Christmas 2017

As Children, We Believe

The song “My grown-up Christmas list” hits home in different ways for different people, but I think it hits everyone in some way or another. Past regrets resurfacing, wishful thinking for missed opportunities, longing for loved ones, or desires to change the world- all, and more, dot the bulleted lists of grown-ups “from one to ninety-two” (you’ll be singing by the end of this, mark my jingling words).

As a young woman with a heart the size of Santa’s Village, I, of course, have aspirations to impact the world around me for the better, one twinkling smile at a time. Outside of those wishes, though, and inside my holiday-adoring heart, I have a list that seems, somehow, more impossibly attainable than world betterment: family traditions, skirted by an aching for a loving, joyful home.

Family traditions are a concept that rings wondrously in my ears. I don’t know why, where things died off, or when the Who’s in my family stopped being welcome with holiday cheer, all I know is that we don’t… really… have any Christmas traditions. This stems from the fact that my family doesn’t exactly operate as a “family”- we don’t sit around the dinner table, we don’t carve pumpkins, we don’t picnic, we don’t talk openly.

At school, at work, even at Wal-Mart I can spread optimism to suffering hearts, bandage the wounds of the hurt, and lend an ear to the lonely. I spread the Christmas cheer ❤︎. But at home? The joy is sapped by tired, working limbs which view love as putting food on the table and buying presents rather than embarassing bear hugs and laughs at the kitchen table. Traditions give way to the stressful reality of the lives of middle class workers trying to ensure their kids have better lives than they did.

Traditions…

Impossibly attainable.

I love that the ideal behind the song “My Christmas List” is to spread goodwill towards men, but for me, it’s a song singing sweet silver bells clearer to my heart about the warmth of a true family.

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Christmas movies:

When my brother and I were itty bitty, mom could coerce my father into somewhat-willingly watching the kiddy Christmas movies with us in the living room, curled up in blankets on the couch. Nowadays though, his definition of an acceptable Christmas movie is limited to Die Hard, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and maybe Scrooged. (Though Rudolph just came on TV and he was singing along- caught ya’!)

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Gingerbread houses:

I mentioned already how I’ve never carved a pumpkin, right? Well, you guessed it, I’ve never built a gingerbread house either (this is a sad read for you die hard Christmas-er’s, I know, please bear with me). And what’s better than a tradition you can eat afterwards??

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Stockings:

Presents under the tree and stockings hanging from the fireplace

Yeah…

We don’t do either.

Christmas morning, dad leads us down the stairs and around the hallway corner, eyes closed, to- not the tree, but the couch. The couch, where mom has layed out our presents, equally split for my brother and me and devoid of wrapping. (Please don’t mistake this for ingratitude, I’m very grateful for all my parents do for me, there’s just an element of warmth missing from the picture.) Mom so infrequently turns to classic means of wrapping that I don’t even know how to wrap a present.

Alongside the presents are our stockings, which is still sweet… but they certainly weren’t hanging from the fireplace. That’s a traditional sidepiece I hope my own kids, with the planning of my husband and me, will get to participate in.

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Mini Christmas trees:

On the bus ride to school senior year, I heard one of the younger girls talking about how her and her sister had finished setting up their trees in each of their rooms. Their own… trees…? I was so puzzled by this, trying to imagine three separate six-foot trees crowding this girl’s home- that is, until she kept talking. I finally understood that both she and her sister had individualized, miniature Christmas trees standing on a dresser in their bedrooms. As she went on about her little sister’s Disney-themed tree, I began gleefully dreaming of all the possibilites: Star Wars for my boys or Beauty and the Beast for my girls, whatever their favorites are; the possibilities are endless!

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Operation Christmas Child:

This selfless little tradition is common enough, sponsored by churches and businesses around the United States to provide all sorts of Christmas goodies to those less fortunate than us. I hope to get my own kids especially involved with this one- there was always something special to me when I got to pick out the presents for a little girl, usually checking off the same age as I was. Little did I know at the time that I was learning the precious art of selfless giving.

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Bible reading before we open presents:

I’m not quite sure how my parents endured the “Is Santa real?” interrogations and transition, because I honestly can’t remember any traumatic experience of believing and then not. I guess they didn’t exaggerate or emphasis Santa’s role in Christmas, so we didn’t rely too heavily on him. However, they definitely didn’t emphasis Jesus Christ’s role in Christmas either. Present giving is a heartwarming experience for parents, but I hope to preface that with the reading of Jesus’ birth to my kids, to shine starry light on the true meaning of Christmas.

