Hello from the other side

11. If I could talk to my teenage self, I would say…

Dear Alyssa,

Hi, it’s me. Or you. I have some things I want to tell you, and while I know you think you have it put together (you do sometimes), just listen for a minute. I’m going to tell you some of the things I wish I had known back then. Some things I won’t tell you just because there’s important stuff you’ll need to go through to really learn, but I’ll do my best.

Take more time to be a kid. I know there’s a lot going on between church, school, coaching, and you starting to work when you’re 16, but try to relax. Take more days to go to the creek, have water gun fights, kayak, drive to the beach… I think you get it. You’ll look back and wish you had done more of that.

While we’re on the subject of the myriad of activities you find yourself involved in, take a chill pill. Yes, doing your best is important, but stop feeling guilty when you don’t get an A on your next paper or when you have to say no to something that, if we’re being honest, you really don’t want to do anyway. It’s okay to not be perfect.

Let’s talk about Aaron because this is a big one. Don’t let him get to you so much. I know he can be a jerk, but there’s a lot going on there you don’t see yet. Find a better way to deal with him even that means walking away at times. Trust me, it ends up being one of the better ways to handle his mood swings. Do your best to show him more grace than he deserves. Oh- and let him hang out with you and your friends sometimes.

I know you love your parents, especially dad. But I’m gonna ask you to show a little more respect to mom. I know you don’t understand her and she can be confusing and doesn’t really talk the way you and dad do, but she’s still your mom. Suck it up and go shopping with her more just because it’s what she likes and take the time to look at things from her perspective more often.

Don’t be afraid to keep in touch with your friends you make right now. I know you’re used to leaving, but you’re gonna be here for a while, so you need to keep those connections. Some of the girls will be mean and nasty, but that’s just their thing. I promise you’ll be able to laugh about it one day. There’s something really special about those friends you’ve had for 10+ years. You’ll want to hold onto them.

Finally, don’t let people make you bitter. There are going to be things coming that hurt you pretty bad, but the most important thing is they don’t change who you are at your core. Love the people anyway. See that they have more going on and aren’t perfect and that’s okay. It’s okay to be hurt and cry and get angry about this stuff- just make sure you actively forgive when it’s over.

Good luck, kid,

24 yr old me

 

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Life’s ups and downs

10. Discuss something you planned that ended up not being what you expected

Wowza. Do you have 72 hours? Because that’s how long I’m estimating it will take for me to tell you all the things that are different now than what I expected. Relax- I’ll save you some time and my fingers some arthritis and pick just one.

One of the things our society seems to be fascinated with when it comes to other people is their occupation. It’s a rarity these days you can meet someone new and not be asked what you do. I think it’s because people tend to find value more in what they do, instead of who they are, but that’s just one woman’s opinion.

My job isn’t that odd of one- I’m a general manager for a local business. Pretty standard as jobs go. The different part about it is it’s a garage door business. I can picture your face now- it’s the same one I get when I tell other people. It’s the look you give a little kid when they bring you a mud pie to eat: try to look understanding, smile, nod, insert a bit of confusion.

Trust me, I get it. Garage doors. Most people don’t even think about them in terms of business. Seriously- who thinks of that? Luckily for me, my dad did. You see, the garage door business is the only one I’ve ever known. My parents started their own company before I was born, and it’s grown into a national franchise with eighty locations across the country. (They’re kind of a big deal.) It’s an industry he loves and is incredibly passionate about. I’m talking helping orphans in Africa level of passion here. I just never wanted anything to do with it.

If you were to ask me at any point growing up, what I wanted to do when I got older, you would have gotten a myriad of answers that ranged from youth pastor to teacher to doctor (that was before I realized my hatred for biology) to social worker. I was all over the place, but the one thing I never said was taking over the family business.

I wanted something more glamorous than garage doors. Something that made a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to work for a big non-profit and change the world while still getting a paycheck. I didn’t want to work in the garage door industry, but we all know how God likes to be funny and put us in places we never saw ourselves in, and that’s just what he did.

Through some random circumstances, I ended up moving back to the northeast when I was 19 to start working with my dad. I drove in on a Saturday and was at work the following Monday. Let me tell you- the first couple years were SO. HARD. My dad and I fought a lot. I cried a lot. I questioned what I was doing with my life over and over again. I couldn’t seem to remind myself the reasons I came back in the first place. I applied for several other jobs and never got an interview (a first for me), so I started praying even harder.

“God, this isn’t where I want to be, so get me out.” Not the most sophisticated or mature of prayers, and I get that, but it’s where my heart was at. It wasn’t until probably about two years into working with my dad that I realized maybe the problem wasn’t the job, but my attitude. So I changed my prayer to “God, show me why you have me here,” and gosh, I’m so glad I did.

I was finally able to see that no matter what business you’re in, you’re always in the people business, which, if you couldn’t tell by my list of dream jobs, is kind of my thing. I heard stories from customers that would make the Grinch well up tears. I was able to see the lives of the employees getting better because of changes we were able to make for them.

