Therapeutic Writing

I know I'm at my best when I am writing on the regular. As is fairly evident in the gap between this post and the last time I wrote, I haven't been doing much writing-based processing as of late, for several reasons: First of all, it takes courage to write my thoughts down for others to read. As such, this is an act of vulnerability, putting myself, my words, and my experiences in front of a public eye. Because of the public nature of keeping a blog, my self-doubting thoughts become my closest companions, staring me down at the turn of every sentence and subjecting my work to harsh judgment. Do I really want to disclose this? What if this is totally irrelevant? 

Second, and I know this is no excuse, life has been nothing short of busy since I returned from Chicago in June (okay, what, that was five months ago), and when I manage to fit some down time into my long days, let's be honest, I'm watching Netflx in the comfort of my bed. Or taking a bath. Or cooking. AKA I'm turning my brain off and taking advantage of turning my phone off if even for a brief, twenty minute New Girl episode.

Third, because of keeping my brainpower in high demand with the wheres and whens of life, I simply have not invested in the mental exercises of delving into the meaning and components of living vitally.

In short, I have been mentally exhausted and filled with self-doubt.

And then, two weeks ago, I sat down to do a bible study, got totally inspired by the question of "What is your secret strength?", pulled out my computer, and started typing with fervor what I discovered to be - three hours later - the tale of one of the most debilitating periods of my life. These were the words I had kept stuffed in my head and heart over the course of the past four years and hadn't let myself explore until this point. I'd initially thought of writing this memoir three years ago, but was too stuck in the thick of the accompanying shame and pain and confusion to be able to take an objective point of view to analyze where life had taken a turn southbound.

Out of nowhere, it all came to me: all the tears and fears, the mistakes and victories, the heartaches and joys, and I was able to see, in a new light, the larger narrative of two imperfect intertwining lives. I stopped seeing myself as a victim and acknowledged all the shitty stuff I had done (and had allowed), because I had handled pretty much nothing perfectly. And even though so many different, difficult emotions resurfaced over the course of these three hours (how a person can go from laughing with fondness to wanting to cry all her tears out within a five minute span is beyond me), this was one of the first times I had allowed myself to acknowledge and experience them without judgment or shame. The past was simply the past.

As much as I wished I could change what had happened, my processing session showed me three things: 1. that I would not be where I am today without the plethora of lessons I had gone through, 2. that I would be ill-equipped for the future without acknowledging where I went wrong, and 3. that writing works wonders as a therapeutic tool.

I cannot stress enough the importance of writing as therapy. While, yeah, it sounds pretty cheesy and cliché, writing has the power to relieve us of our unspoken struggles and process without judgment. Free writing (or what I like to call word vomiting) cuts out all the self-restricting processes inherent in an editing approach, and allows us to explore deeper issues without the worry of whether the words splattered on the page make sense or flow cohesively. More than anything, writing gets the words out there in the open, where they can no longer control our minds with fear. When we allow our minds to venture into those initially scary areas and work through the deeper issues, we can learn so much, and eventually set those emotions and experiences free.

At the end of a long night of writing, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace and freedom I had never experienced in respect to my collegiate life. It had been a long time coming, but facing the emotions was completely worth it. My experience revealed the necessity of writing not only to keep myself sane, but also to bring closure to the experiences locked in my memory of the past. Though my fingers were slightly cramped from writing a million words a minute (why couldn't I write my academic papers with such fervor?) and my eyes were glued halfway shut from teary-eyed exhaustion, the release of emotion brought me a relief I had never achieved in any counseling or venting session with my best friend. I'd found my new medium, and I'm sticking to it.

So, dear reader, I do apologize for the aberration from my blogging practice, and for any continued slackening in my writing consistency as I begin to explore an exciting personal writing project in the months to come. In the meantime, I encourage you to give therapeutic writing a shot for yourself and see just how much freedom you can achieve through the free flow of words onto the page (or screen).

Poverty is Not the Problem.

As I sat in the audience at the Justice Conference this weekend, speaker after speaker cited poverty as the source of all the injustice in this world. But the more I listened to these respected experts, the more I felt their diagnosis was wrong.

More often than not, we mistake symptoms for problems. We believe our symptoms to be the end-all-be-all of the disease, when those are merely the outward manifestation of the problem itself. In reality, the true disease lies further up and further into the complex survey of the problem holistically. Though we are unaware, there is something deeper than what we are seeing, and it is at the core that we discover the source of life-threatening disease.

When we delve into the injustices of the world - trafficking, racism, and so on - we can see that poverty is certainly a unifying problem. But poverty is not the problem. If we look even closer, we see that poverty is merely a symptom of the disease of our broken human nature.

Our problem is that we are human beings, and by definition we are imperfect and fully broken. Because of our brokenness, we do not realize our utter devastation and desperate need for a perfect God, but instead break the first commandment by establishing idols in our lives that we believe will dually fulfill our greatest need for love, completion, and belonging. In simple terms, idolatry is the artificial attempt to fill a hole that can only be filled by the love and grace of a relationship with God, our Creator and Lord. It is the cardinal sin, and every human being is guilty of it, non-believers and Christians alike (see Romans 1:18-3:20). It happens when I elevate myself to God. It happens when a man seeks satisfaction in buying sex or watching pornography. In the end, it is like trying to fill a leak in a dam with a sponge. It can easily form to the shape of the aperture and block it momentarily, but soon absorbs the overflow, becoming soaked in the deluge it was intended to fix, which renders it ineffective.

