What you’ve all taught me

Almost five years ago I was approached by the youth pastor at our church and asked if I wanted to begin leading sixth grade girls. Because my son had been so greatly impacted by the youth program at our church, I immediately said yes. I also felt strongly that I had insight and guidance to give to young women. Our church operates in a special way and when you lead students, ideally you stay with them throughout middle and high school. That’s seven tentative years of commitment.

When sixth grade began, and we had our first youth group, I found myself feeling lost. I had only raised a boy and had minimal experience with pre-teen girls. I did not have a typical upbringing and realized very quickly that I was out of my element. I did not understand how to be genuinely silly. I was very self conscious. I had a hard time truly feeling connected. What had I done?!?

Youth group was loud. We played a lot of messy games. We sang and hugged and talked. I had never been to anything like this. It felt annoying at times. It didn’t make sense. Sometimes the games grossed me out. I wanted to be present and participate but I also wanted badly to run away and quit.

Growing up, I lived a life that was full of pain, abuse, horrific things that kids should not see or experience. I didn’t understand relationships, I had “friendships” out of convenience or obligation. I used people and took all I could from everyone I met. I did not know God, I had never been to any sort of formal church and had never been a part of any youth program. I had minimal freedom in my heart and lived a life full of fear, shame and disconnection. As an adult, I carried my insecurities and shame into my life. I protected myself from vulnerability. I avoided emotions and trusted no one.

I was not sure how to mesh my survival skills with my present day circumstances. I believed leading would be an easy weekly commitment: I could show up, hang out, go home and repeat until graduation day. It’s not that I didn’t care or want my experience to be fuller, I just didn’t know I was lacking and didn’t know how to be any other way.

Over the past four years, in a surprising but also not surprising twist, my girls (and many other students) have been the ones to shift my heart. I have seen them be kind, vulnerable and silly. I have watched them grow and share and love. I have heard of their heartache and my walls have softened. I have grown to love them so greatly and began to release my fears and become more childlike. In the space where I believed I was leading, they led me to places I didn’t know I needed to go.

And here I am, at the end of a weeklong summer camp with our church’s youth group realizing that what started out as serving and commitment has turned into a deep love and adoration. I love every one of my girls and every one of the students that are “not mine”. I love every leader and door holder and worship leader and speaker. My heart comes alive in their presence. My soul is filled up with the sound of their laughter, watching them all worship, hearing them speak truth over each other. Seeing them all fall in love with the creator of the universe. I am in awe.

Camp is for them but man, it feels pretty spot on for me. Late night wild dancing and laughter can seem childish to grown ups but sometimes, it just what the spirit needs. My week consisted of minimal sleep, surviving on red bull and coffee, losing my voice singing and riding on a bus a cumulative 37 hours with 72 high schoolers.

I loved every second of it.

They always say that serving isn’t just for the charity or group you’re volunteering with; that it does something for the person who gives of their time. I feel so strongly that I am getting a bargain here. I can’t imagine my life without these humans.

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Two weeks down

What am I even counting up or down to…

My second week in the Pacific Northwest was much better mainly because I was traveling and the reality of the move wasn’t directly in my face every second. I got to adventure with my husband and this time, we even got to bring Parker!

Yosemite was magical, amazing, beautiful, and even made me cry a bit (so shocking). The waterfalls were spilling over every peak and edge and the river was rushing in an intriguing and intimidating fashion. The lush greenery and hints of wildflowers created a canvas so perfect even Bob Ross couldn’t haven’t concocted it. I fell in love with her and sensed the magic that I envision John Muir himself was drawn to. Even though there was a lot of work to be done (mainly for Brent), it felt very relaxing, enjoyable and fun. We had a hiking guide with us every day and a few other friends/work companions which added to the experience. Somehow, everyone was perfectly matched for weirdness and friendship. We all got along as if we had known each other our whole lives. I was reminded of my doubts about moving and being afraid I wouldn’t make new friends and my uneasiness concerning feeling connected to others.

