Fearless

kalyanvarma_lion_walking_africaCan you recall a memory when you were fearless? A moment in time without hesitation; an experience or endeavor commanded through audacity but advanced through ambition? Consider a time where you made a choice to be truly fearless. Not because life forced you into a corner, but because you made the choice to not let an emotion dictate the outcome of a given situation or season.

Often when we hear the word fearless we equate its meaning to an individual, aspiration, or experience. When presented with distress we often riddle through our mind and find the perfect explanation as to why our fear is logical. We have all observed someone that appears fearless on the surface correct? In my life a few individuals immediately come to mind.

1.) My parents – They have been taking risks long before I was able to acknowledge them as risk takers. Not only have they taken on opportunities with endless financial uncertainty, they have also taken countless risks on people society may not wish to “deal with” otherwise. As their daughter I have often been on the receiving end of advice I did not ask for, you know, because they are my parents. A younger Anna would roll her eyes and discard about 50% of what was offered up. However, after a heavy dose of humility and hard experiences I am constantly tuned in to receive their advice at every occassion. In this example I encourage you to find fearlessness through humility. Be present, observe those who go after life instead of responding to life as it comes to them, and never discard advice from a wise person.

2.)  My Brother- The truth is, both of my brothers are fearless. For the purpose of this discussion, however, I want to point to my eldest brother. On the surface it is a simple response when I’m prompted as to his whereabouts. He is a Captain in the Army, and working through residential training to become a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. He is waste deep in research and has achieved opportonuites to be published in various medical  articles thus advancing his career. Though I am very proud of his accomplishments I am more proud of the hurdles he has faced with fearlessness. When he was rejected by the Air Force for a medical school scholarship he turned around the next day and applied with the Army. Less than a month later he was the only one of hundreds of applicants to be given full tuition through medical school. I have watched him go after life with a  fearlessness that is rooted deep in the person he has chosen to become. He is confident enough to be the guy you want operating on you, but humble  enough that there is a reverence for the preciousness of life that leaves him vulnerable to fail at any moment. His fearlessness comes in valuing human life enough to sacrifice his own for 12 plus years, only to tend to the most life threatening   and fragile of circumstances. He has instilled in me an understanding that  countless individuals have faced their fears as a means of giving hope to those of us who need their gifts. Be fearless because what you have to offer others depends on it.

3.) Memo and Renay– Memo and Renay operate an orphanage out of Mexico that services the physical, mental, and emotional needs of children. I have great respect for these individuals as I have witnessed the sacrifice of leaving behind what is comfortable and submitting to a life surrendered. More importantly they have created an environment where children can leave their fear, pain, and rejections at the door. Through their willingness to move boldly and fearlessly they continue to plant seeds of hope in the hearts of children that have experienced unimaginable hurt. In many ways I see this couple as far more fearless than anyone I have had the privilege of knowing. Often it is nice to think about sacrifice, to romanticize what it could produce, to wonder what you “might,” offer someone who needs your gift; but to act on sacrifice, and to do so with a heart of service, takes true courage. Memo and Renay didn’t wake up fearless. In fact I’m sure they know better than most what true fear of failure feels like, but, somewhere along the way (maybe many times along the way) they have chosen not to give into fear. In this way they have set a new standard for what it means to live fearlessly. Had they not moved forward because of a feeling, countless needs that they are gifted and equipped to handle would remain unmet.

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In the wake of an increasing need for me to push my own fears aside and go forth in pursuit of utilizing my gifts these examples (and many others) inspire me to push fears of failure aside. They have taught me that fearlessness isn’t a characteristic or personality trait. It isn’t as though some of us are immune to fear while others whither behind the barriers of our mind. They have taught me that yearning to see the fruition of purpose does not eliminate fear but it does change how much fear is allowed to control us. You don’t have to be business owners, surgeons, or head off an orphanage to live fearlessly. Start small; build yourself in the direction of your dreams with diligence and humility. Give your ability to make decisions more power than you give your emotions the right to leave you wavering. My greatest fear is that I will settle as unused potential, limited by fear. For this reason I will continue to break apart fear in every season, moving toward life with intention.

Pain and Change

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Most of us have faced difficult seasons so it probably goes without saying that pain can feel debilitating at times. Pain has a way of making life feel overwhelming. Occasional distress in life is unavoidable, but often we are missing the purpose behind ongoing sorrow. Pain often couples with a need for change. Change is difficult. Change disrupts everything we build to protect ourselves. Change elicits emotions, and emotions are often fleeting. Nonetheless the purpose of emotion often suggests an urgency that something needs to change. Perhaps the change is as simple as more accountability to your daily schedule or maybe it is more significant, such as healing from intense grief or trauma. Most of us would fall somewhere in the middle; we know without a doubt that change is prodding at the foundation of our safety net, but we aren’t sure why.

 Of course the irony to our safety net is that we don’t really feel safe, we just feel safe enough not to want to “make things worse” (aka change). Most of us tend to shy away from things that are uncomfortable. The unknown is daunting and we would prefer to make the best of what we have today rather than delve into charting waters with hope for a better tomorrow.

  • I’ll start eating better on Monday
  • I can’t afford therapy so I just have to face my pain alone.
  • I shouldn’t go to school because there is no guarantee I could pay off my loans.
  • I can’t heal my marriage/friendship because it is too damaged.
  • I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety so I will never be happy.
  • I want to go to the gym, but I’m too out of shape. I don’t want to feel out of place.
  • I will always be poor because no one in my family has ever managed to “get ahead.”

