An Update

In March, I stepped back from writing.

It was subconscious at first, weeks that passed without notice.

I have this tendency to ignore incomplete things, like emails unanswered or projects unfinished. It's like responding or finishing draws attention to the fact that I failed, that I didn't finish in a responsible or timely manner. So I ignore it.

That's what I did here. I didn't want to draw attention to the fact that I didn't reach my lofty 52 essays goal, so I ignored it. When people asked, I mumbled something about "the busyness of the season" or "work is just so crazy right now."

The truth is, something big and overwhelming happened in my life. Something personal and private, and it consumed me. I didn't have the emotional stamina to write my feelings or thoughts, because those thoughts had become a slave to something bigger.

In January, I started meeting weekly with a physical therapist to address an issue that has bothered me for the past three years. It took me a whole year just to admit I had a problem.

There is something so frustrating about a body that won't work the way it should, the way you think it should. I spent a lot of time angry at God, feeling like I had been dealt an unfair hand.

"I did everything right!" I said.

So I continued my weekly therapy visits, worked my home therapy every night. And I stewed in it.
I stewed in the unfairness of it, the time it was costing me, the financial expense, all of it.

And then one night, I was standing in the shower, lamenting my normal lament, and I felt God say to me, "Lauren. It was never about you. It was always about me."

. . .


Once I realized my error, I become so aware of what was happening: a raise to cover the extra medical costs, a physical therapist who is a leading expert in the field - but also an amazing Christian mentor who looked at me and said, "Me too," and emotional turmoil that God slowly began to churn into spiritual maturity.

It was never about me, but I had let this problem define me. It rocked me to the core. I let it become the thing I was most ashamed about, instead of something that pointed directly to grace.

. . .


I read a wonderful post this week by Nancy Ray - words of encouragement on not meeting your goals. I have this tendency to look back on my past and see big marks of failure - not finishing my 52 essays goal, needing therapy, etc.

And I know that pattern of behavior is wrong. I'm working on this.

So I'm back today because I'm ready to address this. I miss writing. I'm ready to draw attention to the fact that I didn't finish something, as uncomfortable as it feels.

I don't have a plan. I don't have a bold statement. But I am ready to write again.


Essay 13 of 52: Talent


So this was pretty cool.

I keep clicking on that link - like it might have gone away over night. Seeing my own work on someone else's site is totally surreal.

My mom asked me a few months ago if writing was hard. It is. I think anyone who dabbles with writing, any type of writing, will say that it takes real effort. It takes action and dedication. If anything else - it means saying no to a million other choices and saying yes to writing.

But if writing is hard, the self-promotion is excruciating. I know this isn't the case for everyone. But it is so the case for me. I've been writing in journals and turning in essays for years. But never inviting anyone to read it. Always for pleasure or grades.

I have a co-worker that is an excellent cook. She makes the most delicious cookies, green chile wontons, and cheesecake. Whenever she brings treats to the office, we are thrilled. We gather around the conference table like hyenas at a carcass. I can see the pride and pleasure on her face. She made something for us to enjoy and I love it when she shares her talents with us.

Shouldn't it be that way with all the talents?

Elise Cripe talks a LOT about creative work, but has mentioned over and over again in her podcast the importance of self promotion. If no one knows about it, how will anyone know about it? I LOVE it when my favorite creatives clue me in on what they've been working on. I love peeks into others work spaces, new blog posts and Instagram photos. But each time I go to promote my own work - I feel so inadequate.

Why?

Because instead of being proud of my own work, I'm just comparing it to everything in sight, like trying to match swatches at a fabric store. I've lost the focus of what I'm doing and moved towards how it stacks up with what everyone else is doing. Sharing work is vulnerable and I so desperately want to be good. For someone else to think what I do, what I make, and what I write -- is good.

Another one of my favorite bloggers, Hannah, recently wrote a post that ties quite nicely with these thoughts on inadequacy. She said, "Shouldn’t we be a society that tries to be aware of what beauty is, and how to recognize and cultivate it? I’ve been thinking about those questions lately, and I decided to take stock of what actually makes me feel beautiful."

I want to start taking stock of what makes me feel talented. And fulfilled. And here's the most important part - not dependent of other people's thoughts of my work.

