even Mother Teresa had boundaries

I want to tell you something that someone very wise told me this morning.

mother teresa

Even Mother Teresa had boundaries.

The renowned, completely selfless and wise, loving, hardworking, humble, mind-blowing little lady who shook up the world.

Even she built up strong walls against harmful things and people.

Even she armed herself well to defend her mind, heart, and body from what and who were ready and waiting to destroy her.

Even she protected herself from wasting time and wasting energy on the people who would keep her from loving others in the ways she knew best. So did Jesus.

No guilt or shame in that.

Even Mother Teresa had boundaries. Even Jesus had boundaries.

I say this to myself over and over today, on this sunny day that I wish was cloudy to mirror my mood. Sunny days should not be spent feeling sick and mulling over who has control over my emotions. I wish this sunny day held only joyful things, not the slow process of beginning to build my boundaries.

But, even Mother Teresa had them.

I want to shake the world like she did. I must need them too.

I want to believe that Mother Teresa had emotional, restless nights that held hands with long, exhausting mornings. I want to believe she had nights where she stayed up fighting with herself and praying with every fiber of her being for the discernment needed to build up the right boundaries and break down the wrong ones. I like to picture her as a young woman, sitting at a table surrounded by older, wiser people, receiving and soaking up what they all say to her as she fights battles inside herself and with others. Maybe she’s like me during these moments, staring at the ground as she takes in every word of wisdom – wishing they would stop talking because it hurts and at the same time never wanting the wisdom to end because it feels good to hear others say “Hey, me too. I’ve been there, and here’s how I made it through.” Wise words have this tendency to cut and heal at the same time. Like loosening chains after so long. The metal has festered and embedded itself into bloody wrists and ankles. It hurts so much for the chains to kiss skin goodbye – the pain too much to handle – feeling lightheaded. Ouch. No. Stop.

And then all at once, freedom. You’re free.

Just like Mother Teresa probably did, let the wisdom from trustworthy people overtake you, cut your chains, and give you discernment to carry your bricks to the right places and build those boundaries.

And boundaries mean so many things.

Guard your heart against the people who make it ache. And I’m sure you know what I mean by that. If you’re a human being, you know how capable we are of heartache.

Build boundaries against the people who try to break your heart – in the careless kind of way. I’ve said it before: your heart breaking open is not a bad thing always – but letting the wrong people break it apart will always leave you with the “what-just-happened-help-me-I’m-bleeding” feeling.

Don’t give people that power. Guard your heart, build a boundary.

Build your boundaries against time thieves.

I need this reminder today: Facebook will never comfort me. Instagram can never save me. Social media will never fill me up, it will only drain me until there’s nothing left. Reading or creating or discovering or learning or traveling or staring into someone else’s eyes can and should never be replaced by screens and little boxed messages and hopes for a certain amount of “likes.”

Limit the time you spend with these thieves. And also limit the time you spend trying to achieve what you hope will save you. Because it won’t, I promise. Your grades won’t save you. Awards won’t save you. Ribbons won’t save you. Titles won’t save you. Don’t let that steal your life away. Guard yourself.

Build your boundaries especially strong against those who only want you for favors and granting wishes and then secretly naming you their whipping boy. They’ll draw you in with promises of good times, jokes, and laughter and their hook will be caught in your mouth the moment you realize what fun you can have together. But the glamour will fade, the polish will chip, the glitter will fall off, and you’ll be left anxiously filling your hands with pieces and handfuls but not a whole. Glimpses but not the portrait. You’ll be left muttering “sorry” more times than you can count for nothing that you did wrong, and yet you’ll still feel like everything is your fault.

And once this has happened, it will take a painfully long time to trust people again, as dramatic and cliché as it is to admit. I don’t mean for this to sound like you are a victim if you find yourself in a situation like this. It doesn’t mean you have to play victim – please don’t. But if you do find yourself in this role, throw down your script, yell “I quit!” and head out of that little production.

And go build your boundaries high and strong against these people that want to tear you down.

Because if you’re searching for friendship that is all the right kinds of messy, that’s not it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it is, either. Don’t try to reassure yourself or force yourself to believe it. Just go.

And I’m telling you right now, you may feel sixty-seven shades and textures of lonely. I said it before, I’ll say it again: the ache is the worst. And you may cry and scream and yell at the sky, “Hey! You! Are you there? Please change this, it hurts too much and it’s not fair.”