My job had turned into something beautiful. Though it was probably always beautiful, and I just didn’t take the time to see it.

 

What had happened was…

10. Discuss something you planned that ended up not being what you expected

My life.

I really wanted the post to just be those two words, but I guess that’s not really a discussion and I’ve had 27 years of things I’ve planned not quite turning out, so I guess I’ll just pick one. Mostly the biggest thing in my life: Marriage.

Plan: Find a guy in college, get engaged by our senior year or the end of… married at 23.
What actually happened: Find a guy in college, get my heart stomped on. Single from age 22 until 26. Go on a couple of eHarmony dates. The 3rd guy I met on eHarmony ends up being my husband. Get married at 26.

But let me break that down a little more….

Plan: Meet someone “the normal way” – blind date by a mutual friend, a random encounter at a store, through friends at a party we’re both at, a friend’s wedding, etc…
What actually happened: Take parents suggestion/offer to sign up for eHarmony after being super offended and kind of feeling like a loser setting up my profile. Go on a date. Go on a second date with the same guy. Never want to talk to him again because although he is nice, you can tell there’s no chemistry and he’s kind of annoying. Silence and disappointment for a few months. Go on another date with a guy who talks about himself the whole time and then at the end says, “let’s do this again” and since you’re nice you say to yourself, “yeah! everyone deserves a second chance!” and then never hear from him again. More silence and a lot more disappointment which turns into anger at the site. Get automatically renewed because you didn’t realize your subscription was ending. Cuss and scream at eHarmony people until they give you your money back. When they only give you half your money back and tell you that you have three months left, swear not to use the program because you hate them. Use it anyway because oh well it was paid for. One month before it expires, a cute police officer messages you.

Plan: Message with him until he gets bored with you because that’s what happened with a bunch of other guys.
What actually happened: We messaged a lot and made it through each messaging step and he still didn’t stop messaging me. Then he asked me for coffee.

Plan: We meet at a hip local coffee shop, but he realizes I’m ugly or weird and decides not to ask me out again. Have to wait in between dates for him to ask to see me again.
What actually happened: We meet at a Dunkin Doughnuts and talk for almost 3 hours and it turns out he is super cute and I’m really excited to see him again, and we planned our second date before our first one ends.

Plan: Go on a second date and realize this just isn’t working.
What actually happened: The second date was fun, even though he told weird police officer stories about decaying bodies and he kicked your ass at putt putt, which you are not good at AT ALL, and you eventually stop keeping score cause it’s embarrassing and then you go out for wings and he doesn’t even care that you look like a weirdo when you eat wings and you find out later that he had no idea that eating wings was a terrible date idea. But he hugs you awkwardly and tells you he wants to see you again, and you can’t wait either.

Plan: You stop planning for the third date and keep an open mind cause clearly this is not going how you thought it was so you give it a damn rest for once.
What actually happened: You realize this could be something kind of serious. Also he tries to kiss you but your PLAN is to wait until you are married or engaged. He doesn’t know that.

Plan: Just let things take their course, but expect to be his girlfriend in another 2 months or so. Also don’t let him kiss you until engagement…. if it’s going there…
What actually happened: You cannot resist his adorable face and attempts to make out with you, so 1 month after your first date, you kiss his adorable face. 2 weeks later he asks you to be his girlfriend.

Plan: Talk about maybe getting engaged in December.
What actually happened: Buy a ring a month after you become bf/gf. Get engaged a month after that. Get married in December.

SO! Moral of the story kids…. make all the plans you want. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t go your way. My only thought on this… I’m so glad it turned out the way it did. I love my love story, and it’s much better than all the things I planned!

Blind Believing

7. Something that shook your belief system to the core (a big disappointment in your life). 

I’m diving right in.

I won’t be writing about a disappointment, but I do remember a moment, just a tiny moment of my life that was actually enormous. It was a conversation, a comment, really, but I walked away shell-shocked. And the more I digested the conversation, the more I was changed by it. The things I chewed up and digested my whole life were suddenly under a bright light in a small room being investigated by the realization that I had blindly believed what I had been taught by others.

I was in my first year of Highlands College and I was in a car with a couple people. And for some reason they were talking about how they had baptized someone. And I said to my peer, “I thought only ministers/pastors could baptize someone.” And he asked, “Where is that in scripture?” And I realized I didn’t have an answer. I just replied that in the Methodist church, you had to be a minister to do that. If I replied at all. I don’t remember too much, but I remember how shocked I was. I remember realizing that I had accepted everything I believed to that point.

And it shook me. I was raised in the Methodist church. I went to the same church from the age of 4 to 18. And I retained a good bit of what I was taught. A lot of tradition and a lot of “do’s” and “do not’s” – and it was just the way I understood church and the Bible. And I never thought to look into it, or decide if I agree or disagree. The belief system I took as my own was officially challenged.

