August 8, 2014

How Did I Get Here?

I should be currently sitting in the Milwaukee Airport waiting for a 6 hour and 20 minute non-direct (LAX sucks) flight to Oakland, landing me there at 7:30 pm. That includes a 2-hour time change and probably a lot of snacks. Since when did traveling home via airplane take over an hour? But, as I said, I should be there.

Life is so unpredictable, and even at 21 years old I'm still discovering adult-like secrets. (Suddenly the phrase, "you'll understand when you're my age," make sense. Thanks mom and dad!) I just finished up my first semester of nursing school at Marquette! Only 4 to go. However, on Monday I received one of the worst phone calls ever: my college roommate was on the other end sobbing that her brother had died that morning.

My heart erupted. Right there in the middle of Marquette's beautiful campus I wanted to sit down, sob, cry, scream, and mourn for her desperately sudden loss. But, that's not what mature adults do (or so I've been told). Being in the Midwest makes the country seem so much smaller--I'm suddenly within distance to everything, so I changed my flight and am currently on my way to be with her and her family for the weekend. Lord, hold me and speak Your healing words through me so that I may be a comfort and a source of healing for them through this tragedy.

The next day, I found this beautiful quote from Beth Moore and it changed my life: "The art of friendship is forged in pain. It's allowing your own heart to break with theirs instead of fixing what you can't." Amen. Bring the healing.

For the last couple weeks I have been experiencing so many new things that the Midwest has to offer, and it has been one giant, 2-month long adventure! Since then I have been meticulously sorting through all sorts of scrambled thoughts in my mind and trying to come up with a nice, fresh updated blog post that everyone has been waiting for! This way I can give everyone a big update without leaving anyone out. I've always been thoughtful like that. ;)

I hate to disappoint, but this is going to flow about as well as all the thoughts in my mind. If you've ever had an extensive conversation with me, you may know exactly how this post is going to look. (I'll never know if you close the browser now, so there's no need to feel guilty if you "have to run".)

Anyway, about a year ago my calendar was covered in so many different colored scribbles that sometimes I woke up 5 minutes before I had to be at work; sleep was obsolete so I liked to take advantage when I could. One of my biggest concerns was if the carseats were installed properly in the back of my car for the twins I nannied for. One of my biggest fears was Senior Year of college; how was it just weeks away already? One of my biggest joys was spending quality time with the best friends anyone could ever wish, pray, hope, or dream for (you know who you are). One of my most consistent prayers was, "Keep me sane, Lord. Reveal Your plan to me clearly. Transform my heart and mind. Transform the hearts and minds of everyone around me. Unite us."

That prayer is the only thing that remains the same a year later. I have since:

  1. Turned 21 (it wasn't as crazy as it sounds),
  2. Welcomed the most adorable puppy into my extended family (okay, it's my bff's, but still),
  3. Donated 13" of hair (yay, less tangles!), 
  4. Said goodbye to Candlestick Park (home of my beloved 49ers from 1971 to 2013!),
  5. Welcomed a new year with my dearest friends (2014 sounds so much nicer than 2013, right?),
  6. Watched the Sharks almost sweep the Kings (it was 3-0) in the NHL playoffs, only to lose the series 3-4 (I'm still recovering, but talking about it now is helping),
  7. Completed 4 years of collegiate rowing (I thought it would never end),
  8. Graduated from college (cue instant anxiety),
  9. Moved out of the best apartment in San Diego (minus the no AC thing),
  10. Gotten a new car (yay, gas mileage!),
  11. Moved across the country (or close enough),
  12. Started nursing school (cue gray hair),
  13. Bought my first down jacket (I hear it gets cold here),
  14. Met and befriended an exceptional group of people in Milwaukee (their opinions may be different),
  15. Tried so many different beers (Brew City?),
  16. Stayed up later than I ever did in undergrad (no morning practice!),
  17. Started working out when I want to (and definitely not for 20 hours each week, NCAA),
  18. Made Milwaukee (and Wisconsin!) my new home.

So, fast forward a year from then (I went on a mini tangent, oops). One of my biggest concerns now is how fast time goes without me even noticing (I say it every single day--ask my roommates). One of my biggest fears now is flunking out of nursing school. One of my biggest joys now is experiencing an entirely new city/state/region of the country, a new school, new relationships, new surroundings, and new outlook on life. It is so beautiful. But wait, I live in Milwaukee? How did that even happen and when did I grow up? Another year and some months from now, I could be moving again and it could literally be to anywhere. I feel like I should be freaking out, but I'm strangely at peace and it's so comforting.

Earlier this week on my way to a coffee shop, I was listening to a song by Switchfoot (Awakening, look it up immediately, with the lyrics probably) and felt a serious connection with God in the moment (some of my best soul searching is done in the car, seriously). I said to myself, "Lord, I want to hit rock bottom so I can rely on You more faithfully." Not even two split seconds later, I saw a 3-legged dog hobbling gingerly down the sidewalk and I lost it. How unfair. Why does a dog have 3 legs? Why doesn't he get a prosthetic leg like humans can? Yet, this pup looked happier than a kid with candy...he certainly didn't know any different! How could I even complain running to the car in the rain anymore; I have the complete capability to walk and run normally.

Then, two days later I received that phone call from a dear friend and immediately thought, "Shoot, I guess the Lord is really listening to me. Rock bottom."

