The Darkroom

I had been excited for months. This was my second trip across the globe. Just a year before, I had experienced my first time traveling halfway across the world, something I’d wanted to do my entire life. I always knew I would go, there was just something about it that had spoken to me since I was a child. And here I was, on my second journey just a year after my first. A new country. New people. A new ministry to work for. I could hardly contain myself. This was going to be awesome.

And it was. There were a lot of incredible things about that trip. The kids I got to work with, the way the ministry ran, the positive outcomes they were experiencing seemed great. At first glance I very seriously wanted to go home, announce that I was going to be with them full-time, and pack up my things. But then something happened. The director of the ministry made a comment as we were walking around the property. He said “We pour so much into these kids and try so hard to provide every opportunity for success. And 85% of them go back to living on the streets. They run away. They get on the drugs again. So don’t get attached to any of them. They’ll just break your heart.” I couldn’t believe what he was saying. The implication that he had given up on really connecting and making a difference with these kids was the opposite of what I expected to encounter. There were also several times he was grumpy and snappy with some of us throughout our time there. I didn’t expect somebody running a ministry to be so negative. I began to notice that he was negative in a jaded way. A way that comes from years of the same hard things over and over without hope of relief. Without the thought that anybody really sees and cares. And I felt bad for him. I thought back to my first trip the year before. I knew there were things bothering that missionary too. She was good about keeping it to herself, but I had sensed something wasn’t quite right. I began to wonder. I began to ask questions to myself. Why is it that these people get burned? What exactly are they burned by? Who is doing something to help this situation?

When I got back to the US I needed time to think about this. I went back to my job as a barista while continuing to be knee-deep in ministry at my church. I had worked for the church since I was about 19 years old in various ministries and positions. Sometimes it was volunteer and a lot of times it was a paid part-time job. At this church, no matter what position you had, it was taken seriously. Your life outside of the church was taken seriously. There was a whole high standard you were expected to live your life within, careful to be an example to others. I understood this. I liked it. After all, if I had younger people directly looking up to me as a mentor and an example, I better be living my life in a way that was worthy of looking up to.

As I went back to life as usual, I continued to contemplate the things that were concerning me about these ministries and these people. Before long, I began to notice something. It wasn’t just something I had picked up on in Africa. It was something I was watching and even experiencing before my very eyes right where I was. There were always so many stipulations and politics within the church that it took strategic and hard work for me not to get sucked into a jaded attitude about the whole thing. And so many staff members that I knew well were suffering from being in the thick of it. They were burning out, getting hurt and worn by things. I would often ask them about it and they would clam up and say that they shouldn’t be talking or complaining about things, that they would rather just keep their mouth shut. There was an obvious stigma about being raw and real with the struggles that ministry contains. I began wondering whether talking about it might help things. Whether having the opportunity to be brutally honest about what’s hard and why might make them feel understood and less alone. Being heard and seen can be a mighty salve to many wounds. This seemed like such a foreign idea. I didn’t see this happening among any of the places I was involved in. That worried me. I wanted to see people have relief.

Later that year, I picked up and moved to another state to work for a ministry that I really believed in. My job was to host youth groups who were going to do a missions trip in the US rather than traveling overseas. I would lead them in working with various disadvantaged groups of people. The hosting part of the job I loved. But oh, the politics and the hurdles that occurred within management! I had the most difficult time with the way things were run and it became one of the most uncomfortable situations I had ever been and lived in. I was getting jaded and worn. And I had a prominent position. I was being watched- my life under a microscope so to speak-in my new town of residence as well as from home. I knew everything I posted and said was seen by the vast array of people I had come to know all over the globe. Suddenly I was stuck in a very bad situation half a country away from home and feeling like there was no safe place to talk about it. This was a perfect example of what I had been processing about people in positions of leadership. It’s HARD.

