Body, Trauma, & Connection

Over the last month, I have had a book recommended to me, mentioned to me, and shared with me at least four times. The book, The Body Keeps the Score, is a well-known read in the psychology world as the author, Bessel Can der Kolk, is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Massachusetts.

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Blending neuroscience, medicine, psychiatry, and healing, Kolk breaks down what we understand trauma to be and how it shows up and manifests in our bodies. Powerfully, he uses case studies, interviews, and research to push the fact that because trauma is a fact of life, it is also an inherent public health issue.

Though only halfway through the book, I have already learned a lot of new concepts, particularly about our brain systems and how information is processed. Moreover, I have learned how this changes for someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the difference is huge. Traumatization re-wires processing functions and thus, reactions to stress occur even if the trigger or the stimulus does not present a viable threat. Kolk explains this process when he writes,

“While we all want to move beyond trauma, the part of our brain that is devoted to ensuring survival (deep below our rational brain) is not very good at denial. Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions, intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often being to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption.”[1]

Yeah, I know. Our minds (and bodies) are powerful.

Interestingly, a lot of what I am learning from this book connects to topics, therapies, and theories that I am learning in my coursework in the Counseling Program at University of Colorado Denver. In both of my courses, Counseling Theories and Multicultural Counseling, we have discussed trauma in varying capacities. In Multicultural, we have explored the epigenetics of trauma (intergenerational trauma) when it is passed down and through family lineages. In Theories, we have begun conversations in how to use certain techniques with clients who have experienced trauma, techniques like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapies, or stress inoculation training (SIT).

It is all connecting – and usually that is how I know am on to something meaningful and important in my life.

For most of this year (and last), I have been working on reconnecting with my emotions and body. For a long duration of time, it was hard for me to cry and emote for things that would have previously sparked an emotional response (Moana and Coco not included). This left me feeling disconnected and far from the core of my personal self. This is another aspect of trauma that is just as important, but perhaps, less discussed.

Kolk shares in some of the stories about clients he worked with that some “could not feel whole areas of their bodies.” This happened because in some cases, to cope, people shutdown of parts of their brain, particularly the parts that send out feelings and emotions. This doesn’t only affect the negative emotions, the ones that they want to remove, but all emotions, too.

While my experience in desensitization was not as extreme, I still knew that my brain and body has experienced emotional blockage. Through walks, hikes, rollerblading, writing, counseling, and weightlifting, I have come to understand the weightiness of shame and how it blocks us from our true selves. This has been a major part of the emotional blocks that I have felt in the last year and being able to name that has been an important part of re-orientating my self-awareness.

So, what, in this context does healing look like?

For me, it has been about confronting the pain, sitting in silence, recognizing the hurt (non-judgmentally), and taking power back over it. Just trying to identify what I feel in any given moments has been annoyingly slow (to be honest). But also, as I have been able to do this, I can move closer to a radical acceptance of myself.

This begins in the body, mind, and heart and flows outward.

Like I said, it is a long process. But, I have needed to start it, and I am grateful I have. Plus, it’s pretty wonderful to have good books to help, support, and clarify the process along the way.

Kolk proposes the question that guides his work and his book, “how can people gain control over the residues of past trauma and return to being masters of their own ship?

I am still learning and figuring that out. I think in a large sense, we all are.

[1]Van Der Kolk, Bessel. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

from, through, to

Last month, Our Bible App officially launched.

I first learned about the development of Our Bible App after Chelsea attended the Gay Christian Conference in 2017 (now Q Christian Fellowship) and learned about the project. The creator, Crystal Cheatham, was looking for devotional writers.

On a whim, I submitted a devotional and low and behold, it got published.

Our Bible App is a “progressive worship and meditation experience” that offers multiple bible translations and additional podcasts, video, and writings from pro-LGBTQ+ individuals and advocates for interfaith inclusivity. You can download it here, and is available in Android or Apple format.

The mission of Our Bible App is broad; the app “…supports the belief that spirituality is a spectrum and that faith is a journey. At its core, the holy text was written to be inclusive of all of God’s creation especially those on the margins.” The goal of the resource is to “untangle the binds that Christian colonizers have spread across the globe over hundreds of years.”