Change is the most promising challenge we face in life. The opposite of change is inertia. You cannot desire an outcome without sacrificing the source that feeds the thing which drives you. Consider for a moment visiting a psychiatrist office that diagnoses you with Major Depressive Disorder, ushers you out the door, and says “sorry”. You receive no tools, no medication, and most importantly no hope. Change is what drives hope and vice versa. Without one another there is only empty declaratives. Yet how often are we the ones making daily declarations about the things we can’t do, the people we can’t be, and the pains we just can’t seem to heal from. How often do we choose temporary discomfort over permanent change?

I haven’t been blogging for a few months because my life has demanded the need for change is now. The changes I have made and aspire to continue making require a constant presence to my life. No longer can I dismiss my discomfort. No longer can I accept that the gaps as they are. No longer can I contend with myself, for I will always be wrong. The most difficult aspect of change is that it requires you depend on what you know rather than what you feel. Neither fleeting emotions nor hopelessness can change daily opportunities to make choices. Your depression won’t just go away, that relationship won’t just appear, the gym won’t beg you to come workout, and the pain you feel will continue to keep you downcast. You are safer if you aren’t strong. This is the lie. Find hope in your own life, in your own way, through your own avenues of change.

Ridicule of Faith

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No one forced me to be a Christian. No one brainwashed me or shoved me into a confessional. No one took away my ability to think freely. No one forced me to go to church. There were no mandatory Jesus meetings in my home, no memorizing bible verses, and there certainly were no “religious fronts” where I (or my brothers) were expected to behave like perfect God fearing angels.

My home was filled to the brim with a bit of everything. From the alcoholic who had no family at Thanksgiving, to the 6 musicians of a heavy metal band passing through, the Bishop of Bulgaria, foreign exchange students from 4 different countries, individuals of wealth and individuals of poverty, heterosexuals, homosexuals, felons, mentally handicapped, and the homeless. This is not to say, look at what wonderful “christians” you all were. No. This is about humanity. It’s about respect. It’s about the assumptions, the many assumptions, that have been made about me and I’m sure, my family. I will not speak for them because the truth is we all vary to some degree in our beliefs and relationship to God. Nonetheless, our commonality is the diversity that we were purposefully surrounded by.

I would hope that my life reflects my morals, values and faith all of which are interconnected. I would hope that if you have spent any amount of time with me, I impressed upon you a sincerity through my words and actions. I would hope that even if the aforementioned qualities were not translated, that you at least felt respected by me.

Here is where things become a bit blurry to me. I have friends of all walks of life, status, beliefs, and ethnicities. I can confidently say that any one of my friends, and many of my acquaintances would agree that never once did I hit them upside the head with a bible or slander their lives by using scripture as a weapon. I believe they would say I am typically defenseless, a solid listener, and an active advocate for enriching their lives however I can. What I don’t think some of my friends would accept is that the core of who I aspire to be is a direct product of my faith. Not in the form of “because I have to” but “because I get to”. You may think I’m full of it, that’s fine. I’m far from perfect. I’m human, and I’m flawed, and sometimes I’m down right living in ways I’m not proud of. Yet, here I am.

But why is it that the most “tolerant” individuals mock and ridicule my beliefs so harshly?

Why do I as an individual of Faith have to be directly tied to everything you hate about religion?

Why is it that I automatically get bundled into this view of bigotry, judgement, and hatred?

And how many people of faith, any faith, have you had real discussion with?

Opposing beliefs in no way shake me, but I do at times become weary of this very generalized perception of what it means to be a Christian. I know many of you are pissed and you believe that the God I worship is responsible for the suffering in our world. I know you would like to sit down and hack at me all the tough questions, and to be honest, I would love to talk about them as well. But, we will never get there. Because you have already made conclusions about me and about my beliefs. That divide, the divide that breads on assumptions, rests on a lack of respectable conversation, and capitalizes on the seemingly unexplainable heartaches we face perpetuates estranging misconceptions on both sides of the discussion.

I think you would find that I too have had heartache, questioned my faith, lived dishonestly at times, and lacked hope. I think you would find that we are far more alike than we are different, and, I would even venture to say that we could have a respectable conversation about both my story and yours. I don’t want to have these conversations because by God it’s time you get saved, I want to have these conversations because you’re a person and I like people.

Maybe next time you make a slanderous post about my faith, spread messages of hatred by religiousness (man made not God made) you’ll consider the ones who respect your beliefs or lack thereof. Perhaps you’ll think of the ones who don’t demean your beliefs or lack thereof. Even saying that I know I’m gunning for ridicule, because, that is the way the internet works. Nonetheless I think it’s worth mentioning, and I also think it’s worth  remembering we only know as much about each other as we are willing to discuss. Much love and many blessings.

 

 

Divide and Conquer

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I have started and stopped this entry more times than I care to count. Less so in lack of things to say but rather the fear that what I say will be misheard, misrepresented, and misconstrued. In lieu of last nights results I have watched at least half of the United States fall apart. Disdain, disgust, and shock swept through the homes of citizens as we watched the candidate who went from being a glorified joke with no political experience defeat a woman with 30 years of experience.

Before I continue let me be clear about something, because I know a fair amount of you clicked on this just to find out who I supported/didn’t support in this election. I will not say, and I should not need to say. It is not for you to know, and if you know me you do not need to inquire anyways. The only thing that telling strangers who you supported accomplishes is a swift kick of judgment from the opposing party. That being said, I will continue.

You could chalk this result up a million different ways, but no matter how you chalk it up, do not dehumanize others in the exercise of processing it. “Well, Trump dehumanized everyone! Do you know the things he has said?”…

Yes. I’m well aware. We all are. No one of us has escaped the divisiveness of this election. I think this result is interesting in the sense of basic math. Look around folks, at your friends, your family, and respected/well rounded individuals in your community; at least a few of these individuals that you know and love voted Trump in this election.

