twenty years

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Twenty years ago today, I moved to South Africa with a couple of overweight suitcases, $200 in my pocket, and a heart-cocktail of naïvety, faith, passion, and foolishness. I was only 19.

Thirteen years later, I moved back Stateside with even heavier baggage (both literal and proverbial), more debt than cash, and a heart-cocktail that had been diluted by life and loss and longing.

Even with all the complicated layers and conflicting emotions, Africa will always be my first love. I met her when I was just 15, and, in that way that only she can do, she swept me off my feet and stole my heart. She was my high school sweetheart, and she holds both the bests and the worsts of my life in the years we spent together.

Twenty years. How is that even possible? Two decades seem to have slipped through my fingers like the Kalahari sand...

My present life looks so different than the one I lived on African soil. It confounds me, really. Many who know me now didn’t know me then, which only widens the chasm I often feel exists between my former and current lives. And yet, I know, it’s all one. One life. One incongruently interconnected and magnificent life. It confounds me, really.

No matter how long I’ve lived Stateside, this day still feels beautifully and painfully significant to me. And so I stop to honor it. To embrace it. To celebrate and grieve it.

Happy Africaversary, love. Twenty years is worth dancing and crying over. So let’s do a little of both, shall we?

Winter Solstice

It’s December 21st. The winter solstice. The longest night of the year. You know what that means? Come tomorrow, the darkest days are behind us.

The darkest days are behind us.... for now. See, the realist in me is compelled to qualify that statement. For now. Because, as we all know, eventually the darkest days are ahead of us again.

Even still... This day, this night, this winter solstice — it echoes my word for 2018... It’s a word I have fought hard against for years. It’s a dangerous word — one I’d prefer to hide from than chase after. A word that stands in defiant opposition to my realism. A word I have long hated...

Hope.

Just thinking about it makes me cringe and scrunch up my face and feel sick to my stomach. Hope chooses to embrace the “darkest days are behind us” moment even while knowing it won’t last forever. Hope raises its glass on the longest night of the year and smiles for the longer days on the horizon. Hope sees my “for now” and raises it with a “and that’s enough”.

And so, with tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat, and butterflies in my chest, I raise my glass. To brighter days, to shorter shadows, to present-moment joys, and to frighteningly beautiful hope... Salute!

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On Being

“It’s really hard to just BE.” As I said those words, I knew full well what a sad state of affairs they represented. But they’re true nonetheless. Before today, I have never spent a full hour doing absolutely nothing. And it felt unbelievably challenging. Just BEING is really hard.

I tried sensory deprivation float therapy today, and — I’m not gonna lie — it was a little trippy. No light. No sound. No gravity. (Well, the sensation of no gravity...) It was surreal.

Black as a starless sky, hearing nothing but my own breathing, for 60 whole minutes... As a chronic pain endurer, the weightlessness was magical. There are no words for how incredible my body felt, suspended effortlessly, on a high pain day like today.

 
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But while my muscles and bones relaxed deeper into the water, my mind’s hamster wheel spun faster and louder. Left alone with my thoughts — literally JUST my thoughts — they raced all over the place. Quieting my mind to just BE for an hour was an impossible challenge for me. I hear that part gets easier with practice, but man oh man, it was tough.

I’m reminded how much of my life and even my identity is wrapped up in doing rather than being. I think back on some of my #OneWord365 words and see the threaded emphasis on learning to BE: Look... Enough... Wholehearted... Unapologetic.

THIS is my journey of being...

Whether We Want to or Not

"I don't think you were made for an easy life."

Her words knocked the wind out of me. Tears rushed to my eyes and a lump lodged itself in my throat. Because I knew she was right.

I'd told her that I wished one thing in my life — just ONE thing — would be easy. I'd told her that I'm tired of everything being such a difficult fight.

"I don't think you were made for an easy life," she said, gently corroborating what my history has made quite plain.

Even now, days after our conversation, tears still flood my eyes as I sit in the harsh tension of this reality. And all I can do is remind myself:

I can do hard things. 

I turn those words over and over and over again, like a jawbreaker too big for my mouth. They are bittersweet. Uncomfortable. Choking. And true. 

So when the best I can do is set that phrase on repeat in my mind, while slowly putting one foot in front of the other, that just has to be enough.