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Volunteer:

Lending a helping hand, weilding a wooden ladel, decorating a shelter’s Christmas tree, I don’t suppose the actual activity matters. Whatever the means, I think joining others as a family in the pursuit of volunteering around Christmas time would be a generous family tradition to start- and continue.

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Attend the Christmas cantata at church:

Finding a regular event to attend around Christmas–whether it be the church’s yearly cantata, skating at the local ice rink (brace yourself… I don’t know how to skate- you’re shocked at this point, I’m sure!), Christmas caroling (I’ve actually done- wait, nope, never gone caroling) or going on a sleigh ride (you guessed it, I’ve never been on one of those either)–is a tradition we can merrily jingle all the way to.

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Bake Christmas cookies:

Cooking, in any form, is a skill I have yet to master (hey, I can boil a pot of eggs successfully!). Baking is an art I have yet to even attempt. But I can’t imagine a more humorous gathering than husband, wife, and kids covered in flour, cookie dough scattered all over the island, and dogs licking up “accidental” scraps off the floor.

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Cutting down a Christmas tree:

Here I sit, typing by the bright lights of our Christmas tree.

Our pre-lit, three-piece, fake Christmas tree.

We haven’t had a real tree in our house since I was probably in middle school (all you mamma’s are chiming in agreement to my mom’s, “they’re sticky and messy and don’t get me started about the sap!”). I understand the convenience and cleanliness of a fake tree, and they sure are pretty (“Get the prettiest alluminum tree you can find Charlie Brown!”)… but there is something about a real tree that calls to me.

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Using one of those pop-up Christmas calendars:

I haven’t seen one of these in stores in such a long time, I don’t even know where to look for them anymore. (Any suggestions?? Target and Wal-Mart are my usual go-to’s.)

I’m sure there are many, many more traditions I haven’t hardly grazed with my figurative cookie cutters, so please let me know the silly, joyous, snowy traditions you and your family take part in- I’ll have to add them to my list!

 

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Singleness

Dear Future Husband

Dear future husband,

I feel silly, typing this, when I don’t even know your name. I don’t know how tall you are, what color your eyes are, or how old you are. I don’t know if you laugh from your gut, if you chew obnoxiously loudly, or if you slurp your spaghetti. I don’t know if you’ll adore my dogs, dislike my dad, or get along with my little brother. I don’t know if you’ll abhor Hallmark movies, despise Disney movie nights, or groan at spending the day in a bookstore.

But I do know that, one day, you will love me.

And because of this, I know it is my duty to pray for you. I want you to know how much I care for you, even if we haven’t met yet. 

I read a quote on Instagram the other day, and wondered if this was why I’m still waiting to know who you are, what your first name even is.

“I wonder if my future wife’s wondering why I’m taking so long… Be patient my love, I’m still working on me, becoming a man that deserves you.”

I pray that this is at least part of your mindset right now. I get it, most guys our age are hardly what anyone would deem “mature”, but I pray that your maturity is unraveling, that you’re beginning to seek God in the everyday aspects of your life. It’s never too early my love. Seek Him now, in the fruitfulness of youth, so that you are better prepared for the life ahead- without and then with me. His wisdom will prepare you to lead our household- as a couple and one day perhaps as a family. (Speaking of, I really hope you want kids… but not too many! Three’s my limit bud.) I want you to be a man I can respect and adore as a Godly man, a man our kids can look up to and smile at, knowing that you are a man like Christ. I hope they want to be like you hun, whether it’s in your ridiculous humor, stoic thoughtfulness, or crafty handyman-ness; who knows, you could have all three! But regardless of your quirky individualities, I hope you have as kind a heart as I imagine you will, because today’s world is severely lacking in kindness…

I pray that God protects you where you are today, wherever that may be: school, work, across the globe for all I know. There will be wicked temptations in your path, if the things I’ve already faced are any indications. Purity is an undermined virtue, but I hope you are clinging to it as much as I. There will be plenty of women who try to tear down your moral walls, I know, but I pray that God places two stones for every one a woman rips out. There will be trials- ohh, there will be trials. Heartaches, troubles, worries, and hardships will all chain themselves to your ankles and do everything they can to wear you down. But you are so strong dear one, because you have a strong God you can turn to no matter what.

