not that kind of gala.

“stems face to the right, throw away anything you wouldn’t buy, and be done quick.”

simple instructions, short sentences, impatient glares. got it.

i have this new job and it’s off-the-charts glamorous. ok ok, i don’t hate it. but it isn’t my calling, at least not in this way. i worked my ass off for years in jobs like this one just so i could one day avoid having to work another job like this one. but here i am all the same, in a job like this one, with scheduled breaks and meals alone and slip-resistant shoes, and everything i thought i’d be doing at twenty seven feels like a distant memory. i cried in my car after every shift for a week straight because i feel so very low, so very defeated, so very humiliated. this job makes my everything hurt. get a master’s degree, they said. it’ll get you places, they said.

every box of apples weighs approximately three thousand pounds. i open it and start to do my apple duty, which i will have to do again in like an hour because apples go quick. i grumble inside my head during pretty much every task at this new job. i have hot tears behind my eyes because i don’t want to be here, i don’t want to be doing this. there’s nothing to learn here except good old fashioned elbow grease, and i think i already paid my dues. i scraped green olives off bar floors for three years wondering if there was more to life, and now these apples are my green olives from yesteryear.

i lay a whole box of pink lady apples before i realized i was in the gala apples section. as i place the last one in a perfect row, i hear “wrong section? happens to everyone. and stems are to the right, remember.” yes, yes. to the right. gala with gala. pink lady with pink lady. i rearrange them all and try to make conversation with Impatient Glare Man. he warms up eventually and i try to stay on his good side so that he’ll  smile more, or at least glare less. as i am mentally patting myself on the back for being able to charm the shit out of anyone, i drop an apple. DROP IT. like my hands are made of butter! and — get this — it actually split in half. right down the middle! besides box-cutting a beer in half (you bet i did), this was the second mistake i had made so far. a brand new apple, ruined.

“eh, don’t worry about it,” he picked it up for me and started to take it to the trash. “you know, it’s weird. the strongest apples are always the ones that break when they fall.” and he walked away.

and all i could think was HOLY SHIT I’M THE FUCKING APPLE. I AM THE APPLE.

and then i was like, NO WAY. are you seriously going to pick this moment, this exact place and time to teach me something, Universe?!?! seriously?? right here, in my grocery-stocking, uniform-wearing, hourly-wage job, Universe??!!

and Universe was like YEAH GIRL I GOTCHU.

so somewhere between this very random apple analogy and my very much-need epsom salt bath, i think i have my first truth. that’s what they say will get me through this season, small, real, profound truths. so, my truth:

i am incredibly strong.

i am incredibly prone to breaking when i fall. 

both statements are true. and neither one could exist in me without the other.

my secret mentor, Cheryl Strayed wrote the best book you will ever read and tonight in my bath, i read this: “coal mining is hard. but do you think coal miners stand around all day and talk about how hard mining is? no. they do not. they simply dig.

so i’m digging. admitting that i am susceptible to breaking, but that it doesn’t change my strength, because maybe you have to be strong enough to break. i’m allowing myself to feel all the feels, but reminding myself to simply continue to dig. and yes, i have a freaking trader joe’s to thank for this truth. more specifically, Impatient Glare Man, who i hope never reads this. the monotonous task of displaying apples got me a little bit further tonight. the Universe grabbed my shovel and said, let me dig for a second here, i think i found something. and? i have a truth. and that’s enough for me tonight.

500 days of [reality]

i think we all fantasize about our lives being portrayed in a movie one day, in a full-length feature film where people laugh, cry, and leave the theatre inspired to be a better human or something. and if you don’t fantasize about this, you just gotta know that i do. i mean, i also walk around convinced my life is ‘the truman show’, but that’s mainly because of the weird dramatic twists and turns it has taken and the strange amount of times i feel like people are following me around. but, i digress.

in this movie of my life, i imagine someone strong and charming and kind of quirky playing the lead role. like, someone with Olivia Pope’s bad-ass attitude, Amy Poehler’s charm and humor, and Blake Lively’s hair and boobs (it’s MY movie, okay??). i know i’ve only lived 27 years so maybe there isn’t a lot of material quite yet, but i do think about this movie a lot. it makes me feel like the things that happen are significant somehow, and that i have a lot of time left to make an impact.

