I miss you Ernestly

Grief is a wound like none I’ve ever experienced. It’s nothing like a breakup, there’s no I-deserve-betters and no bitter-betrayal-songs to patch up the wound. It’s nothing like an end of an era, there’s no new adventures to look forward to, no leaving the past behind in a beautiful mix of nostalgia & excitement. Grief takes the umph out of you, leaves you breathless & aching & deeply wounded. There’s no replacing the person you’ve lost, no hint of relief in their departure, no future sunnier days past the adjustment period.

It’s been 36 long days without my grandpa’s smiling face & honestly, I am still completely uninterested in a life without him. As this grief continues to rip though me, I’ve found moments of refuge as I find him everywhere I go. This weekend, we held his memorial service in a beautiful wooden chapel (I smiled as I imagined him admiring the craftsmanship) on the church campus he attended for two decades (another smile remembering his teary eyes at my baptism years before at this very church). While holding back the floodgates of grief, I shared the sentiments below to gathered family & friends. I hope these words shine a little light on the joy this world is missing without his ever-present laugh, & the depth of how this iceberg of a man affected the world around him.

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Ernest Southall was a man of style and class, of adventurousness and determination, of consistency and character. He was reliable: hitting the greens every Tuesday with his golf buddies, and coffee every afternoon with his wife of 61 years. But Ernie was anything but boring: he was the kind of man who always ordered something new and daring off the menu and came dressed with an understated classiness I daily hope I inherit. He instinctively knew the best wine on the menu, yet in all his wisdom and knowledge he was never once condescending. He worked passionately and humbly, choosing joy each day of his life. He was the kind of Grandpa that introduced me to the delicious world of medium rare steaks and decadent chocolate desserts, yet worked daily with his hands making cabinets well into his 80s. Many of my fondest memories include running through his wood-shop, sawdust under my feet and his pencil drawings littering the work desk; or walking out of Macy’s to see where he had been sitting patiently while his girls shopped, a smile taking over his face and his arms opening wide to scoop me up.

My grandpa was both the strongest man in the world and hands down the funniest. Now I know what you’re thinking: this alleged superiority in strength and humor is probably a bit biased coming from his adoring granddaughter, & highly unlikely considering all the comedians & wrestlers in this world, but I can prove it by describing each of your first impressions of him to a tee: After being startled by the strongest handshake you had ever encountered, you found yourself doubled over in laughter by a well timed joke. Believe me, I watched this scene play out a thousand times, each of you immediately impressed by this man who basically toppled you over with his handshake and simultaneously disarmed your bad attitude with his silliness and joy. He carried himself in kindness and integrity and made every person feel immediately welcomed into his warm presence. 

Anyone who knew Ernie was loved by Ernie. His love was contagious and bold, and I know this deep love for others came from his love for the Lord. Because whenever my grandpa talked of God, he would tear up. He would recount God’s faithfulness, assuring me that in every situation he encountered, the Lord was good to him. One of the things I miss the most are his prayers. My grandpa prayed with such conviction, such depth of reverence and joy, that they are utterly unparalleled. Pastors with booming voices pray in crowded auditoriums & I am relatively unfazed compared to my grandpa’s prayers around our dinner table. I loved his prayers because they always felt strikingly simple and genuine. He got right to the heart of the matter with boldness, because he was convinced God was near. Marked by humility and courage, they were never showy but they were strong, and I always felt the Lord met our family when my grandpa prayed.

The repeated sentiment I received when sharing the tragic news with friends echoed that he adopted them when their own grandparents were circumstantially distant. Ernie and Muriel adopted dozens of my friends over the years, in elementary school this was marked by a trip to Build-a-Bear, my friend and I walking out with two freshly stuffed animals in matching outfits, my smile extra wide because I knew I had the coolest grandparents around. In college it meant buying my recently engaged friends wedding presents, it didn’t take more than one mention of a ring and Grandma and Grandpa had to help out the soon-to-be newlyweds. He had the grandpa gig down perfectly: he was silly and loving with a leaning to spoil. Regardless of the season, Grandpa always made my friends feel cared for and thought of. And as an only child of an only child, I just got lucky I only had to share him with my friends.

My grandpa was always happy to see me or to talk to me. I was one of his girls, and anyone who knew Ernie knew how extravagantly and sincerely he adored his wife, his daughter, and his granddaughter. He never missed a moment to tell us how much he loved us and how great he saw us to be. The lies of this world always faded into white noise when my grandpa was there. His presence alone strengthened me, reminded me I was worthwhile, capable, cared for. He always assured me I was his favorite granddaughter, and when I sassily reminded him that well, duh I was his only, he always replied with a wink and a “you’d still be my favorite”

He called me weekly, just to say he loved me and to ask if “the boys were giving me any trouble.” He always teased that he would have a talking to with any guy that merely looked at me the wrong way, and I usually laughed him off and assured him all was fine. I understood how much he meant to protect me when a few years ago, I shared a current heartbreak with him, only to see him tear up and repeat that he wished he could do something or say something, offering to call the boy up if it would save me any pain. My grandpa hurt with me and he rejoiced with me. He had a compassion that was contagious and a propensity to protect. 

He showed me unparalleled generosity, slipping a $20 in my hand with a sly smile each time he said goodbye to me after a coffee date or post-church meal. Not to mention when he surprised me on my 7th birthday with a personalized playhouse he built by hand, or the college account he established to help me pay for Biola. My grandparents’ generosity has shaped our family, where giving is the norm and no one is ever in need. The only thing we ever fight about is who’s paying the bill at Mimi’s this time ( hint: my grandpa ALWAYS won )

He encouraged my dreams, proudly displaying each piece of artwork I made over the years on the walls of his house, even if that artwork was made by nothing more than a nine year old with some wide eyes and a set of overpriced watercolors. He patiently played school with me every day after kindergarten. I would assign him and my grandma homework and cubbyholes, grading their work rigorously and making them redraw assignments or rewrite stories. I’m sure I was a very strict 6-year old educator, but he played along and allowed me to develop my dreams. I knew from that age I loved to play teacher with my grandpa, and I owe it to him that I am now in the midst of getting my Masters in Education.