And you’ll have days where sitting in your favorite coffee shop feels like a chore, and doing schoolwork feels like torture, because you can’t stop thinking about the lack of alerts on your phone and the empty weekends in your planner, the days that used to be full of color with all the reminders of parties and get-togethers. No longer.

And that’s okay. Or it will be someday. Because eventually your heart will agree with the rest of you that being lonely is better than being chained to someone who kills your spirit, weakens you, pulls you down, empties you of everything you have to give — whether they’re aware they do this to you or not. And eventually you will find people to fill the holes better than any friends have in the past – you’ll find the people who build you up, give you trust and loyalty, make you feel fully loved and needed, remind you of the truth, give you grace.

Let me tell you what I don’t think boundaries are. They’re not sticking a mask onto your face. Don’t stuff your emotions under a cover and call it good. Because like an untreated wound, it will spread and show through sooner or later. And then what? How do you deal with it then?

And boundaries don’t mean color coding and labeling people in your head — ‘the blue ones I love, the red ones I hate.’ Don’t let boundaries equate to creating enemies. It doesn’t have to be that way.

And boundaries don’t mean running away. Don’t run if that’s not what you’re meant to do. Stand your ground; stand firm in who you are and what you know to be true. Boundaries are not an excuse to run in fear.

Boundaries confidently declare, “I love my God enough to show you grace and kindness like He has shown me, but I also love myself enough to know that this is unhealthy for me. For my own sanity, distance is necessary.”

Boundaries shout, “”I love myself enough to know that I’m worth more than these current circumstances, but I love my God enough to choose to love his people instead of deciding to hate them for the rest of my life.”

Boundaries state, “I’ve forgiven you. And it’s time for me to be on my way.”

And if you’re called self-righteous for saying these things, that’s okay.

If you’re called a bad friend, that’s okay.

If you cause pain in the midst of this process, that’s okay.

If you get sad, that’s okay.

If you grow lonely, that’s okay.

If your heart aches from all the lost possibilities and unchecked boxes on lists, that’s okay.

Forgiveness. Distance. They can be true and right at the exact same time.

If you’ve built strong, healthy boundaries that allow you to love yourself, love others, and love God, then you’ve done well.

Because even Mother Teresa had boundaries.

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How Performing Became a Selfless Act of Love

Photo from CU Boulder's Fall 2013 production of "These Shining Lives"
Photo from CU Boulder’s Fall 2013 production of “These Shining Lives”

I kinda have this weird love/hate/also-really-scared-of relationship with theatre. Anyone who knew me two years ago knew that I was absolutely obsessed with performing and understood that that was the only thing I wanted to do with my life. And anyone who’s spoken with me in the last six months about my performance endeavors learned that I’ve really been struggling with my role in this business, if I’m supposed to continue with it or throw in my towel.

I’ll admit that lately, talking about performing has been a sensitive subject. When people ask me about it, I often am at a loss for words. “So, Claire, you love to perform?” “Uh….yeah. Kinda? Well, I used to. A lot. Now…I’m not sure.”

After numerous audition failures in the past couple months, I felt like I was losing “it,” that special thing I thought I possessed that led me to shine onstage. It was leaving me, and I believed there was nothing I could do about it. Time to move on, end of story.

And then in May, I had a mind blowing 24 hours of being asked to come to callbacks for a production, showing up to callbacks completely unprepared, barely scraping together enough confidence to even stay for the entire callback without running out of the room and going home (I legitimately walked through the door and almost turned right around to leave), and then being offered a role that I couldn’t refuse but barely accepted, for fear of letting everyone down. For the first few weeks of rehearsal (actually, more like up until tech week), all I could think the entire time was “I don’t deserve this part; I’m not good enough anymore for roles like this. I’m going to let everyone down. I can’t do this. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Don’t make me. I can’t.” Even after hearing such kind and beautiful words from my director, music director, choreographer, and fellow cast-mates, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t good enough to be performing onstage anymore. [if any of you are reading this, I want to publicly apologize for not fully showing up emotionally to rehearsal; that wasn’t fair to anyone, and I now know that that cannot happen anymore]

And then…and then, everything changed this past weekend, when the beautiful girls of Heritage House came to see the show. Heritage House is the non-profit I’ve been interning at this summer; it’s a safe haven group home for at-risk teenage girls. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster to spend time with the girls there, and it’s been a true privilege to get to know them. Anyway, the night they came to the show at one point during a musical number, I glanced down into the audience and saw one of my girls beaming from ear to ear like I had never seen before. Let me just quickly explain that this girl has had a horrible hand dealt to her; she is barely a teenager, and already healing from the worst sorts of emotional wounds imaginable. In my weekly interactions with her, she’s often verbally harsh and sassy; she barely ever smiles, and I have a difficult time finding moments where she’s truly joyful. And yet…this little musical that we put on, this happy goofy cheesy show, made her smile more than I had ever seen her smile before. I’m not one to cry very often, but tears started forming in my eyes at that moment.

