On Vulnerability

You haven’t read Brene Brown?”

This was the shocked question I was met with over lunch this week when I told a friend what I was reading. A fellow writer and the most avid reader I know, he is the ultimate guru of good books. And he was stunned when I told him that Daring Greatly is the first of writer Brene Brown’s many books that I’ve tackled. 

If you don’t know who Brene Brown is, you can check her out here. She’s smart, witty, and insightful and for several years now people have been talking all about her books. Admittedly, I have not been one of those people. Something in me tends to lean more toward fiction in my reading choices. I also tend to lean away from things that are super popular. It’s the inner skeptic in me, I guess. 

But when my sweet friend Blake sent me Brown’s book last week, I was intrigued. Blake is the kind of friend who encourages me in so many ways so when she texted me about the things she was learning from Daring Greatly and told me she’d ordered me a copy, I knew it would probably challenge me in the same ways. And when I was met with my friend’s shocked response at my lack of knowledge of Brown’s books, I knew it was officially time to jump on the train.

I got in bed last night to do a little reading and opened my copy of Daring Greatly. And within the first few pages, I was taken immediately in when I read this:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity… To put our art, our writing, our photography, our ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation—that’s also vulnerability. 

If this isn’t the struggle of my life right now summed up in a few sentences, I don’t know what is! It’s the struggle of this blog really. Truth be told, I’ve grappled with the idea of having a blog for years now. And even though I finally am writing it on the regular, I still struggle to make it happen every single week. 

I could tell myself it’s about time—that I don’t have enough of it to write each week. Or I could say it’s about inspiration—that I struggle to write because I just haven’t found the right inspiration yet. I could tell myself it’s about finances—that I have to give my writing energy to work that’s paying me. And some weeks, it is about those things. 

But if I’m being honest, more often than not, it’s the idea of having to be vulnerable that stops me. It’s the idea that people will see me. It’s that they’ll actually read what I write more so than not. It’s the idea that I have to peel back even just one small layer of curtain in my life and write about it. It’s the idea of talking about it on the Internet (ugh!). It’s that people might know if I somehow fail.

I wrestle with that vulnerability every single time I sit down to write and even more when I sit down to actually post what I’ve written. It feels like a one woman wrestling match every single week. 

I was sharing this with a friend a few weeks ago and she asked me this: “Well, if it’s really that frustrating for you, why are you doing it then? Beyond just meeting a goal, if it’s really that hard for you, why do you keep doing it?”

I could answer her immediately: It’s about connection.

That’s what life is truly about for me—relationships with other people. I’m the most extroverted extrovert you’ll probably ever meet. There’s nothing that brings me greater joy than real, deep friendship. Connecting with other people leaves me energized. Learning from my differences with other people, finding a point of commonality with others, talking about their perspectives and experiences, walking alongside them in their own vulnerable moments, having fun with the people around me, doing life with other people—that is what I really love. 

I do that in my home with my roommates. I do it in my small group on Tuesday nights. I do it when I meet with students. I do it when I talk to my girlfriends (typically over chips and queso and margaritas, of course!). And maybe, just maybe, I do it with this blog. I do it with people I know and people I don’t know, with people I may never know. 

One of the companies I write for does a lot of studies on what the students they’re writing for are dealing with in each phase of their lives. And one word that’s come up a lot in those studies is disconnection. People are dealing with the weight of being disconnected from each other all the time. They’re facing the danger that comes with disconnection. Studies are showing over and over again that so many of life’s greatest hurts are rooted in disconnection. 

If what Brene Brown’s book says is true, then disconnection happens when vulnerability stops. So one of the answers to stopping some of the hurts so many of us are dealing with in life—the pain of disconnection—is vulnerability. 

I don’t want to be disconnected. That’s one of my worst fears! But if connection is what I want from my life, then I have to be vulnerable. As annoying and awkward and frustrating as it may be at times, I have to be real. I have to show up and allow myself to be seen and heard and known.  I have to open up in, over and over again, in order to connect.

Even if it means people will know things about me. Even if it means I have to talk about or draw attention to myself. Even if it means asking for help. Even if it means failing in front of others. Even if it means succeeding. 

I have to be vulnerable if I want to connect. 

Don’t worry, this blog isn’t going to ever become a place where I verbally vomit all of my deepest and darkest secrets. I think we can all agree that’s not very much fun for anyone to read! But it is going to be a place where I continue to strive for connection. It’s a place where I’m going to fight the good fight for vulnerability. 

Because if even just one person connects, then I’d say it’s a win. And who couldn't use a win every once in awhile?

34 Things

I turned 34 this week.

The day went by on Tuesday as most birthdays do—with texts and calls from loved ones, gifts and dinner with friends, birthday cake and treats. All in all, it was a good day. 

I don’t know about you, but I never really pictured my 34thbirthday when I was a kid. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what my life would look like at the age of 34. That’s not because I thought I wouldn’t make it this far (but thank goodness I did!). It’s because I, like most people probably, only tend to think about life in terms of the big years. 

Growing up, we picture ourselves at 16… 18… 21… 25… 30… and so on. We imagine what our lives will look like when we hit those milestones and what kind of celebrations we’ll have to commemorate them when they come. 

When I turned 16, my friends threw me a surprise party at my best friend Carly’s house. They homemade me an amazing, personalized present that I still have to this day. And to finish it off, I got my driver’s license the very next day. My 18thbirthday was spent in my parent’s basement with my best girlfriends. My 21stwas a cold, rainy April day at the beach with two friends and a surprise party at college when I got back. My 30thwas commemorated with all my girlfriends, most of whom also turned 30 that same year. We celebrate our milestone year together that summer with a week at an all-inclusive resort (#bestweekever). 

Nobody’s throwing it down, or planning big trips, or making big deals about the years in between all those milestones. But the older I get, the more I’m learning that it’s actually those seemingly insignificant years—the small, in between years—that turn out to be the ones that really shape us, change us, and make us who we are. 

I don’t know what 34 holds for me. I know what I hopeit holds, but I have no idea if any of those things will actually come to fruition. Who knows how many things I’ve never even imagined or thought of for my life that might come my way this year, too.

As I’ve thought about my 34 years thus far—all the big and small things that have made up the life I have today—I’ve found myself overcome with gratitude this week. So instead of commemorating this coming year thinking about all the things that haven’t happened yet or focusing on all the things I hope to have at this point next year, I’ve decided instead to take time to really sit in the gratitude for all the things that I love about my life at 34 years old. And I want to share them with you, because big and small, I know that without these 34 things, I’m not sure life would be as bright and beautiful as it is today. 

1.    My immediate family. I’m lucky to be surrounded by two parents (married 40 years this year!), two siblings, and two siblings-in-law that I love.

