Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015

I sit down to write another year in review, and it seems nearly impossible that a whole year has gone by. How drastically my life has changed in this turning of the calendar year. For the past few years on this day, as the world waits with held breath for the new year and a fresh start, I sat dreading the year that was to come. Now, for the first time in a long time, I wait with anticipation for 2016.
2015 was a good year. It marked the end of my first year at college, and the beginning of my second. It was in January of 2015 that I got my first tattoo, and in December of this year that I got my second and third.
On a magical day in January a handsome, charming and sometimes insanely awkward young man asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes. It wasn't until he left for the summer to go back to Calgary that I realized I loved him. Loving him is one of the craziest, most beautiful things I have ever done, and I don't regret a single minute.
In July of this year, I walked into a room filled with 80 odd strangers, and walked out with those strangers being my family. It was in these days spent at Choices that I got my ass kicked, literally and figuratively. I saw all the ways in my life that I choose others and neglect myself. I stared down my past, and the things I wish I could run away from. I danced, wild and free, for the first time in my life and it was beautiful. I began to believe that what I say matters, that I am beautiful and loved and strong. I learned about how to relate to the world around me, and how to create a little bit more of what I want in life. I could talk forever about the changes in my life since that moment, but what I do know is that I will never stop being grateful for my Choices family. I am a free woman, creating a space of sacred love.
It was also during the heat of the summer months that I participated in my first yoga challenge: #thisisagoodbody. It was a deep, brave venture into loving myself. It was scary, and at times I would have rather done anything than write out my soul and express the deep rooted issues I had with my body. But the work I did then was the beginning of something wonderful. I realized the work of saying this is a good body didn't end when the yoga challenge did. Now, as I face uncertain health issues, it is more of a struggle than ever to look in the mirror at my own self and say that this is a good body. And yet it is such important work, the kind that starts movements. I look at the little girls in my life - the ones I spent the summer playing princesses with and eating watermelon and laughing - and I don't ever want them to know the feeling of criticizing or hating your body. And so I do the hard work for them, and for me. Because freedom is worth it, friends. I am learning that.
The big moments are also peppered with smaller moments, smaller victories but none the less important and beautiful. It was the year I wrote a beautiful collection of essays over the summer, work that I am so proud of. I witnessed the birth of my cousin's baby (on my birthday none the less). I also said goodbye to some very loved people. I learned how to be on my own, which taught me many lessons about myself and where I fit in the world and womanhood and the kind of life I would like to have someday. I began telling my story, the one I have kept locked away for so long for various reasons and even now the telling of makes my voice shake but it is a story that has lived without a voice for far too long.
And in the midst of all the beautiful, there was pain too. There were (are) moments when my health is unstable, and it takes strength I don't know if I have to keep fighting. Coming face to face with my past, while beautiful, illuminated some things it would have been easier to keep in the dark. There was the moment when I realized love was a powerful enough force to gut me. As I walked into my second year of college, I met situations that had the power to shred me if I let them, and resulted in many tears, much frustration, anxiety attacks, and showed me more of what I don't want in life. This year while I laughed loudly, I cried in equal volume. I danced, but I also grieved. I spoke boldly, but there were also moments when it felt like my voice had been taken from me and all I could do was howl in mourning. I lived, and yet there were moments I thought that I would die. I loved, but I lost.
And all of it has brought me here, heaving and panting, to the finish line, to December 31, 2015.
When the clock strikes midnight, a new year will have arrived, with new memories waiting to be made. More tears, more laughter, more joys, more sorrows, more victories, more failures. And yet when the clock strikes midnight, I will still be the same person I was in this year. The memories I have and the things I've done will carry over.
It's nice to think about new beginnings, but to be honest I don't want one this year. I don't want a clean slate, a fresh start. I just want to move forward, another chapter, filled with more.
Welcome here, 2016. I've been waiting for you.
Thank you, 2015. You've served me well.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Joy with teeth

It's taken me this long to sit down to write a piece about joy, and I still don't have the words to say.
I don't have it in me to write about the soft platitudes of joy, the sun rising behind the clouds, the nights that turn into morning.
There are days, like now, when the pain of life feels so thick I can barely move through it.
Death crowds in close. Pain is my constant companion, and instability keeps me up all night. I am functioning in a sort of daze, never quite having a good grip on reality.
I have become unwelcome friends with anxiety, with the fear that grips the heart, the slow moving hour hand of the clock, with tears that seem to permanently stain my cheeks.
I am hunched over like the old and sick, grasping for oxygen, still trying to curl my fingers around hope and peace, the parts of advent I can relate to.
My heart is cloaked in too much heavy sorrow to understand joy. And I realize that in a time like this, I don't need the gentle, bubbly character of joy like the one who lights up the TV screen. I need joy with teeth.
I need joy with grit, with fire, with fierce determination.
I am grasping for the strings of joy that are found in the little things: in hugs and the frost glistening in the sunlight on the trees and inside jokes and the reminders that I'm not alone.
Joy is stubborn, hanging in there despite every reason to fade into nothing, being found in the most unlikely of places if only I look for it.
It is in the ugly beautiful, the breaking open, the rawness of this season.
Joy doesn't feel like it used to. Joy is rough around the edges, gasping as it is birthed into this world. It is this bloody mess, this screaming thing, and yet it is there, and it begs to be noticed in the tiny details.
Joy is here, here too. Joy with ferocity and grit and teeth and fire. I'd rather the simple Hallmark greeting card joy over this kind that is laced with so much pain and darkness.
And yet, when I close my eyes and imagine a world living in such a thick fog, where Jesus penetrated the veil and entered into brokenness, I imagine a joy similar to that.
Of breath finally releasing and gasping for air as this messy, uncontrollable thing slides out onto the ground. A broken hallelujah, a heaving sigh of "We made it."
We made it here, to this.
And in the middle of the broken, there is beautiful.

Monday, December 7, 2015

An open letter to my doctors

I want to tell you something.
See, I'm not very good at math. I barely passed high school math class (and by barely I mean scraping by with a 52%) and the very idea of chemistry put knots in my stomach. I never understood numbers and letters combined with numbers and graphs and formulas. I do know that you plug numbers or letters into this formula and do all the right steps and on the other side you're supposed to come out with the right answer.
I've never been good at math, but I do know something about creativity. I'm a writer. I spend hours analyzing conversations, observing people, studying every tiny detail. I pick up on things normal people don't pick up on because I know how to look for them. In fact, I've written poems about the sound of your shoe. I make stories where sometimes there are no stories, but I guess then I would also have to argue that there are stories everywhere if you know where to look for them.
That's the difference between you and me, I think. You spend hours pouring over charts and lab results, plugging numbers into a formula and then graphing a picture of how you think things should be. And I spend hours categorizing each separate emotion and reaction into a different shade of purple, pouring over old stories and new poetry until finally stumbling upon the realization that sometimes you have to make your own stories about how things happen.
Sometimes there is no formula, and I know that's maybe hard for your scientist brains to believe. But I believe there isn't an exact science for anything, only many different shades of grey.
Akira Kurosawa once said "to be an artist means never to avert one's eyes."
I don't get the pleasure of averting my eyes. This pain stretches out before me and you try and plug it in to a formula and analyze it. I, who have been trained to absorb it and internalize it and regurgitate it out in the form of a story, instead turn it into a myth.
The sleepless nights, the cracking of joints upon rolling out of bed in the morning, the anxiety knot that sits in the pit of my stomach without ever fully going away, they all tell a story. They don't tell a story that's in any of the books I've read, so I'm doing what all good creative types do and going off the grid, writing a story of my own.
You are taking my story and plugging it into something I don't fully understand. You speak to me in all your fancy formula words, and they mean little to me because you are speaking a language I don't understand. I am the writer of myths, the house of stories, the mother of pain, and right now I am afraid so I need you to speak to me in words I understand. I know that its easy to avert your eyes from this part, the messy part, the part where all of these plot twists don't fit into that nice, fancy formula of yours, and believe me I wish I could avert my eyes too. I understand you're trying your best to give me answers, but believe it or not sometimes that's not what I need.
I need to not feel like Frankenstein's monster. I need you to put down your analyzing tools and your critical judgement calls for a few minutes to look at the story. I need you to understand that sometimes there are stories that don't follow an outline, patterns that cannot fit into your formulas, and I need you to reassure me that it is not I who failed the treatment, that it is not I who have become Frankenstein's monster. I need you to stand by your man, because that is what you do, even if your man doesn't end up the way you thought he would.
I need you to look at the bigger story, not just the graph of symptoms and problem areas. That's one thing I'm learning here at college, that you can't pick some parts and throw away the rest.
I guess what I'm saying is that I understand your medical brains don't work in terms of stories, but mine does. I am making a story to make all of this make a little more sense to me, seem a little less scary and threatening. It is in the stories you write yourself that you can talk the monster down into becoming a mouse. And I need you to put down your fancy words and charts and realize that you are dealing with a person, not a patient number. I need you to stand by your man. I need you to, at least for a moment, entertain me and my crazy idea of myths because its all I have.
I need you to, for a moment, not avert your eyes. I need you to, for a moment, become an artist. Look up from your charts and see the person on the other end of it all. Maybe for a moment wear the hat of a myth maker, a story teller, a crazy poet who finds details in the sounds of shoes (I can teach you if you want). Let me become your muse.
Because I promise you, there's a lot more story here than what can fit into your formulas.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The peace candle

