In honor of the holiday we’re doing this a day early. Check out this journal entry from 26 (!!!) years ago. Note the line near the bottom about how “Some people ONLY get Valentines from their parents.” This is still something I’m working through.
Buckle up for some humblebragging.
I could read before kindergarten. In fact, when I went into kindergarten, I once got in trouble for reading the teacher’s lesson plans. THAT WERE IN CURSIVE.
In first grade, during reading time, the teacher sent me to the class with fourth- and fifth-graders to read with them.
All through elementary school we did the Book-It Program with Pizza Hut where you got a free pizza and stuff once you’d read a certain number of books each month. And guess who was at Pizza Hut quite a lot in those days? Yours truly. Because books. And also because pizza, of course.
So, I’m a bit of a reader, you’d say.
My reading got me in trouble when I was in middle school because I decided to try out some more Stephen King after I’d read his “Eyes of the Dragon” and enjoyed it. The book I chose next? “IT.” Weird, suddenly I’m fucking terrified of clowns forever.
Another time books betrayed me – and actually continue to – was when I went to a bookstore. For as long as I can remember, and before, according to Mom, one thing happens when I get to a bookstore. I always have to poop. (We were done with the humble bragging part, in case you were confused.)
For the longest time, I felt alone in my affliction. Was it the excitement of being in the bookstore that caused it? Was it the anxiety of having to pick just one book out of all of these on the shelves? Was it lactose intolerance? (Probably).
But apparently it’s a legit thing that happens to lots of people. And even has a name.
Anyway. All of this is to say I like books. I like reading. My ideal desert island scenario is an endless stack of books, a hammock and Chris Pratt.
It’s also why one of the things on my Life List is “Start a book club.”
Do you know how hard it is to start a book club? (First world problems, I know, shut up). There’s the finding others as interested as you are, coordinating schedules, deciding on books, deciding on food… it’s not as easy as it seems!
My friends and I have mentioned the idea of starting a book club a few times but it never went anywhere. We would be talking about a book one of us read and then say “Oh we should start a book club” and forget about that thought by the next day. We’ve had unofficial tiny book clubs in the past where a few of us will read a book recommended by another one of us and kind of sort of talk about it in passing.
And book clubs in movies and TV always look so exciting. Like all these friends get together and have wine and snacks and talk about a book – THAT’S THE DREAM.
Around sometime in September, with the threat of winter ahead where nobody feels like doing anything, the book club idea got brought up again. But this time, it became more serious. My friends and I decided to actually make it a thing. Mainly for the food.
We got real official with it, too. We figured out a date that would probably work for all of us, decided we’d all bring food and a drink of some sort, and created a poll filled with suggestions of books we all wanted to read and everyone voted on that month’s winner. LEGIT.
And of course there were rules. Basically we’re like a fight club but with reading.
1. You can’t talk about the book with any book club member until we all meet and discuss.
2. Our meetings have to have food.
3. No new members unless we all approve of them.
4. You have to have finished the book by the time we meet up (we’ve gotten slightly lax on this one a couple times since because life.)
The first book we chose was my suggestion – Samantha Irby’s “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life,” because I’d heard about it from several blogs I follow and on Twitter and it sounded right up my alley as far as humor and whatnot.
Reviews of all the books we’ve done so far are at the end of this post.
At that first meeting, a couple of the girls were sick, but the rest of us met and ate entirely too much food (I still dream about the salad bar that Kristen brought). And then settled in to talk about the book. We started with “Did you like the book?” but by the end of it were talking about much deeper stuff, brought there by some of the things the author had written and other things that we’d felt based on what she wrote and how she wrote it.
You guys, my little book nerd heart was so happy…
I don’t know what it was specifically, or if it was a combination of a lot of things. I loved having this time with my friends. I loved that we’d all read the same book. I loved that it sparked discussions of all sorts. I loved that some of us had different opinions and some of us felt strongly one way or another about things. It made me feel somehow more adult – I can’t explain it.