2.    My nephews. My favorite thing in life right now is being an aunt to Lucas and Covington.

3.    My big, extended family. I’m lucky to be one of dozens and dozens and dozens of cousins. I love being a part of that big, crazy, extended family! 

4.    My job.I’m a full-time writer, and it really is a dream come true. I still sometimes can’t believe this is really my career.  

5.    My roommates. I’ve got three amazing roommates who make me laugh, get me Gatorade when I’m sick, leave me sweet notes, and record all my favorite shows on the DVR.  

6.    My girlfriends. I cannot picture my life without my girlfriends in it. They’re strong, funny, brilliant women who make my life full and fun.  

7.    My friend’s kids.At this age, most of my friends have kids. And because of that, I’m lucky enough to get to be pseudo-aunt and friend to their crazy kids, too. 

8.    The people who treat you like family. I live almost four hours away from my actual family, so I’m so grateful for the people here in Georgia who treat me like their family. They invite me to be a part of their lives in big and small ways, making sure I never feel alone. 

9.    My small group. Every other Tuesday I sit in a circle with seven other amazing women. These ladies are simply the best—the kind of women I want to go to battle with and for in this life. 

10. My mentor. I’m so grateful to have someone a little further ahead of me in life to walk alongside me and point me in the right direction as I go. 

11. My car.I made my first real grownup purchase a year and a half ago when I researched, negotiated, and bought my own car. And the best news? I paid it off this year!

12. My health.I think we’re all grateful for our health, but I especially am right now. Any season of my life that isn’t marked significantly by the battle with autoimmune disease is a win in my book. 

13. The students I lead. I lead an amazing group of students through a mentoring ministry in the area every other week. They are funny, smart, thoughtful girls who I’m so excited to know.

14. Concerts.If you know me, then you know I love a good live music experience. This year, I have plans to see Taylor Swift and my all-time favorite, Justin Timberlake. 

15. Travel plans. I caught the travel bug hardcore after my first trip overseas when I was 19 years old. No matter if it’s a trip to the beach or a trip around the world, one thing I love about my life is the opportunities I’ve had to travel.

16. My Pure Barre membership. I’ve recently gotten into Pure Barre, and let me just say this: It’s so freaking hard! Like for real, the hardest thing I’ve tried in a long time. But it makes me feel strong, capable, and mentally focused, and for that, I’m grateful. 

17. This blog. Believe it or not, I’m actually grateful for this blog. It’s a labor of love for sure (emphasis on labor), but it’s given me discipline as a writer and a voice in this world. Those two things are certainly valuable to me. 

18. Other writers in my life. Being self-employed can be a lonely place. That’s why I’m so grateful for the other writers I know who give me advice, feedback, and encouragement to keep going when I need it.

19. My grandpa. There’s no person I love more on this planet than my grandfather, Moochie. Though he’s had a tough couple of years, I’m grateful that he’s close by, in my corner, and always making me laugh. 

20. Cheeseburgers.Being grateful for my grandfather also makes me grateful for our all-time favorite food: cheeseburgers. 

21. My coworkers/clients. Every single day I’m more and more in awe of the fact that I get to work with and for so many great people and companies. They make my job more fun and fulfilling,

22. Mexican food. Chips and salsa…. Need I say more?

23. Cupcakes.I could be grateful for all forms of dessert (#sweettooth), but in an effort to seem more mature and disciplined in this area, I’ll just say cupcakes and leave it at that.

24. A good margarita. There’s just something about sipping a good margarita with your girlfriends. It’s one of my favorite past times. 

25. My counselor. I’ve been lucky enough to find a counselor who points me firmly but lovingly in the right direction. It’s the best money I spend every month.

26. Dolly Parton. She’s my ultimate Tennessee idol, ya’ll! (Reese Witherspoon is a close second though.)

27. Bravo.Guys, it’s my TV guilty pleasure. Southern Charm, Vanderpump Rules, any and all of the Housewives—they’re the best of the worst things on television.

28. The movies. I love going to the movies! And I’m so grateful for my friend Steph who shares my love of movies and will even let me drag her to things she thinks she’ll hate but then ends up loving. (PSA: Go see The Quiet Placeright now!)

29. Dancing.I teach dance every Wednesday night, and it’s a great way to stay connected to one of my other favorite things in the world, and that’s dancing.

30. My doctor. It took me years to find a doctor who could help me with my health challenges. Now that I’ve found her, I’m praying she never leaves! She listens, is patient, informs, and never gives up on helping me live my healthiest life.

31. Brunch.If I could make a living just going to brunch, I would. It’s my favorite meal of the day. (Is it an issue that so much of my gratitude is directed toward food?)

32. The beach.I love the beach. It’s the most calming place in the world to me. My life’s dream is to strike it rich and build a house there so that I never have to leave!

33. God. I’m so thankful to know and be loved by God. It’s the hope of my heart and my rescue from the weariness of this world.

34. The hope of the next year. Like I said, I don’t know what this next year holds, but I know that whatever it holds, I’ll be blessed and better for it at the end. There’s just something refreshing about looking ahead at the blank canvas of the year in front of you with a new hope for what may come!

A Saturday In March

I’ve always loved a good Saturday.

When I was a kid, there was no better day of the week than a Saturday. It was filled with the best kind of breakfast cereals (Lucky Charms, ya’ll!), TV shows (Saved By The Bell forever!), lazy pool days in the summer and busy days at the basketball gym in the winter, fun and family, relaxation and rest.

And as an adult, I’ve come to love my Saturdays even more. No alarms, no early mornings, and a slow morning to sip my coffee from the comfort of my couch.

There’s just something special about a Saturday.

I don’t know what you did last Saturday, but I sat raptured by what thousands of others were doing with this particular Saturday in their lives around the country. Like many of you maybe were, I was tuned into coverage of the March For Our Lives in Washington this past weekend. And as I watched it unfold, I spent a good part of my Saturday weeping in front of the television.

It was a pretty amazing picture—kids from all over the country, all different backgrounds, and races, and economic classes, and perspectives, and stories all united by a common pain and passion.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I don’t want this blog to be a place where politics are debated on the Internet. Those are my absolute least favorite corners of the World Wide Web, and that’s why I have no intention of making this blog one of them. I don’t think there’s all that much that’s constructive about people using their keyboard courage to call each other names and angrily debate their political opinions with strangers on the Internet. I just don’t think it gets anybody anywhere really.

And to be honest, it wasn’t really the politics that had me so riveted and in tears on Saturday; it was the kids.