That’s huge. And, I’m grateful to have some small, teeny, tiny part. I’ve included my devotional below (titled “from, through, to“), but if you are interested in learning more about this work, you can read about it in Sojourners and via PBS.

Cheers.


 

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from   

A closeted woman, I carried the secret of my sexual identity for over 15 years until my aunt bluntly probed during a late, wine-infused Thanksgiving evening, “are you gay?”

The world stood still. I froze. I knew. “Yeah, yeah. I mean, yes, I’m gay.”

In the aftermath of her asking, however, I wasn’t yet ready to fully “come out.” Yet, though my journey ofopenness began here, I was still so far removed from any ounce of a freedom to be me.

I was stuck on one repeated worry, “what would God think?”

Though I could verbalize my gayness, living life openly (and liberated from fear) would take a lot more time – and perhaps a lot more conversation (wine included).

The taste of freedom for my half-opened gayness lasted one week. Then, like a tidal wave absorbing each grain of the sand, I fled from the truth, using the following year to try and “fix myself.” I tried believing that being gay was wrong and in a twisted expression of love, that my faithfulness for God could be conveyed through a path of righteousness – shame and doubt as the main forms of transport.

Denial worked, to a point, until I came upon the intensity and depth of the gospel. Instead of ignoring questions about who I was and how I was created, I began to ask them to God. I slowly sought to remove the voices of my head, the sound of religiosity flowing from my past, and to hear only the voice of the Divine. I could be vulnerable – not necessarily yet for others, but first, for God and for myself.

The gospel is a story of God’s people returning to who they were made to be. Our God does not desire or expect us to hide from Him; that “god” is a man-made, offensive, and manipulated version of who God is. God is wide, vast, loving, and able to exist within tensions and complexities that we can hardly grasp. This God re-writes the narrative that humans are only evil, malicious, and sinful people. God made us in His image[1], and hence, there are fragments of His character everywhere.

A return to God is less about a perfection of righteousness, and more about the righteousness that comes from Him, God. God created us as free, open, and genuine humans. When it comes to our identity this is even more pressing: if we are unable to see that all of us come from God then how can we celebrate the lives we have been called to?

My aunt always assured me that “God makes no mistakes” and until I explored, acknowledged, and celebrated my whole identity, especially being gay, I was unable to proclaim that indeed, I was no mistake. I’m not; my roots and origins are abundantly from God.

What God wanted, was me to be me. For me to live as His daughter, unashamed and copiously open to His love. When we are released of living into the shell of someone else, we are free. We are given grace. Like our identity, this is from Him. My prayer is that we can receive it.

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If all things, including our identity are from Him (God), then all things are also through Him.

Being a Christian who also happens to be lesbian is hard.

“Coming out” was arduous not because of the brave boldness that is required with others, but because an internal transformation of integrated identities is needed in asserting who you are.

Internal transformation shifts attitudes of fear to celebration. This kind of transformation occurs through Christ, the Messiah, that is God who meets us in human form. Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that as a woman, I was enough. I was wonderfully adequate. I did not have to change because an ideology or institution was telling me that I had to. I returned to the question, “what does God want?”

To live authentically with unyielding love for God and others – that’s the answer.

When I finally came out – to myself, most notably – I did not accomplish this through my own abilities. Christ’s love was flowing and alive in me. I could accept myself because I knew I was safe, and wholly loved with God. Christ infused belief and hope through me and brought me on a path I did not expect. I could be Christian. And, also, I could be gay.

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Accepting each part of our identity is our life’s work.

We never stop this process. As we take a broader look at our existence, our lives become testaments and offerings back to God himself. Not religious sacrifice, but of loving, genuine devotion and gratitude.

When I reconfirmed to the world that I loved Christ (and that I was gay) I began to have conversations I never could have anticipated. People reached out to me, thanking me for my sincerity, and in turn, shared the deep corners of themselves that they had previously hid. I met someone new. I healed from a broken heart.

When we allow our identities (all of them) to stitch together and form one, unique, diverse fabric, we are presenting ourselves wholly to Christ. God can admire the work that has been done, the beautiful blending of His fingerprints and our choices, and know that are made to exude, proclaim, and propel love forward.

