I’m cashing in my proverbial v-card for the Indie Ink challenge. If you want to join the fun, you can read all about it here.. Also, be sure to follow them on twitter @indieink. I was given a challenge by Jo Bryant, who blogs here. And I gave a challenge to Jamelah, who blogs here. Happy reading!
This was my challenge:
Every night when you sleep, he comes to you. He calls you to follow; you do, to a train station where the dead are waiting to board. He holds out his hand, you take it and board the train, going to…
And then I always wake up. Usually in a cold sweat, or sometimes in a disoriented haze. But I always wake up.
It seems significant. I listen for a man’s voice, and I follow it, which leads to dead people getting onto a train, and then I wake up right before I figure out where I’ll end up when all is said and done. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the pictures so vividly. Recurring dreams are like that, so they say. You go about your day as if your coffee didn’t taste different, or your walk to work didn’t seem longer, and then all of a sudden something will happen that triggers the memory and it all floods over you. And if you’re like me, you can’t focus on anything else until you figure it out.
But I never do.
I’ve tried piecing it together. I even saw a dream specialist, whatever that even means. Is that an actual trade? Or does she laugh wildly as she spends my $95 on cheap wine and red meat? But I digress. She told me that the fact that I listen to a man’s voice means that I’m submissive to men in my life. Wrong. I try to feign amazement. She also thought that the train station represented my previous life, which took place in the 1920s, and I rode a lot of trains. Wrong again. Previous life? Is she for real? And the fact that I wake up before I get on the train means that I don’t know where I’m going after I die.
After I die.
I don’t question where I’ll go, that’s why this is so strange. Maybe I’m just eating too late in the day, and it is giving me some weird visions. I know where that train is going so why is it that my body keeps waking up before I see it? I want to know what it looks like, I want to figure out how it smells and lock into my mind the way the wind wisps while I stand at the front of it, whatever it is. I feel like if I could just taste a small piece of it, just have one concrete moment to hold onto, that maybe I would live my life in a way that didn’t question where I was going after I die.
Live my life in a way that didn’t question where I was going after I die.
I don’t live in a way that appears confident of that. Most days, I am a shell of a person who is confident of that. I think that’s why I always wake up – because I know somewhere deep in my heart that I don’t deserve a glimpse, not just yet. Each time I wake up, I have bittersweet jolts of motivation to live today, at least today, like I know where I’m going.
And then by noon, the world has crept in and nothing makes sense anymore, and the only thing in focus is this task, this bill, this annoying person on the other end of the phone who just Won’t. Shut. Up.
And I’ve ruined my second-trillionth chance to make today worth it.
The waking up is strangely my favorite part. Even though my tally is way up there, it’s another chance every time. So I’ll take the recurring dreams, as long as I get the recurring wake-ups.
Because it feels like redemption over and over again.
For some reason, 24 seems like a lot of years to realize something. Granted, I wasn’t a cognitive human being for a couple there at the beginning, and I definitely wasn’t mature until the most recent few. But I think it has taken me far too long to realize that my parents aren’t perfect.
But I have realized it.
And I kind of like it.
Let me offer this important disclaimer: my parents are two of the most loving, inspirational, supportive people I’ve ever known. They’d take a bullet for me any day, and they have done the very best they knew how. This was my experience with them though, and I do believe that every side to a story is important. Maybe this was my experience because I was the first, maybe it’s what they thought was right. Either way, this was my experience. And a part of my growth process is to realize all of it and write it out.
Another disclaimer: I’m not a parent.
My dad yelled. At every punishment opportunity in my young life, I can remember my dad yelling. I have vivid memories of my tear-soaked face looking up at him, making eye contact with his angry, hot eyes. If I talked back, if I burned the dinner rolls, if I started spinning the fishing pole too soon, if I didn’t clean my room, I got yelled at. And oh, the yelling. My dad holds a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance. The dude’s got lungs. The breadth of his voice combined with the craftiness of his rhetoric was spellbinding in a way that made me feel very small. His patience was short, and his words could crush me; they probably still could if he wanted them to. It is a power. A power that I believe he abused at times.
My dad always said, “Because I said so.” Another popular discipline tool was a four-word phrase that came crashing down with the inexorability of a freight train: “Because I said so.” The brevity of this sentence was destructible in the worst way that eliminated any options I had, any defense I wanted to give, and ended any conversation I needed to have.
