Essay 3 of 52: Ericka Olvera

I am emerging from a trip down memory lane and I keep cringing.

This past weekend, I picked up some boxes from my parents storage - boxes I hadn't seen in years. They were filled to the brim with old journals, letters, trinkets, and medals.

I took the boxes home and sat down on the living room floor last night, pouring through each one - reliving all the highs and lows.

My high school box held things like my graduation speech (better than I remembered), my diploma (smaller than I remembered), and old pictures (my face a bit rounder than I remembered). I found my dad's graduation blessing and the waterworks started after the first few lines.

I remembered old relationships and heartaches, big mistakes and little crushes.
But more than anything, I was overwhelmed to remember how HARD high school was for me.

There were definitely bright spots - English class and track and pole vault and soccer.
But the hard parts ... they hurt.

My high school years started confidently, armed with a strong group of friends, many who had followed me to youth group. We were freshmen, and we were careless in the best way.

Then came sex. And drinking. And lying to parents - all things I just couldn't do. Wouldn't do. And those friendships began to fall away - person by person until I was existing in surface-level friendships only. It was the loneliest I have ever been, the summer after my sophomore year. I went into that summer knowing I wouldn't be receiving any phone calls, any invitations.

I felt frustrated and angry at my parents. I made some really stupid decisions, like lying about a crush being a boyfriend. Spoiler alert - everyone found out. I spent a night in a tent during our church retreat, listening to my "friends" smoke pot and laugh about me in the tent next to mine. Still, years later, I can honestly say that was one of the worst nights of my life.

But Junior year. Junior year was such a blessing. I have an incredible mother and at her insistence, I spent a lot of time in prayer that summer, asking God to bless me with new friends. And by some odd whim, I joined the soccer team. I was fast and aggressive and absolutely starved for fellowship.

But Ericka Olvera. One of my all-time favorite people on the planet. She was a year younger than me and I don't even remember how we became friends, except that we did. She didn't drink or smoke or sneak out. She had the kind of house that everyone just wanted to be at. She was the kind of person everyone just wanted to be around. Sunshine.

We had notes and secret phrases. We drove in my tiny Suzuki X-90 and listened to All-American Rejects and Kelly Clarkson and talked about how much we loved Garden State. We drank cherry lime-aids from Mr. Burger and went stargazing at night. We had crushes on boys who didn't like us back and dated her older brother's friends.

So yes. There was a lot of bad in high school. And those memories will most likely always make me cringe a bit. But in-between the lines of my old journals is so much good. Grass stained knees and Otter Pops. Rides in my first car and bus trips to games. Laughter.

I can't say I'm glad for those first two high school years or the stripping of friendships, but I am so appreciative for what came next. And that even as a high school student, I knew what an oasis was.

Here's to you Ericka, and to all those out there who have been Ericka's to other people.

Essay 2 of 52: While Tyler Was in School

In two days my husband will be finished with his winter finals and I. can't. wait.

I've learned so much since Tyler started school in May. Not just about myself, but Tyler, and our marriage too. It's been a season of hardship but also abundant blessing.

First, I am so thankful Anatomy is over. This was such a yucky summer and I am so glad it is done. I would go days without any quality time with Tyler - this being especially difficult since it's my love language. I was so selfish - missing my husband and pouting about a lost summer. Tyler went from working a steady 8 - 5, to wonky school hours and studying until 3 in the morning. I became resentful. I cried a lot. I got mad about dumb things. And overall, I just missed spending time with my best friend.

The thing is about these crazy times, is that you just have to let them pass. We patched up our feelings as best as we could. I tried to deal with my selfishness and be graceful to my incredibly hard working husband, who didn't really want to be studying past his bedtime either. We tried to be a little bit better each day. But mostly, we just focused on that light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes knowing that it will get better someday, is the only thing that gets you through.

Second, I am so thankful for our living situation. You can read more about our story in the archives, but just to recap, God went above and beyond our wildest dreams this year and provided us with free living and a part-time job for Tyler while he is pursing his Masters. Living with college students has it challenges, but I can't stop smiling at how God has provided for us in this season. And as a bonus, I LOVE our apartment. It is bright and small and sunny and cozy.

Because Tyler is in school, much of our future is unclear. We have dreams for what we hope happens next, but for the most part - it is completely wide open. But just like God provided us housing, I have learned that he will keep providing what is next. Not groundbreaking, but I think the first time you really see this happen in your adult life - the implications are profound. I didn't have parents to fall back on this time. God showed up. And as we keep fostering different dreams for our future, I know that God will continue to provide and continue to show up. It might not be my ideal situation, but it will be God's perfect plan.

Third, I am so thankful my husband is pursing something he loves. Tyler worked at a lab in town our first year together, and it broke my heart to see how restless and frustrated he felt. We weren't really sure what was going to happen next and there was no upward mobility in his current job. Tyler wasn't using his gifts at work and as a result, he was really unfulfilled. He was incredibly positive about it, but there was a tiredness that never really went away.

Now Tyler goes to school all day. He comes home, changes, eats lunch, and heads to clinical rounds. He doesn't get home for dinner until 7:45 or 8:00. A full, exhausting, 12 hour day, with studying to boot. And yet, I can tell that he is using his gifts. There is an energy that never really goes away. He and I are working towards something good.