Since that first meeting, we’ve read four more books. We’ve all had all kinds of thoughts and feelings about all of them and the discussions we have had have been as light-hearted as “How were you picturing this character?” or “Were you pronouncing her name this way or that way when you read it?” to “If this was you though, and your child/mother/friend, how would you have reacted?”
It’s been so awesome. And it’s actually pushed all of us to read much more than we had been before we started the Book Club. It’s like suddenly there aren’t enough books and there are too many books all at once.
And I think doing something for five months straight makes it pretty official, so I’m going to go ahead and say we are official. I mean, we even have a Facebook group and a group text, so…
I highly recommend doing something like this with your friends. Maybe it’s not books you talk about. Maybe its a TV show? Maybe you knit or something? Or scrapbook? (I don’t have the patience for those last two but really appreciate those who do, just FYI).
Whatever it is, it’s essential. I consider this a form of self-care. It’s something I look forward to every month and something that makes me happy.
And I’m reading books I may never have picked for myself, so I’m finding new genres I may like which just gives me that many more books to choose from at the bookstore. Which means I have to poop again.
October – We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Samantha Irby ⭐
She’s a good writer, don’t get me wrong, but I finished the book feeling bad for her. It wasn’t because of what had happened to her through her life, it was that she was really sad, or seemed to be. The whole book was so self-deprecating. I don’t mind that, in moderation, but when you seem to dislike yourself that much, how am I supposed to like you? I was disappointed because lots of bloggers and writers I follow on Twitter had raved about this book and I basically just tried to get through it.
November – The Girl Before, JP Delaney ⭐
This wasn’t a good book. It had an interesting premise, and yes I continued because Book Club but also kinda because I wanted to know what happened next, but at times it veered into Fifty Shades/Twilight territory and it wasn’t really written well so I don’t recommend. Also, thus far it’s the only book we’ve read written by a male author.
December – When We Were Worthy, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen ⭐⭐
This book was the first one we’d read I liked. It was a decent story, by a much better writer than the previous month. Small-town drama and a couple twisty things I liked, 8/10 would recommend for a beach read.
January – Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I really, really liked this book. I’d read some of Celeste Ng’s writing before, and saw this book on like, ALL the “Best of” lists from 2017 so had high hopes. She didn’t disappoint – it was good from start to finish, and though I had the flu the day the girls met, I was FaceTime-d in for some of the discussion, which was definitely the best one we’ve had since we started the club. There’s some serious, complicated stuff in that book and it was awesome to hear everyone’s views on it.
February – Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat, Patricia Williams
I haven’t started it yet because it’s fairly short and I want it fresh on my mind when we meet for Book Club, which isn’t until the end of the month. Some of the girls have finished it already though and like it a lot, so I’m excited.
Happy reading, friends!
Note: Gifs are from Original Broadway Cast version in New York.
1. Why are my hands shaking? I’m not performing.
2. I’m SO FUCKING EXCITED.
3. What if one of them has a sub-par voice? I’ve been spoiled by the original Broadway cast recording.
4. Wonder if they’ll have a female Burr or Hamilton ever… I could totally do either part.
5. Don’t sing along, don’t sing along…
6. What’s your name, man??! ALEXANDER HAMILTON.
7. OMG OMG OMG OMG.
8. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fucking genius.
9. Low-key have a crush on this Hamilton.
10. They need more people in the company I think. Katie and I should go volunteer at intermission.
11. Oh, yeah, I couldn’t dance like that though, so if that’s a requirement…
12. This King George is pretty great.
13. George Washington!!!!!! I think I wanna read a biography about him now.
14. True Life: Hamilton made me more interested in American history.
15. The conundrum of me listening to/daydreaming about being in this show. Do I play Eliza or Angelica?
16. Got-dang, this song (Satisfied) gets you right in the feels.
17. She’s giving up her happiness for her sister’s. She loves her sister. I’m crying. I have sisters. I LOVE MY SISTERS.
18. This is so much better than just listening to the cast recordinggggggg.
19. Wait For It. I think I feel bad for Aaron Burr.
20. This song might make me cry too. I don’t know. I’m just really emotional about being here, y’all.
21. When I do concerts in my car I KILL IT with this song.
22. So this part in the recording always gives me goosebumps, when Hamilton and Washington are arguing……. oh, yep, THERE THEY ARE.
