One Year

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A single person can’t move a full bed three stories on her own.

I know. I tried.

Alone in this new city and without any pants because the airline had lost my bag and Chicago was colder than expected, I just wanted to sleep in the bed that I paid too much for from my room’s previous tenant. All my frustration and fear would surely morph into energy and I would get that bed up to my room, I thought that first night in Chicago.

It didn’t.

Not even half way up, a neighbor saw me struggling and offered to help. Then, I couldn’t figure out the frame (and it seriously wasn’t until LAST week that someone pointed out that my frame is for a queen and I have a full mattress) (it also took until Kieara came several months later before I got the bed on a frame), but at least I had a bed. I fell asleep half excited, half scared about this new life in Chicago.

I wanted Chicago to make me happy. I wanted it to bring me love and passion and purpose. I wanted it to be the answer to all of my problems. I wanted to climb the top all on my own and just be OK. It’s been one year since I landed in Chicago, drove up Lake Shore Drive and immediately fell in love with this city’s skyline.

I came to Chicago a pretty broken person and it took several months before I could put myself together. I wanted so much while fearing that I didn’t know what I wanted. I was the loneliest I had ever been in my life – yes, even next to all those nights in Lesotho – and each new day took more effort than I seemed to have.

But, I showed up. I contacted barely acquaintances and said yes to every social invitation. I found my go-to coffee shop and settled into commuting habits. I stumbled and came close to failing, but then I got up and tried again. All I wanted was a life that I could be proud of and, even when that didn’t seem possible, I kept trying.

Someone how, without much fanfare, it all came into place. Occasionally I will be out to brunch or walking through downtown on my way to work and think, “Yes, this is how I always imagined it to be.

I couldn’t do it on my own, though. I needed my family’s support and their visits to Chicago. I needed those barely acquaintances that became good friends. I needed the friends who always remind me to text when I made it home. I needed incredible colleagues who are also my friends. I needed the strangers who give me their seat on the train or offer a quick hello.

And here I am, at the top. My first year in this city was tough and sometimes I wanted to pack up and leave again, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I knew that one day this moment would come, the moment when everything feels so right.

I am not sure where I will be when the second anniversary comes, but I am not fearful. I look back at that woman I was when I first arrive and she feels so different than who I am now. I struggled, I triumphed, I grew.

All I know is that I go into the next year feeling quite proud of the little life I created in this city.

Trust in practice

When I was job searching after Peace Corps, I had two strong leads – one in D.C. and one in Seattle. Both communications positions at non-profits and both organizations came highly recommended by people I know that are familiar with them. The major difference, at least for me at the time, was that I was a step further in the hiring process with the D.C. gig and that offer came before I had my final interview with the Seattle job. I mulled over both positions, along with both cities, even though I was uncertain if I would take the D.C. job or even get the Seattle job. There was also opportunities for me to stay in South Dakota longer or take a months-long road trip with a friend. The options overwhelmed me, but one day I woke up with this notion in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t a loud roar, but one that felt authentic. I hadn’t committed to anything, but with clarity I wrote an email to the hiring manager of the Seattle job and withdrew my application.

On occasion I think about the Seattle life I could have had, but I do not dwell. That isn’t my life.

In that fleeting moment, I trusted my gut and knew that I needed to turn in another direction, even if I wasn’t completely sold on D.C. at the time. There was something just not right about that job in Seattle and I thought that if I removed it from my possibilities I would know what to do. I did and eventually took that  job in D.C., only to leave it four months later for another offer in Chicago.

Was D.C. the right decision? Would I have come to Chicago had I gone to Seattle first? Or maybe I should have just stayed in South Dakota? Would I have gotten to my true path quicker? I honestly don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that this is where I am supposed to be right now. I trust that and I don’t really need to doubt the path that got me here.

Today a choice was put in front of me. Because I am not ready to discuss the whole situation on the internet, this will be a bit vague (no, I am not moving or taking another job – I am done with that, for now). I could go do one road, a solitary path that includes no certainty of being the right one. Or I could go down another path with lots of paths to veer off of whenever I felt unsure. The road of many options is safer and I could always back out if I disappointed or felt disappointed while the solitary road would is an all in situation without any success guaranteed.

I took the solitary road.

And, soon after, I panicked. What if I had chosen unwisely? Maybe I had missed the signs that this isn’t the road I should be on at all. What if I get hurt? What if the other road is where I am supposed to travel and I am not smart enough to realize it?

But that’s only one side of the equation. There is also the likely possibility that I knew exactly what I was doing and made a decision based on love, not the fear of missing out (which I do all too often).

I was tempted to turn to friends and loved ones to reassure me that I made the right choice, but I did not. I didn’t because that steady, albeit sometimes soft, voice told me this is what I needed to do. I could have asked for signs from the Universe or every person in my phone book, but I knew deep down what I needed to do. That doesn’t mean that this path is my ultimate destiny, but maybe it will lead me there, like D.C. did.

I do not know what will happen from here, but this vulnerability is exhilarating. This is more of a beginning than an ending and I am able to travel down this road knowing I am here because I trusted myself.