Let us bring our identities from God, through God, and to God, with hearts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and all good fruits that remind the world that being gay and being Christian are just one parts of a diverse fabric of God’s people.

[1] Genesis 1:27

change & bowls of oatmeal

It is morning.

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My fingers perch on top of the counter as the sluggish hum of the microwave swirls through the kitchen. The low, faint sounds of humans beginning their day start to flow as night ebbs away. Soon, and not a moment faster, my coffee will be ready.

The clock on the microwave counts down from 1:30, 1:29, 1:28… the perfect amount of time needed to cook the most divine bowl of oatmeal.

I have been eating oatmeal for breakfast for the last six years of my life. It is so habitual to eat oatmeal that when I don’t, I feel out of whack.

Indeed, it’s an art:

1 banana, a dollop of peanut butter, and a sliver of granola (for crunch) and you are on your way to breakfast heaven.

Today, as I groggily mixed my ingredients together, I had a flashback of when over a year ago, I began staying at Chelsea’s apartment and would prepare the same morning breakfast in her mod-sleek kitchen.

Things were different then: I would spend the night, bringing a packed bag (or three) and in the morning, we would wake up, share breakfast (as we read The Skimm aloud), and head into work. I was so giddy with love that I would beam with delight on my commute, almost like someone plastered a smile on my face.

That wasn’t the oatmeal (or the coffee) – I was falling in love.

Now, I still have the same oatmeal for breakfast, but I eat it in our home – usually before early morning calls to Rwanda. In our shared kitchen, I know where everything is, like a sweet song memorized, so I can do it with my eyes half-closed (and sometimes they literally are).

Chelsea and I, at the beginning of our relationship, were so routine about eating breakfast together. It was “our thing.” As I chewed my food this morning, it dawned on me: so much about us and about the rhythm of our life has changed.

These days, Chelsea starts work before the crack of dawn at Starbucks and so the start times to our days are stacked and unsynchronized. And, when she is able to sleep in, I am usually up, on a call, riding the train, or headed to class. I’m working and studying and so when it comes to mornings, there is not a minute to lose. When I look back, of course, I miss those early days.

But, you know what?

Though the newness of our love is fading ever so slightly, the trust, deep knowing, reliability, authenticity, and commitment are coming to bloom. The relationship, I think, is maturing.

For so long, I hated to spend hours (god forbid, days) away from my beloved. And still, I miss her, but now I know what I did not know before: she knows me, she sees me, she loves me – and she isn’t going anywhere. It sounds simple, but the fruit of building a strong foundation is literally just that – a strong foundation. That means that whether or not we are sharing breakfast, I know I get to come home to this spectacularly delightful human each and every day.

This is the woman who:

has taken me to the doctor when I’ve been sick, has run me hot baths on tough days, has stocked my favorite bottle of red wine, has edited my writing pieces, has encouraged me to follow my dreams, has purchased roller blades to accompany me on my adventures, has taken me to the airport at twilight hours, has driven in the snow when I was too frightful, has modeled incredible self-care, has shared her reading list, has sewed my clothing, has dared to be boldly vulnerable and brave, and more than anything, has shown up and loved.

She has filled the spaces of my life and it’s like glue in all the cracks, bringing it all together in a beautiful mosaic. Irrevocably, our lives are intermingled and that is the change I see the most.

We are not like we used to be.

Certainly, that is a common realization upon the process of personal self-reflection, however, it is particularly poignant in the context of a relationship. The relationship has changed, because we – both of us – have.

Our love has been strengthened, too, often by very difficult, challenging circumstances. I never knew that about love – that love doesn’t only grow and beautify because of good things. It grows because even in the murkiest of waters, you know (and choose) the person you want to walk through it with.

Where did the time go?

I think about the swiftness of the year, the months, and the days, as I eat my oatmeal, alone, on the couch before the business of the day arrives. I cannot pinpoint the moment we began to change because we are always in motion, always in progress, always, always learning.

That is enough to know, because I love where we are – whether we share oatmeal, or not.

