The Decade Project

I spent the summer leading up to my senior year of high school on a project that got me accepted into Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle

Though financial circumstances pushed me toward the University of Idaho, and I no longer desire to pursue a career as a professional fashion photographer, I remain proud of my accomplishment and the project that earned it.

I titled it “The Decade Project.” Though its focus centered on fashion and its evolution throughout the decades, the series reflects the idea that though societal, economical, political, and personal situations ebb and flow from crisis to bliss, the persistence and general makeup of the human spirit remains similar throughout the ages.This is the reason I used the same three models.

I endured heavy research pertaining to the history of each decade from the 1920s forward and educated myself on the hair, makeup, and clothing trends to properly costume my models. By having each girl represent a different woman’s story through each decade while still keeping them recognizable, I hoped to procure questions of what beauty really is, what it means to be a woman, and how fashion fits in with these more complex bubbles, not as something that is materialistic, but rather as an art form.

Each photograph has a distinct behind-the-scenes story. There were arguments, near traffic accidents, hour-long hair and makeup sessions, creative problem-solving, confused passer-bys and wardrobe malfunctions. This is part of the reason why this series means so much to me, because in attempting to recreate other stories, we created our own.

EMILY

DECADE: 1920s

TITLE: What Is Beauty?

STORY: We gathered all the mirrors in the house and arranged them on the wall in my bedroom. The 1920s was a revolutionary decade for fashion, where women really began to toss aside practical clothing in favor of aesthetics. Because of this change, and because of the strain the Depression put on women to uphold this new standard of beauty while pulling out internal characteristics such as strength, helpfulness, and creativity, I wanted the use of several mirrors to symbolize the many faces of women and a single question pertaining to the true definition of beauty at this time.

This photoshoot with Emily proved one of the more difficult ones. Because mirrors were everywhere I was very limited on angles for fear that me and my lens would appear behind her in the reflection. Because Emily’s hair was long and 1920s women predominantly favored short hair, I had to curl her entire head of hair and then pin the ends underneath to create a thick, short bob.

The slip Emily wears was the one my mother wore to her wedding. We had to be very careful not to smear any of Emily’s dark makeup on the fabric. Because it was much too large for Emily’s frame and the sentimentality of the garment kept us from stabbing pins through the straps, we had to use hair clips and pins to tighten the straps. Once again, this caused an issue with the mirrors; if Emily moved too quickly, not only would the clips come undone, but my lens would easily capture the securing instruments, making for a tacky photograph if gone unnoticed. Luckily, her arm hides the clips in the finished photograph, her clothing and hair remained stable, and I am nowhere to be seen.

'30s E

DECADE: 1930s

TITLE: Fast Company

STORY: Not everyone suffered the Depression the same. In fact, several parties took place during this time, especially among upper-class and previously upper-class families. It’s as if times of darkness call for celebration.

This photoshoot took place in the confines of the dining room in my house. Because the lighting in there is questionable, we eventually took the window, where I asked Emily to look as if she were waiting for company to arrive. The light from the window helped tremendously.

'30s, '40's, '40s 198

DECADE: 1940s

TITLE: Daily Oblivion

STORY: Everyone may have known about the war, but there was a great deal of suffering and despair that went unsaid in America until after the war was over.

I wanted Emily’s emotion to portray this. I wanted to depict a woman who is going about her life at home, hearing about the war without fully understanding it.

We played a lot with coloring in the different shots. In this one, I emphasized the red of her lips as if to represent the smallness of her focus on the issues she reads about in newspapers in comparison to the grander picture of what is her reality.

'50s E

DECADE: 1950s

TITLE: Fly 

STORY: This picture was inspired by a photograph of Amanda Seyfreid in Teen Vogue, where in a vintage bathing suit she closes her eyes and leans toward the sun.

I chose a completely different angle with Emily, and made more dramatic coloring choices. I wanted her red shoes to stand out without taking away from the meditative emotion of the photograph.

At this time, vintage bathing suits were hard to find unless we wanted to pay a large amount of money. Instead, we paired my black halter suit top with a pair of Emily’s old volleyball spandex, tucking the edges of the spandex into themselves to hide the Nike sign.

I photographed her on the docks of the old Rooster’s Landing in Lewiston. She was deeply embarrassed walking in heels and a high-waisted suit from the car to the docks, but once I pulled out my camera she felt like our purpose was understood by onlookers and did a fantastic job of making the photograph a priority over her self-consciousness.

'60s E

DECADE: 1960s

TITLE: Hitting The Books

STORY: University of Idaho students might recognize the administration building towering over Emily in the background.

We hit up campus and tried to work with the wind, a pair of fake glasses and a bundle of heavy Harry Potter books in hand, to capture the scholarly side of the sixties. Educational, social, and civil rights movements affected campuses all over the nation in the ’60s, and this picture was a tip of the hat to that.

'70s E

DECADE: 1970s

TITLE: Class of 1976

STORY: Some family friends let us put their vintage “hippie van” to use for this sassy ’70s photo.

I remember Emily calling me after a shopping trip to Spokane to say, “I bought a pair of high-waisted pants that we can use!”

Well, the pants weren’t as high-waisted as my parents’ bell bottoms were, but they would have to do.

Nevertheless, I have no complaints about this photo. I love the use of colors, the unique expression on Emily’s face, and the fact that her hair sorta-kinda stayed styled after spending way too long trying to get it just right.

I wanted something lighthearted that spoke of carefree high school years, and that is what I got.

'80s E

DECADE

TITLE: Waiting

STORY: The professor at Cornish told me that this photograph was his favorite of the series because it could serve as commentary to so many different situations; abandonment, city life, even prostitution.

I love that so many questions rise from this photograph. I had a clear vision in mind, but without the proper tools, I knew it would be hard to get a clear picture of Emily in her sparkly dress waiting in the dark.

We gave it a shot. We walked down the street and I asked her to stand under the light of a streetlamp. She paced back and forth for me. Every shot I got was simply too dark and grainy until I went against my usual standards and used flash.

For this picture, flash was totally the right choice.

I love the grunginess, and how this photograph can be applicable to a wide range of time periods and, as the professor said, situations.

'90s E

DECADE: 1990s

TITLE: Even If It Breaks Your Heart

STORY: Downtown Moscow is the perfect place to tell the story of a musician.

We kept the guitar case empty, so that posing and carrying the guitar case wouldn’t wear on Emily. This was one of the few pictures we didn’t have as clear of a vision for, so we tried several different alleyways and street corners until we captured a shot that had the right hint of ’90s rock’n’roll.

2011 E

DECADE: 2000s

TITLE: Imprint

STORY: For each of the 2000’s/today photos, I let the girls choose their own outfits as long as they were able to design styles that differentiated from one another.

Emily choose a tiered flowered skirt and basic tanktop and hung a key around her neck. She wanted, she said, to look more like herself than she was able to in the others, having represented several different women for months. She let her hair dry naturally out of the shower, applied minimal makeup, and ended up looking very much herself: simple, collected, and down-to-earth.

________________________________________________*_____________________________________________

HOLLY

'20's H

DECADE: 1920s

TITLE: Determination

STORY: This has to be one of my favorite photographs of the entire series.

My mom purchased a beautiful, vintage, olive-colored coat in Seattle that we nabbed. The cap was my Great Aunt Marge’s, a true antique piece that I was excited to use. Holly was horrified to put on the lipstick I suggested, but the color ended up being perfect and was put to use several times after.

I love how though it is summer, the overcast sky and colors we chose makes it look like autumn. Autumn represents a time of transition, much of which women during the ’20s were experiencing daily.

I remember Holly actually being quite resistant to being photographed that day, but once we got onto the road and kept a look out for cars coming from both directions, Holly did a wonderful job keeping her face a relaxed balance of serious and hopeful instead of angry!

'30s H

DECADE: 1930s

TITLE: Faith In Small Places

STORY: We received an uncomfortable amount of speculation from the inn next to the ornate Catholic church in Uniontown, Washington, but we worked through it and got this movement-filled shot of Holly in a rose-printed dress, representing the women of the Depression who used faith as their guide.

 40's, 70's 088

 DECADE: 1940s

TITLE: Filling Their Boots

STORY: Many women assumed positions in the work force during the ’40s, when many of the men left for war, leaving gaps in industries that couldn’t slow.

Holly’s look is inspired by Rosie the Riveter, a character created in the ’40s to encourage women to join the workforce and believe in their abilities to be successful there.

It took a Google search on tying headscarves, a jumpsuit, workboots, and Holly allowing us to smear mud on her face, chest, and arms to get this shot of her looking happy and resilient at work.

'50s H

DECADE: 1950s

TITLE: Pop!

STORY: I’m going to be honest: part of the reason we chose a face-shot over full-body was because we simply could not get our hands on a dress that was true to the ’50s style. So, instead we chose to focus more on the aesthetics of the makeup and a prop that became prevalent in the ’50s–Coca Cola.

 '60s 013

DECADE: 1960s

TITLE: Hollywood

STORY: I obtained a fantastic dress in Texas that was very much ’60s glamour, and couldn’t wait to put it to use.

Holly’s hair and makeup is inspired by fashion icons of this time, such as Brigitte Bardot and Sharon Tate. We went to the arboretum for the bright light and pops of color to emphasize her appearance and a lucky-girl emotion.

'70s H

DECADE: 1970s

TITLE: No More Walks In The Wood

STORY: Some don’t like this photograph because it is contradictory; a very mod outfit in a natural setting.

This was my purpose.

I made these conflicting choices because the ’70s was filled with friction-inducing ideas about the environment and industrialism.

To get Holly to this area, we had to pull off the highway at the top of the Lewiston grade, jump a fence, and hike a trail, all the while praying that a cop wouldn’t see my car and ding us for trespassing. I believe one of us got hurt and the other got an allergic reaction to a weed or bug bite, both of which were nursed after the picture was taken.

'80s H

DECADE: 1980s

TITLE: Leave This Town

STORY: Holly started out with this cropped sweater and a fake belly button ring. No lie. As you can see, the ring didn’t make an appearance.

I had a lot of difficulty getting Holly’s hair to stay teased and full. We also had difficulty figuring out exactly what we were wanting to do with this picture, but in the end, we were able to capture a wistful picture of Holly before by a pink, weathered door, gazing past the lens and into the road. It was as if the meaning took place after we captured it: angst onset by a tacky small town that no one ever leaves.

'90s H

DECADE: 1990s

TITLE: No? Watch Me.

STORY: Holly may have looked the part, but definitely did not fit in at Moscow’s skate park. She felt uncomfortable, surrounded by people who actually knew what they were doing, and had trouble making any of the shots taken with a skateboard in hand or underfoot look genuine.