In short, an impoverished heart, fed on temporal things of this world, yields a multitude of injustices: pride, greed, racism, sexism, or seeking power. Every unjust thing we see is a byproduct of spiritual poverty, which is, in turn, a byproduct of a violation of God's primary commandment: Thou shalt not have any other god before me.

Poverty (both physical and spiritual) and every injustice are the diseases that result from our breaking of the first commandment. This is why we turn to food to comfort us, sex to satisfy us, gossip to include us. And this is why we feel just as empty as we did (if not more so) after the fact than we did before. These may be trivial examples, but the injustice of the man who pays for sex is motivated by the same needs and longings as I am when I make harsh snap judgments about others out of pride (albeit they are expressed to differing degrees).

As human beings, we are all culpable, guilty of injustice. How, then, are we to strive toward reconciliation? As with anything else, awareness is key. What topics of injustice speak most to you? Take note of those whisperings in your intuition and follow that trail. Also notice your own thought and behavioral patterns that promote injustice in your own world, and take steps to make reparations.

Second, let us be people of action. Too often we go about our lives passively. However, to be passive is to condone injustice, allowing it to flourish. We must be bold in stepping out and making way for our voices to recalibrate social norms and how the world works.

Just after the Justice Conference ended, I took a walk to Lake Michigan with one of my group members. We'd literally just been discussing what actions we could take to address the injustices we are passionate about. I was explaining how my heart broke in my breakout pre-conference session on human trafficking and how we need to teach our children to respect each other by modeling respectful behavior to women in particular (I could write so much more, but I'll save that for a separate post) when we started approaching two guys. Somehow I had a gut feeling about what was about to happen, and as they passed, the guy closest to me brushed against me and cat-called, "Hey, baby." My stomach lurched and my hands clenched tighter into the fists that had been forming in the coming seconds. But I didn't do anything. Instead of jumping to action, I walked on, in so doing, sending the message that what he did was okay, even though it was a clear violation of respect and boundaries. In fact, it was sexual harassment. The further I walked away from the altercation, the more I regretted my passive endorsement of his repugnant belief about me as a piece of unrespectable ass. Admittedly I lost a lot of sleep over it (despite my ridiculously early flight the next morning), wishing I'd stood up in empowerment to make my case for myself and women everywhere.

Third, we can throw money at the crisis of poverty, but until we reach the hearts of the spiritually impoverished, we will continue to be ineffective. It requires energy and creative thinking, but I wholeheartedly believe that there is nothing like seeing the divine in our enemies and everyone around us to spur us onto connecting to others. Okay, how do I pour into the lives of the people committing these injustices? I was stumped too, and was filled with anger thinking of all the men and women who have contributed to the crisis of sex trafficking (let me point out that the pornography industry is one in the same with sex trafficking). They make me sick, and I wish I could condemn them for all the pain they have caused. But I realized that all I can do to intervene in their lives is to pray for them. It's the single hardest prayer I've ever prayed, but who knows what God will do with my request? I'll never know, but it could be the difference between a repeat offender and a contrite spirit that changes his or her ways forever.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of bringing about justice is the overwhelming realization that injustice is everywhere. How can I, just one individual out of billions, do anything to help? Think of yourself as a drop of water. You have the choice to pour your energy into the bucket of passive endorsement or active combat. Either way, you choose to either fill the bucket of condoning injustice or of ridding the world of it. Your actions matter. Which bucket will you help fill?

Post-Grad, Unimagined

It is absolutely mind boggling that just 366 days ago I graduated from the life of academia I had known for 16 years. Seeing my Instagram and Facebook feeds filled with posts from my Pepperdine friends' 2016 commencement photos just two days ago really made the craziness sink in (keep in mind, it's been snowing every day for the past three weeks in Crested Butte, so I am thoroughly convinced it is still February...WAIT...it's May?!). Walking across the stage to receive my diploma seems as though it happened in a dream long ago. Even the blistering sun beating on my black graduation robe doesn't burn quite as much as it did throughout that two-hour ceremony. It has become both a grand moment in my memory and history and a small nugget of la vie quotidienne de Leigh.

 Little did I know what post-grad had in store...

Little did I know what post-grad had in store...

Graduation, like many other significant moments and days in our lives, seems like such a momentous event in the preceding days. I remember stressing about not having a job with a $40K salary lined up out of the gate, worrying if my degree were really worth all the money my parents and I poured into Pepperdine's pockets. Would there even be life after Pepperdine? Surely life had to end before May 2, 2015 came - academia was all I knew, after all! Funnily enough, I remember getting sucked into ring-by-spring antics and the brief disappointment I felt when I realized halfway through my senior year that I was as single as a nun when it seemed as through everyone I knew was on track to getting married tomorrow.

366 days ago I was still in my California state of mind, basking in the Malibu sunshine, celebrating graduation with some of my closest friends and family. I had grand plans for my life, and if I knew where I'd be today I would have been confused, wondering how my life got so off track so quickly. In a nutshell, the only facet of my current life congruent with my aspirations and plans drafted around graduation time is that I live in Colorado. Everything else has been completely overwritten by the plans of God. And though my career-driven self occasionally wishes I'd started my career a year ago and worries that I'm screwing myself over by taking yet another internship (perhaps my career will be in professional interning...), life in the Rockies is too good to give up for a 40+ hour workweek in a cubicle somewhere in corporate America.