currently, however, i think i am in one of those montage scenes. there’s a cute song playing, something by Sara Bareilles or Ingrid Michaelson. oooh, or maybe they would write me a duet that would debut in this movie?? (again, it’s MY movie) there are all these clips of me filling out job applications while wearing cute glasses and a slightly-off-center-messy-bun. i sit in a coffee shop and type away at my resume and a group of tween girls would giggle and gawk at me because i look so grown up. there are scenes of me walking the streets drinking cold-pressed juice and taking time to look up at the sky and just breathe. i would have cute bangs (never been able to rock them IRL) and an endless amount of money to buy lattes, even though there’s no job to pay me. you’d see me getting drinks with friends and reading at the beach and by the end of the montage i would look more real, more put-together, more whole. and after 10 minutes of this nonsense, i’d have a job! and a new apartment! and friends! and a life! and meaning!

ok ok so clearly this montage thing is crap. i mean, does anyone’s life work like that?! no. and if yours does, can i take whatever pill you take that makes you skip through the hard parts and get right to the better parts?? i don’t even like cold-pressed juice. the only time i tried to, it cost $9 and tasted like ass so i threw it away and got chik-fil-a breakfast. come to think of it, my montage would actually just be different scenes of me eating junk food and stealing free wifi in public. anyway…

the real-life in-between stages are painful and boring and long and slow. but i’m learning that this isn’t necessarily just a phase, it’s me figuring out my new normal, my new reality. above anything else, i just feel really lonely and i’m trying to squeeze into it gently. someone told me recently that losing your job can be like losing a member of the family — it is so true. a job that i gave my whole heart and all my evening hours and extra thoughts to is now gone. it is such a tough pill to swallow most days. i have tried to set boundaries, which doesn’t make sense to some people but i guess i just have to get over that. i do a lot of things all by myself, my least favorite way to do things. i have tried to convince myself to do laundry for the last four days, but i can’t seem to find enough reasons to have clean clothes. i apply for all kinds of jobs, everything from the kinds i am probably not qualified for, to the kinds that ask for the name of my high school. and i just…wait.

it’s shameful to talk about how i feel, especially because all my emotions are kind of depressing. i struggle every day with this question: is it better to feign happiness so i don’t make people uncomfortable around me? or is it better to just be myself, and risk the people not wanting to be around me at all? for some reason, it always comes back to this for me: i would rather be unequivocally myself, as sad and lonely and frustrated as i am currently and be rejected for that, than to be accepted for something i am not. i am not fake, i’ve never been good at it. i am too real sometimes, too much of myself. and it might cost me certain friendships or my place in certain circles. this process, it’s hard. it’s long. it’s lonely. so here i am writing about it on some little corner of the internet that i’ve called mine for a few years because that brings me a strange sense of progress, like i’m making an impact. even if it’s just for me, i can deal with that.

i don’t feel like Olivia Pope most days, but someone wise recently told me that just because you don’t always feel brave, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. it’s like this little stone in my pocket that i always carry around. sometimes i feel it shifting against me, reminding me of its presence. other times i am searching in every box and purse and drawer to try and remember where i put it, only to find it right where i left it; with me, in my pocket, at all times.

so, maybe this is just for me today. maybe i am the only one who feels less than brave, less than perfect, less than normal. but in case that’s you, too, please know this: we are so much braver than we give ourselves credit for. and no offense to the talented actors of the world, but montages are for the sissies. skipping through the hard stuff is for the weak ones, and i do not want to be a weak one. i want calluses on my hands and sweat on my brow to show i’ve worked hard and kneaded through the tough stuff, even when it all feels like tough stuff.

i still would really like to be able to rock bangs, though. and have spontaneous dance scenes erupt around me as i walk to work. #lifegoals

 

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is anybody out there?

i used to send screenshots of my calendar to my friends with a “LOLLZ SO BUSY I COULD DIE” comment or two. i filled my every hour with meetings and coffee dates and homework and errands. it was all scheduled out, like most working adults, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day, amiright? i loved the busy days — tuesdays were my favorite. they always started with an early coffee and ended with late night laughs from students who gathered on my couches and left their trash and drank hot tea. and between those bookends, i squeezed as much productivity in between as i possibly could. okay, sometimes i would take a nap in the afternoon, but it was always just to prepare myself for the late night laughter. i was busy a lot and i loved it. as in, if there was a day with a lot of blank space on my calendar, i would fill it up on purpose. i always had something to do or someone to be with. life makes sense for me when it’s busy. i feel like i have a purpose, like i’m needed, like i mean something.

