Sunday, December 20, 2015

Choices, choices, choices.

“The decision not to choose is, in fact, a choice.”
I have heard many different versions of this same sentiment at some of the most pivotal moments in my life. And every time this statement is met with a giant sigh. For someone who likes things to be black and white, you’d think I’d have an easy time making decisions. But I don’t. And yet every day is filled with a million little decisions, some more important than others. For instance, every day you decide to get out of bed. I know for the majority of us with jobs or families or obligations, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice, but when it comes down to it, you make the decision, every morning, to get out of bed. Or not. For me, that’s usually a minor decision. A no brainer. A more complicated decision for me comes later in the day. Do I eat now or wait until later? Do I eat this or that? Should I follow my emotions or my logic? For me it is a fight of whose voice will win. Will the distorted thoughts convince me to take a step in one direction, or will my logical thoughts allow me to take a step in a different direction? Every day decisions like this have to be made, and honestly, it has gotten easier, but has yet to be one of those no-brainer type thoughts.
Every day I feel like I’m straddling a line. I feel like one of those cartoon characters with a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. Often I find myself trying to rationalize my decisions to people. “Well, I didn’t do this because…” and often that is met with “You chose not to. You had a choice, although it may not have been easy, and you made a choice in which direction to go.” Ouch. I think sometimes we like to believe that life is a series of events that happen to us, when in reality, for the most part we are responsible for the choices that make up our life (the fact that I just wrote that sentence makes me feel nauseous).
Moment of vulnerability: this is my bathroom currently.
A while ago, I decided to give up my scale. My plan was to decorate it with encouraging thoughts and then smash it to pieces. I decorated it with motivational sayings and words of encouragement, but when it came time to smash and trash, I panicked. The new problem became that I could not bring myself to step on this now “motivational” scale every day. It felt hypocritical. So I did what any sane person would do (kidding), and bought a second scale. These two scales sit next to each other on my bathroom floor and every morning I make the choice to step on the one where I can see the number, or step on the one where I can’t. Every morning, I am faced with a literal black and white decision on which path I want to take. In reality, I somehow want the best of both worlds, which is not actually an option. I do whatever it takes to not have to make those hard decisions. However, it just keeps coming back to me. A decision not to choose is a choice in itself.
So my goal for the New Year is this: I do not promise to make the best choices every day. That’s not a promise anyone can keep. What I can promise, is that each day, as I make my decisions throughout the day, I will be conscious of the fact that I am making my choices, whether they are good or bad. I will try to remember that I am responsible for my choices.
 As my friend Laura said, “you can go through life straddling the line. But that is not a kick ass life. That’s a life of compromise & mediocrity & I want more.”


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Authentically Me.

Well I have to hold back sometimes because if I were fully me, I’d be too much for people to handle. But you have to be open and honest with people too, because that’s how connections are made!”

It sounds very strategic…”
And then the question was asked, “What would it mean to be your authentic self? To be totally, completely, 100% Brooke.
What would it mean to be my authentic self? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. Every once in a while, I see glimpses. When I confess a struggle to a friend over coffee. Or when I allow myself to cry instead of taking a nap. Or when I’m lying on my parents couch belly laughing to a stupid TV show with my best friend. Most of the time, I don’t really know who my authentic self is. Maybe that’s part of being a twenty-something. Or maybe that’s part of being a human. I don’t know. But I do know who I want the authentic me to be.
I want to be confident. I want to be caring & kind & compassionate & recognize that I can be all of these things and still say “no” sometimes. I want to be loved. Not because of what I look like, or my accomplishments, but because of who I am. I want to be a reliable, trustworthy, & loyal friend. I want to be fun, while still maintaining my morals and boundaries. I want to be able to love without fear. I want to be okay with being alone. I want to be someone who is able to be hopeful in all circumstances. I want to be independent, and yet not afraid to ask for help. I want to be a mother. I want to be a mother whose children never doubt how loved they are. I want to love myself so that I never doubt how loved I am. I want to be a woman of faith. I want to rely on God and be able to fully trust His promises. I want to be excited about my future & learn from my past. I want to feel acceptable & accepted. By myself and by others.
So maybe I don’t know exactly who my authentic self is right now. But I know who I want to be, and that's gotta count for something.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Grace in the "&"

Right now the semicolon project is getting a lot of attention in the media, which is fantastic!

