growing up, growing out, & growing deep

I’ve been in a pretty nostalgic mindset lately.

I’m sure that’s not too out of the ordinary, especially considering where I am right now, which is my hometown that I’ve spent all my time since I was a little girl. I have about twenty years of solid memories here, from learning to swim at three with my little orange floaties and my Dad, to graduating from high(home)school at eighteen and crying my eyes out outside Barnes n Nobles after my first good-and-proper heart break a year later. There are a lot of co-ops, and nights at the fairgrounds and unfortunate days at drivers ed, and evenings at the beach with the most special people in my world that are preserved all around town, accessible at a moments notice, kept in tact by the fact that all the same songs and smells exist that punctuated those moments however many years ago.

Some days I don’t feel much older than sixteen-year-old Stephanie, just starting community college and working at my first job. Honestly. I’ll still walk into a room and feel like I need an adult to help me do/say/get whatever it is that I’m looking for. Other times I see teenagers coming and I’m just like:

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I actually went back on Facebook (because I’ve thankfully/woefully chronicled all of my unfortunate teenage years) and I came upon this photo, which was taken by Judith while she, Fogey and I were at Home Depot midway through one of our forever long days at Edison:

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Suddenly I remember all the emotions and concerns and excitements that oozed out of my young, Pollyanna self during those fateful mid 2000s years and I couldn’t feel further away from the little girl sitting on that flowery throne.

I’m pretty sure if anyone could be persuaded that Never land was real and Peter Pan was waiting for them in that place between sleep and awake… it would be me. I mourned, sincerely with many salty, deeply felt tears that I’d never wake up to find him waiting to take me away to a place of constant adventure and where the impossible happened everyday. I’m pretty sure I was still mourning that reality well into my teens.

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Growing up is always viewed as this very bittersweet, rite of passage that no one can escape. I realize that I’m writing now as a twenty-three year old woman, inside of a sixteen year old girl, and that someday both will feel to be equally distant and naïve standings, but today, I write full of thankfulness to be well on my way down the path of no return, this whole thing we call ‘growing up’.

I was so apologetic when I was younger. I knew all the things to say in regards to my faith, but almost no life experience to back it up and I felt how hollow it was whenever I was trying to ‘convince’ someone that I was telling the truth. I bent my body and hid under clothes too large for me in order to apologize for my womanly body, like a good “chaste” Christian girl is supposed to. I wasn’t sure how to handle myself when people asked me to drink, and I hated how uncomfortable everyone would get or try to make me. I wasn’t cool because I didn’t like Hollister or Victoria’s Secret, and I read books I didn’t understand in order to fit in with the intellectuals I wanted to be like. I made myself look bad on purpose, with unflattering haircuts and almost no make up because I wanted to show everyone how I wasn’t a shallow teenager and because I wanted to avoid boys who were just ‘trying to get one thing’. I wanted to do well in school, and I enjoyed it, and boys only talked to me to ask if my younger sister was single.

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While I miss my untainted optimism and the rose-colored glasses with which I viewed the world, I like what growing up has done in me.

See, there’s this thing about time and experience and heartbreak and triumph and all the things that are rolled into unique little packages, handed to us as part of our stories. While we’re all busy growing up, we’re also growing down, deep in our beliefs and passions. We’re growing out, spreading in our influence and abilities. We’re increasing our momentum towards the fullest versions of ourselves.

I still haven’t arrived.

I imagine I’ll be spewing variations of that as long as I live, but I like this place of “not arriving” much better than my last.

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I like myself now. I know what I like to wear, and what I don’t like to drink. I know what movies I enjoy watching, but I can still respect post apocalyptic films as something well done, even though I don’t like them. I read because I want to, and I can blend into most environments I find myself in. I guard my days off as time to be alone, because I need that to be a kind person the rest of the week. I don’t eat bread anymore, but not because I think I’m fat—because I think I’m sensitive to gluten or something and I’d rather feel good than hurt my body. I don’t need eyeliner to feel pretty, but I can do a pretty killer cat eye when I need to. I can talk Francis Chan and Francis Schaeffer, but at the end of the day, I’m disinterested in theology if it’s just talk, because I know what it’s like to know Jesus and be changed by him, and no other substitutes, no matter how academically sexy they appear to be, will ever truly interest me again. I still climb trees and feel the most alive with a breeze on my face and music in my ears. I look for discomfort in order to grow, while still being constantly in the place called home:

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
Colossians 2:6 – 7

And so, my life is in a state of overflowing. For weeks now I’ve had this full, bursting feeling that I can’t quite name, and I wake up with gratefulness in my heart. Why shouldn’t I? Jesus is my home, and he is always and ever with me—all the other confidences are little bonuses that I get to enjoy now because I don’t need them.