This conversation, this moment, it changed me. I started researching things about communion and baptisms, I expanded my Bible reading to commentaries and listened to more sermons. I stopped “taking people’s word for it” and discovered God’s word on my own. I prayed and asked God what he meant by this thing or that sentence. I discovered what the Bible said about things clearly, and what it left unclear and why it was unclear. I started to see that the reason the Methodist church did things the way it did is because people decided it needed to be done that way. I let it sink in that church denominations were created by man and that God’s word is infallible and people sometimes get it wrong. Or they get it weird. Or they just get it in a way that I don’t agree with.

This is the moment that I stopped identifying myself by what KIND of church I went to, and just decided to tell people that I love Jesus and who cares what kind of church I do or don’t attend? Those traditions or lack thereof don’t define me.

And there are still many things that I don’t know or don’t understand about the Bible, but I no longer blind-believe.

Open.

4. Something in life that gives you balance

There was a time period in my life where I kind of liked being out of touch with what was going on in the world. I kind of reveled in the reactions of others when I looked confused at their pop-culture references. I liked being able to shimmy out of conversations when they turned political and news-oriented.

But I also liked the peace of mind it brought me. It was a little “ignorance is bliss” – okay maybe a lot.

But something changed this year.

Maybe it’s the fact that things the President decides affect me more now that I’m getting older. I’ve seen how certain decisions Obama has made (healthcare) is affecting my world directly and I’m seeing the importance of having a President whose values are similar to my own. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this years election season is kind of like a circus.

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But in the last few months, I’ve been listening to an elections podcast. It’s data driven, not opinion and yakkity-yak nonsense, and I’m learning all the things about our electoral system that I didn’t pay attention to in High School. I find myself looking forward to this podcast (FiveThirtyEight), it’s actually one of my top two favorite podcasts! (This American Life is the other.) Also, I subscribed to a daily email called TheSkimm. It gives me the latest news in a really fun way. It’s kind of like one page newspaper, and it’s clever. I feel informed, but not depressed. I also don’t feel like there’s a lot of bias there.

I am an artsy-language-food-and-fun-please kind of person. I prefer art museums and afternoons full of reading. I like to color and write and did I mention reading? I love plays and Shakespeare and I hate math and science. I think I’m stereotypical in that sense.

So these new things, keeping up with the elections and what’s going on in the world, give me balance.

Most importantly, it challenges me to trust that God is in control. I think when I was safely in my ignorance bubble, relying on God focused on things that were, in a way, in my hands. And I had to make an active effort of dumping them from my hands so as to trust God with them. But current events and elections are so far beyond my grasp, that my only reaction options are fear/worry or trust.

I have found immense value in taking off the blindfold to the world and keeping my eyes open to the reality of what’s going on around me. Shutting my eyes and ears to the outside world kept me in a safe bubble, yes, but where did God ask me to be safe? And answer me this, how can we see the world with God’s eyes, and love the world with God’s heart, if we don’t open either one of them? 

We talkin ’bout practice

4. Something in life that gives you balance

Despite my introvertedness (read more about that here), I am quite the doer. I have a hard time saying not to the people and things that I love. Want to grab dinner? Sure! Need someone to volunteer for a project? I’m there.

I love feeling like I’m contributing to bigger things and to the people around me. I get a ton of joy from being able to help someone out and going on random adventures whenever the chance comes up. In fact, some of my fondest memories are from times I said yes to spontaneous beach trips, road trips, girls’ nights out, whatever.

I enjoy looking at a full calendar on a Sunday night and seeing the name of each person I know I’m going to connect with the following week. Even in high school, my mom would drive me from school, to cheer practice, and then to church- all on a Tuesday night. I’ve always been this way… basically, I like saying “yes.”

“Yes” is a beautiful thing when used in the right context, but I’m learning to practice using another beautiful word. NO.

Saying no is not an easy thing for me. I struggle with feeling selfish with my time, and if I’m being totally honest, sometimes saying no makes me feel a little guilty. I can’t help but secretly wonder if I’m making the people around me happy.

So while I don’t really enjoy saying “no,” I have started to practice it more often. Because like anything we want to start (or stop), it’s going to require practice.

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It’s going to require a willingness to disappoint some people even though that’s the last thing you want to do. It’s going to require the courage to say no to dinner with your friends because you need to stay home and spend some time with Jesus after a long day.

Luckily, I am not the first person to struggle with this, and I certainly won’t be the last. Lysa Terkeurst says it perfectly in her book The Best Yes. “Here’re the reality of our current technique: Other people’s requests dictate the decisions we make. We become slaves to others’ demand when we let our time become dictated by request. We will live reactive lives instead of proactive.

I don’t know about you, but the last word I want to think of when I look back on my life ten years from now is reactive. I don’t want to let other people’s demands and expectations determine the way my life unfolds, but if I say yes to too many things, I think that’s what will happen.

I want to live a proactive life. A life that’s filled with moments where I wasn’t afraid to say no to some things so that I could say yes to what was best.