Faith > Fear: What it means to be a Christian in the global pandemic

It’s fascinating to me the way that this time in our world, this time in human history, is teaching us so much about each other. This time of quarantine has had this incredible power to reveal who we really are, at our core. Even among my own friends, I am learning who the introverts are, as they spend this time all curled up cozy in their houses with books and baking, not too upset to be without social obligations. I’m learning who the true extroverts are, the ones who are using this time to talk to as many people as they possibly can about anything and everything. And we are all learning who our true friends are, the ones we can talk to for hours about anything and everything, the ones we facetime just to share silence with when we get bored or sad (since there is nothing new or interesting going on in our lives to update them on).

But most importantly of all, this time is showing us who really understands the meaning of the words community, selflessness, empathy, and compassion. 

The bottom line right now is that none of us WANT to stay locked up in our houses, missing out on precious moments with friends and family! But those of us committed to it are those with the ability to see beyond the present moment, to feel the pain of the suffering world, to cry tears along with those mourning and weeping. 

My heart has been absolutely broken the past few weeks as I have seen how truly selfish our world has become. We’ve lost the ability to empathize with our fellow human beings so much to the point that we are willing to risk the lives of those around us, willing to carry a potentially fatal disease to someone’s grandparent, mother, sibling, or child, all because we want an iced latte. We are willing to negate the hard work of those on the front lines, working themselves to the bone and isolating themselves from their families, all because you are bored and want to see your friends??

And here is where I am going to get real honest, my friends — my heart breaks even more when I look at some members of the church community. I am a Christian, which means, simply, that I follow a man who stopped to weep with widows, a man who gave up a heavenly throne to live a life of pain and poverty, a man who was tortured on a cross like a criminal to save the world from sin and be an example of true love. And I am proud to be part of so many strong communities of faith and churches of people who have truly given their lives to Him.

But as the weeks go on, I am saddened by our response as a church. Jesus died on a cross to save us, but we can’t go without a barbeque or a haircut to avoid risking the lives of our brothers and sisters on earth? We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, the instrument of His selfless love in a broken world, but when our comfort is challenged, we decide it’s ok to put people’s lives at risk because we want to see our friends or share a meal?? We are part of a faith that teaches sacrificial love and putting our neighbors before ourselves, and we are being called to do that now more than ever. But, it looks different. In this pandemic, sacrificial love means staying home when you’d rather be out. It means having a digital dinner party when you’d much rather have one in person. It means having a world view that expands beyond yourself and your daily life. It means giving up the things that we WANT to do so that others might have more years on this earth.

My friends, I know it is so hard to be walking through this time without our traditional, in-person community. We are all aching for connection. But we have a responsibility right now, as people of empathy and compassion, as people of faith, to lead by example and show the world what it means to truly put others first. As believers, we believe that our actions have power, and that one person can shift the life of another, for better or for worse. We have to start acting like it. We have to start holding each other accountable. We have to start calling each other out on our failings. We are being called to guide each other and the world toward sacrificial love. Are we going to do it? Or 20, 50, 100 years from now, when they write about us in history books, are we going to regret the way we lived and wish we had done more?

The Soul Mate Epidemic: Why I don’t believe in love at first sight!

I am a hopeless romantic. I love cheesy RomComs and my Spotify is filled with love songs that could make your heart skip a beat. I love flowers and chocolate, and the idea of pinterest-worthy dates fills my stomach with butterflies. 

But I am the first to admit that I am completely and thoroughly fed up with the number of people my age waiting on “love at first sight” and “soul mates.”  

Before you write me off as simply bitter, hear me out. 

Too many people in this generation expect too much of love. This isn’t just a personal opinion; it’s a scientifically proven fact: “Since the 1960s, sociologists have found a steady progression of American men and women who demand more and more of love — yet we’re getting less and less out of our marriages.” (Thomas, 23) 

What’s interesting to me is that, when we grow up, we generally stop believing in fictional things — we stop expecting that we will find the door to another world hiding in the back of our closets or that a half-giant will magically appear on our doorstep to whisk us away to the world of witchcraft and wizardry (despite what we might hope in our hearts — I am a HUGE Harry Potter nerd).  