If you don’t see or believe in the power, potential, and ability in the lives of students today, then turn on your TV. Look around you. Start listening. Because these kids are smart and passionate and eager to make a difference in the world, and they’re boldly finding their voices to speak out for what they believe is best for this broken world we live in. And even if you don’t agree with everything their voices are saying, I think we can all agree that there’s power in seeing them discover their voices. I mean, imagine what the future might look like if a whole generation of kids grew up knowing the significance and worth of their words and voices in this world?

If you know me, then you know finding my voice hasn’t really been all that challenging (Honestly, the more challenging part for me is to know when not to use that voice sometimes!) And while some of that I know has to do with the way God specifically created me, I think a lot of it also has to do with the way I was raised. I grew up with parents who never shushed my voice. Even though it probably annoyed them from time to time, or said things they didn’t agree with or understand, or spoke up when they wished I would’ve kept quiet, they never quieted my voice. And in the middle of that, they taught me to think critically about things happening around me. They taught me to care about, use wisely, and not take for granted the right I have to use my voice in this world.

I remember going with them to the local elementary school where they cast their vote in the Presidential election every four years. I waited in line with them and went into the booth when they cast their votes. I love to vote in our elections as an adult now (Confession: I keep my “I voted!” sticker for weeks after it’s given to me every year.), and I think that’s because my parents taught me early on to recognize the value of my voice in our country. Maybe it’s because they grew up in the sixties, an era where protests and voices and convictions were front and center to make change in the world. They were impacted directly by things like the Vietnam War and even have stories about how things like segregation, drugs, and politics impacted their communities growing up. They have stories about using their voices and seeing others do the same to make change.  

My parents are pretty cool, yes, but that isn’t really my point. My point is that because of how I was raised, it didn’t take something terrible happening to me for me to know that my voice had power. It didn’t take trauma or tragedy or fear for me to know that I could speak up.

But for the kids I saw on TV last Saturday, that story was different. They had to endure something horrific to find their voices, but now that they’ve found them, they’re using them with confidence and passion and purpose. And though I may not agree with every single thing they’re saying with those voices, I still think it’s a pretty cool sight to see.

Don’t sleep on this generation, ya’ll! I spend a lot of time talking to and thinking about students in my life right now. I work for a company that writes curriculum and resources designed specifically for them. I teach dance to them every Wednesday night. I sit across from them in small group every other week. I meet with them for mentoring one-on-one every month. And I’m telling you from my own experience, these kids are amazing. They’re smart. They’re passionate. They’re empathetic. They want to learn. They want to listen. And they want to be the difference in this broken world.

There was a March in Atlanta last Saturday where I live, too. And while I didn’t attend, I do know several students who did go. One student in particular I happened to have a meal with the week before where she told me that she was planning to go. And when she said that, I asked her why—why did she want to give up her precious Saturday to get up early, drive downtown, stand outside in the unseasonably cold weather, and be a part of this march.

She answered me with a really intelligent, compassionate, well thought out response. She knows exactly what she believes is right. She understands how government and democracy works. She has ideas for the kind of legislation she thinks would help solve the issues she’s seeing. She knows exactly what she’s standing up for and why she wants to use her voice.

And while we may not see eye to eye on every single aspect of the issue, I was so excited to listen to her response. Because I care about her, I believe in her, and I want to be a grown up in her life who is using my voice to encourage her to find the best way to use hers to make change and impact the world around her as she grows up.

I mean, isn’t that why God gave us a voice in the first place? To use it to tell other people about Him. To talk about the things that matter deep in our hearts. To share our stories and make a connection with other people To try and change the world for the better. 

I think that’s what these students in the world are figuring out: Their voices have power and potential.

And as someone whose been lucky enough to know that in my own life, I’m really grateful to be along for the ride with them as they continue to figure this truth out themselves.

Inside Out

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

You’ve heard that before, right? It’s one of those kind of annoying phrases your mom told you when you were growing up to keep you from passing judgment on people around you. The thing she said when you were trying to avoid sitting with that seemingly weird kid at lunch. The thing she said when trying to get you to try something new that looked a little less than cool. The thing she said to deter you from dating the bad boy in favor of the guy she knew would ultimately be better for your life. Sure, the bad boy looks better on the surface (why are bad boys always so cute?!), but what your mom knew then is that you can’t always judge what’s happening on the inside of a person based on what you can see on the outside.

And while I’m sure I rolled my eyes and quickly dismissed the truth of that statement in my teenage years, I completely and totally grasped it finally at the age of 29. That’s the year I got diagnosed with autoimmune disease.

Last week I saw another autoimmune sufferer post this:

Autoimmune diseases have been dubbed “silent killers” because from the outside you may never know the person is suffering. But our bodies are attacking themselves from within.

And it’s true. I was officially diagnosed in 2014 after suffering from weird symptoms for months. I won’t go into all the details; I’ll just give you the short of it. That year, I suffered an extreme allergic reaction to an antibiotic used over and over again for six months to treat chronic kidney stones and infections in my body. It impacted my muscles, joints, and nervous system (all of which I still deal with today). And the trauma and chemical changes it caused in my body triggered an autoimmune disease that took months to successfully diagnose.

In that time, I lost 30 pounds, my hair fell out, I had to take a leave of absence from my job, and at times, I couldn’t even get out of bed. The physical fatigue, pain, and weakness were overwhelming, and eventually, so was the emotional toll. (PSA: Doctors, please stop telling your patients they’re “just anxious” when you can’t figure out what’s wrong with them. This course of treatment will cause spontaneous crying and yelling in your office. It’s awkward for all involved… trust me.)

These kinds of chronic illnesses are so difficult to diagnose and treat; they’re almost like mystery illnesses. Every single one in every single person is different. What treatments and regimens work for one person won’t work for another. What diet changes help calm the symptoms in one person do nothing for another. And what’s most puzzling for the person with the disease is that your body—the cover of your book—typically looks okay.

In other words, most autoimmune patients look fine on the outside. On most days, I can pass on the outside as a generally healthy 33-year-old girl. Just by looking at me, you’d never no what’s happening inside of my body—the pain, the stiffness, the fatigue, the muscle weakness, the shooting nerves, the fevers, the immune system issues. At just a glance, the cover of my book looks fairly normal.

That’s what makes dealing with a disease like this so isolating sometimes. People don’t know you’re really even suffering, and you certainly don’t want to be the girl that always talks about it. As a result, you spend a lot of time on your own. You have to say no to more things. You take longer to recover from over exerting yourself. You can’t go out on late night after late night. Sometimes, you can’t go out at all. You have to let a little bit of life pass you by in order to stay well. And other than a few dark circles under your eyes, nobody can typically tell why.  

So life goes on. You smile, you get up, you go to work, and many times, nobody knows what’s truly happening inside of your body—behind the cover of your book.

