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How Long Will It Last?

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Last Monday night, I found myself walking around downtown Chicago a bit aimlessly.  I had accomplished all I had set out to do, but I didn’t want to get back on the train and make my way home just yet. The city was buzzing with energy as people were out walking their dogs, taking leisurely strolls arm in arm, and jogging, all in their spring clothes. I stayed out until the sun went down and then hopped onto the train to make my way back home.  I’m glad I soaked in those warm sunny moments because by Tuesday the temperature had dropped and by Wednesday Chicago was hit with yet another layer of snow.

 

Seasons are funny. Though the calendar gives us an approximation of how long they will last, ultimately neither the groundhog nor the meteorologist can give us a true picture of what to expect day to day, week to week, or month to month. Until we are fully experiencing it firsthand, there is simply no telling how short or how long it will be. Some seasons, like this winter in the Midwest for instance, seem unending. Despite the promise of spring that comes from our experience in years past, it is easy to feel as though these cold temperatures will last forever.

 

I thought my time in Chicago would last forever. If you had asked me two years ago, I would tell you I never intended to leave. Enchanted by the sights and sounds of the city, I couldn’t fathom deserting the place I had come to know as my home, where I had come into my own. Even now, I could hardly imagine a more magical place to live.  Growing into my adulthood here in this beautiful, diverse, urban area has been my dream.  I can’t imagine wanting to have spent the last 9 years anywhere else. But no matter how much I love this city, it couldn’t be more abundantly clear that it is time to go. My excitement for Chicago will never dwindle, but my calling and desire to stay has.

 

Friends are a lot like family, but friends are not and will never be family. Friendships won’t always last forever; there are too many variables. Proximity, stage of life, and busyness all factor into the state of our relationships. Those we perceived would be there through all the do or die moments can get to the point where they can’t even muster up a text or a call. It only takes a few moves, the births of a couple of babies, and an argument or two and suddenly that thing we thought we’d be holding onto until the end is barely hanging by a thread. Don’t get me wrong; I still have a stronger belief in friendship than just about anyone else you have ever met. Faith and commitment in friendship can still forge a bond that can last if given enough care and attention, but how many friendships like that will we ever even experience in our lives? One, maybe two, five to ten if we are lucky? I’m so fortunate to have formed a couple of such bonds during my time in Chicago. You can believe me. I am in no hurry to let them die, but these are the bonds that will remain whether I stay or go.

 

I’ve always been an adventurer. Fear at times can hold me back, but I am really the most invigorated when I am doing something new and exciting. Trying new restaurants, seeing new movies, learning new information… Without a novel challenge, it is hard for me to stay motivated. I’ve had a magnificent adventure in Chicago, but I can see now that if I stay, fear would be the only thing keeping me here. Sure, I’m still afraid I won’t find a fulfilling job, make new friends, or feel the sense of home I have developed here over the years. For some people those things might be enough to not make a move, but when I get scared, I just think of sunshine, surf and my sister and suddenly I am not so scared anymore. Every move we make or don’t make requires a sacrifice. Though we have so often been told we can have it all, our mortality reminds us that we can’t and we must make a choice. I’ve sacrificed much to stay in the city that I love and now I am ready to sacrifice the city that I love for a sister I love far more.

 

I will miss the spanakopita from Artopolis and the cupcakes from Molly’s, the view of the skyline on a nighttime ride on Lake Shore Drive, and the way the city comes alive in the summertime. More than all that, I will miss the friends I have made along the way, the church I have come to love where I began and will now end my journey in Chicago, and the spirit of freedom, independence, and confidence I gained while walking up and down the city streets flooded with music and artwork. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart, but fortunately for me, I have a heart big enough to hold several places and faces, friends and memories. I know I’ll shed tears when I go, but that is far better than the regret I will feel if I stay.

 

This season hasn’t been as long as I anticipated it would be, but year after year I keep finding almost nothing is as I anticipate it will be. I am daily surprised, but confident that my future can already been seen by the One who never is…

Business or Pleasure?