When I returned from my trip to Europe last summer with a journal full of polaroid pictures, ticket stubs, musings and memories, my grandpa asked if he could borrow it. Not for an hour, but for a week. He said he wanted to soak it in, page by page. When he returned it, he gushed over how much he enjoyed it, treating it like a nobel prize winning piece of literature. He was the only person in the world who understood just how important that journal was to me, and he honored me in cherishing it the way he did. People had told me they enjoyed my writing before, but it wasn’t until my grandpa told me with fierce sincerity that I should write more did I seriously consider it.

My grandpa was my number one fan, beamingly proud of me regardless if I struck out every inning in softball in junior high. Even after a whole season of never making a hit, he still made it to every game, just to cheer on his lanky little freckled girl in the outfield.

It’s really hard to describe to people who didn’t know my relationship with my grandpa how difficult this time has been. They hear of a grandfather passing, and it conjures up memories of distant relatives that barely affected their daily lives. And I get that, but our family works a little differently, as my grandparents have always been considered a part of our immediate family. Ever since I can remember, its been the 5 of us: me, my parents, and my grandparents. New friends would look at me with shock and ask incredulously if I was lonely as an only child and I just didn’t get it, because who would want more? I’ve got a grandpa and dad to tease me and protect me and a mom and grandma to take me shopping and nurture me. I’ve got the best family in the world, and I’ve never wanted it differently. So to me, this hasn’t been a loss of a older relative I barely know, but a best friend, someone I would get sushi with and talk to weekly on the phone, the person that made me laugh more than anyone else on the planet. My grandpa was my favorite person in the world. Plenty of college essays and interview questions about who I considered my hero found the answer of my grandfather: for his bravery in immigrating from Canada, for his hard work in his cabinet business, for his constant joy in suffering health. Every important day of my life & every normal day of my life, he was there. He was a pillar of faithfulness and consistency in my ever shifting world. I said my first word, “star,” as he held me in his arms one warm night in Palm Springs, and he liked to refer to me as his lucky star because of that. Our birthdays were 4 days apart, June bugs as he termed it, and because the two of us were like two peas in a pod, this always made a lot of sense to me. It was like our souls were twins, just separated by a few decades. He’s irreplaceable and a grandpa like no other.

I can’t remember a single moment I ever doubted that my grandpa loved me: it was apparent in each and every minute I spent with him. He made me laugh, he held me tight, he never let me forget how proud he was. He forgave me, he taught me, and he believed in me. My grandpa’s love was a relentless kind, committed and unconditional. Each moment, he chose to love me just as I was: no amount of immaturity or emotionality could shake his love for me. In my darkest moments I think of my grandpa’s love for me and it reminds me of how the Lord sees me, because my grandpa’s love fought for me, uplifted me, and cherished me. The way my grandpa loved me is probably the closest I will ever come to how unabashedly the Lord loves me: the kind of love that’s undeserved and slightly unbelievable, but once I begin to accept it, its undeniably life-changing. I miss you more each day Grandpa, thank you for loving me so well.

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for Annie

I wrote this a few weeks ago when I got to see one of my dearest dears, and today it’s her 22nd birthday. I decided to share it with the rest of you today; first of all to celebrate the wonderful woman she’s become, and with the hope that it makes you think of one of your best. I hope you find yourself the same way I did: in tears, sincerely thanking them for their place they fought for in your life.

I got a hour face to face with my sweet friend of 17 years. Ann Elizabeth is normally 1,990 miles from me. (Yes that’s exactly how many miles. I refuse to round up because it would just create more distance between me and my main girl.) It was only an hour because she was barely in town for three days before she headed up to San Francisco with her college friends for her last spring break. One late hour Monday night was the only hour that lined up for both of us. 

But in the course of sixty minutes, I recognized how friendship works. It works in turning away from the streaming television to look into my eyes and ask how I’m really doing. It works in sharing memories from the first grade to a room full of people who don’t quite understand but laugh along. It works in soft conversation amongst a group of people, finding quality time in the midst of chaos. We realized that even though it’s been weeks since we’ve been able to talk, our lives still line up perfectly. We realized God’s been doing that thing where He’s teaching us the same exact lessons at the same exact time even when we’re 1,990 miles away. We kept saying, “no way! me too!” and in seconds I felt so much less alone. I knew that regardless of the states between us, Annie was by my side just as she has been for the past 17 years.

Annie’s the kind of friend where I don’t get to see her or talk to her often enough, but as soon as I do, it’s like not a minute has passed. She’s a friend that my soul gets along with. She’s the kind of friend that in an hour’s worth of time, my soul feels full and rested and content, because she gets me even when I don’t get myself. Friendships like hers are like nourishment for a famished soul. Having someone I can be this close with, this in sync with, and this emotionally vulnerable with makes me understand God’s plan for intimacy. It’s knowing each other fully: their character, their humor, their bruises. It’s caring for each other without counting the cost to yourself: meeting them where they are at, putting their needs first, leaving your judgments at the door. It’s someone who sees your struggles, encourages you in your efforts, holds your hand tight at the end of a long day. It’s someone you never need to impress or prove anything to, it’s someone who leads you out of the darkness and never leaves you there to fight for yourself. They give grace like it’s going out of style and they remind you of why you are worthwhile. Her friendship gives me hope for the scary future: knowing that after 17 years with whoever I may end up marrying, there is hope that our relationship will look similar to this friendship kind of intimacy. That I could walk alongside someone that knows me as well as Annie does. 

We joked that our friendship was old enough to go to an R-rated movie. We are still in the decision-making process for what that movie will be, and once she’s back for summer I’m looking forward to watching it together in our pjs.

As I went to leave, she hugged me tightly and said: 

“Thanks for not changing. Not as a person, but as my friend.”

That’s true companionship: because praise the Lord we are not the same 5 year old princesses or 9 year old tomboys or 11 year old brats or 15 year old insecurities or 17 year old naiveties or 20 year old heartbreaks. We’ve grown up together, we’ve matured and we’ve changed on our own, and that’s healthy and good. We can come back together to celebrate our victories over anxiety and our steps towards adulthood and our questions we are still trying to answer. Through each disappointment, through each creative venture, and through each timid step into the unknown, our friendship has grown alongside us, becoming deeper and wider and more meaningful with each year, and my soul feels much more confident blazing new trails with ol’ faithful at my side.  