In a world where everyone desires peace on earth - a world full of conflict, of ISIS, of discrimination  and racism and murder - peace didn't come like everyone had expected. It didn't come on a silent night, gently gracing the world with its presence.
I woke up this morning to another morning of confusion, of instability and rattling going on inside me. And it didn't feel peaceful, the night not at all calm and restful but instead tossing around with fears, unrest and dis-ease.
The papers are piling up as it nears exam time once again, and the frantic busyness of trying to get things done is anything but a peaceful, relaxing experience.
Conflicts arise with friends and family, I bite my tongue when I should have spoken up and say words when silence would have been a more appropriate response, and I am harsh in my comebacks, and my perfectionism rears its ugly head, and the old self defeating critic chatters away in my ear, reminding me of how many times my actions do not match my words.
Peace - the kind of calm and rest I crave - seems so far out of the picture. Where is this peace on earth? Where is this peace in my body and mind and spirit? I look for peace but all I see is chaos. Peace fades in the light of another war, in the light of death and disease and loss, in the busyness of the season.
And I, I get so caught up in my search for peace that I forget to look for the peace maker.
If God is present, there should also be peace, and when I look around me I don't see peace the way I think it should look. And I forget that the first night, when peace entered the world, it wasn't all calm and bright and merry. It was in a stable, a scared young couple, death threats, murders, setting loose a string of chaos. And yet we have the nerve to call that peace. And yet we have the nerve to question where peace is now.
I believe that peace isn't always calm and meek. Sometimes it is fought for in the messy corners of our own hearts before it is demonstrated in the world.
The suffering in the world, the pain in my own life, what if they are all the beginnings of a great peace beginning to burst forth?
The dis-ease, the death, the wars, the violence, they are slowly killing us and the only cure for our illness, the only medicine isn't that which we all proclaim, "Peace on earth" but it is found in the being of the peace maker.
Peace, which entered the world on a less than peaceful night. Peace, which still rises up in a dark world. Peace, which was promised and Peace, which will prevail.
Peace doesn't look like I think it should, and right now I fight against the idea of how I think peace should prevail, and the string of a promise offered to me that peace will indeed win.
Eyes lifted up, through the middle of a storm, in the middle of my lack of understanding, in the chaos, not to the symbol of peace we have all looked at and longed for over the last months and years, but to the peace maker himself.

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Weary World Rejoices (Friday night thoughts)

Friday nights seem slower in this past season. The week pulls and tugs at me, coming apart the tiny seams I spent so long stitching, and by the time Friday night rolls around all I want is a bed, a few free hours to clear my head.
I fill my time with countless episodes of Scandal, loads of laundry. I feel everything deeply and intensely and in these moments, I tend to bury within myself and hide away from a world that is constantly demanding of my time and attention.
There are only a few weeks left in the semester, and while I'm almost in shock at how quickly this year has gone by, I am readily anticipating the break.
Something about the Christmas season always fills me with a sort of childlike joy. But something about the advent season pulls at me with a sense of longing, of waiting through the darkest days for the light that I know is coming. And I'm in the middle of that phase, where I am feeling my heart turn itself open. And I know, I know, the joy that is coming, but in this moment all I feel is the clenched tightness of these dark, waiting days. That's advent, isn't it?
I celebrated my 19th birthday a week ago, and to be honest it doesn't feel like much has changed. When I was younger I would be in knots over my birthday, filled with excitement over being another year older and more mature and closer to the adulthood I so desired. But in the last few years, with each turn of the calendar, I haven't felt the momentous becoming of another age. I celebrated in a way that my heart has been yearning to celebrate: with my favourite movie and dinner with the family and game night with friends. I looked around at my life, in all its missteps and mistakes and floundering,  with some sense of bewildered amazement that I still ended up here. Despite the big shift from freshman to sophomore year of college, entering into this new world with added responsibilities where I am daily butting heads with my perfectionism, despite feeling sick in the deepest part of me where I wonder if I will ever fully recover and experience health again, and being painfully honest about my life up until this point and learning to accept my decisions, I have found beautiful people that support me, love me and encourage me. I am still (by nothing short of a miracle) able to experience every day the wild beauty of love. And even though I'm a grown up now, I'm still very much a daughter, and a sister, a granddaughter and a niece and (as of recently) auntie to my cousins' beautiful children. I have found volunteer work that fills my heart, even on its worst days, and even in the messy, frustrating trials I am learning more about who I am, and who I want to be.
I guess all this is to say that my life is changing, in ways I never expected. I am continuing a process I started early this year, and am furthering my metamorphoses and becoming a butterfly.
Friday nights roll around and my heart is full from the heaviness of the week of which it carried. I ache for the still quiet, for the celebration in the midst of a heavy season.
This semester, this year, this season, has brought me to my knees time and time again. It is full of the bittersweet. Sometimes it is both in the same second and I am unsure of how to handle it, how to hold these two emotions at the same time. There is the weary exhaustion of a Friday night, limping to the finish line of another week with barely enough time to catch my breath before we go again, and yet I look out my window on this unusually warm December night and see the glow of the street lights, and hear the laughter echoing from down the hall.
There is brokenness but there is wholeness. There is darkness but everything in me is waiting for the light. There is the turning another year older, the finishing of a semester, silence in a dorm room where it seems like everything might be falling apart but maybe its really just falling together.
We hold our breath in anticipation.
And once again, the weary world rejoices.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

the candle of hope

In the past few years, I've grown wildly in love with advent. I love the tradition of lighting the candles, of breath held in anticipation as we wait, of the "It may look bleak now but just wait until you see what's coming."
I'm in a phase where I need to look and see what's coming. I need hope, something solid to curl my fingers around, something to ignite a tiny flame within me that will burn bright and carry me through the depths of this dark winter.
Every year on my birthday, I pick a new word for the year. It's how I usher in a new year: with music and words and rituals and traditions. Last year my word was "Shalom." It meant peace, wholeness, and I craved it deeply. The year, in surprising ways, brought me shalom.
This year I felt a tiny tug at my heart, and through the whisperings of friends and my own thoughts, I landed on a prayer, an intention, for this next year.
Pray for a year of jubilee.
A year of restoration, of rest, of joy, of reclaiming sacred ground.
But in the days since claiming my word, a year of jubilee seems nearly impossible. A year of rejoicing and restoring and resting seems so far away when I feel heavy, full of self loathing, desperate and broken.
I am the one in need of the hope candle this Sunday.
I sit in this space, uncomfortable and humbly broken. When there's too much to be done, when the body fails, when I see so much pain and hurt surrounding our community this Christmas season, when quarrels rise up and rest seems like a dream, when the tears come without warning and the losses feel bigger than the gains, there is the tiny, flickering candle of hope.
I draw near to advent because I need to be a part of something bigger than myself. I need the hope, the peace and the joy and the love, offered because I can't create it on my own.
I am opening up space for Jesus becoming human. I need the hope of the birth of Jesus, the hope of His becoming fully man and fully God and living inside a human body so that I can make peace living in mine. I need His suffering on the cross as a nod to my suffering, a "Me too."
I am waiting, still with an aching deep inside me. Something isn't whole yet. I know this. I can feel it and I see it and I look around me and am so aware of our (my) depravity.
It's why I light the hope candle, why I am praying for a year of jubilee even when from where I'm standing it seems nearly impossible.
Because just you wait until you see what's coming

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Beautiful - Part 2

Somewhere along the line, through the rough blows of trauma and grief and heartache, we gave up on our beauty. Even though the grievance went directly against the grain of what our souls were longing for, we decided beauty wasn't for us. We were too broken, too fragmented, too incomplete to ever hope for a beauty that could breathe energy and life back into our hearts and into the people around us.

 This evening, after a long day of homework and a long week of heartache, I pulled out my paint set. I got it when I was in my early teen years with the inspiration to become a painter, and ever since then it has sat on my shelf. I pull it out every now and again, when I feel like reconnecting with my inner child. Tonight, though, I wasn't going to paint a picture on canvas or a piece of paper.
Standing before the full length mirror, I mixed the paint and began painting shapes on my stomach. Red circles, purple lines, green fingerprints, I was painting my scars.
When I had finished painting the scars, when all the pain on the inside was now splashed across my outsides, I looked in the mirror. All the lines, all the circles, all the fingerprints, they spoke volumes. But that's not the story I want to tell. And so, dipping my fingers in the green ink, I scrawled something else on my body.
FREE
followed by words like brave and love and strong. Because my body is all of those things too.
And as I looked in the mirror, what I saw wasn't a mess of paint and tears. It was beautiful.
I grew up with an intense hatred for my body. My body was the enemy. It failed me when I needed it to work properly. It attracted trauma and pain. It was easier to deprive it of nourishment and make myself sick, or to cut away skin and try to allow the pain to breathe than to deal with what was underneath. Because underneath, the lies I was told and picked up on were strong enough to shake me to the core: that I am not loved, that I am not beautiful, that I am not worthy.
Of all the things I lost, of all the things that I had to now struggle to regain, I ended up losing the idea that I could be beautiful. When people would say it to me, I would reject it. There was nothing beautiful about my body because I believed there was nothing beautiful about my heart. I was a shell, the living dead.
Part of being free means making peace with my story, and one thing I'm learning to make peace with is the word beautiful.
I still struggle a lot with not feeling like enough. I still have days where I try to punish my body, to make it fit into how I think it should be. If we are composed of mind, body and soul, part of being free means being realizing and living from a place of this is a good body.
This body, that was abused and criticized and pulled apart and analyzed, it is a good body.