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This evening I made my last trip of the semester downtown for supervision. I can’t say I was sad to see it end either. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride, that fortunately ended on a high note. My biggest challenge… Letting the doctoral student I was assigned to help me grow as a human being. Week after week, I would go to supervision wanting to talk about a challenging case, learn new interventions, or gain insight on how to improve my counseling skills. However, my supervisor and I couldn’t have been more out of sync. When she zigged, I zagged. Every time I tried to talk about a client, she did everything in her power to make sure I talked about myself. How did supervision feel? How did our process in supervision parallel/mirror my work with clients? Why was it so difficult for me to receive personal feedback?

I work in a strange profession. The personal and the professional are often blurred. At my last job, coworkers became like family. Throughout my time as an RD, I have discovered I do the most powerful work with students when I “get real,” show them vulnerability, and come to our interactions with a posture of humility.  Despite the crucial role being relational has played, my job requires an insane amount of balance. Getting too personal or informal and losing the professional edge will be the downfall of any RD. Without the personal/professional balance students will either see you as a cold-hearted machine or a fellow student who can’t be respected. Both are catastrophic. Though I have hardly perfected it, I have come to pride myself in walking this tightrope at work. Transforming into a counselor has posed its own set of challenges as I attempt to maintain that personable, empathic vibe while not making my work with clients all about me while falling into a trap of self-disclosure.

My work in supervision, with clients, and in higher education has sparked a recurring conversation across all the settings I find myself in the recent months. The conversation goes a little something like this… Is it possible to be great at your job, but be a horrible person, or an incredible person who is awful at their job? To this I have been offering a resounding YES! It happens all the time! We’ve all heard stories of the supervisor, coworker, or assistant who we wouldn’t want to spend a second with outside of work, but we have to acknowledge he or she gets things done on the job. We’ve also experienced the inverse, thinking to ourselves, “I might really enjoy your company if I didn’t have to work with you.” In fact, we probably confront these scenarios more often than we’d like. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, kind people are not magically blessed with competence.

While I will argue to the death about the fact that being mean shouldn’t disqualify you from certain jobs any more than being friendly should get you the job of your dreams, that downtown, doctoral student may have made a larger impact on me than I’d like to admit. We aren’t fragmented people. Work leaks into our relationships with friends and family while our personal life trickles back down into our work. Particularly in the helping professions, business vs. pleasure get cloudy. Caring people are often promoted just by sticking around long enough to woo the right people and other times when mistakes are made and a relationship is fractured whether inside or outside of the work environment, the ripples that follow are far easier to feel among coworkers.

I want to work hard and be seen as capable and competent in the work environment and I want to be seen as a kind and caring person at home. I don’t want the fight I got into with a friend to impact my work any more than I want the mistake I made on paperwork in the professional environment to infiltrate my personal relationships, but it isn’t always that easy. We pack home into our lunchbox and make our way to work each morning and stuff our professions into our coat pockets before heading back home. If we’re honest, we have to admit that hating our job has a tangible effect on our happiness and stress at home makes our heads spin at work. Our personal stories help shape our professional narratives and vice versa.

True balance will never be achieved. When we grow as a human beings, we grow as daughters and sons just as much as we grow as bosses and assistants. People were created to be workers, pouring their life and heart and passion into their vocations almost as forcefully as into family and friends. How else would productivity and a job well-done be one of the best ways to boost self-esteem? My hope is that I’ll rest in that reminder as I seek to let work and home make me lighter somehow, rather than bogging me down. All the while, striving to be better person and a better professional…

Can You Change?

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Probably one of the most overused quotes on the internet and in life in general is one often attributed to Theodore Geisel, or rather Dr. Seuss.  Though the true origins of the quote are uncertain, the most popular version goes a little something like this: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”  Anyone who knows anything about me is probably fully aware that I am one of the biggest proponents of “being yourself.” However, anyone who knows anything about me is also painfully aware that I have a terrible habit of overanalyzing every little thing and there’s just something about that quote now (though as a teenager I remember liking it just fine) that doesn’t sit well with me. 

