Self-Care + Worth

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I recently became a consultant for Rodan + Fields, the #1 acne & anti-aging line in premium skincare in the United States. It’s proven to be quite the fun side hobby and just the creative outlet I’ve needed this season. I’m having a blast sharing these products with other women and talking all things skincare and lashes. This experience has got me thinking, though, and I have a confession: I worry about the message I’m communicating. I worry that you’re hearing you should look younger. I worry that you’re hearing you need these products to make you look more beautiful, as if your beauty is lesser right now. I worry that I’m adding to the larger narrative that I’ve been hearing on repeat my entire lifethat aging is bad. That is never what I want to communicate.

Shauna Niequist is one of my very favorite authors. She tells her life story in all it’s raw, precious, bitter and glorious moments. In her most recent book, Present Over Perfect, she writes, “I used to put pajamas and night cream in the same fussy-fancy category as, you know, “self care.” But all my force and all my pushing brought me to the end of myself quite dramatically; brought me to poor health, isolation, exhaustion, resentment. So here I am, self care, pajamas, night cream, all of it” (177-178). She made a commitment to stop falling into bed in the yoga pants she’d been wearing all day and to stop sleeping with her makeup on. After completely exhausting herself, she decided it was time to start taking care of herself.

I’ve been there. Those seasons when taking care of myself is the last thing on my to-do list. Although Shauna and I have never met, she’s challenged me in more ways than one: namely to start taking care of myself before I reach the end of myself. This self-care thing is something I’m still learning and I’m finding that it changes a bit with each season. These days, it looks like making time to paint my nails. I feel like I can conquer the world with a bright, bold manicure and, on hard days, as silly as that sounds, the right polish can make all the difference. I’m currently re-reading some of my favorite authors—the ones who fill me with hope and inspiration, whose words I already know by heart but desperately need to hear again because they are the best balm to my currently weary soul. I’m also trying hard to eat real food. Right now, I deem it a successful week if I eat more cooked meals than takeout ones. Baby steps.

I haven’t reached thirty, not quite yet. Thus, I’m not too worried about my skin’s elasticity or crow’s feet. I’m not all that worried about sun damage or age spots either. Why, then, did I get involved with R+F? Because their skincare products are not about perfection, rather, they’re designed to provide you with the healthiest skin possible, whatever your age. Because self-care begins now. Because I believe that I’m worth it and that you are too. You’re worth taking care of. You’re worth quality products that will nourish the beautiful face you have. You’re worth the time it takes to follow a regimen that will rejuvenate your cells. You’re worth waking up and feeling refreshed. You deserve to love the skin you’re in. 

As I practice caring for myself, I’m finding that the rhythm of a skincare regimen is morphing into a song that sings over me. I look in the mirror and am reminded both morning and evening that I have a body worth taking caring of, that I have a soul worth tending. I used to run a makeup remover wipe across my face before falling into bed each night. It took approximately two seconds. Now, I wash my face and apply toner and eye and night cream, and it definitely takes more than five minutes. Sometimes I want to revert back to my old ways, but I try my best not to regress. I’m pretty sure that how I take care of myself tells the story of what I believe about myself. I get that skincare products aren’t always in the budget. I’ve been there too. I encourage you to find unique ways to take care of yourself in those seasons. How are you currently taking care of yourself? What does that say about what you believe about your worth? 

In BittersweetShauna writes, “Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it. I promise” (90). By connecting you with quality products, this is what I want to communicate: you are lovely and you’re oh so worth it.

Seeing Beauty

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“Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh. It fills an emptiness in you that nothing else under the sun can. Unlike food, however, it is something you never get your fill of. It leaves you always aching with longing not so much for more of the same as for whatever it is, deep within and far beyond both it and yourself, that makes it beautiful.”

~ Frederick Buechner

We needed to see beauty. Our hearts needed it for differing reasons, but the need was there just the same. We needed to wander, to drink in pretty things. We picked a date. Saturday. We will go to Asheville together and we will see beauty. We awoke tired and distraught for various individual reasons, but collectively weary nonetheless. We wondered if we should cancel or perhaps reschedule. But we had set aside today, we had. We will go, we decided. 

The sky was luminous and clear, a perfect shade of blue that promised not to rain. We wandered through America’s largest home and imagined what it would have been like to live in a house that big—to wear fancy garments and headpieces, to read books in the library by the fireplace, to dine by candlelight late into the evening—our imaginations running wild.