 

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The Next Big Thing

I knew at a young age that my bones, brain, and heart had been crafted in such a way that I was meant to help people. When my grandmother cooked chili and grilled cheese for dinner, I wanted to set the table. When my teacher had a stack of papers to grade, I wanted to make sure she had a full set of pens. When my teammate was hurt, I was first to make sure she had the proper medical equipment or medicines. More than just action, I knew and believed in the power of asking questions and helping people through conversation and dialogue.

It was here where I felt most energized.

This deeply earnest part of me was like a seed that grew (and grew) as I got older. Helping in many ways, became a way that I felt most apt in communicating love.

And yet, growing up becomes more complicated. As I ventured into my teens, and young adulthood, I had to learn the necessary (but at times painful) process of also accepting, receiving, and engaging with help. I had to learn to ask for it, and I had to learn that it was healthy to acquiesce to it. Being helpful certainly doesn’t make you invincible. When I was stranded, someone always showed up. When I needed extra money, a check always came my way. When I was sick, someone always filled in as my caretaker. When I was heartbroken, someone was there to rub my back.

At 29, I recognize fully that there is no way anyone can do this – life – alone.

We need each other.

By knowing the power of relying on one another, I have been able to find a great deal of healing from pain in my past. Healing, I know now, requires us often to go back to places of suffering. Instead of pushing against my own feelings, reflections, or experiences, I have chosen them. I have acknowledged them. I have reconciled with them.

This has been grueling, and it has not come quick or fast. Yet, through this process, I know that I can now fully, authentically, genuinely help others. This realization has been life-changing for me – now, I know that I’m ready to take the next step in my professional life because of the work I have done in my personal life.

Often, the notion of my career has included education and advocacy for people who need it the most. Now, knowing what I know, and believing what I do, I am pursuing to be a Licensed Professional Counselor through the School of Education & Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. Because I do love helping, and because I love people, I would like to apply my life experiences into a professional path that creates access to healing for anyone – and everyone. For the next 3 years, I will be training with other Counseling candidates to become certified and work on behalf of those needing mental health services.

The University of Colorado Denver is unique in how they structure the Counseling program; with multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion at its core, all of the methodologies, theories, and therapies that I will be learning will hold tightly to these values. I will learn how to be not only a counselor, but a counselor that has to consider privilege, difference, and oppression as we work for social justice. Our world needs this.

I want to be a counselor because I want to help people understand their lives better, to know themselves, and most importantly, to know they matter and that healing is possible. I want to be a counselor because I believe that this service is too often inaccessible for many people in our society. I want to equip individuals with the mental help and wellness they may need. Whether it’s refugees, the elderly, or LGBTQ+ people, I want to be a part of a movement that brings mental health services to ALL.

I want to create a safe space – even if it is the smallest of spaces.

Becoming a counselor has been a dream of mine for many years. And yet, it has never been the right time. Other things were in the way, I had too much to work through, or I was abroad. They say timing is everything – and they’re right. Now, it is the right time, and I am beginning a path that will not only fulfill a professional desire, but a personal one, too.

I will help people, and in turn, I recognize they will help me too.

Here’s to the next big thing, with lots of dreams, love, work, hope, and papers. Always papers. This new journey begins on January 17th, and likely will take 3 – 3 ½ years to complete.

I’m in it for the long haul and truly, I can’t wait to get started.

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New Things I’ve Learned This Year (2017)

2017 has been a huge year. There have been momentous times of joy, and also, seasons of deep hurt. Adulthood is showing me this – that we carry these tensions together, often, and that holding both hope and pain at once is completely, one-hundred-percent okay. There have been travels, adventure, and also, writing, decision-making, and new seasons. This year, I’ve learned some important things, and I feel motivated to share. The truth is, we’re all always learning – can you see it? Can you notice it? Do you allow it to change you? It’s in these places that we grow and we can become consistently, fully ourselves. Cheers.

IDINA MENZEL IS THE REAL DEAL. 

Like everyone in the universe, I was a fan of Frozen when the Disney classic was first released. What I did not understand – fully – from enjoying the film was just how much talent Idina Menzel holds.

