The Moment When Everything Changed

A year ago, I wish I had known how quickly everything can change.  Because nine months ago, I made the most impromptu decision of my life.

I didn’t know any Spanish.  I quit my job in Chicago, and I didn’t want to teach anymore.  I’m not sure I could have found Guatemala on an un-labeled map.  But on the Fourth of July, I received a job offer to come and teach in the mountains of western Guatemala.

My brother and I joked about how patriotic it was to leave the United States on the Fourth of July as we got on a plane to Dublin.  I’m terrible at sleeping on planes, so when we landed in Ireland at 4 AM, I was ready for bed.  So naturally, we walked a few miles to our hotel carrying heavy suitcases, and then climbed a giant hill.  Crabby and tired and conflicted about the job offer in my inbox, I sat at the top of the hill and snapped photos of grass in the bright morning sunlight.

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We are More Than a Résumé

Before I graduated from college, I visited the career center at my university to get help making a résumé.  I learned all about action verbs and bullet points and the sovereignty of Times New Roman.  But I remember thinking not even the strongest verbs or the most nondescript fonts could make my two summer jobs and an internship look very impressive to potential employers.  I was not enough.  

My degree is in Music Education.  For a couple of years in high school, I wanted to be some kind of art major, but in the end I decided to major in something more practical.  I can always have hobbies, I said, but I wanted to have a “real job” too.  During my college application process, I heard about my school’s nearly 100% job placement rate and felt confident in my decision to go to college, get a teaching job, and work full-time for the foreseeable future.

Once upon a time, this was a realistic ambition.  You could graduate with a Bachelor’s degree (or even just high school diploma), find a full-time job, and expect to keep it for several years.  But sometime between my Freshmen gen-eds and my walk across the stage in the field house, everything changed.

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Running

It’s funny how some of my most vivid memories involve running.

In second grade, we had a pen pal from the school across town—mine was a boy named Javier.  Our pen pals came to meet us, and he said “I bet you can’t beat me to the fence!” “I bet I can!” I said, and without another word we ran.  I ran so fast that my feet almost got tangled up underneath me, and I spent the rest of the day with the smug satisfaction that I had beaten a boy in a race.

By fifth grade, I had gotten used to not being picked in gym class.  I knew that no one was going to ask me to play with them at recess, so I usually preferred to sit under a tree with a book.  One day during recess, I was reading Beverly Clearly when I was interrupted by, “Hey!  Are you going to read that book all day?” It was Darryl, the new boy in our class trying to start a game of tag.  Being the new kid, he didn’t know I didn’t play tag.

But I threw down my book and I ran.  I joined Darryl and two other boys from my class, and I ran so fast that the wind hit my face and my lungs started burning, and I felt like I was going to topple over when I stretched out my arms in front of me to tag one of the boys before I took off running in the opposite direction again.

I was fast, and I was free.

running

If you asked me today to list things I’m good at, running would not be one of them.  I am not athletic.  But one day a couple of years ago, I started running.  I still lived in the city, and I used to run along 16th street where all the murals are painted along the train tracks.  I started one day, intending to stop after half a mile or so, but by the time I ran from Ashland to Racine, I wasn’t ready to stop. I ran from Ashland to Halsted and back—two miles.

The next day, I did it again.  I ran from Ashland to Halsted, and then north to Roosevelt and back—three miles this time.  It may be small potatoes for someone who hadn’t spent the past ten years believing they are absolutely not a runner, but for me, I felt like I could do anything.  I was strong.

I wasn’t fast, but I was free.  

But sometimes running feels like running away. Like running away from a job, like running away from a city, like running back down five flights of stairs after saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore.”  Running feels like leaving, like quitting, like forgetting.  I am still tethered to self-doubt and disappointment and the nagging feeling that I should have been better.

No matter how fast I run, I can’t run from the blame.  I can’t run from the feeling that this is all my fault—it’s my fault that the job didn’t fit, the relationship didn’t work out, everything fell apart again.  So I run faster, hoping that no one can see me, no one can touch me, no one can know how small and slimy and broken I really am.

I am fast, but I am not free.  

But maybe what we’re running toward is just as as important as what we’re running away from.  After the running away, after the leaving and the doubting and the bridge-burning, something else comes into focus.  Running is freeing ourselves from the ties that bind us to doubt and fear.

Running is adventuring.  Running is moving forward.  Running is saying where I am going is better than where I have been.  I am typing these words right now because I am running towards a goal.  I am no longer what I was, and I am writing about it.

I can feel my lungs burning and the wind on my face, and I feel I am going to topple over as I reach toward a new destination that is completely different and scary and adventurous and uninhibited.

I am fast, and I am free.  

The Story of Books and Postage

Expectations are heavy.  

I remember the day when I decided to leave. It was about a month before I quit my job, and three months before I accepted a job in western Guatemala and bought a plane ticket.  At the time, though, something just didn’t feel right.

When I moved out of my apartment, I had a lot of stuff.  Two crates of dishes, two crates of pots and pans and kitchen stuff, two crates of blankets and bedding, one crate of picture frames and candles, and at least seven crates of books.  While some of those books are a testament to the fact that I love to read and I buy too many pretty Jane Austen volumes, a lot of them were teaching books.

I spent a lot of time trying to be a great teacher.  When I could afford it, I attended professional development seminars and conferences, I observed other teachers, I read teaching blogs, I asked for advice.  I bought books full of lesson plans and teaching strategies and resources. I bought children’s books and music recordings and percussion instruments.  While I was working at a charter school, I received 27 five-gallon buckets as a donation to start a bucket drumming program, and now, I am sorry to say that I have 27 five-gallon buckets in my attic.