We wandered through the conservatory observing, noting, and photographing all the shades and shapes, smelling all the fragrances. Although it’s not spring, not quite yet, we delighted in the sparse daffodils and the budding magnolia trees scattered about. We drank in the beauty, all of it. We walked the grounds—sometimes talking and sometimes not, sometimes laughing at one another, sometimes thinking deeply, and other times about nothing at all but the beauty before us as we let it do its work in us.

Smitten Kitten: an accidental cat lady

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetThe tale I’m about to tell is a true story. It unfolded in the summer of twenty-sixteen, shortly after I began a new job. I would often step outside in the afternoon to soak in the blueness of the sky and feel the sun on my face. Mostly I was escaping the office in a desperate act to recalibrate. My mind was exploding as I learned to navigate new databases and new policies and procedures. I was struggling to interpret out-of-state transcripts and grappling for more brain space to remember everything I needed to know about the college. I needed to memorize the majors and minors offered. I needed to know the enrollment and retention numbers and the student-to-faculty ratio. I needed to know the building names and their respective uses and also their historical significances. I needed those few minutes alone on the steps in the sunshine at midday if I was to successfully make it to five o’clock.

On one such afternoon, a grey, blue-eyed cat circled me. I’d apparently glossed over the litter of cats that resided beneath the bushes alongside the wrought iron fence that bordered the brick walkway where I often sat. I mean, I suppose I’d noticed a cat once or twice. I was stepping outside to concentrate on breathing in and out, though, not to scour the landscape for creatures. Blue Eyes stepped onto my legs and sprawled across my lap. He began to purr and I suddenly began to cry—tears that I could not explain as I’ve long since boasted my lack of attachment toward any animal, ever. I returned reluctantly to my office and didn’t see Blue Eyes when I left later that day. But the very next morning, as soon as my feet hit the pavement, Blue Eyes saw me from across the street and came running. He wove himself around my ankle and I bent down to stroke his grey fur. I could hear him purring and I could simultaneously feel my heart melting. I was bonding with a creature against my very own will. I wanted to be angry about it. But I also wanted to scoop him up and take him home to be with me forever.

I quickly discovered the college was trying to find homes for the stray cats. I told them I’d fallen for Blue Eyes but they informed me another staff member had dibs. They apologized that he wasn’t available for the taking. I almost cried, again. I thought about stealing him but decided against it. Instead, I went home and penned the most pathetic email I have ever written. No exaggeration. It was a pitiful plea—a complete act of desperation that was almost embarrassing. I’d rather not show you the email. It was a plaintive cry, but a sincere one. The aforementioned staff member, god bless her, must have sensed my deep fragility because she replied to my email and said I could have him. I brought him home that week and named him Dorian Grey—Grey with the ‘e’ because I like how the British spell things, and because he’s a Gregory. 😉

Let me tell you about Dorian Grey. He meows, a lot. For no reason at all. I’m certain he’s vain, like the character in Oscar Wilde’s novel, and that he simply likes to hear his own voice. Dorian can be audacious. Don’t let his adorable pink nose and his glimmering blue eyes fool you. He’s a brat, but he’s extremely affectionate, and, in my mind, that makes up for it. He normally hears me coming home and I can usually hear his greeting meow before I’ve even unlocked the door. He sleeps with me unless he’s riled up of course, in which case I confiscate all the squeaky and jingly toys and go to sleep without him. When he eventually joins me he prefers to curl up on top of my toes. He is an absolute snob regarding the proper softness of blankets. Some simply will not suffice. He has one ear that’s been clipped, and I adore this strange quirk. He’s missing practically half of his ear, and I don’t care. Being a feral cat, he’s a hunter. I found what I thought was a gnarly hairball one morning and upon further investigation identified a teeny, tiny nose with whiskers—remnants of a creature that he had annihilated at the throat in the middle of the night. No need to worry about mice, Dorian has that situation under control. And when there are no mice to chase, he chews through all his fake, feathery friends.

Sometimes I think he’d lay in my lap for as long as I would sit unmoving, completely still. I struggle to sit still for very long, though; feeling the demands of my self-inflicted goals. I need to do pilates, I need to unload the dishwasher, I need to make dinner, I need to call said friend back, I need to file my taxes. I struggle to live patiently, as previously mentioned. Dorian Grey sits, meowing, begging me simply to play.

I’m practicing allotting time for leisure these days—for playing with feathers and fake mice.