Furthermore, I believe this election was largely underestimated, as the majority of Trump voters were closet Trump voters. People felt backed into a corner in choosing one of the two worst candidates our country as ever been presented with, and yes, I HEAR you…Trump took things to another level. His character, and his statements are without exception horrid. Contrarily, Hillary embodied the establishment in every way regardless of your personal opinion of her ability to be presidential. The DNC pushed her in, came unprepared, and underestimated Trump. For goodness sakes man was given every media platform in the country for a year. He was the center of everyone’s attention regardless of political affiliation. What was the loss for Trump? He has other people running his company, more press time than any businessman could pay for, and traveled in a jet all over the world propping himself into a media storm. He bypassed 16 running mates with ease, divided the Republican Party, and evoked a voice of opposition to rhetoric that enticed millions of voters as the lesser of two evils. The man had nothing to lose, and now he will hold the Presidency.

But let’s take Trump out of the equation for a moment. The Internet is a playground where cowards tearing into each other are the norm with or without politics. It is a place where everyone is saying something but very few are really listening. There is nothing you can say with haste that is going to stop my world even if I agree with you whole-heartedly. The truth is, you just open the doors for people to see you as immature, on the verge of a stroke, and unable to interface your opinions without also needing to dehumanize an individual or group in the process. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not talking about the occasional vocalization of frustration and/or disagreement. I’m referring to those whose life depends on letting you know how right or wrong you really are, and if you’re wrong, you are nothing short of a piece of shit.

Thanks. That helps everyone.

Jumping back to the election hear this:

  • You have every right to be upset
  • You have every right to vocalize your disappointment
  • You don’t have to “just get over it”
  • You are allowed to process it

It’s been an intense, unruly, and disappointing election in more than one way. We aren’t going to just ease out of this. I’m not suggesting we all act like little angels who don’t have emotions, but I also do not believe that rioting, dehumanizing, chastising, or making generalizations about populations that may or may not be responsible for this outcome. Everyone went in a booth, everyone voted, and while you can clearly define what the majority feels you cannot insist on isolating every single individual to a piece of shit. Not in this election, and not with the amount of turbulence in our social framework. You may hate it, but it is true. This election brought the worst out to play on both sides from start to finish.

Going one step further I want to insist that now more than ever you be purposeful in not just saying something on social media, but doing something. Whatever convictions you have for social justice, wherever your desire to see social and cultural change, get up and go do something. History has proven time and time again that the most precedent movements of change began with small groups of dedicated individuals. Quit hash tagging about social progressions however you define them and go BE progressive. Technology can create conversation, it can create trends, and it can build alliances of conviction but it is not a substitute for real time. Whether it is at the local, regional, state, national or international level go where your conviction takes you. The government isn’t going to do it for you, and the Internet isn’t going to do it for you. We can preach tolerance and love from anywhere in the world through our screens but our screens will never act on tolerance and love. If this election has taught me anything it is that tolerance is limited. As long as tolerance fits your model, you will tolerate it.
The truth is nothing about this election brought me pride. Division ran ramped throughout the entire process, and, in our attempt to proudly exclaim our country devoid of being as ugly as our candidates we have only reaffirmed that we are. I’m not happy with the outcome, many of you who voted Trump are not happy with the outcome, and yet here we are. I am not suggesting I know the best way a country transitions into a Trump presidency. I am not suggesting you aren’t allowed to have emotion and express those emotions, but I am suggesting we not let one person divide and conquer.

Anxieties With Anxieties

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Anxiety is an invisible, unrelenting and at times crippling feeling that holds your nerves hostage. It shoots up through the back of your throat, and throttles your heart into marathon mode. If you’re like me, heat rushes through your body accompanied by numbness, tingling, and shaking. Anxiety not only in its nature to deceive our mind also deceives our physical body. If you’ve never experienced severe anxiety or panic you are unable to comprehend its ability to literally feel like a life threatening situation.

In complete transparency I have no quarrel admitting that anxiety has at times become a debilitating struggle in specific seasons of my life, primarily those that uproot me with literal change. This may come as a surprise to you, but I am not always a complete goof. In fact, I take life too seriously, and do you know why? Because I don’t trust life. When someone says, “Everything will be okay” I used to (occasionally still do) want to punch him or her in their calm face.

Let me give you an illustration that I believe describes intense anxiety. I’m standing in a room. There is nothing especially ordinary or unordinary about where I am, but I am a part of this place in that I am aware. Something strikes me as off about where but I’m not sure what it is, and I cannot identify its source. Anxiety builds off of being unsure what this off feeling is, but I am sure that whatever it is, it is becoming more tangible than the room in which I stand. This thing, this off feeling that manifests from an unknown place, feels more real than the floor I’m standing on. Everything zooms in swiftly (like in the movies) and I become increasingly isolated to this feeling. My knees buckle, my breath shortens, and even though I feel like running somewhere I do not move. I am in the most literal sense trapped in my mind. Let’s consider for a moment someone who has experienced anxiety and panic described in that detail to you as their current reality. How would you respond? I truly believe most of us have at least experienced some form of intense Anxiety/Panic/PTSD but I also know a handful of people who have not and certainly not at the level one might label “extreme.”

So there are two things I want to clarify here, beyond the experience itself.