 

From the moment I was born, I always knew what I liked and didn’t like, what I wanted and didn’t want, and who I enjoyed and did not enjoy.  My mother has always told me stories about when I was a baby and I would allow very specific people to hold me.  Some, like my nana, would be able to snuggle me tight for hours, and others, though equally kind and loving would cause me to wail.  It wasn’t just a baby phase either.  I distinctly remember times as a child I would gravitate to some people because I like the way they smelled, the sound of their voice, the softness of their skin.  Then there was the issue of clothes.  I’m sure my mother had absolutely no idea toddlers were capable of being particular about fashion, but I was about as picky as they come.  Fabric had to feel a certain way, a belt only felt right when cinched as tightly as possible, shoes had to be comfy, and I liked things bright and beautiful.   I never had any trouble expressing myself either, which made it much easier for those around me to get a sense of what I wanted or needed, but also created some awkward moments for my family I am sure. “TACT! TACT!” A warning I heard frequently from my mom. It was easy for me to tell people off, tell them exactly what bothered me about them, comment on their sense of style (or lack there of), or explain to them precisely why they were wrong and why their point of view was stupid.  Unfortunately, that child often didn’t have a whole lot of regard for whether or not her words were hurting others, and she couldn’t understand why anyone had a right to get mad at her for simply being honest, speaking the words everyone else was thinking anyway and telling the truth.  I understand tact much better now, but it still isn’t always my forte.  My words are both my largest asset and my worst enemy, used to give voice to the unheard one minute and tear down someone I love the next. 

 

Can people change? I mean really, really change? Are we all just old dogs from the very beginning, incapable of learning new tricks?  As a counselor, I have to believe in change or my work would have no meaning.  The simple philosophy of “you made your bed now go lie in it” may work (and I’m using the term “work” incredibly loosely) in my personal life, but it has no place on the therapy couch.  There, every day is a new day, poor choices have consequences, but don’t have to destroy us, and old patterns can be broken.  As a woman of faith, I also have to believe people can change.  The story of redemption would be incomplete if it didn’t have an impact on our day-to-day living.  Being shaped and transformed is a crucial part of the journey.

 

Let’s get back to that quote.  “Be who you are”… But what if who you are is spiteful and ugly?  “Say what you feel”… But what if what you have to say is cruel and insensitive? “Because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”… So is that saying the best hope I have for the people I surround myself with is they are “kind” enough to keep their mouths shut, minding their own business while I stomp around being my tactless, negative self? 

 

I would like to make the case that those who matter should actually mind the most what we are expressing and who we are becoming.  If not for people in my life who stopped me in my tracks after I said or did something foolish, I don’t know where I would be.  Without my mother empowering me to use my gift of words for good, I might still be out there shouting absurd insults to every passerby.  I’m permanently flawed though.  The times I have used my strengths for evil are without number.  I still have a lot of changing left to do.  Hopefully, not too much changing though.  I was created just the way I am for a purpose and I am not about to hide what makes me “me” just because I slip up and get it wrong sometimes.  I hope you won’t either.  I also hope you are blessed enough to be surrounded by people who know just how extraordinary you can be and encourage you to grow and change so you don’t have to remain a rip off of your true self.  

 

And being the cheerleader of “being you” that I am, I’d like to leave you a more meaningful, thoughtful, and powerful quote with a fully traceable origin from another man children adore.

 

“Nobody else can live the life you live. And even though no human being is perfect, we always have the chance to bring what’s unique about us to live in a redeeming way.”

            -Fred Rogers

What Time Is It?

I’ve fallen into this terrible trap lately. When I finish working at about 9:30pm, instead of writing, working out, reading or getting things done around my apartment, I park myself on my couch, open some mindless, rubbish, time-waster like Pinterest or Buzzfeed on my laptop, grab the remote and turn on The Big Bang Theory or Law and Order SVU and sit in an empty, technological stupor until it is time for bed. It doesn’t seem like I have much energy for anything else. I feel guilty about it, but after pouring emotional energy into people all day, sometimes a phone call or a text seems beyond my mental capacity. Even as I write this, I am frustrated because I know I could write something better if I just wasn’t so tired…

 

This week is fall break at school. Since I am not taking classes this year, the break doesn’t really mean much for me. However, it did mean the time I usually spend taking the train downtown and back and sitting in supervision on Monday evenings could be spent on activities of my choosing. For me, a free weeknight is about as elusive as Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster and will remain so until May. I’m currently working approximately sixty hours a week, so weekday leisure activities are almost entirely out of the question. In fact, I used my evening off to take a trip to the dentist and the chiropractor and get some laundry done, which at one point in my life may have seemed like necessities, but in the midst of my busy schedule, almost feel like luxuries.