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“but I have nothing to wear”

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As of late, my friends and I have been very interested in our relationships with our clothing. We’ve started being more aware of what pieces we wear, and how often we wear them. We’ve begun to think through how quickly we accumulate more clothes, discovering we’ve bought dresses we have no occasion for, or online shopped for the third time in one week. My guy always teases me that he’s never seen me re-wear an outfit, and that’s intrigued me. Because ever since I could dress myself, it’s been a great outlet for self-expression. I can remember all my ridiculous phases of Limited Too matching sets and hoodie sweatshirts and colored gauchos, as fashion shifted and my body grew. I’ve always loved matching things together that no one else would think of: combining preppy and punk along with three opposing patterns in one outfit. I’ve been influenced by all types of styles, and like to push the boundaries of what’s expected. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me, “only YOU could pull that off,” I could buy all of Free People (and I would be quite a happy kitten.)

But the line between enjoying the creativity fashion allows and an unhealthy addiction to clothes is razor thin, and I’ve been dancing on it for quite a while. How can I be more healthy in my interactions with fashion, enjoying the sweetness and resisting the addiction?

My dear friend Hannah and I decided to explore occurrence of our overflowing closets in this photo project. We are both enthralled by fashion, and find joy in putting pieces together. We value the aesthetic design of the clothing we own, and feel that in some ways, it is more than a search for identity, but a creative exercise. But we also realize we are living in excess, and are open to figuring out how to solve that.

We live in a culture that whispers we aren’t enough and we don’t have enough in each moment. This culture defines us by what we wear, who we know, how hip our Instagram is. Each advertisement tells us we need more to be happy: more things, more people, more attention, and we believe them all. Just look around. We obsess over our social media because we look to it for fulfillment, thinking one day a notification will declare that we have enough likes to be considered enough. We categorize people by importance, glamorizing fame and devaluing those who consistently care for us. The accumulation of stuff around us shows that we’ve bought into this lie that we can buy our happiness.

So from now until the end of the semester, I’ve decided to spend some time away from my sweet love, Shopping. Last year for Lent, I gave it up and it was so difficult and refreshing, and since Lent is just passing, I’m going to make my own time of rest and reflection. Also in this shopping fast, I’m going to clean out my closet and think of creative, healthy ways to return to my love in a few months time. Like maybe whenever I buy a new article of clothing, I have to get rid of one. Or I could automatically get rid of clothes I haven’t worn in half a year. The possibilities are endless. 

If anyone wants to join me in this discussion or take the challenge with me, please speak up. As we peer into our full closets, let’s counter the phenomenon of “but I have nothing to wear,” replacing it with an excitement for discovery and deep feeling of contentment. Let’s begin to use our clothes as expressions and conversation starters, adopting an attitude of “I have more than enough, and I am more than enough.

Of Mice and Monsters

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We often forget to see people as people.

I’ve written about this in passing before but I feel it needs more attention, at least in my messy life. Because if you’re anything like me, (if you’re a human being with functioning reactionary senses and a passionate heart that gets you into trouble) you do the same. You forget in your frustration or your pity that the person causing that emotion is neither a mouse nor a monster.

I realized today that with those persons I feel alienated by or betrayed by, I struggle to see them as human. In my processing of the pain, they always end up on one extreme or the other: either they are a vicious monster out to make my life miserable because of their endless problems and vindictive cravings, or they are a whimpering mouse, scurrying away from their own pains and fears. In other words, I can only see them as the prey or the predator.

We have a terrible propensity to dramatize as a defense mechanism. Someone hurts us or offends us and immediately we declare them a monster, for only a cruel creature could commit such atrocities. In our pain, we can only manage to survive. In our anger, we can only manage to keep ourselves at bay. We direct all our energy into calming down enough to keep from becoming a monster ourself. But once the pain and anger are sorted through, we forget to dethrone the predator. And I would be first to admit it’s much easier to leave them there, since my memories scream “oh but they deserve that throne”

This applies not only to the personal betrayals and the Judases in your life, but also to those that offend you that you’ve never met or barely know. That talk show host that is much too conservative, the girl that started dating the guy you were crushing on, that person that harshly critiques your work, that acquaintance that declares a person of “your kind” should live in shame, or even the very idea of a person who stands against your beliefs: we make them into monsters. It’s much easier to keep these kinds of people that we can’t see eye to eye with on the throne, because compassion comes in smaller doses with those you don’t see face to face. But those people have dreams and fears and genuine worth that we destroy in one demeaning blow.

Aren’t they the monster for doing the same to us?

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking minimizing the monstrosity will do the trick, because the opposite is just as harmful. In our unabridged pity, we demote them to the prey. We look down at the mice we’ve made our enemies into, sighing in disbelief and tsking under our breath, confused at how it got so bad. “It’s just so sad,” we think to ourselves, “they were once so strong and now they’ve fallen so low. What a shame.” We would never dare admit out loud that they are pathetic or weak, because we must keep up the appearance of genuine compassion and care. But deep down we gloat in their demise. When we make mice, we condescendingly communicate that we are more put together, more genuinely liked, more blessed with righteousness. We become self-righteous and Pharisaic.

We mistake pity for compassion, when in reality we are belittlers. We are stripping them of their very humanity. Compassion doesn’t do that: it lifts us up and comforts us. It reminds us that we are not at the end and we are not alone. But pity, it sneers and snickers at the face in the dirt, making it even harder to get back on the horse. No one likes to be pitied: it makes you feel icky and insignificant and alienated, convincing you no one can relate and no one cares. Defensive reactions come from pitied actions, because you can’t feel safe when you’re being pitied. You have to fight and yell to be heard and cared for, because pity is compassion without love.

True compassion will lead us to believe that regardless of what they have done: they are merely a flawed human, like you, and like me. They get angry and they make mistakes and they binge watch The Office when they should do their homework and they feel guilt for mean things they’ve said and they feel compassion and they are good at relationships and they are growing and they are learning how to be healthier. We’ve put our betrayers and our disagreers in categories they cannot fit in, since they are neither mice nor monsters. They are full-fledged human, and in recognizing that we can begin to understand them and forgive them. 