And yet, so many of us hold on to a fictional idea of love

Why? Well, because it is so much easier. Our generation is built on instant gratification, and so we have come to expect it even from love. As a consequence, we are stuck on this fictional view of love that we have been fed most of our lives, which suggests that the perfect love that we desire is a thing of fate, that it shouldn’t require much effort from us. And when we cling to the idea that “true love” will magically “appear” when we are ready for it, we abdicate our personal responsibility to go out and find it. And, better yet, we can use this fictional view to avoid true confrontation and talk our way out of any difficult relationship on the basis that it “just doesn’t feel right” or that they aren’t “the one.” 

At first glance, this might actually seem like a wise stance to take. It might seem selfless and noble to not date anyone for which you aren’t sure about your feelings. But, “wisdom says we should try to make a relationship work not because we have strong feelings, but because it is a good match” (Thomas, 34). 

Unpopular opinion time: Too many of us believe that “the one,” and our relationship with them, is a perfect thing that we will magically stumble upon when life/God/the Universe decides that we are ready. Well friends, I hate to break it to you, but this “romantic mindset is based on the false and harmful notion that a good relationship is something you find, when in fact it is something you make. Infatuation is something you find. Sexual chemistry is something you find. A lost cell phone is something you find. But a strong, intimate [relationship] that leads to a lifelong partnership and fosters a sense of oneness? That’s something you make, and it takes a long time.” (Thomas, 133)

Because (unpopular opinion number 2!) love, even in its most genuine form, takes work. That’s right: WORK! I think too many people have forgotten this. You have to put in effort to know, respect, and love another person in the way they deserve, in the way that will sustain a relationship: “Love is not an emotion; it’s a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep in the harshest of circumstances. It’s something that can be learned and that we can grow in” (Thomas, 67). 

So, I don’t want love at first sight, and you shouldn’t either, because it isn’t love at all! I am looking for “the one,” but not in the mystical sense of the word. I don’t believe that I have a single “soul mate.” I am looking for the one who treats me right, respects me, and shares a similar mission in life; beyond that, love is a choice that I have to make, a risk I have to take. 

I mean, think about it: if someone walked up to you and proclaimed that they wanted to marry you based on how you looked, or even after spending a day or two with you, you would sprint in the opposite direction. I don’t think most people would disagree with me on that. And yet, so many people my age are betting their love lives on the emotional equivalent of love at first sight. So many young people refuse to go on dates or enter a relationship unless they are completely certain they have the “right” magical, lovely feelings for the other person. A lot of us, because of the culture that we were raised in, and the many broken relationships we have witnessed, want certainty before we commit to anything at all.

Yet how many times have you heard someone end or not even start a relationship because they weren’t certain it was right? For me, the number is too high to count. But it is shocking to me that someone can decide that someone they previously cared so much about and greatly respected isn’t “right” for them, often without even officially dating them for very long, if at all. 

Oh, I’m sorry! Did I scare you with the word “date”?? It must be a very scary word because no one seems to use it anymore. 

What in the world is so scary about “dating?” My theory? People my age think it suggests too much commitment. There is this notion that going on a “date” means you are suddenly committed to this person and their feelings, and that can be scary, I know.

Well, sorry to break it to you, but whether or not you speak the word “date” aloud, you do not forfeit your responsibility for another person’s feelings. Any time that you choose to let someone into your life, you are responsible for being stewards of their hearts, despite labels that you do or don’t use. 

Many people seem to think that they can curve hurt or confrontation by not committing but they’re wrong. In life, commitment is inevitable; by not committing to anyone or anything, you are simply committing to being alone. This fear is far more likely to keep you from successful relationship than anything else you might be worried about; there is always risk in relationship. So I’d argue that being honest about your worries and expectations from the beginning is actually what prevents you from unnecessarily hurting someone.

And, entering a relationship that you don’t feel entirely emotionally consumed by isn’t actually a problematic thing, contrary to popular belief: “Two relatively secure individuals can love each other without experiencing obsessive thinking, euphoric mood swings, or desperate clinginess. The absence of these markers doesn’t mean they are less in love than other couples; it might just mean they are more grounded as individuals.” (Thomas 32). 

So I don’t want love at first sight; I want a love that grows. In my opinion, it is so much more beautiful and romantic to think that someone would choose to love me, over and over again, despite my flaws. 