When I finally left this position, I was burnt and seriously processing what it means to be in leadership and in ministry. I was talking this over one day with a friend who is a missionary. I was telling her that it really bothers me to see so many people suffer because they get put on these pedestals and people are expecting them to be so put together and such an example. What can they do when things are tough? Who can they talk to when everyone seems to be looking up to them? How can they talk about the hard stuff that goes on without bashing the place they work or serve? Is there a way to be open about it and receive feedback that helps, that makes them feel less alone? I was frustrated that there seemed to be no answers. And my friend looked at me and said, ” Why don’t you go to school to be a therapist?” Wait what? Where did that come from? What does that have to do with anything? Are there therapists that specialize in working with people who are leaders or in ministry? This was not on my radar. I was a college drop-out. I was going to be in missions or ministry. I just wanted to solve some of the problems that come up for people who were doing what I was going to do. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to help. And maybe helping looked a little different than I was used to. But go to school? Could I do that? I wasn’t smart! This requires grad school, training, testing….all things I had tried hard to stay far away from. But the more I thought about it the more I knew there really was no other option. Something in me knew that this was what I was meant to do with my future. I had had these hard experiences working in the middle of these hard places and situations for years and knew what it could be like. That means I can understand when somebody speaks about the rough patches, the politics, the feeling overworked with no results, the unrealistic expectations. Yes, I have been through that. I could have empathy with understanding. I began to research. It seemed there WERE therapists specializing in leaders and those in ministry, just not a lot in my home area. I groaned. I hadn’t really wanted to stay in my hometown. There was so much out there and so many places to live that seemed more appealing. But I knew deep down that it was a need and I could do some serious good if I really worked hard.

Christine Caine-one of those speakers and authors I listen to relentlessly-talks about the darkroom. When film is being developed, the darkroom is crucial. It’s everything. Unless the film spends the full amount of time within that room, marinating in just the right chemicals and having the time to process, there won’t be a fully developed image. And how many times do we miss the fullness of who we are meant to be or how we are meant to function because we are running away from that darkroom? Often, I think. I have missed several opportunities because I ran away from the work it would take. And now. Now I am choosing to live in the darkroom, being submerged in the mix of ingredients that I need in order to be good at what I will do. Studying, growing, developing, learning, forming that clear image. It’s been one of the hard seasons. School gets intense. The dark can be lonely. I miss some of the stuff that I have had to cut out. I miss some of the freedoms I used to have that I no longer get. It feels so long and like it will never end. I spend a large portion of time afraid I won’t be good enough, that it will be too hard. I worry a lot about very specific things that I know are ahead. But it is a time filled with purpose. I know exactly where I am headed. I know why I am going through each part of the process. When I am finished I have big dreams of very specific ways I want to offer my services. I want to help spark some serious change. I want to offer relief and help others thrive and live vivacious and audacious lives rather than just surviving the days and the season they are in. In a few weeks I begin grad school. A new chapter. A new season. I’m nervous and excited all at once. Here’s to the next stepping stone in the journey.

Reasons you should find YOUR Disneyland.

If you know me even a little bit, it is no secret at all that I am obsessed with Walt Disney and Disneyland. I am okay with this love affair and here’s why: I didn’t discover the magic of Disneyland until I was 15 years old. I was raised by forest ranger grandparents and ocean-obsessed parents and my childhood was made of hikes, annual passes to Yosemite, and summers spent learning to identify pine trees by the smell of their bark. So when I stepped foot in Disneyland as a high schooler, an entire new world opened up to me. Something completely magical occurred and I have never been the same. I was not healthy at that age. My life was a mess and I was a mess and Disney just did something incredible for me. Over the years, the park has become my comfort and my safe haven. The wonders that having someplace like that can do for one’s life are incomparable. I’m not trying to convert any reader to the dark side here, I’m trying to explain why finding your own Disneyland and investing in it is not only acceptable; but wonderful, healthy, and worth it. Particularly if you’re in high demanding positions of service or leadership….

