stream of consciousness: practices and generosity and being here

I didn’t have an particularly strong hankering to write today, but in January I made the goal to write once a week and publish at least every other week. I’ve done a pretty good job so far of making time and sticking to it. I was afraid I would give up because I would start to resent writing or run out of things to say. But so far I’ve liked indulging in this hobby and it turns the way my brains is always sprinting in a thousand different directions helps me find things to talk about.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m learning how discipline can actually lead to freedom when done correctly. When I use discipline to write even when I’m not sure I want to, I’m building the writing skills I’ll want to have when I have something really important or special to writ about. The simple act of starting when I don’t feel like it can be enough to get the creative juices flowing and the words coming. Today I chose to open up my browser and begin typing even when my computer took an obnoxious amount of time to start up and my internet was being shady. And now I’m glad I’m here.

Today’s stream of consciousness will be especially stream-of-consciousness-y because I have a lot on my mind, but in little snippets:

I started reading “Naked Spirituality” by Brian McLaren and I’m totally into it. I only started within the last week so I haven’t made it very far, but I’m relating to so much of what he says and am excited to bring healthy spiritual practices into my life, just as I’ve started over the past eight months or so to incorporate other types of practices into my life (just a few examples: making time for silence, making and eating breakfast every day and eating/cleaning it up in introspection or prayer, yoga, putting my shoes away instead of wherever I took them off, reading on my work breaks instead of scrolling social media, and then the whole getting up early to write once a week deal).

I’ve had a hard time with “spiritual discipline” in life because I’ve had an unhealthy view of it. I’ve made it all about personal piety or I’ve tried to fit into our culture’s favorite models of what that looks like. The truth is I don’t really like sitting still with a list of prayer requests and stuff. I’m not saying that practice is bad, but I don’t really connect that way. I get bored and distracted and overthink if prayer really does anything. And I’m not good at studying my Bible. I’ve had spiritual experience that make it hard for me to let go of faith in something bigger, but I get antsy and overwhelmed and anxious by all there is to know and all my scholarly/theological/existential questions and suspicions and doubts I have and the infinite number of sources I could try to find the answers in.

So I’m kind of trying to get to a place of spiritual practice on my own terms and in my own language. If God can only be accessed by scholars or “prayer warriors” then something’s wrong. It wouldn’t make sense for God to not be accessible by kids or people who can’t read or people who can’t focus or people without much time to spare or whatever because that’s most people. Not a very effective system.

Right now, just making time for silence is going a long way. I’m interested in Biblical/religious/philosophical studies but I’m trying to take it one step at a time. What I really feel a pull to right now is to develop not just good spiritual practices but also good mental health practices that will allow me to be more generous with my time.

You might recall in my last post, I talked about greed and possessions. One of the things I’m most greedy with is my time. A big part of this is because of how overstimulated I can be by environments and socializing and emotions (I was blessed/cursed with a sixth sense of picking up and feeling other people’s emotions, expressed and unexpressed–it an be exhausting). I’ve come to pick up on how important it is to refresh my mind, soul, and body, and am learning more ways to do this. To prevent wonky brain, I have to spend time alone without outside voices and noises and emotions and events. It’s non-negotiable for my mental health.

I can’t help but wonder, however, if I can build practices and skills that will allow me to use my time alone more efficiently and powerfully so that less time alone is needed. Then, as I said, I can give more of that time away to contribute to my community or to be listening ears for someone or to take my older friend who can’t drive to do the estate sale shopping she’s always itching to do.

I’m not trying or hoping to turn into an extrovert (I actually heard someone testify once that God had turned him into an extrovert, which I think is a damaging idea as introversion isn’t bad; extroversion is just overvalued by our culture, but the guy meant well). I will always need time alone, because that’s who I am and that’s what accompanies my strength of empathy and observation. Other people will always need frequent socialization because that’s what accompanies their strength of connecting people and setting things into motion.

One practice I’ve just read about is using the word here to center yourself.

Here is the simple word by which we show up…the way we name where we are–pleasant or unpleasant, desired or not–and declare ourselves present.

Here I am in the presence of a mystery… in the presence of a Presence who transcends, surpasses, overflows, and exceeds every attempt at definition, description, and even conception. Here you are,whoever you are, however similar or dissimilar you are to my preconceived notions of you. May the real I and the real you become present to one another here and now.

We are calling inward to our own souls, summoning ourselves to wake up, so we can attend to the Presence in whose attention we are held and in whom we live, move and having our being.