 1.) IF YOU HAVE STRUGGLED WITH ANXIETY/PANIC

  • Anxiety will come and it will eventually go, but one thing is indisputable…anxiety will force you to deal. You will have to breathe, you will have to search, you will have to “come to”, you will have to get up the next day and you will have to express to someone you trust regardless of whether they can do anything that you’re in the battle. Let me tell you this, if you think you’re being tough by keeping it all in you are not. I know, it may not be something that can be understood. You may be recovering from a traumatic season or memory. You may not want to be vulnerable. I get it. However, I also know this; if you do not bring community in, anxiety will become your community and you will live with it. You will watch TV with it, go to dinner with it, and day-by-day, week-by-week, you will literally walk with it.

2.) IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY/PANIC- I am not going to complicate this, because it is not very complicated. In fact, I think it’s more of a list, so, here’s the list.

  • Do not tell them to calm down. They aren’t calm. Give them a minute.
  • Do not invalidate their fear(s) not matter how irrational they may be.
  • Do not respond in a way that will penetrate their feeling of being alone.
  • Do not insist they cheer up or go out with you, but offer.
  • Do – Be Patient, Be Loving, Listen, or Just be with them.
  • Do- Answer their phone call if you can.
  • Do- Ask questions that help them think through the source (if you can).
  • Do- Check in. They may seem like a zombie but they will love you for it.
  • Do- Remind them. They aren’t crazy, but you get that it feels really bad.

Let me end with this. I have never failed because of my anxiety. I have never not shown up. I have considered it, but I never just quit all together. I’m just referring to everyday life, and you may be thinking, well, you haven’t had MY life. You’re right, I haven’t, and if anxiety completely stopped your life I am sorry. I’m sure it is validated on some level. However MY truth remains on the premise of a mindset, which says that while anxiety screams no I must say yes eventually. I also believe that I was designed with a promise that will oversee every season of my life. I will be on the receiving end of grace. I will be taken care of even when I feel abandoned. It is my personal belief that this world no matter how full of turmoil was intended to be woven and strengthened with predestined relationships. Do you have to work at relationships? Yes. Are they a coincidence? No. Be vulnerable. Make that phone call. Reach out to that friend. Pray, reflect, and keep steady with hope.

Never Good Enough

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Here’s the problem with fighting the relentless feeling that you are not good enough.

You never will be.

By most standards in our world today, for a person to be deemed successful rarely compliments a balanced lifestyle. You’re always “grinding” as the kids say, for something more tangible. Something you can show others, something that proves your worth.

The right body

The cool car

The cutting edge career

The perfect photos on Facebook (you know that IS a thing)

The idealistic College experience while you pretend you aren’t drowning in debt

The biggest and best vacations

 

And most importantly? Be sure to make it look easy.

You know, success.

Let me sum up my 2016 in a nutshell for you.

  • My apartment was robbed. At least $4,000 worth of my property stolen.
  • I ended up with a mysterious $2,000 water bill (long story).
  • I missed multiple career opportunities.
  • I took tests I didn’t prepare for and whined when I failed.
  • I had a tumor in my spine, and, well, it wasn’t good.
  • I did not, at times, listen to the people in my life that offered guidance.

But… Do you know what I did do?

  • I moved out of that apartment.
  • I paid that water bill.
  • I’m making new goals to pursue a desirable career.
  • I’m actually studying for those tests, and I intend on passing them.
  • I had that tumor taken out, and I’m okay now.
  • I’ve owned my stubbornness, and I keep chipping away at its source.

 

I have a below average body. My car is just…really black. The career thing hasn’t exactly taken off, and I can’t afford a vacation. I did have a great time in college, but I also had people helping me think through it and finish without debt. Yet, do you know what I truly believe? I believe when people think of Anna Marie Kuckelman they do not think failure. In fact, I believe they see a relatively “successful” individual by most definitions.

Yet….

Today I’ve been drowning in thoughts and feelings that are absolutely unrelenting. Today I’ve been thinking about how many things I should have done when I had the chance. Today I’ve been flat out mad at myself. Today the voices in my head have just swallow me whole and I can’t help but wonder why I am not more than I am.

And I thought about that…

For a long time…

I felt sorry for myself…

Then I threw an emotional fit …

Then I became really angry…

 

And then something occurred to me.

 

Do I feel like a failure because I am not by worldly definitions a success?

OR

Do I feel like a failure because I have nothing to show for who I am?

Here’s the truth. The most important thing to me is to be a good person. That’s not some hokey quote from tumbler it is the absolute truth. I want to be healthy enough to change the way others see themselves by being a reflection of what outreach and community and connection represents. Every single individual has a purpose. Every single person has a gift. I am certainly not an example of perfection in these regards but I am clear that they are values I aspire to.

And you know what…it makes me vulnerable.

I’m an easy person to judge.

Precisely because I vocalize these values as things I cherish and pursue.

 

But who is the harshest of judges? It isn’t you. It’s me. And today, at the end of it all I’ve landed  on a foundation I believe is healthy.

 

It is okay for me to desire a career that compliments my strengths, my gifts, and my passions without equating it to my worth. Who I am is not measureable. Not by a test, and certainly not by my income. After graduation I was in such a hurry to get out there and be “significant”, but I now know that I’ve needed this time. I’ve needed it largely for the aforementioned reason; so that I am not defined by it once “it” is achieved. I believe everything happens in a timing that works together for the good of the circumstances relevant to the individual(s) involved. Instead of being mad about where I am not, I am grateful for where “not being there” is leading me. Instead of fighting to be the person I want to be I’m searching for a career that will compliment who I already know myself to be. Loving, patient, intelligent, persistent, a visionary, and certainly, a success.