  1. Finding your Disneyland gives you something that is special to only you. So often we get so caught up in demands, in what others need and want from us, in the normalcy of routine. And having a special place that you are really passionate about gets your head out of that stuff. It allows you to have a mental break from the normal, the needy, the mundane and get your head clear for just a little bit. Cognitively, this makes your focus, memory, immune health, work endurance, and attitude more positive on a daily and consistent basis.
  2. Investing in your special thing allows you to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Whether it’s Disney or a yoga group you retreat with each year or a sports team, investing your energy and money in something that is magic to you makes you a part of something big, communal, and like-minded. This is a need built into everybody and it’s proven scientifically that the investment improves your entire physical health and the way you view the world around you! 
  3. Creating time to spend in your place allows you to refresh, recharge, and heal. When you choose to plan for and protect time spent in those special places and groups, your entire being goes through a shift. Your brain relaxes and lets go of worry, your body releases tension and toxins, you physically relax and rest in your soul, you smile and laugh more, you reset internally. Not only have I found studies proving this, I AM proof of this. I just went through several years of relatively intense stress. Last year, there were 3 trips in a row to Disney in which my body let go of all the tension I was holding each time I’d go to the parks and I would end up with a seriously upset stomach and headache. My body needed to release and reset and being at the parks felt safe and allowed me to completely relax and release and rest. Every person needs this. 
  4. Spending time in your Disneyland makes you more impactful and dynamic in your everyday world and life. I used to feel guilty about spending time and money going to the park, but once I allowed myself to be committed to this as a lifestyle, I became a completely different person here in my daily life. All day long I deal with people in crisis, people who are feeling like the world is terrible and life is awful and what’s the point. All day long I face intensity. At first, I couldn’t handle it. I would go home every day with the entire world on my shoulders. I couldn’t shake it.  But then I began going to the park more often. The more I go, the more it becomes this other part of my life that I have ownership of. I know every corner of the park. I recognize all the minute details. I know the smells and the sounds in every corner. I feel I have ownership of the place and my time. This feeling of ownership and belonging over something so separated from my life here is a strange thing. I am driving from my home to the place that feels just as familiar. Since starting this, people’s most common comments to me involve things like “you’re constantly positive, you don’t walk around overwhelmed like everyone else, you are always singing, you are so animated….” There are several reasons for this, but Disney is one of them. Going often keeps me re-focusing, refreshing, re-setting. And everybody needs that. Especially if you’re in a position of service or leadership. It makes a dramatic difference. Whether it’s learning to play a new instrument or to paint, being involved in a group, going to a specific spot in nature, it’s worth it. Find what does this for you. Take some time to experience and try new things. And when you discover what is that pure magic for you, commit to it for a period of time and test the theory. See if you become more vibrant! 

Reasons why you should update your resume.

I don’t typically enjoy updating my resume. In fact, I usually run away from it.  But sometimes those seasons hit and you have to face it. That’s where I’m at. And to my surprise, things have been different this time as I’ve pulled that dreaded paper out and prepared to tackle it head-on.  As I worked through it this week, I had some exciting revelations which I naturally can’t wait to share with everyone. So, I present to you…reasons why you should update your resume (even if you aren’t job-seeking)…..

1. Organizing your experience shows you exactly where you’ve been. Sometimes I completely forget about some of the places I have been and things I’ve been through. Organizing this reminds me of experience, knowledge, and skills that have been gained, strength that’s been built, and wisdom that I’ve obtained and now have to offer others.

2. Looking at your list of positions can show you where you HAVEN’T been yet and remind you of where you’d like to place your focus. I grew up in the world of musical theater. It’s my first love. In recent years I fell in love with directing and choreographing youth theater. I have always assumed that someday, after grad school, I would get back into theater. Audition for stuff, maybe direct kids again, even find a way to incorporate in as a therapeutic tool for clients. But what if  there’s a way for me to begin this now and I don’t even know it? Why am I waiting around? By updating my resume I am reminded that life is short and it’s important to focus on the things that you’re passionate about.

