A Year of Desire

I spent the better part of 2017’s last quarter working my way through The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte while huddled in the back of Rough Draft, drinking whatever latte the barista recommended that day. Pages and pages of my journal are filled with quotes and ponderings from the book, dotted occasionally with tear stains as I drank in the idea that my heart and emotions aren’t actually evil above all else.

[Briefly, the idea behind the book is to identify not what you wish to accomplish, but how you want to feel, and to learn to work in pursuit of those desires rather than material accomplishments.]

Therapy is another place I spent a lot of time at the end of 2017, sitting on a couch in downtown Hillsdale trying to figure out who I am and what I’m doing and what is even going on. In other words, being a young adult. When I told my therapist about this book, she asked a question that squeezed my very soul.

“What feelings would you chase if you believed you were worthy of feeling them?”

With that question ringing in my mind, I came up with these four core desired feelings. They’re not resolutions, “One Words,” or proclamations. They are the things I want to believe I am worthy of feeling. These are the desires I want to run after in 2018.

grounded. firmly planted with roots stretched deep into the ground, impossible to pull up. like a tree planted beside still waters, planted firm in the faith of my ancestors as it mingles with the things i am learning to believe for myself. feet in the grass, hands in the soil channeling nana baker as i dig and weed and prune. i want to be sure and secure in my identity, my relationships, my livelihood. to have my feet firmly planted in my truth and my arms wrapped securely around my people. i want to be connected to a community of likeminded people and to those who challenge me. to be truly known and heard and loved, to stand strong and sure in who i am and what i believe and where i come from. grounded.

insatiable. i want to always want more, to be thirsty for life and hungry for adventure. i never want to stop learning, yearning, reaching, trying. i want to always want. may life never be enough, may i always long for more joy and life and food and pleasure and adventure and peace and challenges and friends. i never want to stand throwing distance from my dreams and declare that i’m close enough. i never want to be satisfied. insatiable.

fulfilled. filled up. overflowing. i want to live out my calling, to spend my days doing work that matters and my nights pouring myself out for those i love. filled up to empty myself for others, to know beyond that shadow of a doubt that i am where i should be and doing what i should do. boots on the ground, feet on the grass, hands in the proverbial soil getting dirt under my nails while i dig ever deeper into life.  constantly chasing that feeling of sitting on the porch of the miracle building with coffee on my armrest and my bible in my lap; always longing for the dirty feet and linked arms of dusty pucallpa nights. i want to do what i was made for, live the life intended for me. fulfilled.

safe. i don’t want to have to hide who i am or pretend not to be passionate about the things that light a fire inside me. i want to be myself, loudly and honestly and truly. i want to know that i am loved and cherished no matter what i do or who i am. i don’t want to walk on eggshells or have to guess what’s okay to feel that day. i want to laugh late into the night about things that won’t make sense in the morning, to know i’m not a burden or an annoyance or too much. to take care of myself unashamedly. i want to be protected, sheltered, cared for when the world caves in; to be held when i can’t stand up anymore. safe.

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The One Where I Give Myself Awards

With my debate and student leadership days long behind me, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten any awards. As a Millennial, I require formal recognition and accolades at least once every few years. Otherwise, I will crumple into a pile of under-liked instagram posts, unseen achievements and half-finished Pinterest projects, and we can’t have that!

Without further ado, I proudly present the Adulting Awards Alyssa Gave Herself.

  • Finished Weekly Meal Prep With Time to Spare for a Shower! – sure, the shower was at 11:45 and I got to bed way too late and had to hit snooze 5 times this morning and was almost late for work, but still!
  • Killed the Spider in my Bathroom without Screaming! – although I may have gasped sharply and used more force than necessary.
  • Asked a Coworker to Hang Out Outside of Work; Did Not Have to Quit Job! – I did mentally compose notice when I did not receive a response within .000001 seconds, then realized the text had not yet sent. Good thing, because I really enjoy my job. 
  • More than 75% of Desk Succulents Still Alive! We won’t talk about the 25% that inexplicably shriveled and died.
  • Made It Through Gym Workout Without Headphones! Honorable Mention: managed not to fall off the elliptical while reading a magazine!
  • Gave Guest a Clean Towel! This was only because my mother helped unpack my new apartment and put the guest towels in a different place than my towels. Smart woman.
  • Wiped Down Stove and Counters with Real Cleaning Products! Not just a damp paper towel that I halfheartedly aimed at the counter while stirring splattering food.
  • Shook New Neighbor’s Hand for Appropriate Length of Time! Also pronounced my own name correctly and did not express my disappointment that they don’t have a dog.
  • Stopped After Two New Episodes of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Instead of Watching Entire Season in One Night! Okay, fine. Three. FINE. Four.
  • Participated in Group Work in Training, Die Not Die! Also did not kill anyone. 
  • Did Not Laugh at NPR Report on US Naval Base in Djibouti!
  • Convinced Blog Readers that I Did Not Laugh at NPR Report on US Naval Base in Djibouti! Of course I didn’t! Not all the way to work! Djibouti! Hee.
  • Blogged for the First Time in Months Without Putting Three Days Into a Post! Maybe it’ll become a trend.