Luckily, in perusing options for celebrating Chelsea’s birthday, I stumbled across tickets for a summer Idina show. Chelsea once had mentioned that Idina was her “girl crush” and so attending her concert would be the perfect kind of gift. I purchased the tickets and she was delighted. We attended the concert and oh my good gracious – I was absolutely blown away. The cadence of her voice, the intensity of her stage present – it all rocked me. Finally, fully, I could appreciate the gift of Idina. It was easily one of the best concerts that I have ever attended.

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Idina at Fiddler’s Green in August.

NOBODY GRIEVES THE SAME WAY.

Tragically, during the month of August, Chelsea lost both of her grandparents, lovingly called “Omi” and “Poppi.” Simultaneously sifting through photographs from childhood and hearing stories of their life together, I knew this was a major loss for my beloved. As a partner, standing in the grief, I was initially overwhelmed. Ultimately, there was nothing I could do to change what had happened.

More than that, Chelsea was handling her sadness different than I would. She was handling it head on, where for me, I often put my grief or sadness in a box and deal with it later. Bravely, Chelsea chose another way. At first, it was hard for me to adjust to. But, eventually, I came to learn and respect the value of difference and how we each have to take steps in our journey that aren’t the same as others around us. It’s part of being human, and I am grateful that she could teach me this in a genuine and authentic way.

REST, FOR ME, MEANS SPONTANEITY. 

Towards the end of this year, I felt frazzled, overwhelmed, and really, just all over the place. Work was bleeding into my personal life and I felt like everything was meshing together. I was trying to take time to be quiet, to be still, but I wasn’t necessarily re-entering life fully refreshed. And then! One evening, Chelsea and I were discussing the way in which we wanted to live our lives, yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily. A common theme emerged: spontaneous fun. Yes, fun, but fun that wasn’t coordinated or planned or etched into the calendar. Literally, fun for the hell of it.

We have started to do this – whether it means grabbing our favorite sandwich instead of doing laundry, or seeing a movie last minute instead of watching our normal Netflix show – we are learning the value of going against a hard, rigid schedule sometimes. It is reenergizing, surprising, and honestly, so fun.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL (AHEM, THE SOONERS) ARE BETTER THAN THE NFL. 

One of the things that I have always known about Chelsea? She is from Oklahoma.

Because of that, inheriting Sooner fandom was a part of the package deal. Her family loves the fandom of Boomer Sooner and so this year, I had the opportunity to attend my very first college football game in Norman, Oklahoma. Together with Chelsea and her father, we went on a Sunday afternoon to arguably, the country’s epicenter for football. I could barely contain myself with everything – the colors, the size of the stadium, and the adrenaline. Sure, the NFL is fun to watch, but what is better than watching a sporting game with new, enthusiastic family? It’s pretty hard to beat.

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Oklahoma vs. Tulane in September. The Sooners won big, with a score of 56-14.

LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS ARE REALLY (REALLY) HARD. 

Beginning in early January until early March, I was in Rwanda for work with The Women’s Bakery. That meant that at an important time in my relationship, Chelsea and I would be growing together from a distance – a really long distance. When I flew out of Denver, to Detroit, and on to Kigali, I was nervous. I had never done this before, not like this, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I learned is that loving another human from far away is difficult. I grasped that sharing the little pieces of life becomes much more challenging over a screen. We persevered, of course, and what happened upon coming home was that I was surer than ever that this was the woman I loved and the woman I wanted to be with.

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Rwanda in February.

GOOD READERS NEED GOODREADS.

Several friends introduced me to Goodreads back in the day, but truthfully, I didn’t really understand how it worked. I gave it another go this year and it was exactly what I needed to help me read a book at least every 2 weeks. Goodreads is great, and certainly a must-have application for the phone, especially when tracking reading progress throughout the year.

MY BEST FRIENDS ARE STILL MY BEST FRIENDS.

For the first time in my life, I traveled to the state of Massachusetts and Rhode Island this year! With Ali, Michelle, Rachel, and Jordana – my best friends from college – we gathered together, again, to catch up on life and spend time together. We sipped coffee in the morning and wine at night. We went on walks. We told each other stories. I understood from these precious moments that these girls, now women, will always, always, have a special place in my heart. They will always be my best friends – and that makes me immensely joyful.

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Together again this past May! The Hey Girl Heys hit Rhode Island and it was everything.

HOME ISN’T NECESSARILY A PLACE.

