do what you say you are, and if you aren’t what you’ve been telling people then you also have the difficult task of keeping up appearances or risk being exposed.

If you want to avoid accountability and rejection, you quickly learn how to operate based on the rules learned in middle school on the bus, at home, in church, on a team. For me, this looked like having the personality version of a classic 2000’s throwback playlist – a definite crowd pleaser in the churchy circles I ran in, but when you listened too closely the lyrics they never quite match up with what you believe. I experienced acceptance and success when I was told I should self-identify as the type-A, perpetually positive achiever to feel like I had a place in the communities I called home .

No matter how many times I told myself that being this kind of “leader” was a good thing, this wasn’t the identity that should define my life. It got tiring always having to pretend that I like being in front of people and making decisions. That’s normally the last thing I want to do. That stage held up by the label “leader” fueled my pride and being seen made me want to tell lies to make sure people liked me. Just because I should be a leader and that should be good doesn’t mean that it was what should define me.

It is a beautiful, hard, never-ending process of getting to know yourself apart from the experiences that have told you who you should be.

After my fraudulent identity was exposed last year, I learned how sorry these attempts to be accepted were. Belonging requires you to be yourself. Not some version I think will gain the most amount of admirers, not the version I tell myself I am because I get a front row seat into my own cynicism, but the realest of the real version of me. Uncut, live, on the couch watching Golden Girls, and likely going on my 4th day of unwashed hair.  The person who aims to please no one but her ever-present, unseen Jesus friend. The one whose name was whispered by an unseen, unfamiliar God way back in 2009 when I was still operating under the label of “nice, responsible girl” by day and “bitter, angsty, know-it-all” by night.

I love that this is the way God gets his kid’s attention. He called their names: Abraham, Jacob, Martha, myself. I love that God shares his name with us and that name is self-descriptive. Did you know that? What God calls himself is exactly who he is. He doesn’t bait and switch to get us to like him. He is unapologetically, totally God and I think that’s one of the biggest privileges of being in relationship with anyone – loving them exactly as who the were made to be. Might as well start with yourself.

I spent time trying on words like “follower” and “dreamer” and “good” and many more this year.

One of the different names I’ve tried on this year is “creative”. I’ve never seen myself as creative, which is wild considering this little blogosphere exists and I suppose that’s creative enough. But I do have a creative energy that needs air to make me feel more like me. The more time and energy I devote to making something – a meal, cutting a pair of thrift shop denim jeans to a length I like, writing copy for a marketing project – the more I can breathe easy. My sleep comes out of a day’s satisfaction instead of exhaustion. So I’m Emily, and I’m a creative.

What you call yourself matters because you become what you say you are. And the names that seemed forever like tattoos were just temporary. You belong. You were always invited into the party, but you have to be honest about what name is on the list.

I’m Emily.

five more minutes.

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Four kids are on the bounce house. Three are coloring at a table. Two buddies are building the World’s Tallest Block Tower in the corner and one tiny child is staring daggers at me with puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. The clip-on bow that once held back her bangs is stuck in the middle of her blonde tangles after her completion of a short tantrum routine on the ground. I was actually pretty impressed with her coordination and flexibility despite the fact that she was coughing and screaming the whole time.

I help out in my church’s Sunday School program every now and then. Me, a few other adults and a handful of 4-5 year olds kick it for an hour and a half. If you’ve met me in person, this is a hilarious image because I am not your go-to Sunday School gal. My humor is dry which doesn’t easily translate into “I’m trying to be funny to get you to like me” in kid language. I’m also constantly aware of the worst case scenario (fellow Enneagram 6’s get it), so usually I keep to myself around kids because I am preoccupied with the idea that one of them is going to inevitably break their leg under my watch and it’s on me to fashion a splint with Legos and my scarf to tide them over until we can page their parent and they’re safely returned to be held by their mothers until it’s all better. Welcome to my brain, dear readers.

But anxieties aside, I really love these kids! First of all they’re so cute. And they’re trying their hardest to figure out the world and be brave. Kind of like how I’m trying to do this too, except they haven’t failed as much yet so they’re a lot more fearless about it all.

Which brings us back to the little, tear-stained face staring at me from under a table. Homegirl was having a rough day. Okay.. rough is an understatement. She had 3 meltdowns in the course of 20 minutes, proving that kids can actually bounce back better than Big Sean.