23. My God, I am a nerd with this shit. Sorry not sorry.
24. Stop singing along.
25. Must also stop smiling… my cheeks hurt and my face will be stuck this way at the rate we’re going.
26. BUT IT’S SO GOOD.
27. Is it too late to start a second career in theatre?
28. How do I get into the cast of this show?
29. Maybe I could just do their social media…who do I talk to about that?
30. Dude in front of us just got up for the third time for a bathroom break – HOW CAN YOU LEAVE THIS?!
31. Oh shit, Nonstop. My other great car concert performance piece.
32. Intermission? Already? How is it already halfway over? It seems so much longer when you listen to the cast album multiple times in a row!
33. OK, I changed my mind, if they had women taking these parts I’d be Jefferson. He’s having the most fun.
34. He also gets the most reactions from the audience…interesting.
35. OK we’re to the Cabinet Battle. I wish I could freestyle rap. Just once I want to go up to someone, rap some insane verse I just came up with off the top of my head and drop the mic and leave.
36. Who am I kidding – I just want to be able to drop the mic one time. On, like, anything.
37. Did. he. just. do. the. Carlton. dance. YES.
38. OK we should be real mad at AHam in this song but it’s a good song. And I’m low-key jealous of the girl playing Maria Reynolds. Katie is too.
39. Room Where It Happens – this is what I’ve been waiting for. Don’t disappoint me, Chicago Burr.
40. This song is about FOMO. I know that feeling. I feel like I kinda have it for being a part of this show somehow. Does that make sense…
41. This is the best song in the show. Don’t @ me.
42. This is living up to all of my expectations and more omggggggggggg.
43. CLICK BOOM. (It took everything I have not to shout that just now…)
45. May or may not now be obsessed with George Washington. He’s so fucking good. One Last Time gets you right in the feels. I feel like we should all be saluting him right now.
46. Shit’s about to get real bad. Where’s the handful of Kleenex I brought?
47. Secondhand embarrassment for Hamilton telling everyone in the country about his affair and thinking that was doing the right thing. Yeesh.
48. Burn that shit, Eliza. But also – um, hi, stage people? How do we make sure that doesn’t all catch on fire because it’s looking precarious AF.
49. Yep, crying. And also still slightly worried about the fire in the bucket on stage.
50. Stay Alive Reprise/It’s Quiet Uptown – I am realizing I did not bring enough Kleenex. #feels
51. Can we get back to politics? PLEASE. I feel you, Jefferson.
52. I’m obsessed with this Jefferson. Christopher Lee, you the real MVP of this show.
53. Your Obedient Servant is highly underrated. And, I wish my name was cool enough to be abbreviated like A.Ham. It’s L.Hag. HAG. NO.
54. NO, don’t go, Alex! Stay home!
55. So this kills me. Nobody gets a happy ending in this thing, really. Hamilton? Dead. Burr? Only remembered for killing Hamilton. Sucks all around. I think about this musical far more than I probably should. Nerd. #nolife
56. Chills. Chills. Chills.
57. Oh damn, ok. I didn’t realize that’s how it would end. You got me, Eliza.
58. HOW IS IT ALREADY OVER?!?!!
59. Um, yeah. When can I see this again?
I’ve never been one to make a big deal out of New Year’s Eve. Sure, my friends and I have had some awesome parties for it and there was that one time on Bardstown Road, but really, it’s just another day/night for me.
I do try to think of a resolution of some sort – usually involving some sort of cleanse after the massive amounts of eating done during the holidays. And by resolution I mean like 25 things I’m going to start doing, stop doing, or do more of in the year ahead. Because #overachiever.
Then we get to like, day 4 of the new year and I haven’t done any of the things I said I would (or I have even though I swore I’d stop) and the anxiety kicks in. Welp, the year’s a waste. You fucked up. Set the bar too high, try again next year. Because I am nothing if not really easy on myself…
It is fun to go around the room before the countdown begins on Dec. 31 and hear what everyone’s best moment of the year was or what they want to do looking ahead. But for someone like me, who is a ball of anxiety at all times, it can also be a little bit stressful.