Struggling through and battling autoimmune disease the last few years has taught me a lot of things. Primarily, it’s taught me that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve met many others fighting a variety of diseases, and their battles are so much harder than mine. Their battles have included surgeries, chemotherapies, drug trials, and even life support at times. Of those who are silently suffering, please know that I rank on the lower end of the spectrum. Saying no to certain things I want to eat or drink, getting sick more often, being in some sort of manageable pain, giving myself weekly shots, and taking on a different exercise and rest routine aren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. For the most part, that all just amounts to a major inconvenience, and the fact that so many others have it worse is not lost on me.

But having an autoimmune disease has also reinforced that the old saying really is true: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

I was recently working in a Starbucks, huddled in the corner behind my computer. That day I was having a particularly rough autoimmune day, battling some extreme fatigue and a slight fever as a result of a four-day retreat with little sleep and lots of being on the go. My friends bounced back quickly; I struggled for the next week. And that day in particular I was feeling physically and emotionally beaten down because of it.

Unable to concentrate on my work, I put my head in my hands for a second and debated if I should just go home and crawl back in bed. When I lifted my head, an employee at that Starbucks was standing over me with a cup of coffee.

“I just thought you could use another cup of coffee on us. Hope it gives you the boost you need.”

If you know me, then you know it’s a miracle I didn’t burst into tears right then and there. He didn’t know what was happening in my body—what physical and emotional struggles I was battling right then—but he did know he could be kind to me. And so he was.

I sat there and drank that coffee, looking around at the other people sitting nearby. Some working, some talking, some lost on their phones, some reading. And as I scanned the room, I thought to myself, “Gosh, I really have no idea what’s going on inside of any of these people right this very moment.”

But what if I treated them like I did? What if, like that sweet barista who gave a sick and tired girl a free cup of coffee, I treated every person I came into contact with like I had some sort of kindness to offer them in the face of whatever hurts, or struggles, or joys they had inside of them at that very moment? Inside of just assuming I can tell people are “fine” by the way they look or act on the outside, what if I just opted to err on the side of compassion each and every time I interacted with someone? What if I just led with love?

The same week I had this interaction at Starbucks, I saw Beth Moore tweet this out on her Twitter account (Again, PSA: If you’re on Twitter and not following Beth Moore, stop right now and follow her. @BethMooreLPM)

In a day when everybody wants to speak prophetically, the prize will go to those who love prophetically. By that I mean, love people like they’re hiding a broken, bruised or bewildered heart & get to the end of the day having been as right as you’ve ever been in your entire life.

Gosh, this sure is the way I want to live my life! I want to love people like they’re hiding some deep and difficult illness inside of them. Because if you think about it, aren’t we all really doing just that every single day?

I know that the things that have meant the most to me on this little journey of illness have been the times when people did just that for me. When they sent me a text, when they sat with me when I felt bad, when they asked how I was feeling, when they showed up and helped me without even an ask, when they offered me a cup of coffee on a rough day, when they showed me love.

That’s the same kind of love I want to offer the people I know and the people I don’t. It’s the kind of love that’s made my most frustrating sick days a whole lot brighter. And it’s the kind that I think can change most anyone from the inside out.

The Hard Work

“How do you get a mentor?”

It was a question I asked my friend Maggie over lunch one day several years ago. I was in the middle of a particularly stressful season in my life and had a hit a point where I would’ve tried just about anything to see a change come. So when Maggie mentioned that she was meeting once a month with a mentor, my ears perked up.

Two weeks later, I was on the way to a Taylor Swift concert (#swiftieforlife) when I got a voicemail from Maggie’s mentor, Mary Jane. She had heard my questions about mentoring from Maggie and was calling to tell me that she would be willing to start meeting with me as well.

And just like that, I had a mentor.

What followed was a year full of what I now lovingly refer to as “the hard work.” We met together once a month for a couple of hours and in that time, she made me do the hard work of personal growth. I read the books she asked me to read, I did the homework she asked me to do, I memorized the verses she encouraged me to memorize, and I had the honest conversations about where my life was and where I hoped it would go. I cried (a lot), mostly in public places (sorry to the staff at Panera Bread!). She listened (a lot). And when the year was up and she tried to break up with me, I wouldn’t let her do it. Metaphorically, I became that crazy girl who refuses to acknowledge a change in a relationship and holds onto the leg of the person who is trying to leave, kicking and screaming the whole way.

Because every piece of the hard work was worth where it took my life.

Now before I go on, there’s something you need to know about me: I don’t like being told what to do. Ever. I’m a strong-willed girl with strong opinions and a strong sense of independence. And sometimes, that strength is great. It very rarely lets me be pushed around or taken advantage of. It helped me argue my way into a substantial refund check from my insurance company. It carried me through hours on the phone with my cell phone provider to get the discount I was promised. It made me speak up at the airport when someone was chewing out the gate agent for no reason. It helped me go toe to toe in the driveway with the president of my HOA after he yelled at my roommates for no reason. Yes, that strength has helped me out in a lot of situations, but it’s also made submitting to the leading of someone else extremely difficult.

I once had someone tell me that they thought I was a Warrior Bunny—equal parts truth and grace. That name has become sort of a moniker around my house ever since, and it’s one I wear with pride. It really is the way I see myself—a strong warrior ready to fight for others, but with a big heart and soft sense of compassion and empathy at the same time.

But if I’m being honest here, it’s a lost easier for me to tap into the warrior than it is the bunny. It’s a lot easier for me to speak up, stand strong, and fight then it is for me to lay down, rest, and submit.

That’s why mentoring has been so key for me.

My mentor has full permission to tell me what to do. She has full permission to give it to me straight. She has full reign to boss this Warrior Bunny around and help me channel both sides of myself in the right ways.

And she has that permission not just because I gave it to her, but because she loves me. Every hard conversation she has with me, every book she asks me to read, every exercise she wants me to try, every challenging thing she wants me to think through is because she values my life and wants me to be better. She wants both the warrior and the bunny to flourish in the way God made them to, and she wants that because she loves me.

I’m learning a lot about the value of that kind of love in my life right now. I now lead a group of 10th graders for my mentor’s ministry (www.beseenministries.com). And every other week I’m trying to do the same thing she’s done for me: Love them first. I’m trying to have hard and honest conversations, answer tough questions, and just be real with them as they grow into the women God made them to be. But before I can do any of that, they have to know that I’m for them. They have to know that I’m in their corner no matter what. They have to know that I love them.

I’ve spent the last six months trying to lay that foundation of love with those girls, but I know that it’s worth “the hard work” it takes to do it because love is the only foundation on which hard conversations can be built.

