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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[trinitot appreciation]

to conclude RA appreciation week, i am dedicating a page of one of my most sacred spaces to my sweet RAs, the eleven humans i have been blessed to supervise this year. i couldn’t have asked for a better staff for my homecoming year at APU and i am so grateful for all the things i learn from them! i’d like to use my words, my favorite tool, to introduce you to them:

Beau: my neighbor and the best person to be Number Four In Command, officially. when i met Beau he was excited to see me, really loud and forward, the first to laugh at his jokes…and not much as changed since.  Beau looks at the world and is just grateful to God in the way he speaks and acts and lives. his zest and zeal for life inspire me to enjoy the simple moments of life in a way that celebrates experiences and people. Beau teaches me that life is meant to be enjoyed, how to tell awkward jokes, and to pursue passion and truth in every day life.

Brian: continuing on the legacy of  the first south brotherhood is everyone’s favorite Brian. he will probably pretend he thinks this is lame but secretly he’ll think it’s touching. or actually maybe he really will think it’s lame. i may never know. what i do know is that Brian is a person of integrity who is wise beyond his years (even though he’s REALLY old). Brian teaches me to look at situations from a different angle, which i so appreciate as a leader. he teaches me to have an adventurous spirit and to never say no. Brian leads his residents in ways that i believe will impact them for their entire time at APU and trinity is so, so lucky to have him.

Micah: even though Micah has been fired more times than i can keep track of, he has impacted me greatly. Micah loves people so well, it almost makes you mad. he teaches me about vulnerability, authenticity, and childlike faith. he loves Jesus like crazy in ways that show me how exciting life can be when it’s built on a trust that God always provides. Micah reminds me how to be goofy in a way that beckons people so that they feel welcome. we are so blessed every time he walks in, grabs an ice cream sandwich from our freezer and plops down on the cough to tell us about his day. he teaches me to slow down in life and enjoy people all day long. he makes me laugh and he embraces growth and pursues wisdom. but he’s still fired.

Trent: i knew from the moment i met Trent how deeply he wanted to be an RA. there is no way he knew exactly what it would entail but he has persevered through it all, despite hell or high water…literally. Trent teaches me about God’s new mercies and unending desire to grow us. he teaches me to embrace people and celebrate them for who they are. Trent loves his guys in obvious ways, and they clearly love him back — such a sign of a deep connection. Trent isn’t afraid of expressing his heart no matter how big — or loud — that is. :) he is creative and passionate and dives right in and i am grateful to have him in trinity this year.

Hannah: my quirky and adventurous lover of life Hannah. Hannah has the best sayings, the best use of emojis, and the best style. she is kind and warm in a i’m-so-cute-because-i’m-southern-yall way, and i love her spontaneous spirit. Hannah teaches me how to embrace the new, celebrate the awkward, and learn from the bad. she shows me how to love people right where they’re at, despite what anyone else thinks. she has fostered a community that loves each other well and it is no doubt they follow her example. she is wise and gentle as she approaches the world and i want to be more like that. the girl’s got a wide-eyed-wonder type of outlook on life and to know her is such a joy.

Michelle: i can’t talk about Michelle without cracking up and clapping my hands. Michelle is a dynamic leader with incredible wisdom, and one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet. she is so intentional with people and so naturally gifted at loving everyone and she inspires me to do that better. Michelle teaches me that adversity does not mean failure, it means perseverance. she is so hard-working and so smart, i wish i could go back in time and do college again with Michelle as my life tutor. she cares so deeply about loving her residents, it evokes so much emotion in my heart. she loves this job like crazy, and she is a dream RA for any RD to supervise.

Cori: as a fourth north alumna, i am honored that the legacy has been entrusted into such wonderful hands. Cori is just the epitome of student leader — she’s got it all! wisdom and grace and maturity and kindness and joy. the fact that she replies to my i’m-sorry-i-triple-booked-our-one-on-one texts with “hakuna-matata” should tell you enough about what i learn from this rockstar. she teaches me to seek out lessons, to lead confidently, to call people out, and to choose joy. Cori is a conqueror and she is a confident daughter of the king and she knows exactly who she is all the time. i want to be more like Cori. she is my secret mentor. so secret she doesn’t even know.

