An American In Paris

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( This is a post I actually wrote a couple of months ago, but never shared. I still think it’s pretty applicable to how I feel about the city.)

The first time I stepped off the train in Paris I noticed several distinctive things. First off were the smells: cigarette smoke, bread and industry. The French have an air all their own. They walk the streets as though they’ve already figured out the secrets of life, and some might argue that they have.

The first time I came to Paris I had no idea I would be moving to the city a week later, and I could only stand in awe at the grandeur that was around me. Paris knows how to impress a lady, and she knows it.

I am not from a small town, I’ve lived in cities or city suburbs my entire life and I love the busyness of my surroundings. The sound of car horns, men walking by with briefcases and beautifully tailored suits; buildings which stretch so high you have to align the back of your head with the pavement. These are the things that take my breath away.

Oh, and gold.

The amount of gold you can find on the structures, and inside and outside the historical buildings of Paris is ridiculous. Yesterday, while walking through the Louvre, it was amazing to think that the items that are now there, archived, used to be part of everyday life for the select few of France. What must life have been like to hold onto such an extravagant idea for everyday existence?

The rumors of Paris are true, when you walk the streets you can practically hear the stories of artist, writers, poets and intellectuals ricocheting from the sides of buildings and the pavement you walk on. The Seine whispers secrets to you as you walk its banks. This is Paris. And if there’s one thing that’s definitively French, it’s reminding you of where you are.

In Paris an American, or any other non-French nationality simply becomes someone who is not French. There are millions of us here. Drawn by stories, essays and works of art, which pointed us to this Mecca for finding ourselves. But who knows if anyone ever does. Perhaps it’s only after you return from the enchantment of Paris that you can once again resume, having been touched by the magic the city holds.

For now, though, we sit and eat crêpes.

We laugh at never knowing the beauty of eating a baguette sandwich, before we walked through the city of lights. We sit on metros, listening to the movie-esque live music of the accordion players. And, even if just for a moment, we wish this was our culture; a culture rich with wine and cheese, that makes you feel like you should be wearing a beret and eating more crêpes.

When did this become life? The lazy mentality of late weekend mornings and glowing nights that stretch into darkness is addictive. It’s like a trance placed over the city that cannot be broken, even by the bravest of liberators; mainly because no one wants it to be. While Los Vegas might be the fast and furious “Sin City”, Paris is the city that cradles you in luxury, blinding you to the realities of life, slowly suffocating the desire for anything beyond it’s clutches.

They say a person can be ruined by the mystique of Paris. You’ll never want to go back to the mundane reality of your prior existence, but I don’t think that’s true for me. Because, as an avid reader I know that struggling in the real world will always trump living a surreal dream of a reality.

While living in a trance may seem like a glorious substitute for real life, the reality is – life is still in motion outside this capsule of extravagant numbness. And while it could seem relevant, even suggested, to marinate in my own parisienne nirvana, I would prefer the grit of turmoil and hard work any day.

But I’ve never been one for the white gloved existence.

Because it’s when you’re hands are dirty, back feels broken and your feet are sore from wandering, that you really truly, deeply and completely find yourself.

And maybe that’s the real lesson Paris has to teach.

That perfection is never as it seems. And all the gold plated bridges in the world can’t help you on your journey to finding yourself.

Finding Home

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I can’t draw. Yes the artsy girl said it; because that’s the way I’ve felt for pretty much my entire life. If you grew up in my family you’d understand why. My brother is an amazing artist, and also five years older than me, so his artistic endeavors were always ridiculously out of my league. So, growing up, I never really tried to draw. I figured: there’s no way I can compete, so why even try?

You see, I’m the type of person who likes to be good at things. And if there isn’t a reasonable chance of me being really good at something, I generally don’t do it. I’m not saying this is the best approach to life, but it is just the way I’m wired.

I do like to try new things (and by that, I mean I like to try the same things with maybe one aspect that’s different), but the truth is that new things are really hard for me. I don’t like change and I don’t like feeling out of control when it comes to what’s going on in my life. All this being said: I decided to move to France.

Naturally.

It doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me right now, why I made the decision to move. While cultural experience and learning about other people is extremely important to me, I could have done both while staying in the US, or by taking a shorter trip to a different country. But I felt strongly and inarguably that God was calling me to dive in headfirst. Which is fun, until you realize that involves you being under water.

Homesickness is a real beast that you have to fight daily when you’re living on the other side of the world from your friends and family. But I don’t think it’s the biggest threat to ruining your experiences.

The real problem is self-doubt.

And I’m pretty sure that’s true whether you’re living in Paris, Seattle or anywhere else in the world. Life is always full of whisperings that fill your mind. Those little voices which tell you that you can’t do something, or once you are doing it, you won’t succeed or that it won’t be meaningful if you do.