Trust

It’s raining this evening.

I have multiple places that I could be, that I should be, but I chose to go home and sit with my thoughts and a cup of warm tea. It’s something that I learned from Lesotho – when Mother Nature sings with a storm, and your heart feels it, then it is time to be still and let it thrash about you.

I need to stop. I need to crawl into my bed with something steaming and watch the scented candle flicker. I need to listen to the chorus of rain drops and thunder. I need to just be alone.

The last few months have been crazy busy. I spent a week in South Dakota and Oklahoma, both for work, then two wedding weekends in Minneapolis and another two weeks in New Zealand for the vacation of a lifetime. The few days I had in Chicago were spent socializing and moving from one dinner to the next. I came home some nights so exhausted that I couldn’t put pajamas on.

One night last week I woke up in a foul mood. I hadn’t slept well the night before and my mind was buzzing with all of the things I would need to do. Our office was having a staff retreat, and while it’s usually nice to see all of my coworkers and think big together, it takes us away from our day-to-day work and to-do lists and email boxes overwhelm me. My nights were just as busy with activities and outings scheduled each evening. On top of that, I had just started an online spiritual class, was in the midst of my second week of marathon training, and trying to find a place to live so as not to be homeless by the end of the month. All I wanted was a few hours to just be me and I didn’t think it would come for awhile.

That night I met some friends at a bar to watch the Blackhawks game. I had just looked at an apartment – for which I will sign the lease this week – and felt mentally exhausted. I had wanted to go home, but something told me to go so I did. Although I work with these friends, it felt like I hadn’t seen them in ages. We talked about the goal setting we did at work that day and what we truly want from our lives. We cheered when the Hawks scored and moaned when Tampa Bay did. Soon, other friends joined us and we had a full table. When the evening ended, we all walked into the street and scattered into different directions. It was slightly drizzling and the street lights danced throughout the quiet road. A wave of emotion came over me as I thought about how broken and lonely I had been just a year ago, when I first moved to the city. I thought about the amazing work I get to do with incredible people and the wonderful individuals who support me each day. I thought about this city, which at one time felt as unfamiliar as a foreign land but is now engraved into me like home. I thought about the dreams brewing beneath my skin and how they felt attainable. This was a feeling that I had recognized from other times in my life – a run on the campus of South Dakota State my junior year of high school, a month or so after I moved back to South Dakota from Idaho, countless times when I would stare out into the river valley while fetching water. I knew that at that moment I had all I needed and was right where I was meant to be.

It’s probably not a surprise to anyone reading this that I don’t often trust myself. Little decisions like whether or not to purchase a new dress or what movie to see plague me. Just today I was worked up about whether I should go out with friends to watch the Hawks game or go to meditation. I am so convinced that each little decision I make is representative of who I am and I am terrified I won’t chose wisely.

Sometimes I forget that I have chosen wisely before and that I am not always trying to sabotage myself. There have been times, such as the Peace Corps and running an ultra marathon, where I was the only who believed that I could achieve my goal, and that my belief in myself was enough to get back up after the knock downs. Leading up to that moment on the street, I felt like I was running so quickly and frantically into a direction that I wasn’t sure I was meant to go, but the stillness of the moment reassured me. How lucky I was to be with such great people and to have developed such a flourishing life in an amazing city, I was thankful and within that gratitude I saw the trust that led me there.

Tonight, I needed that again. I needed to take a slight step back to see the things I can’t up close. I needed my own soothing voice reminding me that all I need is all I have and that I do know what direction to soar into. What’s beautiful, though, is the recognition of this need. It’s natural to not trust yourself and be uncertain and the growth comes from when you can see the hesitation and lean into it.

You need the storm to come so you can listen, take it in, and trust that it will pass.

When it’s not easy to choose you

“Self respect is such a painful thing to maintain.”

This is something a dear friend told me as I relayed my desire to reach out to someone who had not respected me. It was not a person who historically had treated me poorly, but actually quite the opposite, even reminding me what it felt like to be cared for and looked after.

Then something changed. We went from giggling in a parking lot to exchanges of long, pent up text messages in a matter of hours. I replayed those messages in my head for hours, wondering if this was the final act or not. I was ashamed then said then angry. I asked to talk about the situation but this desire was not granted, not a priority for the other person.

And so I sat, pining for some indication that a message of amends would come yet half ready to slap it down. I looked at my phone and messaged my friend instead.

I wanted to chase this person. I wanted to convince this person to see it my way, to give me another shot. I wanted to fix this thing. This anxiety and pain boiled through me and I nearly toppled to its pressure, but then I remembered that I had been here before. I told myself, and all of you, that I wasn’t going to put up with people who didn’t value me and sticking to that promise meant more than trying to repair something with someone that didn’t have time for me.

So I let it be. I sat with my emotions and tried to take what good I could from the situation. I embraced the love of those who never think twice in giving it to me and I believed in what I deserve. Walking home, a fresh layer of hope struck me. It would certainly be OK.

It’s not easy to pick yourself in situations. It’s not easy to overlook initial pain for your longterm benefit. Yet, it’s the only way you can move forward. Respecting myself and putting myself first may never be easy, but it will always be the right choice.