What I'd never anticipated in my dreams for my future was that God would provide everything I wanted in a place I'd never heard of, or even wanted to be. I never would have thought I'd befriend women more than twice my age, find an incredibly supportive community in a small church, or live in a place so focused on outdoor recreation that I'd actually be surrounded by friends willing not only to take the plunge into extreme fitness conditioning and adventuring, but also to challenge me to push myself further than before. I never thought I'd become a CrossFit junkie determined to go through hardcore performance training or ski over 100 days in a given season.

A year ago, I was content with my idea of starting a corporate career in Denver, doing yoga on the regular, and being a member of a nice church. When I took this internship, I was worried I was settling if a company in California was going to offer me an actual salary and benefits; however, the more time I work and spend time in the company of incredible friends and co-workers in Crested Butte, the more I'm convinced that to move away from the vast expanse of nature, adventure, and deep community would be to sell myself short of the life I've secretly been too ambitious in the conventional sense to pursue.

I visited my parents in Albuquerque this past weekend. During breakfast on my last day in town, we started discussing my choice to stay in Crested Butte for another year and a half rather than pursue a career opportunity in California. My dad (dubbed Weepy Willy) looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me how proud he was of me to opt for the less conventional choice. With very little immunity to others' emotions, my eyes started to trickle a couple tears. In perfect timing, my mother joined in the sobfest and we all took a moment to contemplate the gravity of my decision. Despite all my worries that I would make the wrong choice, it turns out that I had, in fact, chosen the right one for my life at this time.

If you had asked me where I would be in a year on my graduation day, I can assure you my answer would come nowhere close to the reality of my life today. I wouldn't have dare dreamed I'd be adventuring in the mountains with a loving community, pushing myself to try new things and become stronger, or befriending some seriously amazing people of all ages. Even though those dreams were pushed aside by my usual career-minded ambition, I'm beyond grateful they assembled in perfect formation to create the life I'm thriving in today. Life keeps getting better.

Learn to Laugh a Little...

God’s a funny one, let me tell you. Now I don’t necessarily mean funny in the comically laughable sense (though this is true from time to time), but in the sense that he utilizes my human flaws as means to illuminate his all-surpassing power. It’s long been established between us that, for example, if I have a deadline coming up, God will wait until the very last minute to notify me of his preference.

A week and a half ago, God used the opportunity of a closing door to open a new one in Crested Butte. I was so thrilled for answered prayers, and in true Leigh fashion, began envisioning (i.e., writing the owner’s manual for) the next 18 months. You’d better believe I was getting down to precise details and building expectations like crazyyyyyyy. (Need I remind you this was just a little while after I'd written about expectations?)

All was going swimmingly when God made another grand entrance a couple days later, eliminated a huge element in my vision, and exited the scene without another word.

Talk about a drop mic…

I was speechless. Apparently, he didn’t want to play by my rules. And like a mature 23-year-old, I got upset. Much like Gretchen Wieners’ Caesar speech. I should get a nomination for my dramatic performance.

Remember that owner’s manual I briefly mentioned before? Yeah, well God doesn’t just let us go on pretending that we’re him, the supreme ruler of the entire universe. In all reality, we have no power to control what happens to us; rather, we have the power to control how we react to what happens to us. In this particular instance, God intervened to remind me of his sovereignty, and I didn’t do such a great job in my reaction. At all.

I was upset mostly because I felt as though God had lured me into a too-good-to-be-true situation and then dropped a bomb on the dream I’d created, like a mean girl manipulating her victim into the epicenter of a time bomb, just to observe the ensuing explosion of drama (please refer back to the Gretchen Wieners Caesar speech). Not cool, God. The only questions I could muster were of betrayal and confusion. Though I knew God’s loving character deep in my core, I couldn’t help but question his faithfulness and righteousness, and wrongly cast myself as a victim.

After cycling through the stages of grief and spending way too much time in the moping and catastrophizing periods, I reluctantly pulled myself together, and came to the conclusion that it was time to let go of the exhausting ironclad grip of control I was trying to exercise over every single detail of my life and future. If it took this much emotional energy for God to get to me and remind me that I’m not God, clearly my efforts were being wasted in vain. I needed to focus on casting vision for God’s influence through me.

Once I’d relinquished control, a sense of peace washed afresh over me. It was as if God was standing by my side, gently reassuring me: See? You’re still alive. You made it through. I’ve got it all under control, don’t you worry. I trusted that God’s drop mic moment was not out of malevolence, but was a genuinely caring reminder that I need to stop taking myself so seriously, laugh a little. Let go and let God. (Oh, and by the way, you are not God.)

What’s funny in this circumstance is that, just hours after I’d reached the acceptance stage of grief, God cracked open the door he had closed firmly days prior, just enough to let a little light shine through. I literally rolled my eyes at the situation. If all I could say was: Really, God? Too soon! He was laughing, encouraging me to do the same, all while trusting in his promises. So I followed his lead and laughed, knowing that, for good reason, the universe is better off in his hands.

Not-So-Great Expectations

Isn’t it funny how life never seems to go as we expect it?