After trying to coax her out of the table, she reached up and wanted me to hold her so I did. I wouldn’t say I’m a super comforting human but I’m not an animal. And I understand that sometimes you just need to be held. Having someone safe hold you is one of the Top 5 most underrated feelings right next to finding something you were missing.

We left the room to get a drink of water and afterwards she and I sat on the mats for a good 10 minutes. Her in my lap, me talking to her and us sharing a little moment of calm away from the beautiful, controlled chaos around us. I asked her if she was ready to go back inside the classroom when she looked up and wiped away the rest of her tears and asked, ‘How about 5 more minutes?”

Cue my heart swelling. Ok. Let’s sit here for 5 more minutes.


I shut off my computer, grabbed my jacket and rode the elevator down to the second floor of the building I work at. I paid for my Pumpkin Spiced Latte, because it is October and there isn’t another drink you purchase from cafes when the leaves are orange and there’s frost in the mornings, and I headed upstairs.

There’s this fancy furniture store that makes you feel like you pay for everything in rubies and gold bars when you walk in. It’s Tuesday morning at 10am and no one is shopping for throw pillows here at this time. and I was the only one in the store, or so I thought. My heart was set on a green velvet couch that I pass by every morning. It is equal parts boujee and beautiful and if I owned a multi-million dollar home you bet I would put this gorgeous, olive couch in my living room. I put my feet up on the gold encrusted coffee table, sunk back and let myself cry for a bit.

Right as I was mid-wallow a store employee popped up and asked if I needed anything. A young, 20-something who clearly can’t afford anything walks into your shop crying clutching a PSL in one hand and a napkin as a tissue in the other and sits on the couch that probably costs at least 6 months’ rent. What do you think I need? If I knew that answer, I wouldn’t be sitting here. I looked at him with my misty eyes and said, “I just need to sit here and drink this coffee for 5 minutes.”

To which he replied, “Great, let me know if you need anything. Also please take your feet off of the coffee table.”


Sometimes you just have those days.

Homegirl was too young to verbalize that she has big feelings and a lot of things going on at once makes her feel overwhelmed. So we got away from it all for a minute. And I had spent the last month doing my best to try to solve a problem and I still didn’t feel like it was enough. My tank was empty and I needed to get out. I needed to sit on a green velvet couch and let myself feel like it was going to be okay if I got away from all of the noise.

We weren’t made for a 24-hour news cycle. Years ago people read the newspaper in the morning and turned on the evening news at night for an hour. They chose when and how they wanted to engage with the world’s problems. Now we have to figure out how to immediately process Google alerts and Twitter feeds for everything that happens in the world before the next big tragedy comes along. I feel hard things deeply and I also easily forget the wins; 2017 is a hard year for feelers like me. We need 5 more minutes.

It’s an act of active patience to get away for even 5 minutes. To get a glass of water. To breathe. To kiss the ones we love and to remind ourselves that immediate is not always better, even if the notifications tell us it is.

The holidays are going to be here and gone before you know it. Remember to take 5 more minutes to be present where you are.

You can conquer the world when you get back.

cinnamon & belly rolls.

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It was their ritual: the women would stand around the kitchen counter and talk about what they were and were not eating for the next few weeks. Last month they were on a Weight Watchers kick and passed around a recipe for a casserole that was only 8 points per serving. Glorious.

The older one – silver-haired and stunning, her skin soft and pillowy and everything you hope your skin feels like when you’re 65 – has recently discovered Atkins. She declares that bread is a sin now.

She slides me and my sister each a plate of cinnamon rolls that she made by hand. I stare at them calculating my next move. I love that I can expect to devour no less than five of these every time I come to her house, feeling no shame about my sticky fingers and hazy, post-binge nap that will happen once I turn on Nickelodeon. My family doesn’t have a lot of traditions, but these cinnamon rolls are sacred to me. Holy, even, for their consistency in my life. Now they’re dangerous.

So I decide to eat four and then go to the bathroom. I kneel by the toilet for a good 20 minutes, experimenting with the different ways to stick two fingers down my throat in just the right way to trigger the system my body was wired with for stuff that didn’t belong. It looks like I’m praying and I think I probably was, in my own way. Except nothing happened. No matter what angle I tried it just didn’t work. I failed for saying yes to temptation and now I wouldn’t even be allowed to join the sacred circle of stopping calories from setting up camp on my body.