I pray that I am becoming the woman, and wife, you need me to be. I’m not perfect- boy do I have my flaws! Insecurity, doubt, quiet jealousy, selfishness, all these come with the package when I say “I do” (sorry!). And for some crazy reason, you will love me anyway! I’d like to think that one day, when the baby’s screaming, the toddler won’t sit down, the dog is yelping, and I’m in my PJ’s close to tears, you will still look at me with love- and that I will be looking at you with just as much love.

It won’t be easy, but we can do it. If we keep our eyes on God, we can do it. So I pray you feel mine and His love today future husband, wherever you may be and through whatever you may be facing.

 

Singleness

Love for a Season

Happy belated Thanksgiving to you all!! If you’re like me, you’ve been in a sweet potato-induced food coma the past three days haha, but it was totally worth it! What’s your favorite Thanksgiving- or holiday- treat? My grandma makes oatmeal sheet cake every Christmas; to me, it gets sweeter and sweeter with each passing year, for my grandma’s almost 90 years old, getting a little frailer after each birthday. But still, she continues to make that cake for us, her family, every year ❤︎.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving (you know, giving thanks), I sent a short but sweet text over Snapchat to a dear friend of mine this past Thursday. I’ve kind of let life get in the way of regularly texting her sadly, and as a mamma she sure isn’t lackadaisically lounging around her house either, but I wanted to make sure she knew how much I appreciate her. She’s my “Miss Clara” from the movie War Room: a mothering figure, significantly older than myself; a contributor of wise advice and life lessons, lessons learned from her own mishaps and mess-ups; a confidante and best friend, when those closest to me are the ones farthest from my heart. (If you haven’t seen it yet, please do! Miss Clara’s sassy spunk cracked me up and had me longing for that sort of God relationship in my own life.) My Clara has been here for me since December of 2015, through heartaches, parent fights, barns burning (oh yeah, you read that one right, 2016 was not our year…), and the hardest breakup I’ve ever experienced.

There’s just one catch.

My Clara is my ex’s mom.

awwwkkwwaarrdddd.

You see, towards the end of mine and her son’s relationship, she and I got super close because I was having some serious issues with my own parents, and could relate to her better than my own mom. Combine that and the fact that, at the time, I would’ve sworn me and her son were going to get married one day… I looked up to her as my second mamma and my future mother-in-law.

You can imagine the really, really awkward transition phase this presented when her son broke it off.

I’ll admit that, in the beginning, I tried to use our friendship as a subtle (yeah right, since when has texting your ex’s mom when you know your ex is nearby ever subtle?) “hey, maybe we should get back together?” message to her son. Not my finest moment, but who hasn’t done something stupid in the name of denial after a breakup? I held onto her friendship and mentorship like a toddler clinging to her blankie the first day of school, desperately scrambling for any chance at getting back together with my ex- and what better way to know his intentions than to stay directly updated via his mother?

It didn’t exactly lessen my desperation knowing that she wanted us back together too.

As it turns out, her son and I didn’t start dating again. Now that it’s been a year, I’ve cycled through the stages (denial, anger, grief, acceptance, and finally moving on), and can see through clear lenses that he and I just weren’t meant to be. I can thank the Lord for ending it before the heartache would’ve been worse, acknowledge all I learned within that year, and grow as a maturing young woman who is more aware of what she wants in a Godly relationship. And all throughout, I’ve kept in touch with my Clara. As the distance between her son and me grew, I was able to recognize her friendship as its own special gift- not as a tool to use, not as a communication line, but simply as our friendship. Sure, most people would think it’s weird, texting your ex’s mom; heck, I had some of my own friends whispering behind my back about it. But these friends are in the same stage of life as I am, and cannot provide the invaluable advice a wiser, older woman can. Weird? Maybe, but I’d like to think I’m the more mature one if I can appreciate the value of a mentor in my life, ex’s mom or not.

Now, it’s been two years from our first meeting and a year and a half since the breakup. Whereas I used to talk to her daily, now it’s just a text here and there. The small, secret pocket of my heart containing her friendship has shrunken over time (“But I think that the most likely reason of all… may have been that his heart was 2 sizes too small.” Thanksgiving’s over, you’ll forgive my Christmas quotes now right?) and I’m afraid it’s all but withered away. It hurts, but it’s probably for the better this way. While our friendship was blooming, I regularly wrestled with concerns about how my friendship could one day negatively impact my Clara’s relationship with her son: what if he finds a new gal, and they get engaged? If my Clara is still incredibly close with me, will she harbor resentment towards this new girl, because she is not me? (I know my Clara wouldn’t, she’s far too kind-hearted for that, but I was still worried.) Worse, will my Clara feel guilty if she does like this new girl, because that new girl is a clear signal that I will never become part of her family? I love them all far too much to wish any hurt their way, so if our friendship fading means that they can move on with the joys of the future, I will gladly accept its doomed fate.