For people like me, this is no laughing matter. I'll have a plate of great expectations with no disappointment on the side. Since that's rarely the case, I guess I will have to start chiming in with my laughter.

When I first arrived in Crested Butte in mid-November, I paradoxically had no idea what to expect, and yet had great expectations for the five months to come. I was worried my co-interns would be crazy partiers, out every night until the rooster crowed drinking and taking advantage of the five dispensaries located on my street. I pictured myself hanging out exclusively with my coworkers, and perhaps taking a full-time position once my internship ended. These are only but two of my great expectations. And if you know me, I suffer from expectation-itis, commonly known as: “This girl needs to lower her expectations” (not to be confused with standards).

Five months after my move, and it has become apparent that, once again, my expectations have been foiled again! But in retrospect, my life has been shaped over the course of these past few months in ways consistent with my values and ambitions in life.

Instead of meshing seamlessly with my coworkers like I’d imagined, I found myself fully embraced by a tight-knit community at the church I began attending within the first week of my move. Though I was able to create positive (yet surface level) relationships with the people I worked with, I have found myself most at home within my church community. Without exception, the men (and especially) women I have met on account of Sunday morning church services and Thursday bible studies have been such a huge source of joy during the periods of trials and conflicts at my workplace and intern condo. At Oh Be Joyful, I have a profound sense of belonging, because, just like my peers of all ages and walks of life, I am imperfect, but am worth being loved.

Today I celebrated my friend Palmer’s 24th birthday. As I sat down to write her a birthday letter this morning, I had a flashback to my first few weeks in CB. My own birthday was coming up way too soon after my move, and I was dreading it, because I would be utterly alone, isolated, and unable to celebrate with my friends or family. But three days before that fateful day, my pastor introduced me to Palmer. We hit it off immediately, and grabbed dinner together on my birthday. Even my pastor texted me a nice birthday wish! (Still not sure how he found out that nugget of information…) It was nothing too fancy or exciting compared to previous birthdays, but I had gotten the best birthday present I could have asked for: a new friendship and a sense of belonging in a new environment. Had I only known what those seeds would come to bear in four months’ time!

Even my expectations for my living situation were turned upside down. Thankfully I rarely had to deal with drunken roommates coming home and waking me up in the dead of night or the smell of pot emanating from a nearby room. And thankfully the majority of my co-interns had serious relationships, so I never had to wake up to strangers roaming the apartment the morning after. But, as with any living situation, there was plenty of conflict to make me swear I’ll never live with roommates again.

When I first moved into the apartment, there was a note on the refrigerator from the past winter’s interns with tips for how to get through the season, i.e., make sure you take out the garbage every Thursday, never miss a taco Tuesday, etc. The tip that stood out to me most went along the lines of: remember your first impressions of your co-interns, because those will change by the end of the season. Impossible! I thought. Think again, Leigh…Needless to say, expectations I held of one of my roommates in particular was very much turned on its head. What once seemed like a potentially awesome friendship ended up very much the opposite, for reasons I will never know. As an effect, living with the residual conflict both at work and at home (read: literally 24/7) became extremely exhausting from pretty much my second month into the internship, and it only got worse as time progressed, despite my belief that things couldn’t possibly deteriorate any more. Spoiler alert: they always did.

If I could change anything about this internship, living with the people I work with would be the clear winner. However, the restlessness and discomfort I found in my home did yield a greater awareness of not only my desire for a community of like-minded people, but also my deep desire to develop my faith and relationship with God. Had I gotten sucked into a deeper friendship with any of my roommates, I might not have pursued my women’s bible studies as eagerly or have set aside as much time as I did every day to convene with God in quiet solitude. I don’t know what could have happened if a friendship had developed between that one roommate and me, but I am thoroughly convinced that if things went so wrong, it was for my protection that whatever went wrong transpired from pretty much the beginning.

As a result, my life and heart have turned toward living out my faith in a supportive community of Christians. Though this was certainly on my mind when I moved here five months ago, I didn’t quite expect it to take off with such sustained momentum. For this, I am eternally grateful. Because of this, I am learning not only to laugh at failed expectations, but also to dismantle those expectations from the get-go. If expectations are rarely met, why enter any situation with a rigid picture of what needs to happen?

Now, as I look to my very unclear future, I am encouraged to let whatever happens happen. I've come to realize that I cannot control anything that happens to me, much less the future (no matter how hard I try!), but that I can choose how I react in any given situation. I can also choose the route of wonderment as I faithfully trust that I will be taken care of instead of choosing the road to disappointment when my expectations aren't met (if you haven't caught on yet, that disappointment happens quite frequently). And when I take an objective view, all the threads of life are weaving together a perfect tapestry more beautiful and fit to who I am than I ever could have created on my own (obviously, since I am not a weaving whiz).

I think CB’s vibe is getting to me. Maybe I’m finally getting it: just go with the flow, and see where this river you’re floating on takes you before you start making definitive maps of a place you’ve never been. Besides, the places you'll go on this adventure are wilder and more awesome than anything you could have imagined!

Growing Out Of Stagnation

The sky is gray, air cold to my bones, and times a-changin’. When I take a look at the internal workings of my being, I almost have to shield my eyes to the volatile state of restlessness that could very well erupt at any moment. I don’t always want to engage with the harder feelings and beliefs I hold close to my being. Wouldn’t it just be easier if I shoved it all under the rug, let the housekeeper vacuum it while I’m away on vacation?