Here I am at this point in history… with all my problems and faults, all my embarrassments and mistakes, all my whirring conscious thoughts and all my subconscious rumblings and doubts… I don’t have to be somewhere else–right here is okay. In fact, it’s the only place I can be to begin to awaken spiritually. Here. Now. Just as I am.

Here I am, and here you are.

I feel like all those pieces from an entire chapter in “Naked Spirituality” make sense together, but I also read the words in between, so I guess you can let me know if they didn’t and I can implore you to read the book. The point is to remind yourself where you are, physically, emotionally, spiritually. To stop striving to be somewhere else. To bring yourself back when you’re drifting away.

I used this yesterday at dinner. It was after an emotional day, and my husband and I were in a restaurant with another couple. But the restaurant had TVs and lights in every direction. The music was loud and the crowd was big. I felt like I was floating in an chaotic abyss of sensory inputs and distractions and feelings. There was too much going on internally and externally.

The temptation to retreat into my own daydreams in order to conserve energy was strong. But I remembered the here practice and decided to give it a try. I repeated, “Here, I am here,” in my head, becoming mindful of my exact location, of God, of each person at the table, of the exact conversation. It helped block out other noise and thoughts and it made me more aware of the actual, real life humans in front of me. It anchored me and I was better able to stay present and enjoy our friends, despite the circumstances.

Of course, I crashed at home by myself and am enjoying the hours of solitude I’ll have today, but I’m grateful I was able to stay connected to the moment better than I would have in the best.

I’m excited to learn more ways to ground myself and to recharge my soul. I’m excited to free up space in myself to give back to the people around me. I’m curious what it will look like.

Have you experienced anything similar?

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on greed and possessions

 

According to WordPress, I created this blog 5 years ago today. Neat.

This post is more religious than some of my other ones, so if that’s not your thing, that’s cool. But promised myself to always just to be as authentic and honest in my writing and this is what I’ve been thinking about:

Greed and possessions. This topic has followed me around since I was in high school and read Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne.

I highly recommend the book. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Shane says all the time but he has a prophetic vision, I think, and a mischievous spirit, in a holy way, and he has stretched my understanding of living a gospel-worthy life and love affair with the poor and oppressed in the best of ways. One of my favorite quotes of his: “Most good things have been said far too many times and just need to be lived.” This sermon of his changed me in high school. It might not be everything I remember it to be but it was a delicious morsel of truth in a time in my life when I was sitting on top of the dryer in our laundry room stealing wifi from the neighbors and starving for something real.)

Where were we? Okay, so this topic has followed me around for a while, getting super loud in some seasons and humming quietly in the background in others. In the past when it has gotten loud, I’ve had to eventually choose to consciously turn down the volume each time, as painful as that was for me to do, because I am extremely prone to legalism. This area was no exception.

I want things to be black and white. I want the expectations to come in bullet points so I can confidently and accurately assess how I’m doing, my progress, where I stand.

You must not own more than X amount.

You must live below X means.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found such a list and God has let me chew on and chew on this rather than feeding it to me mama bird style (not a gross analogy at all).

Recently my husband and I moved to a new place. (You can read about my mental breakdown in the middle of it, here.) In the process of packing and unpacking, you tend to get reacquainted with all the things you’ve accumulated over the years. While I have done quite a bit of decluttering over the past 8 months or so, I still have so much, “Why do I have this?” or “Why do have I have so many of these?” things. That got me back on the greed and possessions train again.

I’ve also just finished the book Seven by Jen Hatmaker where in 7 months she focused on fasting from different things each month. Clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, and stress. (The book was pretty good. It didn’t turn my life upside down or anything but I finished it, which is saying something. It’s entertaining. I have a copy if someone I’ll see in the next six months wants to borrow it.).

I like what she said about fasting and it was actually the inspiration for me cutting out noise, which I wrote about here.

“[A fast] is supposed to be uncomfortable and inconvenient… because the discomfort creates space for the Holy Spirit to move. This shake-up of my routine commands my attention. I can no longer default to normal, usual, mindless, thoughtless… I will reduce, so [the Holy Spirit] can increase.”

You get the idea. I’ve been thinking about greed and possession. And I think I had a little bit of a break through yesterday.

In The Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus says to guard against every kind of greed.

Guard against.

So my perception of what that means, for now, is when it comes to possession and riches, my focus should not be on living with a particular number of things or within a certain means range but rather on guarding against every kind of greed. Possessions and otherwise. I say otherwise because I tend to be more greedy with things like my time. I want to stick to possessions today though, so this word vomit doesn’t get too big.

I’m starting to see it’s not about how many shirts I own (for example), but in owning or purchasing shirts guarding against greed.