the busy ended a lot sooner than i would have dreamed. in its wake it has left a lot of hopelessness, anxiety, and – if i’m honest – a deeper sadness than i have ever known. my days are less busy, my hours are less full. i drink less coffee because i get more sleep and that is not a good thing in my book. i check my phone every hour and remember what i normally did at this time, just three weeks ago. sometimes it makes me glad i don’t have to sit through another bullshit meeting. other times i could cry realizing i don’t get to sit on my couch with them anymore, at least not in the same way. i scroll through the pictures of the life i used to have and my emotions are a strange mix of jealousy and anger and quiet sadness. i bottle it up and store it on my bedside table and wait for the perfect moment to let the shit hit the fan because i’m super healthy like that. my therapist told me to keep a gratitude journal or go for a drive instead — but this is the closest thing i have to a journal right now because my whole life is packed up.  so here i am, to let this shit out. not for you, not for anyone else, but really just for me. and my poor, sweet, innocent therapist. god she’s the best.

things that i have learned/have been confirmed since being unemployed:

1. i suck at being alone.

2. instagram is literally the worst. comparison, jealousy, ignorance, passive aggression, and hunger are the only things i see/feel when i scroll and i’m over it.

3. my need to feel busy is synonymous with my need to feel purposeful. i want my life to matter.

4. three hours with a toddler is still really hard for me.

5. my laptop in a coffee shop can only keep me company for so long before i go basically insane. i’ve told my life story to at least twelve strangers this week and i don’t even feel weird about it.

6. adventure fuels my fire. spontaneity is my drug of choice.

7. amy poehler is the best medicine always forever amen.

8. i should blog more.

9. cops don’t care that you just lost your job. the WILL still give you a ticket and they WILL be mean and you WILL see them in court because i don’t watch Scandal for nothing, Officer Neadles!!!!!!

10. i have the bestest friends + home team in the whole world. reminds me of this quote: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen

in conclusion: don’t ask anyone but me for details about what happened because it’s like effing TMZ out there; don’t ask me what’s next because i have no clue. except that i’m running away to a beach in Australia for two weeks and I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED SO BYE AMERICA; don’t take my sarcastic and pithy blog posts/texts/instagram captions as meaning anything other than i am doing the best with what i am working with and you just have to be okay with that or GTFO.

“set your life on fire; seek those who fan your flames.” -Rumi.

RUMI JUST GETS ME OKAY.

moments.

every time i sit down to tell this little corner of the world what it is i love the most, i feel like i’m saying what i’ve said a million times before. and then i second-guess my choice of words, and i think that maybe people only think of the way my words annoy them, or maybe they just don’t get it and move on to read the words of men and women more famous or profound than someone like me. i think i’m forgotten or ignored, which is the most painful feeling to feel.

every time i sit down to think about why i am where i am, my mind is flooded with the stories that all happened before this one. i think of the whining and complaining i did to get here, and i think about all the missteps i took, all the signs i read wrong, all the backtracking i did. and i think that people are judging me for the perfection i lack, when really i just feel like i wasn’t taught any better.

every time i sit down to plan what’s next for me, i am amazed at the dreams my heart can come up with. the feeling of “more” is so large in this room, it could drown me. and it makes me think of the stories i want to tell my kids and my neighbors and my brothers about my life. i think of the speech my best friends gave at my wedding, the one that mentioned how they saw in me a desire for more, for bigger, for better. and i think of how there’s nothing better than being known so thoroughly.

every time i sit down to take stock of what’s going on in my heart and my life and my world, i think of stories. i think of the student leaders who let me in our their journey of discovering who they are and who they’re meant to be in the world. i think of the 18 year olds who sit in my office and tell me about the Lifetime movies that have been their lives. i think of the women who sit on my couch and stain my shoulders with their tears because broken hearts hurt like nothing else. i think of the moments i get to be a part of, i think of the words i get to share, i think of the laughter and the late nights and the ice cream and the long walks and the brave steps. and i think of the friends who make me better, who love me anyway, who fear no evil when i’m scared shitless.

every time i sit down to rest, i exhale. because this is enough, i am enough.

 

next. [from the archives]

When you graduate college, they tell you to anticipate the repeat of, “So do you have any idea what’s next?” for at least a year. At least, that’s what they told me. But several years later, I’m still hearing that question over and over. Sometimes, I even hear it in my own head.

There isn’t a book called “Next” that you receive in the mail along with your diploma. You can’t Google “what should I do with my life?” and expect a personalized answer. They don’t make a Next pill that introduces new concepts to your brain, and you can’t even follow anyone else’s Next because it’s usually starkly different than what you want your Next to be.

And yet, our culture is obsessed with this four-letter-word.