In her book Unseduced & Unshaken, Rosalie De Rosset explains: 

In Greek the term for leisure is skole and in Latin skola—from which we get our word “school.” Seen this way, leisure is part of the learning process. The spirit of leisure is actually the spirit of learning, of self-cultivation. Leisure provides the venue for the growth of a person’s whole being—for thinking about life’s great concerns, for activities that enrich the mind, strengthen the body, and restore the soul. Like education, leisure takes discipline, training, cultivation of habits and tastes, discriminating judgments…the God who ordained rest, who commanded a day of rest, cares about what we do with all our time.

Here is what a fury, quite vocal, and sassy feline is teaching me about slowing down, about leisure.

Play is Purposeful

Dorian sleeps well and behaves better if I give him the play and exercise he needs. Play is something I would have considered a waste of time not long ago, and some days I still struggle not to view it as such. But if leisure is a habit that must be cultivated, I am beginning when I come home from work each day and sit on the floor for as long as Dorian will purr and play.

Naps Are Permissible

I said for years that I could not nap. What I think I was really saying without realizing it was that I didn’t know how to quiet my mind, that I didn’t know how to set aside the anxiety and allow room for rest. If leisure strengthens the body and restores the soul, then I think naps qualify. Dorian naps with no remorse or regret, and I’m practicing curling up next to him and leisurely doing the same.

~

I am now a crazy cat lady. I am that lady you see in Target adding cat toys to her basket. I am that coworker with cat post-it notes on her desk. I am the woman who wears cat pajama pants and drinks coffee out of an Anthro cat mug. I became a cat lady by accident. Now I’m learning how to nap and how to play on purpose.

Charred Marshmallows

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“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Back in October, my sister gathered several of her friends to celebrate her 25th birthday. She wanted to go camping, of all things. I like camping. I do. I like sharing meals on picnic tables. I enjoy taking walks by the lake. I delight in afternoon reads in hammocks. I like being outdoors to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is earthy grit in my sleeping bag or when all my “clean” clothes smell like a tent tarp. My favorite part of camping is probably coming home and washing the campfire smell out of my hair and repainting my nails. Nevertheless. Anything for my dear sister. I know you’re supposed to rough it when you’re camping but, it being a birthday celebration and all, I asked for permission to dress it up a bit. Sister obliged and I packed my suitcase full of brown paper packages and burlap banners and twinkle lights. (Special thanks to the cute park ranger for not ruining my aesthetic and busting us for what was presumably a fire hazard).

It was a magical weekend in Michigan. The autumn leaves at Van Buren State Park were vibrant, striking. We gathered around the campfire that first evening to make s’mores. It was the evening of game four in the World Series and we could feel the city of Chicagoall the way across the lakeholding its breath. Our neighbors happened to be the epitome of traditional campers: brats, beer, and baseball. We were separated only by a few sparse trees on which I had strung twinkle lights—a comical barrier between us and our contrasting camping styles. The game sounded through their radio and the commentator’s voice became background noise to our evening as we ate White Chicken Chili and drank red wine by the fire and told stories and read poems. While our camping methods could not have been more different, we still found ourselves in the same woods, waiting, wondering if the Cubs would win.

It was also the weekend before the election and the whole world was waiting to see who the president-elect would be. We mused about the future: hopes and dreams, where our own lives were headed, what new adventures or hardships might be just around the bend. I reflected on my current season, how much my life has changed in the last year and how strange it still seems. I feel like I’m wearing a new sweater that hasn’t been worn-in yet. It remains a stiff and ever-so-slightly itchy garment. It possesses no nostalgia. It’s still simply a new sweater.  

I don’t generally like marshmallows, but in the woods, by a crackling fire, when fancy wafers and chocolate are involved, I make an exception. Everyone has marshmallow roasting preferences and I enjoy mine lightly browned, ever-so-slightly crisp on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside. I stuck my marshmallow too close to the flame and it caught fire. I blew it out and stared at the charred ball of sugar on the end of my stick. My patience level was waning.

Patience: noun | pa·tience | \ˈpā-shən(t)s\

-The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

-Calm, self-possessed waiting.

Time will tell who will win the World Series. Time will tell who the next President of the United States will be. Time will guide my life and show me what lies beyond the horizon.

