Open: A Vision for 2017

Open. adjective. Allowing a view through an empty space; not closed or blocked up.

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My 2016 Top 9. Learned: fall, my sister, and the boyfriend are photogenic.

Last year, 2016, was a mixed bag.

(2017 will be, too.)

With this new year has come the realization that, despite the Instagram photos cheering the fresh start, new years are petrifying. This is especially true post-college. What will happen this year? runs through my mind, with all its subquestions: Move? Stay? Read? Write? Succeed? Fail? Grieve? Celebrate? Engaged? Married? None of the above?

I began last year in a similar state. I had just graduated and had one month of student teaching remaining on my calendar. The rest of the year, my future, was entirely and annoyingly blank.

The year filled out, as they always do. I got a job. The situation was serendipitous. And even so, the stretch from February to June was hard. Painfully so. I was in a school I knew, with teachers I trusted, in a grade level I liked. It should have been ideal and wonderful and fulfilling. But mostly, it was not. Mostly, it was hard.

Then came summer. I didn’t get a job. I was mad. And bored. My abundance of free time pushed me into tutoring, into taking field trips around the city with beautiful people of all different nationalities, into joining book groups, into workout classes, into making good from the unexpected. It was exactly what I needed. God knew. I didn’t.

And now, this school year.

There was some magic in this new beginning. My kids are weird and chatty and sweet. They read silently when they are supposed to. They ask bazillions of questions. They make me like teaching, most days. Even when it leaves me tired and frowny, when kids don’t always listen, when grading piles up, when I get stressed by the never-ending cycle of prep. That hope, that the pros might outweigh the cons, is a gift.

There was hope, too, when the boyfriend moved back to Minnesota. I am still giddy over this. It feels like a gift, even now, past the infatuation stage. We disagree, and disappoint, and resolve, and keep working, and his presence remains a delight. And I can see now, too, that being long distance for a season was not a tragedy. It shaped us and strengthened us, (when it wasn’t making me angsty).

Ordinary lessons string all these seasons together. I learned to budget. (This may be the most miraculous thing of all.) A Tale of Two Cities, and the songs of The Chainsmokers and Clemency, and the awesomeness of Hamilton moved up on my Favorites lists. I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of monthly review posts and bought official teacher shoes. The Twin Cities overflowed with opportunities, and I took some of them.

I sit and weed through these mixed blessings, hoping for clarity. My journal fills with scrawled words. What did I learn? How did I grow? What do I carry forward, into the great and wild unknown? What does my same old soul need in a fresher, newer season?

One idea rises: openness.

This year, I have grown good (very good) at creating rhythms, establishing systems, charting courses, and setting goals. I have completed tasks (check, check, check) and capitalized on what I know and what I do well.

It is comforting and sometimes confining.

I stick to what I believe. After all, it is best and true and right and easy. Venturing out of my control, in schedule and ideas and habits and everything, feels risky. So does listening. So does soul-searching. It might shake my solid world and theology; their cores might be hollow.

This sort of living gives me the illusion of control, but it’s a lie. When I sense its power waning, I become defensive, fearful, closed. In sum, not the adjectives I envisioned. Self-preservation is rarely pretty. So, in this new year: I want my spirit to be open.

Open handed, in generosity and sacrifice of self.

Open minded, to new ideas that might (gasp) be better than mine.

Open hearted, to where the Lord might lead as he walks beside me, in both ordinary and extraordinary.

I don’t know all that 2017 holds. (I won’t, until it’s happened.) I do know that the year will fill up, with some good and some bad and much in between. It always does. In these days to come, I want to open my heart, trusting the One who surprises and delights and knows much better than I.

Here’s to 2017, whatever this bright and unknown and unpredictable and open year may bring.

 

 

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Sweat

Sweat. verb. To perspire; the body’s natural reaction to heat, exercise, or occasionally embarrassment. I am naturally gifted at this.

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New Year’s resolutions are dangerous.

As we swung into January, my life was (is) in a state of flux. What else is new. Casting a vision for the whole entire year felt lofty, since I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in two weeks, much less six months. So I decided to take it one month at a time. A few goals, manageable ones, that would inspire me to live my best life now [insert air quotes], to do the things I’m always meaning to do but never actually get around to doing.