Why am I buying this shirt? Do I need this? Is this an impulse to buy I need to curb to make room for the Holy Spirit as Jen says? Am I trying to change others’ superficial impression of me? Am I purchasing it ethically (second-hand or through a socially/environmentally responsible company when possible) or am I being greedy for convenience? Will I use it? Just because I want it, does it mean I should have it? Will this help or hurt my soul’s growth away from materialism? 

The concept is somehow harder and easier. It’s hard because you have to stop, reflect, and be honest with yourself. You’re forced to be mindful of your choices and why you’re accumulating something, your motives. But it’s easier too, because you don’t have to carry the load of legalism telling you you’re not enough after imposing impossible standards on you. It’s a movement toward something better, toward freedom from the ickiness of greed.

Because that’s what Jesus was all about, right? Keeping your treasures in heaven. If I’m focused on the numbers of what I do or don’t own, that’s still focusing on material things. But if I’m focusing on guarding my soul against greed, that’s whole. ‘nother. level. A spiritual level.

It’s just that I’ve found–and it could very well be user error–that no matter where I set the line of what was acceptable to keep, it would always be too much compared to someone somewhere. And if I tried to literally give away anything I had more than one of like when John the Baptist says if you have one tunic give the other to someone without one (who knows, maybe that is how it should be but it’s too much for me to grasp right now) than I would waste a lot of time washing clothes or dishes or wouldn’t have a spare bed for family and friends traveling through the area. Doesn’t seem practical. And no matter how much I could give away, it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the need the world has. That is a deep, deep hole.

On the other hand,  people have brushed me off in the past with, “It’s not how much you own; it’s if you’re valuing your things above God.” I think that’s bull shit and I think it’s lazy. It’s completely ignoring the other (of TWO) commandments Jesus gave us: to love your neighbor as yourself. So many of the teachings of Jesus are about how we treat our neighbors. But if we’re only focusing on our own relationship to our possessions and God, we’re basically ignoring our neighbor’s existence entirely. Maybe I value God above, let’s say, ten winter coats, but the person I teach English to and the woman at the domestic violence shelter where a friend words and the homeless folks at the soup kitchen where a co-worker volunteers all need coats or my physical neighbor are freezing because they can’t afford a good one. It’s starting to seem kind of greedy to keep all those coats, isn’t it? We can’t forget about our neighbors.

Which brings me to another of my favorite quotes from Shane Claiborne:

“The great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”

I think this is very true. I saw it firsthand (I’ve also been and am, I’m sure, in many ways still the rich Christian) when I worked at a refugee resettlement office in the past. Sometimes people would bring in the silliest donations. To be clear, there were plenty of generous souls who brought in much needed items and were an answer to prayers. But there were also people who would donate 5 inch stilettos and Tupperware with no lids and long romance novels and crusty backpacks one notebook from disintegrating and weird, broken house decorations. That straight up goofy.

I’m not, I hope, trying to shame them. We all only have so many hours in the day and can be dedicated to only so many causes and hurting groups. But, the truth of the matter, regardless, wasn’t that donators, bless their hearts, didn’t care about refugees. It was that they hadn’t taken the time to get to know any refugees or at least the people who do know them.

In order to meet the needs of the poor and oppressed, we have to know them. Personally.  Not just theoretically care. Or we need to listen to the people who do know them. Listen closely. Not only does that make us more in touch with how we can help, as people who were born into or able to make it to a more advantageous place, but it makes it almost impossible not to. When someone you care because you know their name and face and babies has a need, it’s an entirely different ball game than it is when you hear about a general cause. You know what their need is without it being broadcasted. You see it with your own eyes or you’re told about it in confidence. You witness the struggle they are facing and you don’t think twice. Because you don’t need to. It wouldn’t make sense not to sacrifice.

When I decluttered my closet before the move, I took my clothes personally to an Eritrean family who arrived here as refugees a few years ago because I knew specifically they had multiple daughters my size who would wear the types of clothes I wore.

Now, I will say I experienced no sacrifice in any way by giving  of bunch of my clothes to them. If anything, they were doing me a favor and getting them off my hands. I’m not some sort of saint and don’t want you to think I’m trying to elevate myself. My motivations were self-centered but the point is I got the clothes to the right place because I personally knew someone isn’t lower on the food chain than me.

Not everyone knows a refugee (or insert X hurting group here) family. And I don’t have a clear answer for how to get to know whoever it is you’re supposed to form a relationship with. As someone who is painfully shy, the idea of just showing up somewhere to get to know people makes me want to run. But maybe look around your community and see who you can volunteer for or where you can read or listen to words of people who do have that time you don’t have to volunteer. Ask questions about the causes the bleeding hearts in your life desperately want other people to care about. Make it personal in one way or another, any way you can. You win because you’re guarding against greed and other people win too because needs are being met. They go hand in hand.