The One That’s a Love Letter to a Hometown

Dear Reading,

We’ve been together just over two years, you and I. I go between “only two years?” and “already two years?” nearly every minute. And even though I’m leaving soon, a piece of my heart will always love you.

If my life was a movie, your part would be that scene when the girl takes her glasses off and realizes she’s beautiful. Or the scene where the underdog finally stands up to the bully. (In this analogy, the majority of my life is the scene in Napoleon Dynamite where the farmer mutters something about arrowheads in the hills, but I digress).

I came to you, dear Reading, confused and hurt and tired and lonely. I needed a safe place to figure out who I was, to learn how to love and be loved.  I needed to learn how to fit into myself, to stretch into my fingertips and toes and stop trying to keep up appearances.

That’s exactly what you gave me. In this tiny little one-horse (well, maybe 7. We have Amish people) town, I rented my first apartment. I bought too many vegetables, not enough meat, and all the wrong cleaning supplies. I cleaned the bathroom, made a lasagna, lit a candle and crowded new friends around the tiny wobbly table donated to me by a cousin. After my first official dinner party, I christened myself an adult.

I finished school, worked full time, paid bills and mostly failed at budgeting. I walked your small streets and got a library card that isn’t even laminated. You let me cry – oh, I’ve cried so much here – healing tears and joyful tears and tears of betrayal and guilt and loneliness. You hid me in your cornfields and by your tiny lakes when a years-long dream shattered.

You taught me to laugh, deep and long, until I cried all over again. You gave me friends within easy driving distance, confidantes and acquaintances alike. Late nights crammed in my tiny apartment, playing stupid games and talking about everything. Long walks with ice cream and thrift store runs and trips to the beach on cloudy days.

You watched me fall in love with Jesus all over again, deeper and newer than every before. You saw me worship in an old church on Sunday nights, surrounded by teenagers I would give a kidney for. I got baptized in that old church, declaring to a room of the aforementioned friends and teenagers that I was in, all in, with this God thing. You heard me whisper prayers just outside the door of an old barn, saw me sob at my grandmother’s grave after buying the things to make freezer jam, and sat patiently while I screamed and threw rocks from train tracks into a deep gully.

I fell in love, for real, for the first time while walking your streets and sitting in your diners. Mile loops from my apartment, past that house, hoping for a glimpse or a quick hello in the midst of my short bursts of what I called jogging but actual joggers would refer to as “slightly brisk walking.” Breaking my family’s texts-sent-in-a-month record, constantly smiling down at my phone. Making mix CDs and passing notes like middle schoolers. That first hug, while your stars winked down at me. Crossing back over your borders after the most perfect first date.

I’ve learned so many lessons, dear Reading, in the two short years I’ve been with you. People I haven’t seen in a long time tell me how happy I look. I introduce myself to people now; I’ve learned how to small talk (when the conditions are just right and the stars align).

There aren’t enough words to talk about how thankful I am for the years we’ve had together. They’ve been some of the most influential I’ve experienced thus far.

Even though I’m leaving, dear Reading, you will always be dear to me.

After all, you introduced me to truck pulls.

The One Where I Learned from Watching Her

I push the box of cereal further back on the conveyor belt. After all, there’s already 3 or 4 produce-related items there, and I have to keep them all together so it’s easier to put the groceries away when I get home.

I fold the sleeves of my shirts in first, then fold them up into thirds.

When the baby I’m holding starts whimpering, I whisper, “what’s your matter?” as I bounce them gently on my hip.

My hand mixer and my grill utensils are in the same drawer.

When the pastor makes a particularly eloquent point in church I find myself saying “hmm” under my breath.

I gasp sharply as I swerve to miss a raccoon in the road.  My boyfriend jumps, annoyed and startled.