When I Grow Up

 

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Mrs. Sammons peered over my desk earnestly, clearly interested in how my “career day” poster was coming along. I looked back to her, waiting for some kind of affirmation that my fourth grade aspirations were not without purpose. In the section where it asked, “What do YOU want to be when you grow up?” I had written in red ink “A good person.” Now, with the teacher peering over my shoulder the part of me that felt so sure and so big inside began to dwindle. I remember thinking how stupid it must sound. I began to wonder if my teacher would make me start the flyer over but in true Mrs. Sammons fashion she did not leave me feeling small. “Anna, this is one of the best answers I have seen today. Be sure to include what kind of things you will need to do in the corner section so that I know what it will take for you to become a good person.” With that she was gone and I was left feeling sure, this is what I wanted to be when I grew up, a good person.

Fast-forward 15 years and here I am. By most standards I am considered a well-educated individual with a wide scope of potential careers. It is interesting though, after 5 years of college, a degree in education, endorsements, and a minor in philosophy I was never explicitly focused on “academic excellence.” Ask anyone who went to college with me, I was always chatting away with someone. Be it friends, professors, administrators, strangers, I was/am a communicator! Along the way I managed to maintain strong grades and professional rapport, but really, I just enjoyed being in community with others. Currently I am not using any of my degrees, and to be honest I’m tired of explaining to others the “Why” behind my choice.

Well don’t you want to be a teacher? You would be an amazing teacher!

Are you thinking about going back to school then?

Would you ever be interested in doing the kind of work your mother does?

I know a really great principle in Montana that could use your skill set.

What is it you are hoping to do next?

Obviously I need to have an income. I realize that the world does not simply pay people to be good. Nor am I implying that you can’t be both a great person who lives in community with others AND an astounding professional. What I am insisting is that in general I (and I’m sure many of you) experience that instant underlying tone in conversation that links your worth as a person with your career or lack thereof. Single mothers get the same foreshadowing of shame all the time. Oh, so, you’re just at home with your son for now? No. The stay at home mom or dad is raising a child. They are building a little humans spirit from the ground up. They are laying down a foundation for which their child can stand. They are instilling morals, empathy, balance, and being present for the needs of their child. For the record, it’s also okay for no one to stay home, but why do these tones enter the conversation either way?

Again, it is because the world links our worth to our work, and it is a lie.

Let me tell you what it is I do want. I want to be like Mrs. Sammons one day. I want to work with children in the most open and efficient way possible be it through means of teaching or another career. I’ve considered pursuing a Masters degree in Counseling and related fields. I believe that one day I want to teach in juvenile prisons. I yearn for the moments I’ll spend with kids addressing the whole person and not the percentages plastered in red on exams. The simple yet profound truth that is often said “You can’t ask a fish to climb a tree” resounds with me on every level. Do I want to teach? Maybe. I’m not sure yet. Do I want to work with children and youth? Absolutely. But, I want to be like Mrs. Sammons. I want to be the adult that can look at a child and foster their intelligence. I want every kid I work with to know that their perception of who they are and what they are capable of is far beyond what I can do for them. Building children is the necessity, testing them is just a hoop we’ve created along the way. Whoever you are and whatever it is you do, be the Mrs. Sammons of your career.

Peaks and Valleys

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It’s 2 am and a jolting spasm curves up my legs to the lumbar region of my spine. Painful is not how I would describe the sensation, but is certainly uncomfortable. My room is spilling over with an abundance of pillows. Body pillows, wedge pillows, foam pillows, small pillows, big pillows, flat pillows, fat pillows; if it’s on the market I own it. As I turn over my stomach gnaws at me urging me upright. Saltine crackers and anti-nausea medication have become a staple in my diet. I’m constantly fluctuating between a state of feeling ill and running low-grade temperatures and not being “ill “per say but not feeling like myself. I definitely do not feel like myself. My body has a vast list of symptoms and my emotional state is far from what would be typical for me. Some may call it PTSD, or post surgical depression, generalized anxiety, etc. Label it what you want, I am simply in a place where my mind and emotions have now caught up to my body, and it is a tough place to be. Everyone tells you it will be great to be on the other side of it, and I know what they are trying to say…but being on the other side is the time you finally have a moment to breathe and internalize what has happened. For anyone who has gone through a major medical challenge, you know what I’m preaching and you know how tough it truly is. Grateful to be healing, but struggling to let your emotions run their course

As physical healing increases my emotional and spiritual health is challenged. I’ve gone through the fight, I’ve gone through the trauma and now “the dust settles”. It’s kind of like this:

  • Pre-Tumor – What is wrong with me? Am I overly concerned about how I feel? I know something is wrong with my body but 3 Doctors have told me I’m fine. It’s anxiety, or a pinched nerve. It will pass.
  • Doctors Office– Okay I have a tumor. SHIT I have a tumor. In my spinal column? I didn’t even know that was possible. I have to have surgery. I have to have it in less than 2 weeks. I have to tell my family. I don’t know if it’s cancerous. I don’t know where it came from. I should have listened to myself sooner. I should have known I had a tumor. How could I not know?
  • Surgeons Office- You have no medical options. You are at risk for paralysis, death, spinal fluid leaking, and permanent nerve damage. We need to do an emergency surgery. Those are the only words I heard.
  • Post-Surgery– Primarily terrifying for the first 3 days. Pain beyond belief the 7 days following.
  • Home Recovery– After a few tough days I made a steady increase of improvement and I still am. Physically I began healing extremely well. Now we are at week 4 and I’m just beginning to internalize some of the more difficult emotional aspects of what has happened. It’s as if my body said…okay…we can only take care of one trauma at a time so all of our resources are going to be toward healing your body to a place of stabilization. Now that I’ve reached that foundation my emotions have kicked in and are running ramped. So, what is next?

