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.

 

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the key to resilience

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“When Life hands you lemons, make lemonade!”

Why is Life giving me lemons? It’s February and lemonade doesn’t make sense, making that saying null. Sometimes I want to throw those lemons right back at Life. Life, take back your lemons, I don’t want them! You can’t even do much with lemons anyway!

Then Life is all “No take-backs!” and I’m stuck with these freaking lemons.

This season has been a doozy for me. Nothing particularly heartbreaking or life-altering has happened, but little things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to have been piling up and eating my insides. It’s easy to let this spill over into 90% of conversations I have:

“I just need to vent for a second.”

At every little defeat I have been throwing myself a pity party and I wanted everyone else to join in with me. I’m all for lending a listening ear, but I received an attitude check the other day when I was “venting” to a friend. I realized that I was not speaking life-giving words. My heart was bitter, my joy was diminished, and I didn’t feel any better after my vent-sesh because nothing was actually different. All of this whining left a gross aftertaste in my mouth, which usually means I should start praying.

And get my hands on some Orbit.

My generation has this stigma where everyone is allowed to whine about their life on social media if any part of it is not what the world told us we should expect. Humor is sarcastic and opinions are critical instead of constructive. All of this hostility is not becoming of us, Millennials. We look like a bunch of Pig Pens from the Peanuts walking around with a dusty cloud of negativity that infects everything we touch. Posting on social media about how much your day sucks over mine doesn’t change the situation we’re in, it just makes us look grimy.

Whether I vent to a friend or on social media, asking others to validate my problems is just another form of complaining.

And complainers are annoying. We all know them, too – they’re the people where when you ask “How are you?” they  respond with everything going wrong in their life. Complainers are joy-suckers. They magnify their own life’s little tragedies over seeking joy in ALL circumstances. It’s selfish, really. Complaining isn’t something we were made to do, and yet we default to it so easily whenever things go wrong.

This doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to feel sad or frustrated by life’s circumstances. I also think it’s important for healthy, honest sharing to happen within communities about where people are at spiritually – and that might include some parts that aren’t all shiny and happy. But there is a way to still be resilient by recognizing that things don’t always go the way we want them to and still choosing to walk forward.

Resilience has much less to do with my feelings and much more to do with my choices. Resilience is choosing joy, despite circumstance.

Choosing joy in a sucky circumstance is simple: you create it.

God is a fixer. A redeemer. A healer. A re-arranger of sorts. God is making – it’s a process, people! – ALL things new.

Creating is the exact opposite of complaining. When someone creates, they are proactively not being ok with the present state of things and have chosen to change it into something different. Creating ushers in newness and wipes away the grimy layer of negativity, defeat, and even apathy about the way things currently are. When I create, I feel satisfied and full because that’s what I am made to do: to make and fill and subdue this earth.

You don’t have to be an artist or a musician to create. You can enjoy the process of making anything – whether that’s writing a poem, arranging flowers, coding something fun, forging a new trail on a run, or cooking really bomb enchiladas. Exercising your creative muscle is less about the outcome and more about the healing process of making something new out of what you have now.

For the past two weeks, every time I felt that little swell of “woe is me” rising up, I chose differently. I cooked a meal. I tried a new hair style. I lettered a verse for a friend. I learned a new dance and sang a new song and I haven’t once felt like moping, even on the especially gray days.

It’s hard to throw a pity party when you’re in the process of creating something different. So next time if Life hands me lemons, I could whine about how annoying they are and how I can’t even do much with lemons… or I could squeeze the crap out of them make something useful. If I don’t have sugar for lemonade, the least I could do is make a salad dressing.

 

go to Alaska & feel really small.

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I read once that great writers have daily writing rituals. They write in the same spot, at the same time, with the same cup of coffee in their favorite mug and are able to create deliberate and meaningful stories.

I’m writing this blog post from airport rocking chairs, airplanes, and charter busses. It is not stationary. It is not methodical or disciplined. But it is on purpose. So I’ll sit here and frantically thumb (I would say pen, but that’s not the reality of typing 1200 words on your iPhone) out what I think needs to be said before it disappears.


I used to hate feeling small.

All throughout elementary school, all I ever wanted was to be in the second row of the bleachers for school picture day. But every year I was always the third shortest in my class and my dreams of being in the second row were postponed until the next growth spurt. Being small meant I was seen as cute instead of capable. It was a constant fight to be seen, heard, and taken seriously. Maybe that’s because I was a girl rather than just small and often passed over, but that’s a whole different conversation. Basically, I have spent the majority of my life trying to never be small, because being small is scary. It meant I didn’t have power or safety or control.

Now, the word small takes on a different connotation. It means beautiful, desirable, and feminine. There’s a different kind of frustration wrapped up in the word because this kind of small is so darn relative. One day, average Emily will feel quite small and dainty and wanted. The next day, average Emily will feel like a clunky, repulsive giant who drags her knuckles and bumps into every corner in her living room. Real graceful, I know.

I don’t think I’m the only woman who struggles with desiring to be “small” in our culture. So many women I know expend countless hours of time and energy making themselves smaller in an effort to feel beautiful. I could go on and on about women’s equality (one of my absolute favorite topics) in the home, in the church, and in the workplace but I’ll just end this discussion of the word small with this thought:

Women have tried for many years to gain the same respect and opportunities as men and yet we still feel we have to diminish ourselves – whether that is physically or with what types of words we use and say.

We are still under the stigma to be small, and I don’t like it.

I hated the word small, and then I visited a place where the only logical feeling that made sense was “small”.