More and more, I’m realizing that I can’t do this life without the voices of those who love me speaking into it. We get by with a little help from our friends, right? (Shout out to Aunt Debbie, the biggest and best Beatle fan I know!) Making room for these voices has been especially key to me lately.

Being self-employed means that you’re totally on your own out here. And while there are a lot of great things about that set up, one of the biggest drawbacks is the isolation. There’s a lot of room for me to hide, get lazy, or not follow through on a lot of things because no one else is looking. That’s why this year I created a sort of board for myself—a group of people who I invited to speak into specific areas of my life. Once every quarter I meet with these people one on one and tell them about my wins, my losses, and my goals for each specific area. We’re talking everything from finances to health to writing. We set goals, make plans, and come up with ideas. And then I give them full permission to tell me what to do. They have the right to check in, ask questions, speak up, and call me out.

Is it awkward? Duh! Nobody wants to show someone else exactly how much student debt they have left. Nobody wants to point out areas where they’ve failed to take care of themselves. Nobody wants to show someone else crappy pieces of writing they’ve worked on.

But that’s where the love comes in. Every bit of awkwardness is overshadowed with love because the people who are speaking into my life are speaking out of love first. When they’re encouraging me, when they’re praising me, when they’re helping me set goals, and even when they’re saying hard things, they’re doing it out of love. 

My point is this: I still don’t like being told what to do. But when I’m being told out of love, I find it a lot easier to take and even easier to actually do.

We live in a time where hard conversations feel like they’re happening every single day. Disagreements are prevalent and opposition is huge. It’s hard to feel like you can say anything at all for fear of hurting someone else. Even The Bachelor is polarizing to people these days! (And if we can’t unite around The Bachelor, what can we agree on, people?).

But what I’ve learned from the way others have treated me is that you have to lead with love. Be the bunny first—the loving, listening, comforting friend. Show them that person again and again. And then when it’s time for the warrior to rear it’s head, they’ll know you come in peace.

 

 

An Ode To Dolly Parton

As a child born and raised in the Tennessee foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, there was no way to avoid learning a little bit about our hometown hero of sorts—the one and only Dolly Parton.

When I was eight years old, I checked a book out from the school library on Dolly and read it within the day. I made her the subject of many school biography projects. I took countless trips to Dollywood with friends and family. I’ve seen all of her movies and let her music permeate my dorm room in college on quiet Sunday afternoons. And though I’m not one of the lucky Tennesseans who’ve had the good fortune to run in to her when she’s out and about in town, I’m still holding out hope that it’s going to happen one day. (Call me, Dolly!)

With all this talk of her growing up, it’s no wonder I became a devoted fan. I’ve learned a lot of great things from Dolly Parton over the years. As a woman who just wants to make a mark in this world, do some good, and have a little fun along the way, I think there’s no better example than the tiny lady with the big… heart!

Here are just five of the many things I think all of us ladies can learn from Dolly Parton. 

 1) Don’t apologize for who you are. 

“I’m not going to limit myself just because people won’t accept the fact that I can do something else.” 

As women, there sometimes feels like no bigger struggle than the one against offering an unnecessary apology. It almost feels like a reflex at times. And while there’s nothing wrong with a well deserved, “I’m sorry,” there’s no reason to apologize simply for who we are and what we want in life. One of my favorite things about Dolly is that she is who she is, and she makes no apologies about it. She’s an amalgamation of so many things, and she fully goes after each one without a care, concern, or apology for what anyone else thinks.

2) Remember your people. 

“I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence.”

Dolly has such a presence in my hometown and the surrounding area not just because she was born and raised there, but because she’s continued to make herself available to the community. As well-known as she’s become, she’s never lost sight of the people who supported her along the way. The best example? When wildfires recently ravaged her beloved community, she organized a fundraiser to support the people there, raising more than $9 million total to help people get back on their feet. Even though she doesn’t have to, she chooses to remember and love the people around her well.

3) There are few things a good hair day and a little lipstick can’t fix.

“Its hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” 

You know that old saying, “When you look good, you feel good?” Well, thanks to Dolly, I believe that’s true. We’ve all had those down in the dumps days where it feels like we’re never going to be able to get it together. When that happens, I’ve learned from Dolly to slap on a little lipstick, run a comb through my hair, and get back out there with confidence. It won’t solve all your problems, but it will help you feel a little better along the way. Take a tip from Dolly. If you start seeing and treating yourself like a diamond—even on the roughest of days—you’ll start feeling like one, too!

 4) Humility and ambition can coexist. 

“Above everything else I've done, I've always said I've had more guts than I've got talent.”

 As girls, we’re constantly in a struggle between being too much and too little. We want to run forward with ambition, but without coming on too strong. We want to approach our achievements with humility, but not make ourselves feel small. It’s a fight between embracing all of who we really are without offending who culture says we should be. Dolly throws that out the window and tells us to run boldly toward what we want. She’s grown an empire of business, written a catalogue of songs, launched fashion lines, and sold out arenas. That’s ambition! But she’s done it all with an air of humility and gratitude. Her example shows us that it’s okay to run forward with both ambition and humility; in fact, they make the perfect combination.

5) Try it all. 

“You'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try.”

Have a dream? Something you want to chase after? Something you want to try? I know I have a list of many! And what I’ve learned from Dolly is that I’ll never know how it turns out unless I get off my butt and give it a try. She’s made movies, written music, opened businesses, sold products, and so much more! Some have been wildly successful. Others haven’t. But the point isn’t whether they worked out or not. The point is that she tried. And for all of us with aspirations or dreams, that’s a lesson we’d do well to model. If we aren’t brave enough to try, we’ll never really know what could happen. 

 

 

Something Is Broken

I remember exactly where I was on the afternoon of April 20, 1999.

It was freshmen year world history at Alcoa High School, and I was sitting in the back left corner of the room. Our teacher was wearing a pink sweater and khaki pants that day. We were nearing the end of the school day so we were working on wrapping up an in-class assignment quietly before the final bell rang.

From my seat, I had a clear shot of the door to our classroom so when I saw the face of the student office assistant as he entered the room, I knew immediately that something was wrong.

“Turn on the TV,” he said. “There’s a shooting happening at a high school in Colorado. They think it’s students killing students.”

And to our horror, he was right. That day, 13 kids were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. For the remainder of the day, we watched coverage as kids were being evacuated, weeping with hands over their heads as armed police officers rushed them to safety. We watched kids jump out of second floor windows to hopefully escape what was happening inside their school. We watched kids bleeding and screaming as they were carried out on stretchers.