 

Time is a strange thing. I remember feeling like things took forever when I was a kid. There has always been a running joke in my family that whenever you asked my mom how long it would be until dinner was ready, the answer was always twenty minutes. It didn’t matter if she was making black beans and rice or beef stroganoff or if the water had just begun to boil or the soup was boiling over, the answer was always the same. Quite frankly, I don’t know why we bothered to continue asking. I do know that twenty minutes seemed like a lifetime. Now, it doesn’t seem like any time at all. It isn’t long enough to respond to all the e-mails in my work inbox, or see a client at my internship, or have a meeting with a student. It isn’t even enough time to do one of my favorite Jillian Michaels’ workout DVDs. I miss playing monopoly, watching a movie from start to finish and grabbing coffee with a friend midweek. I wish I could take the time to send thoughtful texts and e-mails to those I love, plan fun get-togethers and trips, and write high quality blog posts, and reflections, but there simply isn’t enough time.

 

But then… I there seems to be too much time. I am exhausted and even when weeks seem to be rushing by, I still can’t get them to go fast enough. It’s Monday and I wish it was the weekend, it’s October and I wish it was summer break, this time of growth and learning is just beginning and I wish it were wrapping up. I want to find the fast forward button and be on the other side of this thinking, “Phew, that was crazy, but it’s over and I made it!”

 

But here I am living out a Monday in early October wondering how to enjoy the time that I have when I don’t often have the time to do what want. While it might be easier in some ways to shut out the world and power through, fulfilling my responsibilities, but never taking the time to appreciate them, it turns my stomach to think about how much I might miss if I did. But then again, when I truly think about everything that needs to be done, I get overwhelmed and start to convince myself there is no way I can continue to do it all well. Is it possible to be a good friend, daughter, sister, resident director, and counselor all at the same time or can you only pick a couple to excel at and then leave the rest for a slower season? How does one take time to breathe, when there is barely enough time to sleep?

 

Well, my friends, I have no idea, but here I am turning off the TV long enough to write a sloppy blog post anyway. Though they are not as long or meaningful as they were before, you just might still get a phone call or text at a random time, hours, days, or even weeks after you made an attempt to touch base with me. In between sending work e-mails and trekking up to the sixth floor of my Res Hall to get clothes out of the dryer, I even made a batch of my favorite dark chocolate, whole wheat, pumpkin muffins sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar. That’s because there is no fast forward button. It may still be October, and still be Monday, and I may be tired and spread too thin, but I’m not giving up. This time is precious and I want to be able to look back and be proud of how I used it no matter how fast or slow it may have seemed to go and even if it takes some lazy nights watching NCIS to get me through.

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What Would I Do Without You?

My mother tells me that when I was little and someone I really liked, but didn’t get to see often would show up at the house for a visit, the first words out of my mouth would be, “When are you leaving?” My parents would have to quickly apologize to our guests, explaining that I was not trying to be rude, but rather I had to be aware of how long they were staying so that I could brace myself for when It would be time for them to go. As I have mentioned before, goodbyes have always been hard for me. I like to make them as quick and painless as possible and a fourteen-hour roadtrip to Indiana is as long and painful as goodbyes get.

It was August 2003 and my mother, father, cousin, sister and I had all piled into my mom’s white SUV to take a trip halfway across the country. My sister had just graduated from high school a couple months earlier and the day I was dreading had arrived. It was time to say farewell to the most precious thing in my life. I tried to think of every single possible way to weasel out of making the long trek to drop her off at college, but my parents weren’t budging. I was going on that trip whether I liked it or not. And believe me, I did NOT like it. 

After saying our last words and giving our last hugs, we got back into that SUV with one less person and a lot less stuff and I cried until I wasn’t sure I could cry anymore. Then, I picked a fight with my father. We fought all the way through Ohio. My poor cousin had to mediate. Being angry for a few hours made me feel a little less sad for a while. When I got back home and went to my room, I discovered a CD and a letter waiting for me. My sister was half a country away and she was still taking care of me. In that letter was everything I needed to hear and the CD contained many important songs from our childhood together.