I struggled in my early twenties to find “home.” Sure, there was home home back in Colorado, but I was confused with how much I had grown to also love Arkansas. And then, there was Rwanda. For many years, this was my home, a place that I felt most like myself. Yet, as I readjusted in my mid-twenties back to life in the United States, I was confused about where I belonged. Sure, Denver has always (and always will be) my first home. But this year, I learned that home is more about the people than the place itself. I fell in love hard this year. I began to love a woman that saw me differently than anyone ever had. Time with her, and being known by her, this was home. I was a bit surprised by this; I did not know love could be like that.

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Exploring Red Rocks over the summer with visiting family.

PURSUING DREAMS CAN SOMETIMES BE A CHOICE.

For many years, I have wanted to go back to school. Social Work. Education. Counseling. I have thrown many ideas around, hoping that I could land at one that would be the one – as if a diploma could complete or validate me at all (it can’t). In moments of peace, clarity, and quiet, along the shores of Kivu in Rwanda, I re-discovered a deep knowing. More than anything, I want to help people. And, more than that, I want to be a person that can hear the stories of others and help them. I want to be a counselor. I want to be a counselor because all of us deserve to be heard, and all of us deserve to find healing. In July, I applied to the Graduate Counseling Program at the University of Colorado Denver (specializing in Clinical Mental Health (Multicultural Track)). In October, I interviewed for a competitive spot. In November, I got in. I start classes next month and I could not be more ecstatic. 

PUFFY CHEETOS ARE CRAZY DELICIOUS.

I might be the vegetarian, and thus, have introduced Chelsea to all sorts of ways to prepare vegetables (deliciously), however, she has introduced me to White Cheddar Puffy Cheetos and my life will not be the same. You MUST eat these wonderfully addictive snacks. You won’t be sorry.

PROPOSING IS MORE THAN A QUESTION.

In October, I asked Chelsea to be my wife. Admittedly, I scoured the internet for ideas or stories of how other people have gone about proposing to their significant other. Eventually, though, I had to step back from the noise of others and reflect honestly and authentically. What did this experience mean for me? What did it mean for Chelsea? As I planned, I prepared my heart for this huge step. More than just a question, “will you marry me?” is a commitment, a statement of love, and to me, a promise. More than ever, I know that she is the woman I want to share life with. That deep knowing – that is what proposing is all about. 

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November: Celebrating our engagement in San Francisco, California.

ACCEPTING YOURSELF WON’T HAPPEN JUST BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE ACCEPT YOU.

One of my areas of weakness is that I sometimes do things for the sake of making other people happy. A less nice way to say this is being a “people pleaser.” While looking to others’ happiness can be a nice gesture, it is otherwise unhealthy when it becomes a centering objective in what you do. That’s what made “coming out” so hard – I knew that I would upset people. Eventually, I had to recognize that my happiness, in this case, had to come first. However, I still have a lot of work to do on this. This year, now with Chelsea and fully out, I discovered that even so, I still carry a lot of shame with me. Earning acceptance from others, I have supposed, would allow myself to come around fully to who I am. Honestly, this has failed. I cannot wait for the approval of others so that I have the approval of myself. That must – it must – come first.

WALKING IS THE SPORT OF THE SEASON.

There have been seasons of my life where running – the harsh breathing and flowing movement – has been my main way of de-stressing. Those days, at least for now, are over. Instead, this year, I’ve learned to love the joys of walking. One foot in front of another, looking up and around, I have found a lot of peace in taking morning and evening walks to re-center myself. The pace is slower than running, but for now, that’s what I need. I need to notice. I need to look. I need to take the world in. And still, I must move. That’s why walking has become so important for me.

 

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Walking & exploring the topography in New Mexico, just outside Sante Fe in September.

MIRACLES HAPPEN. 

I have always believed in miracles. However, sometimes the hardness of life stiffens my usually open spirituality and miss the many small miracles happening around us. This year, I witnessed a big one – my brother graduating college. This act, this celebration, propelled me forward to remember, always holding to the truth, that miracles are around us, and they are happening all the time. They don’t have to be dramatic or completely unheard of – they can be small, daily things that prove that we are stronger than we know and that we can do things that we thought to be impossible. I still believe in them, and I hope, really, really hope, that I always will.