The world around us doesn't know what to do with this beauty. So we criticize it, bottle it up and reduce it to a one size fits all souls. But the truth is we can't be packaged. We can't be held in. Beauty is busting at the seams ready to spill energy and hope and compassion and love.
So, my friend, let your beauty spill. Let it spill everywhere, on everyone, and get messy.
Write the words that change hearts. Champion those who are disadvantaged, who cannot speak for themselves. Make art that colors the world around you. Speak words that change the trajectory of a generation. Wake up with so much passion that those that rub up against you are infused with light. Be the beauty in your heart that is aching and longing to wake up.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Courage - part 1

My fingers shook as I curled them around my spiral bound notebook.
Moments before I was going to give my talk, I considered rewriting the whole thing, making it up and presenting something less brutally honest and more flowery, elegant, something that fit in the nice 'churchy girl' box, that fit with the paper smile I give.
I say I'll do whatever, that I'm open to nudges from the Holy Spirit, until I am asked to do something that is right up there with being naked in public.
It is a part of my story I've sheltered for a long while. I say I have good reasons for it too: that there's no reason to bring up the past, that I don't want to rock the family boat, that my story doesn't really matter anyway.
There's so many advocates for sexual abuse out there, why does the world need another one? Why my voice?
So in the moments before I was going to begin speaking, with my hands shaking and my heart racing, I reached over to grab the hand of my friend sitting beside me, hoping her calm would rub off on me. And she began to pray, whispering in her sweet voice for courage and strength and wisdom.
I wanted to disappear into the chair, to be back in bed curled up under the blankets faking sick like a little kid who didn't want to go to school. That's what it feels like when you are asked to do something so scary, to share something so real and honest and personal.
When I began to speak, I was shocked by the calm, strong clarity in my voice. I felt like the cowardly lion, the one who was supposed to be strong and brave but instead jumped at the sight of her own shadow.
I lost my voice a long time ago, as a little girl who cried for help with no answer. This summer, I learned how to use my voice again. Over and over I was affirmed by those around me, "You have a beautiful voice."
I clung to those affirmations this morning. I curled my fingers around the courage I found in the words and actions others had left behind. I stepped from shame into courage.
What happened to me was not the end of my story. It doesn't define my worthiness. It doesn't get to take away my voice.
And with the words I spoke to this room full of girls aching for words of grace and truth and love, as I spoke about my own pain and healing journey, I could feel my voice vibrating strong. I heard the most beautiful sound: a soft but still present roar coming from within.
To you: I see you. I'm standing with you. Come to the table. Jesus had a thing for outcasts

Friday, October 30, 2015

how Bible School limited who I thought God was

Red silks, chanting around a fire, dancing with skirts spinning, sceneries so beautiful I cannot seem to capture their marvelousness on camera or with words, moments so sacred I cannot capture their holiness with a pen, and must instead resort to sitting in their beauty and letting the silence around me be my prayer.
These have been the images that have filled my head over the last few days.
The air is getting colder. The trees outside my window have lost their leaves. The regular fall itch has struck once again, and I find myself frantic in a space of trying to order, and reorder, and make sense of this world around me.
One of the big topics I seem to be grappling with in this season has been redefining God. I'm at Bible school, constantly saturated in teachings and Bible readings and prayer meetings. And yet I find myself growing more and more uncomfortable with this reality.
Being at Bible college has done the opposite of, what I imagine, it has intended to do. Instead of growing closer to God as I learn more, I become more and more frustrated.
I am so submerged in teachings and lectures and theology and hermeneutics that I lose the mystery. In being surrounded by Christians day in and day out, always expected to grow and learn and teach, I found it so easy to conform to what I thought Christianity was.
Read the Bible for half an hour each morning? Sure, I can do that.
Attend a prayer meeting? I have it covered.
Write entire papers on how meditation fits into prayer life? Consider it done.
But in reality, all of these things were killing me on the inside. Jesus wasn't this magical, supreme, mysterious being anymore but just another name to be thrown into my paper. God fit very neatly into a box.
God as male, God as judge, God as gracious and merciful and loving with an emphasis on discipleship and wanting you to attend church every Sunday and read your Bible and pray all the time.
I became angry with the God that fit into my box. I became angry with theology, with Bible study, with discipleship.
As part of my field ed. ministry I volunteer at the women's shelter and the stories I come across break my heart. And the God I see as so neatly fitting into theology and hermeneutics and discipleship doesn't fit.
Part of this is my own fault. Part of it is almost inevitable when you're surrounded by Christian teachings and relationships all the time. It's so easy to fit into a role.
The theology of it all frustrates me. I don't want to know more about God. I want to actively participate in His ministry. I want to feed off His mystery. I want to sit at the table with sinners and tax collectors and break bread and drink wine.
I don't want the rules about God. I don't want people's interpretations of who God is. I want God.
I want the Eucharist, the sacraments, the constant in an ever changing world. I want the grace and the love without other people's definitions of them, and what they are, and who can accept them.
I understand that there is a place for knowledge, and that it is beneficial. But I don't want who God is to get lost in the knowledge.
I don't have all the answers for how this is going to look yet. I only know that I want mystery over meticulous answers. I want to encounter God in other places and people and walks of life and cultures and views. I want to encounter the God that isn't limited to the Christian bubble, and theology and church attendance and daily Bible reading.
There are a lot of things I feel like I'm supposed to be during this school year. I'm a leader, in more aspects than one. And I felt the pressure of it. I felt the pressure of needing to be an example and have it all together, and I excluded myself from grace. But I'm realizing I don't want to be identified by all those things. Not that any of them are bad, or that I want to shed them off. But at the core of my being, I want to be someone who is sustained off the mystery. I want to bathe in the unknown as well as the known. I want to be ok with not having the answers for everything, but being able to have the answer of love.

“God's grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings. My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God's grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word ... it's that God makes beautiful things out of even my own shit. Grace isn't about God creating humans and flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace - like saying, "Oh, it's OK, I'll be the good guy and forgive you." It's God saying, "I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”

Monday, October 26, 2015

I lost my voice.
The pain of the past, negative relationships, being used and abused, they all taught me that I don't have a voice. My voice was like this shape that just kept shrinking and shrinking until there was nothing left of it but a speck.
This weekend I completed the training with Choices Seminars. I cannot put into words the life changing, transforming magic that happens in that room. I didn't believe it until I went there myself and sat in those chairs.
And a funny thing happened while I was there.
I got my voice back.
This weekend I got the opportunity to sing at the Sunday service. And the feeling of complete love and support that I felt from the group was a feeling I wish for every single person.
I got so many compliments on my voice.
The voice that I hid for so long, that diminished into nothing, that I was afraid to use, that I felt didn't deserve to be heard. And I know that they meant my singing, but something about their comments went deeper than that.
They were validating my voice, my worth, my strength, my song. These people - my people - spoke over me words of love and encouragement. They saw who I was, even when I couldn't. I'm not the girl without a voice, a victim, hiding in shame and guilt.
I am a free woman, creating a space of sacred love.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My heart is still.
This afternoon I stole away a few hours to escape to the woods with the man I love. Something about being surrounded by the tall trees, fallen leaves, running water and fresh air made it easier to breathe. I felt the familiar whisper in my soul, 'Was this all you needed then?'
I took pictures, got my feet wet in the water, marveled at squirrels and birds that gathered in the clearings. We talked, and I cried, and my heart was unpacked on the picnic table.
And something happened there, something I didn't expect.
In class lately we've been opening up the idea of meditation, and the Holy Spirit. I've been attracted to this idea of Spirit, of the very breath of God. Maybe it's the poet in me but I want to say in this moment, after days and weeks of silence, I felt the breath of God upon my skin for a brief second.
...
I never considered myself a jealous person. But over the past few weeks I've found myself staring longingly at my facebook newsfeed and instagram feed in envy. There are people out there who's lives seem so much more together than mine. Their hearts don't carry such great losses. They are better artists, better lovers, better servants.
Lately it's felt like my heart is being pelted by incoming hurts. I give and give to those around me. Everything in my life is categorized into something that must be done. There's not enough time, never enough time. Old traumas and hurts resurface. New conflicts tap into old wounds.  I fizzle into nothing, burn out. And I want that.
That bright, new, shiny thing over there that looks so much happier and prettier than my reality.
And I realized that by constantly idolizing that, I'm continually putting my life in a place of "Not good enough."
I always need to be better, always push myself to feel like a success in every single area, and in the end I am doing 99 things but none well. I am busy, and everything looks like a to-do list and things I used to enjoy become something I need to do to get onto the next thing and in all of it I feel like I'm failing.
I was talking to a friend of mine earlier this week and we were talking about this very thing. I challenged her to start small. You can't change the world in a single moment, so start small. I challenged her, every day for the next week, to get up and tell herself that she was enough.
How I didn't know my own heart was aching to hear those words too.
I am enough. As a daughter, as a girlfriend, as a student, as a servant, as a worker, as a leader, as a writer. In all of it, I must hold up my actions and proclaim over them the word enough.
When I stand in this place of perfectionism and control and getting things done, I'm hurting myself and the people I love. I'm not giving my 100% because I'm exhausted and burnt out and I'm not getting more of what I want out of life. And I'm not allowing room for the grace of God.
Sometimes, in my own pride, I say I don't need it. I don't need grace. I have it all under control. Yep, you picked the right person for the job, God, because, see, I can get it done all by myself. You can count on me.
My own pride is standing in the way of my happiness. Perhaps there is beauty in humility, not the kind of humility I always saw as stooping down and serving others and putting yourself last but the kind of humility that admits I can't do it all.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Little Star

Once upon a time there was a star. He was just a little star, and he was surrounded by other stars that shone brighter than him and he didn't feel like he belonged. One day the little star decided he would travel to the darkest part of the sky so that he could shine the brightest. The little star began moving across the sky.  That same night two kids were wandering in the forest. It was getting late and dark and they needed to find their way home. "Let's follow that star," they decided. So they followed the little star and he guided them out of the forest. Even though he was surrounded by bigger and brighter stars it was his light that showed them the way out of the darkness. So little star stayed.