I learned a few things on that trip. I learned to appreciate my husband more, to see just how smart and amazing he is. I was able to watch him work, be himself, share his knowledge and engage with others. He is truly an impressive man. In my mind, I have always known he had talents and of course, he must know what he is doing because he continues to be elevated in this field. I have been on many trips with him and seen him take pictures, but somehow, this trip was different. The way he relates to people, the way he is himself, his honesty and authenticity, it draws people in. He is warm and inviting. He is hilarious and goofy. He is super smart about photography and art and fashion and social media and marketing (like way smarter than I thought). I don’t say that in a negative way, but I began to look up to him more and respect him much more than I had before. I think back to leaving Ohio and am reminded of my fear of allowing someone to take care of me.

At times when I feel afraid, I always reflect on Doubting Thomas in the Bible, how he didn’t believe Jesus was raised from the dead until he saw him in person and saw his wounds and touched him. How I have seen miracles and life change over and over again, yet I still find myself hesitant and doubting Gods goodness at times. How I walk into a space trusting His plan but with lingering doubts in my mind and heart. I moved across the country because I believe that is part of God’s plan for my life. I left my job and son and community and friends because I believe that there is something even bigger happening. I was scared. I still feel scared in moments. I did not have a lot of answers (and I still don’t have a lot of answers) but God continues to remind me that He is with me and He sees my every worry.

Everything I could consciously be concerned with has been taken care of and He even shows up with relief from things I didn’t know I was troubled with. Every moment I feel stressed about an outcome, He has given glimpses of hope. Every anxious feeling I sense is replaced with ease and laughter. When I worry that I will feel alone, He gives me comfort and when I am scared that I won’t be taken care of, He reminds me just how cared for I am.

Years ago, my husband had a literal dream and without elaborating too much, the dream detailed how God had a plan for him and it included freedom and him going outside to play with Jesus. I was reminded of this dream last night, as God has continued to open doors and offer up multiple opportunities for our future. Even since we have moved, God has increased our opportunities, He has answered more prayers and continues to shower us with blessings and kindness and joy.

I do not know if this goodness will cease at some point. Sometimes I think my husband and I endured so much pain and brokenness in the first 40 years of our lives, that we won’t have any more during these next 40 years. Or maybe we will just never experience pain and suffering in the same way because we have a hope and faith that shifts our way of experiencing heartache. Maybe we are storing up goodness for when that day arrives…

I am just along for the ride, praying my decisions align with Gods plan, praying I can glorify Him in every moment and being grateful for every season I have walked through.

Week one down

It’s been one week since we departed Ohio for the Pacific Northwest. The drive was uneventful (especially compared to our February blizzard experience). We made really good time considering we were towing a U-haul trailer and believed we needed to drive under 65mph to be safe. We arrived “home” Wednesday early evening and I promptly began furiously unpacking. Unpacking turned into crying which was not very helpful to my task at hand, but probably healing for my heart. I completed my unpacking and settling by Friday. I probably should have drug it out longer to distract myself but I’m not much of a procrastinator so…

Our apartment is super cute. It sits on the Spokane River and is within walking distance from everything (AMC, Lululemon, MOD Pizza, Nordstrom etc). There’s a really awesome paved trail (Centennial Trail) and we can take it all the way to Idaho if we want. I imagine myself skating along it or us buying bikes one day and riding out to Idaho for adventures. Parker loves walking along the trail, sniffing every smell and seeing all the new friends. Everyone loves him already (how could you not)? Every place we eat has allergy friendly options galore. Gluten free options always, oat milk everywhere, vegan, vegetarian and probably some other stuff I’ve never even thought about.

Not working has been strange. I mean, I assist Brent with his work a lot so I am by no means laying around day dreaming, but it’s definitely different. I have way less interaction with people which is in many ways peaceful and calming. My tendency is to overfill my schedule and life but my insides yearn for solitude and quiet. This downtime is probably very good for me as I process all the changes. I do miss familiar faces a lot. I cry a little bit everyday.