Simply looking at someone, or spending time with them for a few weeks and placing them on a pedestal, feeling like they are perfect for you from the start, is not love. It is impossible to be fully loved if you are not first fully known.  

This instant gratification many people are looking for is called infatuation, and it is a concept has become all but lost in our society. When we base our relationships on feelings, when we expect to want and need someone all the time in order to date them or love them, we are setting ourselves up for failure. “How foolish to insist on a short-term neurochemical relation to consider a life-long decision. Is it possible that you’re neglecting getting to know some very fine marriage partners simply because the initial romantic attachment wasn’t strong enough? Are you staying with someone who isn’t good for you only because the romantic thrill makes it so hard to leave?” (Thomas 40) 

We need to start making wiser decisions in our love lives and give up our fictional ideas of love. We need to stop expecting perfection and be brave enough to handle honest, well-meaning confrontation. And most importantly, we need to stop relying on our momentary feelings to guide our life-long decisions. 

“How do you truly know whether you are committed to this person and that you truly love him or her?…Analyzing your feelings is the worst way of arriving at a measure of (affection); to count the cost is the best way.’ Your love is measured by your willingness to act unselfishly, to even let that person think less of you, (or allow someone to walk away from you) if in doing so, you are serving their spiritual advancement…analyze instead the fruit of love; your willingness to sacrifice; your commitment to the other person’s welfare” (Thomas 228). 

 

*All the quotes in this post are from a book called The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas. If you found this article interesting, I would highly recommend it! 

Committing to Commitment

As some of you may know, if you follow me on Instagram, I recently committed to the Last 90 Days Challenge. If you don’t know what that means, the challenge is essentially a commitment to ending your year strong. Instead of waiting until the New Year to adopt a resolution that you ultimately won’t keep (I’m just being honest), you make an effort to consciously adopt new habits. The five habits that I have chosen are Rachel Hollis’ “5 to Thrive”:

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So, the question you might be asking now is why? You might be wondering, What difference does it make if I drink more water every day? Or if I get up earlier, aren’t I just going to be more exhausted?

Well, the purpose is not in the habits that you choose, but in the choosing of habit itself. 

Habit instills in us a consistent sense of self-worth.

No matter what is going on in your life, whatever might be stressing you out at work or school or in your personal life, your habits are who you are. If you choose good ones (good= the ones that make you feel like the best version of yourself, not society’s idea of “good”), and make an effort to stick to them, you will feel productive and accomplished, no matter what else happens. At the very least, at the end of the day, you can stand and say, “at least I stayed hydrated” or “at least I know I have things to be grateful for.”

And whatever little bit of energy you give that is more than yesterday, if it is moving in the direction of your goals and what you want in life, it is enough.

However, be careful no to use that as an excuse to sell yourself short. Hold yourself to high standards, my friends, because that is how you grow. That being said, don’t beat yourself up when you “fail” to meet those standards! The newfound effort to achieve them is a success in itself.

Remember, creating new habits isn’t something you do because you’re perfect. You are working on your habits because you are working towards a better life, and if healthy, empowering habits become your normal, your life will be filled with joy and determination. You will have a solid foundation to lean on when things gets tough.

“Energy is not something you have, it’s something you make.” -Rachel Hollis

And it gets easier. The habits will become just that: habits! For example, even after the first few weeks of my Last 90 Days, I started to feel like I wasn’t doing all the things on my list. I wasn’t actually not doing them! In reality, they had already begun to meld into my daily routine, so I thought that I hadn’t done them! I had to question whether or not I had really made it through three bottles of water before 3 pm, because it seemed too easy. I almost went to the gym twice on Sunday because I forgot that I had gone earlier!

I am writing this not as a testament to my own success in this personal challenge, but rather as an example of the incredible power habit can have on our lives. The habits you adopt change the way you live on a daily basis, and therefore change the way that you view the world.

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And what’s even more important is that you can make a habit out of anything. Once you commit to adopting an attitude of habit, you can start making a habit out of things like confidence, honesty, kindness, and bravery. These traits will then change the way that you look at the world. If you know you are working on consciously bettering these characteristics, you will begin to look for opportunities to practice these habits. For example, one of my current developing habits is gratitude, and “If you know you have to write down ten things you’re grateful for at the end of the day, you’re going to spend your day looking for gratitude.” – Rachel Hollis

Most importantly of all in this habit-making lifestyle is your commitment to committing, to keeping the promises that you make to yourself. It is the only way that we improve. And even beyond the self-improvement, your determination can inspire the people around you.