In the end, we tossed the skateboard idea and had her kneel instead.

2011 H

DECADE: 2000s

TITLE: Friday Night Lights

STORY: Holly chose a white mid-length sleeve, jeans, and Texan cowgirl boots for her current-day picture. Happy and laughing, with curled tendrils spiraling over the wooden beam of a playground, Holly’s humor became the centerpiece of this picture.

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LAUREN

 '20s L

DECADE: 1920s

TITLE: Because

STORY: Lauren had the clever idea of taping a match to the end of a painted shishkabob stick to create the stylish cigarette holder many women in the ’20s carried with them. We would strike the match, quickly blow it out, and then Lauren would immediately pose for my quick-to-come click of the camera.

This is actually the first shot we got–and the last the flapper dress saw of us. Lauren’s mother took it away after we admitted to spilling candle wax on the skirt, which became quite the tragedy considering we had promised to keep it safe.

'30s L

DECADE: 1930s

TITLE: Barton Hollow

STORY: I wanted a Bonnie-and-Clyde type of story to resonate from this photograph. The legends of romanticized crime from this era are timeless, exciting, and will be told for decades to come.

'40s L

DECADE: 1940s

TITLE: Parade

STORY: We chose the colors of the American flag to be prominent in Laure’s prideful ’40s picture. With blue-bowed pigtails, high-waisted shorts, and an ice cream cone fresh from a diner in Uniontown, Lauren had a lot of fun portraying a classic version of America’s youth. And eating the ice cream, of course.

'50s L

DECADE: 1950s

TITLE: Finding Him

STORY: The prom dress is more modern than ’50s, but the bell skirt was exactly what we wanted to exemplify a pert ’50s prom look.

We tried to hurry while taking this picture, because the person who so carefully pruned the leafy archways leading to their house were not home for us to ask permission to use their walkway. We knew it’d be extremely awkward if they showed up while we were snapping pictures, pushing us to get a good shot quickly.

'60s L

DECADE: 1960s

TITLE: Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

STORY: Lauren got to represent the counterculture of the ’60s revolution. Though today’s stigma of hippies pertain to peace within, history shows that those involved in free love and anti-Vietnam protests were very much troubled by the world they lived in, which is what drove them to advocate for peace, equality, and freedom.

I wanted Lauren to give me that emotion of disturbance and skepticism, and through the use of her big, beautiful eyes, she did a wonderful job.

'70s L

DECADE: 1970s

TITLE: Flower Child

STORY: There were tall purple flowers alongside the highway, and we got this shot of Lauren wading through them just before their season was over.

We also almost got hit by another car in the process of parking.

Lauren 80's 3

DECADE: 1980s

TITLE: Growing Up, Getting Out

STORY: The concrete threw waves of heat at us the day we hit up Lewiston High School to get Lauren’s ’80s picture out of the way.The texture of Lauren’s hair was very accepting of the teasing and heavy use of hairspray we used to scrunchie it up into an ’80s style ponytail, and I’ve never had so much fun with an eyeshadow palette before. Past highlighter dances contributed to the availability of neon clothing.

'90s L

DECADE: 1990s

TITLE: Remember

STORY: The plaid shirt, leggings, and boots are very nineties grunge. The use of a vintage camera and a random blue chair we found discarded in an alleyway of downtown Moscow were perfect props.

2011 L

DECADE: 2000s

TITLE: Give Me My Freedom and I’ll Handle My Chains

STORY: On passing my father’s auto body shop, Lauren spotted a Jaguar and took to it immediately.

I didn’t have any plans of using a sleek car for Lauren’s current-day picture, but the beauty of art is that sometimes the product is better than the original idea.

______________________________________________*_____________________________________________

Robbers

It took me one listen to decide I needed to buy The 1975’s self-titled debut record, and one viewing of their “Robbers” music video to fall in love with director Tim Mattia’s raw visual and collaborative concept.

Lead vocalist and songwriter Matt Healy’s lyrical poignancy is well-masked by the band’s urban-grunge persona and genre-conflicting instrumentals if one does not take the time to clarify words charmingly disguised by his rounded British accent and analyze each line thoroughly. Once sorted, Healy’s intelligence is astonishingly apparent, especially in the analogically-sound song “Robbers.”

Mattia’s film portrayal of the song sticks closely to The 1975’s idealistically reckless style and original intent behind the song. It depicts a beautifully miserable rag of a story that centers on a dysfunctional but intoxicating relationship shared by a couple who become so consumed with one another that their rationale and perception of the extensive world beyond the one they’ve created becomes severely distorted and, ultimately, forgotten.

The irony of substance abuse is that users become subservient to a substance that makes them believe they are more powerful than, and therefore exempt from, the banks and boundaries of reality. Using startling flashback snippets throughout the main cord of the story, Mattia is able to successfully display this while maintaining the image of a love that is as addicting and seemingly fulfilling as the drugs the characters are ready to risk for.

Memorable images, such Healy’s open-mouthed desperation and worried brows, the curve of his back as he twists against the pain of a gunshot wound, the provision of a cigarette from a friend who is a loss for an alternate solution, the blank stare of a girl out a dank kitchen window, and the honest surrender of Healy as he drops to his knees under the slatted confines of a house not yet built, green wine bottle in one hand and gun dragging through the dust in another…each fragment is intentional and stronger than the characters constructed within it.

Chasers

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                        retrieved from tumblr.com, author unknown

Chasers believe happiness is trapped in a box and only one circumstance can unlock it. They suffocate any possibility of being happy in the present, because they’re convinced happiness lies outside themselves. It’s completely insane and ineffective…. When people chase, they drain the color and joy from their lives. They suffocate happiness in pursuit of a fictitious happiness they think lies in the future, outside of themselves. As a result, they are hollow and starving for connection and relief.
—  Eric Charles during an interview with Marie Claire

I have many goals, because I am many things. I am the hours in between the end and beginning of light, where I am best able to transfer words evaporate from my brain and precipitate onto paper . I am idealistic and free-spirited, anxious and disorganized, a procrastinator, and I cannot decide if I belong in the city or out in the middle of nowhere. Mornings are my favorite, but I hate being forced to wake up early, and if I could wear boots and a dress every day, I would. I know the words to too many songs, I like dark makeup, and I would smoke if it wasn’t like putting death between your lips. I like the idea of football rather than the game itself, and poetry makes sense to me. I don’t drink alcohol, but I like people who do. Hot showers and long walks are where I cultivate the most inspiration. I wish I was more responsible with my money when I don’t have it, yet every time I do, my paychecks inevitably go to concerts and discount albums, thrift stores, organic food, gum, and my gas tank. My car is kind of ugly, but I like that I can sleep in the back of it when I want to. I’m lazy when it comes to paperwork and I like talking about the future because doing so makes it less startling. I have a high pain tolerance. Sometimes I get mad because I want to just pack up and leave but realize I have class in the morning, so I settle for driving halfway to Spokane and back instead. I have been known to cancel a day if I know I’m going to only be running on a few hours of sleep. I have been washed in the water and think that guilt and regret are two of the worst married feelings in the world. Sometimes I catch myself staring, even though it’s rude. I usually drive with my shoes off, and sometimes it just feels comfortable to rest my hand on my heart. My room doesn’t stay clean for more than two days, and I am always rushing out the door, trying to be on time. I almost always remember my dreams, which are rarely good but rarely bad, and my panic is always delayed. I liked high school but wouldn’t go back, I can swing dance, but have trouble trusting my partner and too much spinning makes me motion sick. I have trouble picking which color of board game pawn I want, I like sitting on the roof, fall is my favorite season, I haven’t thrown up since the fifth grade, and I want to be able to write the way music sounds. Louie Zamperini is my hero. I am afraid of wasting my youth. I don’t like being told what to do. I have many careers in mind. I fear obligation and shy away from commitment, because I know I’m a slave to expectation and hate it. I don’t like the idea of reincarnation, because I want my soul to belong to one story, one life.

It’s because of these things, all these things that I am, that makes me want the things that I want, do the things I do, and defy or chase after the results.

And now that I have a name–“chaser”–and understand the meaning behind it, my newest escapade is chasing after a solution. Because being motivated toward your goals is great; being a chaser is not.

As Eric Charles, relationship writer and entrepreneur, stated above, to be a Chaser is to be someone who sees obtaining a goal or desire as the ultimate license to be happy. While in pursuit of the ‘next thing,’ chasers become less sensitive to smaller, more enjoyable things as the image of their goal builds up and begins to consume them.

For the longest time, I believed that leaving my hometown would make me happy. Freshman year, I would sit in my dorm room as the snow fell cold and wet on the concrete outside, and mourn the fact that I wasn’t anywhere special. In my mind, being there felt like a failure. I felt like I should have been seeing new sights and enriching my life with culture, because from the swivel chair from which I sat, northern Idaho looked pointless.

Despite the fact that I knew I couldn’t pack my bags and leave in the near future, the image of ancient streets and the music of foreign language clouding my ears became my idol. I stopped seeking contentment in a situation I could not change, and the landslide of winter became more miserable because of it.

Two years later, I finally got the chance to spend ten weeks living elsewhere. As I settled into my temporary home and began to live real life there, an understanding touched me. I realized that running away from one place to the next does not allow you to deposit your problems and flaws in one city and be free of it in the next. I realized that you are who you are, despite shift of time and place. I appreciated my home for all it had supplied me with, and left the airport ten weeks later with new eyes.

I was also at one time convinced that pursuing a high-end job as opposed to going to school would make me happy. As I Googled various internship opportunities and imagined what it might be like to capture my dream early on, I started to see the work I was assigned as needless and time-consuming instead of an important step toward achieving my dream. I was living in a possible future and instead of immediacy, and my school work suffered for it.

Other things most people chase after include purchases, relationships, physical appearance, and social status.  We feel all of this will fully flesh out our images, prove our identities and further embellish them.

Hate to break it to you, fellow chasers, but I have been there and back. I have lost money and wasted time, gotten sick and then healthy again, and had to mourn the broken pieces of people and things that were never mine in the first place.

Being a chaser is a character flaw that I must defy, because it doesn’t beget life. It takes it.

Have dreams. Roughly sketch out what you want in life instead of drawing hard lines with a permanent marker and being upset when the lines don’t match up perfectly. Take steps toward achieving your goals, but don’t let a possible end result blind you from the spontaneous and tangible present.

Because if you let one thing beautiful crowd out the equally beautiful extensions of your pursuit, you will ultimately be left with nothing to chase.

Laughter

Artist Unknown Source: tumblr.com

Artist Unknown
Source: tumblr.com

People are beautiful when they laugh.