The Warrior

A warrior stands on the top of dark ash, sweaty and tired. She lost but she is not defeated. Her hope and determination is now greater than ever.

Warriors are women who stand up against sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Warriors are single mothers who work two jobs to feed their children.

Warriors are leaders and artists who push the status quo so a new voice is heard.

Warriors are young girls who demand that their societies educate them.

I do not think of myself as a warrior, rather a woman who has been granted a lot in life and doesn’t understand true struggle. Who am I to suffer, I say as I am suffering. My demons are not physical, but rather internal and often self-imposed.

Yet, they bring me to my knees with fear and they make me doubt who I am. Sometimes, I think that they will win. But, like the warriors, my soul must be bigger. I must slay these inner foes so that I can be the person who makes a real difference, the person the world needs me to be. I must undo the years of self-doubt and criticism to become the authentic version of myself.

To do this, I must be a warrior. I am a warrior.

Home

Minnesota Avenue is glowing. The streetlights combined with a black spring night create a hue that feels so specific to this one street that I’ve dreamt of it when I am far and away. It’s quiet on this Thursday night but not unfamiliar. My car climbs up the hill and all of downtown shimmers for me. I’ve been here before, I know, in a before that is confused with yesterday and a lifetime ago.

I seek out nostalgia. I try to return to the places that I’ve been to see if I can remember who I was and if that version of myself has any advice for the me of now. Going back can be complicated and scary. You feel removed in a place that is meant to be comfortable or you feel so comfortable in that you aren’t sure you should return back to the life specifically chosen to detour from the one you had.

This past week I returned to South Dakota for work and a weekend with my family. I hit all the places I have lived – Brookings, Pierre and Sioux Falls. I had a grasshopper at Zesto, coffee at Queen City Bakery and popcorn at O’Hare’s. I watched the Missouri River shift slowly from its banks, I sipped a beer from the sidewalks of downtown Sioux Falls and made my own pathway between buildings of South Dakota State University.

It was a short trip but enough time to sort of remember who I was in all of these places.

A high school girl who didn’t know much about the world outside of her own.

A college student who struggled to be everything to everyone.

A woman lost and focused on a dream.

These versions of myself seem disconnected and unique on their own but they are the points on my dotted path. They each played a part in bringing me to where I am now, in the highs and lows, in ways that don’t make sense to me even now. But I no longer live in those places and am no longer those versions of me for very specific, higher reasons.

It’s been nearly five years since I left my job in Brookings and moved out of my apartment in Sioux Falls to do something different with my life. In some ways time seems to barely have passed as I run into familiar faces in familiar locations and we condense the years into a few sentences. In other ways it feels like I was born into another life and the one I left is barely recognizable.

I couldn’t see all the people I wanted to while I was home – I never do – but those I do comfort me in the choices I have made and those that I will make. I feel very lucky in that I’ve made some good friends in Chicago and that my social life keeps me busy, but it’s quite comforting to come home to those who know a great deal of my history. These people have informed insights about the men I should date, the path I should take, the things I should focus on. Because I am sometimes too far in my own head, they get things that I don’t. It’s frightening yet completely comfortable.

While sitting in the airport waiting to board the flight to Chicago, I read a New York Times article a friend had sent me. That airport is sort of the backdrop to many big changes in my life – tears streaming down as I waited to board a flight to Idaho after a holiday break and dreading the return to my job; seeing Kieara atop the escalator after being kicked out of Niger and then Egypt; and then looking back before entering security to wave my mother one last goodbye, the next time I would see her would be two years later. The piece by David Brooks is about shifting one’s goals in life from professional and financial success to moral standards and striving to be a good person. The last paragraph hit me so hard that I was saying ‘yes’ out loud:

“The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquility. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.“

That perfectly summed up my trip home.

Sometimes I worry that going home will convince me I made the wrong decision in leaving and it will insert welts of doubt in my current life, and sometimes it does. After Christmas, I returned to Chicago with lots of uncertainty and little optimism, sort like after that first semester of college. This time, I am a sophomore going back to campus and I am confident. Being home has been comforting and soothing, but I also feel more reassured than ever about my life in Chicago. I’ve been able to go back and see the dots connected. I don’t know where my path is going but I’ve seen where it’s been and I am not concerned. I do not feel the need to worry or manipulate. I will be OK because I always have been and that’s the kind of reassurance only home can really give you.

A resurrection

i said, “Let us walk in the field.”
He said, “Nay walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers bot a crown.”

I said, “But the air is thick,
And the fogs are veiling the sun.”
He answered, “Yet souls are sick
And souls in the dark undone.”

I cast one look at the field,
Then he set my face to the town.
He said: “My child, do you yield?
Will ye leave the flowers for the crown?”

Then into his hand went mine
And into my heart came He,
And I walk in a light divine
The path I had feared to see.

– George Macdonald

Lent is the preparation for death, the opportunity to look at what is not serving us and give it permission to die.

Easter is our rebirth into grace and light and love.

Let us begin anew with faith and so so much love.