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past 23 years, it’s that life does not work that way. Or at least things fall apart from the inside out if left unattended. One of the biggest struggles I’ve been presented with this year are all the whys behind what I do, the fears with which I live in accordance, the habitual responses to life’s circumstances.

It’s humorous how, when we feel as if we have life figured out, life turns around and throws an overwhelming encyclopedia of reasons to the contrary in front of our eyes. We can choose to either take a deep look at the contents and use those suggestions for growth or ignore our potential for transformation and remain in the sludge of stagnant life.

A week ago, I felt on top of the world. I was proud of the growth I’ve encountered, the friends I’d made, the leadership roles I’ve stepped into in the past few months of living in Colorado. Whereas I was feeling like a totally new person just a few days ago, I once again have been confronted with the disheartening truth that there is nothing really new under the sun. I still interact in limiting patterns with old friends and family members, I still struggle with pride and grace, and those old injuries make an appearance at the most inconvenient times.

Will you stop tripping me up?!

While this is my current reaction to the problems that are annoyingly emerging, the irony is that I must really say this to myself. Because we are ultimately the ones who prevent ourselves from moving forward, even when we want to move on from the things that haven’t worked for us in the past. I want to point out that our problems themselves are not what hold us back; for those are the symptoms of our broken humanity, not the cause. We are the cause. Sometimes we try stuffing our feet into shoes we have outgrown, and like the many maidens trying on Cinderella’s glass slipper, its constraining shape is too small for the new form of our lives, and suffocates us from the refreshing nutrients we require to bloom.

The beauty of living in brokenness is that it prompts us to desperation, which leads to change. Without this desperation, we do not have the desire to change badly enough to warrant an appropriate response to our shortcomings. Not that we need to be perfect. But we are creatures of development, and we are meant to evolve into better, truer versions of ourselves.

As I sit writing this, a song I discovered last spring just came on my playlist. Part of the chorus goes like this: “I had to shatter to pieces / You made me reveal myself.” Perfect timing, no?

It is the moments where we deeply encounter our brokenness that we can find the resolve and motivation to move forward with life. Sure, it is uncomfortable and difficult beyond belief to not only identify but to also leave behind the places of comfort we have inhabited in the past. But it is beyond essential that we do so for the sake of our personal development. Otherwise, we will remain complacent with stagnation in the dysfunctional habits we have created.

Weren’t we made for something greater?

Valentine's Day ft. Singleness

Oh, Valentine’s Day. I can’t help saying it with a heavy sigh. How is it that a single holiday can bring up such intense emotions regarding one’s relationship status? As Spotify cheekily reminded me last Friday, you either love it or hate it. For those who love it, there is an endless supply of heartfelt playlists guaranteed to make you swoon and fill you to the brim with gratefulness for your wonderful love life. In a relationship with your bed like yours truly? Don’t you worry, there are just as many playlists designed to reiterate your frustration with the overly commercialized holiday. Whatever side of the spectrum you’re on, fear not! There is a recipe to wallow in your current feelings on the topic.

Valentine’s Day has not brought about many positive memories for me in years past. There was that one year when a guy I’d met literally a year before texted me asking me to be his girlfriend…and, mind you, we hadn’t spoken since we’d met. That was definitely the weirdest. There were the years in elementary school when I’d receive valentines from everyone in my class, none of which were signed by my secret admirer (Seriously, Leigh? Who needs romance in elementary school?). And of course, there have been the 23 Valentine’s Days I have spent without a significant other, many of which were spent either wishing in vain that I would have an admirer drop down on his knees in front of me in full confession of his love…or the alternative: hating this stupid holiday for making perpetually single ladies like me feel much less than unloved. (Yes, I know it’s dramatic, but everyone’s doing it these days.) Oh, and there were the few years where I celebrated Galentine’s Day, branding myself as a strong, independent single lady who don’t need no man!

While I still ascribe to the belief (and ultimate truth) that I am a strong, independent single lady, Valentine’s Day has become much less daunting and traumatic for me as I’ve grown older and gained major perspective…in the past couple years. Sure, I’ve never spent the day with a significant other or received a heartfelt letter, a bouquet of hydrangeas (please note that these are my favorite flowers), and a copious amount of chocolate sure to send me straight into chocoblivion, but after talking on the phone with one of my dearest friends this afternoon, I realize I’m truly at peace with the lack of Valentine’s dates I’ve had. (If anything, I’m rather relieved when I don’t receive a love-confessing note from a secret admirer! I think I would actually cry and run away unless it was mutual.) This is a huge transformation from my less mature days when the “security” of relationship status meant everything to me. When I think about it, I will never have the expectation of a future partner needing to surpass previous boyfriends’ expressions of love. I will never have the baggage of painfully remembering an incredible Valentine’s Day spent with someone I once loved very dearly. It’s actually quite nice and sets the bar pretty low. Expectations are literally eating chocolate together. All good things for anyone involved in my future!

While spending Valentine’s with my partner is something I would love to experience, I am overwhelmed with the truth that my worthiness and value are not dependent upon my relationship status, and that this holiday isn’t just about romantic relationships. As the Galentine’s trend goes to show, I can channel my heartfelt love notes to my friends and those I love deeply as a symbol of our growth together in relationship. For the past two years, I have spent Valentine’s celebrating the relationships I have with my girlfriends, and they have been the two best-spent Valentine’s Days of my life.