“So, do you have any idea what’s next?”

I worked as a bartender in Pasadena, CA for two years after I graduated college. Yep, I used my liberal arts degree to mix vodka-tonics and scrape green olives off the floor. In many ways, I loved that season. But approximately 300 times a day, some semi-intoxicated patron would ask me, “so what are you going to do with your degree?” I would always half-smile and say, “This!” And their look of pity was equal parts entertaining and nauseating.

When I finally figured out what was next – an entry level job at a higher education institution – I felt like a champion. Like I was crossing a finish line with a number pinned to my chest and an ice cold Gatorade waiting for me. I moved across the country to a state I’ve never lived in, and entered my new chapter with a nerd smile. “Next, party of one!”

And on my first day, my new boss asked me, “So what’s next? Grad school?”

I kindly told him that I would love to revisit this conversation as soon as I unpacked from my cross-country-move 17 hours ago.

My empty left ring finger made for even more Next questions, especially once I started dating someone. “Is he ‘the one?’” “It seems like it’s getting serious…what’s next for you two? Do you think he’ll propose?”

Fourteen months later, my left ring finger was occupied and I put on my “I MADE IT TO NEXT” sash and waved to all the little people who believed in me. I finally got there. Next, population: ME.

But we’re getting married in 3 months, and my grandma has already asked me twice when we’ll be having babies. And everyone has asked how long we’re planning on staying in Dallas. And no one has made me feel like I’ve gotten anywhere; only that there’s more to get to and until I find Next, I won’t be happy.

Round and round goes the Next game. We are all guilty of inquiring about everyone else’s next chapter, next job, next exciting thing to talk about.

The worst is that it’s in my own mind. I’m always worrying about what will come next. Where we live, what I will do, when we should transition to another state, another job, another next. I think like a wife, when I’m still just me. So no, dear reader, I am not immune to this mindset of Next. Unfortunately, I’ve become obsessed with it.

I cried for months, longing for a job exactly like the one I have today. And now that I have it, I want something else. I don’t love the geography of where I live right now, and I miss home. So I want to go back to California next. Who knows if anything would even change if I got back there; I just know that every time I see palm tree pictures on Instagram, my heart aches in a deep place. And my mind stays there, in that place that I do not live, hoping that I can get there Next.

But what about Now?

I’ve been told that it’s important to be constantly aware of what season you’re in, spiritually speaking. I think there are seasons for Next, but I also think there are seasons for Now. And I’m currently longing to get back to Now. I’ve been so obsessed with Next (which I hear is pretty standard for an engaged woman) that I’ve forgotten Now. I’ve forgotten who I am presently, what I’m doing in this moment, and whose life I can impact today.

I miss Now, and I want to get back there.

My name is Rachel, and I am a Next addict. But I’m working on it.

in the end [we’re all the same.]

i always tell people that my favorite movie is the breakfast club. if you haven’t seen it, drop everything and watch it right. this. minute. if you have seen it, then you know i mean “favorite movie” in the sense that lucky boys is my “favorite breakfast burrito place” — everything about it is perfect, but it’s not something i could do every day unless i want to end up fat and miserable. the film doesn’t make me fat, but any time i hear the first few strums in that simple minds song, i’m pretty much already ugly-crying.

the breakfast club is on a long list of movies my dad made me watch because “he swore they were awesome”. some others on this list included: fargo (literally what is happening), brazil (the title makes no sense), and soylent green (i just can’t). so imagine my eye-roll when my dad carved out time in his day to show me yet another movie. (mind you, this is before smartphones could silently entertain teenagers while they’re parents tried to hang out with them.) well i can tell you that i was proven wrong that day; my dad had picked a winner. within minutes i was sold to the story of the brain, the athlete, the basketcase, the princess, and the criminal. the lives of five high school students — all from very different worlds — intersected on a saturday morning spent serving time at the mercy of their principal for crimes they committed against the humanity of secondary education. john hughes’ gift of story-writing just comes alive in this film, and i am better because i have seen it.

i have a framed picture of these five individuals that i’ve long kept in my office, with a david bowie quote from the beginning of the movie: “and these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, they are immune to your consultations. they are quite aware of what they are going through.”  i keep this picture in plain view, in an attempt to continually remind myself of the very potent truth the film portrays: there is a deep, real, raw level of humanness that we all possess. when we are most vulnerable, most exposed, and most honest, we all quietly admit that we just want to be accepted, loved, enough. we want to be acknowledged and believed in, and reminded that we are not alone in this thing.