I have a long way to go in making what I think into what I live. But I have real peace about this breakthrough I’ve made and hope I can move forward into being a more responsible citizen of Earth and of Heaven, whatever that is.

Thoughts?

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The Smoothie Debacle

My mom wasn’t home (most good stories start this way) and we had a hankering for smoothies.

I have a best friend named Ariel. She was my first gal pal at two and my Maid of Honor at 23. Ariel has been the Shawn Spencer to my Burton Guster from preschool to present day. We have gotten ourselves into a jam on more than one occasion, one of which: The Smoothie Debacle.

the subjects of our story

My mom wasn’t home (most good stories start this way) and we had a hankering for smoothies. The problem was we had a fairly limited concept of what a smoothie actually included. So we scrummaged the kitchen and confidently combined every logical ingredient we could think of. Grapes, peanut butter, sugar, milk, eggs–you know, normal smoothie stuff. We stirred it all up with pride and put it in the microwave so it could cook to perfection.
Now you may be thinking, “Hmmm, I’ve never tried that recipe before.” Well, neither had we and while we both may have been in the gifted program at school, we were only nine or so, and on top of that, I don’t know that either of us had actually ever tasted a smoothie.
And before you start to push back on the microwave idea, hear us out. We had to get all the ingredients melted down into that smooth texture smoothies are known for. Plus, everyone knows it’s dangerous to eat eggs raw. This wasn’t Amateur Hour.
After an exciting number of minutes, the time came to retrieve our masterpiece. Unfortunately, in the transfer from the microwave to the counter, some of the boiling hot concoction sloshed onto me, causing me to whip my arm back in pain.
I’m guessing you realize it’s not called The Smoothie Debacle because it ended well. The large and dangerously full bowl wildly fell to the ground, splashing our glorious and copious amount of smoothie all over the counter tops, the cabinet doors, the kitchen floor, under the stove and fridge, any surface imaginable, etc. It was everywhere.
Ariel and I stared wide eyed at each other. She says I was almost crying because I was so scared of getting in trouble (which doesn’t sound anything like me–I’ve never once cared about what people in authority think of me–but we’ll take her word for it). She was consumed with guilt as she had been the one, after being inspired by an article in an American Girl magazine (we both got the American Girl magazine as the consolation prize for neither of our parents be willing to fork the money out for a doll itself), to suggest our smoothie adventure.
Obviously we had to get this cleaned up before my mom got home–or worse, my dad. The kitchen was a whirlwind of scrawny, little arms attempting to soak up thick, slimy smoothie with thin paper towels from cabinets and unintentionally spreading the mess further under the fridge with a Swiffer. We had barely begun when we were heard the ominous sound of one of my parents coming up the basement steps from the garage.
We froze in sheer panic. There was no way we could get this mess cleaned up before they reached the top of the stairs. I was convinced it was dad. Unable to move, we braced ourselves for our last precious moments on earth.
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…Okay, so here’s the thing: the real ending to this story is anticlimactic (but, if you insist, you can keep scrolling to read it).
However, if you’d like to make me laugh with your own alternative ending, I would honestly love that so much.
And, no, there’s no analogy about life or mental health here, though I’m sure I could find one because I’m good at that crap. I really just started thinking about that memory today and wanted to record it for history’s sake and to make you hopefully smile.

Portraits 106
subjects again, having survived (photo by Mosaic Photographics: https://www.mosaicphotographics.com)

The real snooze ending?
We remained frozen until my mom, praise the Lord it was my mom, made it into the kitchen with her arms full of groceries, after which our apologies and reasonable explanations and promises to clean everything up spilled out faster than our smoothie had hit the linoleum.
To our surprise, we were met with the decent balance of annoyance and grace my parents have mastered.
We cleaned up the mess and kept to our well-behaved selves the rest of the day.

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on happiness

My mom sent me a quote this morning as I sat in a coffee shop journaling.

“Don’t be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s not important I’m in a coffee shop (btw here‘s how I feel about coffee) but I only mention it so I can brag about getting the most dreamy table. It’s in a hidden little corner with an outlet nearby and lots of natural light. And the icing on the cake is the only people in here right now are older folks, not young adults my age who make me nervous because they’re so cool.

The important detail is the one about me journaling when my mom sent me the quote and what it was I was journaling about.

Jesus showed up in the coffee shop while I was reading and prompted me to make a list of what it is I actually want and think will make me happy.

So was it a coincidence? Well, maybe. But I certainly saw enough of a connection to starting writing.

