On Future Plans

Today I received an email from the education department at my school. “Since you’re graduating in December,” the email read, “Could you fill out this form about your future plans?” The weight of that simple question hit me in the gut. Such an innocuous question, but one that I’m largely unable to answer. Future plans? I plan on getting ice cream a lot and traveling as much as possible and falling madly in love. I plan on getting into politics and being a leader in Adventist education and teaching my kids how to make snow cream.

My plans go on and on, a never-ending inventory, and that terrifies me. The list of things I want to accomplish in this short life cannot be condensed to a cute little blurb to make my department look good. My future plans are wild and whimsical and winding. My heart is full of questions and I plan on living a life that answers all of them.

This abstract nature of my plans stresses me out. I do not know where I’ll be in three months. My world is one giant, unknown oyster and I absolutely hate sea food. Future plans? I hardly know what I’m doing tomorrow. I can talk all day about my lofty goals but when it comes to the nitty gritty day to day plans, I’m lost. Future plans, sure I got them, but I’m at a loss with the current plans.

Once again, I am too much and not enough all at once. I have plans, lots of them, but somehow, I can’t seem to formulate a sentence to accurately describe them. The not knowing is the worst. I’d love to confidently report back to my department with a solid plan for the future, but I can’t. I landed on a vague if not eloquent statement about following God’s call as an Adventist educator but even that seemed half-hearted.

Future plans? Try not to be a horrible person, learn a lot, eat some really good food, and walk with God. And anything else is just gravy.

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On Bicycle Helmets

Five minutes sitting in a park and it’s not hard to see that bicycle helmets might just be the root of all ill-will between parents and kids. Many an argument has been started over a pink Barbie helmet I’m sure. It’s July and it’s Georgia and it’s just the driveway and it’s not that big of a deal and it’s no one else is wearing one. When faced with a screaming six year old or a pouting ten year old or an eye-rolling fourteen year old, I’d bet that a lot of parents concede.

But my parents insisted.

You wanna ride that bike? Great, put on this top-of-the-line, 5-star-rated helmet. Every time. No questions. No options.

I had a lot of bicycle helmets growing up: Go inside if anyone pulls up the driveway while you’re playing, no trampolines, never dive if you don’t know how deep the water is, don’t talk to strange men with dogs, G-rated movies only, boosters seat until middle school, back seat not front, hold hands in parking lots, check left again.

If there was a helmet for any given situation, some sort of preventative measure, my parents made sure that it was secured properly on my head. My parents spun safety nets in preparation for the inevitable fall. I grew up cautious, a bit timid, and maybe just a little resentful. “Safe” and “sheltered” are often hard to distinguish between and I tended to view my life as the latter.

Love is a weird thing to me. In a lot of ways, it’s really abstract. It’s a feeling, a concept, a construct. But then everyone always says that love is a verb, an action. I don’t have too much experience with love, but from what I’ve seen, I think it’s somewhere in the middle, somewhere between words you can’t express and grand gestures.

It’s curfews and rear-side airbags. It’s “call me anytime” and double checking the locks. It’s forced self-defense classes and baby gates. Love is a constant stream of small, selfless actions, building and building to create the best life for the recipient.

It’s bicycle helmets.

Every time I strapped on my helmet and peddled off through Chalk City, safe and secure to explore the world created on our driveway, I internalized a vital lesson that my parents were accidentally teaching: Life is a dangerous adventure best tackled with love.

When the time comes for me to go toe to toe with my (inevitably-stubborn) child over wearing a helmet, I’m going to Sharpie on a big old heart right on the top of the helmet and send her on her merry way, pouting and complaining about her weird mom, but safe and oh-so-very loved.

 

On History

I come from a family of history buffs. Meals are seasoned with salt and stories of the past. Conversations straddle the here & now and the gone & forgotten. My sisters and I learned to appreciate this world through the lens of a world long since departed. War heroes, ancient kings, great explorers, groundbreaking scientists: these were our playmates.

I learned from a young age that history is divided into eras, chunks of time grouped together by some commonality. The Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Era. It’s a way to make sense of the past, to organize important events into neat little time slices.

My life is peppered with eras, too. The Towhead Years, the Hospital Age, the Dread Revolution. And just like with largescale history, my own history has some layered time periods, namely one overarching era that spans many years on my timeline: the Together Era.