You teach people how to treat you by the way that you treat yourself. If I consistently break promises to myself, people aren’t going to think twice about doing the same to me. On the contrary, if those around me witness me getting up at 6 am, going to the gym like I promised myself that I would, I teach both others and myself that I am worthy of time, love, and respect. People are going to admire me instead of pity me. They are going to want to be in my life because they genuinely respect who I am and who I want to be. And those are the kind of people you deserve to have around.

So I challenge you to take a look at your habits, both good and bad. What do they say about the kind of person you are? How do they teach people to treat you? What do you do habitually that makes you feel good? How can you change your habits to make more time for those things? Do you need to go to sleep earlier to feel more rested and be more productive? Do you need to get up a little earlier? Do you need to eat better? Start making conscious choices about the way you live your life, because they will develop into habits.

And once you decided to make a change, commit to it, wholeheartedly. Don’t commit for a few days and then get frustrated and give up. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Pretend there is a consequence if you don’t accomplish that thing every day. I don’t care how you do it! Just do whatever you have to to get off your butt and out of your own head, DO whatever it takes to become the person you want to be. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t wait to change. It’s not going to happen on its own. Change starts now, with your conscious “yes.”

Adopting healthy habits will better your lifestyle for the habits themselves. But even more importantly, it will transform you into a person of commitment and determination. And once that happens, the sky is the limit, my love.

The Beauty of Being Underestimated

I’m 5’2″. I’m blonde. I’m pretty quiet. I dress nicely.

Most people take one look at me and assume they know exactly what they’re dealing with: a basic white girl, small and kind, with basic opinions, in need of  guidance and possibly even protection.

Little do they know; “though she be but little, she is fierce” (William Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream).

The other day at work, I was standing behind the customer service desk with one of my coworkers, a man in his thirties, when a customer, also a man, probably in his late forties, approached the desk. He asked us to help him locate a particular book, speaking only to my coworker, without so much as a second glance at me. After he had given us the title of the book and the author’s name, my coworker began to look up the book in our database, as we often did, not knowing the location of our entire inventory. However, having read the book myself, I said “I love that book! I know where it is,” and my coworker passed the customer off to me, as we so often did, helping each other out. As I handed the man the book and attempted to make small talk about it, he was oddly quiet. I went back to the desk, leaving him to look around on his own.

Later, he approached the desk again to ask for another title. This time he marched straight up to me.

“Ok, know-it-all,” he began, “how about this one.”

Only then did I realize he was mocking me. Only then did I realize that his quietness earlier had been a reaction to my knowledge, a knowledge he had presumed I didn’t have. Now he was making an effort to prove me wrong. A justified smile spread across his face when I said “let me look that up for you.”

“Haven’t heard of that one, huh?” he quipped.

The book was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac.

Haven’t heard of that one? Oh, sir, not only have I heard of it, but I have read it and am currently resisting the urge to blurt out the plot line, main characters, and popular critical lenses surrounding the book since its release in the 1950s.

I’m an English major, from Santa Clara University, with an emphasis in American literature. I also am double majoring in Theatre Arts, with a minor in French. In addition, I am the associate editor of my university’s literary magazine. But you wouldn’t know that, would you, sir? You took one look at me and underestimated my ability to hold any knowledge that you might not.

I want to thank you for that. Because I took one look at you and your snide remarks and was instantly reminded of how beautiful it was to be underestimated. Thanks to you, I was reminded just how awesome I was, not only because I held the knowledge you disliked me for, but, more importantly, because I had the self-confidence to look you in the eye and say “I just want to make sure we have that in stock for you. Give me one moment.”

“Everyone said I couldn’t, which is why I did.” – Right Where I Should Be, Us the Duo

I was lucky enough to grow up believing I could do anything. I went to small, private schools. I was exposed, most often, to environments full of people that knew me well and consistently encouraged me.

I didn’t know how lucky I was.