We watched it all because we had never seen anything like it before. In that time of our lives, it never once crossed our minds that something like this could be a possibility. And I think even as we watched it unfold, we still didn’t really think it could happen to us. For us, school was just school. And the horrific massacre we saw unfolding on the news that day in 1999 surely would be the only one of it’s kind.

As I’m writing this almost two decades later, the innocence of that thought is long gone.

Like you probably were, I’ve been devastated about the news coming out of Florida this week. It’s gut wrenching—there’s just no other way to describe it. Children literally lost their innocence in a matter of moments, and unfortunately, many of them lost their lives, too. And while, like you, I’ve seen many scenes like this one play out since that day in world history class my freshmen year, something about this one has left me more heartsick than ever before.

My sister is a teacher. My brother-in-law is a teacher. My lifelong best friend is a teacher. My friend in my small group is a teacher. My mom’s best friend works in the front office of our local high school. My aunt is a teacher. My cousin is a teacher. These are all amazing people who signed up for a job in education because they love students. They signed up to teach so that they might give students a pathway to reach their potential. They did it because they love teaching and want to make a difference in the lives of their students.

And Wednesday night when I couldn’t sleep, it was their faces that kept flashing across my mind as I stared at the ceiling. Because now, there’s a real possibility that they will have to do so much more than teach. In today’s world, there’s a very real chance that they’ll be asked to protect the lives of the children in their classrooms—that they’ll be tasked with hiding in closets, and barricading doors, and throwing their bodies in front of bullets on a Wednesday afternoon at school.

School is so much more than just school now; it’s a potential war zone. And because of that, my sister, my brother-in-law, my friends, my family who work in education are walking onto the potential front lines every single day.

I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit right with me.

I have a lot of opinions about gun control and mental health care reform in our country, but I don’t want to get into them here. I’d be happy to share them with you over a cup of coffee sometime.

My point is that I think regardless of politics or where you land on either side of the subject, I think we can all agree that something has failed. Something isn’t working. Something is broken. And we’re not doing right by our educators, our parents, our children, or our communities if we don’t actually try to fix it.

We’re missing the mark when a mass murder at a high school is run of the mill news in the world.  

On Wednesday night this week I was coming out of the classroom where I teach dance every week. Truth be told, I felt really defeated and even a little depressed at the news of the day when I went back to the office to put my things away at the end of the night.

As I rounded the corner, I found two of our high school seniors sitting on the floor eating dinner between classes. I’ve known these two girls in particular since they were in second grade, and they’re always two of my favorite people to stop and talk to when I see them around the studio. So Wednesday, I did just that.

We chatted about school and dance class and graduation and what was going on in their dating lives before one of them said, “Did you hear there was another school shooting yesterday?”

They started talking about what they’d seen on the news or heard from classmates about what happened in Florida. They were angry and sad, of course, but also seemingly without surprise that something like this happened in the world. For these two high school seniors, this wasn’t a shocking, out of the blue experience like Columbine was to me back then. It was a possible part of their school experience. Active shooter drills, text message alerts, and safety plans are what make up high school to them.

When I asked one of them what they thought about that, she shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It just sort of is what it is. I don’t think anybody’s going to do anything to change it.”

That last sentence was a real gut check.

I don’t think anybody’s going to do anything to change it.

To them, it looks like nothing is being done to make this present reality a distant past. There’s a lot of talk, but very little action. To them, it looks like the adults don’t care enough to actually put their money where their mouths are and do something—anything—to change the reality they live in. Whether we realize it or not, that’s the message they’re taking away from this: no one is going to do anything to change it.

When I started this blog, I promised myself it wouldn’t become another noisy piece of the Internet that’s inundated with harsh debate and firm stances. I’m not a person who wants to stir up controversy. I’m not a person who wants to get into heated debates about government and laws. I’m not a person who wants to yell and scream at the “other” side.

But I am a person who sits across from teenagers all the time, and the message so many of them are receiving is that adults aren’t going to speak up or stand up or show up consistently to make any change happen in their lives.

I don’t know all the answers, but I do know this: That’s not the message I want to send.

And on Wednesday, I told those two teenagers in my life just that.

“I hope you know that there are adults in the world who really do want change to happen to make your world a better place,” I said. “It’s just hard because the reality is, this world is a really dark place.”

One of them nodded as she picked up her stuff to leave. She thought about it for a second before turning back to me and saying, “Yeah, I think that’s why we need Jesus.”

Mic drop moment, y’all.

I think we need better gun control laws. I think we need better care for people who are mentally ill and suffering. I think we need better protection for our kids and educators. I think we need to be better, period!

But more than all that, I think we need Jesus.

I don’t say that as an easy answer to the complicated issues of the world. I don’t say that as a cop out or some version of blind faith. I don't say that to say we don't need other things, like better laws and reforms and protection in our country.

I say it because I think that student is right; I think it’s the truth.

People are broken. This world is a scary place. And for me, the answer to that lies first in a lot more Jesus in my life. I think that’s the starting point to a whole lot of things, like comfort, and peace, and healing, and hope, and security.

And at the end of the day, it’s the only thing that helps me sleep at night after a week like this one.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

-Psalm 34:18

The Slide

There’s a story from my childhood that I love. My grandmother used to tell it to me all the time. Any younger sisters with an older brother can probably relate. (Because come on big brothers, why must you torture us?)

I grew up with the kind of grandparents I hope everyone has—the kind that show up, send cards, bring presents, make phone calls, and genuinely want to spend time with you. As a kid, it meant endless trips to their farm in Covington, Tennessee. It meant visits that consisted solely around having fun—renting movies, playing cards, going to the mall, doing whatever it was my siblings and I wanted to do while we were there.

And for us as kids, that always included trips for high quality meals at places like Burger King.

Yes, Burger King was our ultimate choice of cuisine for many childhood years. I can’t think about it too long as an adult or I’ll throw up. I think it’s safe to assume many of my health problems as an adult probably stem from an overconsumption of Burger King as a child.

Of course childhood visits to Burger King weren’t complete without an extensive stay on the playground. Slides, monkey bars, those tunnels that feel like a sauna in the sun (a cesspool of germs no doubt). My grandparents let us spend as much time as we wanted running wild on the Burger King playground after every lunch.

At three years old, there’s only so much you could—or should—do on that playground. The slides were too big and windy for my little body so my grandparents suggested I leave them to my brother and stick to the swings and smaller slides. And that’s what I usually did.

Until one day, I heard my brother from the top of the tallest, windiest slide in all of Burger King’s history, beckoning me to join him.

“Come on up, Sara,” he said. “It’s fun!”