Grease the Musical did not heal her scarred and broken heart. Grease the Musical did not take away all the things that have happened to her. Grease the Musical did not save her that night. But that evening, the show – those two hours of singing and dancing and dialogue – gave her an opportunity to stretch the muscles in her face in a way that she hardly ever does, and filled her with some sort of unspeakable joy and that. Was. So. Worth. It. Seeing her smile like that was worth every minute of rehearsal, all the hours of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, all the sweat and tears. And when I saw her face, I felt this presence in me that wasn’t just my own self-talk, a voice that said “This. This is what it’s about. Do this for her, and others like her.”

For the rest of the show, I did it for her, for that little thirteen year old sassy lady that I love, and for the rest of the Heritage House girls who came to support me that night. And I blew them a kiss at curtain call, thanking them for things they had no idea they’d helped me through. That evening changed the way I see theatre – hopefully forever because I don’t want to go back – because now I know it is something that I am meant to continue, in a different light than I have ever seen it before.

You see, over the past few months my idea of theatre started becoming tainted. Maybe it was some of the company I was keeping, or maybe just my own mind, but something was nagging at me to stop doing theatre because it was all selfish, all narcissistic, all negative, all dramatic. And that’s simply not true. Some parts of theatre can be selfish and dramatic, some people who do theatre can be toxic and negative, but it’s so much more than just those aspects. How could I possibly think the world would be better off without it, when it changes lives and brings joy to all kinds of people?

I’ve heard it said that musical theatre – and performing in general – has been life changing for a lot of people, and I do believe that to be true to an extent. In the same breath, this I know to be certain: musical theatre is nobody’s savior. It can’t actually heal anyone. But it can bring up emotions that are otherwise stagnant or forgotten in everyday life. And that’s a pretty important thing, if you ask me. That’s why performing is essential to culture; society says “stuff your feelings inside and get on with your day.” The theatre says “it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling, and to let it be known.” Your emotions are validated through the performances of the people onstage. You feel what they feel, and they feel what you feel. It’s a powerful experience, one that I thought was easy to just let go of and move on without; now I realize that I can’t and don’t want to do that.

I think I’m finally getting to a point where I know this is something I need to keep doing, but now my motives and goals look different.

Maybe this is a really obvious thing for a lot of performers already, but it really did hit me this weekend: I’m no longer performing for my own glory, to gain my own worth by hitting a quota of compliments. I’m doing it first and foremost as praise to my God, who has already given me all of my worth and shows that by giving me the love of singing and performing, and secondly for all of the people who need the comfort of a good performance to settle into their hearts; for all the people who need to carry a show around with them when they’re feeling blue, as we’re taught in The Drowsy Chaperone. I used to see being an actress as a self-focused, self-centered, inward act of praise. Now I see it as a selfless act of love; love for fellow performers and creative team members, love for audience members, love for the show itself. It’s been said time and time again in so many ways: when love is your top priority, everything else falls into place. Theatre is no exception. When loving people is my main focus in theatre, I cannot fail.

I’ve been so caught up in figuring out what theatre means to me personally, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in itself, at the same time it’s also caused me to be blinded by my fear and lack of confidence in this business, and it’s validated my thoughts about theatre being narcissistic. What will help motivate me to move forward is getting out of my own head and remembering that I can make little girls with hurting hearts smile as they watch a show that I’m in. It doesn’t matter what my part is; if I am asked to contribute to a beautiful piece of art that I believe in and love, I will do it. I will show up because I know I’ll be able to spread that love thick so everyone can feel it, and by not worrying so much about how good I am, I free myself up to be completely unafraid to let everything go and give a performance my absolute all.

I still don’t know if I am meant to focus on theatre completely as my career and I don’t know if I’ve quite gained all of my stage confidence back or if/when I will get better, but what I do know is that I’m not meant to stop now. I have to keep going, and not for my own glory. I have to keep going because this is a way to selflessly love others that I know I can do a good job at, and I can’t say no to that.