These two behavior traits made several re-appearances throughout my adolescence. I think they were wrong, I think they were hurtful, I think I am slowly realizing the scars they left. I am not large in stature, but I am large in personality. I tend to not back down or shrivel up into myself. When my dad would yell, it made me shrink back into a blip of a person. When my dad would yell, I folded up into a ball of a little girl, who couldn’t put two words together in defense, let alone stick up for myself. Today, when someone yells at me, I do the exact same thing. I turn into that little girl who has no backbone; I am small all over again.
When my dad would tell me “because I said so” as an answer to just about every question I ever had, it instantaneously patronized me. He immediately gave me no answer, and took away my right to ask questions. So I stopped asking questions. This was a tragedy in my upbringing. Children come into the world without any idea of up from down. I realize that, as a parent, there are things that just cannot be explained. But there should never be a cement wall put up every time a child asks a question. Because soon they will learn not to ask questions, just like I did. And a life without questions makes no sense.
My mom is probably the most patient, kind woman on the planet. But because of her kindness, she rarely forces anything on her children. She never pushed me to work hard in school, probably because she didn’t want me to feel defined by my grades. She never poked or prodded her way into my personal life, probably because she didn’t want to seem overbearing. And she never taught me the awkward things about sex, my body, and what heartbreak can do to me, probably because it was painfully embarrassing to have to talk about.
By never pushing me in school, I did okay. Good in high school, a little less good in college. I got both degrees, I crossed both stages, but I definitely could have done better. I stood next to people who did better, at both ceremonies. And that was hard to swallow. I remember at the end of my sophomore year of college, trying to decide a major, and my mom told me, “Just pick an easy one so you can get your degree.” The lack of faith in my academic ability and the lack of push toward success really made me feel like I couldn’t do it. So I didn’t do it.
By never poking her way into my personal life, I learned how to keep things secret, relatively easily. She never knew when my first kiss happened, and I told her almost nothing about the things I talked about with my friends. My relationships with people, my after-school activities, even my growing faith were all mine and no one else’s. I have since discovered the beauty of sharing; the depth of love that can come from open, honest relationship with someone. But I do not have that with my mom. I still don’t open up to her, because sometimes I think, where on earth would I start? There is so much she doesn’t know. And it feels okay that way.
By never talking to me about sex, my body, or the depth of a heart break, I had to experience all three on my own. I realize that I am a woman with free will who chose her life, so I do not blame her for any of that. But my mom did not foster an environment that welcomed questions about any of that. So I didn’t learn until I was face down in a pool of emotional scars that maybe sleeping with someone who isn’t my husband (or at the very least, in a loving, committed relationship with me) is probably not the best of all ideas. I didn’t learn about sex, emotionally or physically. Up until I was too old to think so, I thought sex only required the removal of one person’s clothes; this is not okay. I did not understand why it was so “taboo”, or why we were being told to wait until marriage. Nobody told me why God created it – and as a sidebar, God created it to be hot, passionate, exciting, and fun, all in the context of marriage – I was only told it was basically the worst sin you could commit.
I have a friend who told me that her mom told her about sex at the age of 5, simply because she asked what it was. So her mom answered her, as elementary and purposeful as she could. And that was the beginning of her mom’s attempt to foster an environment that welcomed questions about the unknown. My friend grew up confident of the fact that she could ask her mom any and every question she needed to, and had no fear of dismissal; all questions were treated importantly. I have been blessed to have amazing females in my life since college, friends whom I can ask questions and get real answers. But how much different would my life be if my mom was the person that started the pattern of Godly influence over my life?
I am ever-learning the residue that has been left by my upbringing. Anyone would agree, these are not exactly condemnable offenses. I had great, loving parents. But a couple of these mistakes have rooted themselves deep in my heart. And I believe in the power that comes from self-reflection.
And let me tell you. These are things I will not carry into my children’s lives.
…and I realize that once I actually am a parent, I will think, “Man, I thought I knew everything back then.”
But isn’t that the beauty of life anyways?
I went to a great college with a great president who loves his God, loves his students, and loves his job. After I graduated, I realized that at other schools, not everyone has a great president who walks so closely with them. It really is a shame, because as far as leaders go, this guy knows what’s up.
This particular president specifically spends some time pouring into the student leaders on campus. He recognizes their unique stance among the population, and doesn’t waste any time getting to know them and equipping them with enough motivation to change the atmosphere of the school. He’s probably the most inspiring man I’ve ever heard speak; his words give you the strength to pick up cars.
At the beginning of my senior year, he spoke to the group of student leaders I was honored to be a part of.
He asked three questions. He told us to write them down, and to start each and every day with them. I wrote them in the front of my Bible, on my bathroom mirror, on the first page of my planner. I almost got it tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. (Kidding. Kind of.)