The past couple of weeks I’ve felt really challenged to face my own self-doubt head on. A couple things have contributed to this. When I was traveling to Berlin I had a lot of time to think because, for the first time in months, I didn’t have children running around screaming every day. I took a lot of intentional time to think about what I wanted and what I valued. The people and aspects of my life that I wanted to make sure were part of it long term.

Moving to a new place allows for a sort of self-reinvention – no one knows who you are, so you can be anyone. The thing is, this can be both freeing and completely terrifying. Because it also means reliving the first time you present yourself, again and again, to an entirely new world. What do you tell them? What do you omit? It’s funny how easily we revert to our middle school selves when our rug of securities is pulled out from underneath our feet.

But I feel like it’s important to get these things out there so here goes. My insecurities are:

    1. I moved to the wrong country.
    2. I’m too geeky and shouldn’t probably talk about it.
    3. God time isn’t something I’ll ever be good at.
    4. I’m mediocre at a lot of things, but not useful.

Somehow, when you’re far away from your comfort zone and your support system it’s really easy to have all of these things slam you at once. But here’s the thing. None of these are true, and I’ll tell you why: Because I was made with purpose and passions that matter. And so were you.

So I’m just going to publically address these doubts, since I’ve been lucky enough to be part of a community that taught me to ‘laugh’ at the lies that surround me in times of discouragement.

First off, it wasn’t an accident that I landed in France. From the time I was a kid all the way through college I continued to take French lessons and there’s a reason for that. I wasn’t prepping for moving to France, in fact I doubted that I would ever even visit the country, but I really enjoyed speaking French. At the time it was a nonsensical passion of mine, but it turns out it’s one that is serving me well. Sometimes, with the craziness of living in a new country it’s intimidating to even attempt to speak/learn/enjoy/know French. But I have to keep reminding myself that this is a learning process and something that should be fun.

Geek I am. And proud of it. I’m a fangirl who literally makes a partial living from geeking out over BBC TV shows, podcasts, movies and fantasy books. And THAT’S OK. This week I’ve had a couple of moments where really geeky things have come up and I’ve been super reluctant to share my opinion/love of them because I didn’t know how people would perceive me. Hearing my au pair brother (oldest – 21) blasting the Game of Thrones soundtrack for three hours straight definitely helped. I also mentioned some events and exhibits that I “might, maybe, if you think they’re not dumb” want to go to (aka I WANTED TO GO TO SO BAD) and some of my friends were totally onboard. I will now be Cosplaying and attending a Manga/Sci Fi convention and visiting a Miyazaki and Takahata exhibit next week and I’m SO EXCITED.

My faith is extremely important to me. It’s something that influences the way I see the world and the way I interact with those around me every day. But it hasn’t ever been easy to be a typical “Christian.” I remember praying when I was younger that God would make me “sweet” and not so strong willed…because that’s what good Christian girls were, right? But I’m learning that God doesn’t design women on a scale of sugar and spice. He designs us according to his purposes. And sometimes that means feisty, passionate, strong willed women come out of the mold. What are important aren’t the personality characteristics – it’s the condition of our hearts.

And last but not least my favorite: I can’t draw. I can’t do anything well enough to be worth doing it. Has anyone else heard this doubt before? A lot of the time this one seems to climb onto blank pages when we’re trying to write, or when we have a really great idea but no immediate way to accomplish it. One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If we live our lives in constant comparison the only place we’ll end up is in a puddle of our own tears. There are always going to be people who are ‘better’ at things than us. And there will always be people who are ‘better’ than them. Trying to hold yourself to another person’s standards will never allow you to accomplish what you’re called to.

Instead, why not start to build a legacy one day at a time; piece by piece. I’ve really been challenging myself to draw or go out of my comfort zone artistically every(ish)day because I know that when I do, and when I clear my mind of the self discouragement, beautiful things can happen.

Step one is acknowledging my own imperfections and insecurities and that mine seem so much more exposed while I’m living so far away from home. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s teaching me that there’s beauty in vulnerability. It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but it forges the parts of me, which will become fundamental in creating a person that much more certain of who they are. And I’m ok with that.

Even Heroes Get Homesick

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Paris, France

“But all night he dreamed of his own house and wandered in his sleep into all his different rooms looking for something that he could not find, nor remember what it looked like.”

Right now I’m making my way through the forever-favorite book, The Hobbit. I know, I know, all the rest of you read it in 7th grade when you were sporting rainbow braces, but I was off busy doing something else, and never had the chance. With the movies coming out, though, I decided to make it my book for the summer (one of a few).

Obviously it isn’t summer anymore. So I guess I didn’t quite make my deadline…but I’m still determined to finish the book, and I couldn’t be more happy with my decision.

One of my favorite things about J.R.R Tolkein is that, when he writes, he doesn’t romanticize the struggles of the adventures (which, personally, I think kind of makes it more romanticized, in a way). Throughout The Hobbit, again and again and again, he writes that Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit longing for home. No matter where he is, how good or bad things seem to be going; he remembers the tranquility of his hobbit hole and longs for it.