Now before you remind me that NOBODY is making it stressful for me but me let ME remind YOU that DUH. That’s what anxiety is. Hi. Welcome.
And it’s not like, the soul-crushing anxiety I get from other things like choosing a good Halloween costume or baking something (more on that here on the blog soon). But it’s me wanting myself to do better. To be better.
Don’t get me wrong, life is steadily improving for me year after year.
Aside: As more and more people I know are joining me in the over-30 club, I am telling them (and meaning it) that my 30s have been so much better and more fun and awesome than my 20s ever were. So, you’ve got that to look forward to, youngins.
But even though life is getting better – I’m getting better – there are still things that gnaw at me. Things I want to start doing: learning how to cook better, taking compliments without deflecting them somehow, giving money to the offering at church. And things I want to stop: being so hard on myself for basically everything, taking other peoples’ bullshit personally, wasting nice days indoors doing nothing.
And I don’t know if it’s the anxiety or the mild OCD or what, but for some reason I seem to get in my head that these things can ONLY be started/stopped at the beginning of a year or else they don’t matter as much. Because I AM THE WEIRDEST.
Here’s the thing though. Couldn’t tell you what my 2017 resolution was if I tried. Maybe I wrote it down somewhere? But I have no idea what my plan was for last year and if I accomplished it. Let’s say I did, just for fun.
I tweeted Dec. 31 that one of my goals for the year was to write every day. I wrote Jan. 1 and 2 but on the 3rd I didn’t make time for it. FAILURE. REDO. START THE YEAR OVER, RESOLUTION IS BROKEN. And that’s when I realized I was going about all of it the wrong way.
All kidding aside – my goal/resolution/what have you, for the past few years has been to take care of me. To get me better – mentally, physically, everything. And that’s been an uphill battle sometimes but I 100 percent believe that the person you see before you today is far and away more healthy than she was a few years ago. I’ll have a story for you soon re: dating that will show you just how much, actually.
I talked resolutions with my cousins and sisters at our family Christmas and everyone mentioned what they were going to try and do or not do this year. One of my cousins said her plan for the year was the same as it was every year – to kick ass.
That’s all. To KICK ASS. Not: “Make sure to eat vegetables with every meal.” or “Go to the gym 4 times a week.” or “Volunteer 40 hours a month.” It was simple. Kick. Ass.
That’s all any of us should strive for, right?
At church recently, the message was about purpose. And getting up every day and saying “Alright, what are we going to do today to live out our purpose?” And he wasn’t talking about your job, or your volunteering or anything like that. He was talking about “What are you going to do today to live out being YOU.” Because that’s our purpose.
And to do that, you have to first be OK with yourself. Be nice to yourself, accept that maybe you can’t do it all. But you can do some. And you can continuously try and get better every day. And that’s a resolution that doesn’t have to start or stop when the date changes.
So, I’m stealing my cousin’s resolution. And continuing down the path I started a couple years back. I’m going to kick ass this year. I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
Note from Laura: This post was not written by me. It was written by a very close friend of mine, who is going through a hard time. In the interest of supporting her and supporting lessening the stigma surrounding talking about mental health, I’m sharing it here, with her permission, and actually at her request. She is a fellow writer and understands the power you feel in getting things like this off your chest and out into the world, whether spoken or written or drawn or whatever. I absolutely hate what she’s gone through, but I also completely get it. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating. But you don’t have to go through it alone. My friend’s hope – and mine – in sharing this with you is that if you feel this way, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are not beyond repair. You can come out the other side stronger and you have many who are willing to help you do so, usually many, many more than you know. Here’s my friend’s story.
There’s a quote that I’ve always gravitated toward, attributed to the ancient philosopher Plato – “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This summer, this quote has been circling around in my head, and I think about it often as I interact with people daily. Because this summer, I have been living this quote.