First and foremost I will not make myself to believe I shouldn’t be feeling these things. I’ve I’m withdrawn and processing the experience it is okay. If I don’t face the emotions and memories now I will not find peace. I will not “just” pray about it. I will feel it. There is no shame in being in a relationship with a living God, receiving his grace, being grateful for his mercy, and STILL not being “Okay.” Too often we tell people who are going through something traumatic to “just pray about it” or instead of saying “what can I do for you?” Granted, not everyone can do something, and often times even if you reach out the person processing a trauma will not really know how to receive help, but the actual act of REACHING OUT is what is important. It is another example of the strength that comes with community. It says, I see you, I hear you, I care about you, and helping you in some way no matter how small is a priority.

If you’re wondering if I’m saying this because I feel somehow that my friends have not reached out, just know, that is not the case. I’m saying this specifically because I now know that had the people in my life not reached out in community I would not be where I am in recovery. My friends in the area here and beyond have been so attentive and receptive to my needs, and for that I am more grateful than they know. I’m also communicating this because often when we are the one wishing to reach out and not the person/family in trauma it feels awkward and uncertain. What can I do? What do I say? Will I bother them if I call? What is their greatest need?

Call. Ask. Be uncomfortable. It is important.

 Being in authentic community with one another takes work. It does not always fit our schedule and we have to be resourceful with our time, energy, and even funds at times. Authentic community breeds on our willingness to admit that we need each other’s encouragement, honesty, joy, and occasional tough love. I think there are too many people skimming through life in surface relationships that leave little room for personal and spiritual growth. Instead of “just saying it” whatever “it” may be, we skate around and try to figure out how to be in the relationship without being vulnerable to rejection and/or discomfort.

My journey through this trial has been a series of peaks and valleys. I’ve had moments of profound gratefulness and I’ve had moments of resentment coupled with a handful of self- pity. I’ve had days where God’s Grace overwhelmed me and I’ve had days where I’ve been angry with God that this had to happen, and of course I’ve felt shame for feeling that way. After all, have I not had my prayers answered? Can I not here and testify God’s faithfulness? Am I not an example of his love? Sure I am. But, as I said before, I will still allow myself to process, to feel, and to be. However that may look, it is okay. God has taken me through the valleys and he’s asked me to wait on his timing, and if I’ve learned anything from this it is that HIS timing IS perfect. Had it been even a month later I would not likely be where I am. I certainly would not be healing the way that I am. I would not have had the surgeon I did, nor the wonderful nurses. God’s timing is perfect. He does not bring the pain but he will pull you through it. All we have to do is show up, walk with him through the peaks and valleys, and breathe. Everyday. Thank you for your love and for being in community with me. We are Christ to one another.

Depression: Why We Stay Stuck

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The silence isn’t quiet, nor is it innocent. It’s not the type of silence you relish as in nature. Contrarily the silence carries with it chaos so insistent you cannot begin to organize yourself in such a way as to address it. Depression is not something you are but rather something that is. A spirit so dense it consumes, fogs, and corrupts even the brightest of minds. Depression is not the overgeneralized commercials during primetime television. Depression runs deep, and it’s dark, and it is so lonely. In fact, I think that what penetrates depression above all else is the feeling of loneliness that completely engulfs your state of being. I hear a lot of chatter about “breaking the stigma” of mental illness. Is this necessary and is it true? Absolutely. Is medication appropriate in treating depression? Absolutely. Granted, medication may not be for everyone, and I don’t think it is meant to sustain us, but there is of course irrefutable evidence that depression is impacted to various degrees by serotonin levels in our brain. Here are some aspects of depression I think we sometimes fail to talk about that are (in my mind) relevant. Mental illness is a touchy subject because you don’t want to be “that insensitive jerk” who “just doesn’t get it”. Most likely, we can all say we have experienced depression, but that does not mean we all experience or respond to depression the same way. Therefore, every person to some degree has his or her own definition of depression.

For me, college was a time of what felt like never ending trials. Particularly in my second year of school I had made some poor choices in relationships. School was time consuming but it wasn’t challenging, and I wanted a challenge. Being away from my friends and family who were familiar became a bit of a strain, at this time, mostly because I had not met who would be my true friends yet. Instead I found myself in one of those “it will never happen to me” situations. The details of that situation are not explicitly the point here, but rather, the depression that followed. As I attempted to “manage” my situation, my situation managed me. Everything that I thought I knew about myself shifted, and I entered crisis mode. My spirit was resting on a bed of emotions I had not welcomed willingly. In a sense it is safe to say that this situation was imposed upon me. This is not to say I did everything right, but, I certainly did not consciously invite the pain. Regularly I felt a combination of the following emotions, as I believe most who have suffered depression do.

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Grief
  • Shame
  • Loneliness
  • Self-Pity
  • Sadness

 

Depression: Finding Myself Again

 When I was severely depression I was detached from my family, my friends, and myself. No one could help me, no god could save me, and no amount of coursework could distract me from the darkness I dwelled in. Above all, I was angry. My anger and anxiety raged in a way that made me unrecognizable to myself. I played and endless game of “What if?” and “Why me” with myself. Had it not been for the mentorship of one of my professors I would have made the choice to drop out and head for the hills, leaving behind a full academic scholarship. I had zero appreciation for anything or anyone and all I really wanted was to take sleeping pills earlier in the evening than I should have. I began to resent life itself, I was tired of jumping through emotional hoops everyday, all day, just to get by. Let’s skip ahead about 8 months, because I don’t have time to write about it and you don’t have time to read about it. Down the road I began to resent myself, instead of my situation. Everything I thought I was projecting outward and was the victim to I was actually taking in. The situation I had been dealing with had greatly altered my state of being, yes…but…the truth is I had not done anything to help myself. I suppose you could say I accepted the “victim role.” I had to begin to be honest with myself. After months and months of just surviving I came up for air long enough to look at the situation differently. Instead of being angry, I could use the pain to gain wisdom. Instead of shaming myself for what had happened, I could be gracious toward myself for eventually putting an end to the chaos. Instead of living in a cycle of self-sabotage I could use the trial to propel me in pursuit of academic/professional goals. Instead of being lonely, I could reach out to relationships I trusted. I did have options. Depression was no longer something I could take anymore of. True emotional rock bottom is not depression, it is when depression becomes so paralyzing that you are compelled to get up and move toward healing.