I was realistic in January, I thought. My goals were:

  1. Go to CorePower yoga at least once using free one-month pass
  2. Try one new recipe
  3. Go out for coffee with a friend
  4. Finish an online art class I’ve had access to for a loooong time
  5. Watch the BBC Pride & Prejudice

I was making progress and thinking sweet thoughts about my brilliant strategy. I’d tried not one, but two new recipes within the span of a week, I had a coffee date scheduled, and I’d taken two relaxing beginner yoga classes before the month was half over. Not too shabby, right?

And then I got cocky.

I decided that beginner yoga was nice and all, but I was ready for a challenge.

So one day after work, I shimmied on my leggings and headed for Yoga Sculpt class. The class description cheerily claimed that we would “boost metabolism and build lean muscle” as we “move to upbeat tracks.” We would combine yoga moves with cardio and strength-training to “intensify each pose.” I’m kind of an athlete, I thought, and I don’t suck that bad at yoga. What could go wrong?

A heck of a lot, it turns out.

Bad sign number one: I walked in five minutes before class starts, and the room was full. I was forced to awkwardly scootch between two mats. On one was a shirtless guy who responded cheerily when I asked if there was room for me. On the other was a girl who brought her boyfriend and stared at me silently. How cozy. I hoped I didn’t smell weird.

Bad sign number two: it was killer hot. All of 95º. This is not hyperbole. I was already feeling sticky, and all I’d done was grab weights (yep, weights were involved) and sit down on my mat.

Things did not improve when the instructor came in to actually start the class. She was short, tattooed, and looked like she should be bench pressing rather than sun salutating. She turned on the playlist, which she claimed was inspired by David Bowie and space, and began shouting instructions over the blasting space jams. “Give me 8!” she’d say, “And count. LOUDER!” “How are you feeling?” she’d holler, and the scary yoga girls in Lululemon sports bras would whoop. I might have grunted. By our second down dog, I was already shiny. It was not the glisten of endorphins. It was sweat.

We lunged and squatted and pressed. My high-to-low plank sucked compared to the girl next to me, whose boyfriend ought to have been impressed by her push-up form. We did jumping jacks and high kicks. After too many leg lifts, I tried to “Pulse! Pulse! Out and hooooold!” I thought my glutes might rupture.

In retrospect, this hour of my life is mostly a humid, sweaty blur. I may have blocked it out. This is what I do remember thinking:

  • This is my sister’s exact version of hell. Working out with scary fit people in a hot room while an intimidating woman yells at you.
  • I might pass out. I think I need to sit down. What would happen if I fainted? Would that guy catch me? Gross. No one should touch me when I’m this sweaty.
  • In high school didn’t we stop having practice in the gym if it got this hot? Didn’t our coaches say it was actually dangerous?
  • Ah ha. That’s why people have towels on their mats. Because if you don’t, you slide all over your own sweat when you try to lunge. Lovely.
  • This hand towel is not cutting it. I should have brought a beach towel.
  • If she tells me to hold it up! one more time, I’m going to swear.
  • I am choosing to laugh about this. I am choosing to laugh about this. I am choosing to laugh about this.

Eventually, finally, we ended in savasanah. Normally, lying on my back, I feel peace as my breath travels deep. Here, I felt sweat dripping down my face into my ears. When it was over, I peeled myself off my mat. I tossed on my jacket on the way out the door, and it instantly stuck to me. When I took it off in the car, it released such a cloud of heat that I steamed up the car windows.

This was not what I anticipated from my New Year’s resolution.

Go figure.

Basically, nothing is what I anticipate anymore. Life keeps teaching me that I have zero control over anything, except how I respond to what I’m given. So I’m choosing to view this interlude as an experience (admittedly one that is more entertaining in retrospect).

May 2016 find me responding to further challenges with an intact sense of humor and the knowledge that any and all suckiness can’t last forever. Here’s to a little sweat and a whole lot of adventure.

 

Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

Jason via Flickr

Jason via Flickr

This new year still has a bit of shine to it. The six at the end is still unfamiliar, substituted for a five too often. It still holds possibility and freshness.

This can excite, all those blank days ahead. Who knows what wonders this new start may bring. Or this can paralyze. You see all that’s wrong, right now, and all the ways things may continue to spiral out of your grasp.

Maybe you’re seeing your loneliness. You wonder where your friends have gone and why everyone is so busy but you. The open, empty days look dreary. Have you done something wrong? Is there something wrong with you?

Maybe you’re bored. You’ve lost your purpose, somehow, and you’re not sure why you’re taking up space on the planet. Passion and curiosity and motivation have evaporated, and you’re left staring dully at your laptop screen.