Who are you?
What are you doing?
What difference does it make?
Virginia Woolf once said “The man who is aware of himself is henceforward independent; and he is never bored, and life is only too short, and he is steeped through and through with a profound yet temperate happiness.” Delicious.
A blog I recently stumbled upon published a post from a new friend. She boldly asked those first two questions beautifully. She, along with the writers and editors of this blog, beckon readers to believe in the power of story, to not be afraid of the honesty of those questions, and to search deeply within themselves to find the answers. Who are you and what are you doing? Nail-on-the-head important. But I think the president of my college beautifully and gracefully pushes them just a little bit further.
What difference does it make?
This is my attempt to answer those questions for today. This is not your story, it is mine. And my answers might be different tomorrow. But for today, this is my unafraid journey into these questions.
Who are you?
I am a 20 something mover and shaker with a zest for life and an affinity for spicy foods. I am a Californian born-and-bred, wavy-haired sassy little lady, attempting the deep-fried-southern life while living in a small town outside of Dallas, Texas. I am a passionate believer in faith, hope, and love. I am a stumble-while-I-follow Jesus fan, and I am overly enthusiastic about every single day. I am a shower-singer, a car-dancer, a diet-coke-addict, and a surprisingly hilarious individual. I’m a morning person, an extrovert, a writer, a reader, a laugher, a WOO-er (hey, StrengthsQuest, heyyy), a loud-mouthed and opinionated fire-cracker. I’m a call-it-like-I-see-it, let’s-talk-it-out kind of woman and I rarely take “whatever” for an answer. I am a story-teller, a story-seeker, a story-believer. I am over the top awkward, unafraid and underpaid, and a hell of a fun road-trip partner. I am a Type A control freak with tendencies toward OCD, but I’m working on it. I am a love-not-war-er, a communicator, a friend and a sometimes-failure. But I am always trying new, trying bold, trying fun. I am a daughter, a friend, a sister, a graduate, a girlfriend. And a self-proclaimed dork.
What are you doing?
I am working in Dallas in a job I have wanted for years. I spend most days working with students, for students, around students. I am brainstorming ways to make their college residence life experience much, much better. I am learning from my colleagues, asking all the right questions, impressing my bosses. I ask students hard questions, and then I pacify them with an ever-full candy jar. I listen to their stories. I tell them mine. I learn how to love them, based on their stories and the story of Jesus.
I am living in a college dorm-room-turned-apartment built sometime in the previous century. I am living on a budget, prolonging the time in my life where I own things like mortgages and couches. I live in my job and work where I live. Quite the fluid life.
I am in love with a boy I never thought I would deserve. And I am learning every day more and more why I actually do deserve this kind of love. I am spending time with him, opening up to him, texting him, day dreaming of him, writing notes to him, taking pictures of him, learning him. My joys are doubled; my sorrows are cut in half. I am in a relationship that I thought only existed in my mind, and I am loving every moment of it.
I am reading and writing, more and more. I dream of a day when story-telling and story-hearing can be my only job.
I am discovering myself in other people’s stories. I am constantly finding my own, without reshaping it. I believe in the power of story. Telling it like it is, for the truth and gross that it is. The best part is seeing the good that comes from gross.
What difference does it make?
Hmm. As I sit writing, the words up until now have flowed out of me like an overturned bucket. I barely had to press “delete”; everything fit together perfectly and beautifully. And now I’m stumped. This is the part that changes every day. As an honest woman, I can tell you that some days, I make no difference at all. So I’m stumped. But here goes.
I had a gross story, years ago. I had a gross life. A different life. I did things, said things, promised things, and repeatedly messed up things. I was up to my ears in sin, and I was completely aware of my deliberate disobedience.
I have died to that story.
“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” [Galatians 2:20]
I have died to that life.
“Go into the temple courts, and tell the people the story of this new life.” [Acts 5:20]
I have a new life.
I live every day free from the bondage of sins. Free from the chains that bind me to the patterns of this world. Free from the need to be accepted, to be tolerated, to be loved conditionally.
Because now, in my new life, I am not only accepted, I am delighted in by the King of kings. [Zephaniah 3:17].
Now, in my new life, I am not only tolerated, I am chosen. [Colossians 3:12]
Now, in my new life, I am loved unconditionally. Nothing will ever change His love for me. [Romans 8:38-39]
The difference is that now my life has been made new, by a God who specializes in redeeming the ugly and broken parts. The difference is that now my story is about redemption, grace, forgiveness, and love. My story involves the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scratch that — my story cannot be told outside of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I recently asked a new friend how he knew his “ugly” was behind him. He answered that, the whole time he was living in addiction, he felt like he was living in a jungle. His entire view was crowded by vines and branches, winding and turning their way up and down, back and forth. He was constantly stumbling and turning himself around. The air was thick and hot.