Anyone who doesn’t know my sister is missing out. Everyday, I wonder how it is possible for someone to be so intelligent, beautiful, funny, kind, hopeful, and generous. You should hear the things her friends and coworkers say about her when she isn’t even around to hear them. The stories of how she has loved and encouraged so many are innumerable. I have stories of my own, too. Times I was being a bratty, baby sister and she gave me grace I didn’t deserve, plane tickets she bought to come see me in Chicago or for me to go see her in California during seasons I wasn’t doing well, telephone calls where I talk her ear off and she always listens and never has a harsh word to say, and so many more experiences that would require I write for days to name them all. Alexandra is magic and everyone who gets within a few feet of her knows it.

There is a bond that siblings have that no one else can match. The amount of history shared, the understanding of background and family, the defining childhood moments… Siblings see it all. Even if you aren’t getting along, the reason brothers and sisters can trouble you so much is they know you well enough to hit you where it really hurts. Who else knows all about your parents’ quirks or remembers each of your former pets’ names? My sister was the only one (and most likely always will be) who ever understood what it was like to be a mixed girl growing up in Maine. As close as some of my friends I have made in recent years are, no one will ever grasp as well as she does how great a transformation I have made from an anxious child terrified of rejection to the confident, clear-headed woman I am capable of being today. I owe so much to her and my hope is over time I’ll slowly be able to pay her back.

Today my big sister turns 29. I am thankful for the times we have had together both happy and sad. I’m amazed by her strength and I couldn’t be more proud of all she has accomplished. I understand that not everyone has a sibling like mine and the relationship I have with my sister isn’t easy to come by. But if you have a sibling and there is something you can do today to make sure you have the chance at getting even a fraction of what we have, do it. Life is too short and sisters and brothers are too important to lose. Pick up the phone, a pen, or your laptop and make that first move. Reminisce, tell them how much you love them, swap a funny story, or ask for some advice. Whatever you do, don’t pass up the chance to grow closer to the person who can “get” pieces of you no one else ever will.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful sister. I love and treasure you. Every moment we have together is a joy and I look forward to a lifetime of memories I wouldn’t want to make with anyone else. Cheers!

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When will I feel better?

Paulo Coelho once said 

“Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it—just as we have learned to live with storms.”

It’s hard to remember a time I wasn’t terrified, a time I wasn’t worried about every little thing, a time when even something minor couldn’t send me into a tailspin. I just think it’s in my nature. I’ve always been naturally nervous, anxious, frightened that at any moment I could fall off the edge. Fortunately, only a few people have had to witness me in my lowest moments when I have been imprisoned in the darkness of my mind, I have lost the key for a time and it seems there may be no way out. I am no stranger to feeling sad for days on end and not being sure quite why or crying an endless pool of tears and feeling convinced they might never stop. I’m used to being overcome by a sense of panic or dread when one tiny, but oh so important (at least to me) thing feels out of place or a plan goes awry. 

I’m sure one of the reasons I can write so freely about these feelings right now is because, at least for the time being, I am not in that place. However, what is crazy about being me, or at least someone like me, that dark place is never too far away. And as if there wasn’t enough to fear, I also feel quite scared that right around the corner one of those times is waiting to creep up on me and again I will be caught feeling worthless, hopeless, like I’m drowning and can’t come up for air. 

All throughout my life, I was always afraid to tell people about how I was feeling. I thought they might think I was insane, or be worried I wasn’t safe, or think I was looking for pity and attention. Being a counselor in training, it seems silly that I would buy into the stigma associated with “mental illness,” but alas in the midst of my toughest times, all my training seems to go out the window. 

There is one thing though that turns things around for me time and time again: it’s the power of presence. When someone hears me and looks at me and tells me it is normal to be sad sometimes, that I’m not crazy for hurting, that I am loved and though there is no way to know how long the pain will last, it won’t last forever, that’s when I can see the sadness, the anxiety for what it is… a season, a spell, a storm to be weathered with others rather than needlessly alone. 

Funny thing is, in times when have I shared my experience with those willing to offer me presence, I was able to offer some presence of my own. As I have opened up about my story, others have chimed in with their similar stories or breathed deep sighs of relief in finally realizing they are not alone. Slowly, I have learned you can be strong while sad, intelligent while anxious, and capable and competent while overwhelmed. 