I don’t know about you guys, but I often find myself reading books that seem to coincide exactly with the kind of encouragement that I need. Or maybe, I find the encouragement in the books I read, because I need it.

Regardless, if there’s one thing you should know about me it’s that: I love adventures. I love living them, I love writing them and I love hearing stories about them. I love holding my breath while watching adventure movies, getting caught up in narratives and being on the edge of my seat – eyes wide and ready for the grand conclusion.

This hasn’t changed from when I was a kid and I’d spend weeks reading stacks of books about people who took their circumstances and turned them into stories worthy of being passed down through generations. That’s what I wanted then, and what I live for now. I want my life to be a story I can read back to my children; something that will have them on the edge of their seats, anticipating the part when mom _________________ (fill in the blank).

Adventures aren’t just something I think are necessary, but essential for my life. I need to travel, explore and see new things. I need to have my breath taken away by landscapes and oceans, to meet incredible people and take my place among the millions of experiences the world has to offer.

But the perspective of an adventure can be pretty different when you’re in the middle of it vs. when you’re hearing it second hand. Hungry wolves chasing after you might sound exciting from the security of your living room, but while you’re actually running from them– breath staggering, panic stricken eyes wild with fear, it’s probably not quite the same feeling (although, I’ve never been chased by wolves, so correct me if I’m wrong).

As humans, it’s in our nature to romanticize the past. We tell embellished stories (especially in my family) of what happened, who was there and how many obstacles there were; a foot long puddle turns into a raging river, a 10-inch trout becomes a 60-foot whale.

The stories get passed down from one person to another and then to another and another, until nobody even knows, for sure, what the facts are. As the details trickle down, from one person to the next, details get lost and scrambled in translation – especially emotions such as fear or uncertainty; finally, we’re left simply with the grand tales of bravery – unaware that the hero or heroine was having panic attacks before they made their brave, life altering, world saving decision.

I know personally, when I look back, I have a habit of romanticizing my past.

Somehow things always seem better when they’re not in the present. Life seems so much more exciting in the future; so much more secure and certain in the past. But if I’m honest, I realize that just isn’t the case.

Right now, I’m struggling with a Bilbo Baggins mentality.

Maybe I don’t live in Middle Earth, but I would consider my life an adventure right now. I’m in a strange place, with a strange culture and language surrounding me. I have no idea what the next year of my life will entail. But, all in all, life is pretty great right now.

So why am I still longing for the past?

I love the family I’m working with, I couldn’t have asked for a better match in personalities, tastes, hobbies and general atmosphere.

BUT…here it comes: I’m homesick.

I don’t really want to admit it, because I thought maybe I would miraculously overcome nostalgia (and I did for about month) but this week the homesickness has been hitting pretty hard.

It’s not saying that I don’t love the adventure that I’m on. I’m making awesome friends, getting to try new experiences and generally loving life – but there’s still a part of me longing for my hobbit hole (aka Seattle).

I miss friends, I miss my routine, I miss my bike, being able to call people up to go watch the sunset at Golden Gardens, or to WOW to drink bubble tea; I miss speaking and hearing English, and I miss being able to effortlessly talk to random people when I go out.

It’s expected and normal for us to want what we had before, whether it was bad or good, it was known. And who wouldn’t want to be somewhere they know over somewhere uncertain?

But right now, I’m reminding myself of the beauty in learning to love something I’m uncomfortable with. And let me tell you – sometimes it is VERY UNCOMFORTABLE to be living in a country that is so different.

But that’s part of the adventure, right!?

I’m so thankful for all of you who have encouraged me, sent me mail (which seriously makes my week) and have generally uplifted me during this transition. I feel so lucky to have such an amazing community around me, and I’m excited for what’s up and coming in my life – even if it means missing my city a little in the meantime.

Seattle will always have my heart. And striking out into the unknown can be extremely intimidating at times. But I’m learning to accept the fact that even the greatest heroes and heroines sometimes find themselves longing for home.

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I found a beret at a Paris street fair. Needless to say: J’adore.

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Hope Unswervingly

San Francisco, CA
San Francisco, CA

It’s against my nature to hope for things. I was raised to analyze facts, statistics and data, calculate a potential result, analyze that result and then still never fully put faith in the final solution.

It seems illogical to get your “hopes up” for something that may not come about. Statistically speaking there aren’t any certainties, so why hope for things?

But, last night I was reading 1 Corinthians 13 and, while I’m normally enraptured by the verses everyone remembers, “love is patient, love is kind…” this time my attention was grabbed by the very end of the verse:

“Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.”

Trust God? Ok, I can do that. Love people? Ok, working on that. Hope unswervingly? WHAT.

I literally muttered, under my breath, “Why?”

Why does God command that we hope (and not only just hope, but hope UNSWERVINGLY)?

Hoping is dangerous. It puts you in a place of trusting the uncertainty of life. When you hope, it generally means there’s something out of your control. We hope for success, for things to go in the direction of our favor. We hope things work out, or that we’ll figure out a solution to an overwhelming problem.