This is probably one of my most obnoxious posts, but I am fully confident that me being at peace with who I am is a Jesus gift, and I love that. What’s the point of abundant life if it means constant dissatisfaction? Jesus strikes again, hitting all the major issues and is proved to be enough.

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So, I’m pretty much enjoying that.

i wrote again today

Happy Tuesday kids!

It’s been an action packed week for me; after being at the salon full time this week, I also had my first weekend doing overnight with the girls at the safe house and I think it went well. When I came in on Friday afternoon all done up in my salon alter-ego, the girls told me I looked like I belonged on the ‘bad girls club’, which I’m choosing to believe means something positive.

As usual, I’m really enjoying my day off, which is only in the very beginning stages at 11 am, curled up at a corner table in Starbucks, sitting still and thinking.

I’ve been writing almost every day this month, whether it’s little nothings on my computer, or my journal, but it’s a different sort of feel than my usual blogs. I’ve really come to love expressing myself this way. It’s gotten to the point where I’d almost associate myself as being a writer sooner than I would a film student graduate.

“We write for the same reason we walk, talk, climb mountains or swim the oceans – because we can. We have some impulse within us that makes us want to explain ourselves to other human beings. That’s why we paint, that’s why we dare to love someone – because we have the impulse to explain who we are.”

Maya Angelou

There’s something powerful about images though, especially when paired with words. This week I’ve been revisiting favorite photos from last year, in all the difference places I had a chance to spend time in. I think that’s something that really keeps me grounded—I never, ever want to forget how easy I have it here and I never want to take for granted all the privileges I have. Beyond that, I just miss it.

I feel really annoying on Instagram especially, because I’m constantly posting pictures of Africa or the kids and how I miss it. I don’t know how I could react any other way. I can’t pretend I didn’t live there for a year. I can’t hide the fact that it was almost a year ago now that I came back, and that my heart still yearns for that life, even though God is mercifully allowing me to be content exactly where I am.

It was a big deal to me, and I don’t know when it’ll stop being a big deal. I don’t know when everyone will be tired of hearing about it, but I’d imagine that after a year being back in America everyone is probably pretty done with my nostalgia.

But when I’m sitting here in stylish little boots from Forever21 that I bought with my own money, looking at the remainder of my iced caramel machiatto, listening to ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by Sweet and checking my iPhone every few minutes the days of dirt in everything I own, and freshly butchered chicken remains and my littles climbing up to peek in my window to ask for biscuits feels achingly far away.

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It’s hard for me to be here, some days.

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Right before I started working at the salon, when I realized I wouldn’t be going back to Tanzania, I spent an afternoon sobbing on the couch with my dad about how I didn’t know how to forgive myself for being here and having what I have, when I know so many people that don’t have. How are you supposed to adapt back to standards of living like they’re the only ones or the most desirable?

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It’s not bad to have a few cute pairs of shoes, but living in Tanzania I was ashamed to have more than one pair of sandals because all my friends there lived with one or none at all. It’s not bad to enjoy cute outfits, but living in Tanzania taught me that your clean shirt is for church on Sundays and you wear your one other each day until there are holes in it—and even then you’ll still wear it. It’s not bad to ‘not feel in the mood for more chicken’, but in Tanzania chickens are expensive and kids don’t usually get any, because it’s all for the adults and if you get it once or twice a week, you are affluent. It’s not a bad thing to make decisions based on what you personally need in situations, but Tanzania taught me that if something affects you, it affects your family, your friends and your community… so make sure you think of them when you make decisions.

I can’t undo my experiences, and I wouldn’t for anything in the world.
I just can’t turn it off and compartmentalize it sometimes.
I can’t forget my little ones.
I can’t forget their faces, and how much they taught me about a new way to live.
I can’t accept that the American way of looking at the world is always going to be the best.

And I just miss my kids.
A lot.

the feelin’ that makes me do wild things

Tuesdays are glorious for me, mostly because it’s the only day during the week where I’m totally free to do anything I want to do and also do nothing if that’s what I feel like.

I haven’t stopped running in the past week or so.

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Besides working, I’ve also been trying to get more involved with people still in town, and more involved at the church I’ve been attending the last two months. It all somehow culminated this week and in the past week, after work I’ve gone to a bible study, out to South Street, to a dancing class, caught up with an old friend from college who was in town, went Baby shower registering at Target and then gone to see ‘Gone Girl’. I was totally wiped by the time Sunday night rolled around… I’m pretty sure I went to bed at 9:30. I turned down for my sanity.