–claire

Invisible Girls

I have this huge blessing in my life in the form of a tall, golden-haired lady who likes to go on adventures with me around town, sharing our hearts with each other along the way. This morning we adventured down to Denver, grabbed some donuts, and spent a few hours in a coffee shop on Pennsylvania Avenue. Behold, our beautiful morning spread, as seen already on Facebook and Instagram.

Image

True fact: she’s always been better than me about self control and humility when it comes to the opposite sex. She’s always been more level-headed, and I have admired that for years. I’m super thankful to call her friend, and to be able to look up to her for these awesome traits. But this morning, she admitted something that I hadn’t really thought she felt before. And this resonated with me, because it suddenly hit me that we’ve felt the same way for quite a long time.

“It’s the weirdest thing,” she commented, after our giggle-fest about boys. “I always thought I was invisible to all of these people. But I guess I’m not.”

No, you are not, my sweet, sweet friend. You are not invisible. You are the exact opposite of invisible. You are so vibrant. So colorful. So whimsical and full of life. So beautiful, overflowing with the best intentions for the people who surround you. And I wish I could have expressed those things to you face to face over donuts and coffee, but my brain doesn’t think as fast as my heart, so instead of throwing all of that truth onto the table, I just made a face of empathy and agreed. Because I understand completely.

We used to be the invisible girls, for so long. Not in the sense that no one ever talked to us or they avoided us at all costs — we’ve never been outcasts, ostracized from our environments. But we were invisible in the way that tables and chairs are invisible in a restaurant, or in the way that Bibles full of Jesus are invisible in churches that are chasing the wrong things. We’re there, always there, but we were skipped over. They all knew we would always be there, so we were not given any special attention. Everyone wants a chair to sit in and a table to eat at, but no one ever asks where they came from or what their stories are.

In our case, being that sort of invisible wasn’t always a terrible, horrible thing. Even now, I still sometimes quite enjoy the position of being that girl that everyone knows of but can’t quite figure out all her layers and hues — a little touch of mystique never hurt anybody. The only bad parts are 1) sometimes I wish they would know more. I’m not afraid to share, just afraid of sharing at the wrong time or in the wrong place, or to the wrong person and 2) when it comes time to unveil ourselves, to fully show up and be present for the people who need us, finally less doubtful about being passed over nonchalantly, it can get a little scary.

For both me and her, erasing and backpedaling from this label of “invisible girl” has been a difficult but necessary journey. We’re not invisible — maybe we led ourselves to believe that way back when, but we are no longer the girls who sit at lunch tables, gossiping about the new kids and venting about our English homework. We are coming into our own in every sense of the phrase; discovering that we are, in fact, living, breathing human beings with a lot to bring to the table, despite what we may have told ourselves, or heard from the wrong people, in the past. She and I are similar in the way that the voices in our heads may be our worst enemy, and I’m sure you may be able to relate because this is a battle that countless people fight every day, even if they’re too proud or ashamed to admit it. Those voices can be silent killers, deadly in their poisonous accusations of inadequacy, shame, regret, doubt; poking you like a needle with stone-cold statements like “There must be something seriously wrong with me. There’s no way out of this state of mind. No use trying to climb out, because my mind has locked me in forever.”

Being an invisible sort of person is not the best place to be, since none of us can do much while believing ourselves to be hidden from the rest of the world, and when the role is tainted with these voices, it can be the worst sort of lonely, the worst sort of isolation. And she and I have experienced this, believing ourselves to be the kind of girls that are meant to be passed by with ease, not worth a second glance.

[[Because who could ever find the girl who is agreeable and sweet to be worth stopping for? The girls who are kind and observant but quiet. Those girls are boring. We aren’t the girls in the short skirts with the best flirtation skills and the thickest eyeliner, the ones you can find taking the town by storm on Saturday nights, full of outward confidence and appeal. Those are the only girls that are worth it; not the ones knee-deep in substance, the ones who spend their early mornings and late nights trying to figure out the world and all its inhabitants……right?]]

We are growing up. And we are learning that this is not true. We all — the invisible girls, the short-skirted girls, the girls who are known by so many faces, and the girls with their noses stuck in books — are worth that second glance, whether that glance is referring to the light inside of us, or the beauty that flows outward — because I can say with confidence now that I am beautiful. That’s not arrogance; it’s just a fact that comes from deep within me. And my dear, sweet friend? She is the sort of beauty that you are always on the look out to find, raising your camera as quickly as you can to take a photo and carry it with you always. But no lens could ever capture her full essence, all of her light and color and all of the other cliches that people don’t like to use but secretly want to.