There was once a girl in high school, whose laugh started high in her throat. She would omit a quick-paced, tall-pitched cackle, and push backward from her desk,as if she simply couldn’t handle it. The sound was loud and startling, and always ended with her squeezing her eyes tightly shut.

Lots of people would take advantage of her eyes being shut to give one another embarrassed looks. They found her laugh too colorful, too out-there, to be approved. 

I found that very unfair.

***

 

Last autumn, I lost my voice. My usual medium tone faded into a ragged, husky sound. 

Singing in my car became impossible. I would laugh weakly every time I tried to hit a note and it would spin out of control, like a violin string rubbed the wrong way. 

I panicked. I was meant to go to the Marine Birthday Ball at the University of Washington, and I was afraid my wear-and-tear voice would make it difficult to communicate with all the strangers, which at the time included my date.

Luckily, my voice muscled up a few days beforehand. And at that ball, in my dress, I laughed a lot.

That weekend I laughed a lot.

But it wasn’t the same laugh I had before. It was drier, throaty. Sincere, but clutched tightly by my throat.

And it hasn’t been the same since.

***

 

My sister has a special laugh for me. Her eyes close, her chest heaves quickly, and she puts a hand to her face before throwing it out in front of her as she comments on the thing that happened, or the words that were said. It is a laugh so true and so eager to bubble out of her that it spills at my feet and reflects every string that connects us.

 

***

 

I used to feel accomplished when I made my dad laugh. 

Making him laugh seemed only slightly harder than rounding a corner and making him jump in fright. Not because he was rigid, or scary, but because in my mind, male adults laughed mostly with other men and not at their young daughters. I didn’t think of myself as funny, let alone believed I possessed a seasoned-enough sense of humor that would make my father fall over the edge of a grin.

As I got older, I believed my father laughed more than he used to.

Looking back, I believe he laughed more than I assumed.

 

***

 

Don’t look before you laugh.

Look ugly in a photograph.

-U2

***

The other night, I was in an apartment dense with people.

There were games being played. There was talking. There was cigarette smoking over the balcony. There was laughter.

Sometimes people can go from winter to summer with a single inhale, smile, and staccato noise that comes from their stomach, their throat, their chest. A once frightening face is now friendly. Today’s sadness becomes yesterday’s.

People are transformed.

Flowers bloom, the moon rolls forward, and kings fall.

 

 

Elevate 2014

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Photo Credit Abby Morris.

 

“And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony…”

-Revelation 11:12

 

Upon arriving at Resonate Church’s 10-week program called Elevate in La Jolla, California, I was convinced that there would be details of my life I would grasp close to my chest, details that I would mask from the community of approximately 70 people I would be living in close quarters with in order to uphold a collected, near-to-perfection persona we all, as a society, strive for.

Perfection. Oh, how every fiber in my body desires it.

Oh, how my body almost failed because of that desire.

I would be the one people looked up to. I would be the one people envied. I would be the one who was open enough about my less significant imperfections to give others the license to open up to me about theirs, but make sure the rest was left untouched, even by God.

My foolish plan crumbled on Day Four as I found myself standing at the mic at our first Celebration Night, choking on my words as I explained how God had brought me to Elevate.

70 college students whom I barely knew watched me cry on stage. And as a result, I gained more than I would have had I clutched my stories and emotions close.

Vulnerability. I’m bad at it. But, I have come to learn that it is those who live open, honest lives in front of others that possess the most dignity, and who are respected not because of their lack of imperfection, but because of their humble admittance to it.

This post is my admittance. It is the recount of the past ten weeks of my life,

            Just like at the beginning of my trip, I have this story. And this story is peppered with very personal details, all of which I planned on keeping to myself.

            I know, however, that keeping it to myself won’t do any good.

            Without this story, I am slapping my supporters in the face.

            Without this story, I continue to labor after a false image of perfection.

            Without this story, I risk influencing the lives of others with similar questions and struggles.

            Without this story, I don’t further the Kingdom.

 ___

 January or February. It was one of the two.

            I was starving. Literally, I was starving. I just didn’t think it was a problem yet. In fact, I was under the impression that I was still striving to get better, stronger, healthier, after a summer of reduced exercise, followed by a failed go at the Paleo Diet.

            Cardio, for up to 40 minutes a day. Strength training, also 40 minutes a day. I liked the gym, truly. I liked the way it made me feel. Every inch of my body was tight. My chest felt light when I ran.

            I ate cleanly. So cleanly that a third of the personal-sized Applebee’s lava cake I allowed myself on my birthday left me bedridden for four hours afterward.

            I ate cleanly. I just didn’t eat enough.

            But I didn’t care. Months of shoving my hunger cues away left little room for recognizing that I even was hungry. And that empty, flat-stomached feeling…it was addicting.

            Nevertheless, I felt that winter was close to killing me.

            I ate all my meals huddled close to the heater in my apartment. If I needed immediate heat, I would twist on a stove burner and let the heat pulse against my face. Battling a snowy campus was so miserable that some days, it would bring me to tears.

            My pale skin was splotchy with blemishes. The life had gone from my eyes, which even I could see through the hunger-fog that muddled my brain and made it difficult to pay attention in class or during conversations. Sometimes, I would trail off and not remember where my sentence began and ended.

            I began using the MyFitnessPal App on my phone, to guage the amount of calories I was getting and the fat/protein/carb ratios. I used it to make sure I was getting enough calories, just as much as I was using it to make sure I didn’t get too many. I was probably eating an average of 1650 calories a day.

            The lowest moments were the ones that involved snuggling deep under the covers of my bed in the middle of the day, dozing in and out of sleep as my body shook with persistent chills. Those were the times I wondered if I was going to make it to see spring. Those were the times my pillow rehydrated from my tears, because I knew that this…this was not living. It was also not dying, and the in-between was too surreal for me to handle.

___

            “Dad,” I pleaded over the phone, close to tears. “Don’t you think it’d be fun?”

            “Of course I do, Sweetie,” my father agreed. “We just can’t afford a trip to California right now.”

            By then, warm tears were slowly rolling down my hollowed cheeks. All I wanted for my birthday was to be touched by sunlight. To feel heat on my skin. To get away from this bitter, godforsaken winter and pretend, for a while, that things were different.

            I was convinced that if for the February 28th birthday my mother and I share, that if we took a family trip to California, it might heal me.

            “Okay,” I replied, making sure to keep the tears from being heard in my voice. “That’s okay. I’ll think of something else.

            God had been wanting me to go to church for some time.

            I agreed with Him. I missed the church I grew up in, and knew it was important I find a steady source of structured worship and spiritual guidance.

            I had heard of Resonate Church, a young plant designed specifically for college-aged kids, but open to the public of all ages. My first church-shopping destination started, and ended, there.

            The music. The set-up. The sermon. The atmosphere. Every detail was punctuated with the Holy Spirit, and I fell in love.

            “God,” I prayed during the service, “Show me what to do. Show me what to do with my life. Show me what to do with my summer.”

            I asked these things because I knew I was stuck. And I didn’t want to be stuck. I am a restless person with many passions and ambitions, and I felt completely trapped in the confines of my disorder and abused by the cold, bony fingers of winter. My passion was being sucked from me, and with that drained me of my ability to exercise my talents. I wanted to recognize myself, but that was becoming more and more impossible with every passing day.

            And then the Elevate video popped up on the screen. I was speechless.

            The video advertised a discipleship program hosted in sunny California; a ten-week commitment that taught you how to live missionally and share the Gospel, all while earning money working locally and making incredible memories with new friends who chase after the same God you do. It cost less than the internship I was looking at applying for, and much more attainable.

            God had answered my prayers. I applied the next day. And, on me and my mother’s birthday, sipping rice-laden soup in a classy restaurant, I got the email that confirmed my acceptance into the program.

            In a few short months, I was headed to California.

___

            I stepped outside of the airport, surprised to find that I was cold in the green dress that hung from my frail frame.

            I had expected it to be warm, but the sky was grey and the mighty palm trees by the caged freeway rustled from a slight breeze.

 

            I and several other Elevate kids were picked up from the airport by the leaders, who were approximately 2-4 years older than the rest of us (not including the head of the program) and each assigned to lead a room. We found out which rooms we were in that first night in a haze of travel-induced exhaustion and a flurry of faces and names we would eventually get used to, but at the time found overwhelming and hard to retain.

            The Marriot Residence Inn had enjoyed having last year’s kids stay for a majorly discounted price enough to do the same for us. Each room was like a miniature apartment. The ground floor consisted of two queen-sized beds and a skinny blow-up mattress, a bathroom, a small living area with a couch, a coffee table, armchair, and large television, and a kitchenette tucked into the far corner. Stairs led to a small loft, which supported another large bed and bathroom.

One of the hotel buildings.

One of the hotel buildings.

            To our delight, a Kindle Fire, beach bag, and card that our leader, Sydney, had penned in welcome rested against each pillow. I wanted to replace these items with my head; we were all so tired.

            There were seven girls, including me, assigned to room 2724.

Sydney, our leader, was a recent UI graduate with thick, curly head of hair that contained quick wit and a deep compassion for people. She was stuck with managing the financial end of Elevate, which she hated, but very rarely complained about and never used as an excuse to lash us with her frustration. She showed a true display of leadership when it came to facilitating a structured but flexible community, and never failed to check up on each one of us personally. Without Sydney, any issues I struggled with this summer would have gotten brushed under the rug, or simply confused with the pattern on it.

I was most excited to have Rebecca Hatley in the same room as me; she was a girl I had met at the informational barbecue whom I had connected with right away. She had a mature, calm disposition that I felt matched well with my forward, reckless personality. Her wisdom was phenomenal, but it didn’t age her; her desire for fun and manner in which she went about it was youthful and displayed the joy that God intended for us to experience. I had no doubt in my mind we would be close, and I was correct. She became my best friend at Elevate.

I was assigned to share a bed with Amanda Henderson. Amanda was a blonde wisp of a girl who at first came off sweet, timid, and innocent. As the summer progressed, however, it became clear that Amanda’s soul wasn’t mild; she possessed insight that came from being on-fire for God, and her desire for spontaneity was, at times, all-consuming.

            Shannon Wold was at first a small, soft-spoken girl who loved apples, her sorority, and running. She didn’t trust people at first, this was clear. She was gun-shy, and the prompt to open up was terrifying to her. But, once she understood how worthy she was, and how much impact her voice, though quiet, could be, her character astounded me with her display of self-sacrifice, independence, and laughter.