I watched women I admired restrict, exercise, count, and wear themselves out trying to one day be smaller. This was around the time that I poked at my own thighs, wondering why others looked different in the destroyed, low-rise jeans that were the status symbol of every suburban girl in the mid-2000s. They gained all the bumps of early womanhood and yet it’s like their limbs still didn’t know what fat was, all twig legs and knobby knees. Later I learned that the secret was cocaine and eating disorders, but I still envied the figures I saw in the magazines. I was shaped more like a piece of Playdough that, with a creative mind, could be a great mermaid one day if it was stretched and rolled out in the proper places.

I saw first-hand how the disappointment of cheating on a diet could far outweigh the triumph of losing 5 pounds when I watched the women of the kitchen counter “fail” every few months or so. I remember looking at the dimpled parts of my own thighs, thinking that if I just spent more time on the elliptical or skipped breakfast then this “ugly” part of me would disappear and I would be one step closer to acceptable. I may even be wanted one day, if my calves had more definition and my hot dog legs began to look like my sister’s soccer-player toned extremities.

But I chose swimming over soccer. I was active but never an athlete. I ate fruits and veggies and participated in the occasional Taco Bell run after practice. I’ve had cellulite since I was 17 and spent years trying to hide my body from being seen up close and unfiltered.



Today I am textbook healthy – eating whole foods, exercising regularly and enjoying the occasional (and appreciated) pint of Ben & Jerry’s or glass (or 3…) of wine. You wouldn’t look at me and think that I have the body of a supermodel which is fine because I don’t. And I likely never will due to the culture we live in and given that my love affair with carbs will not die until a doctor medically pronounces me allergic to gluten and I risk certain death every time I eat it. Plus, I have thighs. They bring me places and help me run and have a lot of surface area to snuggle dogs. But they don't look like the majority of thighs seen on Instagram.

Summer is tough for me. Sunshine brings shorts, skin and exposure. I often feel insecure. Remnants of what I learned at the kitchen counter like to be loud. They convince me that I’m not good enough until I am 10 pounds lighter and I shouldn’t even think of myself as beautiful until my stomach is flatter. I’m learning to identify those voices and knock out their front teeth. (Metaphorically, of course.) But my insecurities don’t have the same diminishing power over me when I speak openly about them.

So here we are and it scares me. I want to speak light into the spaces that don’t get dusted off very often. I want to help others experience the lost-and-found feeling of “Me too.” This means I have to be honest, even about things like body image, and that’s really hard.  Chances are you’ve probably felt the same kinds of shame and embarrassment around your own skin. Whether it was too big or too small or too brown or too pale or had hair in weird places, it is a freaking journey to learn how to love all parts of yourself.

The body positivity movement has been growing in popularity, which I think is great because we need more diversity in media FOR SURE, but it seems to focus a lot on becoming confident by exposing your skin in any state. Which is fine, but to me this doesn’t encompass all of what a healthy body image is. I don’t want to feel like I have to put myself on display in order to change the narrative.

There’s this word in the Bible called shalom that Jesus used throughout his ministry which dates back to the O.G. Jewish days and I’m obsessed with it. Basically it means peace, but as a concept of ultimate balance and wholeness. When you spoke shalom over peoples’ lives, you were saying that you hope every aspect of their life is complete and no part is upstaging the other. It’s a powerful image of what humans were always created to be – enough by existing, resting in the fact that they have no reason to want because everything they need is just as it is: holy and good and loved. This also means you don’t have to PROVE yourself as valuable either. You just are.

Theologians, if I’ve gotten shalom all wrong please by all means correct me. And same for BoPo folks – I would love to learn if there’s an aspect of this movement that I’m not educated about! But even if I totally messed up the Hebrew or hashtag, I’m still sure that either way tells us we are created worthy enough for love at any state of being your body is in.

People shouldn’t have to feel like whispering to their inner circle if they want to make changes to their diets or their bodies – especially for the sake of physical or mental health. We all could benefit from the “good for you, not for me” mindset. But I also pray that your participation in another round of Whole 30 is a pursuit of wellness rather than an attempt to feel validated through something as trivial as a dress size.

Don’t diminish yourself and waste your life chasing an image that is anything less than what is true: that bodies are weird and different and beautiful, the media is the absolute worst measuring tape, and the sexiest quality a person can possess is their unapologetic willingness to be themselves.

Our existence is not measured by a number on a pair of jeans whether it’s on one side of the chart or another. You were made to occupy the place in the world that your body fills. Stretch out, breathe into the white space and fill it with gratitude. What’s really beautiful is what you do with the life you were given. I hope mine is marked more by how I loved rather than how much I was able to lose or show.