I returned from camping and told a friend that I am the most impatient person I know. She looked at me and shook her head in disagreement. She pointed out all the ways I’ve been patient with her and with other people in my life this year. She helped me chronicle all the students I’ve cheered for, the family members I’ve supported, the friends I’ve encouraged. “You are a very patient person,” she said, “but you are not patient with yourself.”

{Sigh.} She was right.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPatience is an eight-letter word that I despise. It’s punchy. It’s mysterious, elusive. I wrestle with it and I always lose. I burned a marshmallow for lack of patience and this made me mad.

I speak discouraging things over myself like: you’re not working hard enough, you’re not learning fast enough, you’re not giving enough, you’re not doing enough. I berate myself for not reading more, for not writing more, for not knowing what I’m doing with my life, for not having a strategic plan for saving more money, for not exercising more frequently. The list goes on. I know this is dangerous and that what I should be speaking over myself are the realities laced in grace: I recently started a new job and I’m navigating an entirely different department in higher education. I moved to a new state just over a year ago and I’m still forming new friendships and I’m still planting seeds. I still don’t know what direction I hope for my career, but I think I’ve unveiled some passions in my soul this year and I’m well on my way to refining some hopes and dreams. 

Patience is confusing because it demands a posture of stillness but is not in any way passive. Henri Nouwen says, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” If I’ve learned anything since undergrad it’s this: life doesn’t stop. Time doesn’t stop. It’s so much less about waiting for seasons to end. Rather, it’s learning how to live in the middle of the mess of them. They’ll change. They’ll ebb and flow, just like a river. A.A. Milne knew something about patience that I am still struggling to learn. Rushing, pushing, pulling; it doesn’t profit. I’m practicing not burning marshmallows 1) because charred sugar tastes horrible and 2) because I believe there is a way to live both patiently and purposefully. Here’s to speaking grace over ourselves and not living our lives in a perpetual hurry.

A Lesson in Shifting

image1There’s something you should know about me: I’m a learner. If I’m not being challenged I find a way to challenge myself. I have an insatiable desire to always be learning. This can cause trouble sometimes. I live in a state of fast-forwardlearning, learning, learning. It’s not unusual for me to sit myself down and give myself a serious talk about slowing down. And for a few days, or maybe a week I doslow down, that is. And then I inevitably buy five new books. I find three new recipes to try. I begin thorough research on a new place to travel and begin crafting a detailed itinerary for when I visit. I enroll in, (all my friends brace themselves) another class. I have a problem. I know.

I recently finished graduate school, to both my delight and dismay. I held my degree in my hands, so proud of how hard I worked. But my desire to learn remained as strong as ever. Before my time in school had ended I was already mourning the loss of lectures, and class discussions, and presentations, and research, and writing. My friends made me swear not to start my PhD until I’m AT LEAST thirty. I know they care about me and my sanity and I trust they want what’s best for me. I digress. Thirty it is. I have several years to go before I embark on that journey so in the meantime I decided to learn to drive stick. “Why?” you ask. No reason, per se. It was something I didn’t know how to do and, thus, it was a skill I wanted to learn and therefore determined to master. But there was one problem: I didn’t know anyone who was willing to risk their car and their life to teach me.

Last spring I assigned my Resident Advisors (RAs) the task of teaching me something during our weekly one-on-ones. It was a Tuesday, 10am. I was rushing to meet Madison for our usual coffee date. I’d just come from another meeting and I didn’t have my purse. I came into view, walking toward her, and she saw me: purseless.

“You need your license,” she said.

I tilted my head.

She grinned. “I’m gonna teach you how to drive stick.”

My eyes widened. I think I squealed. You’ll have to ask Madison. All I remember is rushing back to my apartment to grab my wallet. The rest is history. The proof is in the black Jetta with the manual transmission that now sits in my driveway. 

Disclaimer: I recognize that driving my RA’s car as an RD was not my best choice. The old “do as I say, not as I do” comes into play here. I do advise against driving your staff member’s vehicle.

Advisory warning: Resident Advisors, do not offer to let your boss drive your car. (But Madison, dear, I’m ever so glad you did.)