Recently I’ve been processing potential life changes big and small (before anyone reads this into that comment: we are NOT having a baby now or in the near future) and at the same time wondering if I’m selfish for wanting this or that and everything to come together in a certain way.

Before we move on, I guess you should know two things about me:

(1) I’m very prone to guilt.

(2) I just want to be good. I want to know what is truly good and I want to do it.

I was talking to God about it the other night. God told me it’s not bad to be happy or to want to be happy. Why would there be a whole spectrum of emotions if we weren’t supposed to feel?

“Okay, okay. I get it,” I said, “It’s natural to want to be happy, blah blah.” I went on to try to explain I want the right things to make me happy. I don’t want a self-centered happiness. I don’t want to be greedy or live too inward or turn a blind eye to the aching of the world. I don’t know what that looks like though. Every time I try, I end up being legalistic or depressed.

God reassured me I could reach a place of being made happy by the right things, but there’s not need right now to get wrapped up overthinking what those things are and feeling a weighted guilt for not being at a yet-to-be-defined place of perfection. Because a change like that will be a spiritual job which requires God. Read: I’m not going to hand it to you, but we’re going to toil on it together because hard work is good for youBe patient. And other annoying stuff moms and dads say.

It’s just I read once that Mother Teresa had deformed feet because she would always wear the most uncomfortable pair shoes of those donated to wherever she was taking care of people with leprosy and shit. She didn’t want anyone else to have to wear the worst pair of shoes. Ugh, that’s totally inspiring, but if I’m being honest with myself I don’t want to constantly be in pain. And how much sacrificing is enough? How much comfort, self-care, recharging is too much? And how do I keep my wonky brain stable while trying to be responsible.

See, I told you, I’m prone to guilt. Big time.

I’ve learned enough from my relationship with God to know guilt is not a good thing. We’re working through it and this is the most recent place where we are doing so.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be happy, but I do think it’s bad to idolize being happy. If we idolize happiness, I think one of two (or both) things happen. We end up feeling empty because there isn’t enough self-care, organizing, dream-chasing that can fill us all the way up. And/or… we end up neglecting (or stepping on) people who don’t have the luxuries we do to have much of a choice where they work or to have the chance to travel or to access the resources we do.

How much focusing on positive changes is too much? You have to do that sometimes. If I hadn’t focused on making positive changes, I would still be wanting to kill myself. But at what point are we hyper-focusing on ourselves? When do we stop and just need to choose joy despite circumstances?

How do you grapple with this conundrum? Or do you? I know it’s a very Alissa thing to be stuck on. But maybe you could give me some perspectives to chew on with Jesus. Share your wisdom. I’d love to hear it.

Not to end this abruptly, but that’s all I got for now. Also, a large group of college kids has sat down beside me who apparently have yet to be introduced to the concept of “inside voices.”

Thanks for stopping by.

 

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PS my list I was making of what I think would actually make me happy looks like this so far:

Foundation

-A close and relaxed relationship with my husband

-Frequent contact with family

-Close friendships that challenge me and make me more whole

-Connection with the “least of these”

Bonuses

-Some amount of downtime to spend as I please or to recharge as I need to 

-A meaningful job that doesn’t consume my life

It’s probably telling I didn’t write anything about God in there, but to be fair I was interrupted by a message from my mom which distracted me into writing this post. I would like to point out, I could have went back and added a spiritual bullet point in there to look more holy than I am, but transparency is something I highly value.

I would like to add it now however. (To the foundation part)

-An open, mysterious, and ever-growing relationship with this God person who won’t let me the heck go.

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stream of consciousness – gut feelings & joy

My husband, Evan, and I kind of take turns being the Chatty Chad/Cathy in our relationship.

Evan can talk at length on one very focused subject. This is why, for example, despite having never even seen one second of it, I feel like I’ve watched the entire series Dexter. And why I’ve experienced an extremely detailed explanation of what a superior ending would have been–all from the comfort of a Wendy’s.

I, however, am much more likely to produce what Evan has come to endearingly dub Alissa’s Stream of Consciousness. I start out with one topic in mind, but truly there is no destination set in stone and we take a lot of rabbit trails, some of which we do not return from.

That’s why I started calling my more introspective pieces on here stream of consciousnesses, because they work much the same way. They’re sort of therapeutic for me. The nice thing about not knowing exactly where you’re going is you can trust you’re going to get where you need to go. That’s my theory at least.