We get people for seasons. Some are meant to hurt us, like our ex’s, to teach us lessons in order that we might grow into the beautiful people we are meant to be. Some are here to love us, like our family, to give us support and comfort. Some are meant to instruct us, like our teachers and mentors… like my Clara, here for a season, until their work is done. It doesn’t mean we can’t be thankful for that season- in fact, I think it should make us a little more thankful. We get to savor their gift, their season, before they are gone from us.

Nanny McPhee: “There is something you should understand about the way I work. When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go. It’s rather sad, really, but there it is.”

 

Singleness

“Here Comes the Bride”

*Standing in Kay’s, looking at getting a new purity ring*

Mom: “Are you sure you don’t want to wait till Christmas next year? You could meet a guy (implying he, whoever he is, could then be giving me a ring- promise, engagement, or other)…”

Me: “Guy? What, you mean another dog?”

I was so apathetic to this thought, so sarcastic, that I considered sharing it on my Snapchat story, captioned as if for all my friends to relate to. I mean, I’m single right now and probably will be until at least August of next year when I transfer to Radford, which would leave roughly, what, four months for me to meet a guy, start dating, and be so sure that we’re ready to promise ourselves for the foreseeable future? Uh huh, right, that’s a nice thought mom.

Thankfully, I kept this sad little irony to myself and went about my day, but started thinking about the whole kabobble an hour or so before bedtime. I hadn’t really spent any time praying yet, so my thoughts were gradually shifting towards the Lord anyway, just conversational, nothing overly serious. But again, that curt as if stained the canvas of my thoughts, jagged letters splattered against an otherwise smooth surface. Because, of course, that would just be plain impossible, expecting to meet someone and fall in love within four months, right? Wouldn’t it?

As if.

Not sure why, I nonetheless kept mulling over this normally insignificant phrase. It was just… stuck. Yeah, usually I try to keep my thoughts postive, like It’ll happen one day Jordan, this is just a season. You’re only nineteen, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. There are plenty of other single girls going through the exact same doubts right now, you’re not alone. And normally, even if it takes a few hours or even a few days, repeating these words of optimism and hope do the trick, righting my topsy-turvy attitude towards singleness. (I’ve realized I’m always at one end of the totem pole or the other: completely satisfied with how my life is going, extremely grateful for the beautiful life God has given me in this single season, and not wanting to ever give up this one-on-one bond for some boy; orrrrr, I’m sitting by myself, surrounded by happy couples, and all I want to do is cry for days on end because I am so incredibly lonely that my heart physically aches. Happy mediums just don’t float my boat I guess?)

As if…

I’m allowed to have my Negative Nancy moments, right? Aren’t we all? Combine the hormonal influxes (can I get a Hallelujah amen?), the school load, everything that goes on at home, and constantly watching couples parade around campus, most times I feel pretty deserving of pity parties. But wallowing leads me down a pretty dark road, and I know it’s not the mindset God wants me to have anyway. If I let myself go down that road–which happens more often than I care to admit, just a week ago at church I fell to a new low–it makes me ungrateful for the blessings I know, in the deepest corners of my heart, that I have. Ungratefulness plants roots for bitterness, bitterness uproots compassion, and before you know it I’ve planted an entirely useless, infertile tree (picture that creepy, gnarled looking tree from the cover of Pan’s Labyrinth). When we feel completely unsatisfied with the lives we’re living, with our now, we can’t be any use to God, to our friends, or to our families. We all know it, but still, that thought remains…

As if.

So here I was, cuddled on my bed with my sketch book and my dog, just like every other night. Single, just like every other night.

As if.

Sure, I pray for my future husband most evenings. Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely, I tell myself that my Boaz–whoever he may be ❤︎–may be feeling a similar sense of longing at this very same moment, so I pray for him. I pray that God protects him from temptations (especially if he’s at a university, Lord knows he’ll need the help), that he grows closer to God every day, and that he is growing into the loving, kind, respectful man I will one day love. Then I’ll usually pray for myself, that God strengthens me against temptations, that I will draw nearer to Him every day, and that I am growing into the woman I need to be. But when I pray for my future Boaz, when I say that God knows my heart and will for sure and for certain put my beloved in my path at the right time and place!… when I say God is of the impossible… do I really believe it?