I’m speaking shalom over you – over the parts you worked hard for and the parts that someone told you aren’t there yet. My advice is to buy the dress. You know the one. Wear it out instead of letting it hang in your closet waiting for “good enough”. All of you is golden, even the hidden parts, and that dress is one little step into making your whole life a victory march. So wear the dress. And eat a damn cinnamon roll.

 

maintenance required.

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This light keeps flashing on my dashboard when I start my car. Even though I know it’s going to be there, I feel my stomach flip each time “Maint Req’d” clicks on & off. It’s a little less alarming than when “Check Engine” indefinitely lights up and makes you rethink skipping that last oil change, lest you want to shell out $500 to a man named Steve who apparently found eight other things wrong with your vehicle. Warning signs are never a fun surprise.

I’ve turned the key and watched this light blink a few times before turning off again. I tell myself everything is fine. It comes and it goes away and the car keeps running and I keep moving along. I’ve done my due diligence of Googling “Maintenance Required light on a 2005 CRV” and it’s not detrimental. Maybe a mileage trigger took place or an engine code is making this little light blink. Everything is Okay and yet I know that eventually I’m going to have to take this car in, get it checked out and shell out some dollars to fix whatever is going on. Otherwise Steve might be getting a more serious visit.

Isn’t it funny how we see all the warning signs and reminders of a breakdown but we keep going until it’s necessary? Until life literally can’t go on without some greasy hands working to clean out and rewire what’s under our hood?

Nostalgia is one of my favorite feelings. I love looking back and reminiscing on good times. Buzzfeed articles about toys & bands from the 90’s/early 2000’s are food for my soul and I will never get tired of a good Throwback playlist, especially if it has “Shoop” on there. Whenever a major anniversary comes up I want to celebrate it with Memory Lane and rainbow sprinkles. Looking back shows us where we came from and it’s always been an encouragement to me to keep the hope that there’s even more to come.

But sometimes a year goes by and I want to fast forward to the good part.

My personal “Maintenance Required” light has been blinking for twelve months. It blinked once in July 2016. It blinked a few times the following September. It came back on for awhile in November & December and really started to stick around in February. I ignored it and kept going. I drove around yelling the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album to drown out the light’s clicky reminder that my insides need to be checked out. And I thought I was doing a good job of faking Okay until this month when my “Check Engine” light signaled the Breakdown.

You know the Breakdown – your insides feel all spinny and for some reason you can’t quite point to what’s out of balance. You watch an episode of The Office and it makes you cry because you forgot how freaking EMOTIONAL this show is. You brave a new community alone for the 2nd month in a row and even though your brain rationalizes that all the good ones take time, your heart just wants to be known and it makes you a little sad. You try to keep your routine and find your footing but even all of the encouraging texts & love letters in the world can only point you to truth. They can’t force you to grab onto it.

For some reason I’ve felt more like a failure in almost every area of my life because of my choices throughout this year, especially in the areas that I hold closest like my faith and my relationships.

I don’t know where I got this measuring stick. I’m not failing – far from it – and according to a couple of my people I seem to be handling new pressures and challenges with grace. Maybe that’s because all of the midnight 1989 yell-sing sessions have lead me to perfect the art of Taylor Swifting it – appearing like you have it all together but secretly knowing that you’re probably unstable and a little psychotic due to your own self-destructive habits but it’s chill because at least I don’t sound insane (right?). Such is the life of an mid-20’s-year-old.

There’s a brand of Christianity who are pros at Swifting their way through life. Our sins stay on the surface and usually revolve around how prideful we are or how we could have done better by really being present with our camp cabin instead of sneaking away for a nap. They rarely circle around our love of sex or alcohol or anything that makes us feel a little less chaotic inside but still allow us to show up on Sunday with our collared shirts on & our hands held high. It’s a way to keep people at a distance so we don’t risk being found out: that we aren’t Okay, we constantly do what we know isn’t the best for us, and our favorite bands aren’t actually from Hillsong.

My prodigal heart is embarrassed to look my Jesus in the eye and say I tried and admit that I was given the world and I blew it on one too many shiny things that made me feel seen.  Honestly, my pride still doesn’t really want to do the long walk back home. I used to say I would never be “that person” because I suck and really just wanted to belong to some exclusive club where try-hards were rewarded for being the most liked and compared their holy merit badges. I want to point to great successes in the past and cover up the ways I messed up in the last year to justify my place at the table. But that person would just be a fictional character of who I am today. I’m invited to the party as long as I’m honest about which name is on the guest list.