Three months ago, I experienced a trauma that rocked me to my core and has left me scrambling to pick up the pieces ever since. There were a few minor events in the months leading up to the big one, like small tremors before the big earthquake, that weakened my body’s defenses and made me more susceptible to a chemical depressive episode, and when the big event happened, it was too much for me to handle alone. For the past three months, I have been treated for depression, anxiety, and acute stress as a result of this trauma.
Because of the nature of what happened, I was only able to share what happened with only my immediate family, a few close friends, and my work family. Most people in my daily life had no idea that I was struggling to function at the most basic level. I was fighting a hard battle that they knew nothing about. It’s estimated that one in four Americans will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in their life. Indeed, they fight a hard battle that we often know nothing about.
Depression takes many forms – sometimes contradicting forms – in different people. For me, it slowed my thinking and physical actions, making the most basic chores, like going to the grocery, clearing the dishes, or making a to-do list, overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting. I lost a lot of weight. Sometimes people – who didn’t know about the battle I was fighting – would comment on my weight loss, making me angry and more frustrated. Although I didn’t really sleep for almost two months, it took everything I had just to get out of bed in the morning. And oftentimes when I did, I would shower and be so overwhelmed that I would just get right back in bed. I would wake up in the middle of the night with this feeling of dread that something horrible was going to happen and be unable to recover from it enough to fall back asleep. The smallest thing during my daily life might trigger a paralyzing flashback.
I found it difficult to be around people who didn’t know what had happened. I think this was because I was worried about seeming distant or quiet around them without them knowing why I was that way. I missed my college roommate’s son’s first birthday party. I didn’t feel up to attending my cousin’s wedding shower. Many times, I had to cancel plans with friends at the last minute because I was having a bad day and couldn’t get off the couch. On my birthday weekend my parents came in town to visit me, but I couldn’t even go to visit with them because I literally couldn’t pull myself off the floor.
I described my depression as feeling like I was in a black hole. It was pitch black, scary, and full of despair. I could see a light far in the distance, but it felt like that light was too far away for me to ever reach. At my absolute lowest, which thankfully only lasted a few days, I felt like I didn’t want to exist anymore. The pain was too great. I went to bed hoping that I wouldn’t wake up. I would never do anything that would put myself in harm’s way, but a part of me hoped that something happened to me that was beyond my control. I had all these people around me to lift me up and support me, but I felt completely alone.
For a long time, I thought that I must have done something to deserve what happened to me. It isn’t that I thought that I was immune to experiencing pain in my life. I volunteer with refugees, and I am reminded often that bad things happen to good people. I spend time with a family from the Congo who spent 20 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania and a Syrian family whose patriarch was blinded in an explosion in Aleppo. I look to these families as inspiration of the resilience of which the human spirit is capable.
I was lucky. I work in healthcare, so I have an above-average understanding of mental health issues. I was able to quickly connect to the resources that I needed to ensure my most speedy recovery. I have an amazing therapist who I see from time to time when I need help effectively dealing with stress in my personal and professional life, and I worked with her and my primary care physician to start an antidepressant that has helped boost my recovery and speed up the process. Weekly, I attend talk therapy sessions, and I always leave them feeling better and more empowered than when I walk in.
I also made sure that the people closest to me knew what I was going through so that they could help me in the ways that I needed, as stubborn and fiercely independent as I am. Relying on others in a time of need is a sign of strength, not weakness. It is easier to withdraw, shut people out, and hide behind depression. It’s easier to try to get better on your own and not be vulnerable. It takes you out of your comfort zone to let people in, to ask for help where you need some. But it speeds up the process tremendously and makes you stronger. I don’t remember a lot from the first month or so. Friends and family would show up with food, giving me one less thing to stress about. Friends were OK with me showing up randomly at their doorsteps crying. They would take me in, give me my favorite snacks, and hold me as I sobbed so hard that I couldn’t speak. My work family helped me lead my meetings and encouraged me to take time off as needed. I owe all of them more than I could ever repay. These few sentences don’t begin to comprehensively list the ways that my loved ones were there for me.