With little exception, my sisters and I have always been in school together. If not at the same physical school, we have always been walking together on essentially the same path. The commonality of academics has held this era together. Sisters, each with our own distinct lives, but together in assignments, tests, projects, teachers, and uniforms.

In elementary school, I chased them on the playground. In high school, I walked with them to class. In college, I shared a dorm room with them. I’ve been their tree fort spy, their snack deliverer, their forgotten-assignment currier. They’ve been my study buddies, my class advisors, my personal chefs. School has always been synonymous with together.

Yesterday evening, I sat beside a sister in class for the last time.

I know enough about history to recognize that this is the end of an era.

I will never again pass one of my sisters in the hall or yell at them from across the promenade. I will never succumb to an inside-joke-induced giggle fit in the middle of a lecture or mooch off of their notes when I wasn’t paying attention. Living together will soon be limited to overlapping stays at our mom’s house. Face to face time to be replaced with FaceTime.

It’s the end of an era.

Many historians have a favorite time period to study, a slice of time they keep coming back to again and again. Maybe they are fascinated by the drama of the Tudors or moved by the heartbreak of the Holocaust or inspired by the Suffragette movement. They become experts of that particular blip on the timeline of the world.

When you think about it, “area of expertise” is just another way of saying “home” and as the historian of my own life, I plan on studying the Together Era extensively, returning to it when I feel a little lost in whatever new era comes next. Rebecca and Molly, thanks for making this era one worth revisiting.

On Relationships

The way I see it, there are all of these fine little lines connecting us and this year, I’ve been focusing on illuminating the paths between me and you, between me and the world. For the past four months, the word “relationship” has taken root in my heart and dictated my thoughts and actions. I have tried to call more, to write more, to text more, to show up more. I have worked on fostering new relationships, nurturing old relationships, and repairing broken relationships. I want to be intentional with my love and energy; I want to cherish each piece of twine that links me to everyone in my life.

But resolving to work on relationships is exactly that: work. And it’s hard work at that. One tether pulls on me harder than another and suddenly I’m neglecting one of the many precious people I’m connected to. Or I’ve ignored one path for so long that it’s hard to find my way back to that lovely soul. Or connections tug equally and I’m forced to make a choice between two people that I love.

I’ve found myself wishing for more hours in a day so that I can be everywhere, be everything, for everyone. I have this horrible habit of focusing on failure instead of success and, if I’m grading my current relationship work, I’m struggling somewhere at C level. I forget to reply or write back or return a call. I cancel plans or I make the wrong choice or I shirk my responsibilities. It feels like I’m failing.

I have to remind myself that resolving to change, to be better, is never easy. And failure is part of growth. And the simple fact that I care about my perceived failures shows that I am indeed changing and growing. The challenge now is to learn to handle the guilt that comes with loving so many people and not being able to be everything for them.

At the end of the day, it’s so easy to shut people out but it has been so much more rewarding to work on reaching out instead. And yeah, I fail sometimes (most times), but I’m trying, I’m learning, I’m growing and I’m better for it. By focusing on the wonderful web of relationships in my life, I have found my roots, my footing in this unsure world. And to whoever is on the other side of this string, I hope you feel that connection too and hope you know how glad I am to be connected to you.

On Tee Shirts with Foxes on Them

Last night, after explaining the story behind my Perry the Platypus pillow pet, I told my housemates “I hope I always love silly stuff like this.” That offhand comment got me thinking about growing up and changing and the Great Unknown and I think I sorted out what I’m really scared of: I’m afraid that I’ll stop wearing tee shirts with foxes on them.

After years of not knowing who I was or who I wanted to be, I finally feel confident in my weirdness and I have a vision for my life. I finally feel good about where I am. I’m good at being a fledgling adult whose diet consists exclusively of Dr. Pepper, Mexican food, and whatever my sisters cook for me. I’m good at going to class and doodling Disney characters and writing hypothetical lesson plans. And I’m very good at wearing tee shirts with foxes on them.

I’m afraid that, as I move away from a college kid and into a full blown adult, I will lose my sense of me-ness. Everyone talks about growing up as settling down, which is lovely sentiment, but all I hear is stagnation and conformity. I don’t want to settle down because when you settle down, you stop playing with Legos and you stop walking on the edges of curbs like a tightrope and you stop getting excited about really weird sunglasses. And you stop wearing tee shirts with foxes on them.

