I almost quit my job today.

I almost quit my job today.

This morning, I saw a new job posting for the job I wish I had taken six years ago. Getting it would guarantee me not only a college campus I know like the back of my hand and the job I believe I was made to do, but a ready-made community and old friends with which to have deep conversations.

Friends. That sounds like the most wonderful thing to me right now. I have lived in Texas for nearly a year and yet I find myself quite lonely and essentially friendless. I haven’t curled up on a couch to talk about life and the living of it since I got here, and friends are something I would like to be in the presence of. My heart aches for real connection and laughter and vulnerability. I love Texas, but life has felt so harsh these past weeks. I feel that some people are harsh with their words and actions when it is unnecessary, and I especially feel that I am much too harsh with mine, that I snap when I shouldn’t and speak when I shouldn’t and get too excited and interrupt everyone all the time. I cry over my words at night so much anymore, afraid I am saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and treating my work tribe badly and too loudly because I am tired and scared and my heart is all in shambles.

So, a job I would love surrounded by people I already love felt like too good of an opportunity to pass up. I went so far as to rework my resume, ask a colleague to be a reference, and ponder new beginnings over my lunch hour. I was ready to go and the swiftness with which I could leave in my heart frightened even me. I’m good at opening doors. But I’m even better at slamming them shut behind me.

I almost did it, too. I was on the third draft of my cover letter when I heard a soft knock at my office door. A colleague from another department stopped by to pick my brain about new processes and curriculum to help our students. As soon as she left, I was overly excited about the possibilities and I raced through the office to head to a meeting when a student stopped me just to say, “Hi, Miss Dana.” And while I was thinking about that interaction and how far that student has come in recent weeks, I sat through my meeting and talked to three more colleagues I barely know about how we can serve our students better. And I found more passionate souls there who care deeply about the souls we serve.

And then a student stopped by my office to tell me about his life and how he’s planning to live it more intentionally with those he loves. And then I got asked to sit in on another colleague’s meetings and share in his joy over new things in his area. And then I had an event tonight to which few showed up. But the ten of us sat there far past when we were supposed to be done and we had raw and real conversations about financial literacy and life.

After I finished the teaching portion and we all agreed they were tired and perhaps even overwhelmed by all of life’s happenings, my usually bubbly kid talked about how a supervisor was treating her badly and you could just see the weight of it in her face. But she opened up, and that right there is a tiny victory worthy of celebration. I heard about how one student paid for three other students’ tuition last semester, and how it had affected her emotionally. How she didn’t think she could say no to anyone, but then another student piped up and spoke life and truth to her and shared her own experiences of learning to say no, and they exchanged numbers for future conversations. That same student sat in my office just two months ago, broken and hurting, and we had talked through how setting healthy boundaries is not the same as building walls. And now here she was, teaching her peer the same lesson she had learned.

Another student, my very toughest nut to crack, got real honest about his poor habits and how something has got to give. He’s had bags under his eyes and weighed down shoulders for awhile now and I’ve been quite worried, but he never complains and I know where he’s at. I’ve had that same look in my eye and when you get to that point, no amount of people telling you what to do will fix you. You have to hit your rock bottom and then rise. But first you have to hit your rock bottom.  He’s there. I cannot wait to see how he will rise.

One of my international students learned about the very American concept of self-worth tonight, and taught us all a good lesson about not getting too caught up in it. Another put his chin on his hands at the end and said thoughtfully, more to himself than to anyone, “Oh. I get it now. Finances affect everything in your life.” Yes, kid. Yes. That same student, he’s the one with whom I have an uneasy, sometimes contentious, rapport. But he stood there in the doorway afterward with his pizza and his rumpled clothes, and he lamented the fact that he is a devout Christian who feels like he’s in hot water. So we talked honestly about how beautiful this community is, and the vast opportunities there are to love and respect and have real conversations with the variety of people in this place. How as God-seekers we are called to love and serve. And he left looking a little lighter.

And as we walked out, I stopped to chat a moment with a group of kids I know, and they unexpectedly opened up about their problems. And one I’m just getting familiar with told me he needed to come see me just to talk. And another told me some feedback he had heard about a program I did early last semester, and how he was finally sold on the fact that I actually care about students’ lives. And they ate their leftover pizza and let me listen to them for a few more minutes.