            Michelle McGuire was a pretty blonde girl who spent a lot of time in the lobby, studying her Bible, raising support money, and internalizing the world around her. She had an internship set up for the upcoming year, and took the pursuit of information regarding the faith very seriously. Michelle and I were similar in the way we observed the world and analyzed the minute details of it, making for good conversation over similar interests (ahem, NEEDTOBREATHE and shopping…) When she took the chance to stand up and speak during Celebration, Teaching Night, or Village, Michelle was always able to concisely and dramatically deliver a thought, making the love and respect for words another thing we had in common.

            Ciera Sitton was the youngest of us all. She had just finished her freshman year, while the rest of us had been crammed into a room due to our SUP statuses (Sophomores and Up.) Needless to say, we gained a little sister. Ciera, though somewhat talkative at first, often felt the urge to separate herself from community and zone out in front of the computer, or in the days after the job hunt, sleeping late into the morning and waving away offers for adventure if it came before noon. She said that people made her nervous, though she hid it well. As the summer went on, Ciera gradually began to come out of her shell—and I don’t think I have ever met someone with as much spunk and the ability to empathize than Ciera. And, she may have been younger than the rest of us, but the words that spouted from her mouth regarding God and His Will, His Word, His Love, never failed to be eloquent and impressive.

            I wish I could share their stories with you. Stories of struggle, strength, and redemption. I wish I could tell you how their past and present lives affected me, how their locked-away secrets spilled out for God, and for all us girls to see. But I won’t.

            Those aren’t my stories to tell.

The girls of my room. From left to right: Amanda, Rebecca, Shannon, Sydney, Ciera, Michelle, and I.

The girls of my room. From left to right: Amanda, Rebecca, Shannon, Sydney, Ciera, Michelle, and I.

___

 

            The first week consisted of early mornings, late nights, and job-searching. From 9 AM to 5 PM, we were required to spend time away from the hotel going from business to business, filling out applications, and taking interviews. We had two weeks to find a job that offered a minimum of 30 hours a week. If a job wasn’t obtained in that time frame, we were to be sent home.

            I was hired on Day 3.

            Voulez-Vous Café was the name of the restaurant. I was attracted to the outdoor patio, where customers sat in either fifties-style booths or summer-deck-like chairs and paper-covered tables, umbrellas stretching like bright orange flowers overhead. A blonde girl with a sea star pin in her hair wove through and a stocky boy with shark eyes and a contradictory kind smile introduced me to the boss.

            I’m going to withhold his name, but not a description. His course, dark hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. He had dopey eyes and an open smile that revealed silver braces tracking across his teeth. He seemed relaxed, happy, and approached everything with the openness of a child.

            Looking back, I can’t believe I thought that was a good thing.

            “I don’t think we’re looking for anything right now,” he at first told me. Then, he got distracted by something on my resume. “You’re a journalism student?”

            I told him that I was, that I loved it. He noticed that I had a blog as well, and said that he had been wanting someone to help him with promoting the business.

            “And, you have restaurant experience…” he said. “You know, we might actually be able to use you.”

            I remember calling my mother after that meeting, sinking to the heated grass underneath a palm tree in my dotted, belted dress. I remember how my middle folded in half instead of slightly rolling, like a normal person. That’s how much it was on my mind—I was thinking about it even then, even in that moment.

            “Mom,” I said, excited. “I think I got a job.”

            He called me in between services at my first day at Mission Trails Church, the church my Village (my room and the male room we were paired up with) were to serve that summer. I took the call outside in the sun and sat on a round concrete figure.

            He told me he needed me to fill out some paperwork before I started. He wanted me to work in the bakery and as a hostess, and on the side help him with the Public Relations projects he had in mind. With the sun beating on top of my head and the concrete scratching the back of my thighs, I thanked my new boss, silently praised God for answering my prayers, then hung up and went back inside to help move chairs.

___

 

            I thought that after I obtained a job, I would have time to relax for a few days as I waited for it to start.

            I was wrong.

            I desperately needed sleep. We were running on 4-6 hours every day. My eyes were itchy and blood-red constantly, from what I at first thought were allergies, then cheap makeup, but realized to be lack of sleep.

 I thought I would be able to sleep in after employment, but the rest of the girls were still job-searching, making 8:00 the only time available to do our devotionals together. Days were busy with errands, chores, dinner preparation, and my daily workout, which I did at the dingy 24-Hour Fitness on Girard after spending $60 for a 2-month membership. I tried to take naps every day, but it was hard to not be woken up by bodies moving in and out of our room.

            Monday nights were Celebration Night. Celebration Night consisted of a small room that quickly heated up from the moving, breathing bodies sitting close to one another as we sang worship songs, heard briefly from one of the leaders, and told stories of how we saw God moving in our lives.

            Tuesdays, we had Teaching Night, where a speaker—usually a Resonate pastor that had made a special trip to San Diego—taught us about a variety of things, including how to share the Gospel, what the Gospel truly meant, how to uphold relationships, the reality of Hell, the beauty of Heaven, our purpose, our personalities and abilities, serving and honoring the church, etc. They would speak, always poignantly, while we opened our Bible apps on our phones (yes, that’s actually a thing), and scribbled away in our notebooks.

            Wednesday nights, we paired up with our assigned room of the opposite sex to do what is called “Village.” Village is where two people facilitate a thoughtful conversation regarding what we learned on Teaching Night, what our thoughts and connections to the delivery was, and how to go forward from there. It usually ended in dessert (which I obviously ducked out of) and an after-Village activity. Because I was so exhausted, I unfortunately skipped out on a lot of our after-Village activities at the beginning. My energy levels were depleted not only from the demands of the trip, but from my lack of nourishment. My body just couldn’t handle it.

            On Thursday nights, the girls in our room gathered for Huddle. In Huddle, our leader would present a shape. And that shape represented ways in which we can better study the Bible, pray, prioritize, etc. One of the most important shapes we learned was called the Kairos Circle, which provided steps showing us how to internalize a prompting by God, analyze what He wants you to do, then going out and doing something about it. Huddle also provided us the opportunity to share our story, or as I formerly knew it, our testimony.

            I was the first to share my testimony. In a future Huddle, we were required to develop a short but effective version of our story. Mine went something like this:

I grew up in a God-loving home. My parents never failed to show me, and tell me, about unconditional love and God’s saving grace.

 

My mother told me she felt I was specially anointed. She said I glowed with God’s joy, that she could see Him in my eyes.

 

I loved God. I loved the idea of God. I loved the idea of God loving me. I was an imaginative, social, and confident child, who wanted to be like Jesus so much that one day, in the wind, I promised to never sin again.

 

It wasn’t long after that the Devil spoke to me. I was in preschool, and a dark, unexpected thought was planted in my brain–a thought that made me break down in tears, and grasp for my mother. I confessed what I had thought, and she comforted me.

 

This was only the first of many spiritual attacks.

 

But, Jesus’ light and protection outweighed the darkness. At age 11, I was baptized in the Snake River. I had been baptized as a baby, but I wanted to make the decision myself.

 

Around this time, my Obsessive-Compulsive and Anxiety Disorders revealed themselves. Every fear related to having control over my body, whether it be well-being, stability, or appearance. I often think back on that day in the wind, when I promised to be as clean as Jesus; from a young age, my perfectionism was obvious.

 

I continued to walk in Christ. He was a large part of my identity. Upon entering university, there were several other things that wanted my heart; boys, friends, my list of dreams, body image. I maintained a certain level of “Christianity” in all of these categories, but there were several flaws in my distracted approach to my faith, flaws that were probably necessary for God to draw me closer to Him. I think I was under the mentality that if I ‘had God,’ there was nothing left to pursue. This is simply not true.

 

There came a point where I decided I needed to go ‘church shopping.’

 

I attended Resonate and found it beautiful. It was similar to my home church in style, but absolutely unique in its community and structure. It’s a revolution, and I love being a part of it.

 

God doesn’t do halfway. God wants us fully. And if you are halfway in the door, God will pursue you fiercely until you make the decision to be fully in or fully out.

 

I’m in.

 

I shared the more detailed version of my story during Huddle, including my current struggle with eating. I told them (because I was convinced as well) that I was trying to get better while there. That I liked to cook and eat (true), that I was a bit of a health freak (true), and that I loved to exercise (also true.) Unfortunately, this made it sound as if I was in an advanced stage of recovery, and simply needed space to rest and recoup.

No one, including me, understood.

Working together at Teaching Night.

Working together at Teaching Night.

Our Village at the Del Mar Fair.

Our Village at the Del Mar Fair.

Our Village at "Tacky Prom" near the end of our trip.

Our Village at “Tacky Prom” near the end of our trip.

 

 

___

            I had received permission to fly home after the first week to attend my sister’s high school graduation. The night before my 6 AM flight, I set out my breakfast and clothes for the following morning, excited to come home.

            I cannot describe to you what it felt like to see the blue skyline of Spokane, with the puffy white clouds skidding across the distant slash of green and brown. I cannot describe to you what it felt like to sit in my very own car after the frustration of struggling to navigate La Jolla’s bus system after a stressful, exhausting week. I cannot describe the happiness I felt as I listened to Foy Vance and waited for my family members from Minnesota to come off their flight, climb into my car, and join me on the winding road home to the Palouse.

            I looked terrible when I showed up. Honestly. I knew it. My eyes were swollen and red. My hair looked flat and greasy from the plane ride. My yoga pants weren’t tight on me anymore. It was because of this that my father took one look at me and said, in a panic, “You’re so skinny, honey.”

            My aunt’s husband stared as my dad hugged me, hands in his pockets. I knew what my dad was feeling; small, tender muscles between delicate shoulder blades. Bird’s bones.

            I ducked into my room for a nap. And man, did I sleep.

            I slept for hours, every day, despite long nightly slumbers. I missed out on time with my cousin, Dominic. I was hungry, but I was too tired. I wanted to sleep instead.

            Every time I stood up, my calves would shock with crippling cramps. I tried running one morning, but was too tired. Instead, I laid in the grass beneath the silo by my house and fingered pieces of grass, staring up at the sky, thinking on how it was a shame that by missing this workout, and the workouts I had missed in favor of job searching for the past week, my body would probably change.

            If I wasn’t under the covers of my bed, I was freezing cold. I would sit on the mobile wooden heaters in my house until the heat stung the back of my legs. Then I would stand, ignore my calf cramps, and move on.

            My sister’s graduation day came, and I put on the red dress I had found at Buffalo Exchange three weeks prior in Seattle.

            I liked the way I looked.

___

            Holly’s graduation was great. She looked mature in her gown, beautiful in her dress. She gave a concise, heartfelt speech that she had been convinced she was inadequate to write, let alone deliver. Spending time with her before I left for another nine weeks reminded me of why she was my favorite person in this world.

