In the moments

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It had been another tough day.

Applications, postings and cover letters fluttering in and out. My job search was still quite new but I felt that I was not getting anywhere. How foolish I had been to think that I could just apply to jobs around the country and the perfect one would magically appear. I am not sure how many applications I had sent out that day, but I do know that I found a few mistakes after I had sent them and that caused a tailspin of negative thoughts.

All I want is a sign that I am in the right direction, I prayed to God as I began a chilly January walk with Cuddy. It wasn’t long later that my phone beeped with an email. A request for an interview and, not an hour later, another email of the same nature came. One of those, naturally, was from NASPA, my now employer.

Many times in my life, when I have felt lonely or lost, I ask God for some kind of reassurance that I am indeed on the path he set before me. Sometimes I don’t have faith in myself to steer in the right direction and I get caught up in making mistakes.

My day is plagued with lots of doubt and it is an absolute crummy way to spend a gift. Although I am working on having that blind faith that we are called to have – whether it’s in the divine or simply that life will work out – I am trying to find that reassurance in the littlest of moments.

The man who runs after a woman in the metro to hand her her dropped watch. The two men, in full construction attire, playfully racing from one orange cone to another. The woman who has no other business in the metro but to wish people a wonderful day. These moments fill me with love, the desire to be a better person and the faith that whatever I truly need is what I have at that second.

On that January day, I assumed that I wouldn’t get any of the jobs that had offered interviews. This was likely the beginning and the search would continue to last for months, but I was OK with that at the moment. The glorious setting sun as Cuddy led me through slushy streets was the proof of faith. These flashes of reassurance come to me in the person who is willing to call old friends to find me a new place to live or the friend that answers my call after a very unfulfilling date.

These moments play when we need them and it’s up to us to watch for them. There is so much love and joy in this world and I want to learn to see that more than the fear and doubt. Because when I do, when I find hope in little things, then I find my path. It’s not always what I want, but it’s what I need, in that moment.

Resurrections

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As you may have noticed (or maybe not and that is my ego talking) my blog has been a bit silent. So has my other social media outlets. I gave up posting for Lent.

I did this last year and decided I really needed those lessons in a new year in a new life. Again, I still replied to things and sent a few reTweets, but I refrained from posting my ideas and comments.

Lent began nearly my second day in D.C. and it wasn’t until the following Sunday that I chose this as my sacrifice. Whether we give up chocolate or TV or social media, we will never come close to the divine sacrifices that encourage us to abstain from what we consider vices, but refraining can teach us a lot.

My ultimate decision to give up posting came from my obsession over how people will react to whatever I post. How many likes did I get? Did he understand that that passive aggressive statement was for him?  I don’t think I am alone in this. We use social media to present a better version of ourselves, hoping that will get to other people. It’s heartbreaking when the only connection you have with some people is their Facebook page.

This time of year is often very reflective of the weather, Lent coming during the final dirty pangs of winter to reveal Easter and spring and new hope. It’s been a harsh winter, biting white storms on the inside and out.

Rather than find love and self worth through social media, a forsaking source that more often than not leaves us feeling worse about ourselves, I tried to find solace and comfort in any place that would offer it other than online. I prayed for the people on the street, like the woman talking about the love who left her and the mother scooping her daughter into a kiss. I took photos of lost items on the street. I interrupted runs for meditation. I woke up early to write before work and traded mindless television watching for well-written books. I sent messages out to those I love. I tried really, really hard to focus hard on those that matter and care about me rather than those that I wish did.

Some days the sun shined I felt love beaming out of my fingertips. Other days I had to claw out of dark caves only to find there was no helping hand at the rim and the only way to get out was to boost myself over the edge.

But the light has come. It’s Easter morning and joy echoes throughout. The hardships of the last 40 days prove not to be in vain for there comes a miraculous resurrection, of the Lord and ourselves.

I think this is more of an appropriate time to set resolutions than the New Year. We’ve been preparing ourselves to let go of things that no longer serve us and this Sunday, every year, after 40 dark days, we are shown that we can live without those things and on other side is much more glory.

So my goal is to let go. Let go of what and who brings me tears and know that I may feel like I am falling but I will land into something my soul deserves.

Naturally, I have the perfect symbolic anecdote.

When I returned home from Niger, my hair started to fall out and break off. It was quiet unhealthy when I went to Lesotho and it got worse for a while. After about six months in country, someone remarked that I had cut my hair, tears formed, no, it’s falling out. By the end, though, it was healthy and full again. That is, till I came home.

The last few months I’ve tried different things to nurture it back to life but it was stringy and stale. Every day I hated the way I looked and an unpleasing head allowed me to see other imperfections, which of course heightened my gloomy days.

I’ve thought about cutting it for a while, but I’ve been afraid. Up until about five years ago, I’ve always worn my hair short and it took a long time for it to grow this long. I liked putting it up and the extra style flexibility of more hair. The longer locks seemed like a great representation of how much I had changed since college and to chop them off seemed like a reversion to an old self.