Maybe you’re drowning. Stress comes in waves, knocking you down just as you’ve caught your breath. You’re tired of being tired. You want rest, for the panic in your heart to quiet, and for the racing in your mind to slow.

In this season of resolutions, you want to fix it all. You want a perfection of a life. You want to build more meaningful relationships and get fit and not spend so much time on Facebook and not buy so many scarves and eat less pizza and budget and live a balanced life.

You can’t do it all.

You don’t have to.

As you stare down this blank new year, wanting something better, I pray you would start small. If you want a richer life, build it, one tiny choice at a time. Today, this week, this month, find one thing that makes you feel alive. Think of what makes you most energized, what makes you lose track of time, what makes you feel like the truest version of yourself.

And then do it.

Write. Read. Color. Knit. Run. Bake. Paint. Dance. Organize. Talk. Listen. Hug.

Do your thing. Even if you have to do it alone. Even if it requires being brave and getting off the couch. Even if you have to carve 30 minutes from your jammed schedule. Even if you doubt it will matter come April.

Don’t believe the lie that you must go big or go home. May you have the courage to take one small step, to start where you are with what you have. May you move forward because you love yourself, because you care for yourself, because you believe you are worth the effort.

And even if you never do this, may you believe that you are still loved, still valuable, still smart, still talented, still worthy. Because you are.

Blessings on your week, friend.

See

See. verb. To percieve with the eyes; to view; to visualize.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

It’s early when I leave the house. The sky has tired of hoisting the clouds high, and they hang between trees and over highways. They hold the sun’s waking light and my dim headlight beams captive. Slowly, I drive through the fog. I can’t see what’s ahead, machine or deer or intersection. I see only gray light over gray road. I am a speck in the center, between where I came from and where I am going.

I remain in-between now, slinking into a foggy new year.

I’ve left behind the cozy, familiar light of last semester. It was a sweet time, balanced between beloved people and hard-but-good work. Then the lasts began to fall heavy as December stretched on: last movie night with my roommate, the one who’s graduated now. Last time my boyfriend, who will soon be long-distance, will swing by after his night class. Last drive to a placement without the title student teacher. The light of memory glows, but it softens by the hour. It will slip further out of reach when I drive back onto campus, towing clean laundry and fresh challenges. I can’t go back.

But I don’t know what lies ahead.

The year spreads before me, a grid of unfilled minutes and days. I can scrawl some events across the white space: a spring break trip, a friend’s wedding, a start of student teaching, a graduation. In theory, I’m moving toward elusive adulthood, things like apartments and big-girl jobs and morning commutes. But from what I see, the minutes are mostly blank. I can’t imagine what they hold. I have no vision, no phrase, no grand resolutions for this year. How can I plan for something I know so little about?

I’m stuck, fearing what I cannot see. I imagine the worst.

I peer into the mist, trying to read it like the swirls in a fortune teller’s ball. I don’t know what will jump at me from the cloudy corners. Will I drift away from those I hold dear? Will motivation find me for my final semester of classes? Will student teaching be a success? Worry of hidden, phantom monsters grips me. I wonder if failure and loneliness and pain lurk just out of sight.

I know my faith should buoy me. After all, Jesus said something about the blessed who believe without seeing. But I don’t think he was talking about my limping faith, the kind that hopes for billboards pointing the neon-lighted way to happiness and holiness. I’d rather be Thomas and skip the extra bite of blessing. I want proof, physical evidence of Jesus walking with me.

Ye of little faith, indeed.

I grasp towards clarity and control, believing that if I can see, I can make right. If only I knew the problems and emotions and dangers I would fight, I could prepare. I would wield lists and resolutions and problem-solving plans.

In my striving, I forget that I control and can fix little. I cannot slow time, snatch precious moments and cup them in my palms until readiness to move on blooms. I do not dictate the weather or my friends’ time or much of anything. Even if I could see what lies ahead, I could do little to affect it.

I also forget that not known does not mean not good.

This year, like all years, will be a mixed bag of hard and good. It holds hugs and dirty dishes and yawns and good books. The alarm will go off too early. I will run, feel my blood pump and mood surge. I will spill things. Loneliness will bite on long afternoons filled with homework. Trees will sprout leaves in the spring. Beauty and goodness hide in the shadows, mixing with heartache to form a real life.