As the months went by, that stack of books just got heavier.  It was heavy with the weight of unmet expectations, heavy with disuse, heavy with the dreams I just can’t bring myself to dream anymore.  I imagined myself packing up and leaving, and I didn’t want to take them with me.  The old dream felt stale and tired and heavy, and I wanted to make space to dream something new.

One day, I listed all of it on Amazon, and people started to buy them.  I invested in envelopes and packing tape, and got to know the post office workers on a first-name basis.  This might sound silly, but I bought stationary and wrote each person a note.  I told them about the ways I had used my book in the past, and sincerely hoped they would be able to use it themselves in the future.  One by one, I literally packed up my heavy baggage and put it in the mail.

And something felt right about it—sad, but right.

But even then, I saved a few of my favorites.  A few months later, some of my most well-used, dog-eared books ended up in my suitcase on their way to Guatemala.  Some dreams deserve one last chance, after all.

After living out of two 50-pound suitcases for a year, when I go back to the States, I want to feel lighter.  I want to be able to pick up and do something else without feeling the weight of unmet expectations.  I want to try something new.

A year ago, physically packing up my expectations and putting them in the mail allowed my heart to change, too.  Maybe, if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here.

How can we set ourselves free from the weight of our expectations?  How can we clear space in our lives—figuratively, or literally—to try something new?

Will You Wait For Me?

I found this post buried in my blog archives this week, and decided it needed a second chance.  I originally wrote it two years ago, but I’ve rescued it, done some editing, and re-posted it here.  Maybe 24-year-old me had something to say, after all.  

beach

I’m reminded of a song by Alexi Murdoch – a great artist who I discovered on a very gray day in March about two years ago.  When I first listened to this song, I couldn’t decide whether the bare trees and pale sky had suddenly become more beautiful, or whether it was these words that made the day seem more alive.

And if I stumble, and if I stall,

And if I slip now, and if I should fall,

And if I can’t be all that I could be,

Will you, will you wait for me?

I’m remembering all of the mistakes I’ve made.  I’m remembering the times that I pushed and contorted and re-wrote relationships in my head, trying too hard to make them work.  I’m remembering the time when I betrayed my friends and wound up hurting a lot of people.  I’m remembering the accidents, the mis-communications, and the hurtful words I’ve said.

I’ve spent so much time wrestling with uncertainty. 

I’ve spent two years going through the motions of going to church and talking about Jesus and attending a Bible study, but I can’t seem to get over my pervasive doubt, born out of all the shattered expectations and messed up relationships and hypocritical Christians and suffering I’ve seen brought about by a God who promises to make everything work together for good for those who love him.  I know it all in my head, but I no longer feel anything in my heart.

Will you wait for me while I make mistakes?  Will you wait for me while I struggle to find meaningful relationships?  Will you wait for me while I struggle to figure it out?  Will you wait for me while I am uncertain?

Because I know that someday – granted I don’t die tomorrow – I will become more mature, more certain about what I believe, more sure of myself.

If I’ve learned anything at all over the past few years, it’s that honesty is never a wasted.  Friendship is never a mistake, even if it’s only for a short time.  Even when I find myself at the end of a relationship, wondering if the little bit of good in the beginning was worth the horribly painful mess at the end, it’s not for me to say whether I would have been better off alone. 

Yesterday as I was thinking about all of these things, I heard a small voice in my head.  “Do you trust me?”

Looking back, I see this tiny thread that’s connecting everything together.  I see the situations that have fallen into place at just the right time.  I’ve made mistakes, and learned from them.

After everything, I find myself saying “Yes, I trust you.  But will you wait for me?”

25 Was Not My Year

Before my 25th birthday, I had a major freak-out.

I always thought that 25 would be the year I finally had my life together.  When my parents cautioned me not to get married until I was 25, I always sighed and envisioned myself beating the men away with a stick between the ages of 18 and 24.  In reality, no stick was required.

And to add insult to injury, earlier that year I lost my “perfect job” along with the paycheck that paid my rent, and landed back in my childhood bedroom for the third time since college graduation.  Everyone knows 25 year-olds aren’t supposed to live with their parents.  25 year-olds are supposed to have apartments and jobs and significant others and a real life of their own.

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To be Seen

Some days remind me of this quote from my favorite movie.

Or have you ever, like, seen somebody? And you knew that, if only that person really knew you, they would, well, they would of course dump the perfect model that they were with, and realize that you were the one that they wanted to, just, grow old with. 

When Sandra Bullock’s character in While You Were Sleeping falls in love with a man she doesn’t even know, she wishes more than anything just to be seen.  Not just glanced at, but really seen.  Because there’s a difference after all between being seen and being seen [Read more…]

Life Experiments

October is my favorite month of the year, so to celebrate I am launching a brand new guest post series called “Life Experiments.”

2014-09-22 11.11.28

I believe that it’s okay to experiment, it’s okay to take risks, it’s okay to fail.  I’m looking for bloggers to share their stories about overcoming failure, adventuring, or trying new things.  If you would like to submit a post, email me a document, an idea, or a link to a blog post by Wednesday, October 1st.  I’d love to hear from you!

I will be posting a new “Life Experiment” every Friday in October (because Fridays are the best, after all).

There is a Season

Right before my 25th birthday, I got a retail job.  A few months earlier I sat down at a table across from my principal and heard the dreaded words “We just don’t think you’re a good fit for us.”  I also had two part-time teaching jobs, but they barely paid enough to cover my gas to get there.  So, for about two weeks, I had a retail job.

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