I didn’t realize how unusual and amazing and kind it was for the people superior to me to look at the tiny, blonde female person I was and tell me I could do anything. I grew up believing in the power of my dreams.

But eventually, I graduated my small, all-girls, private high school. I got a real job. I moved away from home. I went to college.

I was shocked by the brazen audacity of the people around me. I had no idea that there were people in the world who would assume that I was incapable of intelligence, of strength, of leadership, simply because I was blonde, because I was young, because I was a girl.

But since then, I have learned to fight back.

At first, I thought I could prove them all wrong. I fought back with words, working to impart my knowledge and impress the people around me in any way I could. I fought hard to make a good impression.

But you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself. So, I learned to fight right.

Fighting right is fighting with your actions. It’s remaining confident in the face of adversity. It’s being polite to those people who underestimate you, only to turn around and become what they thought you could never be.

Fighting right wasn’t telling that man at work that he was wrong, that I was smart, that I had accomplished many things that he would never have know, that I had worked hard to get where I was.

Fighting right was biting my tongue and being confident in my own knowledge, despite his determination to tear me down.

People always say “Kill ’em with kindness.” And this is true. For sure, kill ’em with kindness.

But also kill ’em with strength and courage. Kill ’em with growth and power. Kill ’em with grace and intelligence. Gather up a well-educated, put-together fight, whatever that means to you. Whether that means lacing up your running shoes and getting your butt to the gym. Whether that means putting that criticism to good use and working to better yourself. Whether that means going to the library and reading up on that subject until you could give a speech on the subject in your sleep.

Being underestimated makes you better. Being underestimated motivates you to grow.

Because sometimes growth is failure.

Sometimes growth is rejection.

Sometimes growth is the power to say “no.”

Sometimes growth doesn’t feel like growth, until you turn around, look back and realize how far you’ve come. It is evident in the confidence that will inevitably result from your stinging growth.

And the next time someone underestimates you, you will have the confidence to bite your tongue. The next time someone underestimates you, it will only be an affirmation of who you are, because you will be self-assured enough to simply smile and shrug it off. You won’t need that person’s approval, because you know that you are so much more than that person has made you out to be. And if there is some thread of truth to what they are saying, you know that the next time they come around, there won’t be, because you will have fought so hard, through your actions, through your growth, to become a better version of yourself.

So thank those people that underestimate you, that assume the lowest of you. Bless them, and pray for them; without them, you would never be who you are.

“I thank you, one and all, the ones who thought I’d fall, who taught me how to fail, who helped me to prevail. I’m standing here today, cause you helped me find my way.” -Elle Woods, Legally Blonde the Musical 

Love is Letting Go

I am a firm believer in love at first meeting. Because the eyes are the window to the soul. It’s cliche for a reason.

I am a firm believer in soul mates — Not romantic ones, but simply people who understand your soul on a level beyond which you could ever explain.

But I am also a firm believer in the idea that if someone is meant to be in your life, they will come back to you, if you have the strength to let them go. You have to give them the chance to leave. And this has created many a contradiction in my heart.

If someone is a soul mate, and I know it the first time I meet them, how do I find it in my heart to let them go?

I have to remind myself that the long term regret will be so much worse than the small moments of fear or sadness.

For a long time, I had a very hard time with letting go. I thought that people who really cared about others, and who had the best relationships with those around them, were the ones who held on tight to the people they cared about. While it’s important to stick around and be there for the people you love, I was oh so wrong about holding on tightly.

“Love is an untamed force. When we try to control it, it destroys us” -Paulo Coehlo, The Zahir, 126

Because people don’t change. And if they find the urge to take off and go, nothing you can do will stop them. You may be able to change their mind momentarily, but you will never change their heart or fulfill their dreams. You can’t single handedly be someone’s everything. Even if they love you, they will never love you enough to not resent you down the road for pulling them away from their dreams.

“Nor can I live constantly in the state of peace that I find with you. It’s destroying the one important thing I have: my relationship with you, even if the intensity of my love remains undiminished” -Paulo Coehlo, The Zahir, 134

Instead, we have to work to inspire and challenge the ones that we love, even if it means missing them. Even if it means we have to let go of ourselves and our feelings. Sometimes you have to let go of your feelings and really think. You have to be rational enough to understand that love isn’t always enough to make it work. That’s a misconception in this world, that love is easy when it’s real – love , no matter how true, requires risk and rationality.