I feel fulfilled when I hit publish on a post. When the words mean something to me. When they aren't the easiest to write, but sound so real when I'm done.

But mostly, I fill fulfilled when I work. When I do something hard, nose to the grind. When I write because I need to, not because I want to. When I look up and see a finished product, or an item crossed off the list, even though I wanted to blow two hours on Netflix instead.

That's what this project, this 52 Essays was all about - writing when I didn't want to and getting somewhere I want to be.  Not comparing or contrasting my tiny body of work to someone else.

So this is me, fingers on the keyboard, pumping out another week.



Essay 12 of 52: Rest


It's a snow day today.

Classes are cancelled. Work is cancelled. Practice is cancelled and all I can see is white. Snow is such a balm to this mountain girl's heart. I grew up in the woods of New Mexico. I grew up with no backyard boundaries and pine trees and snow on Easter Sunday. And there is nothing more comforting, more peaceful, more home, than snow.

I love snow days because they feel more like a pause than anything else. I might play catch up a bit, but more than likely, I am completely lazy. Staying in bed until noon, making pancakes, watching movies and baking cookies. The world stops for a moment and there is no guilt. That's the golden part - no guilt.

I pride myself on being someone who says "No" really well. For the most part, I don't over-commit myself. I'm social, but I have a very close circle of friends, most of whom live far away. My days are quiet and habitual. But am I allowing myself to fully rest?

A few weeks ago, I read something by Jess Connolly that really stuck with me. She said, "Rest means we stop trying to make ourselves well and let Him make us well."

It stuck with me.

For a long time I thought an empty calendar equaled a restful life. That is not the case.  Resting doesn't always mean being still and being still doesn't always mean resting. What are my thoughts? What am I focusing on?

And this is where my One Little Word comes into play again - Release.

Releasing, for me, is true rest. It is releasing myself from the guilt of a quiet afternoon when chores could be done. When dishes sit in the sink, crusty and old from last night. When I actively choose to share my heart with the Lord, instead of mentally redecorating my house. When I release myself into Him, I find real rest. The moment is actually physical. I feel myself literally loosen - like I've been holding my breath, holding my burden.

This weather, this calm, is such a good reminder to let myself rest. True rest. Not just binging on Netflix for hours, but connecting myself to truth. To release.

You know what's funny? This post was supposed to be about work. How writing is work and you have to push through and work when you don't feel like it and how work is ..... you know. But as I waited for my computer to load, I looked out the window. At snow. And I remembered how the working comes easily to me. But the resting? That is my true work.

Essay 11 of 52: teaching, but not a teacher

Yesterday, a few of us at work were sitting around chatting. I love that kind of stuff. I was talking to one of our newer co-workers who I don't know very well. I find her fascinating because I can tell she has LIVED. You know what I mean? She's taken chances and moved across the country and seen things and had important jobs. She seems like she has so much hiding under the surface and -- I respect her.

So we're talking back and forth and in the middle of our chat, she looks at me and says, "Have you ever thought about teaching? I think you would be a great teacher."

My initial reaction was delight. I love compliments. Verbal affirmation all the way.

My second reaction was disappointment.

I don't want to be a teacher. I tried subbing and I hated it. (Yes, I realize that subbing isn't actually teaching, but I still got a pretty good grasp on the life of a teacher.) My sister's a teacher and I see how tired she is, how the bad attitudes and the constant struggle of discipline weigh on her.

What a bummer to be good at something I don't really want to do.

A few hours later I'm at home, curling my hair for date night, when it hits me: I'm already a teacher. Since when was the classroom the only place teaching occurs? I love teaching, I'm good at it, and I'm already doing it.

I've taught Zumba, an experience that I loved. But I hope that when I was showing dance moves, that I was also teaching girls how to be sexy - no matter their size. I hope I was teaching confidence and security. I hope I was teaching that exercising is fun and doesn't always start with running five laps on a track.

I've been a camp counselor for fourth graders all the way to teenagers. I played volleyball and tether ball and four-square. I made countless friendship bracelets and listened to Taylor Swift for hours on end. But I hope that when I was with my sweet campers, I was teaching them too - how to be happy with their body, how to talk to peers, how to dance with abandon. I hope they listened when I shared my past hurts, struggles, and victories.