As if…

I have this pink stinky note stuck to my laptop keyboard, which reads:

“And this is the confidence we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15

When I pray for my Boaz, that I might meet him at Radford next Fall, I don’t really believe it. I know that God is good and he is God of the impossible, but when my mom suggested I could find my true love and recognize him as such all in the span of a few months, my thoughts were anything but believing.

As if.

The sarcasm and the bitterness that gnarl the roots of my heart, they twist it into that Labyrinth tree and show a deeper issue: a disbelief in God. If I don’t really believe that God, who created the entire universe, can bring me and my Boaz together in a few months, what does that say of my belief in Him? Two little words, alone harmless, but strung together form a wooden knot that robs me of my faith. My contentment in this season. My gratitude.

We can rewrite that sentence though.

As God is the God of everything, if I truly believe that he is who I say he is, then he will answer my request according to his will.

Sure, we don’t know when or how, but that’s not the point. I may never get married, but just the fact that God CAN bring two people together in such a beautiful, wondrous way is a testament to his goodness. It’s not always going to feel good, no, but he is good, and we can turn to that even amidst the sarcasm of as if.

Critters ❤︎

She wanted to kill my dog.

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This is Rocky, the very first day we met him.

Little did we know that we would be bringing him home that exact same day (funny how that happens huh? In the words of Lady and the Tramp and Turner and Hooch, “One night, that’s it.” Saw how that ended didn’t ya’?).

Mom came home one day and told us about an ad my cousin Megan had shared with her on Facebook. There was a lady in need of a good home for her dog, a two-year-old Rottie. House-trained, leash-trained, just one problem: he can’t be around kids.

This is where you, my lovely audience, unleash a collective “I told you so! You can’t trust a Rottweiler!” Now, I beg to differ, if you’ll only hear me out pretty please.

My dad used to breed Rotties when I was just a wee tot. Hannah, our last Rottie, passed away when I was in middle school, but she had one final litter when I was just barely old enough to remember them. We came home from Sunday church, all spiffed up in suits and dresses, and found Hannah under the garage stoop with a noisy, wriggling bundle. They hadn’t even opened their eyes yet, but dad let my brother and me very carefully carry two into the house- dutifully restraining our energetic bouncing just long enough to sit on the smooth kitchen floor, tiny sharp claws digging through my thin black tights while my puppy scrambled across my lap. Pitiful mewling noises came from their snouts, closed eyes and wet noses searching for their warm mommy, curling into us instead when they tired.

Still sound vicious to you?

You see, the problem wasn’t truly that he can’t be around kids; no, the lady in the ad had a different problem: she couldn’t discipline him. She wouldn’t properly discipline Rocky and, more importantly, she wouldn’t properly discipline her young daughter. From our hour and a half meeting on February 11th, I could already see how much this little girl constantly antagonized poor Rocky- to the point that he almost attacked her. And you know how that would go: the little girl tugs, pulls, chases, abuses until Rocky finally can’t take it anymore and defends himself.

Rocky would be put down. No questions asked.

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If we hadn’t been able to adopt him, we never would’ve gotten to unleash this big baby’s loving, protective side.

If we hadn’t been able to adopt him, I wouldn’t have the most loyal friend I’ve ever known. The happiest walking partner. The cuddliest bed bug. The laziest Hallmark-watching buddy. The grumpiest early riser. The trustiest confidante.

I wouldn’t have Rocky.

This lady and daughter had owned Rocky for about six months prior to our meeting; before that, his history is unclear, but we do know that he’s been abused (that I will get into in a later post… bring your tissues fellow dog-lovers, I still get teary-eyed thinking about what my poor baby’s been through. Please, comment and let me know if you’ve adopted an abused dog, and any struggles you’ve gone through in raising him or her). I will never know what some awful person did that caused it, but Rocky–my 140 pounds of muscle–is petrified of children. Screaming toddlers? Wailing babies? Dashing kiddos? Forget it. But he would never, ever intentionally hurt one.

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I can’t help it, Snapchat is my go-to for pictures

There’s this trail that runs by my church, and I took Rocky on it a couple times this past summer. It’s pretty nice actually, not so enclosed that a young woman like myself would be intimidated to go down it by herself and long enough to get a decent walk in. One of my first times trying it out, I discovered in the farther recesses of the forest a playground. Uh oh. My immediate thoughts were to turn right around and not risk it- but, as a training effort, I hesitantly decided to lead him past.