Evelyn: my Brazilian irma — i knew from day one this girl was a kindred spirit. Evelyn is so incredibly intentional with people and experiences. she is finishing college before americans can order a drink and that makes me so incredible proud. Evelyn loves life and loves to laugh and is proud of who she is and i love that. Evelyn teaches me how to pursue deep connections over a cup of coffee, how to truly care about how people are doing, and how to process through the hard and yucky stuff. Evelyn is the stuff of dreams when it comes to RAs — her girls are obviously very connected to her as she has reached out to them in meaningful ways. she teaches me how to keep people glued together and reminds to me include people who may be on the fringe. she does not forget, she is responsible, she is light and life.

Katie: my other other better half (after Jared and Robyn) and surely responsible for keeping me afloat this year. Katie keeps our staff focused and alive and laughing at every turn. Katie is creative and innovative and strong and fully capable of running the world. she teaches me about the depths of joy and the gravity of God’s love and how to live into that. she is incredibly wise and mature and has wonderful discernment as she navigates the world. she is a humble servant leader with a dynamic skill-set and the ability to keep things awkwardly hilarious. she teaches me how to keep going, how to inspire others, how to wear onesies. i couldn’t do this year without this girl and i will forever be thankful for her presence in my life.

Melody: there is no other woman alive who has packed as much life into a small package quite the way Mel has. this girl is the kind of girl everyone wanted to be growing up — hilarious, adorable, edgy. she surfs, she wears cool sandals, she can talk to literally anyone. she is so chill i can’t even handle how awesome it is to be around her. Mel teaches me how to go with the flow of life and let things slow down in order to appreciate it more. she shows me how to keep smiling and try and try again and how to accept and celebrate everyone. Mel is a truth-teller and a contemplative leader who listens well and laughs loudly. she makes me proud in the ways she grows constantly and finds adventure, whether she is in azusa or capetown.

Sara: fifth south was themed as “wisdom pursued” and there is no better way to summarzie Sara. this girl knows everything about everything and i secretly take notes after our one on ones so i can pretend to be smart too. i love her outlook on life and she reminds me that knowledge is unending and incredibly valuable. Sara is so strong and wise and continues to challenge herself and inspire others. she cares so deeply about impacting people and organizing experiences to help people grow and become more of who they are meant to be. she is high-achieving and so inspirational and i have no doubt God specifically ordained her to be an RA this year in this place.

with happy tears all over my face, i end this celebratory week with a grateful heart. i hope you all know how much you mean to me. i wish i could explain the way you inspire me; words fall short. i am so proud to know you all and to have done life together with you this year. <3

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little before [much.]

“whoever is faithful in little is also faithful in much.” luke 16:10

i am in a season right now that i have often found myself in. antsy for what’s next, what’s coming, what might be better than this. i have a tendency to try to be ten steps ahead of what is happening in my life, never wanting to be surprised or caught off guard. i am an abstract and creative thinker by nature, so i dream big dreams and cast vision for myself — which i think is good, of course. but i definitely get too caught up in it and find myself frustrated with what i have in front of me because i somehow decided it isn’t good enough or sexy enough or challenging enough or whatever enough. and i get mad all over again, as if this current life i’m living wasn’t a very big dream i had not even a year ago.

i was running the other night (i’ve mentioned that running surfaces all of my frustrations, yes?) and i was yelling at God in my head about how i felt like what i had wasn’t what i wanted and how he, once again, was withholding his best from me and how dumb my life must look from the outside and why didn’t he listen to my plan because i made a really good one up in my head. and i glanced up at this unbelievable sunset across my favorite southern california sky, and  i felt like i heard him say (with attitude, because that’s how God and i roll): why would you ever try to compete with my creativity? i made that sunset and it’s different than every one i’ve ever made. i made the body you constantly criticize, and it’s currently moving you to run countless miles. and i have an adventure planned for you that is wilder than your tiny brain could ever dream up. i created creativity itself, so i win at dreams and visions.  look at what you have in front of you. don’t worry about the much that comes later. i’ve got it under control.”

and i was like, yeah…yeah okay, God.

