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.

You matter

4cec0a1fbe9ad1bc4e1b5cabaae1ae0a

Do not let you someone treat you like you do not matter. People can tell us that we are wrong and that we are undeserving but they are not allowed to to conclude that our existences is irrelevant.

The thing is, though, that there will always be people who do not care if we are in their lives or not and the love and grace we have to share is only an option. Unfortunately, that’s just how it goes in life and we can’t control our roles in other people’s lives. Yet, we can control how we internalize and react to those who just simple do not care that we exist.

One day I stopped at the beach during a run to take in the warming waves of Lake Michigan. My thoughts were tangled up around a situation where I felt like I was treated that I didn’t matter. The person imposing such feelings had done this more than once, but I continue to show up for this person for reasons that I can’t explain other than that I am human and sometimes I don’t put my higher good at the center of my choices.

As the waves roared with spring anticipation, I thought about carry this feeling throughout my day. Not only did my existence feel minimal, I also was angry that I put myself in this position yet again. It then occurred to me that I did not have to bear the weight of such heavy emotions and that I didn’t have to react or fight for attention from this person. I could simply choose to not let this person or the situation determine my self worth. I could never convince this person to see me differently, but I could not put so much value on it. If it did bother me, it was because I chose to let it bother me and I didn’t have to stop caring for this person – because that is much harder – but I could stop victimizing the person’s treatment of me.

As I was thinking about this person, I started to see the faces of other people. The people who do make time for me, the people who put up with my crazy and love me for it. It hurts to feel like you are just an option, but there are so many people in this world who see me, and you, as imperative in their lives. I get kind of crazy when people can easily expel me from their lives because it challenges me as person and why I matter, but often in these times a whole round of people come to remind me that they want to be in my corner and want me in their corner. I want to be grateful for those people and cherish them, because when I can do that then the others who do not care really do not matter.

Life is heartbreaking in that we can’t be we want to be for all people, but we can be so much more for the people who count. It’s always been difficult for me to remember that, but I’ve come to see that loving myself means loving the people who don’t just want me in their lives but actively chose me. And loving myself also means letting the rest go.

Choose you

We can learn that love is worth a risk and that to hide our love means to hide our true selves.*

Life is not fair. In fact, it’s all shades and levels of unfair. We never get all the things we desire. The people we love die. We fail. The ugly parts of ourselves come out. We work hard, we try to be kind, we do the best we can and sometimes we just don’t make it all the way.

It’s easy to suffer. Suffering is validation. We want to go to that dark hole and live there in our injustices because it’s a comfortable place. Yet, if we keep going there all the time, we never truly come out. We never see that life has much more beauty than we ever knew.

Many of us bet against ourselves. We believe we will fail before we even start. We claim defeat before the fight bell has rung.

Yet, we have the power to believe otherwise. We have the power to choose.

You can choose you.

When you’ve hit that wall for the umpteenth time, choose you.

When your heart is calling you somewhere different than where you “should’ be, choose you.

When loneliness and doubt trick you into a downward spiral, choose you.

When the embers of your passion flicker, choose you.

When the crutch of insecurity flirts, choose you.

Choose you and I will choose me and in doing so we will be the best versions of ourselves. We will find empathy and compassion. Let us not run from the truths of our heart for the stories of our minds. Let us choose to remain with what it is, accepting it is if we specifically chose it for destiny. Let us choose ourselves because the greatest love we possess is deep within.

Choose you.

*Normally I think it would be weird to quote myself but I shared this with my mentee tonight – the same one who often tells me, “Don’t pay attention to them if they make you cry” – and she said it made her cry. I thought others might like it. And it’s my blog so I will do whatever I want 

A date

Coffee

Before I went to the Peace Corps, I read A Beautiful Mess pretty obsessively. It was quite a different blog back then compared to what it was today and, while I don’t read it as often anymore, my favorite posts were the ones when Elise opened up about her personal life.