Also, I don’t always like a lot of structure. I mean, I love lists. Making and reading them. But sometimes what I want to write isn’t so clear to me and I don’t feel like having self discipline. I do realize it is possible no one actually wants to read my stream of consciousness because who cares what thousand directions my mind is going. But this is who I am. I’m 50% stream of consciousness, so take it or leave. Or only take the other blog posts. It’s cool. I just like to write.

Anyway, welcome to today’s stream of consciousness.

On a side note (do those even exist in a stream of consciousness?) I spell consciousness wrong basically every time, because I forget that stupid s before the second and then I get mad at my computer for underlining it with that red squiggle instead of correcting it. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEANT TO TYPE.

There are two things that have been dominating what I’ve been learning lately.

  1. Trusting my gut
  2. Making my own joy

I did sneak a list in here! Damn, I love lists.

I think I’ve always had a vocal gut, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to be more in tune with it and consider it a valid source of information. When I was a kid there was this guy at church my dad thought was a creep and didn’t trust him to be around my brother or me, at least not alone, even though my dad didn’t have evidence of anything. (My dad is very intuitive about people.) I remember my dad telling me if I ever felt weird about someone in that way, to get out of that situation immediately, even if it was just a feeling. I didn’t know exactly what he meant until I got older but I think his advice has served me well more than once.

And I’ve found my gut has much more to talk about outside the topic of keeping me safe from creeps.

Lately, I feel like what it looks like to listen and follow my gut is being refined. (My gut is also how I believe God talks to me, so whether you believe in a God or not, that’s where I am.) I recently got a gut feeling I needed to something–yes, I’m going to be vague about for the time being.

Instead of freaking out and overthinking too much about whether it was my gut or me making stuff up, I decided to take a week to listen and then take action if I still felt the push. I trusted that if God wanted me to do something, I would be given the time I needed to digest it. I spent the week reflecting, praying, and journaling. It was a super insightful experience. The gut feeling did not go away and I learned a lot about myself in the meantime. I realized that a lot of times I feel a push to do something from my gut/God but when it doesn’t go exactly how I thought it would, it’s because I put too much mental speculation into filling in the gaps.

Here’s an example from the past: In December, I felt in my gut I should apply for a job at a nursing home. I did not get the job and I’ll admit I was a little bit confused because I had been confident and embarrassed because I had told a few people about the gut feeling. However, I didn’t regret doing it. Even today I feel strongly it was what I was supposed to do. When I was taking the steps to apply and going through the interview process/being upfront with my job at the time, I had to process a lot of emotions, face the fear of the unknown, and deal with the idea I could be disappointing my current workplace. When I didn’t get the job and found myself slightly relieved for some mysterious reason, I had to introspect on why that was, which ended up with me finally being honest with myself that all I really wanted to do was work with kids, something I had been afraid to admit because it wasn’t “hard” enough or academic enough in other people’s eyes. At that point, I pursued working with kids through a connection I already had made and it panned out. I might not have had this self-discovery at just the right time if I hadn’t followed my gut to apply for the other job.

So what I’m saying is, I’m learning that just because my gut says to pursue something or to reach out to someone or to do whatever, it doesn’t mean it’s for the reason I think or that it will look like how I assume. I have to let the feeling be as simple and as stripped down as it needs to be and trust that I’ll get to where I need to go. Kind of like with my stream of consciousnesses! I did not mean for that to come together so well. Nice. *gives self a pat on the back*

And now to the making my own joy thing. This is not revolutionary at all, but I’m coming to terms with the fact whether or not I have joy is almost entirely up to me. I can’t wait for everything in my life to be perfectly situated in order for me to feel peace. I have to practice peace and joy through practicing being present and grateful. I say practicing because they are habits and skills you have to strengthen, not switches you can turn off and on.

I told you this wasn’t revolutionary, okay!

I always think after the next piece falls into place, I’ll be at peace and can let go of my striving. But history has over and over again demonstrated to me this is not the case. A faster learner would have noticed a long time ago that every time I find one more loose string, one more wrinkle, one more thing that needs to be tweaked. I’m never happy and it’s never enough! I’m such a drag on myself.

I want to change that.

I got out of the habit on reflecting on meaningful things I had experienced or witnessed every day. I used to do that and it was working for me, but then I got lazy. I’m getting back into it though. And I’ve added onto it. I’m trying to recognize sacred moments while they’re happening and letting myself feel the bliss of that sacredness. Things like a laughing fit with my husband. Or meeting up for lunch with my parents. Starting flower seeds on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Being demanded to “Eat more! Not enough!” when I go visit some of my Eritrean friends and their perfect new baby. Listening to Taylor Swift and not apologizing for it. There’s a lot of sacred stuff, I’m finding. The more I name it, the more I can’t help but see it everywhere. And isn’t a life filled with sacredness more worth living than a life of striving? Um, duh!