I’m not so much afraid of the unknown; after graduation there’s a thousand and one different things that I could do and I’m sure that the right path will become apparent. But I’m afraid of losing myself in the process. Some people believe that we are constantly changing and becoming better but I’m not so sure about that. What if we’re just slowly loosing bits and pieces of ourselves, settling into a rut and leaving the more eccentric parts of us behind? What if growing up is just shaving off the parts of yourself that don’t fit into the mold of “adult”?

I never want to lose my eccentricities. I never want to settle. I want to be eighty eight years old riding Space Mountain at Disney World. I want to be that grandma with green hair. I want to be the crazy teacher who plays with her class at recess. And I want to never stop wearing tee shirts with foxes on them.

 

On Not Being Okay

I love that crick in your side you get from laughing too much and I love it when your face hurts from smiling all day and I love feeling so content that time seems to stop. I love those really really good days. And, more often than not, my days are really really good. Most days I’m giggling with my best friend and I’m doodling Disney characters and I’m scheming up some fantastic new dream.

But some days I’m not okay. Every now and then, my normal type-A-levels of stress and anxiety increase astronomically and find myself in a funk. Right now, my eye has been twitching nonstop for a week and I can’t quite muster up the gumption to go to a meeting that I really should go to. My hands jittery, my insides ache, and all I want to do is get in bed. I go from happy, bubbly me to a shaking ball of anxiety in an instant.

It sucks. It sucks to not be okay. It sucks to feel icky and lonely and bogged down. But that’s reality. Some days you aren’t okay.

There’s a silver lining to these junky days: I’m reminded how thankful I am for people who know how to love me. I’m surrounded by people who know to feed me and listen to me and let me be alone. I’m sure here in a few days, I’ll come out of this little funk I’m in and I’ll be back to laughing too loud in public places.

For now though, I’ll call my mom every three hours and watch movies that make me cry and eat the food my sister fixes for me.

Some days you aren’t okay. And that’s okay.

On Staying

Two years ago, in the produce aisle of an Orlando Publix, I begged my mom to let me quit.

“I want to go home,” I sobbed. “I can’t do it, I don’t know anyone here, I’m not ready, it’s too hard.” Through tears, I gave every excuse I could think of; most of them valid.

I was over 500 miles away from the comfort of the familiar and the ease of routine. I felt like I had just jumped into an unfamiliar pool with my eyes closed and suddenly I forgot how to swim (which was quite literally the opposite of my job description). Who was I to leave my school, my family, and my friends, to work as a lifeguard at Walt Disney World? I was overwhelmed and unprepared and I wanted to quit before it even began.

“You can leave if you want,” my mom said, pulling me into her arms. “You can fly home with me tomorrow. But,” she looked me straight in the eye, “this is your dream.”

Isn’t it interesting that we get the most scared when we are the closest to achieving our dreams? As we teeter on the edge of all we’ve ever wanted, the reality of realizing our dreams becomes too much. And sure, working for Disney is a silly dream and one that’s not particularly unique to me, but the lesson I learned that night is universal: When we choose to stay instead of run, when we say yes even though we’re terrified, when we wipe our tears and dig in our heals, we inch closer to the person God has called us to be. I believe that our hopes and dreams are God-given, to be realized for His glory. When we make those leaps of faith, however big or small they may seem, we are learning to rely not on self, but on God.

I didn’t quit. And got homesick, and I messed up, and my social anxiety was through the roof, and I didn’t know what I was doing and it was hard. But I stayed and that made all the difference.Castle1

On Failure

I failed.
I missed-it-by-miles, should-be-ashamed, utterly and completely failed.
Last year, I nailed NaNoWriMo, easily crushing 50,000 words in 30 days.
But this year was a whole different beast. The first few days of November were jam packed with school stress and I quickly fell behind my daily word count goal. I’d chip away at it, trying desperately to catch back up, but I just had too much going on.
Then panic set in. I couldn’t stop now; I’d told all my friends I was doing it. What would people think if I didn’t achieve my goal? The dreaded F word clouded my thoughts. I would be a FAILURE.
I stopped writing a week and half into NaNo and, shockingly, nothing happened. The world didn’t stop turning simply because I failed to complete a self-imposed challenge. No planes fell out of the sky, babies didn’t all of a sudden start crying when they saw me.
And, most surprising of all, I felt GOOD. I was bummed because I enjoyed getting to spew creative word vomit for hours at a time and because I genuinely love a good challenge, but I was relieved. I quit literally mid-sentence and was happy about it.
This happiness came by way of a realization: There’s no shame in failure!
It sucks, it’s a bummer, it’s lame, but it’s life. We can’t do everything and some days we can’t do anything. But on those blissful days when we CAN do something, we enjoy them even more, because we’ve felt the sting of failure.
It’s what drives us forward. It’s what makes us want to be better. Failure festers, and feeds ambition.
I failed.
But I failed with pride and with lessons learned.
And next year, I’ll try again.