There is something so special about watching your spouse be good at something, and then see other people notice it too. I couldn't be prouder if it was my own accomplishment. And in some ways - it is. I'm behind the scenes, making food for project dinners, cleaning the dishes while Tyler studies, grocery shopping, vacuuming, encouraging. This is my victory too and I love seeing all the hard work, all the study time, all the nights I went to bed alone, finally pay off.

And now we have one LONG month to just be. To just sit and eat dinner. To wash the dishes together. To go for a walk. To binge on The Office. For huge, long clumps of uninterrupted quality time.

Let's do this.

Essay 1 of 52: Vocation

There is no degree for Admissions Counselors.

We find our way to this position in a jumble of different ways - unsure of what career to pursue, unable to get any other job, "advancing" up the university ladder.

I came home from South Korea totally unsure of what job I wanted. I remember sitting in front of the computer, seeing job after job and knowing none of them were quite right. I remember going to a career advisor and him asking, "What type of job do you want?" and having nothing to answer with.

When I moved to Seoul, I was essentially escaping the "What kind of job do you want?" question. I was filling that void with travel and adventure. As great irony would have it, I really loved my job. It was difficult always being the outsider - the only American female in a group of 13 teachers, but the job itself? I loved it.

Our classes were small and structured. I had trouble students, but since I couldn't speak Korean, my co-teacher really had to handle most of that. I got to invent writing games for my advanced students - something right up my alley. I got to be admired, hugged, drawn, and praised by my students. I saw progress being made, day in and day out.

So when I came back to the states, I thought, maybe childcare?

It was a disaster. I worked in a low-income daycare/preschool for students in a rough part of town. It was the first job I was offered, and I jumped at it. It meant I could be home in the evenings and keep working with kids.

But I only lasted two weeks.

The classes were overcrowded and the discipline was non-existent. I literally had to ask three-year-olds, "Now was that a good choice? What choice will you choose next time?" That was the extent of discipline power I had. Nice in theory, terrible in practice.

I felt like the worst version of myself every. single. day. I cried in my car during lunch. I cried when I got home. And when my application for substitute teaching arrived in the mail, it seemed like a get out of jail free card.

So the girl who never quits anything, marched right into the school, 6 days after her first day, and quit. I gave them four days notice. They expressed gratitude that I hadn't just driven away without notice. (Apparently that has happened before?)

So I began to sub. The ultimate in-between job. I moved to different schools each day, spending exhorbant amounts of time in my car during recess, lunch, and off period. I read a lot. I cried a lot. I generally felt lost.

And then I ran into an old teacher of mine, who was planning on creating a new position in his department on campus. He needed an assistant. He remembered me and remembered my work ethic. (If you get nothing else from this, know that your character in college is the ultimate door opener)

And just like that, I was back at my alma mater, less than a year from graduating. It felt so strange to be back. I remember being a student and feeling such a sense of belonging, of purpose. And now I was back as an employee, feeling entirely lost and devoid of purpose. I felt like I had failed my English professors, who expected bigger things from me: graduate school, publishing houses, newspaper columns, etc. I felt like I failed. And ended up where I started.

A year into my position with the Honors program, I had the opportunity to advance into Admissions. It was a big raise and I had realized how much I missed being around co-workers, instead of a tiny department of two. I was lonely for company and Admissions was the answer.

I am so thankful for my job. So thankful for the steady paycheck and the security I have been given. I am incredibly thankful for understanding bosses, a Christian workplace, and holiday vacation days. (The real world doesn't have those, btw.)

But there was always this nagging feeling, this disappointment I feel. This dissatisfaction.

Do you want to know what my dream job is?

I don't have one.

But I have a dream purpose. A desire for what I want my life to look like.

I want to help my husband create an incredible career. I want to get him through the rest of graduate school and doctorate school and internships and fellowships. I want to have children, and raise them to be the most incredible Godly examples to their peers. I want to host people in my home. I want my marriage to be an example of forgiveness and God's faithfulness. I want to mentor young girls and be mentored by older women. I want a house that feels like an oasis - a bit of rest in this crazy world. I want to write. And I want my writing to tell at least one young girl, "You are not in this alone. You matter."

And I've always wanted those things more than any career, any degree. And if working as an Admissions Counselor for a few years gets me closer to those goals above, then I am working my dream job. I am pressing on towards something great.

I love writing. 

It's taken me a really long time to get comfortable with this statement.

Maybe because I want so badly to not just love writing, but to be good at writing. And maybe have other people love my writing, if I'm lucky.

But truthfully, the latter wishes don't change that I really, truly, love writing.

I was struck recently by the sheer volume of journals I own. And they aren't three-fourths empty "I bought this because I'm addicted to buying pretty notebooks" journals. They are real and full and me. I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing in a journal. Sure, the content varies like my feelings on pms - but I was always writing. I just was.

And so I'm ready for my next step. I am here, declaring my bold statement, Elise Blaha Cripe style.


And I'm going to keep doing it whether you read it or not.

So here's my challenge:
For the next year I will write one essay a week - 52 essays total. There will be no minimum or maximum length requirement. The themes will vary drastically. There will be stories from my past, current struggles, lessons, and random reflections.

It will be me, showing up every Friday, to work on a craft that I love.

Will you join me?

Check back tomorrow to see the very first essay.

(I am so terrified.)