*I did not put any children in harms way with my experiment, don’t worry. I kept Rocky at a solid distance away from all the kids there.

He was skittish, nervous, and on edge the entire time, but we made it through unscathed and with a stronger bond only man and dog can experience. My point, though, is that Rocky was not aggressive. Rocky was so scared of being near those kids, but every tensed muscle was poised to run in the opposite direction- away from the children, away from putting himself or them in any danger.

And yet, he would have been put down, labeled a common violent aggressor.

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When we meet someone who is outright unpleasant, we want no more to do with them. Say it’s the Target cashier: you come up to her, smiling, and she barely grunts a tart “Hello” before brisquely sending you on your way. We make all sorts of assumptions about her character on the spot, based on our oh-so-infinite knowledge. But what we didn’t know is that this grumpy woman just lost her mother, her kid is sick in the hospital, and her husband’s skipped town.
In a similar manner, people judge a dog based on one attribute, one mishap. Whether that’s peeing on the rug, growling at strangers, or running from children, there’s not a dog on earth without what we consider to be a “flaw” in character. Too often, this universal “flaw” principle is applied to particular breeds: the Rottweiler, Pitbulls, you know the ones. These breeds are given a bad rep, just because some cruel, cruel person didn’t raise them right.
Rocky has been hit, kicked, burnt, and exposed to domestic violence. People that go through these extremes range from motivational speakers to counselors, theives to sociopaths. Each one has severe trauma- physical, mental, and emotional.
So can you blame Rocky for having a few fears?
Battling Depression

I Confess.

I shouldn’t feel guilty when he yells at her.

I shouldn’t feel like it’s my fault when he makes her cry- like if I hadn’t suggested we go out as a family, if we hadn’t been stuck together in that tiny confined car, maybe she wouldn’t have struck that one flammable chord within him that sparked the whole fire.

I shouldn’t feel responsible when tuition payment comes up in conversation–my college education is a beautiful opportunity that will advance me, their only daughter, for the rest of my life–but he yells, because she’s squandered our money over and over and over, and I’m left to dutifully pick up the scattered pieces of blame.

I shouldn’t have to feel guilty for wanting to go away to a university next year, like it will be my fault when they argue because I won’t be here to mediate and play the smiling middle man.

I shouldn’t have to be their middle man.

But I am.

And I do.

When people we meet or people from church learn that my parents have been married thirty years and counting, they may crack a few “How have you dealt with him/her this long?” jokes, but afterwards they always follow with some sort of envious congratulations. And I’m glad that they aspire to have long, healthy, happy relationships in their lives- the good Lord knows that’s what I’m praying for! But these people, these strangers to the inside, they don’t see what goes on at home. They see the public facade we all put on- they see me, the always smiling daughter, and assume everything is a-okay. They don’t see the yelling, the fists pounding furniture, the slamming doors, the “JUST LEAVE!”‘s, the sobbing, the conversational tip-toeing, the fear.

They didn’t see me hiding between my bed and the wall, hands so tightly clasped around my ears it felt worse than when you’re at the top of a mountain and your ears so badly need to pop, eyes forced open because while I wanted so badly to close them I wouldn’t dare leave myself so vulnerable, silently begging for it all to stop.

It’s not your fault. But situational depression will make you think it is. It will make you claim every last bit of it.

You claim that load of responsibility, of guilt, of blame. You claim it, just like I did.

I don’t think it’s like your “baby” exactly, because that bundle isn’t something you helped birth, it was there long before you arrived in the picture. It’s not quite like a “pet” either, because you didn’t get to choose it, there’s no love attached to it. If I had to pin it down, I guess I’d say depression gives you a “toll” or a tax, if that’s any way to describe it: it’s a payment you’ve put on yourself; you didn’t choose it, but you still take responsibility for it and pay what you think you owe.

People who don’t get it, who haven’t been there, may say “It’s not your fault hun, you didn’t do it.” or “You don’t have to fight their battles.”

But you do. I do.

There isn’t any sort of easy separation of “their fault” versus “my fault”, it’s not cookie-cutter black and white. Our toll is a muddled gray, all confused and conjoined. It’s not as easy as “I didn’t yell at her. I didn’t waste all that money. So it’s not my problem.” It’s entertwined in us, like there’s a hook in our hearts that rips even more out when we try to pull away. That toll echoes, even when we’re not there in that situation.