And without hesitation, I did. My three-year-old hands gripped the rails, and I started the climb to the top of the slide. Now to be honest, I have to tell you that I can’t remember the height of the slide or the sharpness of the curves. As I’ve seen these playgrounds as an adult, I can’t imagine it was that terrible. My grandmother, however, insisted it was much too tall and curvy for any little girl. In fact, as she told the story more over time, I think that slide got bigger and curvier in all of our minds. It was basically the stairway to heaven by the time she finished telling it.

All I know is, when I reached the top, my grandparents realized I was up there alongside my brother. He was helping me get seated and situated to send me down the slide. But my grandparents? They were screaming for me to come back down the ladder.

“Come on, Sara, it’s fun,” Will was assuring me.

“Come down, Sara. It’s too big and too fast. Come back to the ground with us,” my grandparents were yelling.

If that’s not a metaphor for the rest of my life, I don’t know what is! A constant struggle between what feels fun and free and wild and what feels safe and grounded and within reason—this is the story of my life. There’s never really been a middle ground for me. You were either one—fearless and free—or the other—safe and certain.

It’s been the struggle of my life to try to find the balance of both.

That day though, there was no choice. I climbed that slide, got to the top, took my seat, and went sliding down the slide without hesitation (and of course a little shove from my brother to get me going).

My grandmother said it was the most terrifying thing she’d ever seen—my little three-year-old body whipping and winding around the edges and almost shooting over the sides at one point. She and my grandfather hustled to the bottom and waited for me to make it out on the other side. They were certain there would be tears, wailing, and fear in my eyes. But instead, they were met with only wide eyes and laughs. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t worried. I just dove down that slide, unaware of the danger and without fear of what was around the next turn.

I love that story for a lot of reasons, but mostly, I love that story because it reminds me that inside me somewhere is a fearless little girl—a girl who isn’t scared of heights or rule bending or facing the unexpected or trying something new. I love that girl. But as I’ve grown up, that girl has become harder and harder to find. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that she ever even existed.

Stepping out to be a writer on my own has felt a lot like that Burger King slide did as a child—curvy, treacherous, and nauseating at times but yet somehow an incredible adventure. With the responsibility to make it work resting solely on my shoulders, it’s been easy to give in to the safe and certain side of myself much quicker than I used to. My temptation is always to stifle the risk taker in favor of the rule follower.

But lately in the moments when I’ve felt gripped by the complete and total terror of the uncertainty ahead, I’ve tried to think about the little girl who went fearlessly down the slide all those years ago. It reminds me that at least at one point in my life, I was that girl. And if she was in there back then, she has to be in there now, just waiting to go head first in to the next adventure.

I’m learning more and more each day how important it is to find the balance between the Sara of my childhood and the Sara of my adulthood. God created each one uniquely and knit them together inside of me in such a way that I know they can both coexist. In fact, I think life looks a lot better when I give them both room to flourish.

Wild and free.

Safe and certain.

The longer I’m on this road, the more I realize just how well they actually fit together.  

Girl Power

I’m a child of the nineties.

And though that means a lot of things, for the purposes of this blog, it really just means one:

I grew up in the era of the Spice Girls.

Yes, that’s right, I caught the Spice Girls fever back in 1996, and I caught it bad. (For the record, I didn’t catch it nearly as bad as my sister did; she owned and wore out a VHS copy of Spice World.)

For the better part of my early teenage years, I was all about those five ladies from England. My best friends and I dressed up routinely as the Spice Girls; I rotated the role of Baby Spice with my blonde best friend. We learned the choreography, we made our moms record us singing their songs on cameras, and we mourned the loss of Ginger Spice when Geri left the group. While I could go on and on about the Spice Girls era of my life, the point is this:

I grew up under the banner of girl power.

And not just because of the Spice Girls (though they’re the ones who taught me the mantra.) My life was then and still is full of strong females who set the standard of what it means to embrace your girl power.

My mom is one of six girls, meaning I was raised with five amazing aunts and one pretty cool mom who modeled in their own unique ways what it means to be a strong woman. Because of those aunts, I also had the privilege of being surrounded by dozens of girl cousins who I think are pretty amazing. I have a sister and sister-in-law who I’d put in that same category. When I was growing up in student ministry, my two primary leaders were women who showed me what it looked like to live life as a Christian woman. I sit in a small group every other week surrounded by women overflowing with girl power. These are the kind of ladies I want next to me on the battlefield of life. My girlfriends are some of the strongest, most confident women I know. And in my house everyday, I’m surrounded by three girls who model the strength and heart of being women better than almost anyone I know.

In my life, the fact that I have girl power has never been a question.

But I know that’s not the case for everyone.

Someone I love recently gave me a sweatshirt with the phrase, “The future is female” stitched across the front. (For all of you who just felt your chests tighten, breathe easy. I’m not about to make any sort of political statement.) She said she gave it to me because, to her, I’m an example of a girl who is paving the way for herself in the world as a woman.

Now let me be clear: There are so many other women I know who are modeling this way better than I am (see any of the women I listed above for an example). As I type this, I’m still in my pajamas at 4:49 on a Monday afternoon. If not brushing your hair, putting on makeup, or leaving the house on the first day of the work week qualifies me to pave the way in the world as a woman, then count me in, I guess.

And that’s exactly what I told her. There had to be so many other women in her 17-year-old world who illustrated to her that the future could be female—that girl power is an option—much better than I.

“Nope,” she said. “I don’t really know anyone else like that.”

That answer shocked me. In my world, the future has always been female.

I recognize that much of the reason opportunity hasn’t felt limited to me as a woman is because of the examples I’ve had in my life. I also recognize that some of it has to do with the fact that I’m from a white, middle class family. I know that fact alone has allowed doors to open for me that are closed to so many others simply because of who they are or where they’re born.

I can think of only one experience in my life where I was made to feel less than, or told that an opportunity wasn’t mine, or that my potential, my voice, and my role were limited because I was a woman. The future most definitely wasn’t female there. That experience lasted a few years in my life, and it was enough to make me never want to have it again. My hair fell out, I couldn’t sleep, I cried in the bathroom (a lot), and I lived most days under a heavy weight of anxiety.

I remember calling my dad toward the end of that season in my life and telling him that I had to get out of it. No matter what it meant for my future or my life, I had to leave. I was suffocating.

His response? “I understand, and I think you’re right. You should go.”

I was in my twenties at the time so I didn’t necessarily need his permission, but it sure didn’t hurt to have him tell me it was okay to go. My dad’s always been the kind of guy who championed some solid girl power in this world.

While that experience was terrible, it remains the only one I’ve had like it. And in 33 years of life, that’s not bad. I know there are a lot of other girls who’ve had more experiences than that in far fewer years on this Earth. And there are far more who’ve gone through much worse over the course of their longer lives.