Life with Jesus is more than a game of Simon Says to make you feel like you know what you’re doing. It’s not the feel of belonging in community, it doesn’t just happen on Sundays. It’s not choosing an occupation in ministry because having “pastor” in your title keeps you in check. It’s not raising your hands at the right times or tweeting out a bible verse or saying yes/no to things because you want to appear clean. It’s a Maintenance Required light reminding me that I’m in a constant process of breaking and being made whole again. Thank God, I’m still in process.

I’m still hopeful for what’s next. I’m still learning how much I need grace. I’m still thankful for the little community I have near and far who remind me who I am. I’m still standing and singing and I’m still so prone to wander. I feel it.

If you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, just know I’m there too. You’re not alone, but I think it’s time we come inside. Rumor has it there’s a party waiting for us and they even have rainbow sprinkles. Let’s go home.

 

everyone told me life was gonna be this way.

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Two years ago I was taking pictures in front of the fountain next to the friends who became family. We had just sat in rows of identical square hats, shook hands, and received an empty folder with a gold embossed logo on it. We hugged our people and thanked our professors. Later that evening we would all go to a concert in the park that our friends’ band was singing at. We danced and ate chips & salsa and no one mentioned the fact that everything was going to be different because in that moment, everything was good.

People kept warning me that the post-grad season is really hard as I prepared for my leap into the elusive “real world” two years ago. I hated that they were ruining my bright-eyed view of endless possibilities without a syllabus weighing me down. Post-grad might have been hard for them, but not for me. I belonged to community. I was a leader that people looked to for direction. I could do anything and the world was my oyster!

“During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists.”Rising Strong, my gal Brené (Brené Brown, that is. We’re not on a first name basis but I would like to think maybe someday we will be. We both were swimmers and have a tendency to cuss when we get riled up.) wrote this down and it has never hit closer to home than in these last two years.

During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. – Brené Brown

It took me one year post-grad to realize that things were different after being homesick for the way things were, and just like everyone said – it was really hard. It took me two years later to realize that life is still good. It will probably take me a lifetime to figure out how to keep standing when the tide comes back in or the winds change.

I’m trying not to use the word “season” because it feels too temporary. And honestly, I’m trying my best to not refer to my life stage now as “post-grad” because it keeps my eyes fixed on the rearview mirror rather than on the road ahead. But one of the hardest things about this post-grad season is the undoing of what was sure. I went from being someone who saw myself as an example to look to – who was decisive and knew exactly what she was doing and why – to being relatively anonymous, having little to no direction at any given point in time and having to rebuild who I am from the ground up.

This might say more about me and my self-absorbed tendencies to view myself as way cooler than I actually am than it does about life after graduation. But if someone knows when the label “post-grad” has an expiration date, let me know, because two years later I’m still feeling like I’m in my freshman year of life.

I wanted to be able to follow a formula for success: get a credible job, move to an actual city, move in with friends to the same apartment and live across the hall from one another, meet in a coffee house every day at lunch, yell “WE WERE ON A BREAK” when you mess up and your heart gets broken, watch Monica & Chandler get married… you know, the typical 20-something lifestyle.

My formula for moving on was a gap year lived in my college town and then plans to move home with my parents to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a barista in Portland. I kid you not, this was my big life plan for after college. Four years of tears and student loans and I am still so grateful that God dreams way bigger than I do. Today, my life looks completely different than how I would ever have imagined.

It’s like someone pulled all of the yarn out of my favorite sweater and handed it over for me to recreate without a pattern or directions. Granted, I’ve never knit anything in my life (sorry Grammie, I know you tried so hard to teach me but let’s be honest, I was never a crafting prodigy) and I don’t know why I’m starting with a sweater, but it’s a ton of guesswork. Maybe this long piece here will turn into a sleeve and the part up top kind of looks like a turtleneck and those are hip now so that’s good… but I’ve got a whole load of tangled yarn yet and I don’t know how to make it fit. It’s still good material, I just might end up with a scarf instead.

There isn’t a pattern for how to move on to what’s next after the undoing. The undoing isn’t a sequential step-by-step process but instead it’s more like poetry or jazz, having some kind of form but is punctuated with unexpected twists and new melodies that you have to learn to adapt to. You can’t mix and measure your way to a perfect transition, that would take all of the living out of it because transitions have to start with an end.