So then a student walked me to my car because it was late and, for reasons that are my own, I am dreadfully afraid of the dark and being alone in it. For someone who is used to going it alone but hates having to be on guard, there is something to be said for the small and quiet blessing of not having to be your own protector for two minutes. And I smiled all the way home. Because I feel like I’ve been walking around in a daze, overwrought with all of the things that are completely beyond my control and choking back tears at my desk. I don’t know how many times people have nearly caught me crying in my office in the last month or so. But today, I felt the Lord whispering quietly, “Do you love them? Do you love them enough to work long hours? Do you love them enough to hear their stories, good and bad? Do you love them enough to feed their bellies AND their hearts? Do you love them? Do you love them enough to bear the brunt of their anger and the weight of their fear? Do you love them enough to put aside everything you are dealing with and take a deep breath and be present with them? Do you love them enough to sit through meetings and admonishments and wholly unprofessional conversations so you can serve them better? Do you love them? Do you love them enough to speak truth in hard moments? Do you love them enough to have to wait months before you know if any of the work you have given yourself over to is actually making a difference? Do you love them enough to stay?”

Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Even when I feel like I’m getting every single thing wrong, this is my yes. Wholeheartedly. Without reservation.

I almost quit my job today. I’m so glad I didn’t.

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A letter to my students.

Students,

There are things you are learning day by day about yourselves and the world around you and your fellow travelers in it. I’m honored to walk alongside you, but I rarely have opportunity to give voice to what I see while doing so. A few words for the road…

You are excited. I love how you you get worked up because you were successful in pulling an event or a project together that meant a lot to you. When you are jumping up and down in excitement, I am jumping up and down with you. I will give you all the hugs and high fives you ask for because joy  in accomplishments is a good good thing to share. Strive to always be excited when you accomplish something, whether you are in college or at home or in your own office one day. Even the little things deserve celebration.

You are brilliant. You tell me about your ideas for running companies and working in higher education (which always thrills me) and being change-agents in your home countries and I am in awe of how you plan to shine your lights on the world. You are still dreamers in this stage and we are all the better for it. Dream and dream some more. Be ready to act when it is time.

You are vulnerable. You sit in my office and fiddle with your backpacks and lay your lives bare to my waiting ears. Sometimes the conversations we have are hard. Sometimes there are tears and sometimes laughter. Life is a precious, holy mix of both. I hope you leave feeling less burdened, a little lighter, and ready to face your days.

You are honest. You haven’t learned the myriad of ways to filter/manipulate/hold back just yet, so I get to hear it all: your tawdry jokes, your things you’ve never told anyone, your raw feelings, your anger, your prejudices, your knee-jerk responses. I love your honesty and I love that you feel comfortable enough to tell it.

You are silly. I’ve watched you fight dirty over cookies and step on cupcakes and forget your wallets and get stark raving mad at wi-fi speeds and burn popcorn to a crisp and use big words incorrectly and break rules you don’t like and stay up until unholy hours and end relationships on a whim. All with the same wild abandon. College is a great time to be silly.

You are kind. You bring me gifts and stories from your countries, you heap high praise on your friends, you show up and do what is asked of you on short notice, you look out for one another, you bear one another’s financial woes, and you dwell in the diversity of your college community with such grace that you are teaching us all how to better acknowledge the dignity and respect and worth of all humans. You are determined especially to that end.

You are uncomfortable. Even those of you oozing confidence have these moments where you forget the script and stumble over your words and get flustered. Each and every time, I want to tell you it will be okay. Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote, “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart.” Do just that. You’re still growing. You’ll fit your skin eventually.

 

You render hurt the same way you render kindness: almost recklessly. For better or for worse, every action has a reaction. Watch your words. Watch your actions. Be mindful of the advice you receive and dig deep before you take it. You are all capable of great and wonderful things, but you get to decide if you will do them/be them/live them or not. We are all  travelers on this journey. Live yours well.

You are loved. You don’t know how much my heart explodes when you walk into my office simply for a hug. You don’t know how often I have cried and prayed over all of you in the years I have been at this work. You don’t know the hours I have spent in independent research trying to figure out how best to handle your lives and give you resources to succeed. You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to quit, only to be reminded the next day through your actions why I do what I do and why I have let it steal my heart so thoroughly.

You have made me grateful. Grateful to pour into your lives. Grateful for the challenge of being intentional and present with you. Grateful to learn from you. Grateful to encourage and empower you to be yourselves.Grateful to bear witness to the way you fall and rise up. You have made me grateful, students.

Much love.

 

 

 

Barefoot in the grass.

Christmas is nearly here and after that, the new year begins. I’m not one for new year’s resolutions so much as I am for last year’s reflections. I believe that we cannot move forward until we look back and acknowledge what propelled us to this place.