But there’s risk even in rationality. People often think that the most risk comes with loving someone, with putting your heart on the line. However, I think that the most risk often comes from being reasonable enough to step away from someone for some time.

It’s a type of stepping outside of your comfort zone, letting go of someone you love, whether forever or just for a little while. It’s a risk. It leaves you very vulnerable, because there is a chance that when you give them the chance to leave, they won’t come back.

But if they don’t, what do you really lose that wasn’t already lost? If you’re not someone that they choose to come back to, that they choose to share their dreams with, then they were never yours to begin with.

More importantly than anything, if you lose someone to someone or something else, it means that they found a happiness there that they didn’t have before. And there’s a selflessness in this kind of recognition.

Even if they never come back to thank you, or realize the part that you played in their happiness, you can look at them and be happy knowing you made a difference in the life of a person that you love. Those people that you lose because you challenged them to find themselves? You haven’t really lost them at all—even if they disappear from your life— because you get to watch them become the best version of themselves.

“And suddenly, the miracle happens. I look across at the woman who has just made me some coffee and is now reading the newspaper, whose eyes look tired and desperate, who is her usual silent self, who does not always show her affection in gestures, the woman who made me say yes when I wanted to say no, who forced me to fight for what she, quite rightly believed was my reason for living, who let me set off alone because her love for me was greater even than her love for herself, who made me go in search of my dream–suddenly my fingers press down on the keys” -Coehlo, 24

So how do you do it? How do you selflessly let go?

You channel your feelings into bettering yourself. You channel what feels like loss. Into exercise. Into intelligence. Into art. Into life.

By making a choice to let go, you turn the loss into life.

You create good for both you and the other person through the exploration of separation and of the unknown. You create good in recognizing that there is freedom in letting go. You never know what you can do if you don’t try. And if you don’t try, you might live to regret it.

Letting go is a choice. Choose it, when you feel the need. Don’t be scared to let go. The truly good things will make their way back to you. And in the meantime, so much good can be found in the loss.

“Freedom is not the absence of commitments but the ability to choose – and to commit myself to – what is best for me.” – Paulo Coehlo, The Zahir, 16

And one day, a person or two that you let go of might come strolling back into your life, as quickly as they left. They will settle in your soul like a cup of tea on a cold day. They will land softly like a leaf from a fallen tree. They will perch in your soul like hope.

And that’s when you know it is meant to be. That’s when you know that you have found true love and true friendship. That’s when you know that those people are your people. Because they have chosen you. Over and over again. They aren’t settling because they’ve seen the world and they know your worth in their lives. You gave them the chance to leave but they came back. They are living their dreams and they still want you to be a part of it. Instead of holding on tightly, you become a stepping stone on their ladders to fulfillment.

“All I know is that even though I can live without her, I would still like to see her again.” -Paulo Coehlo, The Zahir, 71

That is love. Love is selfless. Love is risk. Love is letting go.

Bravely Barefoot and Climbing Trees

It was my second or third week as a transfer student at SCU. I was sitting in the garden, under a tree, doing homework on a beautiful sunny day. It was a day that I was feeling overwhelmed, feeling simply too small to possibly accomplish what people expected of me, or more importantly, what I expected of myself. 

But being outside always helped to calm my nerves.

As I was sitting there, using the base of an old tree as my back rest, attempting to focus on my reading, a boy who looked vaguely familiar rode up on a long board, backpack thrown over his shoulder. Much to my surprise, he asked if he could sit with me. He said that this was one of his favorite places to study, too. Although I was a little wary of his honesty and forwardness, I agreed, glad to have the company. 

I explained that he looked familiar but that I couldn’t remember why, and he said he was an orientation leader. I remembered, then, him sitting down at my table at orientation and saying hello.

As I thought this, he pulled one of my all-time favorite books from his backpack, one that had inspired me to write. I asked him about it, and the rest is history. 

I thought briefly about how odd it was that we could have crossed paths at that orientation and never have known how much we had in common. Life is weird like that.