But I couldn’t deny how unhealthy my hair was and it didn’t even look good up. I was on a train to the Nats stadium when I decided to cut it. I got to the bar where I was meeting my friends so I Yelped a salon and had an appointment within minutes.

I was very scared that I was making a terrible mistake and that my stylist would give me a horrendous cut. Maybe unhealthy stringy hair is better than an awful haircut, I tried to reason. There are other places in my life where I should let go and walk away, so I sat in that chair yesterday and didn’t look back when she snapped inches off, hoping this would give me the courage I need.

Immediately, my hair came back to life. The curls that I thought had disappeared came back in full joyful force. Also, instantly, I felt more beautiful than I had in months.

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It was not serving me to have a head full of dead hair. It is not serving me to base my self worth on others’ opinions of me, online or in person. It is not serving me to allow undeserving people and situations force me into an unhappy place.

And so I let go of all of it. Now, here, on Easter Sunday, before I go to mass and celebrate returns. I let go and prepare for the new.

Every year we are reminded of the resurrection no one believed would come. There was little faith that this miracle could even happen. But it did and we rejoiced.

Our own miracles will come, and life is simply so much more joyful when we have faith in that.

Happy Easter, my precious ones.

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The Struggle

We sat on a bench under an escalator. Our friendship had become nearly not in two years, but we had this small chunk of time to talk and act like friends again. We talked about futures, visits home, and my impending departure.

“It’s going to be hard to go home,” she said. I agreed, but she shook her head. “Not for me,” she said with indication she knew more than I. “For you.”

I stood atop a dining room table trying to dehook Christmas lights as I chatted with Katie. The last time we saw each other she and Nick gave me very quick hugs and then went through a set of double doors to their family while I found a train that would take me to another plane. We talked about the holidays and reuniting with home. I asked her how it was and she said that it wasn’t as tough as everyone had made it out to be.  I had been afraid to admit that as if doing so would make the previous two years unworthy, but I was adjusting just fine and being home was wonderful.

He chose this specific bar because of its loyalty to the Seminoles. We filled our glasses with cheap beer while talking about Lesotho and life in DC. His transition is more than a year and half old, allowing him to impart wisdom on this bumpy path I’ve been forced to take. “When you leave, you are so focused on America,” he said. “When you get home, you are still so excited about America. “After three or four months, it hits you. You miss it. And it lasts forever.”

Some days I am walking in a fog.

That song. That word. That memory. I fight back tears because I don’t have the attention to give them, plus it would hurt too much. A +266 number flashes across my screen and I don’t pick up. I don’t know who it is but I wouldn’t know what to say regardless so it’s just best not to say anything.

I misplace these tough emotions on to other things. Maybe it’s the city. The new job. Money. Him. Or him. Or him. Or them. And then them.

I can’t place these feelings into something I can analyze and that furthers them into a dark, unexplored place.  Isn’t this the life that I was sure would ease those emotional aches eight months ago? There is not much for me to complain about. I have a great job, living in an exciting city with an unreasonably active social life. I get to see family more than once in two years. But still, I fight though difficult thoughts. Turns out that life after service is just as emotional as service.

And then we were sitting outside a bar in Foggy Bottom under heaters because spring had gone cool again. We met months ago in Pretoria and built a connection off a shared friend – one of those people who you never assumed you’d see again but are delighted when your paths cross a second time. We talked about our friend, where life had taken us in the last eight months, meeting men in D.C., our jobs, and the thing that is missing.

Without realizing it, I spewed out these thoughts and fears to her. How hard being a volunteer was but I always found comfort in knowing that I had a purpose and now that purpose has vanished. How I was terrified I would never find that purpose again. How I was so proud of the person I became in Lesotho and I fear she is gone. How much I miss it but being here is what I need, even though I don’t have entire faith in that. How scared I am that I am becoming the person I went away in order not to become.

She smiled and nodded. That’s all normal, she said. You are still new at this and it may be a year before you feel right again. That’s OK. On the way home I started to cry and thought back to all those moments when I thought transitioning home would be OK and when I realized it wasn’t: under the escalator, on the phone, in the Seminoles bar. The next morning I cried looking at photos of Lesotho and thinking about that life that I worked so damn hard for is now over. Not because something went wrong or it was wrong, but just because it was time for it to end.

Now I am trying to figure out where my life goes from here, praying that none of it was in vain. I put the same expectations into my service that many do when finding true love — it will bring me happiness, it will change me, it will be all that I ever needed. And it did bring me happiness and changed me, but it was not all that I ever needed because nothing in life is.

Even before I started, my service had an end date and now it’s up for me to figure life beyond that. I am absolutely terrified that I don’t know how. But, thanks to that woman with a reassuring smile, I know that’s OK. I am not crazy and these feelings are natural. Not only am I still transitioning to life at home, I live in a new city and I have a new job. Struggle is expected.

One of my friends told me that I am always lost. I am the wander, she said. But when I am lost it probably means that I am OK.