And then one day he walked into a clearing. The jungle was still there, but it was behind him. Slowly becoming smaller and smaller in his rearview.
Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
I am a forgiven daughter of a redeeming God who has granted me child-like love to live every single day.
And that makes all the difference in the world.
My guest post for Good Women Project.
I don’t remember the exact moment when I decided to “save myself for marriage” but I do remember it being a constant theme in my upbringing. Though my parents failed to ever sit me down and give me the scoop on the birds and the bees, I was blessed to be surrounded by people in my high school youth group who helped me establish this idea in my mind. These days, it seems that people are learning all about sex early on, like by the 3rd grade. I’ll have you know that in the 3rd grade, I thought that sex only required the removal of one party’s clothing. A quick laugh and Barbie-doll demo from a friend helped me realize the error of my ways. But that’s neither here nor there. Once I was in high school, “save myself” was my mantra. And I stuck to it. Because losing myself? Would be the worst.
I became an abstinence advocate within my friend group, and largely underestimated how hard it is for some girls not to have sex. My naivety made me arrogant, with tendencies toward invincible.
Then I got a great boyfriend who picked me flowers and told me he loved me and held my hand as we skipped off into the Hills of Innocence Lost. He was admirable, honest, strong, kind. Years later, he became one of a million co-authors of the book entitled, “How To Break A Girl’s Heart” with special attention to Infidelity and A Web of Lies. I could spend an entire post on the hardships of being betrayed, but that’s a whole other Oprah. And frankly, no good comes from re-living the past over and over. I’m practicing that whole “write injuries in the dust” thing. But you need to know that I trusted him when he told me he loved me. I believed him when he said I was beautiful, perfect, and going to be his wife eventually. And I gave him the deepest level of intimacy possible. The aforementioned “myself” that I was supposedly “saving.”
And every time I felt him pulling away emotionally, I gave more physically.
And each time, that kept him around a little bit longer.
Monkey see, monkey do. I became a trained expert on the art of seduction. Every time I convinced him, I felt like I had won. I felt victorious.
I felt like I was in control.
Perhaps now you see the problem with this particular phrasing. All of “myself” had been poured into this one act, this one thing. Imagine my dismay when I gave that up. “Myself” was gone, in a moment. And the point isn’t really that in that moment, I felt empty and different. The point is that after that first time, I stopped letting myself feel empty and different; I convinced myself that those emotions were not happening.
After that first boy, I stopped feeling really anything during sex. It was most definitely fun, and gave me a rush of adrenaline and excitement, pleasure and empowerment. But after the Boy Who Loved Me became the Boy Who Betrayed Me, I stopped understanding sex in the way it was created to be understood.
The biggest lie I took away from the entire thing was that I would not be chosen. Sure, I was funny enough and charming enough and sometimes even pretty enough. I said enough, did enough, laughed enough, and eventually even gave enough. But once compared to Someone Better, I would not be chosen.
I wish I could tell you that this was a pinnacle turning point in my life. That once this heartbreak was over, I re-evaluated what I had done and never did it again. But that is not my story. I wandered off into the arms – and beds – of more boys, none of whom loved me. None even professed to love me; that was no longer required by my standards. All I needed was to be chosen, even in this small act. Because even though there was the First Boy who didn’t choose me, I was able to find a few who would.
While I think what happened over the course of that next year is technically referred to as “sexual addiction”, I can honestly say that it’s not the sex I was addicted to. It was the before, and the after.
The moment before, when there is hesitation mixed with urgency, splashed with fear and unknown. I was addicted to being in control of my body and another’s. I knew what to do to cause him to lose control, which made me feel hugely successful.
And then there’s the moment after. When the sheets settle and the breathing slows and the eyes slowly open and man plus woman lay in their perfect nakedness, feeling all the safety in the world. Before anyone speaks, or nervously shuffles back to their clothing, the serenity of that moment is deafening. And as soon as someone spoke, as soon as I was ushered to leave, I felt even dirtier, even emptier than before. And it caused me to want sex all over again.
Truth be told, I can’t quite recall a time when I actually enjoyed sex. It has never been tender, it has never been sweet, it has never been pleasurable. I have never made love to anyone. Every time I have ever had sex, I have eagerly anticipated the end, so that I could stop. I think I actually hated it.