We are realizing we’re no longer invisible. We are still learning and it’s quite a process, but so is baking a cake and so is photosynthesis and so is basically all of life, so it doesn’t really matter where we are. It just matters that we’re fully present and we’re moving forward; we’re not staying stagnant in this belief any longer. We are in the process of believing that being the girls with the quiet goals and dreams and aspirations and talents and passions, the girls exploding with kindness and grace and curiosity, the girls trying their best to show up and be strong, being those girls, is exactly who we want to be.

[[And that’s the thing about changing as you grow up: sometimes it takes a whole personality switch to better become the person you’re striving to be, and sometimes it takes only a little mindset adjustment because you have all the tools to be an amazing person already; you just have to be able to see all of the wonderful things that everyone else already sees in you, that your Creator has planned for you to have from the beginning.]]

Yesterday, I received a beautiful surprise in my inbox; someone had commented on my previous blog post with a link to their own blog. And there, I found an anonymous letter to me from someone from my past (still trying to figure out who wrote it; my brain says “It doesn’t matter who wrote it, just let it be a sweet anonymous gesture!” but my heart is saying “Must. Know. Who. It. Is.”). They told me I am beautiful, I am wonderful, and I’m loved more than I could ever know. I’ve read it about six times so far, and I still can’t believe someone would take the time to write something like this for me — but I’m working on changing that mindset; that’s something an invisible girl thinks. I’m no longer her. If someone writes me a letter, I want to accept it with the utmost gratitude and confidence.

In this letter, the author reminded me of a beautiful and simple truth: when we trust in ourselves to fully show up, when we believe ourselves to matter, when we confidently declare that we have something to offer this world besides just filling some empty space and borrowing some oxygen — when we stop believing we’re invisible –, we have suddenly and easily unlocked ourselves from the dungeons in our minds that those voices have locked us in for so long. And we can finally, finally, do what we were created to do — which is to love, love, love and go a little crazy on that love. And always be learning more about our surroundings and our people, and the people who aren’t “our people” — the people you never thought you would or could love in this world.

Love and the extension of grace can be quite unexpected, but you’ll find that they’ll never disappoint, never drop you or leave you hanging.

Trust in that, if nothing else. And if that’s the only thing you remember from this entire post, then my job is complete.

In case you haven’t already noticed I’m all about changing the world, one interaction at a time. So I invite you to do this with me.

And if you’re hiding in the shadow of your invisibility, step into the light. It’s bright out there, but that’s where you’ll be found.

–claire

my crazy, unprecedented life

Confession time: yesterday I read in my car while driving.

Yes, I was reading a book while driving — well, technically at red lights, and possibly a few moments after the light turned green again, but whatever. [Sorry, mom].

Technically, there are no laws against it, and I live on the edge, so….

I also read an entire book in about five hours total; coming from the slowest reader on the planet, that’s not bad.

And I also saw a movie by myself last night. This is the week of big things for me, guys.

Exactly eight pages before the big twist is revealed, I already knew exactly what would happen. I predicted the entire second half of the book.

You know what I’m talking about if you’ve read it.

If not, pick up The Fault in Our Stars and read it. Your eyes need the moisture, so do it for your health if nothing else.

[I made that up; I know nothing about eye health. It just sounded medically correct, so I wrote it.]

Oh, and don’t worry about “joining the bandwagon”; this is going to be a really deep thought, but oddly enough, sometimes when books become really popular it’s because they’re actually good books. So drop that hipster life for a little bit and read what’s ‘in’ right now!

And yes, okay, fine; I admit it. I fell in love with Augustus Waters, like the other millions of people who have read this book.

I fell in love with the way he spoke and the presence I felt from him just by reading every page. In my playwriting class, I was taught to search for the presence of a character even when they weren’t talking, and Augustus Waters took the gold for that. He actually listened to other people, responded in interesting and often unexpected ways, and did not compromise his incredibly unique personality to please anyone else, even the girl he loved. He searched for her and met her where she was at, and she did the same.

And he used her first and middle name. Swoon. I have this thing about people’s names, and the way/amount that they are used in daily conversation. I just love it.

I don’t want to get into too detailed a description of the book because this isn’t meant to be a book report, but truly: I haven’t had a novel shake me up as much as this one did in quite some time. And I haven’t enjoyed a film adaptation as much as I liked this one in quite some time.