Why We Stay Stuck

The last statement in the above paragraph is the premise of this answer. I believe both from personal experience and from the testimony of others that people who never come out of a depression stay stuck for this reason; they begin to claim themselves as such. Instead of saying “I’m suffering with depression” it becomes a constant state of “I am depressed.” It becomes easier to identify with the emotion(s) or state of depression as opposed to acknowledging the depression without identifying with it. In other words, do not become friends with your depression. I realize to some that may sound asinine, after all, why would you want to befriend depression? Well, you wouldn’t. That much is obvious. What I am implying is that when we stay stuck for so long it becomes easier to stay stuck. Instead of being vulnerable with others and trusting the process of testifying to our emotions we keep them “safe” inside where they are in fact festering, multiplying, and slowly bringing us closer to seeing a “normalcy” to depression. Depression is not normal and is not something we are. It is, however, a very real struggle with very real debilitating symptoms. I am in no way undermining the severity of depression but I am suggesting something that a Doctor would not tell you to be true, has some truth. Keep in mind, I am telling you as much as I am reminding myself. I had in essence become so comfortable with being depressed that I enabled my own fall. Naturally as I began to slowly leave the fog of depression and recognize some of these patters (not alone mind you, I did reach out to an older mentor) I was able to process some of the emotions that were overwhelming me. Nothing happened over night. Truthfully the depression became worse at first, because it was now fighting for a place in my soul. One part of me was trying to rise up, while one part of me wanted to stay down. One part of me knew what the victim looked like, while the other part of me wondered what the more mature version of myself on the other side might look like. Nonetheless I’ll tell you what I did, and how I recovered, again I’ll note…very slowly.

Recovery

In an effort to make a long story short I can sum it up this way: God orchestrated a relationship that arrived in perfect timing. I am to this day very close to the individual who took me in and helped me recover. She has a family, a very active and busy family at that. Yet, she recognized something in me I could not see at the time. Her and her husband took me in, insisted on it actually. I slept on the couch, or in the guest room. I came and went at my leisure. I did my best to hold it together around her kids, but overall I was a wreck. She showed me a love like Christ just as I was. She did not expect anything from me expect that I work on getting better. To this day, I’m not sure that had I not put a step of faith forward to engage in that opportunity for relationship I wouldn’t still be depressed. Let me be clear: She didn’t “Cure” my depression, but she did facilitate an environment/support system that enabled me to safely address my depression. I realize not everyone, probably not even most people, will be blessed with that. However, at the end of the day I had to stand up for myself. I had to choose where I would lean, and I chose to lean into my faith. Instead of trying to “manage” I began to (slowly) let Christ fight for me. It may sound dumb, but it is so true. If you can’t relate to or take away anything else from this blog for yourself remember this; you will either become comfortable being a victim or you won’t. There is no in between. I’m not suggesting you don’t go through the depression, but I am insisting that you reach out and let someone help you get to the place of not becoming a friend of depression. For me, I believe that the relationship I had was Christ’s way of using my friend as an instrument to do just that; help me say goodbye to the friend depression had become. In my experience it became another example of God’s Grace to me; his never ending pursuit of me, and his willingness to meet me in a way I could receive him at that time. My story is just one of many stories. Whatever your story may be, do not give up hope, and do not befriend the darkness that buries your spirit. Be strong, be present, and expect Grace to guide you to a new season

A Personal Note on Faith: Control, Brokenness, and the Role of Relationships.

faith-header.jpgHypothetically speaking, if someone were to approach you with an outline of your life, how would you respond? IF there ever was a way to know exactly when life would throttle us through peaks, valleys, and wide turns would there be any purpose in faith? If someone had told me 10 years ago that in 2014 I would graduate college and in 2016 I would have a life threatening tumor what would I have likely done? I would have worried for 2 years, perhaps not finished school, and it would all be over something that God already had handled. Our human nature, and the biggest complaint I hear from friends is the lack of control that comes with being a human in this crazy world. Nothing is promised, yet amidst it all I see people fight through hardships. See, we think that what we need is answers, but in my life it has always been true that what I needed more than anything was faith.

On that note I want to clarify a few things both for the readers who do not know my personal background and for those who do not know me well on a personal level: I have not always been a believing, faith filled individual. I have not had unwavering faith, and in fact, I do not encourage it because I do not believe it exists. There is no shame in questioning the existence of Jesus Christ. You should explore faith and your spiritual relationship to the father outside of religion, outside of a building, and outside of “unwavering” Christian friends. You should put it to the test and against trials. Doing so does not weaken your faith, it strengthens it, and that is because Christ is faithful. He will meet you wherever you are, even if it is in the midst of fleeing him.