Much of my Texas life feels surreal. Even when it’s hard, even when I’m letting out frustrated sighs and muttered curse words and finding myself raw and bleeding from another encounter with a heart that’s hurting, it is still surreal. Because was it really a year ago that I told the Lord I was committed to staying in my wee house in my heartbreak town? Was it really a year ago that I laid down my other dreams for good and told myself that working in healthcare would be my path? Was it really a year ago that despite feeling like I was supposed to stay, I started packing up my house anyway because new things were coming and I could feel it in my bones? I distinctly remember the night I told some friends that half my house was already in boxes because my life was about to change. I didn’t know when or how, but I knew it. Somehow. They didn’t laugh, but they weren’t encouraging either. They thought I was crazy.

I was crazy. I was crazy tired of mediocre and half-assed. I was crazy ready for some new adventure, some new adrenaline rush, some wild thing to happen that would force me up and over the mountain. I was crazy with fear that what was in front of me is all that it would ever be.

Was it really only a year ago that I felt like that? Ready, but not knowing anything that was about to happen? Was is really a year ago that the Lord whispered gently: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Was it really a year ago that I laid sick as a dog on the couch on Christmas Day, unable to breathe properly and dreading another year like the one before? I remember how it snowed so hard my dad had to load up his snowblower and drive across town to plow my driveway. That blasted snow. So pretty, but such a bear to contend with. Little did I know I’d be leaving it far behind and heading 800 miles south to see dreams come true just 7 weeks later.

Oh, this year. It has not been without its hard moments (and perhaps those will lend themselves to writing later), but it has been lovely. Far, far lovelier than I deserve. A redemptive year, you could say. My heart/mind/soul has been redeemed from the pit of depression. My career and academic goals have been redeemed. My perceptions about the church and how God writes the meta-narrative of my life have been redeemed. Some relationships I let go of have been returned to me tenfold and the welcoming has been so gentle and sweet. I love my job and my students and the passionate people with whom I work. My mind is exploding with ideas for books and dreams and adventures. Was it really a year ago that none of this existed in my life?

This time last year I was trudging through the snow, feeling burdened by circumstances and my heavy heart and lifting one world-weary boot in front of the other, hoping and praying for (but not believing in) changes so wild they could only be wrought by the hands of the living God.

I think the temp hovered around 0 degrees at Christmastime. It’s going to be a lot warmer here this year in my home in the piney woods. About 70, they say. I have plans to go to the lake and listen to the water at the shore and stand barefoot in the grass with my eyes wide open and my arms at my sides and not crossed in front of my heart. Life feels a lot lighter these days. And I’m right where I need to be. Because the Lord has been whispering again lately. To show up and do life in the ditches with my fellow travelers. To “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15). To be barefoot in the grass on Christmas Day, present and ready for another round of unknown and unfathomable adventures.

Waiting.

I have no patience. None. Zero. When something doesn’t meet expectations or deadlines – real or imagined – I smile and nod externally while I’m stomping my foot angrily on the inside. No patience.

I am especially impatient with the sorrowful times of those in my tribe. I don’t mean that I want them to get over it. I mean that I want their suffering to end and their lives to be lovely and light and unburdened. So right now, in the Christian Advent season, in the time when I’m supposed to be anticipatory and hopeful and breathless in awe and wonder … I’m real impatient with God.

Because people, my people, are hurting.

Because my cousins welcomed two teensy tiny baby girls into the world and they’re still hooked up to machines in the hospital. I so badly want one baby’s lungs to be strong and for her to weigh more than 1 pound and I want the other baby to be held unencumbered by her mama and I want to see them both grow up healthy and whole and run in fields and scoop up flowers by the fistfuls and drive their big brothers absolutely mad with their laughter and dollies laying everywhere.

Because my dear, precious friends now know why their sweet, darling little girl doesn’t feel well. May they finally get some rest and be assured that she will get well and grow up strong and healthy.

Because a high school classmate’s handsome little man 500 miles away is going through much the same as that darling little girl. Diagnosed within a week of each other. May his laughter always be a present experience and his illness just a memory. I want them all to be able to rest in the joy of knowing God as Healer and that this same God is bigger than tumors and chemo and endless hospital visits.

Because a dear friend/family member is wading through some hard stuff. And I want her to be joyful and unafraid.

Because my friend’s mother is in recovery but not out of the woods. And they’re all so tired. Long illnesses take a toll on more than just the sick.