Every so often I ask him to tell me a story. Tonight he told me this one, and I loved it so much. I think I may not be the only storyteller in this relationship

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Creation of Space

I haven't been writing much lately. More savoring, more collecting. What I have been is personal, the delicate stories of others that I have been so honored to receive, and my own emotional stumbling as I begin to process what this last month has looked like for me. Then there are days when I feel like I need to write down the stories I'm collecting inside of me but they all feel so personal, so precious, so not mine and so mine but still needing the time to be rolled over inside of me and many times I end up sitting in front of a blank screen.
...
I'm sitting at my desk at 1pm, drinking peppermint tea out of my cup that proudly declares, "Good Morning, Gorgeous." It's not morning, but some days are like that. I'm bundled up in a big sweater belonging not to me, under a blanket and in front of the open window.
I'm in the process of reminding myself what matters. It seems selfish really, in a world full of people asking for my attention and homework that demands to be done and a life that demands to be lived to pull back, place my hand over my heart and whisper, "No, this is what matters."
I've been in a state of relative dis-ease health wise lately. Little blue pill bottles lined up on my shelf seem to stand in mockery, showing me again how I failed. I stare at them, willing them to work, willing my body to begin working on it's own and no longer need their assistance.
I read this week that it is foolish for someone to think that one sick body part will not effect all the others, but I kind of did think that. So this one nerve in my body isn't doing it's job, but I have been almost drill sergeant in my commands to my other body parts to do their job, and perhaps work overtime to compensate. Unfortunately that is not the case, and I'm feeling the fatigue in all parts of my body.
I routinely quote movies, and after watching Hotel Transylvania 2 my boyfriend and I regularly quote the line to each other, "I just need to feel loved." Last night, in all seriousness, I used that line.
I feel pulled by so many things, am working so hard to put up this fa├žade and be the strong one and have it all together. Sometimes I don't even realize myself what I'm doing until it all comes crashing down around me and I'm left surrounded by the ruin of it all.
I've been working so hard and pushing myself that I don't acknowledge that I'm exhausted and frustrated and feeling empty.
My friend called last week, and challenged me to take care of myself. The goal was to practice yoga at least once that week, and to text her once I had completed my task.
I texted her yesterday morning, and in my text I included a simple line that I learned this summer, one I didn't realize the importance of until I said it.
Alisha has received medicine.
I have pill bottles lined up on the shelf, doctors working to treat my body, but I've been denying myself the medicine I really need. I slipped into my disguise of everything is alright and I just pushed on and did what needed to be done.
And I agree that there is a time for that.
But there is also a time for acknowledging the heaviness. The stories I've been hearing remind me of things in my own past, and I want to be there and help but I can't unless I take care of myself first. I need to acknowledge the ugly bits of my own story before I can help others with theirs. I am sick, and without acknowledging that ugly illness grief I can't begin healing.
I think there is great power in acknowledging our own stories, and sharing them.

We have to be able to name the chains, and then, I think, we have to be able to confess them. To openly admit, “This, right here, this pulls at me. This controls me. This makes me act a certain way. This distracts me from the Center, from the Core, from seeking first God.”

I'm on this journey of the heart, one that was made clear to me when I started this school year but I still resist so much. It's not easy naming your chains, and the process of becoming free is hard. I didn't know that when I started. But claiming that freedom, and taking back my ground is hard.
Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve to walk there, on that ground of freedom. Sometimes I feel like I'm swinging an ax at a big old tree and barely even making a dent. The negative tapes I hear in my head are too loud, there's too much pain, I can't even begin to tackle these things and have it really make a difference.
Right now, much of this practice is about creating space. I'm creating space for these stories, to tell the truth, to get brave again, to love myself, to be loved by others. Space to fight, to take back my heart and mind and soul and body and voice.
This practice, this daily creation of space, however that looks, is medicine. It's healing, and uncurling the ache and it's beautiful.
Dear you, whoever you are, however you got here, this is exactly where you're supposed to be

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I was talking to my friend earlier tonight and she said something along the lines of, "I feel like I'm carrying too many stories inside of me."
I could only nod, because I'm feeling the same way right now. Too many stories, both mine and others, all loud and frantic inside my brain but unable to be written out in a coherent manner. They attach themselves to the curtains, swing from the chandeliers, misbehave like hooligans. These stories sit inside of me, like murky water, stagnant and unmoving.
...
As I was walking up the stairs of a tall office building earlier today, picking up a child welfare check for a new volunteer position that I'm really excited about, my friend called me. She asked how I was doing and I sighed, "It's been a hard last couple of days."
I went away over the weekend and the whole time I was there I felt guilty for not being here. Now I'm here, surrounded by the 'normalcy' of school and I can only wish for the freedom of there. I'm never quite feeling settled within myself.
In the last couple of days, the automatic negative thoughts I have are louder. Sometimes they roar and my voice shakes as I howl back, "You're not true!"
I'm more emotional than normal, stumbling around. I apologize for needing constant reassurance, for a sharp tongue that sometimes gets the better of me, for the burden I think I am on those I love, for needing grace and grace and grace.
I'm tired. I have this desire to give and give and give, to pour myself out into things and people that I love - after all, isn't servant hood the reoccurring theme in my classes lately? - and I always forget the little bean dangling from my wrist, the one that tells me I need to take care of myself too.
Tiny things trigger this cascade of emotion. Moments when I'm touched the wrong way, when someone says the wrong thing, when another beautiful girl in the dorm shares her heart with me, a comment said by a well meaning friend. None of these bad things, and certainly not the source of the emotional responses I've been having, and yet when stacked on top of one another, they feel like too much.
I berate myself for not being better at juggling. Then I remember that clowns juggle, and clowns are creepy, and I am grateful I'm not a clown.
...
I sat in chapel this morning, remembering the yoga challenge I did back in August. I'm still coming to terms with the fact that this is a good body. Not only this literal, physical body, though I'm still learning to redeem that too, but the body of Christ.
I was sitting in class recently and I realized that so much of what I hear and take in, I'm taking in through that 13 year old girl filter. The strongly stubborn Jesus doesn't love me and There is no such thing as a good God. And I'm afraid to say it, because I'm at Bible school after all. Aren't I supposed to be among the super spiritual, the ones that trust God in every trial and never waver? Those are my people, right?
I want those to be my people.
But my faith wavers. Some days I'm not even sure what I believe, or if I believe at all. I don't want to be here, and I don't know why I'm here. I want to pack up everything into my car and drive somewhere far away.
Family issues, struggles in my relationship, health concerns, my past, they come up and I fight the urge to say Consider this trial a pure joy? are you kidding me?
I'm not sure where I stand right now, and that feels like a very powerful thing to say. The movement I can feel happening in this body is exhausting, and strong, and often leaves me breathless. And I'm not sure yet where it will go, or what will happen.
...
Maybe some day I will have it in me to write all these stories. That was my goal with this blog, the last school year and this one. Instead I'm finding some stories you have to carry with you a good long while before they even make sense, before you can write them out and begin to make peace with them. That's kind of what my stories are like right now.
I'm practicing the giving of grace. I'll carry these stories until they release me. It's all in the process of redeeming. It's exhausting, and uncomfortable, but I whispered the words a long time ago when I decided to become a writer over my stories and I whisper it again over my heart now:
I will carry you