However, throughout my journey over the past year, there is another symbol that has had a profound impact on me. The ampersand. &. The word “and”. Very often in everyday conversation, we find ourselves using the word “but”. Example: “I’m tired, but I got plenty of sleep last night.” (yes, that’s the first example I could think of). By saying “but”, we completely discredit the first part of the sentence. The whole meaning sounds totally different if we say “I’m tired, AND I got plenty of sleep last night.” It shows that the 2 things can coexist. I know it sounds silly, but if you think about it in everyday life, it actually makes a lot of sense.

And” is actually a really tricky concept for me because I have a hard time with black and white thinking. I tend to think in extremes; that things either have to be good or bad, right or wrong, big or small. So the idea that there is a grey area and that things can be good AND bad at the same time has been a big learning process for me. But because of AND, you can be brave and afraid; exhausted and motivated; scared and excited. You don't have to live with "or". You are free to feel whatever you feel, sometimes even all at once!

So where does the concept of grace come in? I once heard someone say, “there is grace in the “and”’. I am now learning what that means and what that looks like in my life. Travis Stewart said, “there are many ANDs in life. You can be terrified of peanut butter AND eat it anyway. You can be in your eating disorder AND still be loved by the Father.”
That is the definition of grace, played out in a real life scenario.
The actual definition of grace is this:
Grace: undeserved, unmerited, unearned, favor.
So when there is a voice inside me that says, “do better, try harder, fix yourself,” grace says, “God loves you, no matter what.” When the black and white thinking says, “I know God loves me, but I make so many mistakes,” grace says, “You do make mistakes AND God still loves you.”
 Grace tells me that my past doesn’t matter. Grace tells me that I am loved for who I am, not what I have done. Grace shows me that I can be flawed AND loved.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Too Much & Not Enough

As I sit on my bed and feel my thighs touching together and a soft roll of my stomach folding over my pajama shorts, I can’t help but moan and think “why is there so much of me?” It’s funny because not 10 minutes earlier, I was scrolling through Facebook thinking to myself, “Oh wow, look at her, look at that family, look at their life. I’ll never be good enough, thin enough, strong enough, smart enough. I'll never be _______ enough.” You can probably fill in that blank with plenty of other words too.

So how can someone go from feeling like they are too much to feeling like they are not enough in a literal span of 10 minutes? I don’t know. But I do it all the time, and I know I’m not alone in that.

It’s like the world’s worst rendition of Goldilocks & the Three Bears; you know, too big, too small, juuuuuuust right. It’s like the world’s most frightening tight rope balancing act. You have to be enough, but not too much.

So what does it mean to be enough? The dictionary defines “enough” as: [adequate; sufficient for the purpose; to be ample, or fully]. Makes sense, right? So what comes to my mind when I think of my own personal definition of enough? “Worthy”. If I am good enough, smart enough, brave enough, pretty enough, funny enough, small enough…then I will be worthy. Of love and belonging and friendship and hope. However the flaw in this thought is that I have to earn these things. And if we are being honest, no person on this earth can earn these things. Which is where the gift of God’s grace comes in…but that’s a topic for a different day!

So on one hand, here I am craving and desiring that people will see me as “enough” (which, remember, is synonymous with “fully”). And yet on the other hand, one of my biggest fears is to be seen as “too much”. Too loud, too big, too needy, taking up too much time or space or energy. I’ve always thought that being called “needy” would be one of the biggest insults in life. I’ve thought of needy as being selfish or ungrateful. However, I’m learning that there is a difference between having needs and being needy. And the truth is, we are all people in need.
Daniell Koepke said,
“Your needs don’t make you too much. They don’t make you selfish or weak or greedy. They make you human. We all have needs. And those hungers aren’t something we should feel ashamed of. They’re normal, we didn’t get enough of them as children hungers. Affections we’ve been deprived of by the people who are supposed to care for us. Connections we need to feel whole and spaces we needed to feel safe. Cravings we’ve been taught we didn’t deserve. Appetites we’ve learned to suppress and fill with guilt. Again and again we’ve neglected our needs because we’ve been taught that they were too much—that we were too much…Making your needs known isn’t about being demanding or selfish. It’s about using your voice and speaking your truth. It’s about giving yourself permission to take up space…”
So that’s what I’m learning right now. I’m learning how to accept grace into my life and to live in light of that grace, knowing that that is the only way I will ever truly be enough. And I’m learning to give myself permission to take up space; permission to be “fully”.