The only issue is, these things will fade. They’ll break our heart. They’ll hurt us and make us never want to hope in anything, again.

This week has been kind of a hard one for me. A lot of personal things have come up that I thought had been dealt with in the past, but resurfaced, resulting in a lot of confusion and chaos.

But, while I’m praying and crying and trying to figure out things, I’ve continually been pointed to the idea of hoping in impossible things. For the first couple of days I thought, “No, I need something that will actually HELP me through this.”

But it kept coming, again and again: Hope.

I’ve never really realized how many bible verses there are about hope, but to save you the trouble of looking – there are a lot.

And after reading a few of them today, I noticed something. God doesn’t tell us to hope in or about things. He tells us to hope in Him, to find rest in Him, to know Him.

While I’m running around wondering how I’m expected to trust people, trust situations; hope in impossible endings, or extend impossible forgiveness, God says, “Put your hope in me.”

Like a lot of people, the Psalms are some of my favorite pieces of poetry.

In Psalm 42 we read “The prayer of someone who is in exile.”

This is one of my favorite chapters, because it’s raw and it’s human. In it the author talks about the emotional rollercoaster of leaning on God, and then remembering the past. They talk about heartbreak, they talk about “waves of sorrow” and questioning whether God has forgotten about them. In a nutshell, this has been my week.

But then, at the very end comes:

“I will put my hope in God,

And once again I will praise him,

My savior and my God.”

Life has a way of kicking us in the face. And I mean broken nose, blood and cracked bones, kicking. It happens to everyone at some point. Part of life is then getting up and still walking forward. But sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’re also faced with having to forgive the beating. (Matthew 6:14-15)

As Christians, it’s not suggested – it’s required.

But, it’s not easy. And that’s what I’ve been wrestling with this week. And I do mean WRESTLING. I don’t like being put in vulnerable positions (who does?) I want to be in control of my life, and know what’s going on and when it’s going to happen.

But I don’t always. And even then God tells me to trust him. To hope in the promises that he has given me. To remember the little whispers he told me a year ago, while I was curled up gasping for breath from crying so hard.

It’s hard to hope.

It’s hard to remember.

It’s hard to keep walking, in faith, toward the things God has called us to.

Sometimes it’s with no directions. Sometimes we barely have a path we’re following.

But still he tells us to hope.

I can’t see what the outcome of situations will be. Sometimes I think I’ve got everything handled and in a good place, and then I get slammed with a curve ball like this week. I get knocked down. I get bruised and my heart feels like it’s going to tear in half. But I have to get up, again and again, and keep walking.

Hoping for things is not in my nature. Life is too uncertain. And risking with the potential for failure is against my better judgment.

But God doesn’t call us to hope in the uncertainty of our world. He calls us to hope in the certainty of knowing that when our brokenness, our messed up perceptions of what is happening, hits us hard, threatening to break our resolve, we hold tight to the promise that he will never fail us.

He is a never changing, immovable God who challenges us because He knows, ultimately, that we are so much stronger than we perceive.

So today I’m choosing to hope – not in the uncertain, the broken or the flawed. But in a Father who promises his presence when it’s time to find beauty in those things, and rise again.

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Keep Moving Forward

Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow, Scotland

Yesterday I stood in a Safeway aisle, staring at toilet paper.

Normally I always buy the same brand, same size, same everything (I’m a creature of habit), but for the first time in years I had to stop and think. You see, I’m moving out of the country in 2 months – I don’t need 24 rolls of toilet paper. And, as I continued to shop through the store, this realization kept hitting me. I don’t need a huge container of laundry soap. I don’t need spices in bulk. I don’t need twelve rolls of paper towels…no, wait – I do need those (#artistproblems). It’s odd, but grocery shopping yesterday was the most slap-in-the-face realization I’ve had so far.

Although I’m getting closer and closer to my leave date, there hasn’t been a whole lot that’s finalized so far. I’m still mid process in getting my Visa, moving and packing up everything. But, even thought things aren’t 100%, I’m at the point where I have to pretend they are. I can’t buy bulk at the grocery store anymore. I can’t buy new clothes, unless I’m going to DIE without them. I have to get rid of stuff every moment I can. I have a giant “Get Rid Of” pile in my living room because there’s no way I can take everything I own with me…or even half of what I own with me.

The hardest thing right now is acting the part, even though I don’t know for certain that I have the role. See, I’m the type of person who likes certainty. I like order, I like knowing things are going to work out, and at exactly what date, time and location they will happen. But, unfortunately, that’s not the way life works – as much as I want to be in control of this situation, it’s just not going to happen. There’s no net, here. There isn’t a back up plan for if things fall through. And, honestly, that’s terrifying. I am a type A personality. I NEED everything on charts and graphs. I NEED to know everything’s going to work out. But I don’t.