“but I can’t make ‘em stay”

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The first time I heard that line I think I audibly gasped. It’s kinda unimportant in the scheme of the contemporary pop anthem it’s snuggled into, but it’s possibly my favorite line of the album (keyword possibly, choosing a favorite 1989 lyric is much worse, I assume, than choosing a favorite child). Much like the sick beat of Shake It Off, this line has snuck into my mind and set up camp. I don’t know why exactly, it’s often overlooked as another overused insult against Taylor Swift that she magically molded into a number one hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 21 consecutive weeks (girl knows how to make some dang good lemonade, am I right?)

Maybe it’s echoed in my head simply because it seems like such a subtle way to put someone down for something completely out of their control. That if anyone walks out of your life it must be because you aren’t powerful enough of a force to make them stick around, that the blame is on you if you are sitting on your bed stunned, paralyzed with heartbreak yet again. That it’s your lack of charisma, or lack of appeal, or lack of some other undefinable and untraceable quality that explains why you’re left in the cold without answers, rather than circumstances outside of your relationship or problems they are personally battling. If you, by some miraculous feat, escape the wreckage of a ruined friendship without being worn down by the lie that you aren’t fill-in-the-blank enough, it’s some outsiders place to say: “you couldn’t make them stay.”

That infuriates me.

It’s insane to me that people would blame you for not being enough when it’s never been your purpose to fulfill someone else to the point where they couldn’t exist without you. PSA to all the other misled romantics out there: it’s never been your purpose on this earth to be someone’s sun & moon. But that’s what rom-coms have led us to believe: that if they can live without you, they don’t deserve you. That real love, real romance is nothing but mutual interdependence, glorified desperation. That to really be in love, you need to be irreplaceable to each other, and that leaving could never be an option, because you are all they need. But don’t we all want that? Don’t we all want someone who can’t breathe, let alone find purpose, without our presence? At our core, in our selfishness we scream to be desired beyond explanation. We need to be needed, and it drives us to unhealthy relationships with unhealthy people.

Hear me out: this interdependence is different than commitment. This is different than, day in and day out, choosing to stay regardless of your shifting feelings or your growing differences. This “making them stay” to me feels more like the cage of worthiness rather than the freedom of commitment. Commitment is scary and daunting because it’s permanent and binding, but at the same time it’s calming and freeing because it’s permanent and binding. You can be your fragile and shaking self in the freedom of commitment, but in the cage of worthiness you can only be what the person wants or needs you to be. This cage confines you to be only what would make that person stick around. This freedom releases you to be all parts of you fully since you know that person will stick around. That someone cares for you and won’t leave you based on your performance.

The “but I can’t make ‘em stay” mentality breeds a desire for unattainable perfection. It whispers in my ear that to deserve love, I need to be at all times flawless and breathtaking, charming and alluring, hilarious and ingenious. I can never be moody or disheveled or sensitive or boring, or that’s license for those around me to take quiet steps back until they disappear before my very eyes.

Even in friendships, I see a destructive kind of apathy towards sustaining them. That if your once luminescent friend becomes duller in depression and another person who is brighter and bubblier dances into your life, that gives you the permission, nay the right, to move forward without the former. You conveniently forget your promise to be on their team, as another offers you less stressful nights and more carefree days. But silly you in your ignorance, don’t you remember how its ALWAYS easy in the beginning of a budding friendship? You haven’t seen their cobwebs, and laughter comes easy. You get all the fun with none of the frustration. There’s the excitement of newness, much like the allure of the car in the showroom. But once you get the car out on the streets, you complain of the gas milage, and the black leather seats treat you terribly on sunny days, and you find yourself once again unsatisfied. Isn’t that human nature? We crave new, because new is carefree, however unsustainably. We will never experience the fierce goodness that’s settled in the depths of lasting friendships if we are always running to new and (not actually) improved.

Those friends that have stayed in my life do so, not because I make them with my infallible cheeriness or constant calmness, but because they find worth in my weaknesses. They see my faults as the avenue by which I receive grace, knowing that I will therefore give them grace in their own dark spots. The fault that a foe would spit in my face as my worst quality is, to those staying friends, the number one reason that they love me. These friends never expect me to operate in ways I am incapable of: they know me and free me to live in the place I find myself in. My cloudy days don’t scare them off, and they are still holding my hand when the sun comes back out. They are in my corner: celebrating with me in my victories, and wiping my forehead and whispering the sincerest of pep talks when I’ve been beaten to a pulp.

I see this “but I can’t make ‘em stay” phrase as a reminder to have open hands to relationships & remember that in reality I can’t make anyone stay, nor do I even have the desire to force anyone to stay if they sincerely feel they can’t anymore. They have free will to leave whenever, or even worse they could be taken from me without a moment’s notice. So carrying that burden of being fill-in-the-blank(-space) enough to make people stay isn’t an option anymore.

We can’t take the blame for others walking away. We can only keep fighting to find the kind of people who want to stay on our team.

furry fear monsters

I’m so scared my fears are going to swallow me up or wear you out. I’m terrified they will ruin this without us even noticing. I know full well that fear is a dirty little backstabber: it ruins perfectly good days & perfectly good people. You never see it coming & you never know who did it. It just takes your dignity & your enthusiasm & your well-meaning desires for beautiful things & thwarts you into someone conniving, or even worse, cowardly. It makes you weak, breaks your bones, drives you mad. I, for one, want nothing to do with insecurity. I want to trust and speak with unparalleled boldness. I want to know I am loved & cherished & speak out of that place: not out of a place of lying terrors. But this isn’t always the mental reality I face.

I’ve begun to play that destructive game as of late: the game that compares dis-analogous things. That’s what human beings are, because no matter how much we have in common, we are irreparably opposite. I am me and you are you. We react differently to the same situations and see the world through our own prescription glasses. Our personalities, pasts and passions are completely different. But knowing this, we still stack the deck against ourselves: we don’t have each other’s laughs or extroverted aura or the ability to hold a room’s attention. We’re not as fearless or as funny or as fierce as each other. You would kill for my talent while I would kill for yours. It’s silly: we both think that if we could just be more like each other we’d finally be confident. We are unable to be strong in our own skin when we are hunting for each other’s. 