In our conversation today, my dear friend and I recounted our favorite Valentine’s Day: February 14, 2014. We got super dressed up (full-on makeup, dresses, and heels), went to the Malibu pier to take ridiculously ridiculous couple photos at sunset (did I mention how ridiculous we are?), and then ate dinner and lots of cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory after doing some shopping and scoring some free wine and chocolate-covered strawberries at Anthropologie (holla!). My friend and I had seized the opportunity to treat ourselves to a much-needed girls’ night out (as if we needed more reason to hang out since we lived, breathed, ate, danced, laughed, and sang together, 24/7). And the result was a deepening of our friendship, a celebration of the relationship we had cultivated through intentionality and mutual vulnerability in the good and difficult times, and bellies full of delectable cheesecake. Oh, and no man hating and singleness shaming. Let’s just say any guys we date will have a hard time topping V-Day 2014. (So I guess I do have awesome memories and expectations for the holiday…whoops.)

It’s actually quite ironic how I spent the evening of Valentine’s this year. Any guesses? Okay I give in: at a marriage bible study. Weird, huh?! Why would a single lady willingly go to a bible study about marriage, filled with married couples on a day celebrating romance? The short answer: #relationshipgoals. And Ann’s glorious chocolate cake (I did get my chocoblivion after all). But in all honesty, I was able to go and truly enjoy the experience and thought-provoking conversation because I don’t want to conform to the pattern of this world, glorifying romantic relationships to the point where they become the main factor in my self-perception of worth, or worse: an idol.

Yes, I desire a lifelong partnership with a man. No, I am not going to let the current absence of that relationship cloud the truth of my inherent worth as a human being. And no, I am not about to listen to one of those “heartbroken” Spotify playlists and wallow in self-loathing because I am one of the two single people in Crested Butte. (I hate to admit it, but I am actually listening to the Pride & Prejudice and The Holiday soundtracks, because at the end of the day I am still a hopeless romantic. But I am cognizant of this and am still content with singleness.) And while I’m single, I want to be fully equipped to enter a lifelong relationship that ultimately glorifies God, speaks the Gospel, and does not conform to the “meet and fulfill all my needs” mentality of many relationships, if such a relationship is part of my future. Plus, the principles from the study bleed into nonromantic relationships and daily life in general. If I can begin to apply what I’m learning to my current relationships, I know I will see much more growth and glory in the intentional development of my relational life.

One of our questions this evening asked how we have seen John 15:4-5 play out in our marriages (and for the single lady: in my relationships). By abiding in Christ, I have been able to inhabit a space of grace and no judgment with some of my closest friends. In this, we have been able to build our trust through sharing difficult experiences and accepting each other despite our mistakes. A close friend recently shared how our relationship has allowed her to disclose her faults in confidence that I won’t shame her, but rather that her disclosure will reduce the shame she feels. How incredible it is that friendships can shed so much grace and love on even our most shameful experiences! This is how relationships – and not just romantic ones – were intended to be! Let us live in this reality!

While Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to express the gratefulness we have for our partner, I do believe it is sensationalized and places far too much focus on relationship status as the determining component in our value. What we need to take away from the holiday, rather than a screw-Valentine’s-Day or I-feel-fulfilled-because-I-have-a-boyfriend mentality, is the gratefulness for the beauty of relationship, whether with your boyfriend, wife, best friend, or bed. At the end of the day, we all have special people in our lives that deserve our love on Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the year. We cannot allow our relationship status dictate how we feel about ourselves or how we see ourselves as being fulfilled (or not). Wherever you are on this Valentine’s Day – single, married, divorced – I encourage you to seek peace with your current circumstances and celebrate the sheer love of those you hold closest to your heart. Each relationship is a gift and deserves to be treasured.

Joining the CrossFit Cult

I guess this blog post makes it official: I have become a member of the CrossFit cult. Now before you form a snap judgment re: my sanity and obsession with the sport let me just point out that, while I do believe in its methods and practicality, this is not the end-all-be-all of all workout regimes. I still do yoga. I still (try to) run. I still dance around when the house is empty. I still mountain bike (when it’s not freezing cold and icy outside). No one method of working out is inherently better…unless you’re sitting in the gym not working out (sorry, that’s not going to do much for ya).

I will admit that CrossFit is a cult. Those of us who do it are fanatics, which is clearly evidenced in almost every human being I’ve met who’s done it. You either love it or you hate it. We love it. And that is what really classifies it as a cult. Because those who hate it suffer through those 20-minute AMRAP workouts whereas those who love it push through the I’m-about-to-vomit progressions, knowing that they are not just gaining physical #gainz, but also practical and mental #gainz.

After this morning’s intense workout, the four of us were discussing this precise difference as a result of going through sometimes extremely brutal workouts. One girl talked about how she will sometimes look at the WOD and wonder how she will possibly get through it, but when the workout ends, she in fact was able to finish by sheer dedication and persistence. Because those of us who have done a CrossFit WOD all know the feeling of dread that comes before a Filthy Fifty workout. But having an I-am-going-to-give-this-all-I’ve-got mentality is the difference between success and failure, between love and hate. And practically speaking, pushing through a disgustingly difficult workout despite the inevitable doubts and tiredness develops the strength of willpower to a point where we ultimately recognize that we are able to take on the challenges that life throws at us: both in and outside the box.