I very recently discovered that despite the fact that I’m usually quite good with people and don’t have a problem expressing myself, I have introverted tendencies (which would explain why all the people-ing this week wore me out). I’m now trying to respect myself in that and have since spent the past 24 hours totally alone and resting and it’s been so unbelievably therapeutic for me.

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I spent some time writing at the library today, both in my journal and for future blog posts. I made sure that I went to the Headquarters library which is larger and more inspirational as far as the environment goes, and snuck in one of those Starbucks Coffee glass bottles I found in our fridge somehow, so I had some extra incentive to create. I also picked up a few books there, one of which being F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Babylon Revisited’.

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I finished ‘Brave New World’ last week and so far I’m enjoying Fitzgerald’s two characters named Harry and Sally in this new story, and the irony of their two names is not lost on me.

Afterwards I went to my dance lesson at Fred Astaire studios. I went to the free group lesson this past Friday and they offer two private lessons for $20, so I snagged that opportunity and today got to do the hustle, salsa and the tango. I’m almost eighty percent sure that the instructor was just being complimentary because he wants me to pay for normal lessons when my discount ones expire (my inner cynic emerges), but he kept telling me that I was progressing really quickly and well and he asked me if I’d danced before or played sports, because I seemed so athletic.

I’ll take it.

At any rate, I feel like a stick bug or a giraffe sometimes with my twiggy appendages and it would be quite a thing to control them in a graceful and beautiful way so I’d really like to continue pursuing these lessons. We shall see. I do things once and by the second trip or attempt (with anything really) I’ve already got the next five years planned out and I’m an expert in the matter. I have one more lesson on Thursday morning this week, which I’m really looking forward too.

Finally, I took myself to Vineyards Park hoping that the thrift shop rollerblades I bought myself for $10 a few months back were still in my trunk. I was pleased to find that the case, so I strapped myself in and went around the little lake a few times, just reveling in the sunshine. Sunshine! I’ve been inside working for weeks (which I thank God for), and my poor freckles haven’t had so much as a flicker of rejuvenation.

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I’m a different person when I get to be outside. Something about sweating, physical exertion and the combination of a perfectly punk Pandora station (“The Maine”, judge me not, we were all teens in late 2000s) made me feel more alive than I’ve felt in weeks. Every sense was heightened, from the feel of the sunshine on my skin to the subtle fish smell wafting through the air from the lake to the sight of a large white heron swiftly descending near the waters’ edge.

I finished up this wonderful day of solitude by cooking quesadillas with Christina, who kept making me laugh as she deep fried her homemade chips in oil and I mashed up avocados for guacamole. We managed to pull off a decent meal for our ‘family night’, which has been a Tuesday night tradition for a few years now. No one is allowed to be out, at work or on their phones at the dinner table and we’re really only able to pull it off once a week, but I really cherish that time with my family. After spending so much time away from them, I jealously guard every second I get to be with them because this whole me living-at-home thing won’t last forever (so they say… ).

I don’t have anything particularly deep or insightful to share about my day. I just think it’s nice to appreciate wonderful days when they happen and celebrate the fact that there is so much good to be found in just resting. Jesus rested, didn’t he? He knew when to draw back so he could again draw near. I can’t explain it to you all, but somehow me being alone under the sun listening to some good music or taking an hour to write all the thoughts flying around in my head somehow makes me a better conversationalist and a better empathizer, so I’m going to need to keep that up–for everyone’s sake.

Meanwhile, my feet hit the ground running starting tomorrow, and I work straight through to next Tuesdays, so there’s a good chance I won’t be heard from until then. I have several blog ideas cooking up in my head, so we’ll see. For now, it’s time for me to turn in for the night; please enjoy some of F. Scott’s lovely words:

“Clark,” she said softly, “I wouldn’t change you for the world. You’re sweet the way you are. The things that’ll make you fail I’ll love always–the living in the past, the lazy days and nights you have, and all your carelessness and generosity.”
“But you’re going away?”
“Yes–because I couldn’t ever marry you. You’ve a place in my heart that no one else ever could have, but tied down here I’d get restless. I’d feel I was–wasting myself. There’s two sides to me, you see. There’s that sleepy old side you love; an’ there’s a sort of energy–the feelin’ that makes me do wild things. That’s the part of me that may be useful somewhere, that’ll last when I’m not beautiful anymore.”

