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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Selfies

I used to hate, I mean, HATE pictures of myself. Every photo was an opportunity for me to see all the unsightly parts of me. To critique myself. To dislike myself. To remind myself of how much work I needed to do to look acceptable or be “pretty”. I could spot the smallest hint of cellulite or a double chin. My gray hairs were so obvious to me. When I looked frumpy or my butt looked too big. Whatever it was, it was all I saw.

And I didn’t need a photo to see how unattractive I was. I felt it all the time. It defined me. Every person I met, I compared myself to. Skinnier legs, more muscular arms, prettier hair, nicer skin, better put together, more fashionable, stylish, you name it. It was the foundation of my life. How did I measure up to someone else’s outsides?

I never did…..

I never felt sufficient. Ever.

A few years ago, when God began shifting my heart to align with His, I started to see glimpses of my worth. I got a tattoo on my side, the Hebrew word for sufficient, meaning if He is enough, then I am enough. I thought I was beginning to really learn to like myself but I was just finding new ways to mask my disdain. I could lift a lot of weights and post a cool video of that. I could make intentionally silly posts to hide the fact that I was uncomfortable with myself. I could edit and filter things to only present my “best” self.

Or…. I could just be myself and share only who I truly am, and be more than ok with it. I could truly love myself and see all the beauty within me and not focus on my flaws. But that seemed like an impossible feat…..

For a while I would try to shift my thoughts. Whenever I judged myself, I would say nice things in my head to combat the negative. There’s this guy, Gottman, and he did a study about relationships. Apparently, for every 1 negative statement, you need 5 positive ones to balance out. This is true for all relationships, even the one with yourself. If I looked in the mirror and said I was ugly, I would immediately force myself to say something kind. And if I found myself judging others, I would muster up a compliment and hand it out as fast as I could (and it had to be genuine). I would remind myself of how I ran a half marathon or how I loved deeply or served others well. I tried to find ways to convince myself that I was attractive and “good”. As much kind words I said to fight my mean self, it was never enough. I couldn’t convince myself to see anything differently.

My husband is a photographer and I have always forbid him from taking pictures of me. Professional cameras would capture my hideous appearance with even greater detail. I had no interest in seeing all of my skin and body with such great design. That decision always made me feel sad inside but my sorrow was not stronger than my dislike for myself. I don’t know if it’s me approaching my 40’s or the heart shift with my ankle break or just God revealing things to me, but something recently has changed. Maybe you just stop caring so much about this sort of thing at some point. Probably some people never cared much about comparison. Not only do I like the way I look, but I don’t even have to convince myself to approve of my appearance. Somehow, I actually see myself and see the beauty in me. My belly, which often times is fuller than flat, reminds me that I grew a human and it makes me smile. Sometimes it even makes me laugh because it’s so stinking adorable. And my legs, which are softer because of my ankle break, don’t gross me out even with some stretch marks and cellulite. I can’t even explain why it doesn’t matter, but it just doesn’t. My hair is in need of some fixing, my grays are showing through horribly and the fuchsia color has faded to show dry, blonde-ish ends but that’s ok! I genuinely still like myself AND see a deeper elegance than all those things.

I used to think I needed to present myself as perfectly as possible to be ok. In order to be alluring and like myself, I needed to strive for model type, high level athlete, unattainable fashionista, perfection, well groomed, organized super human. Now, I see true beauty in the authentic, sometimes messy, not always put together but always working hard and loving version of me. The one who puts people before things, who accepts and loves others as they are, who encourages and supports friends in their darkest moments and cheers on strangers in the day to day.

I will probably never be someone who constantly is obsessed with myself, posts selfies all the time or even checks the mirror a bunch. I don’t think I’m in any way giving up on caring about my appearance or going to quit working out to improve my physical health. It just doesn’t mean as much to my value anymore and that feels really good. Seeing myself for the first time, as a fascinating and lovely being, is so strange yet freeing.

I can’t believe I wasted so much of my life focused on something so insignificant. Imagine what I could’ve been doing with my time if I hadn’t been so preoccupied. I hope to inspire others to see their true beauty and value

because it’s there…

Undeniable

It’s 4pm in Moab, Utah and I’ve already hiked almost 9 miles up to a huge arch in the middle of no where, through a sand trail that traversed a stream multiple times. Wait, let’s re-read that sentence…

Didn’t I break my ankle just four months ago? I know, I know, I keep talking about it but seriously, how did I do this crazy slanted slick rock hike? How did I navigate sand and algae covered rocks? And with NO PAIN? No swelling?

We can go over the first part of that sentence also and be in awe… I’m in Moab, adventuring with my husband. A month ago this was not our reality but now we have plans to travel every month for the rest of the year and maybe even longer. Oh, and let’s clarify, we aren’t paying for our trip, it’s all work related and my husband is actually being compensated for these amazing adventures.

Here’s what’s even more crazy: three years ago we wrote this down as a dream we wanted to see fulfilled. My husband aspired to be a full time photographer, traveling the country and working enough to support our family. I aspired to be working less and traveling with him, helping in whatever way possible and having time to write more. And if we travel back in time to when I was 18, I said all I wanted to do as an adult was travel around the country even though I had no idea what that would look like.

The path to get here was full of two broken ankles, a lot of moving around, some really emotional and tough situations and unending trust and faith. We spent a lot of time praying, making decisions that felt guided by our God, attempting to discern our path through the mess. We had so many opportunities to give up but I am so glad we kept going.

This trip is covered in blessing and prophecy. It’s clearly meant to be, undeniably a gift from God. Even up to our departure, we acted out of faith and received confirmation. Ten days ago the bulging discs in my back flared up. I could barely walk. I couldn’t work. I was miserable. I saw a chiropractor, got my back dry needled, was put on steroids and muscle relaxers. I attempted everything I could to heal. I thought for a moment maybe I was going to have to cancel going and send my husband out alone. But I also knew I was supposed to go and so I trusted that somehow, my back would feel better…. and it did. Almost 24 hours in the car, which would normally ruin any a human, was exactly the process my back required to be restored. That makes no sense……

So here I am, living seriously my best life, with my body functioning and feeling amazing against all odds. And while this season is oh so good, I will remain faithful, hopeful and positive whenever this peak becomes a valley knowing that if it’s not good, it’s not God and it’s just not the end yet. I hope those who are also enjoying moments of dreams becoming reality take a second to feel ultimate gratitude for the journey that they took to get there. And for those facing struggles and working hard to stay positive, I pray for the perseverance to keep your head up and the belief in the goodness that surely will come.