when i have hard conversations with college students who have made terrible mistakes, i keep this picture in mind. i see it when i sit on my couch with young women who trust me with the deepest corners of their hearts, when i mediate conversations between co-workers who are fighting because life is just so messy sometimes. i think of it when i feel the resistance of students who hate me for enforcing the rules they agreed to follow, when they lie through their teeth even though they know i only ask questions i already know the answers to. i remember their humanness and i keep it mind as i figure out a way to encourage them along to the answers.  i constantly try to remember that they have their whole heart in this thing and they are all just trying to make it, experiencing their own stretching and growing as their lives intersect with others. these years are hard and gross and long and yet sacred and fragrant, and wonderfully, impossibly short. i think of their unstable identities and misguided momentum every time i walk back in through the doors of this home of mine. i wish they could see me carefully craft together their discipline letters, where all i want is to help them. i know it’s hard. i think of them, i do. and it makes me treat them better, speak more tenderly, listen more fully.

and sometimes i am confronted with my own raw humanness. there are moments where i am most vulnerable, most exposed, and most honest. it is in those moments i remember that i, too, just want to be accepted, loved, and enough. i am just like them, lost and trying to figure it out. i am just like them, with an insatiable thirst for a more wild and colorful life. i am just like them, amazed that sometimes, despite my best and most authentic efforts, i have disappointed them. i have proven my finite humanness and limitations. and those moments hurt like hell.

however, in my five years of working and living amongst college students, i have found that there is nothing sweeter than these moments. the moments of saying all the goodbyes, reading all the notes, and having nothing else to do except cry hot tears in the parking lot of trader joes because i’m just going to miss them so much. or the moments of feeling so simultaneously loved and uplifted and yet so betrayed and misunderstood that i am rendered speechless and laying on my bathroom floor. it is in those moments that i feel like i can’t wait to do another year of this but also i want to quit right now so i can rid myself of all these feelings. it is in those moments that i understand these students all the more. i get it. i am no different than any of you. my heart is fully in this thing, and it sucks. and it’s awesome. but it sucks.

i’m self-aware enough to know that i have a lot more years behind me than i do ahead of me in this crazy weird work that i do. and whatever is next will, i’m sure, take up a lot of my words in this tiny internet corner. but for now, i rest in the fact that of all the millions of things that separate all of us from each other, there is a real, tactile, beautiful thing that binds us that we cannot deny; our humanness. i think keeping that in mind may just help us treat each other a little bit better.

 

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and then there was me.

every year at about this time for the last few years, i have so many feels. i feel so happy to have spent the last nine months with incredible students. i had the most perfect staff i could have asked for in my homecoming year at APU. i feel so sad that this season is ending and in a lot of ways i feel like i’m getting dumped so i want to eat lots of ice cream. i also feel so excited for the next season each of them is stepping into. i feel so proud of the growth and passion each one has exemplified. i feel so encouraged by the ways they have made much of Jesus this year. i am better now than i was, and i could do this whole thing all over again and still want more.

i have a friend who loves plants, and in her modest los angeles apartment she has a few hanging plants. while i joked that her living room looked like a jungle, she told me a story about these plants. she said that she tried to trim the hanging vines but shortly after doing so, the vines doubled and tripled and grew even longer than before. the pruning makes them grow, she said. it’s almost uncontrollable.

and as i think back on this year and reflect on the situations that i found myself in, i kind of feel like that. i see the vines that needed to be pruned. i see the ways i thought i was the best i’d ever be, and was swiftly reminded i am but a work in progress and Jesus is nowhere near through with me yet. i see the times where my vines were cut off at the root and then drenched in holy water so i could grow. and oh Lord did i grow. i kind of feel so much like that plant in my friend’s living room.

in case i haven’t said so publicly enough yet, college students are my jam — i am so richly blessed to have lived life alongside some of the world’s greatest this year. i am so unworthy of the joy i’ve experienced. the broken and tear-filled conversations chiseled away at my being. the laughter and inside jokes and ridiculous amount of text messages filled me up with those intangible perfect experiences that keep our souls afloat. i am thankful for the ways Jesus showed up this year: in floods and fire-alarms and talent shows and study sessions and early mornings and late nights and coffee cups and fritata plates and all the most unexpected places because that’s the kind of God we serve. he takes the mundane and blows our minds with it — reminding me that he deserves all the glory and i’m just along for the ride. i hope i never forget what it feels like to be so in love with my work  and the people i get to meet because of it. i wish i could share my feels with everyone in the world. this group of humans has my heart.

 

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