Grads, your life as you know it is ruined – which sounds extreme but is actually the most wonderful place to start. There’s this quote in the Bible of when Isaiah sees God for the first time. He falls down and yells “I am ruined!” because he has seen something so beautiful and OTHER THAN that he can never live life the same way as before he witnessed it.

That’s what the undoing is like: a holy destruction of life as you know it, then making something beautiful out of all of it’s parts and pieces.

I hope you grieve the end because of how sweet those late nights and long weekends were. I hope you remember the magic of making your own community for the first time. I hope you bring with you the lessons learned and that you don’t forget how special of an opportunity it was to participate in higher education. And I hope that you always laugh at movies like Nacho Libre and never grow tired of finding a new taco truck on a street corner.

I also hope that you don’t try to shove these unique experiences into wherever you are next. The last 4-5 years were one of a kind. Any attempt at replicating them is just a cheap knock-off of the real thing that will leave you frustrated that you can’t recreate the original. Except for the Nacho Libre part because that movie is hilarious no matter what.

So be patient with yourself. Let yourself feel all of the emotions – the relief of being done with something you worked so hard for, the excitement of new possibility, the worry of not having a next step, the sadness of watching your people move to new places, the anger that happens when things don’t go your way, the loneliness that comes during the process of building new community, and the hope that comes from knowing that tomorrow will be better.

Welcome to the world, I can’t wait to see what you make.

the truth about staying.

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“You might be part pitbull.” He said. To my manager, this is the ultimate compliment. It means that in his eyes, I don’t give up.

If he only knew that I am queen of the 3-month relationship, have quit more fad workout regimens than I can count on two hands, and frequently skip songs on Spotify once they get through the chorus, he might have said something different. But this compliment was proof to me that I’m growing up.

My fight or flight reflex is heavily weighted towards flight. When things get hard, I run. It’s embarrassing that my willingness to quit something for the sake of my own comfort has often defeated my will to fight back. In light of the world around me, I prayed for this to change. Comfort is just another form of oppression for those who don’t have the privilege to live without conflict. And I’m learning that seeing someone, truly seeing them, is the key to love – which is the ultimate fight.

Lately I’ve admired the fighters who always seemed to be running down the next thing in their way. They were constantly moving, constantly chasing, always finding the next challenge they could take on to bring about justice or create good.

I used to think choosing adventure and movement was more courageous. Like the ones who made the big move to a brand new city every few years instead of choosing to live in the same town they grew up in were somehow stronger.

All of that fighting the next fight is just another way to avoid finishing the job. During the fight, things get messy. It doesn’t always go your way and you might end up face down after throwing a punch or five. But if you move on to find a different fight in hopes that you’ll automatically be victorious, isn’t that just the same as the ones who run away at the first sign of trouble?

I don’t want to come off like I have it all figured out in my relationship with God, but I think He values staying a lot more than I do. He seems to say “Stay. Wait. Be Still. Watch.” to me far more often than he says, “Move. Go. Fight. Take up your sword.”

It’s like I’ve got these God-sized dreams and instead of sprinting after them I’m supposed to choose a neighborhood and buy a Costco membership. It’s uncomfortable and seems weird and all I want to do is move to the city where I feel like I can hustle my dreams into reality, but it was never about me and my ability. It was always always always about how God chose to stay with me even when I don’t deserve it.

Staying is hard, especially for the dreamers. It’s risky because it may mean that your community might see you when you’re weak. You might even look like you’re failing. I keep running because I’m trying to save face. I don’t want to need people. I don’t want to need God. My stubborn, flighty self wants to keep running and prove that I’m enough to myself and the rest of the watching world. But I’m only human.

Staying is where the good stuff happens. It’s how you plant the deep roots that keep you grounded. It’s where the growing up happens and even though it doesn’t get easier, it becomes familiar. Staying builds your grit muscles and teaches you how to keep standing, even when you find your knees scraped and knuckles bruised. Even when every bone in your body is telling you to move on or risk being found out.

Maybe the braver choice is staying. Maybe it takes a lot more courage to face the uncomfortable, disappointing and confusing middle and see it through to end. Maybe communities are more affected by the ones that keep showing up rather than the ones who make a big splash and leave soon after. Maybe we all need to stay.

So make a promise to yourself to tough it through the uncomfortable middle. Keep a white-knuckle grip on the place you’re at. Tattoo the word on your ribs if you have to. Whether you’re in transition or facing conflict or just seem to find yourself knocked down, keep standing. Your heart will thank you for learning to stay.