I knew I was creating a huge hole in my being. I knew it deep inside of myself, but I refused to acknowledge that. Instead I pushed that still, small voice down to a place where I could not hear it, and I would be back in the arms of another lover soon enough. I’d be back at my place of control. “While we’re young and beautiful” became my new mantra, and I felt entitled to the lifestyle I led. I felt like I needed it. Like I had been missing out during all those years of “saving.” I placed my identity in the attention I could get and I felt sexy for the first time in my life. I knew that every boy I was with was simply attracted to my appearance, and I ignored the ache that it left within my heart. I had spent my time with a boy who loved my soul, and he screwed everything up. So I might as well get my kicks, right Jim Morrison? Doesn’t matter if their heart is in it, it just matters I have fun before it all goes up in flames.
Nothing noteworthy really triggered my turnaround point, but my world finally came crashing down. I am equally ashamed and grateful for the moment I woke up, and realized that I could not, should not, be living this way.
My healing has come from several different sources, but one in particular was in the moment when I confessed my past lifestyle to my current boyfriend. He knew pieces, but not the whole thing; we were waiting for an appropriate time to talk about it. Talk about “fears: realized.”
We sat on the ground next to lake while it lightly rained and I guided him through those few years of my life. I realized something vital as I spoke that day; I had felt guilty for my mistakes. I had repented. I had felt forgiveness. But I don’t think I had ever felt sorry before. And while I told my boyfriend everything, I felt sorry, truly remorseful for the first time in my life. . Because I painfully realized that my previous lifestyle did not only affect me, it affected him. The look on his face is hard to forget – pain and surprise and anger and hurt, all in one pair of bright blue eyes. As I wept uncontrollably, I felt sorry in every nerve on my body. My hair felt sorry, my arms felt sorry, my body was heavy with sorry. It made me understand sin in a deeper way: what I did was selfish in more ways than I knew. I was repeatedly hurting someone who, though I didn’t know him then, I now love very deeply. And then he held me and rocked me as I sobbed away my fear and sorrow.
And as my breathing slowed, and my eyes opened, I felt the safest I have ever felt. No amount of safety I ever felt in the after-moments of sex before could ever compare to the heights and depths of safety I felt in those arms by the lake that day. And that’s when I understood forgiveness on a deeper level. I know that I am forgiven. But this is one of the consequences of not guarding my heart. My sweet, tender, strong boyfriend has to suffer my consequences. He chooses to.
I didn’t give “myself” away. My identity was not lost in the arms of a boy, it was not given up in the heat of a moment. Something sacred was given up, absolutely. But “myself” is still intact. I am chosen by the King of Kings, just as I am. My identity is partially found in the crevices of my story, but it is fundamentally founded on who I am in Christ. My beauty enthralls Him; He has crafted me together from day one. He is nowhere near through with me, and rejoices over me with or without my mistakes. I did not lose myself by giving up sex. But I am finding myself every single day in the arms of safety, forgiveness, and love. My whole life, my every day is better than any “after-moment” I could ever experience, because I get to dance around in the freedom of grace – getting that which I do not deserve. Thank God.
23 things i know now.
1. God makes all things new.
2. you have monthly chances to get good at paying bills. but if you don’t get good at it, they do not take apology letters.
3. only go to weddings with dancing.
4. do not be reckless with anyones heart; don’t put up with anyone who is reckless with yours.
5. wine is goooood. and grown-up.
6. slurpies know no age.
7. journaling is as refreshing now as it will be in 10 years to read this stuff. archive religiously.
8. student loans are real. and they are a vicious, hostile breed. and they never. go. away.
9. it is always worth it to say something.
10. mascara goes a long way, and showering regularly goes an even longer way.
11. double, triple, quadruple check every “to:” box on every email, text message, whatever. the only thing worse than not saying what you feel, is saying what you feel unintentionally.
12. forgive. and let yourself off the hook, too.
13. blogging. so cool, so overwhelming. for both reader and writer.
14. spend some time in silence.
15. i CAN kill a bug in my kitchen.
16. regular check-ups with the good ole’ doc are incredibly empowering. to know that you and your body are doing just fine is the absolute best feeling.
17. skype. heaven on earth.
18. i have never seen my permanent record. i think they were just bull shitting us.
19. avoid bank statements. accept the anxiety that comes with.
20. whatever it is, it’s probably on the internet. google is a true best friend.
21. …but, never webMD anything, ever. and never, under any circumstance, look up “long term affects of diet coke.” just keep on drinking.
22. love, forgiveness, humility, and consistency always win.
23. find a song for every mood. sing it loudly.