But man, am I a slow learner! ;)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Time at the Table

It was a Friday. I sat in my car for about 10 minutes debating whether or not to get out. When I finally got out of the car, I stood at the front door and waited another 5 minutes to ring the doorbell. I checked in, and was swiftly taken to the nurse's room to get my vitals and weight taken, while some stranger took my bag and phone and locked it up. It was freezing and all I wanted was a blanket, a nap, and a way out. I found a fuzzy purple blanket and wrapped myself up like a burrito, hoping maybe I could curl up enough that no one would remember I was there. No luck. It was time for breakfast. My first supervised meal and of course it was family day. The tables were all pushed together and each girl had at least one or more family members there. Between the clinicians, patients, and family members, the room felt too small, the plates felt too big, and everything was loud. I took my seat at the table and kept my head down, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone and everyone (sorry, Rain!). To be completely honest, I have no idea what I had on my plate that morning. All I know is that it was the first of many lessons learned at a kitchen table.

1 year ago today, I began the journey of a lifetime. I have experienced the highest highs (breakthrough moments), the lowest lows (2 words: hummus drama). I have cried until I felt like my insides would dry out and I have laughed until my stomach hurt. I met some amazing friends, who made the 13 weeks more bearable, and am so lucky to keep in touch with most of them.

There’s a definite bonding experience in going through such a difficult experience with a small group of people in a very intimate and vulnerable setting. And to outsiders, I know we seem strange. We laughed at poop jokes, cried over pancakes, took naps during yoga (some of us even snored…Rubi…), counted while we peed. We longed for walks, diet sodas, a trip to the zoo, and for the MST conversation jar to “accidentally” disappear.

And as much as I dreaded that darn kitchen table, with the terrible stacking plastic plate lids, and the toaster that burnt everything, I really did learn a lot during those 13 weeks. So I’ve decided to share 13 things I learned:

1.       17 grapes is 1 serving of fruit. (I will forever be stumped by this)
2.       People are kind and good and want to help. You just have to let them in.
3.       You can be afraid AND brave. That’s called courage.
       4.       There’s always an AND.
5.       Feelings are feelings and there is no wrong way to feel (unless you are feeling fat, because apparently fat is not a feeling…)
       6.       Group hugs = life
       7.       Life is not black and white. Sometimes you have to mix the play-dough.
       8.       You want something? DEAR MAN that junk!
       9.       You get to choose what exhausts you.
      10.   “We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.”
           10a. Brene Brown is a rockstar.
      11.   Grown women still get excited about a box of crayons and markers.
      12.   There is no number that can define your worth.
             Not your age or your weight or your grades or your pants size.
      13.   “The fact that you’re struggling doesn’t make you a burden. It doesn’t make you unloveable or undesirable or undeserving of care. It doesn’t make you too much or too sensitive or too needy. It makes you human. Everyone struggles. Everyone has a difficult time coping, and at times, we all fall apart. During these times, we aren’t always easy to be around — and that’s okay. No one is easy to be around one hundred percent of the time. Yes, you may sometimes be unpleasant or difficult. And yes, you may sometimes do or say things that make the people around you feel helpless or sad. But those things aren’t all of who you are and they certainly don’t discount your worth as a human being. The truth is that you can be struggling and still be loved. You can be difficult and still be cared for. You can be less than perfect, and still be deserving of compassion and kindness.”

So today, 1 year later, I will admit that I still don’t have it all together, and I probably never will. But here’s the thing…nobody has everything figured out. And as long as you are trying and moving forward and learning and growing, you are exactly where you are supposed to be. So today I’m thankful for the people who have loved me even when I was hard to love, and have pushed me to become more of myself than I ever thought possible.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Becoming Beloved

“Define yourself radically as one beloved by god. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
How often do we define ourselves by things that really don’t matter? Grades. Athletic ability. Weight. Number of friends. “Likes” on a social media post. Hours spent at the gym. Money made. A career. A car.
I’m guilty of putting too much value in basically all of these things (minus athletic ability, because I have accepted that I have none). But in the end, do any of these things really matter? Sure, it’s great to get good grades, but behind the grade is the value of hard-work. And yes, it’d be nice to have a good number of friends, but behind that is the value of kindness, vulnerability, and the ability to connect.