Juneau, Alaska is described as America’s most beautiful capital city, and that’s being modest. All throughout university I had friends travel here for the summer to drive tour busses or fish, each one of them raving about Juneau’s amazing views but me never fully believing them. People tend to embellish. Recently, I had a friend move to Juneau and we always joked about how I should take a mini-vacation away sometime. I guess this just shows that I have no shame in accepting these kinds of offers, but I bought myself a ticket and flew out to Alaska shortly afterward. I mean, who goes to Alaska in November? This gal! I could pretend that I went because I wanted to find answers or whatever, but really I went because I love traveling, I missed my friend, and I wanted to see snow.

I did need a weekend away though. One if the reasons I left is because Bellingham started to feel small, and we all know how much I despise that feeling. It felt constricting and it made me sad that it’s so cold and there’s no snow. So I bought a plane ticket.

The minute the plane landed my breath was taken away. If Juneau is beautiful in the summer, imagine how stunning this little town nestled in the mountains is with snow falling. My heart exploded from the beauty and grace that surrounded me. It was the most gorgeous image of solitude and so I did what any introvert would do – I cozied up in my friend’s apartment with a book and I fell asleep shortly after, content to just sit and stare out the window until I fell asleep.

I pretty much did this all weekend and it was the best.

God knows what we need. A few days later, we needed the sun to come out and glory! It did. Those mountains were practically begging us to spend time with them and this PNW girl was not complaining about it.

On Sunday during a break in the weather we hopped in the car and took off to discover. Everything was beautiful and clean and wild. Juneau is full of colors – bright turquoise and soft purples and sturdy browns. I had no words for Mendenhall glacier or the little island-shine we visited, only squeals of delight and the occasional “Oh my gosh just look at it!”

Being surrounded by the grandeur of Juneau’s mountains made me feel small again, but this was a new kind of small. I had only experienced a fraction of this kind of smallness before, often in solitary places when I pray. This sense of smallness was safe and seen. It was as if only God knew exactly where I was at that point in time. That kind of seclusion helped me silence the loud opinions this world chokes me with and to hear the small voice of Truth. That kind of small put me in right relation with a God whose majesty goes far beyond Alaskan mountains. It was gentle and humble and good.

For so long I fought smallness because it felt vulnerable and weak. I came at life on the offense, arms swinging in a desperate attempt to be bigger and be seen saying “Look at what I can do! Look at what I can achieve despite my smallness! Don’t I have worth? Am I valuable yet?”

God kneeled down to me in those mountains in an intimate, unseen, small moment and told me to stand down. To put my blazing guns away and stop letting the world name me anything else than what He already established at the beginning. God looked at me and called me “Beloved”.

“Here is My servant, whom I have chosen, My beloved, in whom My soul delights.” // Matthew 12:18

So now here I am, sitting small on a charter bus repeating my name to myself over and over until it sounds true – Beloved, Beloved, Beloved. Now I’m forever searching for the places that make me feel small.

hurry up and wait.

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One of my favorite jobs in college was working on my university’s catering team as a server for one summer. Not only did my coworkers rock, but in catering you got to go to all of the fancy alumni parties off campus and when those fancy alumni parties were over you got to eat the leftover fancy food. For a cheap college student, this translated into lunch for the next week which was a miracle in and of itself.

Serving teaches you a lot. For example, it’s true that the best test of a good judge of character is how well the person treats their wait staff. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a starting point: 1) tip them well, 2) call them by their name, and 3) be a kind person. Seriously, if you want to know if you’re dating a keeper, take them out to dinner and see if they are nice to their waiter/waitress. You can thank me later.

Other things I learned catering/serving are how to work on a team, the importance of making friends in your workplace – shoutout to the cooks who would sneak me snacks when I worked weird hours and had been starving since 7am – and how to be humble, gracious, and smile even though your feet are killing you. All essential life skills.

One of the sayings we used to encompass what we did on the catering team was “Hurry up and wait.” It means exactly what it says: hustle to get all of your preparation for the next thing done but don’t do anything too hastily, because Table 7 is still working on their appetizer and you don’t want to ruin their experience by rushing them.

Right now, I’m hurrying up and waiting.

Life post-grad speeds up and slows down all at once. I graduated in June 2015, I blinked, and Christmas decorations are being put up in the supermarkets. Time seems to be moving at an exponential rate with every year gone by (cue Keith Urban here). Life doesn’t move at 3-month or 4-year intervals anymore, and routine can make the days seem less like an adventure. There hasn’t been much change in my life since June, when normally by September there would be a completely different daily routine for me to navigate. For a change-junkie like myself, this was really rough to adjust to.

I believe that if you don’t like where you are, then you should change it (just another example of my change addiction). I once chopped off 9-inches off my hair just because I didn’t like where my life was headed and I somehow felt like this would fix it, but that’s a good story for another time.

Feeling stagnant and lame made me crave newness. I didn’t know what that meant, but I just felt in my heart of hearts that I should seek a new season whatever that may be.

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” // Revelation 21:5

I’m hurrying up because I know that God’s promises are true. The things that He has coming for me – a hope and a future – seem so near, like they’re right around the corner I just can’t touch them yet. It feels like there are so many preparations that need to get done before those things happen.

There is hurry in my life because I know that time moves faster and faster every day and I have a glimpse of what is to come. My natural tendency is to work work work until all of the details are figured out, but that’s not how God works. God works patiently and meticulously, not knowing the exact steps but knowing where He’s going. He is painfully patient and waits for me to catch on. So I will wait, too.

I know that has been promised to me will come faster than I ever anticipated and I want to be grateful for where God has me today. He has me here in my little college town, living with the best roommates a gal could ask for, and is telling me to just breathe for a bit. Rushing to the next season only takes away from experiencing the moments happening right now. Rest is such a gift and even though this season seems stagnant, there are so many things to be thankful for and find peace in.

Patience is hard for me, but I’m learning to stop and hold on to the “now” rather than trying to see the “almost”.