They say that big risks reap big rewards, but risks can also produce epic sized failures. Realizing this is part of adulthood. As we get older we realize that grass isn’t going to be purple, no matter how many times we color it that way; just because we can imagine something, doesn’t always mean it’s going to happen.

BUT, the other half of adulthood is realizing that sometimes you have to stick your middle finger to that side of your brain (yes, I just told you to flip yourself off) and fight for that kid-like disregard for the factual and definite. Because, living despite the potential for failure is essential for succeeding, growing and moving forward in life.

And while risking big is something scary, uncertain, and periodically gives me nervous breakdowns, looking back over my life I’ve realized that I cannot remember a time when I’ve risked big and not been blown away by God’s faithfulness.

The last time I moved, even though it was only a couple of states away, I had no idea what was in store for me. I moved to accept a job in southern California with a non-profit called Krochet Kids International, and it ended up being one of the most impactful experiences of my life.

But, that being said, it also was nothing like I imagined. While living in California, I was so broke I remember looking in my bank account and laughing when I saw I had $7.11; the irony of having barely enough money to go into a 7-11 store, let alone buy anything substantial like groceries.

When I was in California I lived in a three bedroom, two bathroom and one main room apartment with eight other roommates – guys and girls. If you’ve ever had roommates, you can imagine how much drama took place amongst that many people in that small of a space. I honestly think if we had lived together for another month someone might have ended up dead seriously injured. But we figured it out. We survived that ant infested apartment… and I figured out someway to buy groceries.

I cried a lot when I lived in California. But I also grew a lot. No, I didn’t have the experience I expected from being a “good Christian” and volunteering. I didn’t frolic on beaches, greeted by dolphins amongst the Pacific Ocean waves (there were sharks, however). I didn’t sit under palm trees and tan – I started to hate palm trees about a week after being there (all I could think about were Washington evergreens).

Things were just about as off kilter as could be, and I really loathed to all eternity  didn’t like living in California. But that experience was essential for making me into the person I am now. Living in California changed me, because I stepped into the complete unknown and failed miserably.

Right now there are a lot of uncertainties in my life, and it’s really hard to try piecing everything together when I only have a sketch of what the final painting is supposed to be. But what I do know, what I draw from daily, is that I’ve never been failed in the past. God has never failed to see me through. He’s never left the role of comforter, guide and Father. And even though I can only see the next step of my journey, he sees the entire playing field. And I have to trust that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go color in some purple grass.

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Burning Bridges And Tying Loose Ends

Bangalore, India
Bangalore, India

Today I saw a picture of a little girl hugging a fish – a huge grin spread across her face. The caption? “Girl saves fish from drowning.”

At first it was funny. Then it was convicting. Not that I have a spiritual experience every time I read a meme, but my mind couldn’t help thinking about how often I’m that little girl – grasping for something that needs to be let go so both it, and I, can continue living.

The problem is, I’m stubborn. Anyone who knows me can tell you that. And I hold on even tighter when someone tells me to let go of something. Call me a typical Virgo, or just an overly tenacious Irish/Norwegian woman, but I’ve just never been very good at saying goodbye.

Lucky for me (*insert sarcastic grimace*), in this intermittent season, between where I am and where I’m going, my life is proving to be heavily portrayed by two words: Letting Go.

If I’m perfectly honest, I’m not the best at change, or at transitioning myself from one time frame to another. When I moved to southern California, I was nauseous for weeks because I couldn’t settle myself enough to enjoy my surroundings (mainly including the Pacific Ocean and palm trees that were steps from my front door – hard life).

But we all have to face change sometime – and that point, for me, is right now. Finding out that I’m moving halfway around the world, with the potential of not coming back for a very long time, has changed the way I interact with people in the present. Actually, I’m starting to realize now, that if I had lived this way before, I probably would have had higher life satisfaction prior to present day.

To make this transition easier, each week, I’m giving myself an “assignment.”

Like last week, specifically: I challenged myself to be intentional about saying, and putting myself in a position to say, goodbye to people that I had simply cut out of my life. That being said, in the true revolving door fashion of my life, some relationships have been harder to close than I initially thought.

This week has been filled with emotions (are you noticing a trend here?). There’s been laughter and tears, hugs and high fives and finally learning how to drop some fish that I was trying to “save.”

Relationships are messy. And being raised with a “don’t burn any bridges” mentality, and an over zealous social media involvement, has resulted in me putting many on “life support.” You know, when you’re still “friends” with someone, even though you haven’t spoken to them in five years, nothing truly keeping the relationship alive.

My social media life (*cough* Facebook) easily gives me the false feeling of having dealt with things I’ve passive aggressively swept under the rug. After all, we’re still “friends,” right? I don’t need to wrap things up, say I’m sorry, or end on a good note with people. It’s the perfect system.

Or is it? See I’m starting to realize that, sometimes, it’s healthy to burn bridges, to say goodbye, or to walk away from things that are harming rather than helping. Sometimes, you need to do those things in order to really be able to move forward.