For me, CrossFit is the intersection of natural ability and drive. That’s why it works. I come from a gymnastics and diving background, so luckily for me, all of the gymnastics components are second nature. I was kipping on my first day, and almost got ring muscle ups on my first try. Because of the precise movements required in diving and gymnastics, I have a natural proprioception and can therefore understand the basic functions in a single movement. Which, apparently, takes some people months and even years to get down. I only wonder why I didn’t start sooner…

Then there’s the competition factor. Whether competing with myself, the person next to me, or the clock, I am driven to excel. Though I would love to always finish first or complete the most reps, there are days when I physically can’t due to exhaustion, skill level, etc. On those days, it’s the presence of other hardworking athletes that keeps me going. If I were to do some of the workouts I’ve done in the box at home, I would have given up (whoops, so much for strengthened willpower). If I feel like I can’t get through the next five minutes or reps, I remind myself that everyone else in the gym is feeling the exact same way. But we are all fighting for the finish, because it’s only five minutes out of 1,440 in that day, and if he’s pushing through, so can I.

In the words of Tony Horton, “Do your best and forget the rest.” That’s what ultimately gets me through even the most vomit-inducing workout. I’ve learned that I can do whatever it is on the agenda for that day, and sometimes I exceed my best. Take this morning, for example: We did a 20-minute AMRAP of 5 burpees-to-pull-ups, 10 pushups, and 15 air squats. By the fourth round I had lost my breath (thanks, lack of oxygen at 9,000 feet) and thought I would be lucky to finish with ten rounds. As I pushed through the exhaustion and focused on what I was doing and doing it well, I finished with 13 rounds +3: well above my goal. And realized I could definitely improve that in the future. Indeed, my best determination had given better results than I even wanted. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, but I’ve learned that nothing is impossible and I can’t limit myself based on the doubts that come with exhaustion or breathlessness, because I can always push through (obviously I do need to take care of my body and give it the oxygen it needs and rest enough, but that’s a different story). The body is so much stronger than the mind, and when the mind is strong in willpower, performance exceeds all expectations.

CrossFit is not for everyone. CrossFit sucks some days. CrossFit is the air beneath my wings many days. In the end, what really matters is not just the strength gained, but also the growth experience. It’s really incredible what a single approach to fitness can do to transform both mind and body.

Hook, Line & Crampons

I took one glance at the giant wall of ice and, heart full of confidence, began suiting up for the day. Crampons? Check. Helmet? Check. Harness? Check. Though I was only technically on this trip to film and photograph the DC Burn Foundation’s ice climbing day, I was itching to sink my hooks into the ice as well.

Until we were standing around our leaders Jared and Jeff at the base of the icy cliff as they explained the technique of ice climbing. “It’s highly technique based,” meaning if I didn’t swing my hooks or kick my bladed boots into the ice with precision, I could majorly mess up. Suddenly my heart’s confidence turned to terror. Shoot.

I watched – and filmed – as the dozen firefighters (many of which had ice climbed before) made their way up the giant icicles. Some participants made their way up the ice with grace, easing the knot in my stomach. Yet others seemed to be struggling, especially with the height, which brought back my nervousness. Maybe I wouldn’t try.

What a joke.

At lunchtime, when I was sure the guys weren’t paying attention, I decided to take a stab (pun intended) at the ice. This way, with the guys across the river, busy with eating their sandwiches, nobody would take notice at my soon-to-be feeble attempt at scaling the cliff. My arms and legs already sore from too many pull-ups and overhead squats the day before, I made my first moves up the wall, my program director belaying behind me.

Knowing my slight aversion to heights (how the heck did I routinely do flips and twists off of 3 meter when I was a diver?), I kept my focus upward. Hook, hook. Kick, kick. (More like stab, stab…but I’m not a serial killer, so I’ll avoid that terminology.)

From time to time, I would lose footing or pull through the ice with my hooks, lurching my body downward toward the snowy riverbank below. Of course I was filled with panic in these moments. Falling to an icy death is not something in which many people would find comfort, myself included. But every time I felt the surging dropping of my stomach, the rope would catch and Read would still be below, holding me in my safely suspended position.

I was surprised when, about halfway up the ascent, Read yelled up to me that I was a natural. Say what?! Yes, a natural. Me, a small little blonde girl who has never seen a wall of ice, much less climbed one. I was immediately emboldened and continued my climb, hooking into the natural and already-made crevices of the ice, climbing farther and farther than I had originally expected. And all of a sudden, my new firefighter friends began yelling affirmations in my direction. I climbed onward, onward, onward until I reached the apex of the carabineer keeping my rope attached to the hillside. And then I looked down, astonished by the height I’d just climbed. I was at least ten meters above the ground, if not more. I had made it: my strength and Read’s support working in tandem. In all reality, I wasn’t that surprised. I wasn’t going to give up just because the climb got difficult at points. I’d started, and of course the drive in me told me I had to finish.

Now came the hard part. After taking in the scene below and around me, it was time for the descent. If the ascent took a large portion of trust, the descent required the entirety of my trust as I willingly leaned my entire body weight down and backward. I willed myself not to think about what would happen if Read lost his grip on the rope and just “leaned like a cholo,” as my new firefighter friend Luis would say.