3. There is a hidden thread sewing together your experiences and creating something beautiful-it’s just not always obvious. If you can find it, you may gain HUGE insight about yourself! I typically stare at my list of jobs and experience thinking “what in the world is all this random stuff about?! I’m so weird!” But something interesting popped out at me this time: Everything I’ve done has involved a love of instructing and encouraging in some form. There is a common thread! It ALL involves a natural tendency to help others learn something new, build their knowledge and confidence, and bring hope, healing, and restoration to minds and bodies. I am a born teacher and I didn’t even know it until recently. I now plan to be a public speaker and an instructor at a University with my degree because of looking at my experience.

4. Having an updated resume at the ready allows you to rid yourself of excuses that are holding you back and live with an excited and eager attitude for any opportunity that may pop up. Making the decision to live with a prepared and updated resume is a process. You don’t just log onto your laptop and update things quickly. As you are choosing to spend time on it, you are facing the reasons you haven’t done this in so long. It’s impossible to work on your resume without thinking through why you haven’t applied for certain things yet or what you want or wish to apply for. As you clean up your document, you are getting your life into position to ask for that thing, go for the big one, and you are ready to say yes and quickly move forward when something comes up.

5. Updating your resume can show you who you are. There’s something unique about the choices we make when it comes to jobs. Sometimes we really do grab any job we can, but that is relatively rare. For the most part, there is something about all our choices that tell us a lot about ourselves. I can look at my choices and see that I love people. I love instilling knowledge and encouraging. I will never get tired of the look on someone’s face when they “get it” for the first time. That is like a drug I can’t get enough of!

I encourage you to give this a shot and let me know how it affected you. What did you learn? What did updating your resume change for you?!

Prologue.

The music wasn’t coming on. Something was terribly wrong. There was no connection, no sound coming from the sound booth. An entire audience was waiting in anticipation. I was managing the backstage. I peaked over to the other side of the stage, caught the eye of one of my actors, grabbed a microphone, and ran out onto the stage. She followed my lead, having no idea what I was up to but knew I had a plan. I launched quickly into a scene from the Broadway musical Wicked. She immediately caught on and didn’t miss a beat. We acted out the entire scene-no rehearsals, no preparation, and no music. But we sang the duet loud and strong. Neither of us would have fully been able to do it without the other. But together we soared through that scene, allowing the tech crew a few minutes time to solve their problem. And you know what? We did great.
Afterwards, an acquaintance whom I’ve known for 15 years or so walked up to me and said “Um, how did I not know you were a singer?” This acquaintance happened to have a degree in music. And did I hear that right? He was calling me a SINGER?! It was as if somebody had ripped off my clothing and my deepest love-the thing I love more than anything in the world-was exposed. And at the same time it was liberating and exhilarating. How was it I was able to jump out there and do that so quickly? Just 8 years before, I would have refused. I would never have been able to bear such a task. I would have stood there frozen and not able to think quickly. It was in this moment that I began to realize something. I may not have a higher degree. I may not have anything that appears impressive to show for my years thus far. But I have something else. Something special. Something that God handed me years before I even recognized it. A precious gift I was holding long before it registered that it was in my hands. That gift? Health. No, not just health. The understanding of health. Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, and Physical health. The gift of going from a completely unhealthy and screwed up mess to being healed and made whole. Oh, when I was going through the process it sure didn’t feel like anything close to a gift! It felt so painful I wanted to die at times. It felt like I was being stomped on again and again and again for years. But then this day happened. This small, 5-minute blip on the radar that opened my mind’s eye to where I stand now. And how every single piano lesson before I was even 5 years old, every one of the many circumstances of abuse and bullying, every painful relationship and lesson learned, every musical I watched or was in, every forest I’ve tromped through, ocean I’ve frequented-every place I’ve been, every one of the 300 hours spent on an airplane traveling to a place I hadn’t stepped foot before, every dollar and hour spent in Cosmetology school, Theology school, training for missions and ministry, every long and sweaty Zumba class and mile driven to instructor training taught me. Shaped me. Changed me. Formed me. Created me. Learning about health is long, exhausting, way messier than it appears, and leaves you with some serious scars. But it’s also kind of amazing…..
I’ve been very quiet about all this stuff. I haven’t spoken a lot about some of the harsh circumstances and places I’ve been, and how each of them has taught me a lesson about a form of health. But now I want to write some of this stuff out. I want to write about each type of health (emotional, physical, spiritual, mental) and some observations and things learned. Because I hope to begin some solid, meaty discussions around being healthy and what that really looks like. If anything is worth the thought and attention, your health as a person is! So sit down. Buckle up. Get ready to laugh, be surprised, and find things you relate with. Because I want so much to hear from you in response to all the things I’m about to post! Let’s do this.