So what if we stopped defining ourselves by these surface level numbers and started defining ourselves by the underlying values. Sounds easy enough, right? Eh.

Why should we define ourselves as “beloved”? This is something I’ve struggled with immensely in the past few years. It’s always felt like a very entitled word to me; like something you have to earn or something you feel that you deserve. But guess what, that’s not true (thank God!). So now that we’ve established what ‘beloved’ is NOT, let’s talk more about what it actually means to be beloved.

[Beloved]: dearly loved, precious, adored, cherished, treasured, prized, esteemed, worthy of love, favored, chosen. (Note that none of those words say “earned”).
I was asked which of these words stood out the most to me. I cringed as I said “worthy of love”. Again, “worthy” feels so entitled and greedy. Who am I to be worthy of anything? I had a very hard time with feeling worthy, so I was told to think of a friend instead. Here’s a little snippet of how that conversation went down:

M: Would you say your friend deserves to feel loved?
B: Of course!
M: Why? Why does she deserve to feel loved?
B: I don’t know. Because she’s a person… (oh.)

Boom. All I could say was "oh...oh. ohhhhhhh" while a cloud of clarity came down on me. “She deserves to feel beloved because she’s a person. Because she is a person, she IS beloved.” That’s it. Plain and simple. No other identity matters. Every other identity is something that is conditional and fleeting. There are no conditions on being beloved. There’s nothing you can do to earn it and it is everlasting.

So next time you step on that scale, or check your Instagram for likes, or get that test score back, remember that you are so much more than these things. You are beloved, which is “a word indicating an action on the part of the one doing the loving. The God of the universe has chosen to love us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. Our role in this is to be-loved.”



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

26 Lessons

April 1st. Every year, this date stands out in my mind, and it’s not because of some trick or practical joke. April 1st, 2009 the world lost a bright soul; my sweet friend Milena won her battle with cancer. I think of Milena throughout the year at random times, and sometimes it makes me happy and sometimes it makes me sad.
I remember waking up that Wednesday morning and walking over to my friend Amanda’s dorm to put some final touches on our bible study plan for the night. We led a group of 5 girls every Wednesday night, and this night was to be no different-studying the Bible, giggling, junk food, and fellowship. We finished planning and I went on with my day. I remember I was having lunch with a friend when my phone rang. It was Amanda. I figured she was calling about bible study, and planned to call her back. But she kept calling. And as she kept calling, my frustration grew. I don’t remember a lot of that day, but I vividly remember the next words I heard as I answered the phone: “Brooke. I need to tell you something. (cue me expecting a lame April Fools prank. And how I wish it was all just a prank). Milena died. Her mom just called. She’s gone.” I’m assuming I hung up the phone. I’m assuming the rest of the people in the cafeteria kept eating and talking. I’m assuming the world kept spinning. But for me, in that moment, time stood still. This was no joke. Milena Alvarez died on April 1st 2009 after a long battle with cancer. Milena was one of the freshman girls in the bible study I led. The world lost an amazing, sweet, hilarious, super sassy, fighter that day.

This year, Milena would have been 26 this year. So to honor her, here are 26 lessons I’ve learned from Milena and other amazing cancer warriors I have met throughout the past few years.

1.       Every day is a gift. The good and the bad days. They are all a gift.
2.       No one’s life is perfect, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
3.       You can’t save people, you can only love them.
4.       Accept life’s challenges as they come. Because they will come.
5.       Don’t spend too much time worrying about the future. We aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow.
6.       “Go ahead and pee your pants a little bit. I won’t judge.”
7.       It’s good to have friends who accept you for who you are.
8.       Sympathy only gets you so far. Strength gets you further.
9.       You don’t need hair to be beautiful. A bright smile is the most beautiful thing you can wear.
10.   “If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d quickly grab ours back”.
11.   Sarcasm is an art form.
12.   It’s okay not to be okay. Sometimes we need our friends and family. Sometimes they need us.
13.   Everyone deals with life differently. There is no right or wrong way.
14.   Everyone comes into your life for a reason. To teach you a lesson, to bring you a smile.
15.   Live with great intention. Make every moment count.
16.   Rest. There’s nothing wrong with intentionally setting aside time for yourself.
17.   Every person has a story. And every story matters.
18.   Never take yourself too seriously.
19.   Life is not fair. That does not mean life is not good.
20.   Community matters.
21.   No matter how you feel, show up to life. Even if you show up in your pajamas. Participate.
22.   Your story, your illness, your circumstances are valid and important. But they do not define you.
23.   People who throw their head back as they laugh are some of the best people to be around.
24.   Cream cheese goes with everything.
25.   Sometimes making memories is more important than grades. Take breaks. Go to TCBY. It’s ok.
26.   With the right friends, you can get through anything.