John Green has this funny way of using words in ways that make me think, “Oh, I totally could have written something beautiful like that,” and then I try and I’m like “Oh. John Green is really good at writing and this is harder than I thought.”

One line really struck me hard when I read it,

“You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.”

Gus says it to Hazel Grace; I forgot the scenario and the details of the scene, because I just became so wrapped up in this thought of not focusing on how incredible one can become and in turn, becoming incredible to those who are truly observing.

You cannot make yourself utterly unprecedented automatically because you say you want to become utterly unprecedented. You just are, because you fill yourself up with things to do and people to meet and places to take in and moments to capture. You are not worried what anyone thinks or says about who you are, because you are caught up in the life that you’ve been given, and you’ve started to count the ways you can increase the earth’s capacity for goodness and light.

Augustus Waters is an incredibly intelligent seventeen-year-old; I do not know very many young men who are as intellectually advanced and analytical as he is — sorry boys (Mr. Green, why do you tease us girls so with such an amazing character?). And I think it took this book and this fictional kid that I was starting to love and his unique way of using language to get me to fully take in this idea. For me, this sentence — “You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are” — is a way of saying “You, too, can be unprecedented if you would only stop worrying about trying to become so different, so unknown, so unique. It’s a natural thing if you would stop being busy with the wrong things and start being busy with the matters that matter most. When you do that, when you start  actually living, when you forget the frivolities and actually get up onto your feet and start walking forward, you start to live a life that has never been lived before you – dripping with unprecedence in every sense of the word (‘unprecedence’ is not even a real word; take that irony as you will).” And the point of living this kind of life is not to wear a shirt or a sign that says “Look at me! I’m unprecedented!” The point is not to make an idol of yourself for being unparalleled; the point is to humbly use what you’ve been given to create ripples of you-ness — letting others know that it’s okay for them to get busy being themselves because that’s exactly who they’re meant to be.

Unprecedented: never before known, having no parallel or equal. That’s not to say that your life will be better than others; it just means that it’s different than everybody else’s, as is everyone’s. And no, I don’t fully believe that weird paradox in this case, that everyone having a special and different life means nobody has a special and different life. I just refuse to believe that, because I put my faith and hope in a God who sent His son to live the most unprecedented life imaginable; He performs miracles on the daily, and will stop at nothing to captivate me in all His glory, as He does for every single one of us. It’s up to us whether we recognize those little miracles and blessings amidst the chaos and business-of-unnecessary-things that this world tries to overwhelm us with. And more often than not, we find those blessings in different ways than our neighbors and friends; so together, we can create a picture filled with a million different colored words, actions, blessings, miracles — unprecedented-ness (also not a word but y’know; that’s okay).

So, here’s to my unprecedented life — a life that is not focused on becoming unprecedented, but hopefully becomes it in the process of simply living out my years. Here’s to writing, speaking, singing, being in public without fear of judgment; here’s to adventures in the most unlikely of ways. Here’s to reaching out to people who intimidate me, scare me, make me nervous. Here’s to focusing on the things I love, and not being afraid to show a little craziness for those things, proving I’m alive with passion. Here’s to showing shades of kindness that have been clouded over in this world. Here’s to gaining knowledge and wisdom through experience and things that I care about. Here’s to just going forth and living and finding Jesus on the mountains, in the chasms, in the shadows, in the sunlight; in other people’s eyes, in the words I read; in the arguments and tension, in the tenderness and the love, and – of course – right in the middle ground of being okay.

This week was a busy one, and I would be kidding myself if I said I wasn’t tired, tired, tired — yep, three times. But my heart is overflowing and my body is sore in the best possible way, so I have nothing to complain about. This week was filled with beautiful faces, beautiful and broken hearts, healthy tears, reading on the elliptical (my favorite past-time), homemade donuts, late nights of words, catching up with old friends, learning to skateboard, handing brand-new laptops to  kids with gorgeous hearts who are about to head off to college, the best coffee, Jesus Jesus Jesus and all He is, a few precious moments of vulnerability with my coworkers, conversations going way over my head, and feeling like I matter; I’m needed. I’m worth something. I’m not annoying. I’m loved. I’m missed. I’m interesting enough to talk to, to get to know. And guess what? In realizing this about myself, I realize it about somebody else even more: you. Yes, you reading this right now. You are all of these; all of the things I was realizing about myself, you are that and more. You are so worth it; you are so loved. You are so needed in this world, you are so interesting, and you are so beautiful.

Cheers to you. You are living an unprecedented life by just being you and doing what you do. And I saw you.