Ding.

I’ve gotta remind mom to make that spring payment. But if I mention it now, she’ll get anxious at work. If I wait till I get home, she’s gonna go ask dad as soon as he gets home from work, which’ll put him in a horrid mood, and then he’s going to yell at her for wanting to charge money… again. He’ll start hounding on her for all the money she lied about charging, and then she’s gonna go upstairs and sob in her room as if Danny and I can’t hear her…

Ding.

They’re doing this great sermon about devoting your finances to God and how to live debt free on Wednesday- maybe that’d help! Maybe the pastor could talk to Dad, maybe give some advice to mom! I don’t know though, last time I suggested they go, mom came back home with her eyes so puffy from crying during the car ride I couldn’t even tell they were open…

Dong.

‘Come on Danny!’ We’re at the football game and he’s just sitting there talking to his friends, he knows dad was in a bad mood when we left- it’s just gonna get worse the longer we sit here! If we wait much longer he’s gonna fuss at mom for letting us go in the first place.

It’s a toll alright. In the worry lines on our foreheads, the pacing in our feet, the hasty smiles we paste, the holes in our hearts, the tears on our pillows, you can see the toll our tolls take.

That is, if we let you.

I didn’t tell any of my friends when it was happening. I didn’t tell my boyfriend at the time just how bad it was. You probably don’t let your best friends know exactly what’s going on either, how much you’re taking into yourself and the toll on your own shoulders. I kept it in until the day I couldn’t anymore. I was alone in the house- both my parents were at work and my brother was out helping somebody get up hay (this was during the summer, so I didn’t have school). Their fighting had gotten severe, like they weren’t even speaking to each other anymore, hadn’t been for a week. My brother was out of the house every opportunity he could be, from sun-up to sun-down, so I was left to play obedient middle man. I was left to play naive, ignorant, unknowing daughter- when I really knew everything that was happening. That afternoon, they were gone, and I couldn’t handle it anymore.

I started thinking about the gun downstairs on the cabinet.

You hear about those “I hit my knees” desperate prayer moments in movies all the time, but I didn’t even get that far. I crumpled into a ball beside my bed and cried. I prayed, I screamed, I begged.

I confessed.

I. Let. It. Go.

That toll I payed up every day? That echo in its special, reserved backseat of my head? I was never supposed to carry it, was never supposed to cling to it. Because that’s what we do: we claim the responsibility and blame, and we cling to every figmented scrap of control we think we have over the situation.

Jesus died for that blame. That toll. That depression.

I’m not rid of it yet, but I’m getting there. Every time I start to count off the dollar signs of my toll, when they start to fight and I scramble for a way I can try and fix it, I pray. Sometimes it’s a paragraph; sometimes I can’t even find a single word. But I pray. You can pray too- you don’t have to tell your friends if you don’t want to, I won’t make you. But know that you’ve got The best friend who is just one prayer away when that depression kicks in, and He will always be there.

Just confess.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26

 

College

Study Survival Guide

I should probably start this out by saying I am, by no means, an expert at college- or studying, or labs, or adulting… Okay, so maybe you should just assume I’m an expert at nothing. I honestly think it could be better that way though: I want y’all to know that I don’t know everything, I admit it! As a non-expert, I am open to all the new information and advice awaiting me, like a small sponge begging to soak up any water people are willing to spill. In this way, I learn something new every day, and can then share it with you.

But, if now you think I’m completely unknowledgeable and have nothing else to offer you, I can at least say I am pretty good at studying. I’ve always been that kid in school, the overly-studious, always on time–if not early–with assignments, teacher’s pet. I graduated high school with a 4.03 (not that it got me any scholarships… sigh) and I’m surviving college, so I’ve done well this far.

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Find your optimal space:

Where do you work/focus best? It goes without saying here that you will naturally need to experiment within your environments: a study desk in the living room at home, a cubby in your school library, your favorite bench at the coffee shop (sidenote about Jordan, I actually don’t drink coffee… I know, how do I claim to be human, please forgive my ignorance on most people’s addiction). For me, it has to be at school- if I come home and try to do homework, there’s a 140 pound Rottie drooling for my attention, a 57 year old man calling me downstairs every five minutes to “Come look at this!” “Come try this!”, and the inclination to be lazy fighting my willpower every step closer I am to my bed (Just… a little… farther…).