Add in some whispered thanks for the trusted and compassionate people in my life who show up, sit in the mess with me, and give me strength to move my feet when I'm unable to on my own… Well, I’d say that’s more than enough. 

It has to be.

We can do hard things, friends. Whether we want to or not. 

We can do hard things.

Unapologetic

I. 

I'm a recovering overapologizer

I've spent my life tossing out apologies like candy in a parade — and collecting unnecessary guilt and insecurities in return. Owning what isn't mine to own, simply to keep the peace or to make someone else feel better, has left me living apologetically — as though I should feel sorry for simply being me. 

I'm over it.

So I'm intentionally curbing the word sorry from my vocabulary, which is no small feat, I assure you. But as someone who genuinely wants to say what she means and mean what she says, it's a worthy fight. 

So I'm saying excuse me when that's really what I intend, and how frustrating or I hate that for you when expressing understanding and solidarity. And I'm replacing the bulk of my apologies with appreciation.

Instead of "I'm sorry I'm all over the map right now," — "Thank you for listening to my unpolished thoughts." 

Rather than "I'm sorry I didn't catch that typo." — "Thank you for noticing that. I'll correct it before I send it out."

Instead of "I'm sorry I can't make it." — "I can't make it, but thank you so much for thinking of me."

Rather than "I'm sorry I'm so blah tonight; I'm really not feeling well." — "Thank you for being a trusted friend I can still spend time with even when I'm not feeling my best." 

I'm flipping the script, changing what could be perceived as a negative into a moment of gratitude. 

And saving my apologies for when they are actually warranted.

 

II. 

No, I’m not insulted at all when people call me sensitive. Feeling things deeply is my superpower. I’m an empathetic badass.
— Unknown

But — for the love! — don't call me sensitive.

 

III. 

Life is too short — and my energy too low — for me to do (optional) things I only feel halfhearted about.

Especially when wholeheartedness is my goal...

So, my new filter for decision-making is simple:

If it's not a hell yeah, it's a no

 

IV. 

"'No' is a complete sentence." I believe it's Anne Lammott who gets credited with that sentiment, which I've been more mindful of these days.

There are times when explanations are unnecessary, when I do not need to justify or defend my decisions, when no is really all I need to say... 

 

V.

‘no’
might make them angry.
but
it will make you free.

— if no one has ever told you,
your freedom is more important than their anger.
— Nayyirah Waheed

 

VI.

I used to live with a great deal of certainty when it came to my faith (not realizing till much later in life that it was only a mirage of certainty). I thought I had all the answers.

Nowadays, I say I don't know fairly often. I'm quick to admit I don't have all the answers. And I've learned to sit in the messy and uncomfortable uncertainty... 

This, I've discovered, is what faith really is. 

 

VII.

I was recently recounting some of the circumstances that unfolded surrounding my divorce. And I was struck anew by the enormity and depth of betrayal I've endured. There were just so many layers of it, from so many people. It's dumbfounding, really, to think back on all I've come through. 

(And, for the first time, I'm grateful for my fuzzy brain, because it can no longer remember most of the details. And that is an enormous gift.)

So I continue to chase and build resilience — strengthening my ability to bounce back from all life throws my way.

Because, as always, life isn't done pitching.

 

VIII.

But you should also know that just surviving all of the intensity and grief you have had to survive in this one go-round and still waking up every day and making a play for love is so beautiful it could crush my heart.
— Meg Worden

 

IX. 

I cringe every time the question is asked.

"Where did you go to college?"

I typically say something about the School of Hard Knocks as I try to make light of my own embarrassment and (dare I say it) shame. 

This time, the question was followed up with, "Well, then how were you qualified to run that nonprofit?" I sat there in astonishment, staring back at the older gentleman with the scrunched-up disdain on his face. And while I stammered out some sort of reply, what I wish I'd said is this: 

You know what I've learned in my life? That it serves me well not to be the smartest person in the room. I've always tried to surround myself with wise and experienced people — and I'm not afraid to ask stupid questions. And that is how I've managed to accomplish pretty much everything in my life, nonprofit included. 

Yes, sir. Even without a degree.

 

X. 

You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.
— Nina Simone