If you read that last sentence and instead of believing it to be true, you felt a tug at your heart for something more than worries and fears and anxiety and wishing for a different life than the one you have, then congratulations. You are on your way to finding your unprecedented life. Go forth, my friend. Go forth.

–Claire

P.S. Today’s thought: I used to think I only wanted to be the girl who composed stories every time she spoke, but now I want to be the girl who moves mountains with every step she takes.

Choosing Celebration — Being Okay with Being Okay

This past spring, a wise lady named Hannah Brencher replied to an email I had sent her. [[If you don’t know Hannah, you should check out her blog and her social movement, More Love Letters. She’s ah-mazing]] In response to my angst-ridden message about feeling blue, restless, and overcome with intangible negative feelings, she responded:

“Dearest Claire, I just feel this strong itch inside of me to tell you– with no ruffles and no frills– that you’re doing okay. You’re okay. You’re okay. I think the culture we live in has this tendency to tell us that we either need to be sky high or rock bottom but there is a middle ground we don’t talk about much. And we don’t ever romanticize it when maybe it is the thing we should learn to romanticize more. There is something beautiful, something enviable, about being okay. And being good with the world. And trying our best to just fall in love with the pieces around us. So for the moment I think you need to know, more than anything, that you’re okay. And life is good. And you woke up today. And there are blessings sitting in your hands.”

I keep this email in my Starred folder, painted golden, with imaginary flashing lights around it — not only because it’s my very own, precious and beautiful message from one of my favorite bloggers, but it’s because she sent me one of the truest truths I’ve ever heard in my life — a bit of a slap in the face when I first read it three months ago, albeit; but a necessary slap in the face. *slap* Claire! Wake up! You’re okay. You’re okay. Look at the life you live. Look at the blessings around you. Look who you have the pleasure of doing life with. You’re alright; you’re okay.

 

Even before I received this email from Hannah, I’ve definitely had this feeling that our society distinctly highlights two kinds of people: those who are millionaires in any sense of the word – financially, intellectually, socially -, and those who are knee-deep in the dirtiest of the dirt, finding their way out of all sorts of bad situations.

[[Hear me out: I don’t think that giving recognition to the people who are in these two categories is bad; in fact, I think it’s fantastic to make a point of recognizing the top contributors of our world for their hard work, and recognizing the most broken and hurting among us so we can help them. In no way am I trying to undermine the people who are in one of these stages of life at the moment.]]

In the same breath, though, for those of us who don’t fit into either category at this point in our lives, we look from the sidelines and think “There must be something utterly wrong with me. I’m boring; I’m mundane. I’m in the middle ground. I haven’t been awarded top honors, and I’m not going through a dark valley. I’m…okay.” Being okay and good with life is suddenly the wrong place to be; you either have to be on top of the world or the one with all of the struggles piled onto your back. If you’re not in either of those positions, you’re not worth anything.  You have no story to tell, wisdom to share, reason to ask for help. Being okay is all the sudden uncool.

*buzzer* Wrong!

I would like to say, with my little mouth and my little voice and my giant laptop, that it is absolutely okay to be okay. And “okay” in this sense doesn’t mean “I’m just barely clawing my way through the dirt of life.” “Okay” here means “This life thing makes a little more sense to me. I don’t have it all together, but I see the blessings and I see the opportunities and I’m loving the way that I wake up every morning and get to do it all over again. I’ve got this.” If you can relate to that definition in one sense or another but have been feeling out of sorts lately, I’d like to step out on a limb like Hannah did for me and tell you that I think you’re doing okay. You’re okay, dear reader. And it’s okay to be okay, to stand tall on this middle ground and stake your claim.

And here in this middle ground we don’t often get fireworks just for walking in a room, nor do we get looked upon with pity or immense sympathy for our dire circumstances. We’re just here. We’re just living and breathing and doing stuff — good stuff, I might add. Here in the middle of the scale, things can feel a little fuzzy sometimes. I think that’s why I thought I was so down in the dumps for all these months when in reality, I’ve been here, I’ve been okay this whole time. I just didn’t realize it until someone reminded me that making myself the center of attention for either positive or negative reasons isn’t the way to get out of the hole I dug for myself. I got out of the hole by realizing that my life and the blessings in it are exactly what I need, and I don’t want to waste anything anymore trying to pick apart the mechanics. Nothing’s broken, it’s just figuring itself out and finding how to run best.