The inner whisper of “There’s something missing in me” drives me to doubt all that I am. I forget every part of me that has ever caused a smile. I forget all the people that consider me one of their safe places. I doubt that I am even worth a second glance, and that those that show they care must be faking it or extremely confused. I convince myself I’m not worthy of whatever affection I’m getting and that its just a matter of time until they see my lacks and back away. My wild emotions and my deep fears will drive out all the people that could be good for me. Before I know it I’ll be left alone again, because I’m me and not her. There’s a civil war inside me as who I am is fighting for its right to be against the terrors that are trying to make me believe I will be more accepted and more loved if I look less like me and more like another. 

I constantly collapse under this pressure to be anything but me. I’m living fine and free, until I give the lies an inch of me. They creep and crawl up my arms, clawing at my comfy skin and making it itch. Suddenly, I feel confined to my quietness. I want so badly to be silly and charming and anything but boring, but the battle rages inside and shuts my mouth tight. “You’ll never be as liked as her. You’ll never make them laugh like she does. She’s the one they want to be around, why are you even here?” 

This comparison ends here. I’ve lived too much of my life being compared to the girl next to me. Inevitably, she’s always much prettier and always more vibrant and much more worthwhile. But why can’t I live in my own vibrancy? I will wear myself down (and have been) by playing this game. I need allies not enemies. I need to stop comparing: whether on outer appearance or inner personality. We all have our strengths, we all have our weaknesses. 

I’m finding my way back. I know I have friendship and compassion and fearlessness to offer. I know I’m someone that can be trusted and desired and worthwhile. I know that someone else’s strengths don’t make mine weaker. I’m finding my bright spots and celebrating them and making my weaknesses into challenges to embrace. I letting my anxiety fizzle in the knowledge I am supported and loved. 

What I’ve Learned from Audrey

We all know her, to an extent. She’s the queen of understated elegance. She’s the epitome of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She’s iconized in black and white prints on your best friend’s bedroom wall, her skinny cigar against her demure smile.

I always saw Audrey Hepburn as the definition of classy. She seemed graceful and mysterious, with her black turtleneck and winged cat eyes. I would run across her quotes on hopeful teens’ tumblrs: about Paris being a good plan of action and happy girls being pretty. They were sweet, yes, but they lacked depth. I felt like there was more to her and feared that that more was actually less. You see, I was scared that if I searched deeper, if I read more I would find just a shell of grace: that her icon wouldn’t match her true character. I was nervous I would discover that, actress as she was, she merely played the role of endearing so convincingly that it began to define her, when in reality she was rude or condescending or prideful or hard to work with.

But in a thrift store the other week, I found this beaten up copy of a biography on her life. I thought to myself, “Hey this would be a fun and easy read for this restful January! It’ll be light and interesting amidst these deep novels that make me question every nuanced moment of my existence!” Except the irony is that this book shook me more than most. It’s written by Donald Soto and titled Enchantment, which captures my newfound love for her pretty specifically. Granted, I never met her. She passed right as I was born. And, I’ll concede, the whole ultra-famous ordeal probably would have kept me from personal interaction. Plus, who knows what level of truth Mr. Soto wrote her biography in or what untruths he was told along the way. I’ve decided for myself I’m trusting their validity so I can learn and grow from her stunning story, instead of assuming their untruth and simultaneously assuming my position as a lethargic and skeptical pumpkin who finds zero things inspirational. After all those formalities of addressing the possible misunderstandings of her character, I must admit this collection of stories from her life has begun to convince me she was a woman of valor, of grace, and of immense kindness, with a kick-butt wardrobe to boot.

The first shocking news I discovered in the first few “light and interesting” page turns was that she barely survived the Second World War, living in Nazi-occupied Holland as a young girl. Her mother a baroness, they lost all their money and possessions to the Germans within the first few years, and Christmas of 1944 Audrey spent suffering from edema, with only ninety pounds on her 5’7” frame and with swelled legs due to malnourishment. I admire Audrey because her early experiences shaped her without hardening her. As an emotional and affectionate child, she continued to love deeply and care passionately as an adult, regardless of the pain and suffering she endured or the depressions that haunted her throughout her life. We all have spotty pasts, but Audrey taught me my past can change me without defining me. My previous encounters with the world will and should affect me, but I still get the choice of what I want to be known for and how I treat those around me.

After the war, Audrey and her mother had to start from the ground up, working odd jobs as secretaries and cleaning ladies. Audrey’s rise to fame was unexpected and unsought for. Within the course of a year or so, she went from being an extra in a comedy sketch show to starring in the classic film Roman Holiday (Basically, she started her career alongside heartthrob Gregory Peck in the most adorable movie of all time ever. Oh, and she won the Oscar for Best Actress. At age 24. HA. cool. I guess you don’t look to Audrey if you have a rough start post-grad.) This sudden rise to fame created an enduring sense of humility in Audrey. She was always shocked by the world’s adoration of her and throughout her journey as an actress, she kept the attitude of a dedicated learner: she never lost the spirit of being an aspiring actress even when she was a sought after movie starlet. She taught me to refuse the temptation to assume I’m utterly deserving of the praise I receive, because as a result of humility I will be anxious to push forward and to learn more. Pride is an ugly thing, and I’m convinced Audrey’s lasting sense of beauty was due to her refusal to wear it.

Despite her timidity in her ability, she fiercely protected her integrity. She cautiously accepted roles, avoiding movies with violence or vulgarity; rather she chose roles that she identified with, moving forward with thorough thought and deliberant steps. Her private life was hers to own; she wasn’t one to bask in stardom or dramatically flaunt her personal issues to whoever wanted to hear it. Introverted and sensitive, she chose to protect herself and those she loved over making herself a piece of gossip. I admire her because she wasn’t reckless. She knew who she was and who she wasn’t. She didn’t try to be Marilyn or Elizabeth, she daily chose despite her fears to embrace her Audrey-ness. She never thought she was above another and she didn’t let her insecurities keep her from doing her very best. She taught me the delicate balance of humility: daily battling my insecurities and daily safeguarding my character.