Again, I’m lucky. I knew exactly what I needed to do – and who I needed to turn to – when I needed help. Most people with depression don’t seek help for years, either because of the stigma attached to mental health issues or because of a lack of knowledge about how to get started. That’s why I am sharing my story, to hopefully create purpose for my pain. If someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, or stress, there is no reason to treat it any differently than if it was kidney infection, a broken arm, or diabetes. Mental health is physical health, and it is time we start treating it as such. By not sharing some of my health issues, I only contribute to that stigma.
I wish I could write this solely in the past tense. I wish that I could say that I am past the depression and everything is perfect now. I’m past the worst of it, and things continue to get better. But it’s not a linear process. Which is particularly frustrating to someone as goal-oriented as I am. It’s frustrating to feel like I’ve reached a milestone, only to slip backwards a moment later. Some days I take a step forward. Some days I take two steps back. Still others I leap 10 steps forward. Ultimately, it takes time, diligence, and trust in the process.
I still struggle to trust happiness. I now realize how quickly it can be taken away, without warning. There are moments when I’m unguardedly happy, and then I realize that I’m happy and instinctively pull back, so that I’m never again blindsided when it is taken away. And then I have to force myself to let myself experience the happiness. But I will get there. I am resilient. This battle will be won.
Y’all. Seven-year-old me was pretty great to have in a crisis.
Church. As in the building. Not religion, which is completely different.
However, before I go ANY further, a disclaimer: Everything in this post – like in any others I write – is completely my own opinion and experience. I don’t claim to know everything, especially on this topic, but I know what I feel in my heart, and that’s really what this is about. All of this came about not because of one person or one thing, but a multitude of stuff at once. That said, I don’t want anyone to feel anything is their fault or problem, I just wanna express my feelings on something that’s been an important part of my life, and, for the last couple years, a really challenging part of my life.
I have written and re-written this post in my head about 6 times in the past few months. It never felt right, and I still had all of this guilt wrapped up in it and I couldn’t write it from a place that wasn’t just hurt. Now? I’m a little tiny bit removed from it and need to write. So. Here goes. (Also it’s a long one, so get a cup of coffee or something.)
For 20 years, I went to the same church. We joined when I was about 13, after a few years drifting from where we were previously. I was in the youth group the entire time I was of age to be. I got confirmed in that church and it helped to build on the spiritual foundation that got me where I am today.
I have so many great memories from that church. I met people without whom my life would not be the same. I don’t have many memories of elementary school in terms of church, so I consider SPC to be where I grew up.
It was through this church I got to learn how to serve others. I learned how to practice what was preached. Literally. I was able to expand my view of the world, and more importantly, my heart, into Jamaica and make some lasting relationships I’m so grateful for. This church family got my family through some very hard times, in losing three of my grandparents. I never doubted for once that they were all there for me and for my family.
When I was in college, I didn’t go to church when I was at school. Any breaks or trips home, however, I was at my home church. It felt weird going anywhere else, so I didn’t. When I graduated and moved out of town, I didn’t go to any church in the city where I was living either (well, I did once, and it was nuts so that ended that). It was the same thing. It felt weird going anywhere else. I didn’t belong there. I belonged at SPC.
In 2008, when I moved back to Louisville for a job, my youngest sister was in youth group. I noticed that several of the younger adults who had been youth leaders when I was in had moved on…they had kids of their own now, and couldn’t devote the time they once had. A couple of my friends who had gone through youth group with me were also moving home at that time, having just graduated from college. I floated the idea that maybe we could be youth leaders, and try and give the youth the experiences we’d had at their age, and the friendships we’d had with our leaders.
After a few years, the reins were handed to us when the youth pastor left the church. And the rest – as they say – is history.
You may have seen on this very blog posts from my time as a youth leader. Those relationships with Jamaica I mentioned? I got to go back three more times after that initial trip, all three as a youth leader. And our Jamaican friends came here. And I watched as our respective groups solidified friendships that stretched across the ocean that separates us.
Some of the most redeeming moments in my life – and especially in my faith – came from my time as a youth leader. I am beyond grateful for my time with those youth I was able to lead, and with whom I am lucky enough to still have relationships with. They are some of the very best humans I know.