I do not know exactly what this year in that life will hold. It will be foggy the entire way, though I try to wave away the mist and peer further ahead. But I hear echoes, ringing from above. They whisper that it will be okay. And though I can’t see, I choose to believe.

2014

2014. noun. Number, actually. The brand spanking new year we are beginning.

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Image via Pinterest

Another appropriate title for this post would be How I Already Broke My New Year’s Resolution.

As the new year ticked in, I had all kinds of good intentions.

They’re already busted.

Once upon a time (like last year), I thought I was a rock star at making resolutions. I’m one of those obnoxious goal-oriented people who looks at a new year spreading out glittery and promising before me and can’t help but see all of the potential to get my act together. Last year, my list of things to change about my life included items such as 1. Pray more, 2. Be okay with being single, or, better yet, get a boyfriend so I don’t have to be okay with being single, 3. Write down everything I eat so I see how much dessert I consume and am shamed into cutting back.

Hmm.

Let’s not discuss my long-term success rate.

So this year, I was going to be even more of a resolution rock star while ringing in the new year. I had a vision, which sounds so much swankier than a boring old resolution. I was going to dare greatly, weaving together Brene Brown’s insights about being brave, Hillsong United’s cry for deep, dangerous waters in the song “Oceans,” and Donald Miller’s gentle exhortation to live a better story in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I pulled together a Pinterest board because going on Pinterest is one of my talents. I made plans to leap out of the comfortable and do things worthy of the bravest book heroine.

But then I started reflecting on 2013. And I realized that I actually did brave stuff.

I joined the speech team, avoiding anxiety-induced heart attacks and attempting to make stories swell with emotion. I started a blog, pulling the words hiding in my head to the exposure of the Internet. I taught a water aerobics class, faking expertise about the proper way to hold pool noodles for enthusiastic ladies. I leaped onto blob, smacking my fear of heights in the face. (Read all about that adventure in this post.) I became an RA, learning to lead and laugh with the wonderful women in my hall. I stood quivering in front of a classroom, pretending to be cool, collected college student who was confident in her ability to explain dependent clauses.

Some of these things were small. But for me, they were daring greatly, inching out of my comfort zone to do things that scared the pants off me. Well, maybe not the pants. At least the socks.

I am beginning to dare greatly, taking stumbling baby steps in the right direction. So why do I want to do so much more?

I want to have my own reality show. Duh.

Or, honestly, I think that part of this burning desire to live a better story is me striving to prove that I am interesting, that my life is noteworthy, that I am enough.

I look at the story of my life: the character, the introverted one who harbors a fear that she might be incredibly dull, or the plot, which is full of ordinary, and I wonder why anyone would want to read it.

I grab the sparkly, profile picture moments and cling to them like trophies, evidence of an exciting life that other people might want a part in.

I timidly spread out my accomplishments before God, hoping he won’t shake his head and say with quiet disappointment that I’m wasting my potential.

I’ve got it all wrong. I hope.

I need to believe that, in spite of my insecurities, I am a beautiful, un-boring person who is worthy of being known. I need to remember that I’m not the only one who stares at the ceiling and wonders what in the heck I’m doing with my life, questioning how other people seem to have a tight-knit group of thirty-five friends and live a jazzy, constant adventure and have hair that never looks homeless.  I need to understand that God loves me even if I live a crappy story, that he would still give me grace even if I did nothing but watch Netflix and knit. If I spend my year striving to dear greatly and write a bang-up story, I fear that I will pin my identity and worthiness on what I can accomplish: how many new things I can try, how many albums I can add to my iPhoto, how many ways I can prove I am exciting and interesting. I will think that I am the star of the show, that everything depends on the cool stuff I can drum up.

And that’s so not the point.

So I’m breaking my swanky vision.

Instead, I want to get it through my thick, self-glorifying skull that my worthiness does not depend on what I can do. I want to let the words be still sink deep and soothe the panic that comes when I try to fix everything. I want to whisper “Not I, but Christ” when I try to manufacture meaning and make things work.

This year, I still want adventure. I want to try new, terrifying things and swim where I can’t touch bottom. I want to live scenes that would add up to a stellar story. I want to see conflict as an opportunity for character development. I want to snatch up opportunities to be brave.

But I want to know that the backbone of my story, the thing that holds it all together even in the mundane moments of everyday life, is Jesus. I can’t heal my insecurities or make my adventures more meaningful. I can’t save myself. But he can.

And he doesn’t even need a New Year’s Resolution to make it happen.