When I started this book, I wanted so desperately for the beloved Breakfast at Tiffany’s starlet to not be uptight and entitled: a director’s frustration and an assistant’s nightmare. I hoped so badly that she would be someone relatable, kind and sincere. And that’s what I read again and again: costars and directors alike spoke of her giving nature and her non-abrasive personality. Even when working with difficult actors or rude producers, she displayed grace and refused to say anything bad about another person. But she wasn’t someone constantly stepped on as a result of her unassuming nature: she still displayed strength and knew how to stand her ground when it counted most. She taught me another delicate balance: daily holding my own and daily choosing kindness.

One of the stories that stuck with me most was her bold response to a simple wardrobe decision. Tall and slender and fraught with the same body-type insecurities I face, a director suggested she wear a different dress. Audrey’s reply was vulnerable and swift, “I’m just me. I am what I am, and I haven’t done too badly like this.” Working in a highly-pressurized image-centered industry, with a body type arbitrarily unacceptable at that period of time, she fought to accept herself (and to be allowed to be) as she was. Today, women face the same hypocritical critique Audrey endured: a woman must have luscious curves as well as be stick skinny. In other words, to be a desirable woman, you must be impossibly built. I admire Audrey because she fought insults with sass and smart fashion. Helped by her dear friend and designer Hubert Givenchy, she learned how to dress herself to suit her specific body type. She kept things simple but elegant, setting the standard for understated posh. Despite her insecurities about her body, she learned how to dress it in a way that has been adored and emulated for decades since. She taught me to own my style, to wear things that flatter and accentuate the body I’m housed in. She taught me to refuse to cower under societal pressures. Regardless of snide comments or backhanded compliments, I get to choose my own body image, not the media or some snippy remark.

I’ve learned from Audrey that sensitivity is a strength. She loved others with a full heart, giving herself endlessly to relationships. “People,” she said, “even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” She was introverted and quiet, she trusted only those she felt had earned it. I feel like I can accept myself more deeply when I look at how she lived her life as an emotional soul. I’ve learned I don’t need to be embarrassed of my sensitivities, but I can learn to cultivate them with maturity. Audrey knew her needs and didn’t live contrary to herself: she learned to wield what could become a weakness into strong compassion and fearless care-taking. Even after two divorces and many heartbreaks in between, she never gave up hope on people. One of my favorite quotes from her is, “I was born with an enormous need for affection and a terrible need to give it.” As I read on, page after page she was described as cautious and fearless in relationships with others, whether romantically or otherwise. Her loyalty was unparalleled, and she never succumbed to slander. I admire her for her maturity and selflessness in spite of her pain and she taught me that no amount of emotional trauma is an excuse for rudeness.

Just when I thought that Audrey had proved herself enough to be seriously considered in my ‘Search for Strong, Kind, Fashionable, Talented Women to Serve Alongside Taylor Swift as Adorable and Admirable Role Models for My Grueling Journey Through My Early Twenties,’ I discovered in the closing pages of her biography how she spent her last years on earth. On top of being a fashion icon, a world-renowned actress, a caring mother, and a woman of courage, kindness and integrity, she added ‘Philanthropist Extraordinaire’ to the list. (like, c’mon Aud, give the rest of us common folk a shot at being .0008% as angelic as you.)

Miss Hepburn, (or should we rename her Wonder Woman at this point?! Can we posthumously elect her as Queen?! She was English by birth so I feel it’s only appropriate) worked tirelessly for UNICEF, a organization run by the United Nations to help suffering children around the globe. From her traumatic experiences as a child, Audrey’s compassion for the disadvantaged drove her to give of her time, her resources and her energy diligently from 1987 to her death in 1993. Unlike any other spokesperson, she researched tirelessly for her speeches, gave entire proceeds of acting jobs to help suffering nations, and personally travelled around the globe to work at medical centers in the poorest places. She didn’t get paid a penny for it. For Queen Audrey (regal right?), this wasn’t a publicity stunt to augment her fame, or an opportunity to speak at fancy dinners, putting on a charade of a philanthropic superstar to make herself more liked. She went above and beyond what she was asked because her heart was for people. This movie star accustomed to earning millions for a few days on set became accustomed to sitting on sacks of grain during transatlantic flights to visit dying children. When I read these descriptions, I wanted to cry. She taught me what it looked like to give for living’s sake. She taught me to live life with compassion that moves me towards the needy, not towards my own needs.

She considered this period with UNICEF the part of her life that really counted, seeing her fame as an opportunity to make their cause more famous than herself. She used her celebrity to bring attention to things that long needed to be addressed, to shine light on the suffering of others and urge the world to help. ”She generated hope and goodwill with dignity and compassion,” friend Martha Wallis explained. “She gave so much of herself to so many people.”

Miss Hepburn taught me to continue to care deeply, to always choose kindness, and to dress to impress. She taught me to never let my confidence get ahead of my talent, so I can continue to grow without the pride that stifles and ruins. She taught me how to live in the juxtaposition of seemingly opposite things: to achieve a balance of strength and sensitivity, of quietness and quirkiness, of giftedness and humility. She taught me that whatever I do, I should do it with grace and generosity.  Thank you for teaching me, my Wonder Woman and newly inducted role model.

“Giving is living. If you stop wanting to give, there’s nothing more to live for.” -Audrey Hepburn

All quotes and information are straight from Donald Soto’s Enchantment. You should go read it.

what did you keep, what did you leave


Someone sent me this picture this morning, and I haven’t quite been able to stop thinking about it: so I decided to answer this poem’s questions. It’s written by Dallas Clayton, a LA based children’s book author who is my first obsession of 2015.


A year should end in people’s company you want around in the day to day, not with people you never care to see again but surround yourself with to feel less lonely. People who will be there in this new year to cheer you on and cry with you. Maybe a year should end with new friendships forming over drinking bubbly champagne and sprinting to the street to see the fireworks through the trees. A year should end celebrating with old friends that have stood the test of time, dancing your way into yet another year together.


I relax. I sink into trusted friendships, into deep conversations that take place in a simple look across the room, into dance moves that would be mocked if those around me weren’t doing even sillier ones.


My time could be spent creating. It could be spent making things I’ve stored up in my head for decades, making things without needing them to make me. I could create with reckless abandon: creating because it’s life to my soul. I could read books long settled on my shelf, I could dance more often, I could find more time for the One who knows me best. I could spend my time trying to understand people rather than judging them. I could be more free in who I am and how I am.