Life ebbs and flows. There are good days and bad days. I am now at peace with the reality that I have many days to come that seem so good that the bad is all forgotten and many bad days to come that are so bad that it feels as though a good day may never come again. I know who to call when I am feeling down and out (my beloved biological sister, my precious Lord, and nonbiological brothers and sisters who understand my battle) and I know what to avoid (loud/crowded spaces, people who don’t keep their plans, and small talk). I’m thrilled that no matter what stage or state I am in, I will always be able to offer the gift of presence to comrades and clients alike. 

I think Paulo had it right; we do need to learn to live with anxiety/storms. I’m just glad that the next time I see those dark clouds closing in, I don’t feel the need to fight them on my own anymore.

Cupcakes

When I was in California last month, my sister introduced me to “My Fitness Pal,” a new app for my phone. I resisted purchasing the app while visiting my sister despite her encouragement because I didn’t want its initial use to be skewed by my poor diet while on vacation. The minute I got home, however, “My Fitness Pal” was up and running. Though I’m only three weeks in, I love that little thing. No matter where I am, I can document what I am eating or exercise that I’ve done and it’s fun for me, like some bizarre sort of game. As much as I am enjoying my newly discovered toy, I feel the need to be very careful.

Weight has always been a tricky topic for me. Unfortunately (though probably not all that uncommon), my life has been filled with people very dear to me that have struggled with issues of eating. Though some went out of their way not to eat as they obsessed over every crumb entering their mouths and others ate everything in sight, all had an impact on me and how I saw food and myself. In fact, there was a time in my life when it seemed like food was the most common way in which those around me went about regulating their pain. During that time, I thought the healthiest thing to do was to think about or talk about my weight or patterns of eating as little as possible. Expressing either contentment or discontentment with my size seemed dangerous, unkind, and unfair to those around me, so I kept how confident or dreadful I was feeling to myself.

Once I entered my mid-twenties, my metabolism slowed down just as everyone had promised and I began to realize that it was time to wrestle with issues of food and weight on a more personal level and not just as they pertained to those around me. With genetics out of my favor and terrified of “being fat,” I went out of my way to make changes that would positively affect my appearance and my health. Just as I had hoped, the changes I made worked! Unfortunately, they weren’t always easy to keep up with. Being an RD makes it very difficult to keep a strict exercise schedule or diet. Add going to school part-time and living in a city where food is often more of an art form than a form of sustenance and it gets even tougher. Throw someone who really LOVES her cupcakes and often lacks self-control into that situation and the odds get worse (as my fluctuating weight indicates). It’s a constant battle between my brain, my heart, and my stomach, and though I would love to win the battle, I just want to make sure I am fighting it for the right reasons.

So what is a twenty-something supposed to do? Do I eat what I want because I want to feast on the beauty of life, never holding back, taking in each moment, and enjoying each experience? Look how I want because the construct of “beauty” is a joke and gorgeous and wonderful people come in all shapes and sizes? But what about the values of restraint and perseverance that can come from maintaining a healthy lifestyle? And then there is the belief that my body is a temple to be loved and cared for… It seems the slower my metabolism gets, the faster my mind swims with all the choices and possibilities.

What I have learned is this… For the rest of my life, people I love will probably have issues with weight and food, (pardon the expression as I don’t perceive anyone dear to me as an animal) but “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” The best I can do is use honesty, kindness, and concern to offer the love and support these friends and family members need. While I can point them to resources or keep them close to my heart and in my prayers, I can’t heal them and I certainly can’t control them. As much as this crushes me, I am slowly releasing my grip and letting it go. And another thing, I don’t have to feel guilty when it comes to the topic of food or weight. I shouldn’t feel bad about feeling good about the way my legs look in a certain outfit any more than I should feel bad about enjoying a slice of cheesecake or pizza every once in a while. The key is moderation. Fixating on how good/bad I look or how much/little I ate will only lead to trouble in every case and scenario.