            I was standing in the bathroom when my cousin’s mother came up to me. “Wow,” she said, looking me up and down. “I thought you were supposed to get fat in college! At least, I did,” she laughed. “But you look great!”

            I laughed with her, then replied, “Thank you!”

            This was only one of the many comments I’d received. That day alone, I received a variety of mixed messages:

            “You’re so skinny.”

            “The beauty meter is going off right now.”

            “She could gain some weight!”

            “Why don’t you just eat what’s already out?”

            “I’m so proud of you for pursuing such a healthy lifestyle.”

            “You look lovely.”

            “You’re model-thin, which is beautiful. But don’t lose any more weight, okay honey?”

            In the afternoon, I had to lay down. I was just too damn tired.

At Holly's graduation.

At Holly’s graduation.

 

___

 

            I almost didn’t come back to Elevate.

            I was squatting in the cereal aisle at the Co-Op, trying to focus on what I needed to buy for a convenient, healthy, plane ride snack. My brain kept drifting. My muscles kept cramping. I was so cold. I was trying to pick out a peanut butter, but I was having trouble differentiating the brands.

            I called my mom right where I was, and cried.

            “I feel like I’m dying,” I said.

            I came back from the Co-Op, feeling childish for crying and stupid for letting it get this far. I couldn’t imagine myself getting on a plane to San Diego, but I couldn’t imagine staying, either.

            My dad and I shared a long hug before I left, taking my fears with me. I did not cry then, and I did not cry on the flight, or the connecting flights. I felt drained of everything but the words of a poem that came to me as I waited for my final flight in Arizona. I wrote it down, boarded the flight, and took on the next few days with a numbness.

 

___

 

            At Celebration Night #2, my eyes flew open and stared at a spot in the room while the rest of the students prayed.

            You’re not welcome here, I thought to whatever intrusion had threatened the room.

            It became clear, right then and there, that Satan didn’t want me in San Diego.

 

            That night, Shannon threw up a couple times. I laughed darkly to myself, absolutely aware that the Devil was pulling out everything possible to make me want to go home. My OCD/Anxiety issues started at age 11 with an intense, irrational fear of throwing up: a fear difficult to explain, now that I am on the other side.

            I still harbor a slight fear of that loss of control that comes with feeling like you’re being torn inside out, but at this point and time, getting the flu was less of a concern to me than what getting the flu could do to me. I knew I was thin enough, and probably dehydrated and malnourished enough, that getting a withstanding flu could put me in the hospital.

            Along with that, I had missed my first day of training because my boss hadn’t texted me, like he said he would. Instead, he texted me after I had missed the shift, asking if I had received an email from his mother (who apparently was the one in charge of scheduling) detailing my schedule for the week.

            I went into the restaurant to salvage the last few hours of my shift, where the head waiter gave me grace and told me not to worry, and to come in the next day.

            I thanked him, then immediately went to the beach and stumbled over the humps of sand as tears ran down my face.

            There is something about the water, though. Something about the way it offers itself to us as a source of enjoyment, resource, meditation. It is sacrificial and soothing. It is beautiful. It’s as if with every tide, a new idea is left on the sands at my feet.

            By the time I left the beach, I felt fixed.

 

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La Jolla Shores.

 

___

 

            Morning is my favorite time of day.

            I didn’t mind the early mornings I was scheduled to work at the café. Though I had to wake up at five every morning and tip toe past the girls to the bathroom to get ready fast enough to catch the bus approximately forty minutes before my shift started, I wouldn’t have traded it for a weary, sun-beaten afternoon shift. I liked the freshness of the early morning, the quiet walk to the stop and the sparse amount of people on the bus. I liked the dampness of the cool ocean air on my skin. And, when I arrived at Avenida de la Playa, I liked taking different streets and lush alleyways to work in search of new, picture-worthy sights.

 

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            I learned the love the café. Fresh French pastries and rich desserts from my boss’s father’s bakery in Pacific Beach were delivered every morning in large pink boxes, and it was my job to organize them in the refrigerated display case in my station. Early morning promised many regulars, who I enjoyed talking to while I made steamy Espresso drinks. Surfers and the Kayak instructors next door would walk in, barefoot and dripping in salt water, bringing the birds with them. The boom box on the bar played songs by artists I grew up listening to: James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John and the Beach Boys. It was a sweet splash of home in my new world.

            I learned that it’s possible to love a product, but feel differently about its maker. And that is exactly how I felt about my boss.

            It quickly became evident he was extremely disorganized. One day, I was scheduled to work with a new waitress and a new cook. Luckily, the cook knew how to make everything on the menu, but the new waitress wasn’t scheduled with someone to train her. That day, no one opened the restaurant until 15 minutes after we were supposed to be open, had no cash in either register, and couldn’t get ahold of my boss until two hours later.

            “Oh, crap,” he said after I explained the situation through text. “I’ll be over in twenty minutes.”

            Twenty minutes in my boss’s language translated to an hour and a half.

            I found it odd that his mother made the schedule, and regularly came in to check on things. Along with this, my boss rarely spent time at the restaurant. If he was there, he was usually meeting with someone or reading the newspaper with his phone next to a drink and plate of food he ordered from his own employees. Sometimes, he’d sit in the kitchen with the cooks and watch the World Cup.

            One day, we ran out of milk. One of the employees called our boss, telling him the urgency of the situation, and our boss simply told him that it was going to have to wait—he was elsewhere, watching the Cup.

            A long list of needed supplies filled the white board in back. Every morning, I listened to one of the main waiters complain about how nothing ever got done around there.

He never started me on any advertising projects, and not one week was I scheduled the thirty hours I was promised.

Though our boss was a nice guy, I was beginning to see him as a 24-year-old boy with a philosophy degree, a background that involved French food and culture, a highly involved mother, a vision, but absolutely no entrepreneurship, and very little maturity and knowledge when it came to running a well-greased restaurant.

The cafe.

The cafe.

My view of the patio from inside the bakery.

My view of the patio from inside the bakery.

___

 

            The church we served at was called Mission Trails. Services were held in the Springall Elementary gym, and led by an innovative, smart family man named Kyle Walters.

            Seven girls to a room meant waking up an hour and a half before church to take turns sharing the bathroom. Sunday mornings were a sluggish accumulation of skirts and dresses and shirts strewn across the beds, curling irons and shower steam and blow dryers, tubes of makeup scattered across the granite and oftentimes, waiting for a turn at the mirror.

            We would meet the boys in the lobby, where they nursed hot cups of coffee and often took breakfast on the go. As a group, we would leave the hotel around 7:00 am.

            Upon arriving, we’d get to work. By the third Sunday, all of us had our ‘places’—mine was in the kitchen, where Shannon and I handled the refreshments with the women.

 

            Between Pastor Kyle, Teaching Night, Village, Huddle, and daily life, deep-rooted issues of the heart that distanced me from God began to surface. One morning, I wrote the seven main issues down, uncomfortable that they existed, but determined to address them to better myself as a person and disciple of Christ.

  1. I was so focused on upholding society’s standard of beauty that I was letting it define me, take over my life. I have always been the skinny, tall girl, and for some reason, I was convinced that maintaining that image—even surpassing it—would better my chances of being respected, loved, and taken seriously.

 

Here’s what God had to say about that:

 

Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.

-Psalm 107:17-20

and,

 

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.

-Song of Solomon 4:7

  1. Impatience. I am often in a rush, resulting in a life that lacks the flexibility to be interrupted. I easily become frustrated with people when they don’t cooperate with what works best for me at the time, and I want God to work on my time, not on His.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

-James 5:7-8

  1. Distance. I don’t study the Bible like I should. I don’t carve out private time for the Lord, but rather, I tend to do my praying on the fly. I haven’t tried to sit down and fully appreciate the intensity of the Gospel, and that in itself is a hindrance to fully accepting my salvation. And, because of the disorder that was taking over not only my body, but my personality, I found myself consistently more avoidant of people than usual, in order to conserve energy—an issue that kept me from sharing the Gospel with people who didn’t know Jesus. Distance was taking

Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

-2 Timothy 3:5

  1. Anxiety. I worry about everything, all the time. My past, my present, my future. What I want to do, what I need to do, what I could be doing if I would’ve done what should’ve been finished. Most of all, I constantly worry about my well-being and losing control.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

-Philippians 4:6

  1. Mistrust. God is in control of everything, and yet I have the desire to wrangle it from Him. I realized it came down to not trusting Him nearly enough. I wanted to believe, or at least pretend, that I had the ability to create my own successes, and the strength to take responsibility for all my wrongdoings. This is wrong.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

- Jeremiah 29:11

  1. Sufficiency. In playing the game of La-Dee-Da, I’m In Control, I was able to deceive myself into thinking that I, and the things of this world, were sufficient in keeping myself happy, afloat, alive. Not true.

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

-1 John 2:2

  1. Vulnerability. As said before, I had never felt safe living a completely wide-open life in front of others in belief that my imperfections might strip me of my dignity. But, I found that opening myself up, allowing myself and others to have those imperfections, took away pressure and made me someone worth respecting.

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.

-Proverbs 10:9

 

I also filled my sketchpad with ideas and quotes that struck me.

We often blame God for wrongs others do to us. Just because He has all control does not mean He chooses to use it. He gave us free will.

Feel the urgency of the mission.

Greatest story ever told by the best author ever known.

Save all you can.

Do not become numb.

Moving people closer is anything but failure.

Even demons have faith.

Fear confrontation not; it saves relationships.

The things that sink you are the blind spots and self-deception.

Remember what your ancestors forgot.

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.

Everyone has immense value before God.

The reason you must tell the truth is because of who you are.

Worry is rooted in the belief of a lie.

Suppress the desire to bend or shade the truth.

Satan is the father of lies.

Openness is a gift to others.

Put off your old self.

Live like you have nothing to prove. Make way for others to be honored.

Blessed are those who are persecuted.

Whatever smidgeon of life we are given on Earth now matters, because we are covered.

Must give thought to the type of person we want to be; cannot just hope.

Culture eats strategy for lunch.

This life is not all about me.

You can do the right thing for the wrong reason.

Develop a posture toward life.

Take care of yourself, do not ignore yourself, but “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” Have humility, that God “may life you up in due time.” How can I serve others? Look for opportunities, and do it with a grateful heart. Look to the interests of others. “He must become greater—I must become less.” Do not let seemingly selfless acts be driven by a self-serving motivation. Make a way for others to be honored. Look for a way to secretly serve others.

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Rebecca and I at church.