I saw girls I have grown up with, kindred spirits who walk with me daily no matter how far apart we are. We shivered in the crisp night air, giggling and dancing like we were as old as we were when we first met. Most days, it feels like nothing has changed. I’m realizing there’s almost nothing more life-giving than a friendship that feels like settling into a big comfy chair.

I saw friends I’ve made in this last whirlwind of a year, friends who welcomed me in and adopted me into their little makeshift family. Friends who I’ve found myself spending hours with these last 365 days: in coffee shops on Sunday afternoons, in movie nights cuddled in blankets while it rains outside. Their faces became havens to my wearied soul and helped awaken it again.

I saw someone who found little ways to make me feel known- pulling me away to dance when I least expected it and sitting with me in a parked car to talk through our days. This someone picked off a lemon from the tree and handed it to me. “I got this for you. Happy New Year,” he said with a sly smile and a snicker. I danced the rest of the night with it in my mittened hand, and have plans to make lemonade with it. I’ll probably get handed a few more lemons this new year, and I’ve heard that’s the best thing to do with ’em.


I missed one person in particular, one who was far away & with whom I welcomed the past three new lonely years with. We’ve stood fiercely together since I can remember and it didn’t feel like a new year without her at my side. She must have missed me too, I’m sure.


I kept my excitement for life. I kept my sensitive heart. I kept my fight for those I love. I kept my newfound joys of sewing shirts with buttonholes and cooking fancy pasta dishes. I kept my passion for standing my ground boldly. I kept my goal to be known as meek.


I left needing to check my phone every four minutes. I left my bad attitudes and my bad excuses. I left my fear. I left my insecurities that are out to choke me. I left my judging eyes and condemning heart. I left my fight for perfection. I left my shame.


That’s the real question, isn’t it. I hope with joy & boldness.

happy 2015, folks.

in the choosing

there is such power in the choosing.

in the choosing we pronounce worth and life over dejected and dying souls.

by looking into someone’s teary eyes and telling them with the determination and passion of an soldier fighting on the same ground he played on as a child, that you choose those teary eyes to look into, you slay the advancing armies of terrorizing frustration and crippling doubt.


there is much communicated in the choosing.

in the choosing you say another is worth your time, your energy, your trust.

you declare them deserving of memories you have buried, fears you have ignored, and dreams you have shushed.


you boldly proclaim:

I choose you. you with the flaws and the fears and the flighty tendencies. i have found you to be worth my time, not because of my skewed view of your perfection; you stand on no pedestal my dear. i have found you to be worth my time, not because you fit me perfectly or fulfill my every last want and need; that was never your purpose on this earth, let alone in my life. i have found you to be worth my time, not because you have it all together; we both know full well we are far from there.

I have found you to be worth my time because you are kind. you are fierce. you are humble. you are passionate. you are strong. you are honest.


and my dear, you are willing to try.

that’s all I’ve been looking to find.


i will continue to care for you as you continue to care for me.

i won’t fear showing you kindness because you will return it rather than use it to your advantage.


He chooses us in this way, and chooses us to choose each other in the same way.

what a glorious gift.

back to the basics

i feel like life is mostly just relearning the same lessons again and again. like God’s got a few things i NEED to understand and He’s just gonna keep driving them home until i get it (which we all know i only will for about sixteen seconds, hence, the review courses). and the funniest part is i always think i’ve learned it at last: “AHA. i get it! people are complicated!” or “we live in a broken world, duh.” these glorious, overarching, life-altering lessons are put into embroider-able segments or 140 characters: summed up in some simple sentences that are more over used than my favorite pair of pajamas.

i knew He was doing a review lesson when anecdotes i’ve quickly said to hurting friends while rubbing small circles on their backs started to haunt me and taunt me. silly me to think i had rescued dear souls with these quick fixes: i know full well it’s usually the most basic things that dumbfound us most, no matter how many times we’ve learned the lesson.

He’s been reteaching me the basic aspects of leading an existence that’s out of my control. phrases i always thought were common knowledge and lessons i thought couldn’t be easier to execute have become His lesson plans this month, and those easy words hold a new kind of weight now. because in the past few weeks i have been seen to crumble under false assumptions, operate out of unhealthy mindsets, and desire things that are impossible feats. and we all do some weeks. but rather than continuing in those mindsets and fighting for things that just exhaust me and prove fruitless, God’s been answering my prayers for clarity in some pretty mundane and insane ways.

lesson #1: people are complex creatures. humans are this huge mix of fears and passions, of dark spots and kind smiles. i would be sorely mistaken to think of myself as the only one without any faulty wiring, but that’s usually where i start to misunderstand the happenings around me. when i refuse to acknowledge my own areas of weakness, i choose my role as the victim and the complexity of human interaction turns into utter chaos. but on the other hand: when i refuse to see my own brightness, i can choose my role as the villain, beating myself to a pulp over wise choices made out of love because i don’t believe myself to be capable of kindness when i just showed it.

& I’m realizing i cant do either of those.

i want to see myself and others as fully functioning humans with beating hearts, crippled at times by fears and vices, but nonetheless alive with passion and joy. i don’t want to simplify the world into black and white, because there are too many beautiful colors that get destroyed in that process.

lesson #2: this world is broken. as much as it pains my sensitive heart, the truth of the matter is i will be hurt again. rad, right? oh, and no matter how i tiptoe around and try to handle things with kindness: i will hurt those i love regardless of my intentions. it’s just peachy. no amount of compassion can shield those i love, because without meaning to my choices might scar them. this world is messy, and feelings are fragile, and life is complex. it’s beautiful, this living, but it’s scary because it’s multifaceted. things never have been simple and they never will be. i can either be paralyzed by this news, or i can keep moving, keep choosing, and keep praying in the midst of the complexity. because i can’t count on having any semblance of control over my measly life: as soon as i think i have something figured out, it falls apart. or something else comes up and making a choice that seemed so easy yesterday now has baggage and it’s heavy. pain is part of the game, we can’t avoid it as hard as we try. and believe me, I’ve been known to try.