The slightest relational conflict cuts me deep, and I’m loyal to a fault – I won’t let go of friendships that should be over, constantly reaching out again and again.

I find joy in the outdoors, in walking barefoot through the cold, damp dirt of a garden or letting a calf suck on my fingers. Fall is my favorite season; I love to crunch the leaves.

Travel runs in my veins, and I would accept a ticket to anywhere as long as I could explore like a local instead of being a tourist.

I sing “give me that foot” when I put kids’ shoes on. When I read “Love You Forever,” I know how the song is supposed to sound.

For every day of my 22 years, my mother has been teaching me. Though I have not always recognized it as such, I’ve constantly been learning.  How to boil an egg, scrub a toilet, fold clothes (though I do that far less frequently than she, and much more slowly), respond to service workers, and treat the elderly.  As I attempt to be an “adult,” I see more of my mother in myself every day.  I hear her in my phone voice, I see her in the way I hold babies and talk to kittens.  She hovers in the memories of childhood, the little routines and traditions I hope to one day pass on to my children.

I remember asking her, once, why she did something the way she did.

“That’s how Nana always did it,” she replied. “I learned from watching her.”

At the time, I didn’t fully grasp the depth of the comment, but I think I’m starting to now.  See, we never sat down and had “How To Be An Adult” lessons. My mother never handed me handbooks about tucking the sheets into hospital-style corners or gave me worksheets about appreciating the world around me and loving those different than me.  Instead, she showed me in quiet ways, by living out her life in a manner worthy of exemplifying. When I see her traits in myself, I am proud to say that “I am my mother’s daughter.” She taught me every day, and she’s still teaching me today. Through lengthy daily phone calls, visits home and ceaseless prayers, she continues to teach me.

I was asked the other day why I did something the way I did.

“That’s how my mom always did it,” I replied.  “I learned from watching her.”

The One For Your Dark Days

Note: Several of the pieces I link to are raw and contain strong language and themes of doubt. A link to a piece by a particular author does not signify an endorsement of their theology or everything they’ve ever written; it just means that piece prodded at my heart during my darkest days. Thanks for reading. 

The end of fall is drawing closer, the days are getting progressively shorter, the sun is poking its face through the clouds less and less, and the darkness is creeping closer to you. I know, because you’ve told me, and because I’ve been there. I’m not there now, but I was, and I remember.

When I drove past the cemetery today, I noticed that the leaves were almost all off the trees. Timehop reminded me yet again of where I was at this time two years ago – of the sleepless nights, the way I cried anytime I was alone, and the endless doubts and questions that plagued my mind and spirit.

I don’t know where you are, not exactly. Some of you have texted, called, written, talked. Told me you’re struggling, doubting, fumbling, scared. “I just don’t know what to do,” and “is it normal to cry this much?” and “where is God in this s**t?” are all texts I’ve gotten from you in the last few days. From 3-4 different individuals, making up the collective “you.” Different circumstances and stories, the same creeping darkness. The same ache to find some light.

It’s not like you don’t know. The answers are familiar to you – you’ve grown up in church, go to Christian college, etc. You know God is good. You know faith should be enough. But for whatever reason, it’s not right now. And on the darkest days, the ones when you don’t want to poke your head out of the covers or unroll the blanket burrito to face the world, no amount of cheerful Bible verses or “God’s got this!” is going to help you. If one more person tells you to delight yourself in the Lord, you’re going to punch them in the face. You’re not that okay right now, and you want something more than the Sunday school answers.

That’s why I’m writing this. I’ve been reminded lately of the things that got me through those dark times – little things. Honest writing, simple prayers, self-care. Because the truth is that God is good, He is enough, you should delight yourself in the Lord, and everything will be okay… but sometimes that doesn’t help and you just need to take a hot bath and know you aren’t alone. I’ve been “meaning to” put together a kind of list of the things that helped me keep my grip on sanity in my own dark days, but as I walked downtown hunched against the cold wind today, I decided to finally do it.

I pray you’ll find something here that speaks to your soul. I pray you will see the simple love of Jesus in a brand new light, that your faith will become your own and that it will be enough to sustain you when the darkness rolls in again.  I pray you find your safe places and people, that you are always real with yourself and with God. You are loved deeply and vastly by the creator of the Universe. May you believe that fact more every day.

Writing:
Micah J. Murray:
The Day I Stopped Believing in God
When We Criticize the Church
Dancing Around the Edges
To the One Losing Her Faith
I Don’t Have my S**t Together
And really, almost everything he has ever written. Two winters ago, I started at his first post and worked my way through his blog.