Helping paint the lounge at Springall Academy.

Helping paint the lounge at Springall Academy.

Overlooking the mountain with Pastor Kyle Walters while planning a neighborhood movie night.

Overlooking the mountain with Pastor Kyle Walters while planning a neighborhood movie night.

The family movie night we helped host. Photo credit Kyle Walters.

The family movie night we helped host. Photo credit Kyle Walters.

 

I was learning the language, walking more like a child of Christ. I was growing like I hoped I would as I shivered in my bed in the heart of winter.

I also began to improve mentally. On June 22, I came to the conclusion that all my concern about maintain an extreme level of fitness, eating cleanly, and staying thin was unneeded. I had always liked eating healthy and exercising, and I had never been remotely close to overweight. There was simply no need to worry.

I was getting better.

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I posted a photograph of myself at the gym, professing my goal to love and care for my body despite the changes it might face and the condition it might be in. In this picture, I felt happy and healthy, and truly had the motivation to do what was best for it. Unfortunately, it became easy to neglect my own needs without intending to do so.

___

 

Then, I got worse.

There came a time when I went to the gym, only to feel like I could fall asleep on the mat. I tried biking, and had to adjust the resistance to quite a few levels less than I was accustomed to. I couldn’t run long.

It was getting hard to walk up stairs.

My legs felt like weights themselves.

One day, I was running and stopped in a panic. My chest hurt badly, and my heart was beating rapidly. This quickly went away, but I began to pay more attention to how I felt during my workouts.

I texted two guys majoring in Exercise Science, asking why, if I seemed to be eating more and working out with less intensity, that I was failing to perform the way I did before. I was always tired. I was slower than usual at work. I took naps all the time.

For the first time in a long time, I stepped on the scale at the gym.

“Oh, my gosh,” I asked a woman at the gym. “Did I do this right?”

The scale said I was 121 pounds. I had lost even more weight. My muscle was atrophying.

I began keeping track of my calories again, to try and reach at least 1800 a day. I realized that I had only been consuming around 1100, due to my crazy schedule and instinctive “mind over matter” mentality.

___

The Fourth of July was like I had never experienced before.

From the beach, we sat in the sand, blankets around our shoulders to protect us from the chill of the ocean as we watched fireworks explode over the cove.

Shannon and I on the Fourth of July, waiting for the fireworks to start.

Shannon and I on the Fourth of July, waiting for the fireworks to start.

The next day, I went into urgent care.

___

My room leader and one of the head leaders took me in at 11:30 PM. I had complaints of an uneven heart rate, extreme fatigue, and general lack of well-being.

It felt surreal. They put me in a gown that I could tie around my waist twice. I felt weak, small, silent, and sick.

EKG. Urine test. IV. Heart rate monitor. Blood draw, lab tests, late-night sitcom reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.

The results? An infection, potassium deficiency, and extreme dehydration. My body guzzled two IVs in record time.

I was told to eat more, and that I was okay to exercise as long as I stayed hydrated and took it easier. I was prescribed pills for the infection and given a box of potassium pills to dissolve in water and drink with meals.

 

That night before leaving, I had texted my boss to apologize for the late notice, but let him know I wouldn’t be able to make it to work the next day, that I was headed to urgent care. Crawling into bed at four in the morning, I texted my boss again, telling him that I probably wouldn’t be able to make it in the next day, either. He texted me the next morning, okaying my requests and wishing me well.

After sleeping in, I texted him again to let him know it was necessary I come in to get my paycheck in order to afford my prescription.

“Thanks Augustine,” he replied, going on to say that though the pay period was a little off, he could have it ready for me.

“This is Miranda,” I texted back with an edge of frustration. My boss had my number, so who was Augustine, and on what plane of oblivion was he on now that made it difficult to just…pay attention?

“Oh. Yeah, your paycheck is on the desk,” he replied.

I went in, got my paycheck, got my prescription, felt sad.

 

That night, I knew I needed to decide whether or not I should go home.

I weighed the pros and cons. I felt the same as I did after Holly’s graduation, where I couldn’t see myself staying or leaving.

In the end, however, I decided it was necessary I go home. There, I could get the help I needed to beat this once and for all.

My last thought before falling asleep was, “God, if I didn’t have to go to work anymore…if I had the time to seek out a doctor, to do what I needed to do during the day in order to heal, but stay here and learn, I could do it.”

 

The next day, I was woken by a call from my boss. I let it go to voicemail and listened to it when I woke up.

He asked that I call him “before my shift” that day.

I wasn’t supposed to have a shift.

I reestablished this when I called him back. He said, “Oh, yeah, I forgot,” about giving me the day off to rest up. Then, he said, “But, actually, that doesn’t matter. Did you know you missed a shift on the Fourth?”

I told him I didn’t realize that had happened.

Then, he told me that missing the shift and texting him about urgent care late the night beforehand was a bad mix. That he was sorry, but my last paycheck was on his desk.

After hanging up, my first reaction was to cry. I didn’t think I had missed a shift, and even if I had, I found it odd that I had still been on the schedule to work this week and had still been receiving employee emails if missing a shift four days prior had been grounds for termination.

But, then, I felt peace.

“God has a plan,” Ciera reminded me, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. And from her words, I remembered the last thought I had had before bed, about not having a job.

God was making a decision for me.

I didn’t think I would be allowed to stay at Elevate without a job, seeing as it is one of the requirements. However, I knew that whether they made me go home or whether they made me stay, God’s will would become evident.

___

 

I sat on the sunroof with my room leader, our head leader, and another room leader who had struggled with an eating disorder in the past.

She shared her story with me, and told me that I needed to reverse my habits before it was too late. She shed light on the idea that I wasn’t glorifying God with my body, like he intended—I was destroying it.

The three of them wanted to keep me from exercise and help me find a doctor. The head leader told me she wanted to fight for me to stay. She thought it would be beneficial to have an entire league of people fighting with me, and believed God wanted me there.

___

 

I wanted to exercise, but I wasn’t allowed to. Not by Elevate’s rules, anyway.

I became so frustrated with the situation, and as I began to feel better after drinking my potassium, ridding myself of the infection, and resting up, I felt as if I would be more than capable of staying active. I fought their sanctions as politely as I could.

I found a doctor who specialized in the physical side of eating disorder therapy. Her name was Alison Anthony, and she was the answer to my prayers.

She was not only knowledgeable; she treated me with great, gentle care, and reassured me that I was going to be fine.

I suffered from a condition called orthostatic hypotension, an issue that has to do with pulse rates and is usually temporary. She told me that the extent of my physical activity for now had to be no more strenuous than walking until this went away.

She agreed I needed to gain weight. I told her that my normal weight was only slightly over ten pounds than I was then, and she gave me the confidence to pursue regaining that weight passionately.

“I don’t think you have an eating disorder,” she told me.

“You don’t?”

“No,” she said. “I think you’re obsessive, like you said. And this is the area of interest your obsession is expressing itself.”

I had never thought of it that way.

___

 

The refeeding processes is not pleasant.

Refeeding is the process one goes through when a starving body finally begins receiving the nutrients it needs. Gaining weight in this condition is not as simple as eating more and watching the scale go up in number each morning; it is a conscious, every-hour decision that takes dedication and comes with a lot of side effects.

Bloating. Digestive issues, whether it be constipation or diarrhea. Nausea, every time you eat. Not feeling hungry, but having to gulp down food anyway. Calorie counting, to make sure you reach a surplus. Tight ankles from water retention. Dizziness and extreme fatigue as your system becomes aware of the repair that needs to be done. Seeing and feeling your body change, every day, as you do one thing that you had tried to avoid for months: gain weight.

And then, hypermetabolism. Many people experience this when trying to regain weight after a period of starvation, where your metabolism goes into overdrive and you are hungry all the time. One morning, I ate approximately 900 calories for breakfast alone. During this stage, it’s important to up your calories even more in order to avoid losing weight.

This was a good and bad time for me. I was extremely uncomfortable with the condition of my body, but I was able to distract myself with finishing what I called my “California Bucketlist” and chances to show others God’s light while still having enough time to learn and heal.

Exploring was my favorite pasttime in California, so when I got the chance, that is what I did. I explored Old Town, and fell in love with the quaintness of Coronodo Island. I took a very long walk late at night with Rebecca and Amanda, where we saw art on the UCSD campus, climbed to the top of one of the buildings, and discussed the deepest colors of life and the generations to come. I went to La Jolla cove in the middle of the night with Amanda and Ciera after babysitting our Pastor’s kids, where Amanda screamed as loud as she could and I marveled at the swirling darkness of the ocean. I was asked to Elevate’s first-ever “Tacky Prom” by one of the guys from my Village in the most classic way possible (candles and flowers, of course), and afterward joined most of our Village for an adventure that involved riding the elevator up and down a swanky apartment complex in search of the room exploding with rave lights.  I went to the beach. I slept a lot. I took myself shopping for clothes I could feel comfortable wearing as my body changed, clothes that wouldn’t tempt me to maintain the weight I was at.

It’s hard to describe, but everything became sharper. Sights, smells, feelings. Slowly, life began to creep through the cracks my disorder had created, filling me with the spirit I once I had. I often felt fearful and uncomfortable with the bloating, nausea, fatigue, intense joint pain, and other symptoms, but was learning how to combat it.

And, I felt as if God was telling me to sit down and spend my time writing. So, I did.

Little Italy, part of downtown San Diego.

Little Italy, part of downtown San Diego.

Old Town.

Old Town.

Michelle, Shannon and I, exploring Coronodo Island and the famous Hotel Del.

Michelle, Shannon and I, exploring Coronodo Island and the famous Hotel Del.

Amanda, Rebecca, and I enjoying the beach during one of our barbecues.

Amanda, Rebecca, and I enjoying the beach during one of our barbecues.

Jonathan's impressive (and classic) way of asking me to Elevate's "Tacky Prom."

Jonathan’s impressive (and classic) way of asking me to Elevate’s “Tacky Prom.”

Writing in the church yard after the service.

Writing in the church yard after the service.

___

 

I got the chance to connect with my boss one last time before I left for San Diego. With the goal to abstain from being argumentative, I sat down with him and asked him for some clarification.

He told me that I didn’t tell him I went into urgent care.

He told me that I had ‘assumed’ he had given me the second day off.

He told me that from asking the other employees, I wasn’t on the floor enough. When I told him that this had not been communicated to me, he simply said, “I was under the impression it was.”

I said that I had told him I had went to urgent care and that he had given me the second day off, even acknowledged it on the phone when I called him the day he let me go. He said he still had the texts, and I encouraged him to review them later.

I apologized for having possibly missed a shift on the Fourth.