I did the youth leader thing for 8 years. Eight. Eiiiiiiiiiight. 5+ of which where I was basically in charge of the whole shebang. I hosted fundraisers. I planned lock-ins. I lead games and helped with youth-led worship and variety show-type skits. (One of those friends that started the youth leader thing was with me through it all. And she got her husband involved, and we gradually got other young adult couples in our church to help out as well. I was not a lone wolf here. Just clarifying.)
I knew everyone’s allergies. Food preferences. How to de-escalate the situation if they got mad or upset at something or someone. Who would speak up and who was terrified of any kind of attention. I knew everyone’s moods and tempers and drama like they were my own. When a new young person came to church, I was usually dispatched to go talk to them and tell them to come to youth group, because somehow I was doing something right. I did not take a vacation that wasn’t youth-related for three or so years.
All of this was awesome. Fine. Good. It was what I somehow felt called to do. I hadn’t gone to seminary, I hadn’t studied religion, I was just good with teenagers. They liked me (or at least one of the youth leaders) and kept coming back…to the point where that group grew to the biggest numbers I’d seen since my own days in youth group.
What it also was, was exhausting. Keep in mind that I was doing this in my free time – I had a full-time job (and in more recent years, one I was MISERABLE at), and somewhat of a social life. My vacation time and some weekends were going to youth retreats, ski trips, mission trips, etc.
For a lot of years, this was fine. Until it wasn’t. It became a full-time job. And with having a full-time job already, and a bit of a life, it was a lot. And I unfortunately stopped getting as much out of the experience as I had before.
I was losing God in it all. I was doing all these things for Church. At least, that’s what it felt like. The youth were all still awesome. People were constantly telling me how awesome they were and how awesome I was doing with them, but something had changed.
A little over a year ago, I realized what was happening. It wasn’t about God for me anymore. It was about Church. I was doing a lot for a lot of other people – which is fine, to me that’s what Christianity is about – but it also had stopped making me as happy as it once had. I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons anymore. I was doing it because I had been for so long, and if I didn’t, who would? I was doing it because I wanted to see these kids through graduation and make sure they had a good experience and relationship with the church and their spirituality. But I sat in church on Sundays and didn’t pay attention.
Physically, I was there a lot. Mentally? Rarely. Couldn’t tell you a message that stuck out to me during that time, because I wasn’t paying attention to them. I couldn’t. My mind was racing – and sometimes stressing – about things with the youth: Which ones are here today? Are they staying for PYC? Did the person assigned to make lunch remember to make lunch? Do they remember we have vegetarians and one with a tree nut allergy? What if they order pizza again for like the third week in a row? Will the youth pay attention to the lesson I prepared? Or like the games we came up with? Oh, there’s a new kid in the back – should I go invite them to youth? Should I have a youth invite them to youth? Which one? Has everybody paid for the trip next month? Who still needs to get a passport so they can go to Jamaica?
It was nonstop. And it was stress. Constantly. So I decided to take a break. I stepped back considerably on my responsibilities with the youth and tried to get back to where I used to be – get back to that feeling I’d had before, that I was where I belonged and doing the right things and working on my relationship with God.
I gave it time, and gave myself time. I attended on Sundays as just another worshipper, putting youth-related anxieties out of my mind and trying to focus on the Word and its meaning in my life.
And… um. I couldn’t do it. As time went on, it became more apparent. Whether it was because of the previous 8 years or in spite of it, I no longer felt I had a place in that church. Not Church. Or Religion. But that specific church. 20 years there, and I felt like it wasn’t mine anymore. I felt like there wasn’t anything there for me. And that thought? That was pretty devastating.
Where was I supposed to go? Am I just done with church now? Do I just continue to live in my beliefs and leave that community of faith? That community in general?
The good news is – we had something to talk about in therapy again, as I had started a new job that I loved so no longer had to talk about my old boss and why I thought she hated me and all things good in this world.
My therapist, again, who I love a lot (hi i know you’re reading!), said something during this time that stuck with me. She talked about how I was kind of going through a breakup. I was breaking up with Church. And getting back together with God. I’d done so much work in the past couple of years to get myself mentally and emotionally to a really really good place. It was OK to want to take care of myself in this situation too.