Because last week I overheard a hateful and hurtful comment from a student that shook me to my core. And it wasn’t what he said about me that was the worst thing, even though it made me cry later. The worst thing was how those words changed a dynamic I thought was solid, and jolted my perspective about my university. As great as it is, hate and loathing still reside here.

Because I didn’t get what I long for. And despite every well-intentioned word, I wonder if I ever will. I wonder if maybe God forgot me, left me behind to do other things. I know it’s not about me and it never was. I just didn’t expect to still. be. here.

Because sometimes dreams don’t come true and we get tired of waiting. So very tired. We want our kids well and our people whole and our hearts unshattered. We want people to be kind and compassionate and respectful of the humanity and the divinity that resides in us all. My 33 years have held enough life for me to know that I may always be stomping my foot in my impatience with the fact that so many people are walking wounded.

It’s Advent. It’s a time when I’m supposed to be joyfully waiting on the Lord. It’s a time when I should be drawing nearer to and further in. Instead, I’m just impatiently waiting. Watching. Wondering. And absolutely convinced that all of this hard and holy mess is gift. advent-candles

Moving mountains.

About 6 years ago, I began a journey focused on one thing: not dying as a result of poor physical health. That was all. It wasn’t about the number on my clothes tags or about trying to impress a fellow; I simply didn’t want to die.

2 years and 115 pounds later, I was in a form I loved and I had officially become a gym rat. 4:30 am was my friend and together, we hauled tail day in and day out. I developed a fondness for weightlifting and I knew before I went to bed each night which trail I was going to see the next morning. Nothing could stop me.

Except he did, just a year later. And I let him. After everything, I am still amazed that I let someone shrink my heart so small. Still amazed that I allowed him to chip away at all of my soul and make me feel so completely worthless. Still amazed that I stood idly by and let myself be treated with such blatant disrespect and disregard. I cannot believe I was actually going to marry him and resign myself to such a life. I blame myself as much as I blame him.

And right after that, she died. I spent one horrific week watching her cling to a life well lived and watching her limbs turn black and listening to her struggle to breathe every second. On her last day, I wanted to die, too. I thought about driving my car right over the side of the bridge on the way home from the hospital. I thought maybe it would stop the sound of that terrible death rattle in my ears. All was lost.

Thus began my downward spiral into a depression it took me almost 3 years to get out of. I was plagued by constant nightmares of her coming after me, begging me to help her breathe. I lived in fear that he would be at my house when I got home from work or that he would emerge from the shadows in the early morning to finally take what he thought was his. I am grateful for the doctor who didn’t laugh when I sat in his office and explained that the girl who once earned the nickname “Giggles” hadn’t laughed in a long while and that’s how she knew something was wrong. That doctor saved my life. He was patient and kind and he let me choose how I would be treated.

The thing no one tells you about pills is that while you hope they make you better, they can make you much, much worse in other ways. A little pink pill, a whole lot of soul-searching, and a God who never fails brought me out of the depths. But all of that hard work on my mind and my heart meant my body got neglected and the side effect I dreaded most became my reality. I gained more weight than I ever lost, but I could laugh again and not be afraid. I told myself the trade-off was worth it.

I’m a bad liar.

I didn’t hate myself;  I had simply reached a point where I felt nothing toward my body. It was there and it was mine and that was it.  My body was my own, for better or for worse. I’ve been through too much with her to throw her to the wolves, but in all my hard work of not dying, I had developed a fondness for her. The resulting apathy after all that healing was surprising, but I was too numb to care.

I finally took a vacation a few weeks ago, back to the place where the journey began and where all the things happened that had led to my stint with depression. I was scared. Those people loved me when I lived there, but I honestly thought they surely couldn’t love me now. Even though my mind and my heart have healed, my body still bears the old scars – the weight – of medication and fear. I was afraid to let them see me, to let them hug me. Aside from a few texts and an annual Skype call, I had barely kept in touch since l had moved away.

I didn’t want to let them see me suffering. I didn’t want to let them in to love me during the time I felt most unlovable – the time when I needed it most. I was so afraid to see their eyes reacting to my changed appearance. But…with every single hug, I was reminded that I am loved regardless. With every hour spent in the presence of those I love, I was reminded that I have a good tribe who sticks with me in the thicks and thins even when I’m more thick than thin. With every truth spoken, I was reminded that my tribe is made of more substantial stuff than I have been giving them credit for. They are beautiful souls of whom I am most undeserving.