While change can be good, never confronting or having to make actual decisions about past chapters in your life is not. It’s like never deleting emails – yeah, they aren’t immediately showing up every time you log in, but they’re still accumulating and taking up memory.

I’m starting to mildly hate that I have, maybe a couple hundred friends/family members I actually interact with, but three times that amount of “friends” on Facebook. Who are these people? Ghosts of past seasons, floating amidst the ocean of my news feed and shared viral cat videos. Do they know me? Do I know them?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being friends with people years after you’ve met, but what I’ve found myself doing is using social media to pacify my actual interactions with people. A habit that ends up being a lose-lose situation.

I’m not a fan of interpersonal shortcuts. I like phone calls more than text messages, and sitting down, talking to someone, more than Facebook messaging. And when it comes to saying goodbye, I’m no different. I want people who are close to me to be close because we’ve actually had a conversation in the past six months. I want people who I’ve decided are not healthy to have involved in my life, to actually be out of my life; sometimes, it’s ok to close the door, turn the key and walk away.

We don’t heal from ignoring injuries, we only make them worse. And, although, it can be painful to deal with them, I’m making an effort to enter this next part of my life in as healthy a way as possible; letting go of dead relationships, and nurturing those that are worth investing in.

It’s true; I’ve never been very good at goodbyes. But, I am starting to realize that I have an option, the power to decide, who and what remains in my life post this transition.  A decision I don’t want to waste. Yes, it’s terrifying to start everything off again with a clean slate. But it’s also unimaginably liberating to step forward into the unwritten future.

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The Truth About Mindy and Me

Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow, Scotland

Yesterday I started watching a TV show called The Mindy Project. It’s been on TV for a couple of seasons, so I thought I would give it a test run. I absolutely LOVE it.

In one of the first episodes Mindy, the slightly dysfunctional and all too relatable leading lady set on self-reform, says:

“It’s so weird being my own role model.”

And I stopped in my tracks. In fact, I opened Photoshop right then and there and designed and printed off the quote so I could put it on my wall. The more I thought about the quote, the more I started to analyze why it resonated with me so much. What was so powerful about this kind of declaration?

Well, first off, a leading lady who is self-empowered, successful (both academically and in her career), and is a woman of color, said it. Second, I think it was the first time I had my personal outlook clearly articulated in one sentence.

You’ve probably all heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I happen to agree with this wholeheartedly.

Personally, I’ve always had a huge struggle with comparison. I’m hugely competitive, and I like to win. Always. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but what I’ve had to work on (specifically during the past couple of years) is reminding myself that to be constantly comparing myself actually distracts me, and never empowers me.

Gathering inspiration from someone is one thing. But staring at their lives and thinking, “What the hell? How come she gets to do that and I don’t!?” or “Why is their life so perfect when I can’t seem to get anything together!?” is destructive.

As a Christian, I don’t believe anyone was created without a God given purpose. We are made to succeed and empower each other. Maybe that success means making people smile every day as a street performer. Maybe that means working to represent ethical commerce on Wall Street. Who knows? But I don’t think anyone is without a calling.

I’ve said it before, but the past couple of years were rough. It wasn’t until a breaking point last September when I finally decided to start living my life with myself as the primary author. And one of the best reinforcements of my decision was my backpacking trip.

Having weeks of alone time can give you clarity that is hard to beat. I think it was then that I really began recognizing that, if I was going to be living on this earth for the next 70 years, I was going to have to start making my own decisions.

No more looking around at what other people were doing. No more seeing pictures on Facebook and thinking, “Really!? What have I accomplished that can even half compare to THAT?” No more unhealthy comparison.

With the teen girls I nanny, I really try to talk smart about body image and loving yourself in all capacities. I remember being that age, and how hard it was to find someone to tell me it was okay to be smart AND beautiful AND confident. It always seemed like you had to choose between the three.

This week, we were talking about body image and how nobody’s perfect, specifically in regards to Instagram. It’s hard, because in social media people only post the good pictures of themselves. Leaving my teen girls comparing themselves to a standard of everyone’s “perfections” and nobody’s real selves.

We’ve had some really awesome talks about how important it is to focus on succeeding to our own standards (eating healthy, staying active and taking pride in our bodies) rather than looking at posts and trying to fit into other people’s molds.

It’s definitely a challenge. But instead of looking at other people’s lives, let’s take a second and look at our own. What do I have to celebrate? What have I achieved? I don’t care if it’s as “insignificant” as making it through middle school. That is an achievement!

The only person I should be comparing myself to is myself. I am my own biggest competition. My own role model. Let’s gather inspiration from others, instead of projecting negativity rooted in insecurities. Because tearing other people down (even just mentally) is only going to leave us bitter and angry – I speak from experience.

There is so much freedom in being able to embrace our own success. To look back on our own lives and saying, “Wow, look how far I’ve come! Remember when I used to be afraid to ask out random strangers? Now I ask people out all the time!