I told him I wasn’t going to explain the nature of my issue, because it was personal.

I never got an answer as to why I had been scheduled for shifts after the Fourth, if that had been grounds for termination.

“Restaurants are hard work,” he chided. “You just weren’t what I was looking for. You’re a really great girl, just—“

            “It was business, not personal,” I said through a tight smile. “I understand.”

And, the kicker: “For the first time in my life, I’m putting the restaurant first,” he claimed.

Well. If watching the World Cup in the kitchen, not being around enough to evaluate his own employees, refusing to pick up much-needed supplies, and getting drunk with his mother and employees during the “staff bonding” Padres game was putting the restaurant first, I would hate to see what it looked like coming in second.

I take that back. A bitter, unforgiving part of me would like to see that, because surely it’d put him out of business.

___

I met and became friends with a girl in Elevate who majored in Nutrition and completely changed the way I thought about God, identity, life, and health.

She experiences hardship daily due to a disease completely different from mine, but life-altering all the same. She helped me understand what I was doing to my body, and anticipated what would happen as I healed.

“It’s crazy you’re on this trip,” she said to me in the grocery store.

“What do you mean?”

She told me she had seen me in Moscow, once. She was coming out of Mikey’s Gyros when I walked by.

“I could tell you were dealing with something,” she said. “You didn’t look healthy.”

She said that when the leaders asked her to help an Elevate student with an eating disorder, she knew it was me without being told a name.

Ever since seeing me that day outside of Mikey’s, I became “that girl” to her. I never thought I’d be “that girl” to anyone, necessarily. But there I was, on a trip with a deeply wise, hopeful human being that changed things for me.

And that was no accident.

___

One of our last barbeques, we saw a young man stationed as a Marine at Camp Pendleton dedicate his life to Christ.

Throughout the duration of our stay, Clyde had become close to our group. I didn’t know him as well as some others, but I know he was unhappy with his career situation and life in general. He told someone he wasn’t sure what he was going to do when we left.

During a nightly dip in the ocean with some of his best friends from Elevate, Clyde announced he wanted to give his life to Christ. Absolutely thrilled to welcome a new brother, prayers were said, and he was made new.

Clyde was baptized in that same ocean during our last Sunday barbeque in San Diego.

Though Clyde is only one example, I know that moves were made in San Diego that have been life-altering to its residents, and it’s all because of Elevate. I know from personal experience Satan’s fury. I know that I am a stronger soldier.

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___

 

On Wednesday night after our last Village, we were told to meet at the car with our swimsuits on. We were not allowed to speak.

It was eerie. All seventy of us stood in the dark parking lot, waiting for the cars to round up.

We were driven to the beach, where we affirmed one another, had our feet washed, listened to the head of the program speak, and then ran into the powerful ocean together, an ocean that shoved us under a bright moon and net of stars.

What stood out to me the most from that night, however, was a letter.

We were given letters before we got into our cars and instructed to read them on the drive over. It took me a few sentences in to realize that it was the letter I had written to myself the first week of the trip.

As I read on, I was in shock at how applicable it was to my life in that moment. It was as if God had written it instead of me.

 

Miranda,

            Today, you are tired. You are wondering if you are going to be able to make it this entire 10 weeks, because this first week has been draining in all forms. You are socially drained, emotionally uncertain, physically dragging, and spiritually called out. But that last part—the conviction—is what I hope will drive you to accept the challenge with a wide-handed surrender and deep breath of peace.

            You are most certainly supposed to be here. Look at all the connections God has had to plot in order for Elevate to enter your life! And at the right time. You are already making shifts in the way you live, and I hope that at the end of it all, you will see how noticeably healthy you are in mind, body and spirit—all the ways in which you are currently feeling exhausted.

            You will go home with an experience, no matter what that experience may be. There is no regret in that, not at all.

            I am afraid that my boss will not give me the approved amount of hours. I am afraid that I will gain weight. I am afraid that I will want to be home, where I have control over my time and space. I am afraid that I will not make enough profit, and that my parents will be displeased with their investment in me.

            Today, you are concerned about the change in the way your body feels. But, I hope you will come to understand that your worth does not lie in a whittled waist, and that you will be loved by the right people at the right time. I hope you will come to know and truly believe that you deserve to be loved in the way you are. You are fully welcomed by the Lord, and luckily, by so many people He has placed in your life.

            I am proud of you for taking the initiative to apply, for raising the money and making the commitment to come instead of sticking with that which is known. You did not take the easy way out this summer, and that in itself is respectable.

            Through the fog, I know that you will reap something, at least one thing, important from this trip, whether it be an amazing, lifelong friend, a story to tell or a completely revolutionized perspective. But, most of all, know that Jesus loves you and wants you. And I hope and pray that the relationship you will develop further with Him will bring clarity and a call to further adventures.

            You’ll be home soon.

            Love,

            Miranda, May 29, 2014

 

Last picture of the summer; the plane ride home.

Last picture of the summer; the plane ride home.

 

 

 

___

AFTER NOTE

 

This is a long story, but it is incomplete. There are a lot of details that went into my experience at Elevate that would take forever to explain. I could write a book.

As of now, I am back to my regular weight and have started slowly integrating strength exercises into my daily routine. My current struggle has been keeping my electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, stable on a daily basis.

God is always good.

If anyone has questions for me, I am always more than happy to answer them, no matter what they are. I have learned the importance of living an open life steeped in integrity, and am unashamed of my struggles and enthusiastic about my successes.

God loves me and has a plan. The enemy hates that God loves me, and also has a plan.

 

I know the fight is on the way

And the sides have been chosen.

My Mother’s Words

Copyright Miranda Rae Carter, 2014

Copyright Miranda Rae Carter, 2014

My mother.

She admitted to me once that she wasn’t always right. That there were things she wished she could have done differently for my sister and I. She has told me of the areas she would like to grow, and her elegant dignity has never kept her from saying, “Sorry.”

But my mother…my mother.

Some of the things that has left her mouth are the words she has forgotten, and the ones that I’ll remember.

 

1. “It is so much better to be loved than to be perfect all the time.”

It is instinct to believe that perfectionism is our ticket to love. No matter the style of relationship, we often convince ourselves that if we were only more attractive, more intelligent, more interesting or better behaved, less clumsy or awkward or more accomplished, we would obtain a more superior and permanent source of love. We apply this to that guy or girl we watch from the back of a classroom, hoping to catch a glimpse of their beautiful, beautiful face; we apply it to our families, and our desire to please them; we apply it to the friends we already have and the friends we want to make to the point of anxiety; we even apply it to our God.

Love cannot be earned. Perfectionism cannot be achieved. Unconditional means unconditional–without question, despite circumstance, forever and always. And, a gift is a gift.

Not only is it foolish to strive for something that has already been laid at your feet, but doing so only exhausts a cause that is already won.

 

2. “Anyone who has truly loved did so fiercely.”

Contrary to the tissue-paper, flower-petal painting of love society often features, love is not soft.

Love is a sucker-punch to the stomach. It is tears in a pillow and fear for another. Love is teeth-baring protection, and the on-fire thirst to give. It is raw truth. It is the giving of a life. It is blood dripping from a cross, the grasp of a hand, forgetting yourself in the glittering eyes of another. It is feeling pain that does not belong to you.

Love is not soft. It is hard.

I commend my mother for loving me that way.

 

3. “If you have any doubt in your mind at all, don’t marry him.”

My mother reminds me often that she nearly married a boyfriend or two before marrying my father at age thirty. She claims that almost making those commitments had more to do with believing that those relationships were ‘close enough’ to the image in her mind of what true, passionate, unconditional love must be like. 

Until, that is, she met my father. And suddenly, all of that changed.

My aunt Lisa remembers my mom visiting her at work approximately a month into her relationship with my father.

“How is it going?” my aunt asked.

“If he asked me to marry him tomorrow,” my mother said, “I’d say yes.”

My aunt was taken aback. Never, she said, had my mother ever been so definitive about a relationship before. 

“Even if it’s the day of,” my mom told me one day in the car, “even if you’re about to walk down the aisle, and everyone is waiting in the pews, you can change your mind.”

And, on a walk, “There should be absolutely no wondering whether or not there is someone better out there for you. That question shouldn’t even cross your mind.”

Simply put? Good enough is not enough. The skies should be clear, your heart light, the sting of love fiercely and tangibly alive. There should be no black bird of doubt staining those skies.

 

4. “When you can’t sleep, don’t get anxious about not being able to fall asleep. Just lay there and rest. Sometimes just closing your eyes is enough.”

My mom has endured way too many sleepless hours, distressed by the demands the following day holds as she twists in the darkness and my father snores deeply beside her.

When I suffer similarly, I remember these words, pull the blankets tight to my chin, and let my lids fall and mind wander. Sometimes I fall asleep; other times, I notice the clock ticking into the early hours of the morning. Nevertheless, finding that center–taking that time to enjoy any form of rest, and believing that the day after will take care of itself, is a peaceful practice that combats issues of control and stress.

5. “Your body is beautiful.”

Some people are mortified when they hear that my mother has no problem walking from the bathroom to the laundry room stark naked. They laugh nervously when they hear the story of the farmer who approached our house for water, only to spot my mom through the window, having just gotten out of the bath. Some of my friends turn red-cheeked when they try to imagine a life without locks on their bedroom doors,  and a mother who confesses to sleeping naked and riding bikes through the countryside with her friends in college, all of them topless underneath the summer sun. 

What I find much more disheartening is that some of them get out of the shower, and avoid looking at themselves in the foggy bathroom mirror.

Our bodies are incredible. They aren’t machines; they are unpredictable and unique, but they also work for us as best as they can, even when we don’t treat them with the respect they deserve.

Being young, it is easy to forget that our bodies don’t stop changing at adulthood, kind of like our assumption that every scrap of wisdom worth accumulating is achieved by the time we are married and have children. That’s simply not the way we were designed. We were designed to evolve, mind, body, and soul, every day, every month, every year. 

My mother taught me how important it is to love our bodies and treat them with a spirit of gratitude.

 

6. “Let me be your mom.”

Once, I felt so guilty over burdening my parents with the overwhelming load that laid heavy on my heart. I was approximately twelve years old when I asked my mom, “Do you ever cry over me?”

My mom paused for a minute. Staring at my narrow, peaked face, she eventually replied, “You don’t ever need to worry about me. You worry about you.. This is my job. Just let me be your mom.”

I remember this when it becomes my turn to fulfill a role, or when a friend admits their discomfort in letting others see their brokenness to avoid the guilt that comes with it.