I think the important thing is some seasons I’ll be thicker and others I’ll be thinner, some days I’ll eat more and others less, but no matter how I look or what I eat I must remember a few concepts… 1) If I don’t like how I tackled food and exercise today, it is never too late to handle them differently tomorrow. 2) It’s ok to have adult conversations about weight with those you trust. Actually, it’s better than ok! It keeps you grounded, focused, and accountable to healthy mindsets and lifestyle choices. 3) Your value, beauty, joy, and experience cannot be boiled down to what your food diary, workout schedule “My Fitness Pal,” or waistline say about you. And well, I suppose if they can, then it just might be time to put some effort and energy into aspects of your life that even Jillian Michaels can’t fix.

What's My Age

I didn’t cry on my birthday this year! It seems like a silly thing to be excited about, but for me it was a bit of an achievement. I have taken to crying on my birthday in recent years. I’m not talking delicate tears; I’m referring to uncontrollable, need to pause in order to take a couple deep breaths, ugly sobs. As of late, birthdays have not been easy for me.

I’m a very reflective person, sometimes to an extreme that is to my detriment, and birthdays present the perfect opportunity to look back on the past year and rip it to shreds. Did I accomplish enough? Touch enough people? Learn, grow, and change enough? Did I do what I set out to do? Being the self-critical person that I am, the answer is always, no. No, no, no. I didn’t.

So what made this birthday different, you ask? Was this year somehow more spectacular? Did I find a way to become more secure in where I am and what I am doing? The answer is no, I did not. Also, what I failed to mention is though I didn’t cry on my birthday, I did cry the day after. But hey, holding out an additional 24 hours was a big step for me.

The great thing about being ambitious is you always have a reason to keep going, keep pushing. The worst thing about being ambitious is it can make the state of contentment difficult to obtain. I guess I always thought by the age I am now life would look a little different. Twenty-seven seemed so old when I was a kid. It seemed like the age people are when they are already married and are thinking about having a child if they haven’t just had one already. The age when they have completed a master’s degree and have been accepted into a doctorate program, the age when they own their own piece of property and can actually afford to fill it with furniture. The age when…wait a minute.

The more I reflect on my childhood ambitions the more silly and unrealistic they seem and the more I realize it is time to replace childhood ambitions with 27 year-old ones.  No, my life doesn’t look the way I think it should or even the way I want it to most days, but some way, some how, by the grace of God, I still think I may be accomplishing just enough, touching just enough people, and learning growing and changing just enough. All I can do now, I suppose, is rest in the confidence of God’s perfect timing.

Don’t be fooled. I don’t have that contentment thing mastered. 27 still has a lot of ugly, uncontrollable sobs left in it, I’m sure. Seems to me, this year might require some extra patience. Patience in my spirit as I wait for things to unfold as everything feels so out of time and out of place and patience from family and friends as I fight to figure all this stuff out. After all, 27 has some great things going for it and I’d hate to miss the year I’ve been given spending all my time daydreaming about a year that doesn’t exist.Image

Do you have to go?

Melissa Hug

There is a Frederick Buechner quote I love (funny, I included a Buechner quote in my last post): You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you.

It’s been four years now, but when I think about it too hard I almost experience that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach all over again. Graduating from college was hard because the place I had called home for four years that had grown and shaped me in immeasurable ways wasn’t exactly going to be my home anymore, but that was not the reason I felt like I was going to throw up. I had to say goodbye to one of the most incredible friends I had ever made. When we had met, I don’t think either of us had noticed anything particularly remarkable about the other one, but when we finally had the chance to get to know one another, our souls touched. After sharing a life-changing summer in Georgia, the ups and downs of being a college student, and supporting one another through being an RA, a semester abroad, internships, student teaching and frustrating jobs, it was hard to believe two friends could be so close.

But then it all came roaring to a premature halt. She was off to Australia to better get to know both a country and a man she had come to love and I was to remain in Chicago searching for teaching jobs.

I hate goodbyes. I’ve hated them since the day I was born and I’m sure I’ll hate them until the day I die. I wish I could keep all those I love right next to me in a designated location all working and living and growing and learning together. I wish we could all get to know each other and enjoy each other, while we swap stories and share commentary on books, music, and movies, enjoy each others’ spouses and children, eat meals together and relax after a day of work well done. But, that day four years ago is evidence I don’t live in this reality.