Addie Zierman:
Come Weary
An Open Letter to the Church: How to Love the Cynics
Why Are You So Depressed?
Glossary of Christian Terms Series
When We Were on Fire (If you read nothing else on this list, read this book)

Emily Maynard:
Why I Can’t Go to Church on Sunday
I Don’t Think God Has a Plan for my Love Life
Modesty, Lust, and my Responsibility

Sarah Bessey:
In Which I’m a Feminist, Sure, But First I’m a Disciple of Jesus Christ
Love Looks Like series (the kind of girly, chick-flick reading that helps with a good cry)
Jesus Feminist

Other:
Faith Unraveled – Rachel Held Evans
-Poetry by John Blase at The Beautiful Due
-A Deeper Story

Prayers (usually repeated in a whisper or a scream, over and over and over):
-“I can’t.”
-“Help.”
-“Thanks.”
-“Give me peace.”
-“I need You so much closer.”
-“Prove it.” (and then be still. Because He will.)
Valley of Vision

Practices:
-Light some candles
-Set an alarm and do nothing for 5 minutes but stare at a wall
-Journal at least a sentence a day
-Go for a walk
-Read liturgies
-Pet a dog or cuddle a baby
-Call your mom or grandpa or best friend
-Make something: food, a craft, etc. Use your hands.
-Before there’s snow, stand barefoot on the grass
-Look at stars
-Read poetry
-Take a bubble bath
-Visit a new church
-Go to counseling. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself

The One Where I’m Apparently a “Grown-Up”

Something odd has become apparent to me over the last several months. It seems that when you live on your own, have a full-time job and cook your own food… all while managing not to seriously injure or kill yourself or others; people begin to think of you as an “adult” of sorts. This is a foreign label to me, and the realization has dawned on me over a long period of time. Without further ado, please enjoy the following list.

Times I Have Bizarrely Realized I am Considered a Grown-Up (Complete with GIFs because I’m the 20-something variety of “grown-up” and it’s a Buzzfeed world)

  • At one of the first nights of Crossroads last year, when Doug instructed students to find their adult and I started looking for Dawn or Connie… as several girls ran up to me and stared expectantly.
  • When my old boss told me that I wouldn’t be able to take vacation days over the summer like I had been promised, and saying, “My dad is going to be really mad about this” did absolutely nothing.
  • The week I was sick last year and had to stumble around my apartment by myself to get my own water and crackers.
  • Every time my internet bill auto-deducts from my bank account
  • Every time my rent comes out of my bank account
  • Every time I go grocery shopping
  • Really, every time I have to spend a substantial amount of my money on something that I only vaguely realized cost substantial amounts of money.
  • When my best friend got MARRIED on Saturday and no one thought it was weird or that she was too young or asked us why a bunch of kids were playing dress-up in the park.
  • After that same wedding, when a little girl who was helping clean up asked me where she should put the bells. And I told her to ask an adult. And then we stared at each other in total confusion for a full 30 seconds before it dawned on me that I was, in fact, the adult in that situation.
  • The first time my mom called me to ask a cooking question
  • Whenever I have to clean my apartment
  • When I meet my friends’ parents, but my friends are high school students and I’m their youth worker, so the parents treat me like I’m THEIR peer. What?!
  • Last Christmas, when my favorite gift was a knife set and the only non-domestic thing I received was an iTunes card.
  • The time I talked about mangos with a total stranger in the produce section completely sincerely for at least 5 minutes. (Did you KNOW about the peeling a mango on a cup trick?!)
  • Anytime conversation un-ironically turns to politics and I’m expected to participate
  • Any and every time any and every thing happens to my car. Tonight it wouldn’t start after Roots. As I started to panic and figure out how to get home tonight and get a new car by morning, Jocie’s friend listened for an eighth of a second and said “oh, your battery’s dead! no big deal!” (spoiler alert: it started as he went to find his jumper cables).
  • In conjunction with the above, any and every time I step into any form of auto shop. “What kind of oil does your car need?” “Hang on, let me call my grandpa.”
  • Taxes
  • And finally: THE TIME THERE WAS A SPIDER IN MY APARTMENT AND I HAD TO EITHER (WO)MAN UP AND KILL IT MYSELF OR SURRENDER THE PROPERTY AND MOVE TO A NEW HOME BUT I DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME OR MONEY TO MOVE SO I HAD TO KILL IT.