Fitbits and La Croix Galore. A new beginning.

For 2 years, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do after school. And while I’m being open to anything, I long to be an expert on self-care. To travel and speak to groups about the importance of taking care of your mind and body. Particularly in ministry and leadership positions because we often overlook this in the name of the needs we are trying to meet. The problem is that for 2 years, I’ve allowed the numbers of my waistline, cholesterol, & scale to rise. I say “yes” to everybody and everything except making time for my body to exercise and for a healthy meal to be prepared. For 2 years I have been overly busy and under stress. Which means that for 2 years I have been a hypocrite. If I want to be an expert on self-care, it needs to begin with me. I need to tromp through the mud of figuring this out. How do you balance everything? How do you fight for and protect the time getting healthy requires while living a busy life? I don’t know, but I’m determined to figure it out. I’m done with feeling uncomfortable in my own body. Done with my lack of energy. Done with my health risks. Done being overweight. Done being a bad example of what I preach. Today marks the beginning of my journey to whole physical health. I don’t know where it will lead, but I’d sure love your company along the way!

10 Random Thoughts

I’ve been working on an actual blog post about something that is actually a thing. But in the mean time, I’ve been jotting down random thoughts that very often cross my mind.  Here’s 10 in no particular order. What kinds of things do these make you think about?…..
1. Life hacks. What did people do before Pinterest and Vloggers? I had the same Mary Kay products from age 10 until age 25. It wasn’t like I could go online and see what was new! Now I can’t even keep up with the rate at which the Kardashians are pumping out contouring kits.

2. Putting your phone on “speakerphone” and holding it up at chin height while you’re driving is NOT hands free, people! And doing it makes you look like a jerk. So stop it.

3. If you find the right thrift store, you will never go broke on the clothing budget again and even places like Target and Old Navy seem expensive. A really great thrift store is indispensible.

4. Nobody tells you that you might still have acne when you begin getting wrinkles. So you have several problems that often require different treatments going on at the same time. My face thinks it’s a tween and a grandma all at once. Great. Like we need another possible cause of identity crisis!

5. Choose one year and commit to creating everybody Christmas presents without purchasing anything new. Maybe even have a crafting party with friends. It’s fun to create things and get dirty, it allows you to spend time on something meaningful for people, and it is super freeing to save a lot of money.

6. Going on at least one big trip alone is amazing in so many ways! You will observe more, you will meet new people who you will probably keep in touch with, you will learn a ton, and you really see yourself in a new light when observing other places and cultures.

7.  I’ve found being very kind to people can get you places you didn’t know you can go. With a huge smile and genuine care about my waiter, flight attendant, the hotel clerk, etc…I have been ushered into some impossibly amazing places and given serious perks. Extra benefits on your flight because you were kind? Okay! Working for Beth Moore because you were outgoing and just asked? Totally. Waltzing into Club 33? That happened. We are more invited to things than we may think. show someone they’re not invisible and it’s amazing what can occur!