City Girl

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Twelve years ago, I visited Washington, D.C. for the first time. It was part of a school-sponsored trip to better understand our nation’s government and history. I said that I was Republican because everyone else said they were (the only time I have ever identified with a political party). I traced the name of a fallen Vietnam solider. I took a photo in front of the White House. And tears filled my eyes while walking through the Holocaust Museum.

Yet, the memory that has always stuck with me occurred in a pizza parlor. It was on a street that I likely could not find now and felt underground because of the down slope inside the restaurant. Our table, a mix of juniors and seniors, ordered a few large pies that were delivered to us in tiers. It was a small place so the coalition of South Dakota high school students filled it to the brim. We lingered well after our bellies were full and I wondered what it would be like to eat that pizza every day. To just show up, order a slice and continue on with an urban life. I would live in a city some day. I thought. I must.

The second time I came to D.C. was five days when I moved here.

Since as long as I can remember, I’ve yearned to live in a city, to feel the swell of busy life overtake and comfort me. I’ve been to many, domestic and international, but never long enough to make it my own. My initial ambitions were New York City. It had everything and I wanted everything, yet everything requires great courage. There was always a reason not to go – money is the greatest deterrent of any dream – and I accepted them as reality. I set my bar lower and lower, believing that was what I deserved, and my goals morphed. Idaho was a dream chase to something bigger that didn’t pan out. The Post was supposed to be the whole package. Niger and Lesotho were proof I could do anything.

I made few plans as my Peace Corps service ended, but I knew that my next phase needed to be set against the big city lights. It was one of the things I had wanted for so long and, as I am getting older, I knew that it was now or never. That was always my goal for beyond Peace Corps and there were no compromises to be made.

The city, though, that changed. In Niger, I was very set on New York. It was the place that always grabbed my heart the tightest, for whatever reason. DC came next because of energy and passion. I want to make a difference in the world and DC, at the time, seemed like a good place to start. Then, my desires drifted to the West Coast for the first time. San Francisco, Seattle, Portland. My hippie, earthy nature could thrive in these places and, although I have never actually been to Seattle or Portland, friends and natives reassured me I would fit in.  Yet, as my home return date approached, Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis shone a bit brighter because they are closer to South Dakota and I needed family.

I applied for jobs in all of those cities – San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Chicago – but there were significantly more non-profit job opportunities in New York and DC.  There was a position in New York, but the city and the job didn’t feel right from the beginning. Then there was DC, the position I have now, and one in Seattle. The Northwest was my goal, or so I told myself, and Seattle had more selling points than DC, but in the end it didn’t feel right. One very emotional night, I made a split decision to withdraw my application from the Seattle position and invest fully in D.C. My mom was a bit shocked and was a bit worried that it was an impulse I would regret the next morning. I did not. In fact, for the first time, excitement for my new job and my new city overcame me. It was happening.

The past two mornings, the first at my new job, I’ve walked to the Metro station, boarded a few trains, hustled up escalators, bustled through the commuting masses, stared up at the buildings jutting into the sky. It’s fast. It’s noisy. It’s what I’ve always wanted.

For some, the drain of the city adds unnecessary stress. For some, it’s too much and not anything they would ever embrace. For me, it’s what I’ve always wanted.

It’s true that I am a country kid (I didn’t grow up on a farm, but Pierre, S.D., is a far cry from metropolitan) and here I’ve come to make it in the big city. I am so not used to this world: I wonder about the guy who jumped the tracks rather than being irritated that I will get home later or my eyes widen each time I get the bill.

Still, there is pulse to the city and I get to be at the center. For whatever reasons, ones I may never fully understand, D.C. was meant to be my city. I love seeing the nation’s capitol every morning when I get off at Union Station. I love scanning the faces of everyone I pass and wondering their story. I love that so much is happening outside my door, and I can decide to be in that world or my own.

My life, especially in the last seven years, has been about crossing off things. This city living is a big one, and I am just pleased that I enjoy it so much. The city, this city, is where I am meant to be right now and I plan to soak up all of it.

Start Fresh

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My talented friend Kate sent her homemade screen print (pictured at my sister-in-law’s bridal shower three years ago) shortly before The Post launched. It my fresh start, she said.

This morning, on my last full day in South Dakota, I saw that screen print on my dresser and decided to slip it into a pocket of my suitcase. Although three overstuffed bags are coming with me to DC, it doesn’t seem like a large chunk of my life and I wanted something for the memories and new beginnings.

Tomorrow I start fresh in a new city with a new job. There is much to worry about and the beginnings of anxiety did wake me at 7 a.m. Yet, I chose gratefulness for the day and it’s been an incredible one with friends and family. Things are falling in place and I’m giving my best effort at faith and trust. So much awaits me and I am promising myself to showcase the possibility instead of what could go wrong. Good, good things are in store.

I am leaping. I am trusting. I giving up control. I am embracing.

As the wonderful Foseroo said to me this morning, “The best adventures start off kind of crazy, right?” Yes, Melissa, they do.