Life isn’t going to wait for me to get it together. I have to get it together as I go.

So that’s what I’m trying to do, build the plane as I fly, trusting my gut and enjoying the ride. Because you can’t know how long the ride will be.

kimmy

 

 

 

 

february 3rd’s stream of consciousness

I used to think I’d never find my balance.

My stomach felt like it was dropping all the time just a few years ago. I remember long walks on campus, honest to goodness feeling like nothing would ever make sense. A lot of things still don’t make sense or I haven’t made sense of them if it’s possible for someone to do so. I was juggling fear and guilt and shame and a sense of hopelessness about life. Wound up and tired. I wanted to die.

But I’m pretty happy now. I think I may have made it out with more doubts about things I thought I knew than I started with, but I have a lot more peace. And a lot more confidence. A certain certainty that if there’s justice to be served in the world, it will be served. And hopefully there will be lots of grace drizzled on top, in just the right proportions. My fingers are crossed someone competent will be charge of it.

On most days, I don’t feel like I know a lot past that. My existential dread used to be a loud, awful clamor with no rhythm, always jolting me out of the moment and out of happiness. Now it’s a soft, constant humming in the background. White noise  I don’t usually mind. Just on bad days do I wish it would shut the hell up. I’m learning to live with it though and listen past it to hear other melodies, pretty ones.

I like this version of myself.

I think it could worry some people. Growing up, certainty in faith was everything. It was drilled into our minds how it all added up, what rebuttals demolished which doubts, why it was worrisome whenever one was skeptical about God.

I think that bullshit, now, of course.

Faith, hope, and love. These intangible, mysterious things now seem more solid and real to me than anything else. I feel I can settle on them more than I can on theology. I’m trying to study faith from a scholarly perspective but it’s hard because I can’t sit still for more than 20 minutes at a time (except for when I watched the entire season of “The End of the F***king World” today). And while I’ve had very real and spiritual interactions with the person I believe is God and pretty much sure is Jesus, I have a hard time being sure enough to try to convince anyone else. Is that okay? And if I’m right or I’m wrong, will there be grace for me?

I’m trying and I hope that counts for something.

Sometimes I get scared when I write these thoughts down. I get scared I’m damning myself. I brace myself for a message from a sweet and well-meaning person who will church-splain (Kind of like man-splaining. I’m sure I’m not the first to use this term but as far as I know, I haven’t heard of it.) my situation to me to which I’ll say thank you because it was so thoughtful of them to care but I don’t really want to hear it but then I’ll feel guilty about that because it’s bad to be prideful and think you can’t learn something from someone so I’ll think about it for a while to ease my conscience. And maybe that person is right. But maybe they’re not right. So what do I do?

I’m trying and I hope that counts for something.

This kind of took a negative turn I wasn’t intending for it to take. Because, like I said, I’m pretty happy now and I’m bored with complaining for the time being. Besides, there’s lot of kind and deep church friends who are awesome and way better and smarter than me so I better watch my mouth and not stereotype.

Anyway, I think I’ve learned ways to add ballast to the ship of my soul so I don’t tip right into depression or left into anxiety every time I’m faced with adversity. I’m more resilient now. I’m finding my way. That part feels amazing. It gives me confidence I can keep growing into a more structurally sound person, instead of always feeling on the verge of falling apart.

I’m starting to be able to look back and see that I’ve been overcoming things for quite sometime now. It’s just been agonizingly slow so it usually doesn’t feel like I’m growing in the moment. It feels defeating instead.

But I’m not 16 and fantasizing about getting killed in a car crash but too stubborn to talk to my parents. I’m not 19 and about to collapse from fatigue, my mental wheels turning and churning the meaning of life and religion day and night. I’m not 23 and trembling from trying to carry the weight of the world. I’m 25 in two days and I’m building the habit of letting go of the heartache I can’t control and cherishing the beauty that’s temporary but true and comes in little doses throughout the day.

I trace the (non-physical) scars I have from the dark periods of my life and, while I know I can’t prevent the world from hurting me again, I know I’m tougher than I ever imagined and that’s wonderful.

I think you’re tougher than you imagine, I think you’re tougher than you hope you can be, and I think you’re tougher than you think that person you think so tough is. And if you’re not, I think you can be. But it will happen in increments which seem inconsequential in the moment because they’re surrounded by sadness or anger or a feeling of desperation to escape where you feel trapped.

Maybe your growth is quiet like mine and doesn’t demand much attention. Quiet but confident, so confident that it doesn’t need you to believe there’s a better tomorrow right now.