It’s been a good year and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings. 

Onward & Upward

Driving to the Denver Coliseum last week, on a Friday mid-afternoon, I found myself nervous, giddy, proud, and ecstatic all at once. Grandma, smiling with a dark red lipstick, was in the passenger seat as the soft sound of Google Maps ensured that I took the fastest route. We parked close to the old beige-colored building and were able to find the rest of my family waiting inside.

We – all of us – had gathered to witness something miraculously momentous.

My brother was graduating college. Lance – he did it!

The anticipation was palpable as the ceremony begun and the commencement speakers shared their keen words of wisdom. I was particularly inspired after hearing from Metro State’s current President, Janine Davidson, who formerly served as an undersecretary for the U.S. Navy, among other high-level leadership positions in the Pentagon (um, so cool). She acknowledged that for many students, the path to success is not linear – it’s bumpy and windy, and often, ends up in places that we couldn’t necessarily expect. She shared that the youngest graduate from the December 2017 class was in their twenties – the oldest, in their seventies. She noted that over 300 graduates were the first in their families to secure a degree. From anecdote, to fact, to story, she exemplified why graduations are important at all – and I couldn’t help but glance at Lance ever so often, remembering all that he has been through to get here.

Simultaneously, I sat next to (and at times, held) Kysyn and AnaLynah, my nephew and niece, encouraging them to cheer loudly when they heard their dad’s name. Eventually, he stood, and meandered toward stage in a slow-moving line.

Lance Taylor Newell.  

We cheered and clapped and smiled. Yes! It was happening.

You see, the path for my brother was not and has not been easy. He has had to overcome challenges that I could not dream of facing. And yet, he has survived.

I don’t say that lightly either; many times, especially while I was living abroad, I wondered if I would see him again. I feared that we would lose touch. That maybe, things would never get better. In my heart, I knew how badly he wanted a solid, strong future. But, ultimately, he was going to have to fight for it. He did – and he won.

As I heard my brother’s name called for completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, I tried to freeze and capture the moment as best as I could. I looked around at our family, I gazed at him, and I held closely to my feelings of joy. I did not soon want to forget the rawness of miraculous joy. There really is no feeling like it.

A couple days later, at his graduation party, my mom and step-dad showed a slide show with pictures from many points in his life. From his teen years, from his time in sports, and even his earliest pictures, at just over 3 lbs, when he was still in the hospital. It was those pictures that made me weep; I have known Lance my entire life and for the duration of his life, he has been fighting. He has been brave. He has been resilient. He is not perfect – nor am I – but he’s done something that I hope he is proud of.

My biggest hope for him is that his story becomes one that he not only shares – but one that he can look back on and be proud of.

More people need to know that surviving (and thriving) is an option. More people need to know that overcoming addiction is possible. More people need to know that addressing mental illness is critical and necessary and NOT a weakness. And, more people need to know that it has been done.

My other biggest hope is that Lance can know deeply, and fully, how valued (and loved) he is. Though a diploma is a testament to one kind of success – it can never give a person the full value that they deserve.

Lance – wholly and completely himself – is worth gold. I have never been prouder and I simply cannot wait to see what is next on the horizon.

Sibling relationships are special – after all, at least for Lance and me, it’s the only kind of relationship where we’ve have shared so much of life at similar ages and at similar times. I used to say that Lance was my best friend. Though adult life has taken us to different places for different reasons, I still believe he is.

He knows me. He is my best friend.

And, he’s a newly graduated young man with so much ahead of him.

Onward and upward.

Moving In 101

Earlier this year, in June, after over half a year together, Chelsea and I decided to move in together.

This was a relatively easy choice; it made sense for us financially, it made sense for where we were in our relationship, and also, as mature, young adults, it would allow us to keep growing in our relationship and sharing our lives together.

When you are not living with your partner, there is a limitation for what you can share.

How long do they brush their teeth?

How much do they snore?

How many times does their alarm clock go off in the morning?

How do they fold their laundry?

How do they plan for the week?

Do they sing in the shower?

Do they clean up after themselves?

Do they have a routine for paying the bills?

Do they cook dinner or eat out?