8. You can get literally EVERYTHING on Amazon. Even things you wouldn’t think of like make-up, vitamins, toys, school supplies and textbooks….and it saves you money because you’re not going into Target as often. (We ALL know what happens every time we go to Target. Go in for deodorant. Come out with $200 worth of stuff and forget the deodorant.)

9. This younger generation with Google and Siri. What happens the day Google crashes? You won’t be able to Google “What happened to Google today?” Also, kids, learn to read a map! What happens when you are suddenly in the middle of Africa with only a paper map and your job is to drive into the township and find a tiny school located in the middle of nowhere where the roads aren’t really even labeled? See how much Google Maps loves you when there aren’t any cell towers around.

10. Hand dryers in public restrooms. Has anyone else been leery of these? I have always refused to use them because I was convinced that since they’re a warm moist environment germs must breed up in there. I finally found the research for that and guess what?! It’s TRUE! A paper towel reduces germs up to 60%. A hand dryer INCREASES germs on your hands up to 155%! I just severely grossed you out, didn’t I? You’re Welcome.

From dirt to diploma

My foot stepped off that plane and onto African soil for the first time. It felt like a scene from a movie. I’d dreamed about it from my earliest of memories. Always thinking about this. Always knowing somehow that this was part of me. But life had gotten in the way. Messes happened, brokenness occurred, and years of healing were needed. Then well meaning people and society had taught me to shoot for other things. Think more practically. Until I remembered that I don’t have to listen to society. I am free in Jesus to be exactly who He made me to be and do whatever it is He has designed me for-normal or not.

This is what led to that moment. That moment that seemed unreal. Stepping with my foot off of that plane and into a totally different world. It didn’t even take a whole day to know that a decent portion of my future would contain Africa in some form or another. And it began to. For several years and for several trips it began to be a focus of my life. I began to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Many things happen. You get used to unusual. You get used to missing home when you’re there and missing Africa when you’re here. Your view of the world shifts and changes. You’re influenced by multiple cultures now. And you’re never the same again. I love Africa. I adore it. I want to live there. I often feel more strange here than I do overseas. But I also love that God’s dreams and plans for us are so often more than we might expect. While I was content with assisting and interning for missionaries, God had other plans. Isn’t that so beautiful? One of my favorite things about Him is that when we find a place we are content and comfortable in, He often pushes and challenges us. He gets in our space and steps into the most personal realms of our being. It’s terrifying. And it’s awesome.

I was content to kind of work with my head down. Humbly and quietly thankful that I had the opportunity to serve missionaries and experience these amazing things globally. Learning, doing, serving, running, watching all the cool stuff happen from whatever table I was posted behind. I did it for years at home. I loved doing it abroad. It was me. Until God began to stir something within me that I wouldn’t have seen or chosen in a hundred years. You see, I have never seen myself as smart or having a ton to offer. I enjoy hanging around people who ARE and watching them, gleaning from them. I enjoy coffee dates and encouraging a friend over a meal. But that was the extent of things. So I never anticipated hearing Jesus draw me back home in order to go to university. College was the last thing I ever pictured for my life. All I knew was that I was supposed to come home and get my Master’s Degree. I didn’t know all the details. So I began the journey. A lot of the why has shaped together as I’ve worked through my AA. And while I’m getting ready to graduate in 2 weeks, I still like to say that I have no idea what I’m doing. I just know that I plan on a Master’s in Psychology. I plan on specializing in therapy for people in missions and ministry. I know that things like being a single woman and loving theater are not an accident and I am meant to use that. I also know there are a few other old dreams that have kindled on the fire for years and I’m seeing some of them emerge. Some of them are not yet known to many. Some I’ve hid for a long time. Some are obvious. I’d love it if you’d journey with me into the next chapter and share your adventures in return.