Something very surprising that has happened is that my anxiety has risen. I don’t feel it in the forefront of my brain all the time, but my body knows it’s there. When I walk Parker or run an errand, I quickly become aware of the lack of comfort: I don’t know this area, I don’t know anyone really. I find myself being challenged in new ways, to evaluate my perception of others and to turn to God much more. I can logically talk myself out of a complete freak out/break down, but it’s unnerving to say the least. I think everyone I see is probably unsafe. I am hyper sensitive to everything and am nervous driving or venturing out in my own.

It’s strange how much security I drew from my life in Ohio. I had no idea I was so comfortable. I am feeling emotions I’ve never felt, fears I don’t recall ever experiencing. I find myself constantly praying, asking for security, a sense of safety and for the ache inside of me to leave. I would not have guessed for this to happen. I did not think leaving would be this difficult. My feelings well up in my throat and are almost uncontainable. I want so badly to think my way out of my pain. I want to convince myself that this isn’t that hard, but it is really hard and I need to be ok with that.

A younger me would be running from this, doing drugs or seeking validation to avoid myself, obsessively cleaning to “process”. Even though this pain cuts so deeply within me, I will run to it. I believe this experience is growing me to be more brave, more bold, more confident and more capable of leaning on God alone, before all others, before any worldly thing. I believe this process is on purpose, to teach me about being myself at an even greater level. I have almost nothing to distract me, I’m alone with my thoughts constantly, and I do not think that is an accident.

Brent asked me today if I just wanted to move home. He feels guilty for my pain. It reminded me of the day I told my mom I was pregnant, twenty years ago: she said, “you can always just come home” and somehow, I had enough wisdom to reply, “if I do, I will never learn to handle hard things or grow.” I can always go home. This is not permanent. In fact, if I’ve learned anything in the past five years, it is that nothing is permanent.

I trust whole heartedly that I am here for a reason. I do not know the reason but I have faith it exists. I believe my husband and I are doing this together on purpose. God has affirmed so many things along this journey and I cannot ignore Him. I believe, no matter how much I dislike it, that Matthew is in Ohio for a reason. And I trust that the bigger picture is way more important than my sadness. I will continue to grieve my losses. I will allow myself to cry as much and as hard as I need to. But I will not accept my feelings as fact and I will not run from this painful experience. Comfort is for napping, discomfort is for growth.

They say change is good

I know it’s inevitable. Every day, every moment, something is shifting. As a massage therapist, one of my biggest things is, “there isn’t stagnation.” Our bodies are always progressing or digressing, our lives are always ebbing and flowing, the seasons, the minutes in a day, the sunlight, all constantly moving.

I’ve found it to be true, that even the smallest of changes can create really huge emotions. For instance, when someone tells you dinner plans changed, sometimes you’re super pissed, angry, betrayed, let down, sad, disappointed, you name it. Super small things can really feel hard sometimes even though we can logically see that it’s not such a big deal. I’ve definitely found myself in a puddle of angry tears over some pretty minuscule stuff before.

I guess it should come as no surprise that I’m in a huge season of mourning and loss all jumbled up with excitement and anticipation. After years of dreaming, it is official: we are moving across the country.

I never felt at peace about leaving Ohio until now. I always found reasons to stay. I wanted our debt to be gone. I didn’t want to have to rebuild my business. I couldn’t bear to leave my family or friends. I kept thinking a move would happen far in the future or possibly never at all. Deep down I wanted to stay in Ohio, with my comfort and dependable life forever while also yearning for mountains and adventures every moment.

Leaving people and a life feels so permanent but if I have learned anything in these past four years, it’s that nothing is permanent, don’t cling too tightly to any space or tangible thing. When we moved into our apartment a year ago, we settled in expecting to live there for 3-4 years. I couldn’t have imagined a move across the country, leaving my business behind, totally switching gears and being a stay at home dog mom.

I believe this is the right decision even though my heart wishes it wasn’t. I know that it is time to embark on a new adventure, one where my husband and I get to grow closer and expand our influence. I know this will be a good thing for our family and I trust that the outcome of this is even greater than anything I can fathom.