Ok, that’s a weird example. But, you get the point! Let’s start celebrating our selves and start looking at how we can be our own role models. Our dreams have power! Let’s not let someone else’s tabloid keep us from writing our own New York Times Best Seller.

Let your eyes look right on [with fixed purpose], and let your gaze be straight before you. Proverbs 4: 25

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Six Impossible Things

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Seattle, WA

This week I’ve challenged myself to finish a book.
Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, yes and no.

See, I have this thing about books. And TV shows. And life. I don’t like endings.

If you came over to my apartment, you would see an entire bookcase filled with books read ¾ of the way through. The bookmarks are still in them. It’s almost comical at this point. I’ve always had this thing about endings. I think I’m so terrified of reaching a “wasted-time ending” that, when I get close, I’d rather shut the book and imagine the rest.

The problem with this habit is that all endings aren’t bad. And when I choose to forgo the potentially bad ones, I’m also missing out on the potentially good ones. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. As a book reader, this is silly. But in life, it’s an all too real situation.

How often do we step back from something because of the potential for it going bad – shutting off the little voice in our minds that says, “But what if it works out?” Sure, by never taking chances, you can be safe and free from the embarrassment or disappointment of failure. But what about the rewards of succeeding in something that seemed impossible!?

If you know me well, you probably know I’m obsessed with Alice In Wonderland. It’s one of my favorite books/movies/tv shows. I love how it breaks conventional rules about how a story becomes relatable to readers, and when I was a kid I named my cat Dinah (the name of Alice’s cat). One of my favorite Lewis Caroll lines, from Alice in Wonderland, is about thinking up six impossible things before breakfast.

I actually do this.

At first it was just for fun, but after a while, I started to notice “impossible” things actually coming true; not that they were popping up out of nowhere, but that I was starting to notice them. Verbalizing, or writing things down, is an awesome way to be able to look back, and see your impossibilities becoming realities. These become milestones in our lives.

A few years ago, when I wanted to go to India, I was broke, I was a college student with a 20-credit load, I had never been out of the country and no one I knew had ever been to India before. But it felt right. And I’m a big believer in following gut feelings. When I found out how much the trip would cost, I sat down and wrote out how I could, even potentially, make enough money. It didn’t add up. It was impossible.

So, I wrote God a note. Classy, I know.

I said,

“Ok, God. I feel like this trip is something I’m supposed to go on. I have no independent travel experience, no idea what I’m doing, and financially this is ridiculous to even think about. But, if you want me to go, I’ll trust you. I have no idea where this money is going to come from, but I trust you to get me there.”

I folded up the note and stuck it in my journal. Then I went about my life, applying for visas and passports with money that seemed to come out of nowhere. I got offered a job that fit perfectly with my class schedule, and a raise at my other job completely spontaneously.The trip was going to cost me $2500 and, in addition, I needed probably $75 for spending money etc.

After buying all of my gear, getting shots and paying for passports/visas, I looked in my bank account: $2576.00

True story.

I dreamt about something impossible. And ended up half way around the world as a result. I tried something that had little to no chance of being able to happen, and trusted that the money would come if it was meant to be. It was blind faith, an unknown ending. I could have ended up getting to the end of the whole process and not having enough money. I could have failed. I could have wasted hours working my butt off, only to fall flat on my face. I had no idea, until the week I was flying out, that there would be a “happy ending”.

But there was.

That trip changed my life, in so many ways, that I couldn’t even possibly begin to write them here. Without it, I would not be the person I am today. Seeing the impossible become possible changes you.

My brother used to always say, “Fear isn’t in the present. It’s only something that lives in the future.”

When we allow it to overcome us, we’re, essentially, being crippled before we’ve even met our opponent.

For each of us, our fears are different. Maybe it’s something huge like traveling around the world. Maybe it’s small, like finishing a book. But, regardless, it’s so much more rewarding to fight for the impossibilities that we’re drawn to. We don’t know the future, so why fear it?

Instead, today, let’s think up some impossible things, dream a little bigger, and blindly take a leap of faith – or just finish a book.

“Throw yourself to the edge that you’re always scared of. Try being independent; do it your way. You’ll love it.”

Ameerah Al-Taweel

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5 Things I Never Thought Would Be Useful To My Life

Me being a nanny/Darth Vader

It’s kind of funny how life prepares you for things you don’t have any idea will happen. Sometimes it makes sense, when you have a clear goal of where you want to go next (ex. taking swimming lessons to prepare to beat Michael Phelps in the next Olympic games) but, more often, we periodically find ourselves in somewhat odd chapters that make no immediate sense to our life stories.