Monday, September 7, 2015

Enough

As I packed loaded boxes into the waiting vehicle, I felt it. Not stronger than a twinge but there none the less, a feeling of I don't have this together. And for a moment it was paralyzing. I felt defensive of my mess, ready to curl my body around the dirty dishes, too many clothes and dead flowers as a means of protection.
It's welcome week, my second year at PRBI, and in many ways I can feel this year will be as hard as my first. I'm not a rookie at the moving in, and I already know some of the faces, but my heart still stirs in discomfort and discontent and I can't help but wonder (again) if this is truly where I'm supposed to be.
My heart is rubbed raw from a summer full of putting fists into old wounds and I haven't yet developed the thicker skin it takes to walk into a room with near 100 strangers and not feel like all their judgments and fears aren't directed at you.
I'm craving still quietness, closeness and distance in the same breath, which isn't conducive to welcome week, where the expectations are set for being welcoming and inviting, cultivating community.
The desire rises up in me to turn back to old habits, to cover up the pain instead of finding a way to sit with it, and I have to remind myself that recovery happens every moment, that with every breath I must make the choice to stay present and open instead of returning to those behaviors that no longer serve me.
In these early days, my heart isn't in it. I see the excitement around me, this energy floating around for new experiences and friends and learning that is vibrating with positivity, but I'm not there. I spend time doubting whether or not I should really be here, and then wonder whether or not this doubt is a sign I should walk away. Old memories seem to be lurking on every corner, standing with hats and trench coats inviting me back to their old ways and the strength to refuse is dwindling. I cry, and yell at the people I love the most. And it's hard.
My heart is stretched from the surgical art of opening wounds and I don't see it stopping any time soon and I can barely catch my breath as I wheeze "Can it be over now? I can't take anymore. Let's take a break. We can keep healing and recovering later."
They say if you're not working towards recovery you're working towards staying stuck in addiction, that not moving isn't really keeping you the same but contributing to the going back. 
I'm trying. This welcome week I'm welcoming more than just the freshmen. I'm welcoming pain, welcoming anger, welcoming sadness, welcoming tears and frustration and the unknown and the doubt and depression and addiction and fear. I'm learning to sit with the darkness instead of trying to run from it, even if it's just for twenty seconds at a time.
For these twenty seconds I will just focus on my breath. And then the next twenty, and the next twenty.
I breathe and I picture the light inside my body expanding and contracting, and for that moment I feel alright. I am enough. I have enough. I do enough. It is enough.

"Everything in me is tightening, curling in around this ache. I will lay my heart wide open, like the surface of a lake. Wide open like a lake."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

August has always held me gently. Soft and strong, it once was a month that held so much pain but now every August quiet reflection and contemplation rises up and washes over me like the gentle breeze. If I could hold on to these sacred days, to the gentleness August brings, I would.
I feel like if August was a person she would be dripping in beads, wearing flowing fabrics and dancing with the puffs of air. Her laugh would sound like wind chimes clinking against one another on the porch long after dark when the air is only slightly rustled.
August, for me, has always felt like coming home, like peeling back the layers and peering into myself and finding things I never really knew I'd left there.
...
He stood with his guitar, singing in such a way that the air hung off the breath of magic and I knew I wanted to write like that. I wanted my not so elegant prose and poetry to drip off the branches of trees like dew drops, to mesmerize and simultaneously awe those around me. I feel the words inside me, and I want to one day reach that glistening shining spot of successful. I wish I knew what that looked like. But as I watched him play, choking on my words, my fingers aching for a pen, I knew I wanted this. Being an artist suddenly sounded like the most magical thing in the world.
I think as an artist there's always that someone better. There's that someone with a publishing deal, a fully completed manuscript that doesn't suck, with a concert venue or a next show or more followers. I call myself an artist but a lot of the time that feels like me out here, just doing my own thing, sometimes writing good things but a lot of the time writing bad things but always creating. And when there's someone else, someone else on this journey of artistry who is further along up the path than you are, who understands the solitary quest of creating, it's an inspiring and terrifying feeling.
As I watched him play, I also watched his girlfriend. My best friend when I was 4 years old, she reminds me of pieces of the past I almost forgot. She's grown now, and beautiful, and it's easier to think she has this life thing more figured out than I do. Maybe somewhere along the line we grew apart and she got the magical answer key and I got a series of questions. And I'm watching her and remembering when we were young, and how it was supposed to be different but she's here in this life I don't fit into effortlessly anymore. Sometimes I wish I did.
I wish my life was beautiful and grandeur instead of this clunky imitation I'm still learning how to stand inside and come home to at night.
There they are, these two, in the life I thought I was supposed to be living, the one I dreamed about. And he's singing about love and apologies, and I look across at the boy holding my hands. He looks up at me and smiles, and I smile, and I feel so in love in this moment I think my heart will burst out of my chest, will finally break free of the cage it's been contained in for so long and exist as its own vessel of love and light. This life, this love, it's not what I had imagined back when I was a little girl. It's messy, and loud, and not very elegant or graceful. But as I look at it, at him, I know it is the best poetry I have ever written to date. It is my proudest creation, what I never knew I needed. This wild and reckless love is more than enough.
"Love was just an empty room until I felt His heart in you."
...
The air smelled like coming home. The mountains stood tall to greet me, ready to breathe life into my lungs once again. As we hiked over rocky trails in sandals, unprepared but not unwilling visitors, my heart beat rapidly inside of my chest in a way that made me realize that these hills could do anything to me and it would not be unwelcomed. I think perhaps its genetic, this deep and true love for the wild unknown.
We ate lunch on the patio of this little vegan restaurant, which I loved and he didn't. The waitress had an Australian accent, and the people who passed by on the street were all kinds of foreign and familiar. When he stayed and ate I knew he loved me.
We walked the streets and I drank rich, strong black coffee. Musicians played on street corners. I was enchanted by this city, the way it extended rivers like veins, the way mountain peaks rose like the confidant gaze of the sure and steady. Even in the face of the unknown, it beckoned me to trust. It tickled the delicate underside of my heart, whispering courage into my bones, giving me strength for the journey.
...
I'm still marveling at how it feels to be accepted into a family not your own. As the girl who grew up with a disjointed illustration of family, the tender process of finding my own is not something I take lightly. The arms outstretched to welcome me, the goodbye hugs that speak of always being welcome here, the opening up of more than a home but a heart, it does not go unnoticed.
And in the final moments when the bags were all packed in the car and hugs were being given, his mother said to me, "You're our girl now too." and I realized what it's like to have homes scattered all around the country. And my heart swells.
...
The car ride home is long, filled with more undistinguishable moans, sighs and laughs than actual words. We listen to others talk and don't talk to each other. I feel the weight as I try to sort out the big topics in my mind, as I work through the matters of faith I began to give some attention to when August's #thisisagoodbody challenge was taking place, as I think about the huge and important blog post I'm writing. We spend the last hour laughing about nothing. We pull into the driveway exhausted and I'm not sure of the long days before me. I wish to hold on to these final, fleeting moments of summer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hello my name is...

"Alisha, what's wrong?"
It happens every time he says my name. I pause for a minute, as if I need a moment to recognize who he's talking to. He calls me all these other things, and I answer to them without a second thought, but when he says my name...
I'm writing my way through this month's #thisisagoodbody challenge over on instagram. I'm getting real and honest about the things that hurt, and by holding space for them I am, hopefully, eliminating their power.
And it's hard work. The work that was supposed to be just about eliminating shame from my body has leaked over into other areas of my life, and this little project I joined just for fun and the desire to join one of the monthly yoga challenges has turned into this thing that's changing me.
Opening up the can of lies I believed about my body means opening up and digging into the past. I thought the shame would be localized to one area but instead it spread. The shame I held in my body was the shame I felt about abuse, addiction, death and every other trauma. The feelings I had about my body weren't just specific to my body but also the body of Christ.
I've written and cried and practiced and danced and groaned my way through this month, reclaiming freedom. My heart, finally open, has begun to feel and I find often I am weeping for reasons I don't fully understand.
Jodi Picoult says in one of her books that you can tell when a person loves you because your name sounds different on their tongue.
Years ago, my name was spoken in a way that wasn't loving. That sound, the way my name was said, what follows, it rings in my head. And I never really noticed it. I would complain about not having a nickname, lay in bed at night and dream about trying on new names: something exotic and fun and different, a new girl without a story.
I'm in the process of reclaiming a lot of things in the name of freedom, but one thing I'm just realizing I need to reclaim is my name.
My name comes from the name Alice, meaning noble. That's what I've always been told, but I always kind of squirmed inside the meaning of my name. Noble felt too big, too clunky a meaning to pull around with me anywhere.
So, like I always tend to do, I did some research.
Alisha is also a Sanskrit name, meaning 'Protected by God.'
I saw this meaning and tears filled my eyes. I could blame it on my overactive tear ducts lately but I'm not totally sure that's it. Something about this meaning hit me in the heart.
Protected by God.
Even then, in the dark days haunted by abuse and addiction.
Then, in the moments when I forgot how to cry and even my name sounded like a threat.
Then, when I stood over a grave and wept for the forgiveness that felt stuck inside of me.
Protected by God, even when I lay prostrate on the floor, crying to a God I wasn't sure I believed in anymore, so severely wounded by His body, ready to give up all hope and end it all.
Even then, even now, protected by God.
When the man I love says my name, beautiful and safe in his mouth, it takes some getting used to. It reminds me of all the hurt and pain that for so long was and still is attached to that name. But in the process of reclaiming it, claiming my identity, when he says my name I reach for his hand. I am safe. I am loved. I am protected by God.
Then, now, and always.
Amen