That blessed week of hard and holy space also proved that I still love getting outside and hitting the trails and laughing uproariously with those I love. I had forgotten how delicious it felt to have rock beneath my feet and wild air in my lungs. It’s a little harder right now than it was a few  years ago, but I’ll get there. I have a tribe who loves me when I can climb mountains and when I cannot. I am free from the pit of fear I dwelled in for so long. I have a God who calls me His own. I know what I know now and I do what I can. The journey is ongoing. I’m moving mountains…and all is gift.

the eucharisteo notes {2}

I am so grateful for the way this life simultaneously takes my breath away and breathes new life in my lungs. It is the only wild life I will live and I intend to do so gratefully.

That said…I am grateful for the way a new city creates new experiences. It isn’t always good, but it is always an adventure.

I am grateful for late night deep talks with members of my tribe. Sometimes these are the only honest moments I find with people in a day and I drink them in like cool water on a hot afternoon.

I am grateful for returning from trips and feeling, for perhaps the first time in my life, that I am coming home. Texas has handled my heart so gently, so carefully, and I am glad, especially after this week, to be home.

I am grateful for the way dear friends listen to my overly detailed stories and smile and nod along with me, even when I know they’re quite possibly bored. Those who know me well know I process more thoroughly in the details, and indulge me in the rare moments I have much to speak aloud.

I am grateful for pastors who speak truth, live truth, love truth, and encourage us to see the imago Dei in all, especially when all are different from ourselves. My eyes have been opened to a different kind of leadership and stewardship. I will not be the same.

I am grateful for the way memories rush unbidden to the forefront of my thoughts. Memories, painful though they may be, remind me of what I have come from. This is a good gift.

I am grateful for the separation of chaff from wheat when it comes to friends. My tribe is in perpetual shift these days and love flows out of unexpected places.

I am grateful for the five months I have held in my current position. I want to go to work every day and to do good work and make a difference. And the opportunity to make a difference is ever-present. This is so much more than a job to me.

I am grateful for the privilege of sharing my life’s two missions with others. I long to empower girls to stop apologizing for the uniqueness of their lives and I want to teach well-intentioned but largely untested Christian university students that every life is sacred and that those different from ourselves are worthy of respect and dignity and completely undeserving of mockery. I have had the chance to discuss this with others twice in this past month and it blows my heart to bits every time. These are my missions and I will not be silent.

I am grateful for the softness with which I greet the day. I used to be up at 5 and on the go and never stopped to catch my breath. I sleep in until 6 sometimes these days. I languish in crisp white sheets and let the sun rise quietly and I do not chase after it. This is letting go and this is grace.

the eucharisteo notes {1}

A few years ago, a darling friend gave me a memory box in which I was supposed to stuff an entire year’s worth of memories. The gift in that was that at the end of the year, I could look back on a year of  joys and sorrows, wanted and unwanted, good and bad, and reminisce and cry and be grateful. That was the year that left me ragged and raw and clutching my bleeding heart in one hand and my broken dreams in the other.

Here I am, three years later, in a very different place personally and professionally and spiritually, and I still remember all those notes. Life has been so delicious of late that I want to write down each and every thing as it happens. I won’t be quite that prolific, as real life beckons to be lived and not just recorded, but I hope to capture some bits here. Welcome to the first edition of eucharisteo notes.

I am grateful for…

  • the way things happen. I began 2016 resigned to the life I was living. In the first 6 months of the year, I have accepted a student affairs position, moved to Texas, began working at a state university, and  with that, saw three dreams fulfilled at once. I have long been praying for each of these things, but I never thought I would see them all restored at the same time.
  • colleagues who are passionate about what they do. It’s a gamechanger for sure.
  • old friends who love me the same, no matter where I am or how long it’s been since I have seen them.
  • goodbye towns. And the country songs that give me words to describe them.
  • wrong first impressions. I surprise them, or they surprise me. Either way, we all learn something about books and covers.
  • a mum who loves ice cream and queso.
  • Texas speed limits. Some rules are meant to be broken.
  • a university that dwells in and respects diversity and the imago Dei in us all.
  • restoration with friends.
  • a God who speaks.
  • friends who allow me the privilege of hearing their jagged life stories.
  • a pastor and a church unafraid and unashamed of truth.
  • people who return text messages in complete sentences.
  • new babies and the mamas who let me hold them.
  • safe and clean housing just when I need it most.
  • a new mama for my boy and the best adventure partner I ever had, Ruger. I have no doubt she loves him as much as I do and she keeps me informed about his life.
  • losing myself in my work.
  • the pursuit of higher education.
  • being under the leadership of someone who spurs me on to good work.
  • the space to grieve.
  • real tortillas. Real cheese. Real butter. Real people.
  • letting go.