And yet, life also always seems to bring you back to the people you are supposed to meet, even if your human mistakes fail you the first time. I hadn’t taken the time to get to know him when he sat at my orientation table — I had been too busy, too stressed — and yet here he was again. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a second chance.

That day, we ended up climbing into the tree above us as we talked, sitting in the branches, bare feet swinging among the leaves. I don’t remember the last time I had climbed a tree before then. I don’t remember the last time anyone had invited me to.

We had over an hour long conversation that moved quickly from my new class schedule to the existence of God. It was as if him sitting there with me was an every day occurrence, as if we had been friends for years — I decided to believe it.

Most importantly, I realized something that day.

I think often we get so caught up in our own little worlds, working towards goals that we think will make our lives meaningful; running ourselves into the ground trying to fit the world’s image of success. In this whirlwind, it is easy to begin to think that the people and connections that matter the most are the ones who will help us to get ahead, the ones that will tell us to just keep moving when we feel like quitting.

But that day I realized that it is equally important that there are people in our lives who encourage us to kick off our shoes and climb a tree.

People like that are more important than I can put into words. People that want more for you than to just get through the day. People that mean it when they say “how are you?” People that encourage and support your dreams. People who see through your “I’m fine.” People that know your smile isn’t always as real as it should be. People that think it is more important to know your soul than your full name.

The other day, this friend and I were sitting in the garden once again, something that we do a lot. The best part about it is that we never plan it. We don’t talk all the time or make plans. We always just stumble upon each other and sit down under a tree to talk about life. I like to think that maybe the world puts us there just when we need it, when we need some honest feedback, some real encouragement, a reminder that there is more purpose in the day than homework and class, deadlines and stress.

The other day he said to me: “what do you want to do?” I repeated the routine answer I had been giving everyone since I left for college, my logical career plan and how I am going to get there. But he looked at me and said “You’re not answering the question. What do you want to do?” And he repeated it over and over again, my answer slowly morphing, until I was brave enough to answer more honestly than I ever thought I would. It scared me a little. But what better motivator is there than fear and searching for the bravery to overcome it?

A few days later, I was walking through the garden with a different friend of mine when I passed by my favorite tree. We weren’t in a hurry and had just been walking and talking, so I stopped and took off my shoes.

“What are you doing?” he asked, confusion in his voice.

“I’m going to climb this tree! Want to come?”

He looked at me like I was crazy, but a smile spread across his face as he, too, pulled off his shoes and followed me up the tree trunk. As I climbed higher and higher, he called out to me to be careful. But I found that I wasn’t afraid. Because in that moment, I had the chance to be brave enough for both of us, and I took it.

So I challenge you. Go find a tree (or a rock or a beach or whatever makes you happy). Take a deep breath. Kick off your shoes. Feel the sun on your face. Find joy in being exactly where you are in the moment, because it is exactly where you are meant to be.

But even more importantly, find a friend to enjoy it with you. Find the people around you that encourage you to take the time to climb a tree. Find the people that inspire you to run barefooted and brave into the future that you dream about, the life you want to live. And strive to be the kind of person who does this for others, who leaves footprints on their hearts and minds that inspire them to kick off their shoes and be courageously themselves.

The Importance of Simplicity to a Joyful Heart: 7 things I Realized By Giving Up Social Media

Over spring break, I was driving home from the Bay Area with some friends. We had made a day trip to get out of town and do something fun together, but the day hadn’t gone as planned, as it was busy everywhere and we ran out of time. By the end of the day, we were exhausted and annoyed, stuck in rush hour traffic.The car fell silent, besides the radio softly creating background noise, as we all sat on our phones, waiting impatiently for the traffic to clear so we could be home.

Essentially, we were wishing the day away.

About halfway through the ride, I noticed this, and it just about broke my heart. How many times have we spent time wishing away the present simply because it wasn’t what we had wanted or expected? How many times have we sat silently, our faces in our phones, while surrounded by people we love?

