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.


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!