She often would talk about coffee dates with her now husband, Jeremy. Jeremy is a musician and Elise is, well, for lack of a better word, a creative. In the time I’ve followed her blog, Elise has been an artist, fashion designer, product designer, photographer, entrepreneur, author and blogger. Anyway, they are a couple that feeds off each other’s inspiration. Elise often mentions that the two of them go on coffee dates to specifically talk about goals and dreams, personally and professionally. I’ve always felt that the one I could be totally honest with in terms of what I want in life – preferably over multiple cups of coffee in the corner of some cafe – would be the one I keep.

Since Monday evening, my emotions have been out of whack, so much that I had to check if it was a full moon because I normally feel arise in the lunar cycle. It is not, and I can’t explain this crush of emotions. At one point, I didn’t think I could take another breath because the pressure on my chest was so great and, thankfully, a friend kindly responded to my messages with compassion and a reminder that I am alone in my feelings and that they are justifiable.

This morning was better until a problem arose with some frustrating and costly paperwork. I felt so defeated and unprepared for life and wanted to withdraw. While I was able to work through it and continue on, the little disturbance shook me and I realized I needed to sort of reground myself and get to the root of where this emotional flurry is coming from.

I’ve been wanting to take myself one of these inspirational dates where I sit with tea and my journal and allow myself to be completely honest, not only in my dreams but my fears and what’s holding me back. I’ve wanted, but I haven’t. I haven’t because it’s scary to look at yourself honestly. It’s scary to be vulnerable with others, let alone yourself. I haven’t because I secretly hope someone will swoop in and clean it all up for me.

But I am the only one who can turn my light up.

I tried to come with a million reasons not to go to the coffee shop after work but I kind of want to stop being the one who defeats me. So, I took my journal, ordered a cup of oolong and played some of Jeremy Larson’s music.

I wrote what I wanted.

I wrote what I feared.

I wrote why I am angry.

I wrote and wrote.

I did not solve all of my problems or suddenly fix my life, but I did shed some wisdom on areas that I refused to look at before. I was able to see myself from a compassionate perspective, loving the broken and the beautiful. I completely honest with myself and I let myself be heard without judgement, analysis or a plan.

We can’t always be the best versions of ourselves and sometimes life will be unfair and painful, but we can remember to treat ourselves kindly and to be the one who never stops rooting for us. It’s when we take time to buy ourselves a warm beverage and really listen that we can form love and trust, so that when we are ready we have the courage and faith flinging us to our greatest desires.

 

** Side note: During this little date with me, I made a huge revelation about some recent relationships. It hit my like “Woah, that is so true and why haven’t I noticed that before?” Then I was listening to two people talk about loss and they brought up the same I idea that sparked my revelation, which made me to realize that maybe I am not so far from my path as I think I am.

Be

0ba09e676581d1e7719fcc67ae28378b

Sometimes you wait.

Sometimes you let the situation be what it is without judgment or storytelling.

You do not try to control it or add to it, but simply notice the feelings and let them wash away like waves on a white sandy beach.

This is not a perspective that I’ve be able to harbor in most situations in my life, but as I start to understand my own life and the things that cause me pain and joy I’ve been able to notice some of my self-sabotaging behaviors. Controlling, accelerating, analyzing situations is quite the nasty habit.

This time though, I feel the top emotions and the deeper ones. I notice them all  and decided not to do more than that. It is what is, a statement I never thought I would be able to use as justification, seems applicable here.

“Be careful,” my friends say. “You’ve been here before and the outcome likely won’t be different.”

I do not know how it will work out. I do not know all the details. And I can’t guarantee that I won’t jerk in reaction tomorrow, but right now I feel stillness.

Hours later, I am full of emotions. “I am shaking,” I tell him as we walk out and find our normal route to the train. Our meditation group tonight talked about being with our anxiety and, although I’ve tried that all day, it’s hitting me not like a wave but like a freaking tsunami. “I am so full of emotions.” He laughs. I want to cry. But then I breathe. I stare at the wintery sky. It’s supposed to be a burden after such beautiful springish days, but now I find it reassuring.

This moment, full of so much energy and emotion, here I am meant to be. I am meant to use it up and let it propel me forward, because all I need is right here. The rest is details and stories I simply don’t need. It will all unravel but as long as I hold on to the present then I will not only stay above water but I will soar.

cheryl