I’ve always thought it was funny how things fall into place, and yesterday I was thinking about how many perfect situations I have experienced in order to prepare me for my now future, when I had no idea it was going to be happening before a couple of months ago. So, here they are: Five seemingly useless parts of my life…

1. College Grades:

When I set out to do something, I generally work my hardest at it. I don’t really see a point of pursuing something you’re going to give half an effort to, and I don’t ever want that kind of repertoire. In college it was pretty hard to “care” about grades and how I did in my classes. I lived in dorms where people ran around screaming and went on awesome 2am adventures. I’m not gonna lie, it looked appealing, and sometimes I wanted to go ice blocking at 3am, too. But, I had to remind myself why I was at college – to learn. And now, the grades which didn’t seem to matter (the general consensus seemed to be “as long as I graduate…”) are being submitted to the French government for approval. Am I glad I paid a little more attention? Yes. Yes, I am.  (Also, it’s required to have your BA or an equivalent education in order to work as an Au Pair in France, so I’m really glad I have my degree in general.)

2. Backpacking:

When I took my backpacking trip around the UK I was just looking to get away and go on an adventure. I wasn’t trying to get a book deal, or trying to inspire the world – I just needed to get away. Although, it was an amazing trip, my motives were purely self motivating. Now looking back, however, I see that if I hadn’t taken the leap of faith in traveling to Europe by myself, I would never have had the guts to move to another country. Moving to France seemed so much more attainable because I had already travelled (almost) that distance, alone, before.

3. Working With ESL Kids:

Two of my five nanny children were adopted from Africa shortly after I started working with the family. While the oldest had pretty much mastered English when they arrived, the younger one still has some trouble with verb confusion and possessive nouns. But he’s learning quick! And being able to be there to help and guide them, while they master a language, has given me skills which I can use when I’m working with teaching English to the kids I’ll be a nanny to in France.

4. Taking A Random Foreign Language And Continuing To Practice It After High School:

Everybody is forced to take a few years of a foreign language, but most of us don’t remember anything after our academic requirements are filled. Honestly, why should we?  But my brother told me something after I had taken my last required French class that stuck with me. He told me to never stop practicing; to watch French movies or read French books, every now and then, so I didn’t lose what I had learned. And he was right! I would never have retained the amount of vocabulary I have now unless I had, every now and then, continued learning. (Also just taking French in the first place, and not allowing myself to be peer pressured into taking Spanish, which I never liked — refer to this blog post)

5. Being A Nanny:

Unlike many people who are nannies, I never had any desire to work with kids. The opportunity definitely picked me, more so than I picked it. When I first started nannying I had no idea how much it would stretch me as a person, teach me to love, and inspire me to become a better person. For a long time I saw it as a stumbling block on the road to my career success. But it’s only now, when I look back, that I see how important it was for me to experience nannying before I moved on to whatever the next chapter of my life will be.

Me being a nanny/Darth Vader
Me being a nanny/Darth Vader

Pratique, la patience et la ténacité

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Yesterday I was frustrated. I was trying to talk but had forgotten how to. The words were on the tip of my tongue, but I just could not remember them.

Knowing a language, and then forgetting it, is (I would imagine) a bit like knowing how to walk and then losing the ability to do so.

It’s a painful process, throwing yourself back into the grasps of the unknown known. Your mind has to catch up with your memories. And it can be an extremely frustrating process.

Yesterday I had to remind myself that I’m a student learning (or, rather, relearning) an entire language and that takes time. But as a perfectionist, it’s really hard to sit at a table with my tutor and start to relearn things I knew in elementary school. I want to excel, to run ahead and know everything instantly. I guess it’s a little piece of the brat in me – wanting to get things done WHEN I WANT THEM.

But, I think this is giving me more of an appreciation for the process of learning anything. And, in addition, a sense of awe for anyone who comes out of a situation where they have to relearn basic principals again. Relearning to walk, relearning to talk, relearning to know people, things or places. Stubbornness isn’t even a word that begins to describe what you have to be equipped with.

A reminder came this week, though, while I was reading with the six year old I nanny. He was struggling through the words, sounding out each one painfully and struggling as though he was pulling a heavy weight behind him. He wanted to read about his favorite soccer player Clint Dempsey, so he had insisted that the pages he read for the day were from the internet (instead of usual school level reading books) .

As he went along, he started to realize the task that had been put before him. It took 20 minutes to get through a paragraph. And that was with a lot of assistance, and breaking down words syllable by syllable.

He could have given up. He could have walked away from the table and decided to have books read to him for the rest of his life. But, instead, he pressed on. Grasping for an understanding of each character on the page. Wading through the sentences as though they were a bog trying to suck him down into its muddy ground. But he is a fighter, and he fought his way through each and every sentence. I think I learned a lesson from this sandy haired little six year old.

I learned that it takes practice, it takes determination and patience – but most of all it takes tenacity to continue on through something that seems impossible.

The ability to see things as a promising future, that currently looks like a horrible mess, is not a skill that can be taught, but rather, a piece of each of us that has to be discovered. Each time I go to practice French it breaks my heart to admit that I’m not as proficient as I once was. I have to swallow my pride and ask for help on words and meanings that I used to have mastered.

But every time I sit there struggling, I remember the tenacity of my little six year old, and press on. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about how much struggle there was to make it to the finish line. Only that you made it there.

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