Dear fellow middle-grounders,

Don’t feel guilty when you’re surrounded by people who can’t see the light shining bright in their faces, but you see it more clearly than anything.

Don’t feel like it’s wrong when you choose celebration while everyone else chooses complaints.

Don’t beat yourself up for not doing more, getting more, achieving more than anyone else. That doesn’t mean you’re not doing enough with your time; it means you value your time enough to realize that life is not about beating everyone else. That’s not what it’s about. Let others compete with their own crowd if they must. You’re above it. You don’t need to make life a competition; you know it’s more than that.

I’ll say it again, life is so much more than a competition of who can achieve the most.

Life is all in the details within the big picture, and I think that’s what middle ground, “I’m okay” kind of people are able to see really clearly — the big picture, along with the incredible little blessings thrown around every single day. Life is about all those cliches that everyone secretly likes deep down but won’t be the first to admit it – like pancakes and coffee in the early hours of the morning and sunrise hikes and late-night walks and blasting music in your car and the way your fingers felt curled around his and the belly laughter after a hearty meal and hour-long phone calls and thought-provoking questions and stupid movies and books that make you cry and pictures that make you laugh and adventures that look different than anything you could ever imagine. Everything you’ve ever thought about that comes with the afterthought of “But that’s silly” or “It only happens in the movies” — all of those things — you should add more of those to your life. Not even kidding.

And once you do, you’ll realize that more people than you originally thought are also not fitting into those emotional extremes — sky high or rock bottom. You’re not alone. More people are finding themselves standing in the middle ground — finding out sooner or later that they’re okay, just like I did, just like you did. Life is a little more beautiful on that middle ground than we sometimes give it credit. And once we realize that it’s okay to be right where we are, we can see the beauty of life a little clearer and share it with the next person so they, too, can realize that they’re okay. Those little details of life are the exact things that make us realize that the sustainable middle ground is where we want to be. That’s where you can take deep roots and grow strong. It’s harder to do that when you’re standing on top of the world, or buried too deep under insecurities and doubts and fears.

 

So I used to think that I wasn’t okay because I was letting my feeble, fleeting feelings guide my emotional state all the time. I was listening to the voices of self-obsessed negativity and low self-esteem. But now I know that I’m more than my emotions, those swirling, toxic thoughts of “What am I doing right now? Could I be doing more? What’s wrong with me?”

I don’t base myself or my happiness solely on my present circumstances and feelings. I owe myself more than that.

And not only do I owe myself more than basing my worth and happiness on my emotions, but I also owe it to the people surrounding me to stop flailing around in the “I’m being a dramatic overthinker” water, distancing myself from them, when they’re the ones who are trying to knock some sense into me, telling me that I am worth something, that they want to spend time with me, that I’m not annoying (this is a really big problem that I have; if you want to love me well, please remind me that I don’t annoy you). I’d be a much better friend, daughter, sister, aunt, student, and peer (and someday girlfriend, wife and mom) if I stop aimlessly thrashing around in that pool, climb out, dry myself off, and go find the people that I can serve and love and do life with.

And that’s what we need to do. Instead of getting locked up in our own minds, asking too many questions, getting wrapped and tangled and practically strangling ourselves in our circular thoughts that get us nowhere, we need to jump out and look outward. Look to the people who really are struggling, who really do need our help. Look to the people who want to build relationships with us.

 

So I challenge you to make the decision to see yourself as being okay, right where you are, and romanticizing that, like Hannah suggested.

See every day as a rundown of options, of choices; choosing joy, or choosing sadness; choosing to lock yourself up in the negativity, or choosing to set yourself free to love and live and recognize blessings for what they are.

Choosing a daily outlook should be like choosing your morning coffee drink. It should not be a decision that your emotions have already made for you by the time your alarm goes off.

If you have been stuck in a rut like I have been, you know it’s easy to stay in the hole that you’ve dug for yourself because it gets comfortable down there. But I promise you, it’s a lot prettier up here. You can’t see the sunrise from down there. You can’t enjoy being fully genuine, fully real and fully alive amidst other people from down there. You can’t accept yourself, flaws and all, from down there. You can’t know what it is to be okay from down there.

Trust me, climbing out is a lot easier than you think. So do it. Climb out and come up here. I want to show you what it looks like to live life on this oh-so-beautiful middle ground, my territory for choosing celebration.

 

 

 

[[Note: the phrase “Choosing Celebration” was intentionally inspired from the song “Joy” by Rend Collective Experiment. Look it up, it’s a fantastic song! ]]