I was, as many of you know, raised in a Christian home. Sure, we went to church as a family, and I was introduced to Christ, but those are not the years I remember. I remember the years my parents stopped going to church because it was then that I truly understood that being the church was more important than going to church. It was then that I understood that watching my parents give their time, money, and love to others was church. So, when I say that I have not always been a believer I am simply saying that I have many times stepped away from my faith. I’ve questioned God, I’ve questioned what Church looks like at in its most ideal structure and I’ve questioned what being a “Christian” really means. Here is what I have found out; Christ was clear…we are to love one another. Churches can build the biggest buildings with the most members and the most sheik furniture but unless people are connecting with one another on an authentic level it is all a waste of money. What’s more, and this is a question you can answer for yourself, if Church is a place for community and connection is it set in stone that this requires a building with formal schedules/events? Another line of thought, what does your relationship with Christ look like without the Church as it is currently? In all honesty I think a fair amount of well-intentioned believers would really struggle to answer that question. Anyways, I can go to Church, and I can believe in Christ, but unless I am out in my community (wherever that may be at the time) being Christ- Like to others, my faith begins and ends with me.

Moving along, hopefully with a better understanding of how I view spirituality and relationship I want to return to the original statement about calling into question our quest for control amidst life’s uncertainties. Most of us approach our relationship with Christ one of two ways.

  • We live primarily dependent on our relationships, our accomplishments, and ourselves. We take life on constantly bracing for impact and hoping we can skim by day-to-day doing it “our way” because at least “our way” feels in control. Christ becomes secondary to our need for control and it isn’t until our efforts fail that we reach out to him in desperation.
  • We lead a pretty disciplined spiritual life, but tend to still feel “stuck”. It seems like we do the right things, and we stay present to Christ call on our life, yet…we fall short of feeling like we have done much of anything that matters. We wonder if and when and how God will use us. Sometimes life feels pretty good, but all too often it can seem like a few days of even plain followed by weeks of going uphill.

 Notice there is no option that says, “Everything is perfect, God is good, I am using my gifts. My kids are on point, my spouse loves me wholly, and my Church is flawless. I have friends in every corner of the world, I love my body, my mind is at ease, and work is a breeze.”

Now, I have heard Christians “talk at” me this way. You will typically spot these individuals, because they talk at you not to you. They are trying to meet their needs by impressing upon you their version of what is most likely an extremely chaotic spiritual life. More likely, they live in an illusion where they are Christ to themselves and by God, you will know it by the time they leave.

Instead however let’s say that you’re reading this and you’re thinking…I’m definitely some version of option 1 and 2. Let me tell you something that I have come to learn in the last 3 months specifically. Jesus Christ is the author of my life. My story as already been written. Sure, I have the free will to throw the book down and pout or live outside of my calling, but in the end…the book will still be there where I left it. Christ is not asking us to put our Faith in something that has not already been promised. I almost hate to even say that because it sounds like such a Christian Cliché where you’re like “Umm where the hell are these promises, my life is hard.” Here is the unpopular truth of God’s promises; We live in a world where people use their free will against one another instead of for one another, and as a result we experience pain that truthfully could often be avoided. Life is unfair, and it is painful, but it is important to remember that God did not create or facilitate these problems, but he did promise to give us what we need to subside the noise amidst these problems. So often we are waiting on God. Waiting on his voice in prayer. Waiting on him to make a move in our favor. Waiting for the finances to come in. Waiting for the job to arrive. Waiting for the spouse. Waiting for the kids to grow up make us proud. We are always waiting. We wait so much that we miss it most of the time. See, God is always in pursuit of us. He will fulfill the desires of your heart, he will speak to you, he will bring the money in, and he will give your children the grace they need to grow…but why would he do anything if we are simply waiting on him like a Genie? As if to say; listen I know we don’t know each other real well but here’s what I need. This is where it breakdowns and this is where I think we have failed to be honest with one another. A checklist does not determine your faith, nor does Church attendance, or by what others say about you. Faith is not a set of doctrine, a fancy worship song that just “moves you”. Faith is hard. Faith is uncomfortable. Faith is contrary to human nature. Faith is out of control.

Let me leave you with this; a statement about when I knew my life went from being a Christian to being Christ-Centered, and how I went from being faithless to faithful.

I knew I went from being a Christian to being Christ-Centered when I stopped going to Church. For me it was necessary to evaluate my faith, and my relationship to God outside of a structure I felt was familiar but not satisfying to me at the time. I spent my mornings with God and I found God in places no one had ever told me to look. Then I realized it wasn’t about where I “looked” but by the eagerness in my heart to seek him. If where you are right now doesn’t get you excited about your spiritual life, reroute.

I knew I was faithless when I sat at the top of my stairs in college, smoking a cigarette and downing a beer one Sunday morning after being hung-over from the night before. Here there was no one to “show up” for. I could drown myself in self-pity. I was angry because college had presented me with some pretty harsh trials. I felt as though God was not just absent, but intentionally hurting me. Everything in my spirit lay deep with depression. I was disconnected from almost everyone, and I ran as far away from God as I could. One night I had decided to take a drive. It was and always has been one of many ways I like to shake off emotions and zone in on music. On this particular night I drove past a man who appeared to be homeless. It was about 2 in the morning, dead of winter, and I could not help but feel this deep-seated urgency to tend to him. As I drove back around the block, and approached him, I could see that he was crying. I offered him a cigarette and asked him to get in my car to warm up. He gratefully accepted my offer and as I sat there with a homeless man in my car I felt like I was staring down the state of my insides; Cold, alone, in pain, sad, and unworthy of love. After a long silence the man proclaimed, “You know, God is good. After all, here you are.” I nearly cried right in front of him. Christ is in us and we are Christ to one another. Faith is being faithful. Faith is being out of control. Faith is not knowing where you’re going to sleep or when you’re going to eat but knowing that someone will be Christ to you. I’ll say it again; FAITH is being OUT of control.

Much Love and Many Blessings,

Anna Marie