 

 

Southern20California

breaking up with [can't].

my shins felt like they were on fire when i heard her coming behind me.

“rachel, you look great! nice work!”

she held up her hand for a high-five and i legitimately heard the *ding* of her white-tooth smile. if i wasn’t so damn prideful i would have ignored it because i knew extending my arm would probably throw off my balance. instead, i faked a smile and returned the gesture so she wouldn’t know i was drafting up my will in my head because i knew the end was near.

why is she so happy? and why is she lying to me about looking great?

let’s get something straight: i don’t like happy runners. they freak me out. they scream inspirational phrases while they run a 7 minute mile and talk about lean proteins and compression shorts and how to prevent chafing. i know who my people are; happy runners are not my people. i don’t even know if we speak the same language.

besides not quite being a happy runner, i’m also the world’s worst running partner. i’m not kidding, you guys. there may be some part of me that is clinically insane and i really don’t know why i have friends. my sweet, encouraging husband told me he was proud of me while we were running, and i told him to stop patronizing me. another time, he ran a total of seven inches ahead of me and i think i breathed actual smoke when i screamed “WAIT UP!” i told you. insane.

i can’t run another ten feet. i can’t keep up with everyone. i can’t let myself be embarrassed like this.

i’ve been telling myself what i can’t do for years. “can’t” has been an idol for me, a thing i cling to in order to shape and justify everything. the tape of my physical shortcomings runs on repeat through my mind, to the point that i forget the voice is just my own.

i’m not a runner. i can’t do a half-marathon. 

and over and over again as i put one foot in front of the other, my tape gets louder and louder.

i can’t do this. i can’t push past this pain. i can’t go further. i can’t go faster. 

insecurities rear their ugly heads like the monsters i’ve often thought they were. and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. my indignity causes me to try and find something to blame, as if this “thing” about me, this “can’t” thing i’ve got going on is all someone’s fault or a part of some big joke. i scream back at the tape in my head, blaming God for creating my body this way, resenting my childhood for the absence of anything even remotely active, and of course shaming myself for the years of neglect. 

just give up and do something easy. do something you’re good at. 

i guess what i’m here to confess is that i have repeatedly told myself i can’t run a half-marathon, even well into this half-marathon training. i confess i am easily discouraged and not even remotely close to being able to say with sincerity “i want to go for a run right now.” i confess i am not a good steward of the temple i’ve been given because i am not grateful for legs that move me forward and a heart the beats wildly in my chest. i keep asking God to make me more grateful, and i’m here to confess that i think he’s keeping his promise. it’s so hard, harder than i wanted it to be.

do i love it yet? nope. do i want to quit still? every day. do i own any compression shorts yet? couldn’t even tell you what they are. but i still show up. one run at a time.

i’ve gone back and forth about writing this. it feels embarrassing and like the proverbial i told you so!  will be shouted at any minute. but as with many other strongholds in my life, i have found that the louder you speak it, the less power it has over you. and i don’t want to be beneath the grasp of can’t anymore. i want to break up with can’t and give it a swift kick in the ass. i want to be braver than can’t, and i want to explore the idea of being a runner. maybe even a happy runner.

~~~

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i’m running a half-marathon with team world vision. they do amazing things, even through people like me who hate running. with every $50 donation, team world vision provides sustainable clean water for a child in east africa for life. for life, people. 

i would be humbled if you would join me in my journey. my goal is to raise $50 for every mile i run, so that i can provide children with the opportunity to drink clean water for the rest of their lives. all the information on how to donate can be found on my personal page at team world vision: http://team.worldvision.org/site/PageServer?pagename=TWV_Home

grace and peace to you as you do the things that make you feel brave.

 

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