I was a youth intern too, the last two summers of my college years. I took girls to breakfast and played Catch Phrase and went repelling. We went to midnight premiers and on mission trips and hiked 14ers. But I was teaching them too. I hope I taught them the importance of prayer, of faith, of a personal relationship with Christ. I hope I taught them to laugh and cry and that as women, they are enough. Not too much, enough

But there is so much I still want to teach.

I want to teach my children. I want to show them how to be thoughtful, imaginative, and faithful. I want to encourage my babies to be thankful, be thinkers, and most importantly - to be themselves while allowing God to slowly refine them into the people He wants them to be. I know I will be teaching them regardless, but I want my example to be a good one.

I want to teach Sunday-school. I want to meet those middle-school girls right where they are and be honest. I want to watch movies with them and go running and be silly. I want them to know that middle school is survivable. I did it! I made it through. I want to teach toddlers and third-graders. I want to build on the foundation their parents have forged.

I want to teach young wives how to cook. How to prepare healthy foods for their family and husband. I was blessed to have a mom that taught me, but I know that's not always the case. I want to welcome them into my home and my marriage and let them see reality, but also see grace.

I want to teach women about Jesus, about being sinners and needing grace. I want to model encouragement and I want to really listen when they speak. I want to help women learn more about the Bible, how to study and what to read and how to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying. I want to teach by writing, but I also want to teach by doing and being - there in the moment. 

But mostly, I want to teach these things because I want to be these things.
Who said a true vocation requires a paycheck?

Essay 10 of 52: Ugly


Can I be honest?

Sometimes marriage brings out the worst in me. Sometimes I am selfish and bitter and fickle.
And I hate that.

Typically, when I'm writing my weekly essay, the subject comes easy. I write about thoughts I've had, conversations that have taken place, what God has been teaching me. It is comforting to take the running ticker-tape in my head and let it move through my fingers - recording that week. That moment.

But this week, as I sat down to write, all I could see in myself was the ugly.
It had been a rough week.

Writing about the ugly and the everyday is very hard. It's hard to admit to yourself who you really are - how low you can stoop, how loud you can get in an argument. Every time I thought about sitting down to write, I didn't want to sit face-to-face with my demons.

Tyler and I were talking at dinner the other night about Jesus. I've been reading through the book of Mark this month and I confessed to Tyler how much I struggle with reading through the Gospels. I know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with incredible stories of Jesus, fulfillment of old prophecy, and the ultimate love story. But sometimes, all I see is how far behind I am. How much I am lacking. I see my own failure.

And that's not very much fun to read, is it? I do so much better with Psalms. David gets me, y'all. But Jesus? I can never add up. Ever.

But it isn't until I'm immersed in my own failure that I can really see grace. How desperately I need it. How hopeless I am without it.

Yes, marriage brings out the my worst, but our marriage is also refining me. Scrapping away the yuck to reveal something Holy. Something beautiful. So I'm praying that I keep seeing the ugly. But that beyond that, I see what covers me. I see Jesus.

Essay 9 of 52: Sleeping Arrangements


Tyler is back in the thick of school and that means something significant - We don't go to bed at the same time anymore.

You might be single, or an "old" married couple and think this is no big deal.
But it is to me. 


Last night as Tyler and I were brushing our teeth, it struck me how much these small moments mean to me. The standing side-by-side as we take out our contacts. Walking through the house, turning off lamps and putting up shoes. Pulling back the covers and turning on the ceiling fan. All these seemingly insignificant moments have grown into something habitual and sacred. So when Tyler is up studying for a test and I'm standing in front of the bathroom mirror alone, it is one of the loneliest feelings.

There's something about pillow talk, isn't there? Just like gathering around the table for dinner, I never know if our bedtime conversation is going to be a quick set of back and forth comments, slowing moving into grunts, or if forty-five minutes later I'll be exclaiming at the time. There is a bit of magic in the surprise of it, the closeness of it. Out of all the countless things Tyler and I do together, getting into bed at the same time has to be at the top of my favorites list.

In July, Tyler will be leaving for an 8-week internship in the Washington D.C. area. My mind is over the moon about this opportunity. This is a highly competitive spot and I am bursting with pride and excitement about what this job will do for our future, for the doors that God has been opening and reaffirming. But my heart is aching.