in my trying, I picked up a good amount of hefty baggage to carry (we all know I’m a chronic over-packer). there were suitcases full of the times i had wounded the ones i cared about. there were packages stuffed with instances i was let down by people i let in. i kept missing trains, missing new opportunities to care for people because i was so weighed down by the fear i would cause another mess or get my heart trampled on yet again. i tried to board a few trains but anyone thats travelled knows it’s only easy when you pack light. and my over-packer tendencies and my need to hold onto mistakes was getting me no-where.

a few weeks ago my mentor spoke some words over me that have freed me from that horrible habit of overpacking (well just the fear baggage, not for vacations. one day i’ll only pack a carry-on, you watch). as i spilled my heart out to her on the metal mesh table we sat at, the words rushed out frantically, looking for a place to reside. the fear and panic tumbled over each other, slipping through the cracks on the table and landing back on my lap. i felt re-paralyzed by things i thought i had under control that were never really in my power. i thought that by saying all my fears aloud they would dissolve, that i would be able to laugh them off. nope, here they were, real and ugly and absorbing back into my skin. but before they could sink in, she looked me dead in the eye and said: “you will be hurt again. & you will hurt other people. as much as that hurts to hear, you can’t avoid living and breathing and stepping forward because of the fear someone might get hurt.”

my skin can’t soak up that fear anymore. today I’m not paralyzed by the fact that i can hurt people and they can hurt me. today I’m remembering that i can’t take care of everyone. and i know that tomorrow will come and the fears will return and i’ll have to remind myself that this life is something like a dance, where i’m gonna hurt you and you’re gonna hurt me because life is delicate and things aren’t in our control: but that doesn’t take away our ability to care in the midst of the stumbled waltz.

lesson #3: my words can’t fix everything. regardless how eloquent, regardless how true, regardless how compassionate: they will fail. that doesn’t diminish their boldness or their clearness, but no amount of care or clarity can bind up broken hearts with a snap of a finger. i should know from experience that healing wounds need a few weeks and some fresh air, yet i rush in like an inexperienced doctor, trying to put bandaids on flesh wounds. that’s what my words can be like in the midst of wreckage, stifling the fresh air that would swoop in if i stayed quiet. and many times thats whats needed: sitting in silence, remembering my words aren’t some magic balm, that just saying some sensible sentences doesn’t right the nonsensical aches of our hearts.

but yet there are so many times i want to fix the fears around me with some words of bravery, or make my syllables into a shield to protect the battle weary soldier sobbing beside me. but I’m relearning that most times a prayer does much more. staying quiet and letting God do the talking usually works best, and reminds me that contrary to popular belief: i don’t always have the right answers, and i am not in charge (thank Jesus for that, am i right?)

God’s been teaching me a lot recently in waiting in the tension and trusting Him when my words fall short. He’s been asking me to lean on Him, to let Him be enough, to be content when my words aren’t enough to fix everything and everyone. I’ve been learning i can sit in the understanding that He will work through me as well as despite me, that the ruckus i’ve caused or the tension i’m sitting in doesn’t affect His healing powers. sometimes the tension is just what He needs to pull us closer to Him.

i’m someone who is enamored by the idea of reconciliation. i think anyone that subscribes to the gospel should crave redemption, but for me its become this love affair of sorts. i get swept off my feet, wooed and mesmerized by the faintest suggestion of wholeness and forgiveness, conveniently forgetting that attempting to fix things doesn’t always make things better. i ignore the fact that redemption doesn’t come in my timing: because sometimes things are broken and i’m incapable of fixing them. sometimes i need to sit in the muck of this shattered world and weep for it. sometimes that friendship won’t be mended today or that child won’t be saved tomorrow. sometimes His timing makes no sense and aggravates me, my Savior of grace keeping me from my idea of reconciliation in my timing. that need for redemption becomes my saving grace in those moments, and that need can destroy.

i’m not saying grace isn’t His ultimate goal, because it is. but there is tension in the timing. we think it should be now, He knows it should be later. it can be absolutely aggravating if you want a situation to be redeemed on your terms more than you want His saving grace, but it can be freeing if you know He will bring glorious restoration in His perfect timing.

i’ve been realizing that compassion isn’t always the best course of action. sometimes i need to be lured off my ledge of “i can fix it all and NO ONE CAN STOP ME.” because fighting the tension is futile. things will be tenser than tightropes, and I’ve been realizing that in some cases need to be. in these tense things, we only have His hand to hold through the nights we realize that one person we want to fix we aren’t capable of mending. in the tension, we learn patience and gain peace and come to understanding and remember His goodness.

so sit in it. sit in it until its redeemed. because we can’t give up on redemption,  and we can’t let it lure us away from the real Saving Grace.

lesson #4: time is on your side. we live in a world that tells us that we needed to know yesterday what we want tomorrow. a world that demands answers, demands results, demands assurance & reassurance. but we are fumbling souls, overwhelmed at the slightest decision and unable to simply choose, because there’s so much pressure to know it all, to commit to all and to NEVER falter on it. we think time is out to get us. we force ourselves into corners in wide open fields. we feel claustrophobic in the great outdoors.

but time should make us feel free: because the truth of the matter is we don’t have to know it all today, or tomorrow even. that’s another thing my sweet angel mentor spoke over me: “time is your friend.” I don’t think i ever really knew that before she said it. i live in this world of deadlines and due dates, of hurrying and of ending. and there is good in that, in pushing myself and making decisions and being assertive. i am all for being bold and knowing where i stand and staying there. but maybe that’s not where i’m at today. maybe I’m feeling shaky and uncertain and terrified. maybe the world’s all too much and making a choice in the fog seems foolish (hi because IT IS.) so I’m letting myself slow down. I’m letting myself have a second or so to figure it out and to get my footing. I’m giving myself some room to breathe and some time to settle. because, although the little planner in me is not too pleased, i don’t have a plan. things are as uncertain as they have always been, and i think i’m finally okay with that.

“you ain’t got nothin but time, and it ain’t got nothin on you.”

these review lessons have begun to do a work on my worrisome heart. things still don’t make total sense, and i know i will have to study them again tomorrow, but God’s reminding me i’m worth reteaching, even if its minute by minute.

i should make some flashcards.