Normalville, USA & still not missing the mark

I live!

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Since I started this when I was on the mission field, and now finding myself not on the (same) mission field, I’ve kind of been at a loss as to how this little blog can still be a thing. Ideas of re-branding and changing the look to somehow make it fit more with my life now come to mind, but ultimately, I’ll probably write this blog, promise to write more frequently and then just pretend that’s the same thing as doing it.

(Side note, this article embodies the struggle of my entire life: Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed”. Sound familiar to anyone?)

Upon my realization that I wouldn’t be going back to Tanzania, I was struck by a second upsetting realization: I need to get a job. I need to take care of my bills (few though they are) and occupy my time while I’m here at home (for however long I’m here), so I started looking for jobs. Through a series of favorable circumstances, I had and good connection at a high-end hair salon in town (read: my little sister has been working there for two years and helped get me the job) and so that’s where I’ve been close to 40 hours a week for the past almost two months.

It’s a nice feeling to make money again, mostly just because I feel like less of a burden to my parents when I’m not panhandling over dinner for gas money (my appeal ever grows, guys). My pride loves the illusion of self-sufficiency when I can take care of my own responsibilities, like my phone, car insurance, gas, students loans, and, as a new addition, an embarrassing medical bill that I procured back in July after fainting in a nail salon and being rushed to the emergency room for no reason.

Working at the salon has been an interesting place of growth for me. The general response from my closest friends was almost unanimously, “Does that mean you have to do your hair and makeup everyday?” to which the answer is yes, and to which we all had a side splitting good laugh because I kind of view myself like this:

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Someday I’ll write about my thoughts on how I got so funny about trying to look pretty, but today is not that day. For now, let’s just say, I looked like Pete Wentz for the first few weeks getting used to using all the eyeliner, but I’ve mastered it and now and I own three lipsticks, so life is full of surprises and miracles happen every day. I’m enjoying working there and getting to know my coworkers, which is good because that’s about 40 hours of my week.

I’ve also gotten the chance to start working with a local safehouse for girls, which is really exciting for me because I’ve wanted a chance to do this kind of ministry for a long time. It’s easy physically, because it’s just essentially hanging out with teenage girls, but can be exhausting emotionally because it’s we’re all people and people are messy and people have hurts that we’re meant to help with living people who say Jesus can save anyone.

I can’t say much more about it for safety reasons, but I’m thoroughly enjoying a chance to be front and center with people who need the love and kindness that Jesus brings, here in the good old U.S. of A.

—————–

That brings me to what God has been working on with me the past few weeks.

It’s all too easy after spending time on the mission field to come back and nurse this sort of unbiblical worldview that the only people really serving the Lord are the people who are sacrificing in a “radical” or “big” way overseas. For me, this was not how I spent my year in Tanzania; I genuinely believe that I was meant to be there, and there was nothing wrong with the joy that I got from being with and teaching the kids and living how we did. That’s what life is meant to be like for someone who says they know Jesus.

And so it never started out in an unhealthy way. I mean, some of the people I respect the most (like my parents) function as spirit-filled believers creating disciples and ‘pouring out’ their time and resources are doing so here in America. I didn’t come home with that much disrespect for others.

What I did come home with, subtle as the subversive thought may have been, was this staunchly held belief that my particular life would only matter if I was doing something “radical”. That may be okay for others, I reasoned with myself, raising my faux-hipster banner high above my ombre-d hair, but my life is going to be different. I’m going to make the uncomfortable sacrifices. I’m going to be adventurous. I’m never going to settle. I shouldn’t have to. I am Generation Joshua (whatever that means). I’m in this world to make a difference and stand out… for Jesus.

If I could just jump on the bandwagon of disillusioned twenty somethings who create their identity by blaming all their character flaws on their upbringing, part of that mindset comes from having read a bit too much from the Harris twins in high school, and the other part from graduating from a university where I’ll only make it into the alumni promotional pamphlet if I get my own TV show, but not if I move back in with my parents and work a job outside my degree in order to pay off the loans I amassed from such an establishment (we are the 99 percent).

Now I’m going to be an adult, jump off that bandwagon and say that this attitude is obnoxious, that it reeks of self-adulation and that it is my responsibility to take that to the Cross and deal with it with Jesus.

God forgive me.

Forgive me for all the times I’ve confused obedience to you with ‘making a name for myself’ (Genesis 11:4). Forgive me for all the times where I’ve missed the mark by returning to my last point of obedience, instead of asking you daily how you’d have me serve you (Matthew 15:8 – 9).