I know feminism is a hot topic right now. I know there are marches and movements and much more out there all dedicated to the cause of female empowerment. I get that it’s a complex subject with more layers and viewpoints than I care to dive into here.

But creating a kind of world where girls feel like the future isn’t limited to them is something I feel particularly passionate about in this season of my life. Because I can’t imagine being a 17-year-old girl growing up in a world with only one example of someone who showed you that the future was wide open to you as a woman. I could’ve given that sweatshirt to a number of women in my life, but for this girl, I was the only one.

I really care about the future of this world. I really care about the kind of girls (and boys!) who are coming behind us. I care about living out for them what it means to be the kind of woman God made me to be. I care about what God cares about, and I know that God cares about loving other people. I think His kind of unbiased love would be a great place to start in making the world a place where the future felt full of possibility for everyone.

And if I want this world to be full of examples of what true girl power looks like, then I need to be sure I’m playing my part. I need to walk the walk if I’m going to talk the talk. And not just the Spice Girls kind of girl power, but the kind that has the real strength, dignity, and beauty that is being a woman in this world.

The kind that listens. The kind that takes risks. The kind that uses her voice on behalf of others. The kind that prays. The kind that values and nurtures other people. The kind that’s funny.  The kind that’s bold. The kind whose heart is the most beautiful thing about who she is.

That’s the stuff of true girl power… that and so much more! That’s the stuff I see on display in the lives of the women I know. And it’s the stuff I want to put on display in my life every single day. That’s the part I want to play each and every day.

Because I think the future is a lot of things, and one of them is most definitely female.

 

A Wrestler

Hello, my name is Sara, and I go to counseling.

If you know me, that sentence doesn’t come as a surprise to you. Not because I’m obviously a mess of a person who needs a little help keeping it all together (which who doesn’t, ya’ll?), but because it’s not something I shy away from. For the better part of a decade, I’ve been a loud and proud proponent of counseling. When it comes to counseling, there is no shame in my game.

One hour every other week or so has literally transformed my life. It’s brought awareness, healing, boundaries, self-care, humility, value and a host of other positive things into my world. Until the day I die, I will find a way to put myself in the position to receive wisdom, help, and guidance from someone who is older, wiser, and trained professionally to help me be a better person (or sometimes just get through the day).

Now don’t get me wrong; sometimes counseling really sucks. Sometimes nothing about is fun. Sometimes you cry harder than you anticipated and apologize for using all the Kleeenex in the box. Sometimes you stop at the gas station on the way home and eat an entire bag of Sour Patch Kids to reward yourself for the incredibly difficult self-work you just did. And sometimes you just go home, crawl in the bed, and sleep it off.  Not because it wasn’t helpful or worth it, but because sometimes the things that are most helpful and worth the most in life require the most work.

My counselor routinely gives me homework. She knows I’m an achiever at heart, so if someone gives me a goal (a.k.a. something to achieve), I’m going to do it. End of story. The homework that week was simple: read ten verses in the book of Genesis. Genesis 32:22-32 to be exact.

If you’re not familiar with that set of verses off the top of your head, let me give you a refresher course. This guy Jacob is on his way back home with his family, where his estranged brother Esau is waiting for him. The two have been at odds because of something bad that Jacob did, and so Jacob is obviously nervous to see his brother again. During that trip home, Jacob is alone at his camp one night when he encounters what seems to be a man who immediately starts to wrestle with him. Jacob wrestles with this man all night, all the way until the man knocks Jacob’s hip out of socket and leaves him limping. As the day breaks and the wrestling match ends, Jacob asks the man to bless him, and the man replies:

From now on you will be called Israel,

because you have fought with God and with men and have won.

Ya’ll, Jacob was straight up wrestling with God all night long! If that story is weird to you, don’t worry; it is to me, too. The Old Testament is super weird sometimes, right?

I went back to counseling the next week, homework complete and story read, but totally confused as to what this had to do with anything in my life right now. When I said that to my counselor, she said: “Oh Sara, this story has everything to do with you. You’re a wrestler.”

My older brother and his friends were obsessed with wrestling when I was a kid. They even had their own made up wrestling league (though I can’t tell you the name on this blog because it’s not for the faint of heart). From watching them pretend to hit each other with chairs, or flip each other over in the driveway, or use my Barbie dolls as weapons in their basement matches, or do any number of other dumb things in the name of “wrestling,” I can say with certainty that I have very little interest in ever wrestling anyone. I have never seen myself as a wrestler of any kind.

I have, however, seen myself as an over analyzer. I’m a deep thinker, the kind of person who turns something around and around in my mind before I land on an answer. I take nothing at face value; I take it in and look at it from every angle. I think about it, then I think about it again, then I think about it again, and then I think about it again. And just for good measure, I think about it one last time.

If that sounds exhausting, it’s because it is. It makes things like making a decision of any kind hard. And it makes settling on Truth even harder.

That’s been the story of my journey as a Christian. While I’d love to be the kind of person who walks forward with full assurance and faith in every circumstance, I’m not. I’d love to be the kind of Christian who has deep-rooted peace all the time, but that’s just not the way this mind was wired. I’d love to be the kind of person who has enough faith to believe the Truth of God in spite of the circumstances that unfold around me, but I’m just not.

I can tell you that I’m the kind of person who prays… like a lot. I’m the kind of person who asks a lot of questions of God. I’m the kind of person who can’t just sit in the idea that God is good even when bad things happen. I’m the kind of person who isn’t right away okay with the many things I don’t understand about God. I’m not even the kind of person who always wants to believe in God.

But still, I believe in Him. Still, I pray. Still, I ask questions.

And that, according to my counselor, makes me a wrestler.

So many times I've sat across from her and cried (that comes as a surprise to no one, I know). I struggle aloud about the things that I don’t understand about God, and my life, and the world we live in. And then I say, “I’m sorry. I know I’m not supposed to think that about God, or say that I feel that way about my faith.”

That’s where the required reading comes in.

You see, what she wanted me to know is that I am, in fact, a wrestler. And not just that, being a wrestler is okay. In fact, I come from a long line of wrestlers who have gone before me. People who have struggled with their faith, turned it around and around in their minds, and fought through their feelings and doubts and questions with God.  People like Jacob.

And like Jacob, when we wrestle with God—when we really get in the ring and get real about what’s going on in our hearts—we walk away changed. Jacob left with a limp, a physical sign of the spiritual wrestling that happened in his life. And every time I wrestle with God, I walk away different.

So I guess my counselor was right (no surprise there). I’m a wrestler. I’m in the ring with God because I don’t want to settle for a face value faith. And even on the days I wish it were easier, I know that I won’t walk away unchanged.