The loneliness I feel now, when Tyler is studying two rooms over, will be nothing compared to this summer. I know that those eight weeks will be some of the hardest and longest weeks in our marriage. But I also know that we've survived worse. We've been separated by an ocean, a fifteen hour time difference, and months and months of time. And we made it. We're here.

So I will keep relishing these small moments, the quiet day-in-and-day-out of our routines. Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one and tonight will be blessedly homework free.

Essay 8 of 52: Survive or Thrive

The older I get, the more I've realized that I operate in two different gears: Survive or Thrive.

Surviving is minimal. It is scrounging. It is digging out an old granola bar for breakfast, or the sugary oatmeal I hate from the top shelf. Surviving is taking a nap at lunch, shoveling food down my throat on the way back to work. Surviving is three hours of television in the evenings. It is an unmade bed, dirty clothes piling around the chair in our room, and squeezing the  v e r y  l a s t  bit of the toothpaste on my toothbrush to avoid another trip to the store.

But thriving. Thriving is making it to work on time, belly full of eggs and toast and fruit. Thriving is making time for scripture and journaling before the sun peaks through our windows. It is curly hair bouncing and an outfit picked out the night before. Thriving means 24 ounces of water are consumed before 10:00 am and my nails are freshly painted. Thriving is a clean bathroom, a fully stocked fridge, and new craft in my hands.

January often morphs into a season of survival for me. The days are dark and the mornings are cold. Bed seems to good to refuse. I end up snoozing a few too many times and before I know it, my attitude for the day is set. Hair frizzy and up, makeup smudged, and coffee to go.

And that's okay. It really is.

I've also lived long enough to know that life is comprised of both surviving and thriving. Seasons of each, moving in and out like tiny stitches. I used to beat myself up about surviving. It felt dirty and bad and filled me with jealousy as I peeped on others who were in a season (or day) of thriving.

And I know that I can't let it last. I can't sink myself into a season of surviving. I can't loose myself in the softness, in being too easy on myself. Thriving is too good. We were meant to be disciplined and say no the bad things and yes to the good things.

But it is January. And I am surviving. And remembering that this isn't a permanent stage.

Essay 7 of 52: Dinner


  "If the home is a body, the table is the heart - the beating center of it all."
 Shauna Niequist

I love giving campus tours. I love getting outside of the office, shoes clomping along the sidewalk, Fitbit filling up with steps.

I love telling future students some of my favorite locations and memories of campus. I also love the running ticker-tape of personal memories that I don't share, wouldn't share. Eating ice cream cones with Tyler while lazily strolling back to our side-by-side apartments. Picnicking outside the Koffee Kup with Annie.

But the Cafeteria, that is my favorite. On the way out the door, I turn back and look at the student and worried parents, and I reassure them that the food is good. That the best part is not doing your own dishes, and that some of my most treasured memories involve sitting around these same tables, doing life and eating meals with my friends.

In college, we called it Family Dinner, and we met each weeknight at 5:00. It wasn't formal or planned, it just happened. Like gravity. Like home. I remember coming in at 5:00 and closing the place down at 7:00. I remember inventing really strange combinations and getting creative enough to make my own egg-salad sandwiches using ingredients found at the salad bar. I remember buying a new yellow dictionary, on a whim, and bringing it with me to dinner. We laughed for hours about words like bumfuzzle, and playing definition roulette - choosing words at random to represent each other. It was ridiculous. It was incredibly fun in the way unplanned events can be.

I remember when my roommate's fiance moved to Washington D.C. for the semester, and we opened the doors of our tiny apartment for a goodbye dinner. The cake was yellow and shaped like Texas and everyone ate their favorite city. We played Catch Phrase and Pictionary and I got ridiculously mad when I found out the other team had been getting away with cheating for the past twenty minutes. The couches were full and people sat on the floor and didn't mind at all.

And then I moved away, far away from family and friends, to a country I'd never been, and I ate a lot of meals alone. Meals alone can only be survived in front of the TV, with shows like Felicity and Gilmore Girls. Shows with "your people" in it. Food like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese, that tasted like home and cooked up quickly. But meals like Christmas dinner shouldn't be eaten alone and one of my favorite people in the world, sweet Rae, kidnapped me from a pity party of the highest degree to eat Bulgogi and drink Cider. It didn't feel like Christmas, but I wasn't alone.