In the beginning of the summer I was running down by the lake (one of my favorite things to do in Milwaukee) when I saw an itty bitty wheelchair up ahead. As I approached the little girl and her family, I noticed how she was very fragile looking, hairless and pale. I tried super hard not to change my demeanor (besides a gentle smile, I'm sure), but my heart broke and I melted into the sidewalk. I wanted to pick her up out of the wheelchair and carry her in my arms the rest of my run. I wanted to hold her in my arms and lay in the perfectly green grass all afternoon listening to her talk about her favorite movies and games, what she was learning in school, what her favorite pet was like, why she and her little brother were arguing, why it was so easy for her to flash her tooth-gapped smile in the midst of obvious suffering.

A few weeks ago while in class, I asked my professor if nurses get emotional while at work. I don't remember exactly what we were discussing in class at that moment, but I remember getting choked up and a little teary. She said it is very common for nurses to get connected to their patients and then struggle to let go when they pass away. However, they must hold it together in front of the patients, understandably so. For some reason I'm guessing it wouldn't be very professional for me as a nurse to crawl into bed with a child after hooking up a chemo treatment, heart! 

How does any of this relate? It relates in every way. One of the most beautiful things I have learned about myself in the last year is how carefully the good Lord designed my heart. It's one complicated organ, but I have loved diving into and virtually dissecting my own heart, discovering all there is to it. In an instant I can flash from utter joy to utter despair. I can be jumping for joy then sobbing for pain. I can squeal with delight then scream in anger. I can be smiling for comfort then collapsing with empathy. My heart can't ever catch a break; I'm one talented person.

This past year has been a continuous roller coaster, complete with the drastic loops and jaw-dropping free-falls. There would be eventful days that I'd make it through by the skin of my teeth and thank the Lord that I was able to rest peacefully, then wake up to the same, sometimes harsh, reality. Applying to schools last fall was a whirlwind and not the most impressive times of my life. Rowing became a beautiful disaster and physically traumatizing (but my teammates...boy, my teammates. Love doesn't even begin to explain the feelings I have for those people). Moving from San Diego saw more tears than a funeral, as did my first day in Milwaukee (sorry, mom!). I'm not sure what's so magic about the age of 21, but ever since turning that age last year, I have been on the greatest, most thrilling ride ever. Is this real life? I hear people talk about that all the time, but I think I'm finally catching on. It has been painful, thrilling, new, fun, dreadful, redeeming, peaceful, and freaking full of glory. It's still going, and strangely enough, I hope it never ends.

My day-to-day experiences are different now. I wake up excited to see what's in store. I don't fear the unknown anymore and my heart doesn't race when I hear the word "future". I am thrilled to see where God takes me each day and to meet the people He puts in my path. I allow myself to step back and take everything in, rather than jumping ahead of myself. I am thankful for each day's challenges and each day's successes, whether they are often or far between, full of joy or full of pain.

So, what was that constant (way, way back in the beginning) again? PRAYER. Keep me sane, Lord. Reveal Your plan to me clearly. Transform my heart and mind. Transform the hearts and minds of everyone around me. Unite us.

I am incredibly thankful, blessed, overwhelmed, redeemed, and passionate for this SWEET life I've been given. God has been so good to me, but I haven't always been the best disciple. I wish I were, but here's another harsh reality that I've learned (and should have memorized) this year:

You are not perfect without Christ. You will make mistakes. You are perfectly and wonderfully made. You are beautiful even if you don't feel so. You are so dearly loved, deeply cared for, and sincerely desired by the most perfect, holy, trusting, and steadfast Lord. Stay positive, stay passionate, stay rooted in faith.

Keep going.

The three-legged dog, the sick girl in the wheelchair, my friend's dead brother, all of us...time does not stop. We must pick up our crosses everyday and carry them. We must carry them faithfully and whole-heartedly. It doesn't matter if we want to or not. What that is easy is worth it? Our days are numbered and we can't waste them. I don't want a day to pass that I'm not joyful or finding something to be joyful about. Life is not meant to be easy, but we can make it easier by admitting that we are imperfect beings and staying in constant connection with God. The only thing I'm perfect at is sinning.

Keep going.

The Lord is waiting for us and will always be ready with His arms open wide. We are all at different places in life and always will be. Everyone is experiencing their own pains, own triumphs, own fears. Let's unite and be one in Christ. Let's be fearful, fearless disciples. Lift your friends up, lift your enemies up--it's amazing what a small piece of encouragement can do in the middle of a seemingly endless day.

Keep going.

This, everything I said above and commit to daily, is certainly not (never, ever) easy for me, but I hope that by sharing my own experiences and my own "wisdom" (still not old enough for that), I can stimulate all two of my blog readers to be better. We are all here together striving for the same goals; why don't we live that way?

In the past year, I also have started a mini weekly text group that I write to every Wednesday (or Thursday if I forget). I love connecting with those special people each week. I choose a passage from the Bible (generally it has to do with whatever is going on in my life) and write a small blurb of my own encouragement (or what I think is encouraging :)). If you're interested in getting on the list of recipients, feel free to let me know! There is no limit for text message recipients--remember when there was? I think my first texting plan was 250 messages per month. HA!

I am praying for anyone who makes it this far in the post. WOW. Bless you. :) But seriously, I hope this post has found you enlightened and encouraged to go spread some love and light in whatever situation you're in. I pray that you delight in your struggles and give God thanks for the blessings. I pray that each day awakens you with a warm peace and gentle smile. I pray that you love others as Jesus loves us. I pray that your hearts be opened and your minds be transformed as we move forward and that you keep going.

Keep me sane, Lord. Reveal Your plan to me clearly. Transform my heart and mind. Transform the hearts and minds of everyone around me. Unite us. Amen.

Sending all my love and the biggest hugs,
Alex :)

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