On Learning to Love Puzzles

 

 

 

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Puzzles drive me crazy. I’ve never understood the draw of painstakingly matching pieces up in an effort to create some lame picture. I get frustrated, bored, and grumpy; my pieces never seem to mesh with anyone else’s. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you work on a puzzle with the right group of people who are able to connect your rough edges perfectly with theirs.

It was one of my last nights working at summer camp. The moon reflected off the lake, the docked pontoon we’d commandeered rocked gently, the 2 am exhaustion of long, hard weeks lulled us into a sleepy fog, and I couldn’t believe just how well we fit together.

The past five weeks had been a rollercoaster. Growing up, I went to an amazing, well-organized summer camp every year, but somehow I’d found myself at 21, working not at the shiny, golden camp of my youth, but at its smaller, crumbling cousin where I knew only two other people. My coworkers had all grown up together and reminisced on shared memories of “their” camp while I stood awkwardly in the corner, an outsider looking in. I tried desperately to learn the nuances of this new group of people, anxious and fearful that my pieces wouldn’t fit into their established puzzle. But if there’s one thing that rings true about summer camp, it’s that you can’t stand in the corner alone for too long before someone takes you by the hand in a stirring rendition of Lean on Me and you find yourself completely swept up in the madness that is camp.

South Carolina in July is about as close to hell as I care to be, and while the heat was nearly unbearable, it served an important purpose. There is a certain kind of camaraderie that comes from mutually sweating buckets and my coined adage of “No one’s gross if we’re all gross” became the mantra for that summer. As a collective, disgusting mess, the staff bonded and I found myself in the middle of it all, embracing everything from made-up games like Candy Bar Kickball to ridiculous plays centered on “Danger Dan”, the most outrageous character guaranteed to illicit laughter from even the toughest teenager.

As the weeks went by, the campers stole my sleep and the camp stole my heart. On my last night off, two days before leaving camp, a ragtag crew of staff and I decided to make the best of it. We drove the hour to the nearest town to load up on Taco Bell and Sonic, then returned to camp after dark and roamed the grounds aimlessly, slipping into a warm, drowsy haze. The dozen or so of us eventually landed on the docked pontoon boat and sprawled out on the floor and seats, peeling shirts off in the sticky heat of the night. Lying there for hours under the glow of the moon, I traced the rough lines connecting our little group together. Sadie used to date Ken (who Lacey had been crushing on all summer) and Ralph, but Ralph still wasn’t over her. Turns out McKenzie knew my cousin, Ken and Jen were related somehow, and Fitz and Mike had gone to school together since kindergarten. Transcending all of those connections, though, was the unbreakable, magical bond of that moment. We would never be all together like that again and everyone seemed to sense just how precious that was.

Slowly and reluctantly, the group began to disband, sleep calling people back to their cabins. With just four of us left, a plan was hatched. When three a.m. hit, McKenzie, Lacey, Fitz and I would strip down to our underwear and jump off the dock into our faithful lake, a last goodbye to the beautiful, murky mess central to our lives for weeks. Giggling as I shimmied out of my shorts, I was far from the nervous, quiet girl I’d been when I first arrived at camp. That girl never would have been daring enough to break rules or comfortable enough to let her guard down. But good people are powerful and that tattered-on-the-edges, disorganized-most-days camp was full of good people.

We paddled around in the shallow waters of the lake for a few minutes while checking the shoreline for the elusive night watch man (who was definitely more concerned with snagging leftovers from the kitchen then with what four staff members were up to) before heaving ourselves back onto the dock and shaking the water off like a pack of wet dogs.

Dipping in the lake washed away the anxiety that I’d clung to for years, and as I walked back to my cabin by the light of the moon, I’d never felt more content with my uneven edges. Perfectly assembled, I was a part of a group of imperfect college kids with our jagged pieces fitting together to create a picture that only we could make. I learned to embrace puzzles that summer, smashed there in between strangers-turned-friends who had seen me at my sweatiest and decided to love me anyway.