I remember being in high school and eating dinner with my parents, day in and day out. Meals like fried turkey and mashed potatoes and green beans, all smothered with fresh gravy. Sometimes we ate and left to do homework, but sometimes we lingered. For one hour or two, watching the sunset and talking about life. I remember thinking, even then, in the fog of adolescence, that this was different. This was special.

And other people found it too, friends who came for Tuesday dinner. For fajitas and soft tacos. Those friends felt it - fellowship around the table. We were filled. Physically and emotionally.

I remember my first date with Tyler - at Chili's because the restaurant we really wanted to eat at was full. The meal was decent but the conversation was terrible. I wasn't sure I wanted to date him and I let him fill the silence with words, words, words. Thinking about it makes me smile because now I can't get enough of dinner with Tyler. There isn't anyone I want to sit down at a table with more.

Sometimes we eat with the T.V. on, but those nights are rare and for that, I'm thankful. Most of the time, our meal is swift and sweet, catching up and filling up. But I love the possibility, the opportunity that waits dormant during each meal, opportunity for lingering. For magic. Sometimes it catches me off guard when I'm clearing the table, how blessed I am to sit down each night and feed my husband with food I made, food that is healthy and satisfying. And as we eat, we get to talk. And that talking is good.

We don't plan on having children anytime soon, but I can't wait until they get to come to the table. To talk about their days or push green beans around on their plate. I can't wait for them to see a marriage at the table, to see disagreements or frustration or compromise. That is life and that is real.

I hope you can look back and measure your good times in dinner time. That you can taste and smell and hear those memories. And I hope that you keep filling your table - with two or twenty. I always need a reminder, that my table is Holy.

*Photo Note: I TROLLED Facebook looking for that photo above, completely candid and perfectly capturing our Family Dinners. I love this picture.

Essay 6 of 52: Nerves

Photo from A Christmas Story

I am nervous.

In twenty-five minutes, I'll get into my car and head to my freelance job - hosting specialty films at the Alamo Drafthouse.

It is by far, the coolest thing I've ever been involved with. I get to be onstage and talk about movies I LOVE. I get to meet and visit with other people who love those movies too. I get to tell jokes and see kids (and grown-ups) go nuts.

This is my 23rd show to host, and I still get nervous. Clammy palms nervous. And the nerves last until I'm waiting in the wings, seconds before walking up the stairs. So far I haven't tripped. I'll let you know when that happens.

I tell you this, not to brag about this awesome experience, but to share something important with you.

You need something in your life that makes you nervous. In a good way. 

In high school, two things made me "good way" nervous. Boys and sports. This carried on through college, but after I stopped playing sports and intramurrals, and found the man I wanted to marry, those "good way" nervous feelings stopped. My day job felt rather boring. My romantic life was blessed, steady, and wonderful. I was healthy. But I wasn't .... nervous. Hoping. Giddy. 

The first post-collegiate time I felt "good way" nervous was before I taught my very first Zumba class. I remember standing in the ladies dressing room, tying my shoestrings and feeling my shoulders shaking. Through the hundreds of classes I taught, the nerves grew less intense, but they were always there, especially when debuting a new track. The nerves fueled me.

You might think I am crazy. You might hate being nervous. And truthfully, the actual feeling of butterflies in my stomach isn't my favorite either. It's the high at the end, knowing that something was scary and unknown, but I did it anyway. It doesn't really matter if it was successful. I did my best. I tried.

When I was in high school, I started playing soccer my junior year. (It was a very small school.) I was decent and after an especially good game, my coach asked me to kick one of the penalty shots at the end of the game. I was nervous and I doubted myself. I said no.

Each time I'm faced with a new opportunity, a chance that makes me feel nervous, I think about that penalty kick. I will never know if I could have made it. Another chance never came. My nerves took control of me. I took the quick release of quitting over the longtime payout of the high.

But the high. There aren't many opportunites to feel "The High" after school ends. We get used to them. Grow accustomed to basing our value on that high. And their absence can be deflating. It can be depressing.

So you must search for opportunities to be nervous.

Take a class. Give a presentation at work. Book a vacation by yourself. Does going to a movie alone totally freak you out? Do that. Have you been wanting to join a singing group? Do that.