I will never forget Milena’s laugh, the way she would throw her head back and laugh loudly. I will never forget her sarcasm and great sense of humor. I will never forget our bowling trips and Bible studies. And I can only hope to handle myself with the same grace, strength, and class when faced with difficult situations. So Milena, Hey girl, heyyyy! It was truly an honor and blessing to know you and be a part of your life. Rest in peace, Milena. You are missed. Gone, but never forgotten.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Becoming Real

“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” 

One of my favorite passages from any book, ever, happens to be from The Velveteen Rabbit. I believe that this is such an incredible metaphor for how we are made and molded by God. In the beginning, the horse states that real is not how you are made, but rather a process that you have to go through. He explains that becoming real happens when you are truly and deeply loved and that it’s not always a pleasant experience. He even goes as far as saying that through the process of becoming real, “most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn't sound too pleasant to me. And that is exactly what I am learning in this season of my life. God is working in me. It may not always be in ways that are comfortable or ideal and I often find myself questioning why God is choosing to show his love for me in ways that often make me feel broken. But I am realizing that I would rather “become real” and allow God to shape and mold me into the person He has created me to be, because all of the hardships and brokenness are just proof that God is working in me and is loving me throughout the process. So as hard as it may be, I would rather be worn down and broken and deeply loved than to be left in “perfect” condition, all alone.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Cost

This summer I was given the following assignment:
            "Please write a letter to an adolescent girl who is struggling with body image concerns about the costs associated with pursuing the thin ideal..."
The assignment was daunting and overwhelming and I don't like writing off of  prompt. However, I was told to look at a picture of my younger self and think of what I wanted to say to her. Putting it into that perspective allowed the words to flow. In honor of #NEDAwareness week, I want to share the letter, for all of the young girls. And older women. And boys. And humans in general.

Dear little me- That feeling in the pit of your stomach and on the back of your neck when you're called on in class or asked to participate? That is anxiety. And you will face anxiety provoking situations for the rest of your life. The key is to participate in life anyways. You can't stand on the sidelines and wait for the feeling to pass, because avoidance only gives power to the anxiety. So dress up for spirit week, participate in field day, speak up. I know you don't like people looking at you and I know that you're very aware of your body. Body awareness is not always a bad thing-as long as your remember that you are more than your body. Appreciate your body for as long as you can. Be aware that you have a body and that it's capable of many things. You may grow up hearing "oh you're so tiny, so cute, so little". And you might be. But you are so much more than that.
You are a culmination of many things. You are made up of your memories and experiences, what makes you laugh and what makes you cry. You are made up of your favorite foods and the songs you like to sing and your plans for the future. You are the light that shines in your eyes when you get excited about something. You are made up of your favorite subject in school and your intelligence that helps you to understand these things. You are a child of Christ and you are made up of so many wonderful things.
There are also so many things that you are not. You are not your pants size, or the number on a scale, or the amount of money in your bank account. You are more than the number of friends you have or the sports you play.
I know this may sound very easy right now, but it does get harder. Appreciate your family for all they do for you, and understand and realize that they are not perfect, and neither are you. So as life throws you challenges, face them head on. But please. Hold yourself to a standard of grace, not perfection. Because there is no such thing as perfect and the pursuit of the unattainable comes at a high price. When trying to become "perfect", you may lose yourself and lose control. I know you may feel like you can handle it and like you have it all under control, and you might, for a little while. But in the pursuit of trying to become someone you're not, you will lose friends and time and happiness and money. And eventually the thing you so desire to control will end up controlling you.