All rules and warnings completely disregarded, Madison drove us to the mall parking lot and talked me through the gears and the clutch before we switched places. I drove in rows, up and down, and then in circles, switching from 1st to 2nd, and back to 1st: stopping, starting, stalling, and starting all over again. I’m not a car person and what perhaps comes naturally to some didn’t come as easily to me. I had to pay very close attention: multitasking, watching the RPMs rise and fall, concentrating on the sound and feel of the engine. Every now and then the car would jolt to a terrifying halt followed by a horrible sound. I’d lock eyes with Madison, fear written on my face, amusement written on hers. She would assure me it was okay, that I’d simply shifted into the wrong gear and stalled. I had a bad habit of confusing 1st and 3rd and attempting to start in 3rd rather than 1st. Madison would grab the gear shift and instruct me to press the clutch and move me into 1st, gently saying, “Dear, you were in 3rd again.” Then we’d burst into laughter and I’d restart the engine.

It took copious amounts of laughter, stalling, and starting over, and then I finally got it. After that, Madison let me drive her car everywhereand I mean everywhere. I became her personal chauffeur. I drove us to get smoothies. I drove us to get coffee. I drove us to bookstores. I drove us to Target. And sometimes I just drove, no destination in mind, just driving to drive. Madison would update me on her life while I only half-listened.

Please note: It’s difficult for me to drive stick and engage in serious conversations at the same time. I simply cannot do it. My boyfriend can attest to this fact. I have instated a rule for everyone’s safety: when riding in my car you cannot ask me any hard questions or launch into a conversation on a serious subject. You can, however, be the DJ and have a dance party in the passenger seat, if you want.

Although I learned the basics rather quickly, it did take some time to iron out the skillto shift smoothly, to brake gracefully, to downshift gently. I told Madison she was brave to teach me. She told me my determination to learn amused her. It amused many, I think. Why was I so determined? I don’t know, exactly. Have you ever wanted to master something just for the sake of mastering it? Maybe that’s something only I do. Maybe that sounds silly to you. Also, why put the time and effort into learning something that’s a tad cumbersome and complicates driving in traffic? Especially when manual transmissions are going extinct. At least, they are in the US. Did you know only about 10% of cars currently in the US are manual transmissions, and that that number is decreasing each year? I know because I looked it up. An article in the The Guardian likened knowing how to drive stick to a noveltythe same type of novelty that lies in knowing how to solve a rubik’s cube. I think that’s a nice way of telling me that my newfound skill is practically useless. Crazy stick-shift lovers would disagree and give you 20 reasons we should all drive manual cars.

I am not here to make a case that you should learn how to drive stick. I am here to tell you that learning to drive stick taught me something, and it teaches me something still. If there’s something you want to learn, do it. If people look at you like you’re crazy, do it anyway. If someone tells you it’s a potentially useless skill, don’t listen. If it takes a few times to master, or maybe one hundred, keep at it. If we let it, the process of learning allows us to learn much more than whatever skill we’ve set out to master. Driving stick is not a calculated science and this proved bothersome to me. I wanted an instruction manual that told me when to shift and exactly how much gas to give the pedal and precisely how fast or slow to release the clutch. Sometimes I wish life came with an instruction manual. My new transmission definitely did not. Neither does life, I know. This is my encouragement to you: Can’t master the elusive dance between the clutch and the gas? Don’t give up. Keep trying. Stall out? It’s okay. You can restart and keep going. Shift into the wrong gear? Pause. Take a deep breath. Simply route yourself back to the correct gear. It’s a delicate maneuver, not a science. I’ve had to learn to listen to the engine, to trust my gut, to feel the road and let the skills I’ve learned guide me. I’m doing the same thing in my own life right now, holding fast to what I know to be true, what I’ve learned thus far, to who I am, who I know God to be, and also who I am in Him. Shifting gears on my drive to and from work these days is reminding me that it’s okay to let my life shift too. It’s okay that I don’t have a road map or an instruction manual. It’s okay that I don’t know where I’m going, that I can’t see what’s ahead. I’m learning to embrace life’s song, to listen to the words and to feel the rhythm, in the same way I learned the delicate maneuver and elusive dance that is driving stick. 

~

Pro Tips:

  1. Thankfully, I live in Anderson, SC where people don’t know how to use their horns. I hail from West Palm Beach where we use our horns and drive aggressively. If you decide to learn how to drive stick, may I suggest learning in a small town where people don’t know that horns are a thing? 
  2. When you begin, start in an empty parking lot.
  3. Don’t forget the emergency brakeit’s the equivalent to “park” for those of you who drive an automatic. Your car will roll away if you forget to use it.
  4. If you purchase a stick, no one will ask to borrow your car (or be tempted to steal it) because they won’t know how to drive it.
  5. If you want to drive a stick but are concerned about your ability to manage eating, or talking on the phone, or doing the unlawful thing of texting whilst shifting up and down, not to worry. You’ll learn quickly.