Sunday, August 16, 2015

"even my skin held memory"
For the past few years, August has felt like a cool breeze. It's a moment of breath, of reprieve. I live quieter in August, pondering in my heart everything I've stored up in the months past, and this August is no exception.
This August, I'm participating in a project hosted by Morgan Day Cecil called #justbeherewithme. The intention is to be more present in our lives by logging off social media for a day, a week or the whole month of August. I've dedicated my Sunday's to being social media free, and while my fingers crave the familiar scroll of the smart phone, I'm finding much more room to be present.
I'm learning to be present with my story. Continuing the work I started at the end of July, I'm taking a break from the public sector of blogging and documenting my personal story in my journal. Some days its hard to even scratch the words out, despite knowing I'll be the only one to read them. Some days writing them feels like a cathartic release.
"I think you need to speak it. I think you need to be as specific as possible and allow the space to empty on its own"
Writing these words, adventuring through my past, it feels like building monuments. "Thank you," I whisper to each segment as I finish with it, "But I no longer need you anymore." And by doing so I'm slowly undressing the layers of shame and guilt I've worn for so many years.
I'm finding the memories of the past are so deeply a part of me that even my skin holds the memory. My body remembers, even when my mind forgets. Which means this month has also meant hours laboring in pain as I ache to give birth to this story, practicing yoga, having honest conversations with the people I love and letting them help to begin building something anew in me. Every positive touch, is wiping over the old pathways where love = pain and rewriting it with the message love = love. The brave act of letting others hold me in my story is turning out to be one of the most beautiful things I've ever done, and the giving and receiving of this love, this medicine, is an honor. I'm also learning to keep some of this love, this medicine, for myself, as I'm finally in a place of speaking words of love over myself.
In August, I'm participating in a yoga challenge called #thisisagoodbody over on instagram (with the exception of Sundays, of course, which we're all taking off to find a few sacred moments). We're getting honest about things like shame, and this vulnerability is changing me. By combining honesty with movement, my heart is transforming. I'm discovering just how much negativity and shame I held around my body that I didn't even realize was there, and I'm beginning to work through that.
This season, which technically began in late July, is so healing and powerful. I've been hesitant to write about it, not only because it is so achingly personal but because finding the right words to convey the tender places of my heart lately is a seemingly impossible task. I'm finding freedom in places I never expected to find it. I'm stretching my heart wide open, going back into the past so I can move forward into my future. I'm speaking up and saying what for years I kept silent, using the voice that for so long I let others take from me.
I'm being present and honest with this moment, with the people I love, with myself and my story. And I proclaim over all of it goodness.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Butterfly Soup

"If you cut open a chrysalis you won't find a caterpillar growing wings. You won't find a caterpillar butterfly hybrid. You'll find butterfly soup. The caterpillar doesn't just change, it dissolves, it becomes completely broken down that it might become an entirely new creation"

There are times when my heart is full and I find it hard to write. I cry, I stare at the sky, I fit into small spaces and try to fit the large scale meaning of life into my finite human mind. But there are moments so big, so profound, so beautiful that they change you on a cellular level, and this past week felt like that for me.
It felt like butterfly soup, like the caterpillar dissolving and changing on an intricate level, making way for new birth, for butterfly wings.
Maybe I'm not there yet, but I like to think I'm a little bit closer to knowing what it's like to have butterfly wings.

I'm not a dancer. I'd like to be, but somehow my lack of coordination and clumsiness has made that a near impossible feat. I'm not fearless, or especially brave. I'm more like the cowardly lion, always looking for courage. I love deeply and wildly, so I know what it's like to live life as a reflection of one's heart. What I didn't know was what it was like to move as a reflection of one's heart in response to one's self. When the music plays, when the false selves are stripped away, when all that exists is the sound of a heartbeat and a group of people digging deep so you can root down and up, I learned a little something about loving myself. Not about being fearless but letting each breath and movement become a hallelujah fulfilled in and through me, letting it become the answer to every prayer I prayed when I didn't think I would make it, holding myself in a place of honour without judgement or shame. My body isn't that of a dancer, but I think my heart is. I think my heart knew how to dance all along, if only I'd give it the freedom to do so. I think when the skeleton of my old self was dissolved, all that boneless-ness gave my heart space to expand out and pulsate through every fiber and cell of my body. I think in that moment, I finally grew my butterfly wings.

Butterflies have beautiful lives. I heard that once. "You're like a butterfly," He told me, "Butterflies can't see their wings, they have no idea how beautiful they are."

It feels strange, moving with these new wings. It takes time to adjust, to learn how to adapt to life with these wings on your back. The big change, they say, is from caterpillar to butterfly and while I agree I also think that learning how to fly when you've spent your whole life crawling on the ground is a pretty big adjustment in and of itself. Sometimes I flap them around, just because I can. These beautiful gifts, this freedom, sometimes its hard to believe that it's all mine.

I got to experience the most beautiful thing the other day. I got to experience a room full of people believing in my wings. They knew I could fly before I did. They knew the chrysalis would eventually break open when I doubted it. They held me in the becoming, and rejoiced with me in the flying. It is the most incredible feeling knowing there are so many people rooting for your freedom, affirming that you are beautiful and deserving, worthy and smart and kind and lovely. And I am so blessed by their hands, their words, their love. I am so grateful.

There is a song I used to listen to way back in junior high I'd all but forgotten about until my tribe spoke these words of faith and love over me. I related to it then, and I think a part of me always has been getting ready for these wings.
Butterfly girl, don't you know you're beautiful by now? Too long in hiding. Free to shine girl, time to spread your wings and show your colours to the world.

I'm a lot of things in life. I'm a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend. I used to say I was never good enough, that I didn't deserve good things, that I was broken. I'm learning to replace those words with new words like beautiful, trusting, loving and free. I used to not understand the magic of butterflies. But as one floated across my front yard today, I couldn't help but pause and admire the beauty and strength it took this tiny creature to become. I didn't understand butterflies until I became one. Now? I think they're the most beautiful things in the world.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

To Write Love On Her Arms

This story has been beautifully haunting me all day.
It has stirred up emotions in me which I try to write out, only to end up sitting in front of a blank piece of paper. It's been years and still I don't have the words to accurately reflect the world of mental illness, even though its a world I know personally.
I have a tendency to try and rush through uncomfortable places. So as I reflected on Renee's story, and sat with the emotions it brought up for me, I had a desire to try and wrap it all up neatly in words. There would be a beginning, a middle, an end, and everything would be complete when I finally put the words to paper.
I'm writing to you from the middle.
I've been saying for years now that I'm healing, that I'm a survivor, and I am. But I don't know if you ever truly stop the healing process.
I thought I had healed from my issues surrounding love and sexuality, only to find out when I fell in love that I didn't actually know as much as I thought I did.
I have moments where my issues around food are relatively non-existent, and then there are moments when every single bite of food is a victory.
Sometimes my head goes to dark places.
And I'm still learning to give myself grace in those moments. I'm in recovery, not recovered. I'm healing, not healed.
There's a saying in yoga that it's not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down. It's called a practice, not a perfection. And I think the same is through with addiction and recovery. It's not about being perfect, it's about growth. And if I know one thing for sure it's that I'm growing.
This week I've been doing a holy yoga video practice every day, and what I'm learning about myself continually blows my mind. Every day the practices (unintentionally) seem to follow a similar theme of keeping the heart open.
In today's practice, the challenge was to write down one small 't' truth you believe about yourself and your body.
I didn't realize until I'd already written it that I wrote my small 't' truth in all capital letters. My truth?
I AM BROKEN
In so many different ways, it's the story I've come to believe about myself. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, in so many different ways I've come to believe that there is something fundamentally flawed about who I am, something that makes me broken.
The second part of the challenge was to move through the practice as if that thing wasn't true. And at the end of the practice, the final part of the challenge was to write the big 'T' truth on the other side of the paper, to counteract what you believe about yourself.
The paper I picked up was one I had used for my practice the day before.
I had been writing about keeping my heart open, and this line I wrote on this page seemed so fitting to become my big 'T' truth.
I ask who I will be without it all and the whispered reply comes "Free." I will be free.
And underneath that truth telling statement I had written John 8:36
"So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free."
It became the statement to counteract the story I believe about myself.
I'm trading brokenness for freedom.
I wish I could say I'd figured it out. I wish I could say that recovery and healing and trading brokenness for freedom is a one time thing and I did it and now I'm good.
It's a process, a practice. And I'm somewhere in the middle, not where I was but not yet where I will end up. And I must continually offer up grace for the practice, for this beautiful ugly middle piece that I'm still making peace with.

"Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars. The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I wrote words yesterday that surprised even me. They weren't profoundly brilliant or beautiful, weren't dripping with poetic prose, but something about their honesty and truth shocked me, forcing me to put down my blue ink pen and pause over what I had just written.
This place, I wrote, is so full of Him.
...
A few days ago I heard a woman I know mention blogging as talking to a friend. She painted it as sitting across from a dear friend with a cup of coffee and catching up on life. She said when she wasn't blogging, she missed it.
My approach to blogging has always been slightly different, and has changed over the years. I did, and do, have a really hard time drawing the line between that talking-over-coffee-with-a-friend kind of blogging and the artistic endeavor of writing. I've written myself through many tough life situations, from death to finally coming clean about my story of past trauma, a faith crisis, family and friend struggles, bad relationships and (now) my beautiful relationship. But whenever I wrote, I always kept a slight distance. My personal writings are for that loud, cursing, messy kind of writing where I hash out every problem and thought. My blog is the place where I write about the storm after it has passed, when I feel as though I have some sort of offering or lesson to share. But I think I was mistaken when I thought I could have this blog and write about my life without ever really personally writing about my life.
...
I remember the first time I ever cried in church. February 10, 2013. I remember exactly what song was playing, who was singing, who I was sitting beside. It was exactly 5 months after receiving my Dysautonomia diagnosis, 5 months that had been plagued with exhaustion, grief, anger and brokenness.
This day started an epidemic, and now it is not uncommon to find me crying in church (or anywhere else for that matter).
This Sunday, my crying in church started with my crying on the yoga mat. Up until Friday, I was the kind of girl who didn't understand when people said they started crying during yoga. I would feel things, sure, but it was more so a way to give my mind some rest.
When I did this amazing practice led by Morgan Day Cecil her words spoke to my heart. I've always been hesitant to use the term "God spoke to me" because I am very much resistant about that stereotypical Christianity aspect to my relationship with God, but as I sat on my mat, I heard these words spoken over me and it was enough to make me begin to cry.
"The work you are doing is hard and holy"
I try so hard to resist the hard. I say things are good, because they are. My life is beautiful and full and I can never deserve all of these amazing blessings.
But it's also hard.
Moving houses means changes, and the shift from school life to summer working is a big one, and family always has a way of getting on every nerve and the boy is spending his summer at camp, meaning our time together is squished into small snippets of moments, and while I am so blessed to have a house, and the freedom to work like this this summer and my family and my amazing boyfriend, it doesn't mean its all butterflies and rose petals.
It is hard, and sometimes just acknowledging that and realizing that this too is a battle, and part of a bigger warfare in which I am a participant is enough.
And then, on top of realizing that this work of loving and creating is hard, I realized it is also so very holy.
It is hard, but it is so full of Him. He has promised the victory, that He will guard my heart, that love will triumph and that He will go before me. He cares about these seemingly small and unimportant pieces of my heart, and writes love over all of them.
Not comfort, not human love, not ease, but the kind of love that sweeps itself over all and covers and says "I have such big plans for you. I have such big love for you."
And this place I'm in, this in between summer, this work of loving, it's not an accident. It's not bad, or a mistake. It is holy work. It is enough.

"We're not here to fight tooth and nail, to white knuckle our way through our day. Life will come at us as we deal with things that cause so much pain and suffering. These things are real. Childhood abuse, miscarriages, divorce, disease, death, disappointments of all kinds, unfulfilled longings, mean people, debt, betrayal, addiction. But through it all, friends, you are someone with honor, with character, with integrity, with hope... You will be victorious. Love will win. All things will be restored and redeemed."
...
This place, this hard and holy place, is so full of Him.
Jesus in the waiting.
Jesus in the longing.
Jesus in the hoping.
Jesus in the loving.
Jesus in the grieving.
It's Jesus in my yoga.
Jesus in my relationship.
Jesus in my family.
Jesus in my writing.
Jesus in my conversations.
Jesus in my desire.
Jesus in my wilderness.

Monday, June 29, 2015

When the mountains speak love

If my life is measured by summers, it is most definitely measured in these long, hot days running wild in the mountains on our annual summer trip to Miette.
Every time we roll up that windy mountain road, it feels a little bit more like coming home. The days are long, the mountains tall, the coffee strong, the time spent together as a family valuable and by the time I collapse into bed at the end of the day I am thoroughly exhausted.
There's always time for one more quick swim, one more hike, one more conversation.
Perhaps that's what I love most about these trips. It feels like there is always more.
Out there, nothing is lacking. There is never not enough. Even as we drive, I can feel the layers of heaviness surrounding my heart just melt away until we pull up to our little mountain kingdom and I am eye to eye, toe to toe with my real, honest self.
There's something about the truth that doesn't hide from me here.
This year we packed up the van and drove to our little mountain town. And even just sitting in the passenger seat of the boyfriend's truck with my bags packed and anticipation swirling around in the air, my heart almost burst at the thought of being surrounded by all the people I love so dearly for a whole weekend.
Sometimes, I think, this qualifies as magic.
There were mornings where all of us crammed into a tiny cabin to eat breakfast, still pajama clad and sleepy eyed. There were afternoons spent wading in the river, wandering through Jasper, swatting mosquitoes and hiking up to the old pool (which I still think is one of my favourite places on earth, and feels to me so much like poetry). There was kissing, and staying up late, jumping into the cold pool until all limbs were numb only to retreat back to the warm pool and sigh over the tingling feeling in hands and feet, stories were told and many rounds of catch played and over and over again I fell in love the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once.
I cried, because sometimes you can't hide from the truth. I collapsed from exhaustion. I let the mountain air and the sunshine heal my soul once again, and let it all remind me who I am.
I am so incredibly grateful for my family, and the memories we make in this place. I'm grateful that this year family stretched to include more of the people I love so much. I'm grateful for the life lessons learned around the breakfast table and over coffee and while sitting around with my people.
When I got my tattoo (a mountain) it symbolized a lot of things.
It was in memory of my cousin, an avid snowmobiler. His favourite place was in the mountains, and it was on this little mountain near Jasper that I have some of the best memories of our family.
It's because I feel most at home in the mountains, and to me they represent freedom and strength.
And it's because of that verse in Matthew that talks about having faith to move mountains.
As I spent this weekend loving, and telling the truth and healing my soul, my faith was also restored in some small way. My faith, not only in God, but in goodness and love and family and people, in the world and in myself.
If I could bottle up some of that magic I feel during our family trips to that mountain, I would. I would put it on a necklace and carry it with me every day.
We arrived home today, and I have new dreams tangled in my hair, fresh ideas stirring in my head and a wild, radical love taking root in my heart once again. I am so grateful for all of this.

"God is in the mountains. Impassible, immovable, jagged giants, separating the celestial from the terrestrial with eternal, diagonal certainty. As if silently monitoring the beating heart of the Creator from the universe's perfect birth. Stood in the thin air and the awe, one inhales God, involuntarily acknowledging that we are but fragments of a whole, a higher thing. The mountains remind me of my place, as a servant to truth and wonder. Yes, God is in the mountains. Perhaps the pulpit too and even in the piety of an atheist's sigh.  I don't know, but I feel him in the mountains."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On summer and love

It's June and I'm tired of being brave.

I started measuring my life in summers about 3 years ago.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I craved pleasure. I did anything I thought would make me happy. Which included making some very bad decisions, and getting involved with things and people I shouldn't have. Funny enough I don't regret any of those things. They didn't make me happy but they made me stronger. They were the gateway to discovering what I really needed to get happy.
Last summer, the one sandwiched between my last year of high school and my first year of college, I learned how to pray. It sounds funny because I've spent my whole life going to church, but I realized last summer that means I've spent my whole life fitting into other people's rituals. I saw people that prayed and read their Bibles and had these great spiritual encounters and that was it for them, and I thought that I should fit into that mold, but every time I tried it felt less like finding grace and more like guilt and it got to the point where I wondered if God even existed. I looked into other religions, and actually found some pretty interesting things. I encountered God for the first time in a coffee shop. I made more mistakes, had even more breakthroughs, and created rituals and prayers that made me feel closer to God, instead of what everybody else thought I should do. I guess in a way I kind of redefined what spirituality and Christianity and God meant to me. It's still sort of out of the box, and unconventional, but I'm happier now than I was.
This summer, well this summer is still writing itself on my heart, but it's shaping up to be about love. I fell in love in January, which in and of itself was a huge adventure. In April love traveled to a different city, and it became phone calls and text messages. Now it's June and love is back but not really, and it's taking on a new form all together. The walls of love are being redefined as I must redefine what it means to be a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, a friend, a girlfriend and a survivor.  Relationships sure have a way of pulling at my heart, and sometimes it feels like pieces of my heart are no longer inside me but out there with the people I love and I can't seem to get all my heart in the same place. This summer has been a lot of time spent hunched over a notebook, or a keyboard, or anything I can get my hands on really trying to redefine what love means to me, the people I love and how love changes me.
Summer, though, always has a way of changing me, of breaking open my heart and forcing me to examine life and think about the hard things.
...
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the wedding of one of my friends this past Saturday. He married a beautiful girl, and I don't like to admit it but I cried at their wedding, because there are few things I find more beautiful than 2 people in love.
I remember the first time he told me about her, and how even then I think I knew because something in the way he talked about her was different.
...
There are a few things I've always been: independent, and emotional. I've spent a long time trying to make peace with these things.
I have a hard time confessing that I need people, maybe because part of me is convinced I still don't.
So a few days ago, when I confessed in a conversation with someone I love for the first time that maybe I need you I started to cry.
I've been trying to do more honest, real things lately. It's hard and heartbreaking and sometimes means crying at inopportune moments and having weird emotional reactions to just about everything. Something they never told me in school was that loving people is hard. It's not just hard because everyone you love holds a piece of your heart and its all just out there but because it's not always easy to choose to love people, or to allow them access to the ugliest parts of you and looking at their ugliest bits and trying to put them together to make something beautiful.
But even before I started dating, I always said I wanted love to be crazy and real or not at all. Perhaps I shouldn't have said that because that's literally what love is for me right now. It's crazy and real and messy and its full of fighting and crying and then loving and making up and it's close and it's far away and sometimes I wonder how my heart can stretch so far.
Sometimes, I guess, love looks a lot like saying "Maybe I need you."
...
A few nights ago I got to spend the evening with 2 lovely little girls. We painted pictures and told stories and talked about our dreams and laughed and it felt like I was spending time with old friends rather than 2 kids who had been placed in my care.
The whole night felt like magic, and I may have been guilty of wanting to keep them up past their bedtime so we could keep painting pictures and eating cereal and telling stories.
After they had gone to bed, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote about love.
Around the house were these little quotes, cut out and framed and oh so beautiful, and I couldn't help but notice as I marveled that many of them spoke of love.
Love, I decided, is something that must be insisted upon. Sometimes you have to put reminders in every room of the house, reminders to love well and that all of this heart opening is worth it because love is beautiful.
They always say love is a small word with big meanings but I never understood that until recently. Maybe I still don't understand it.
...
There's a canvas print hanging beside my bed with a quote from Gandhi. It says "Where there is love, there is life."
Love is hard, and there are moments when I feel it requires more of me than I have to give.
Love is also beautiful, breathtaking and life giving. Loving makes me brave, makes me strong, and sometimes it feels like the one thing I'm good at.
...
I sent him this message before he left for the week, the day after our conversation that included the words "Maybe I need you."
I said "I'm not good at a lot of things, and there are a lot of things someone else could do better than me, but one thing no one else can do is love you like I do."
And sometimes love makes me feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Because why do I get to love and be loved this much?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Becoming Whole