So don’t believe there’s a better tomorrow right now if you don’t want to. But maybe just admit there’s a sliver of a chance there maybe could be at some point. Because maybe there is. And maybe someday you’ll have grown enough to write a blog or tell someone over coffee about it and they’ll think you’re full of shit but be kind of fascinated. And your words will ruminate in their mind as they continue to find their own way too.

Maybe not, but never say never.

Anyway, I’m going to go gargle salt water because I have a sore throat.

Peace.

Alissa

stream of consciousness

[I sat down to write about comparison. Then, I opened a new tab to write about the things I’ve learn at my job (my two year anniversary there is today!). But, my soul was having none of it. Instead, this came out:]

I’m scared if I don’t write, don’t get some of what’s on my mind out, I’ll have another panic attack in the middle of the night and not be able to sleep.

I think I’m tired from the day, think I’ve taken in too much information and my brain doesn’t have the capacity to sort and strain it before more is piled on tomorrow.

I envy the way my husband has hope for the future, has this confidence about his place in the world and the goodness that’s in store.

I’m not like that. I’m afraid all the time. I have some serious fears, things I’m kind of obsessive about so maybe they’re phobias. I’m always bracing myself for a heart-wrenching tragedy, like what I love or where I feel secure is about to be swiped out from underneath me. And if I don’t keep my guard up, I won’t be able to survive the shock, my body won’t be able to handle the trauma, my heart will collapse from the utter disappointment. I won’t be able to move again. It’s like that Dr. Dog song,

I put on my clothes like a body guard
I put the dogs on patrol in my own back yard
I don’t wanna fight but I’m constantly ready
And I don’t rock the boat, but it’s always unsteady

That’s how I feel all the time. I want to be at ease. To somehow marry the truth that bad things can happen at any time with the hope of a good, long life. It doesn’t seem possible, but I guess people do it all the time. Or they just ignore the bad things part, which I seem incapable of doing. But I think I just need to keep trying. I think I can maybe find a balance. Maybe I’ll have to work really hard at it, build a lot of muscles to be able to keep up the balancing act. But then I’ll sleep easier at night and breathe deeper and smile more.

Part of it is a mindset, I know. Earlier this week God told me that I have to pause at least once a day (though preferably more) to reflect about what I’ve seen or received or done that was good, right, and true, and what was rich in meaning. I’ve been trying to do that and I think it’s helping. I get a true sense of joy when I do that. I can’t believe all the goodness that’s all around me.

Of course, I did still have that panic attack the other night which was basically the worst. But after I word vomited to my husband every stress that’s weighing on me, I felt better. It had all built up and wasn’t going to leave without being acknowledged.

Like I said, too much information, too little time. Not enough emotional and mental energy.

There’s got to be a better way for me to take the world in. I intentionally say for me because everybody is different. There are so many different types of people in the world. What works for one person or supposedly works for the majority of people doesn’t always work for me. It’s not that simple, though it would be nice if it were. I’m getting to the point of not beating myself up when something isn’t getting me the results others seems to get. I’m learning to start over, get creative.

Fear is a monster though. It’s always hungry and it always wants more. I bend a little this way to accommodate and it’s appeased for a while, but soon what I gave isn’t enough. I have to bend a little that way, give a little more. Lose a little more of myself, of my spark, of my freedom. Suddenly, I’m trapped in ritualistic and compulsive means of getting it to subside. I don’t want to live like that. Someday I’ll probably have kids and I want them to learn to be brave from me, not how to be afraid.

I’m trying to remind myself that I have to take baby steps, sometimes pathetic and barely noticeable scooches. I have to celebrate those and let myself be proud instead of comparing myself to some perfect future person I want to be.

Because, you know, I can be a total mess, but the me that existed four years ago would be amazed at how far I’ve come. I regularly eat and exercise and I write about mental health like I don’t care what people think and sometimes I even confront people who hurt my feelings. I’ve started building a life and routine that makes it so that I’m doing more than just surviving. I’m doing work I find meaningful.

This gives me hope. If I’ve come this far from a place of not even knowing how to conceptualize a life of somewhat consistent mental stability, a life where an existential crisis didn’t leave me in pieces, then there’s hope I’ll be somewhere I can’t even conceptualize right now, something even better. I think it’s possible that’s possible, despite all the things that could go wrong (good gravy, even when I’m being optimistic, I’m a pessimist).

So that’s a glimpse of where I’m at today. I couldn’t get out a well-organized post on comparison or a thoughtful list of things I’ve learned through my job. All I could muster up was this stream of consciousness.

Maybe you’ve felt something similar before too?