While most of my "good way" nervous experiences have me standing up in front of others, I don't think this is a key ingredient. I really love performing and for me, it's the ultimate adrenaline high. So when you get nervous about something, and it is your something, and you kill it? That is bliss. Nerves are so worth discovering something you rock at.

Oh, and this blog? This project? Clammy palms deluxe.

Ed. Note: After I finished this story, I headed to my show. During my speech, I flubbed a tidbit about the film. After beating myself up about it for a while, I decided I'd better release it. It was still worth it.

Essay 5 of 52: Release


Release is my word for 2015.

When I decided to choose a word for this upcoming year, I thought a lot about what my goals were. I thought about how good it felt to leave Zumba in 2014. To have Monday nights open again, to have room for something new. "Release" popped into my head almost instantly and it felt perfect. I literally felt my body relaxing, toes uncurling, shoulders loosening.

I am a clutcher by nature. A grudge-holder. A control-keeper. I get mad and I stay mad. I pile up frustrations and guilt like boxes in the attic.

Release.

I want my work to represent me physically and emotionally. I want to release myself from negative self-talk and guilt. I want to release myself from the control of food and shopping and the constant buying of THINGS.

I want to release myself from pressure. The pressure to be so good, so perfect, all the time. So perfect that I can't even apologize or own up to my own mistakes. Isn't that ridiculous? I want to release myself from the desire to always have it my way. From selfishness.

I want to release myself from obligations I no longer want to keep, from friendships and habits that hurt me. I want to release myself from expectations that choke me, that taint what is already good and priceless.

I want to release myself from other's expectations of what I should be, should wear, should buy.

And while I'm letting go of all these things, I want to grasp harder to what really matters: my relationship with my savior, my marriage, and my health.

I want to dig deeper into the Bible, into books, into eating foods that heal me. Into "yes."

I want to be thoughtful and I want to let go.

 

Essay 4 of 52: Letting Go


I don't know if I want to teach Zumba anymore.

I've been playing around with the idea in my head for quite some time now. But I know myself well enough now to realize that if I am toying with letting go or quitting something - it's that I really want to, but am afraid.

Becoming Zumba certified is one of my best and favorite decisions. It wasn't something that fell in my lap, or an opportunity I said "Yes!" to. It was a conscious choice. I even had to chase it down a bit. Wait for it.

I'm proud of teaching Zumba because it is one of the most vulnerable things I have ever done. It's still hard - to stand up in front of a group and dance. Not just dance, but lead them in dancing. Just the other day, (mind you, I've been teaching for two years) three new girls came to class. It was their first time, and I think they were embarassed to be new. They kept laughing and I had to keep reminding myself that the laughing wasn't triggered at me. But that's awfully hard to remember in the thick of the moment.

But all the vulnerablity, the hard work, the practice, the long hours - it payed off. I chased something I wanted to do and thrived in the doing.

But now, I don't really enjoy the doing anymore. Instead of getting ready for new songs each week - I dread class. I don't want to prepare new material. I wait till the last minute to prep a set list. My class size wasn't as successful this semester. And instead of working to make my classes better and recruit more students, I just .... gave in.

When the weekend would roll around and all those glorious hours of free time presented themselves, I didn't work on Zumba. Instead, I got really into quilting. I cleaned my house. I went on walks. I spent time with my sister. I shopped for home decor. I watched a movie with my husband.

Anything but Zumba.

I think I'm afraid to give it up, because it has come to define me. I've let it define me. I like what people think about me when they know I am a Zumba instructor. I love having on my resume. I like being known on campus as "The Zumba Lady."

And I don't want to give that up. But truthfully, I already have in my heart and in my actions.

In reality - Zumba doesn't define me. What really defines me is my relationships with others. How I treat my coworkers in the office. What my attitude is each day. How I treat my husband. Not my pastimes. Not my jobs.

In this upcoming year, I don't want that type of fear to control my decisions. In 2015, I want to keep working on how I define myself - the stream of self-talk I start each morning. I want to give myself more grace and less pressure. To realize the difference between hard work and working too hard. To set goals, but let real life get in the way. And be okay with it.

And also, I just want more time to quilt.

Here's to you 2015!