On Turning Twenty-Seven

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I turned twenty-seven twenty-ish days ago. I like birthdays. A LOT. Mine, yours, doesn’t matter. I like the excuse to eat doughnuts with sprinkles, if I want. I like the candles and the cards. I like purchasing gifts and wrapping them with brown paper and tying them with ribbons and bows. Birthdays, in my opinion, should never be overlooked.

I work with college students and I hear a lot of negative connotations about being an adult—you know, a “real adult”—the post-college kind of adult that works a full-time job to pay for things like rent and cell phones and student loans and amazon prime and food and wifi. I try hard to counteract the belief that aging is dreadful by celebrating my own adulthood well. I want my students to see all the wonderful and beautiful things that come with getting older. I will not lie, adulthood is hard. But it’s also rich. I’ve found that my relationships grow deeper as time passes. Each year, I learn a little bit more about myself. I trust that I’m becoming a slightly better person with age as God continues to sanctify me.

I have to be honest about twenty-seven, though. This birthday was hard. I exchanged mid-twenties for late and it’s quite probable that I’m having a quarter-life crisis two years too late. The week I turned twenty-seven I interviewed for a new job, was offered said job, accepted said job, promptly quit previous job, and packed up my life for what feels like the millionth time. I will save that story for another post, another time. The point is, turning twenty-seven made me doubt this whole adulthood thing. It made me wonder if I’m any good at being an adult. It caused me to question the decisions I’ve made. It made me worry that I’m making all sorts of mistakes and that I’m doing this adult thing completely and totally wrong. I never imagined twenty-seven but, if I had, I would have imagined a young lady with some direction regarding her career. I would have imagined a young adult who’d at least begun to put down some roots, building a life for herself. Confession: I’ve yet to stay committed to a job for more than two years at a time and I’ve yet to reside in a space for longer than one year. I’m quite unsettled and still grasping for direction.

Perhaps you can relate, and perhaps not. I tend to inflict hard things on myself and make everything more difficult than it needs to be, I know. My ambitions drive me to crazy. I said yes to crazy amounts of grad classes. I said yes to crazy work hours. I said yes to multiple jobs. I said yes to promotions that didn’t pay but only worked me harder. I said yes to uprooting my life and moving across the country, more than a few times. I’ve lived in 3 different states, in 13 different places with just as many roommates while working my way through 11 different jobs over the past 9 years. Crazy, clearly. I try to pretend that I’m not a millennial but my life story screams otherwise. I’m still trying and failing and learning and growing. I’ve been reflecting on all the different seasons I’ve walked and there are a few things that I wish someone had told me, truths that I still preach to myself as a twenty-seven year-old.

1. Paint the Walls

As previously mentioned, I have moved A LOT. I’ve lived with family, roommates, and also alone. I’ve done my fair share of couch-surfing in-between moves. I can’t tell you how many times I refused to settle and refused to unpack. I didn’t think I’d be there that long or, let’s be real, I didn’t want to be there very long. I was waiting for what was next. I’m horrible at living in the present, especially during a transition. What I’ve found, though, is that my whole life is being built on a compilation of seasons that all feel like transitions. Sometimes seasons stretched out much longer than I thought they would and other times they ended more abruptly than I’d ever anticipated. I can tell you that I have never regretted making a space a home even when it was a super short season. I have, however, always regretted the times I refused to settle and refused to unpack. Paint the walls, so to speak. Open your heart to the ones you’re living with. Make traditions even if they only last a few weeks. Believe that you are home for that moment and that you belong and that God has you right where He wants you. And if you literally do paint the walls (which, I think you should) I’m here to tell you to use frog tape, it will make all the difference.

2. Forever is a Lie

I spent a lot of my twenties in despair by listening to the lie of “forever.”

“It will be this way forever.”

“I’ll be stuck in this job behind this desk for the rest of my life.”

“This difficult season will never end.”

“Family will always and forever be hard.”