At the base of the ice, I was greeted by high fives and celebratory applauses. All the guys claimed I’d shown them up, and some didn’t quite believe I’d never climbed other than in a gym before. Though I pretended not to hear their cheers, I was inwardly proud of my accomplishment. Here I was, a small, blonde girl, showing up firefighters’ strength and technique. It was exhilarating. It was encouraging. I felt empowered and strong: just the way I strive to feel on a regular basis. It was awesome.

Two things stick out most when I think of my grand ice climbing adventure last Thursday: partnership and strength.

Though I was responsible for climbing my way up the face of ice, it was just as much Read’s (and Will’s, on my second climb) responsibility to keep me safely hoisted above the ground. By going through the communicative commands (“Belay?” “Belay on.” “Climbing.” “Climb on.”) and beginning my climb, I verbally and nonverbally committed all my trust – and more – in my belayer’s hands. At all times, whether successfully climbing or losing grip, I had to trust that my belayer had my back. While I would definitely recommend this activity as a team-building practice, I realize it is not the most feasible adventure for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, it stands as an illustration of what a partnership is: working together in a trusting manner to ascend to a greater destination.

Spiritually, it illustrates my dependence on and trust in God. Though I couldn’t see my belayer behind me, I relied on his voice to direct me when I got off track because he had the big picture of the ice wall. In the moments when I slipped and began the horrifying yet momentary drop toward the ground, my trust was reaffirmed when the rope would catch and I would bounce back in order to continue my way upward. Finally, I kept my gaze upward. If I focused on the increasing distance between me and the ground, I would be overcome with fear, and would be distracted from the impending move I would need to take to take me closer to my final destination. In the same way, remembering to look upward and listen for direction keeps us in step with the achieving the greatest good for our lives.

Second, my ice climbing adventure reassured me of my strength. Of course, there’s the physical strength, which I admittedly doubted I had before I began my first climb. But it also reminded me of my mental resolve to continue on with the climb despite my shortcomings. Though I will surely botch life up from time to time, I can’t keep hanging on my mistakes. I can instead take these into account, learn from them, and keep climbing. Because I have a tendency to dwell on the negatives, this is especially important to me as I work toward creating a life of increased positivity and growth. And shifting my perspective from shaming myself for mistakes to accepting and learning from mistakes has already made a world of difference. It allows me to practice self-compassion and realize my capacity for momentous growth that I would not have otherwise.

If you’re up for the adventure, take an ice climbing expedition. Or if cold isn’t your preferred climate, try some rock climbing, even if it’s in a gym. I promise you it will open your eyes to strengths you had never noticed before. And you might just be a natural at scaling huge walls of ice…who knew?

As for me, I'm hooked!

Intentional Scarcity

Why is it that intentionality is so hard to come by?

We are so hurt, hungry for connection, and afraid vulnerability will do nothing other than expose the broken shards of glass we’ve accumulated in our bursting baggage over the course of our lifetime. When it’s too difficult to push through others’ resistance to open up, we back down. And when we are on the receiving end, we would rather keep our discomfort to ourselves. We put on a brave face when we’re truly terrified of saying the wrong thing, of sharing too much, of letting our yearning hearts be exposed for what they are: aching for love and profound connection. And so we retreat to the comfortable, complacent recesses of habit, whether that’s watching Netflix behind our closed doors, retreating into the beats of our headphones, or seeking solace in an established friend (I am guilty of every single one of these escapes). What we are really doing is ironically blocking out any opportunity for new connection, and perpetually propagating the scarcity of intentional relationship building.

Afraid of exposing too much, we construct walls to keep others out of our personal lives. When we build these protective dams, we are left with a shallow pool of recycled material instead of an expanding depth of new understanding not only of others, but ourselves. We fail to discover what we never knew existed through the exploration of those deeper – and sometimes darker – waters below the visible waterline. We negate our need to be known intimately and consequently hinder our receptivity to love and acceptance, whether intentional or not.

Intentionality requires us to be present, engaged, vulnerable. It asks us to show up and show our scars, regardless of how mangled they may be, and to be true to our own stories of pain and beliefs about fear. It requires us to slowly remove the makeup we’ve applied to construct the appearance of I’ve-got-it-all-together-ness when we know we’re drowning in our loneliness, in our busyness-as-defense-mechanism, in our messy lives. It insists we press into the awkwardness of asking – and revealing – how we’re really doing, and I mean the I’m-feeling-absolutely-horrible-and-worthless-today doing to reach new levels of closeness. Intentionality demands that we deliberately put aside our pride and our insecurities and invest in another soul, their acceptance notwithstanding.

Intentionality, when implemented, is a beautiful, spiritual transaction whereby two souls come together and accept each other because of their mutual imperfections. It gains strength from these interactions and is the only means of knowing another person and fulfilling our deepest desire for connection. Inevitably, we must go through the rite of uncomfortable passage of vulnerably telling someone we want to know them. But when we consider the positive outcomes of such a “risk,” isn’t it worth it to delve a little deeper?

We all want to be known. We were created for meaningful relationship. So where’s the intentionality?

Be brave. Make the time, because we all know you can make it. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. Show up. With all that you are. If we all embraced the uneasiness, maybe we would all feel a little less alone.