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Release your inner HGTV:

Once you’ve found that one spot you do your best work in, now you need to renovate it. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to be yours. It needs to feel like you, look like you, heck you can make it smell like you if you really want (Bath & Body Works warm vanilla sugar, since you asked). Have everything you need available before you get started, have it all right there within arms reach: your laptop, textbooks, notebooks, agenda (to be mentioned later), pencil pouch (will be expanded later as well), snacks, your trusty mug or water bottle, and all your chargers. If you can resist the temptation to check Instagram (made ya’ look!) while studying, I applaud you, but if you’re like me, keep the phone at bay when doing the serious schooling. Lastly, never forget the earbuds.

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Pick a tune:

Some people can work in total silence; I am not one of these rare people.

Find a playlist and save it for easy access. (If I have to go searching for it, I’ll usually wander to a completely unrelated video… which leads to hair tutorials… gym leg day routines… how to make the yummyest waffles… where were we?)

Cut the crud. I cannot have lyrics going- I’ve tried, I’ve persuaded, I’ve convinced, I’ve begged myself that listening to Adele’s Hello couldn’t possibly hurt (in case you haven’t realized, I get distracted very easily, like I’m still contemplating those waffles… what did I pack for lunch today? I know it’s not as good as those waffles would taste…). Therefore, instrumentals are my must-have’s, usually ones from my favorite movies: Last of the Mohicans, Last Samurai, and Avatar are my go-to’s (please, let me know if you love these movies as much as I do, half of my friends have never even seen the first two).

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Prioritize:

Whether it’s by largest to smallest, hardest to easiest (or vice versa, if you just, you know, have a thing for self-torture), or which assignment is due the soonest, have a plan. Write it down if you must, set alarms or write lists on your phone, only you know what you’ll check the most often- and what will actually help remind you.

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Now, that risque agenda I keep hinting at:

Dear, sweet people, I know you think you will remember that bio article you have to read, that sociology discussion board you have to type up, your growing grocery list, and when to walk the dog- but you won’t (but for real, please let Fido out to potty, he’s really got to go). It can be the boring, generic agenda your school hands out at the first of each semester or that sparkling “Bee Happy!” journal you just couldn’t buzzzz by (get it, buzzzz, for Bee? No? Mmkay, sorry, continuing), it just needs to help lay out your overly busy life schedule.

Speaking of being busy… No! AVOID CRAMMING:

Imagine the word CRAM just grew eight legs, freaky eyes, terrifying fangs, and is coming to suck your blood in the night (I really can’t do spiders guys…). Avoid it like the plague- like if you get it, you’re putting your entire family, your coworkers, even Fido at risk.

If you don’t know the material by the night before, losing precious sleep and then testing on a caffeinated state of exhaustion will not make you know it any better. I promise. You honestly probably know more than you think you do, simply from exposure in class, so have some faith- I believe in you!

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You know… sleep sounds *yaawwwnnn* pretty good… about now:

My friend Jess operates best after getting around six hours of sleep; my brother functions around nine. My dad consistently gets an average of five hours of sleep, but I seriously don’t recommend it (if you didn’t know, lack of sleep can fuel an already flaming temper and has been scientifically proven to cause insanity… soooo, get your sleep, please, for all of us). I am my nicest, most efficient self after a minimum of seven, no more than eight and a half hours of sleep (I once stayed up writing an AP Gov essay and only got two and a half hours of sleep… it will never happen again).

You can come up with all the excuses you want to justify skimping on sleep: work, homework, booming social life, motherhood. But when you skimp on your sleep in the name of all these endeavors, are you really, truly, arriving as your best for each one? Or are you actually hindering all the unique good you have to offer, by running yourself ragged?

P.S. don’t study where you sleep. It’ll confuse your brain.

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Miscellaneous:

I blame it on my mother, but I have a minor form of OCD, no doubt about it (CDO…). It only comes up with the really insignificant things you know? Like having to fluff my pillows, once per, before I can go to bed, or always stepping off a platform with my left foot (don’t ask, I don’t know either). This oddity in my brain has actually proven rather resourceful in my schooling though: color coded sticky notes and highlighters. This may work for you, it may not. For me, it has transformed the unscalable mountains of my fourty-two chapter biology book into somewhat comprehendable material (rainbow highlighters can only do so much for deciphering the nervous system, I’m sorry), so I felt like it might be useful to share.

All of these may prove useful, or none of these might. I can only hope somebody, somewhere, will better be able to navigate their treacherous studying waters a little easier after reading this.