Hiding is not what we were created to do. We were created to make up for one another’s weaknesses, to stand on guard in others’ battlefields while they stand up in yours.

Know your roles, and take them with heart.

 

7. “God has already set in place the people in your life who will love you.”

Even if we could fix our imperfections, it would not add one more loving person to our lives. All of our relationships are planned, intricately designed by the Great Creator. We can take rest in that, knowing that there is no use wasting energy on changing who you are to accumulate relationships that aren’t for us.

 

8, “You can’t control everything.”

Some things. Not everything.

I like to play this game. I like to pretend that I am the one in control of everything in my life. I pretend that I am in the power seat, and take credit for every put-together corner of my existence, and take panicked responsibility for any detail that goes haywire.

While playing the game, it’s easy to forget that this brings a lot more anxiety than it does peace.

So, sometimes, my mom has to play referee. She has to interrupt the game, re-explain the rules, and encourage me to drop the ball right where I found it.

 

9. “It’s all about energy. Sometimes if you put too much energy into someone or something, it will start to pull away. But if you pull away a little, sometimes that’s enough to make that someone or something chase you.”

The push-pull of energy isn’t a hokey idea planted in silly brains. Every human being possesses a specific energy, and I am of full confidence that the level of energy we put into/pull out of people or situations is of great affect to the intricate balance of relationship.

 

10. “Sometimes in forgiveness, you have to offer it up, then ask God to help you until you mean it.”

Forgiveness isn’t always easy. But, I have learned from my mother that we don’t always necessarily have to feel it before we offer it to someone.

The fact that we are willing to work toward feeling our forgiveness is a display of grace. Because we are human, and imperfect, it sometimes takes time to develop the softened heart that comes with our offering. And, that’s okay.

 

11. “Just drink some water. It’ll make you feel better.”

A stomachache. A headache. Extreme hunger. Carsickness. Emotional upset. 

Every ailment, my mother arms herself with whatever else may be needed, but never forgets the cold, slippery glass of water.

 

12. “Concerts are the best.”

My mom has attended countless concerts. She has gone to so many that sometimes it becomes difficult to recall those she has and hasn’t seen. Several artists she has seen twice. 

She took me to my first concert when I was in the third or fourth grade. The featured bands were Big Daddy Weave and FFH, and though I had never heard of them until that night, the darkened atmosphere and wailing wavelengths of electric guitar were like cocaine to my system, sending me into the deep, lifelong addiction my mother had suffered for all her life.

There is nothing like it. Never do I experience more freedom or clarity than I do standing among strangers, faces turned up toward the powerful delivery of human condition and spirit.

Like my mother, I am already accumulating a long list of those I have seen. And, like her, some I have seen twice.

 

13. “Every girl should have a pretty dress.”

Nowadays, my closet is full of them. But I remember the first dress I ever saw and truly desired, for no particular reason than the fact it made my heart sing.

The dress was the color of champagne, vintage lace dripping to the knee. I was fourteen, had a long history of jeans and shorts, and had nowhere to wear it to. Nevertheless, I showed it to my mother.

She was surprised that I had any interest, and after a quick conversation we left the store without it. But, as we were pulling out of the lot, she said, “Every girl should have a pretty dress.”

She just knew it was worth waiting for.

 

14. “Don’t manipulate situations.”

We’ve all done it. We’ve all heard that that cute boy or girl is going to be at that basketball game and made sure we didn’t miss it. We’ve all tried our best to weasel something we want out of our parents or siblings, and we’ve all tried to get caught doing something we wanted to be noticed doing.

My mom advises against it.

If something is supposed to happen, it’ll happen. Like they say in any sport, Don’t force it. Don’t force a situation, because usually the turn-away is more brutal than waving as it passes by. Don’t be convinced that you know best, because you don’t. Don’t be motivated to get what you want at all costs. 

If it’s not meant to be, it will always be taken from you.

 

16.  “All is well.” 

This is the mantra I hear when I am in tears, when fear plagues me like a reaper at the door. 

With serenity gracing her face, my mom will pat her heart and tell me, “All is well.”

And so far, she has been right. Every single time.

Happiness.

retrieved from tumblr.com via wild-nirvana ( ©natasjatobin

retrieved from tumblr.com via wild-nirvana ( ©natasjatobin)


Happiness.

Happiness is a picture your father hoped with all his heart was captured, a picture of you. And in that picture, you are three years old, with saucer eyes and bow-mouth agape, cherubic fingers splayed open but not touching the yellow bouncy blow-up your parents surprised you with at Christmas. And your father asked your mother, more than once, if she captured that face, because gifts are more than objects.

Happiness is being eight, with your sneakered toes almost touching the muddy foothold of a four-wheeler. Your helmet lightly bumps against your father’s chest as the four-wheeler roars over uneven trails. You are warm, thanks to Grandma’s hot chocolate and the oversize coat your mother made you wear. Morning sunlight splices through cool, sticky pines, and the song playing in your head will not go away.

Happiness is standing on the stained seat of a hand-me-down Honda, head sprouting through the sunroof as the evening settles heavily on top of the hills, and deciding, for the very first time, you are going to write a book.

Happiness is listening to Fleetwood Mac from a glowing console, a console nearly as bright as the Independence Day fireworks still lighting up your eyes. It is being too young to be ignorant of the word ‘damn’ in the song, and too old to admit that you’re sleepy.

Happiness is coming home from school to gooey, rich, chocolate chip cookies cooling on a silver rack.

Happiness is when the tears have subsided, and you have cried hard enough to do nothing but be still.

Happiness is the unexplained swell of joy in your heart as the school bus crests a hill and the sun is a yolk in the sky. It is so bright, it makes you close your eyes; but, you still see it. You still see the farm property to your left, with the trickling creek cutting through lush grass and under crooked fences. And you still see the hill to your right, halved by the road you travel on. And though your music plays loudly in your ears, you can hear the crunch of gravel underneath tires and feel the working body of the engine. And in your head, you picture the shining teeth of your keyboard, that boy in the dark grey t-shirt, lined paper over a desk, and the thrill of possibility. And your eyes are closed, but that doesn’t matter. The sun still silks your eyelids with red.

Happiness is “Here is Gone” playing as the airplane leaves the ground.

Happiness is the lights reflecting off the Seine in Paris, and every elaborate inch of Versailles.

Happiness is the number four. It is Halloween costumes, a circle of trees, huckleberry suckers poking at a summer sky. It is a Canadian maple leaf and perfect pancakes. It is a crocheted throw and rented movies, dolls and discovering that apples taste like pears when dipped in tomato soup. It is a frozen creek and walking sticks and fairy houses. It is renting a dusty cabin in the woods that boy scouts use sometimes, a cabin with a dangerous trap door, bed bugs, boy/girl bathrooms, and an oven for Mom to make orange rolls in.  It is turning one another inside out like a sweater so that you can love each other better. It is inside jokes and being scolded by one another’s parents. It is Sunday dinner. It is getting older together and being afraid only sometimes.

Happiness is the palpable relief after a panic attack.

Happiness is Sandpoint. It is gritty sand and smooth bikes weaving through downtown. It is fresh food waiting for you on a gleaming granite counter, a cold basement, and the freedom of a boat ride. It is friendship with an olive-skinned dreamer, whose room is painted in royal colors, and the sound of “Mr. Jones” in the park. It is the calm of the lake at nightfall, where silver coins of light reflect off the water, and a market to explore in the morning.

Happiness is a thrift store.

Happiness is the soft embrace of your mother. Your mother, who has hands that paint and cook, plants basil and loves massages. Your mother, whose mouth spouts wisdom and a shower of “I love you’s.” Your mother, who dreams of Provence, is fascinated with WWII, and who begs you to come home when you cry.

Happiness is a book. It lies in the weight of the book pulling on your hand, in the stitching that holds every fresh-smelling page in place. It is the crisp turn of each page as you become engrossed in a story that is as important as your own. It is the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Happiness is a concert led by two blonde brothers who write and show truth. It is standing in a silk teal dress and boots, and having the silver cross around your neck gain weight as their words resonate around you, within you, from you. It is watching them and hearing them that brings you closest to God, and it is the image of headlights hunting down purpose that shows you what it is to live.

Happiness is having friends lie to you well enough that when a hopeful summer evening turns into dark disappointment, you walk through the doors of an old, rickety home full of young, reckless people to have the three of them come at you from all sides, arms wide open.

Happiness is June 12th, 2013.

Happiness is jumping up and down with your an apartment-mate, whose wide-open face is unafraid to betray enthusiasm, connected by a childlike rush of excitement and secrets told.

Happiness is skiing for six hours over brilliantly white snow, and plopping down in a sticky plastic chair in the ski lodge, and only then discovering how pleasantly exhausted you are.

Happiness is his face, and falling asleep with your arm touching his.

Happiness is your twentieth birthday. The grey skies make morning last all day long. Your mother fetches you from your first apartment and drives to a city two hours away, only because she loves you. She lets you play your favorite songs. When you arrive at the hotel, you find she paid for a room with two beds, and that the window overlooks rustic buildings and a parking lot full of fatigued vehicles. You spend two hours in a single store that has blindingly clean, white walls and racks of handiwork. When you get back to the room, you spread all those fabrics and patterns and stitches over the couch, because for some reason it fills your heart. And when the two of you go to dinner, you wear a dress with a folded ’40s-style neckline, talk about love and ambition, and for the first time in a long time, eat until you are full.

Happiness is the orange of umbrellas clashing with the ’50s-diner-red of leather benches on a patio, backed by French words written in chalk and whitewashed walls. It is the smell of espresso punctuating each question exchanged as willingly as coins clanking in the tip jar. It is watching kayak tour guides walk across the tile in bare, sandy feet, hair wet and dripping. sharing the floor with birds that are as flighty and twig-legged as you are.

Happiness is five in the morning, when the sky is lightening, the streets are empty, and the world still belongs to you.

Happiness is your sister. It is being in a social situation and being the only two laughing, because one look is all it takes to know what the other is thinking. It is driving in the middle of the night through small towns together, not really knowing where you’re going, while listening to music your mother would shut off and rolling down the windows, though the air makes you shiver. It is sleeping in a large bed, watching Disney movies, and wrestling until someone gets hurt. It is telling the truth, getting the angriest when feeling protective, and pretending the words, “I love you,” should be avoided. It is being best friends and family at the same time. It is telling one another everything, even the pointless stuff. It is sharing. It is understanding the most complex, inner-workings of your minds and ambitions. It is being for them.

Happiness is a hot, crunchy bowl of oatmeal.

Happiness is a plane ticket to somewhere new, a place of curiosity and untold tales.

But, happiness is also a plane ticket home.