(The silver lining is coming, guys, don’t give up on me now.)

I believe part of, if not the entire reason why God has delayed my overseas trips at this point is to free me from that that mindset that I have to do ‘big things’ for my life to matter. The reality is that I didn’t do anything more grand in Africa than I’m doing here: I am living, I am seeking to know God more, I am trying to serve others around me and ‘be a light’ exactly where I am. Just because I had no electricity and less food choices there doesn’t mean that the people and places here in the Western, developed world are less valuable to the heart of Christ.

This past Sunday at Summit, we touched on a passage of scripture that has freed me from the tireless circle of “am I in God’s will/where I need to be/doing what He wants me to do” that I’m so prone to fall into:

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
– 1 Thessalonians 5: 11- 18

While there is obviously more scripture to follow this about how we can live in a way that’s kingdom valuable, it’s a really good point to start at.

Let’s just talk about how none of these things depend on a particular location.

If I live my life in Normalville, USA for the rest of my life, but still engage the people and world around me in this way, I am okay. This is God’s will for me, because I belong to Christ Jesus. I can live in a way that honors Christ no matter which world I’m living in, whether it be first or third.

I do believe my future involves more overseas excursions, still, by the way. I just (clearly) have some things to learn first.

And so, I am thankful–thankful that God delays in giving us what we want, in order to show us what we really need. I am thankful that He removes dreams for a time, only to restore them in the future, when we aren’t in danger of exalting them higher than He himself ought to be exalted. What a marvelously kind, exceedingly patient, and good Father He is to do this for us.

helpful, nice & heretical

I had an overwhelming sense of patriotism as I walked into church today. 
Well, not exactly patriotism, but just a distinct, unapologetic pride when I heard the name: Jesus.

It was such a feeling of re-centering after what felt like a week of almost missing it–trying to be understood and to understand, to share and to encourage, to be present and to empathize with others, sans one teeny, tiny detail. I’m at a place where I so desperately want to give what I have, whether it’s time or kindness or bits of truth and I’m trying to, but it’s all felt funny and forced and fabricated somehow. I didn’t understand why until I heard the name as I walked into the doors of the Baron Collier auditorium where Summit Church meets. 

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There was such a swell of love in my chest as I made my way in and a sense of relief washed over me. No matter how many times I try to do this whole “lifestyle gospel”, being a living example of the love of Christ (which I’m all about, and I believe Jesus himself is all about), I do others and myself a major disservice when I try to minister and miss the name, and the purpose attached to it. 

There was an “a-ha” moment I had in my head as I was on the phone with one of my best friends last night. I heard myself say something along of the lines of “I’m just trying to give helpful advice wherever I can” in the same breath as talking about how we all can be witnesses to Jesus wherever we are. And I caught that. It was unsettling. Why was it so unsettling? Where had I heard that before?

I love hearing the Holy Spirit talk to me and as I stood to join in worship, I heard His still, small voice with all the familiarity and certainty that He’s been revealing to me over the past few years.

Everything you are and everything you stand for is inexplainable and has no value when you take me out of it, Stephanie. You want to show hurting women how valuable they are and how to respect themselves, but you can’t make them see how without them knowing that I see them as valuable first. You want to hold and feed and love all the babies of the earth, but it doesn’t matter if you aren’t doing it to honor me and show me to them. You want more to life than just punching a time-card and you want to impact people, but why? Why do it all in the first place? You and I both know it’s not the whole “triumph of the human spirit” thing. 

You don’t make any sense without me.
What you have to say, what you believe, how you love…
All the elements are present without a catalyst, without ME. 
I am vital to you.

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Something else, which was so gentle that I knew it was Jesus, was this realization that maybe most of my frustrations with the Osteens this week was because I subconsciously see too much of myself in his ‘ministry’. I’m not a prosperity person really, but this whole thing about an extraordinary, above-average life and the wonders of a world and love and peace and beauty and truth–it’s too easy to talk about and too easy to sell instead of the one thing that makes all the pieces actually mean something: Jesus. In that, in my own way, isn’t it possible that I’m just as guilty as anyone? Isn’t it possible that the things that frustrate us the most are simply reflections of our own hearts?

And so, here I am, back where I always find myself and typing words I feel as though I have typed a dozen times over: it’s all about Jesus, guys. I must have the memory retention of a goldfish, but I’m thankful that Jesus himself is always willing to remind me what’s what and that he doesn’t leave me floundering in my humanity for too long. 

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
    but to your name goes all the glory
    for your unfailing love and faithfulness.

    – Psalm 115:1