So I did. Started to, anyway. I started 2017 off attending a different church. I went fairly regularly, but gave myself permission to skip when I felt like it. And I was just Laura. Regular ol’ worshipper there in the pew, to listen to the message and take it out into the world and apply it to my life and be reminded why I believe and why my faith is what it is.
I started looking forward to Sundays again, and to being in church and singing and listening to the prayers and the preaching. I came home re-energized and unstressed, and I had nothing to worry about church-related except showing up on time for the service again the next Sunday.
This new church I was attending never pressured me to join, which was good, because the thought of that scared me. Because if I joined over here, it meant that it was really over with the other one. And that’s kinda heavy. There was guilt and more stress and “who am i letting down” by being here instead of there.
Until 2 weeks ago.
The message was part of a series about the book of John. The pastor was saying how a lot of times there’s a word in John that people have translated to mean “believe.” But, in fact, an actual translation of that word really was “trust.” And that changes everything.
He talked about trusting in what’s ahead. Trusting in God and not worrying about it all because he’s there, and he will be no matter what. You just have to let go of what’s holding you down or back and just trust that it’s going to be OK.
And then he finished the sermon and we sang a song and all of the sudden I was crying.
I hadn’t cried this whole time about the church thing. I’d been stressed and anxious, but I hadn’t cried. And now I was. Because I was finally letting go, and trusting all would be OK. I trusted that everyone around me – and most importantly God – wanted me to be where I felt I belonged, where my faith felt strongest. It would be fine. I would be fine.
I joined that afternoon, and have sense felt a peace about my decisions that lead me there. I still mourn the 20 years I had at SPC. And am still so grateful for all it gave me. It was where I belonged, and needed to be, for a very, very long time.
And now that I’ve gotten this all written out I feel even better – because my heart comes out best through my fingers. In writing.
Whether you go to a church building or have your “church” experience in your own way, or whether you believe in God or not, I hope that you have a chance to find the peace that comes with knowing you’re where you need to be.
Just when you thought the well might be running dry… I found my second grade journals. I had the same teacher in second and third grade so we had the same kind of daily writing prompt thing both years and I’m real glad I kept them all because there are some real gems in there, so this feature on the ol’ blog can go on for quite a while longer.
The story below omits several key details that don’t make me look like the bad guy I actually was in this story. (Meaning the part where we wouldn’t help her into the truck so she stood on the bike in gravel and it slipped out from under her and she had to get stitches).
*BONUS – I wrote about it again in third grade. Still only half the story. Still not taking responsibility for her hospital trip.. still obviously working through some shit.
I’ve tossed around a couple book ideas off and on in the past couple of years, and I really want to write one of essays just about my life because I’m funny and interesting shit occasionally happens to me. The other one is most definitely going to be about dating. I mentioned it in a post last week.
In the last year or so, especially, a couple of my friends and I have realized we have plenty of material for that one with our varied experiences.
That said, here is a sampling of our chapter titles for the book we will get around to co-authoring… I’ll let you know when the preorder is available on Amazon.
– Why long distance relationships are often a bad idea OR the time I got that tattoo
– So you’ve been cheated on OR I’m going to burn your house down, (redacted)
– Don’t date your coworkers or if you do, make sure they’re not idiots and on prescription drugs
– Things you do not ask/say on a first date (LIST)
– Does that approach actually work for you?
– No I do not like dragons
– Those we’ve and lost (and by loved we mean just used for sex)
– When you just dont give AF (making out with people you haven’t spoken to at the bar)
– An open letter to all the guys I’ve made out with who’ve since come out as gay
– Why I should have destroyed the bike and other regrets from an almost marriage
– Why not to study abroad with your ex
– I’m sorry about the time I was talking shit and didn’t realize I had called you and you heard everything.
– M&Ms with your face on them and other signs you should call the police
– No I will not fuck you with a strap-on on and other dealbreakers
– 50 Shades of Grey’s popularity does not mean we are all into BDSM and other myths
– “Are you my mother?” “No, I’m Fucking Not”