There is so much that co-habitation can teach you. And, when the time is right, it is a stretching, meaningful, and frankly, incredibly important experience.

Knowing that Chelsea was the person I wanted to fully, 100% commit to, I knew that moving in was the next step in the long journey of a relationship. It certainly was not something we decided overnight. We discussed what that would mean over the course of weeks and months – even while I was away in Rwanda earlier in the year. When I came back, and we got more serious, we began to openly discuss what a shared, co-habituating life would mean for us. One day, after church, we sipped coffee at a trendy coffeehouse in Uptown for several hours as we talked about the different ins and outs of living together. We even wrote up notes on this conversation.

We talked about our expectations, our hopes, and our dreams. We talked about chores, about work-life balance, and about taking Sabbath. We discussed how we would pay for groceries and also, who would cook, when. We brainstormed how we could differentiate for what this season would be in our lives, versus when we get engaged, get married, and the like. From the beginning of our relationship, it has been important for us to take every season in stride, for what it is, and for why it has meaning. For example, when we were dating, we tried visiting new places, often and frequently, so we could learn more about one another. Once we got promise rings for each other, the conversations intensified, and we began to share our dreams for the future and what those could look like if they were fused together.

On our move-in day, I was jubilant. It was happening!

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In seven (long) hours we consolidated our stuff from each of our homes into the new one that we were starting together. We ate Qdoba on our first night in our new place, and I was so happy that “home” was inclusive of a place we shared together. In the months that followed, we learned a lot about each other. For example, Chelsea is a diligent rice cooker (who knew?). That’s her domain, without any question. However, if we need to experiment or change something up in a recipe, I’m your girl. Quickly, we learned our strengths (and weaknesses) and played to them.

Moving in together is a big deal. Moving in together is a huge step and should be taken when the relationship has two, committed people, in it for the long haul. Living together should be an intentional step too, ensuring that both people are on the same page for what responsibilities they have and how it will affect the relationship.

Of course, when we made the decision to move forward in it, old memories of “wait until you get married” and “whatever you do, dont live in sin” came flooding back. These old, traditional mantras always do. There is so much fear-loaded rhetoric for young people to move in with their significant others.

Like the plethora of pumpkin flavors at Trader Joe’s in the fall, unspoken and spoken moral codes are often the most pervasive when it comes to thinking about the “right way” to live your life. And, I get it. Moving in with your partner should be an informed, thoughtful decision. Yet, I think we can do more to educate youth on what that means and the kinds of conversations we can have around those choices.

If we are so busy telling people not to live together, we miss the opportunity to have the conversation about what happens when it happens. Because, that’s the thing. It will happen.

What I have so loved about living with Chelsea has been that we have been able to build a strong foundation for our lives. We, literally, are getting practice for sharing the load of adulthood, and still making space for ourselves, each other, our faiths, and the many other things that we love. Like sports, living together has taught me about teamwork and partnership. It has also taught me how to be present in the best (and worst) times of another person (and vice versa). Living with another human brings down the walls of facades; no longer will you be the public persona of yourself.

In the end, you will just be, you.

You have to be ready to show the “real” you if you’re willing to move in with someone. You have to be ready to be vulnerable, honest, and humble.
You have to be ready to be an active participant in someone else’s life – not just your own.

These are real measures of maturity in a relationship. I am beyond grateful to be experiencing – and learning from them. We have not had a perfect ride, by any means, but we have been open. It has made all the difference.

Relationship education is a growing need our world desires. I wonder what it would be like to emphasize the opportunity for conversation around growing up, adulthood, and partnership. These are the real conversations. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t had them and for future generations, I hope we can start having them too.

There is no list to follow, there is no how-to-guide. Instead, moving in with another person is about knowing yourself, knowing your partner, and knowing where you are headed. This takes a lot of self-awareness, faith, and gusto – not just for the first few months, but for the long haul. Sharing your life is a big deal. Let’s not forget that.

I have never been happier in a home than I have with Chelsea. Perhaps, ironically, it is because moving in was not only about creating a real, physical, and tangible home together but also, starting (and growing) a home between us. This takes work. Every. Single. Day. However, it is a gift and I hold that close and dear to my heart.

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