You’ll be blown out of the water at how quickly the season you’re in can change. Sometimes all it takes is a simple phone call or an e-mail and your whole life will change, just like that—like mine did the week I turned twenty-seven. Other times the change is slow, but I promise it’s there. I spent a year faithfully showing up to my therapist’s office Every. Single. Tuesday. FOR A YEAR. I feared it wasn’t helping. I doubted that I was making any progress. And then, I faced a huge transition in a way that surprised even me. I knew then that those Tuesday evenings hadn’t been in vain. I’d planted seeds and watered them faithfully and they’d grown, and I’d changed. Forever is a lie. Don’t listen to it. Plant seeds and watch them grow. Whatever season you’re in, I assure you, it isn’t infinite.

3. Name Your Fears

Name them out loud to yourself, first, and then to someone you trust. Naming your fears immediately releases the tightness of the hold. It will allow you to face them with greater courage and clarity, I promise. You’re stronger than your fear. One of the bravest things I did was name that I’m afraid of needing people. Naming it gave me permission and freedom to fight that fear. It allowed me to choose to open my heart and to resist the temptation to live in isolation. My dearest and closest friends wouldn’t be my friends today if I hadn’t named that fear to myself, and also to them, and fought to let them in. Name it, and fight it with all the courage and strength you can muster.

4. Let Your Hopes and Dreams Shift and Change

Millennials. We get a bad rap for being non-committal. In our defense, there are so many places to travel, so many jobs to apply for, so many new things to try, who can blame us? We like to dwell in possibility, it’s true. I had very specific hopes and dreams in undergrad. I entered grad school with an ever-so-slightly different set of hopes and dreams. Then, I turned twenty-seven and I’m realizing that my hopes and dreams are changing again. I’ve persecuted myself for not anticipating that this would happen and I’ve beaten myself up for not making decisions accordingly. But how on earth was I supposed to know that my hopes and dreams would change?? Further, how was I supposed to know what, exactly, they would morph into?? How am I supposed to remain true to myself if my desires keep shifting?? Here’s what has helped me: I’ve decided to choose wisely, the things that are most true to who I am right now, and then commit to those things. Pursue your hopes and dreams with your whole heart, but don’t be surprised if those desires shift and change with time. What I thought I wanted when I went off to college isn’t the same as what I want today. My hopes and dreams right now probably won’t be the same when I turn thirty. It’s okay. Simply pause and reroute. Redefine your hopes and dreams and then continue chasing them with your whole self.

5. He’s Faithful

In retrospect, I have to laugh at myself. If I don’t laugh I’ll cry over how many days I spent drowning in confusion, full of anger and asking all the questions. It’s always the same. The season ends and all of the sudden I can see with clarity that God knew what He was doing. That whole “lamp unto my feet” thing, it’s actually a thing. I feel like I’m walking in the dark a lot, but with time I’m able to realize He was leading me all along. I hope someday I’ll get better at this trust thing, but probably not, despite my best efforts. The Israelites certainly never did. This I know: you’ll find yourself amazed each year, even through the hard ones that you’d rather not walk again. He’s faithful, always. Every. Single. Time.

A Letter to Nine Forever Favorites

Nine women piled into my living room for staff meeting. I had no idea what I was doing. Grad school taught me learning and moral development theories and it helped me define my philosophy of residence life, but it didn’t prepare me to lead my first staff meeting. Nine women were staring at me and expecting me to lead them through this year. I led them, though maybe not well at first.

~

Dearest PD staff, friends, sisters, extensions of my younger self: You trusted me, even though you didn’t know me. You followed me, even though I wasn’t sure where we were going. You brought your voices, your hopes, your stories. You brought your strengths, your fears, your insecurities, your giggles, your heartfelt questions. You filled my calendar, my phone, my thoughts, my couch, my heart. Sometimes you told me things you’ve never told anyone else. Other times you tried not to tell me things, but eventually you’d tell on yourselves.

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I’ve eaten so many bagels with you this year and I’ve consumed more Chick-fil-a in 10 months than I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. We’ve stayed up late painting our nails and watching too many episodes of Friends. We’ve traveled far for good coffee and risen early for lemon crepes.

Thank you for extending me so much grace. Thank you for loving and supporting me. Thank you for teaching me, for letting me make mistakes and learn alongside you. After a year with you, this is what I now know:

-Stripes never go out of style.

-Too much grace is not a thing.

-Our stories—yours and mine—are worth telling.

-The hard questions are the bravest questions.

-Hugs are important.

-Failure does not indicate the absence of courage.

-Brownies are always a good idea.

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I don’t know how long I’ll serve as an RD, or how many staffs I’ll have, but know that you nine were my first and you’ll forever be my favorites.

With Love, Sarah