Recently I was given the amazing opportunity to write for this little literary publication called the Feminist Wire.
It's my first published piece outside of a blog, and the staff there were amazing to work with.
The piece I shared on the wire is part of a bigger collection of things I'm writing: most of them messy and unedited, raw and real. It's a collection of essays on love, and addiction, depression and motherhood and what it means to be human.
It started out as a running journal, a way to keep track of my thoughts while my boyfriend was gone and I was lonely because he jokingly said before he left that while he was gone I should write a book.
So I did.
And now my little creative project is over 100 pages long and still being added to, and houses some of my favorite pieces I've ever written.
I was honored that the Wire was willing to host this tiny piece of my heart. I know it is in great hands, and I am so proud to share it.
http://thefeministwire.com/2015/06/college-feminisms-becoming-whole/

“A doctor once told me I feel too much. I said, so does God. that’s why you can see the grand canyon from the moon.”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

It Takes a Village

I've heard it said at baby dedications and during conversations about parenting.
It takes a village to raise a child.
But I never realized how true that was until recently.
This past little while has been a trying one for me. My heart was broken in one fowl swoop, in shattering seconds I never expected.
And the past week has been about trying to pick up the pieces. It's meant a lot of private writings, reflections, crying, mind numbing Netflix marathons when I couldn't think anymore, and sometimes brokenly worshipping.
My prayers have often sounded a whole lot like Dear God, I don't understand. I'm broken. I can't do this. Help me.
A few years ago an amazing friend and mentor of mine told me that when words fail to simply pray Jesus, and I don't think she knows how much those small words of wisdom have meant to me in these last few years, especially in the times when it feels like my heart is breaking and I have no words.
I watch relationships change and my own heart is weathering it's own personal storm and what I know about love is changing.
I sat in church this morning, coffee in hand, and it felt like the words were being whispered over my dry, barren heart:
Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest
And I don't know which part of that sounds better - the invitation for the weary and burdened or the promise of rest.
What I know about love is changing, yes, but I realized something else this morning.
Love is everywhere. It surrounds me, exists on every corner, and maybe it doesn't look the same as it once did but maybe it doesn't have to. Is it enough to believe in love at all?
This morning as I sat and listened and cried and prayed and held and worshipped, I thought about the love that surrounds me.
I never really understood the saying that it takes a village to raise a child but I do now. I'm not necessarily a child anymore, in the throes of learning how to read and write, but I see that it does take a village to raise up a person.
Without the love, support, tenderness and care extended to me by so many I am convinced I would still be down. It's easier to lay on the ground, to not make an effort to get up, to let defeat win one more time. What a good community does is they extend their hands, reaching down, pulling you up, proclaiming a strong "No" over your desire for defeat.
Their love, found on every corner, gives me strength to believe in love again. It points me back to the ultimate source of love.
And I am so grateful.
For the ones who step in, and step up, I am so grateful for you.
It truly does take a village, and I am so lucky to have you in mine.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

For the Creators (Thank you and keep going)

Most days I feel really lucky to be a writer. Being a creator, in any capacity, is a beautiful, heartbreaking, soul filling undertaking. It can often feel like a solitary journey, as I spend most of my time in my room curled up in my chair writing stories that (for now) for the most part nobody will ever read. And sometimes I think I should stop, but my heart beats stories, and poems and lyrics and I can stop writing like I can stop breathing.
A while ago I had the privilege of attending one of the best concerts I've ever been to. This morning as I was curled up with my coffee, a good book and music created by my amazingly talented friend, I was reminded how much I need creative people in my life. The post I wrote then resonates with me now.
This one is for all the creative people, the writers and musicians and painters and anyone who creates in any capacity. Thank you for creating. The world needs you. I need you.


People pay for concert tickets to be entertained. I come to be inspired. I sit before the artist, hands open wide, holding out my heart and saying “Can you open this for me?”
 The best ones can. The best ones take a wild swing and crack open the rough exterior enough for me to feel something for a designated period of time. The ones that can’t allow me to walk away feeling disappointed, clinging to any and all belief that art is like a stripper of the soul.
As I sat in that chair, pressed between my mother and a stranger, hot, sticky and sweaty bodies crowding into a stadium the very size of an NHL hockey arena, nothing else mattered. At least that’s what I told myself.
 For the next 90 minutes I let the music flow through me like a drug, let it slip all tension from my veins into its medicating chill.
 I think rock concerts are a little bit like church. I think one of the ways I experience God isn’t when His people are gathered together singing His name, though surely in that too, but when hundreds of strangers come together to drink and laugh and celebrate good music.
 For the next few hours it doesn’t matter that I normally wouldn’t say hello to the woman on my left if I passed her on the street. It doesn’t matter that I’ll never see 99% of these people again. It doesn’t matter that when tomorrow comes the band will move on to inspire a new city of wanna-be-believers and the woman on my left will return to her dead end job she hates and the guy sitting in the aisle below me will still go home alone after breaking up with his girlfriend and the young girl over there with her hand’s in the air will go back to a school where she’s bullied day in and day out for being different, or that when tomorrow rears its head I will march with all the false bravery I can muster into a doctor’s office and pretend I am not scared to death. What matters is that we have tonight.
 Cell phone flashlights lighting up the stage and loud, off key, drunken singing and I want to know what it would be like to be an artist who inspires this many people. I want to make people forget about tomorrow and live in the moment, to truly feel something – maybe for the first time – and to laugh and kiss and make messes and make art and make babies (and how maybe all of these are the same thing).
 Tonight it doesn’t matter who we are before we walked in the door. We’re all united, coming together for one purpose. And I think that’s a lot like church. I think it’s every chapel and cathedral I want to worship in. I think it’s every mind blowing, good song that makes me want to believe in better things that I want to dance to.
 I want to play these songs blasting in the car on my way to work and remember this moment, and how alive I felt, and how nothing else mattered because I had right now.
Creative people inspire me.
 Their passion is contagious and their dedication infectious and their excitement makes me delirious. It makes me want to stay up all night crafting something that really matters with my own two hands that I can look at in the morning and whisper in holy reverence, “My God, did I really make that?”
 It makes me want to feel, and to capture that exact feeling on a notebook or a canvas or my kitchen wall.
 Creative people inspire me to create. They inspire me to feel, to be present, to live and laugh and love and not worry about getting hurt along the way because even a few bruises make damn good art.
 Their creative energy passes through them into me like it’s a form of osmosis, like a blood transfusion, and I know to them I’m just another face in the crowd but I want to grab the face of the lead singer and look into his eyes and tell him thank you for daring to create bravely.
 Because the world needs more people to come alive, to truly say what they think and think what they say and to let their thoughts and feelings be the lifeblood that guides them. Because I need them. I need more people awake and alive, daring greatly and failing miserably and then trying again bravely all in the name of good art. I need them standing around me continuing to create and inspiring me with words and pictures and lyrics and beats, because it’s like they are standing around me with hands up, keeping me safe and reminding me to do my thing.
 Us artists, we’re a special breed, one I feel honored to be among. I feel honored to be a part of the movers and shakers of this world who want more beauty and light and unity and feeling. The genuine souls, the ones that create bravely, are the kind of people I want to surround myself with. The intimacy created between you and a few thousand strangers, that’s what I want to witness over and over again, letting it change me.
 I want to be around people who birth beautiful things: even when it’s hard, even when the world says you should quit. It inspires me to keep writing my own birth story, to gently shepherd out this huge story blossoming inside my ribcage.
 I want my life to be this story, this art, this creation. I want every moment I am alive and breathing to bear witness to the fact that I lived and loved and maybe I failed but at least I tried.
 And with every broken bone, I swear I lived