The people I love are scattered all over the globe. We can’t keep those we love close to us. The truth is, even when we do stay geographically close, nothing stays the same. People change. The threads that used to keep you connected loosen. We get caught up in busy schedules. New people and responsibilities are introduced to the equation and things can and never will be exactly the same.

Fortunately, I am learning that while sometimes (oftentimes even) things do get harder with goodbye, good can come from goodbye, too. It is so beautiful when you can be reunited with a friend whose path has taken them far from you, but it’s evident that they are exactly where they need to be and you can share in the joy of all that has happened in both of your lives. Then there are the incredible new friendships that can be formed when you come to terms with the reality of goodbye. If you are too fixated on the old that may already be long gone your heart will never have enough space for the sweet new relationships yet to be formed.

But I hold to the idea that even when we say goodbye there is still so much left. I’ve learned countless lessons from the people who have stepped in and out of my life. No matter how long or short they stayed, each made an impact. Every interaction, laugh, shed tear, intellectual exchange, they all mean something. They all teach us a lesson. They make us stronger. So even when I am heart-sick with a fresh goodbye still on my tongue, I can slip through the sadness with a smile, thankful for the people the Lord has been good enough to bring into my life.

I may never enjoy goodbyes, but I am not (quite as) afraid of them anymore. Though that friend still lives just as far from me as she possibly could, I feel just as close to her as ever. When we come together nothing is the same and everything is the same all at once. The feelings we feel, the prayers we pray, the words we exchange, they are all possible in part to our goodbye and for that reason, I guess I owe “goodbye” a “thank you.”

Where have

The Fillmore family was on one of the vacations my parents took so much care to plan. For us, family vacations meant lots of time in the car, some tense moments, tons of laughter, mixed tapes carefully crafted by my sister, at least one movie, an educational activity of some kind that gave my mother an opportunity to gather postcards and brochures for her classroom, and a lot of going out to eat. It was during one of these meals that my sister decided to count how many times I went off on one of my impassioned rants. Sometimes she purposely brought up a subject she knew would get me riled up and then she would laugh after I took the bait, but mostly I would start one fiery speech after another without any prompting. I remember trying to hold back, not wanting to play into the game my parents and sister were enjoying a great deal, but I couldn’t help it! I had to say what I had to say and do what I had to do!

Most who know me know nothing has changed. There are many, many different ways I relate to other twenty-somethings, but there are a couple ways I just can’t. For many, some of the most prominent characteristics of the quarter life crisis are a lack of occupational direction and a desire to quit the dead end job they’re in and go on a pilgrimage in search of themselves. For me, the passion has already been ignited and I am far too “found” to enjoy the momentary reprieve of being “lost.” My mind never stops, I spin into a panic if asked to act contrary to my identity for even a minute, and my dreams are so bright and vivid that is hard for me to imagine a scenario where I don’t risk everything in order to attain them.

Now, that’s not to say that I never have moments of confusion where I lack clarity and need to ask a trusted friend or family member for advice and it certainly doesn’t mean I know exactly where I will end up when it’s all said and done. What it does mean is that I know that tomorrow is never promised and I don’t want to waste a single second wallowing in directionless-ness. I want to spend every moment encouraging, energizing, and loving on as many people as possible. Frederick Buechner, an author I was fortunate enough to be introduced to when I was in undergrad, wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Tonight, I took my final class for my master’s program. It was a huge triumph, but I still have a long way to go. I’m getting used to the sideways stares I receive when I tell people I will be spending next year working a full-time job in addition to working twenty hours per week at an internship. I’m nervous about being tired, stressed, and most likely having to say goodbye to my social life, but I am also excited. Next year is going to bring me one step closer to that place Buechner is talking about.

But you are not me and I am not you, and though I have found my passion and it is difficult for me to understand how others live without one, I’m learning to be more empathic toward those who are still in search of themselves. Whether or not you know what you want or where you want to end up, I have learned something valuable from from some of even the most seemingly clueless college students who haven’t even declared a major yet; everyone has something to offer. Every day you have a choice to learn, grow and share. Even if your future vocation is unknown, you can still take the time to enjoy beauty, give selflessly, and love people. Who knows, while you are doing all those things, you just might stumble upon your calling.