“We should all put our phones away.” I said, not really aware that I had said it out loud, and suddenly fearing an irritated comment from someone else in the car. But to my surprise, the friend sitting next to me said, “You’re right. We are all here together and we aren’t even talking.” So we put our phones into our bags and somehow managed to forget about them for a little while.For the next hour, the mood of the entire car shifted. There, in that dead stopped rush hour traffic, we were suddenly happy. The sun was shining for the first time in weeks and we rolled down all the windows to feel the light breeze blowing gently through the car. There were beautiful yellow flowers on the side of the freeway, a small piece of nature we had missed by looking down. We were teased each other, laughing and smiling. We actually listened to the music that was playing, and soon found ourselves fighting over the aux cord for the chance to share songs we loved with the people we loved. And those hours in traffic, without my phone in my hand, aren’t on my Instagram feed or my Facebook profile. There aren’t videos and pictures to document that I was having fun. And yet, this is one of my favorite memories from Spring Break, one that is most vividly imprinted in memory.

And this was true of the entire month that I took off of social media, recently. At first, I felt overwhelmingly bored, lonely, and disconnected. My fear of missing out was intense. However, this only solidified my decision and showed me how addicted I was, how much time I actually spent looking at other people’s lives instead of being present in my own.

And over that month, the memories I made are so clear in my head. The feelings I had were deeply and truly mine, not influenced by the moods and ideas of those around me. The experiences I had were things I wanted to do, not things I did to please others. I became more present, more selfless, and more me than I have been in a long time.  

I do still have my social media (and did for the month I gave it up). I still post pictures. However, I no longer post with a secret agenda. I no longer post hoping that certain people will see it and feel a certain way. I don’t worry about whether or not my photo was taken with a professional camera, or whether my caption is funny. I post things for me, to express who I truly am and share what I’m happy about with the people I love. But I got rid of the apps on my phone, in order to make a conscious effort to be present and not aimlessly scroll through Instagram or Twitter just because I’m bored or uncomfortable. Removing the apps removes not only the temptation of distraction and temporary pleasure, but of comparison and feelings of inadequacy. If you have the courage, I dare you to try and do the same.

During the month of my social media cleanse, both to share and remind myself, I made a list of the positive changes I experienced (each accompanied by a quote from a book I read in the freetime I discovered).

So here it is: When I’m not on social media…

  1. I find joy in simplicity. Recently, I have been slightly more fixated than I’d like to admit on the accumulation of things. We all are striving, whether consciously or not, to create our personal “aesthetic” (a word that came up in nearly every person’s answer on the Instagram survey that I did for a final project last quarter). I was focused on buying clothes that looked like the models I saw on Instagram. I wanted shelves full of books, a camera so I could document my life, a typewriter, so that my feed looked like that of all the famous writers I followed. However, when I let go of social media, I found that I didn’t want these things as much, or at least not for the same reasons. Almost overnight, I wanted less of everything. Less patterns. Less to-do lists. Less clothes to choose from. Less people to impress. I wanted routine. I wanted to wake up early, the same time every day. I wanted a black cup of coffee in a plain white mug. I wanted one small bag that I took everywhere, instead of three. I had the desire to live in only dresses and rompers, which made me feel gracefully beautiful, and yet didn’t require me to pick out an outfit. I can’t entirely explain this one, except that simplicity gave me greater joy, despite its counter-cultural nature, and it came from letting go of social media’s pressure to be a certain kind of beautiful.

“I’m finding that one of the greatest delights in life is walking away from what someone told you you should be in favor of walking toward what you truly love, in your own heart, in your own secret soul” – Shauna Niequist

2. I am more present and content with the things I am doing: As I mentioned above, letting go of the constant scrolling and clicking taught me to be happier about everyday opportunities. My idea of success began to shift from other people’s reactions to my own feelings and personal achievements. I didn’t do things thinking, “this is gonna look really cute on my instagram” or “I have to put this on my story.”Instead, my entire mindset changed. I did things because I thought “this will make my heart happy.” I found joy in the smallest of things -the sun on my skin, the flowers blooming in the trees, the birds singing –things I only noticed by being truly present. And, in not focusing on documenting moments for the rest of the world, I enjoyed them more myself, and so they made a bigger impact on my heart and mind.

“We are addicted to big and sweeping and photo-ready…But the rush to scramble up onto platforms, to cross oceans, to be heard and seen and known sometimes comes at a cost, and sometimes the most beautiful things we do are invisible, unsexy.” – Shauna Niequist

3. I move away from my fixation with perfection: When I let go of social media, suddenly the life that I was living became less than perfect, and I say that in a good way. Saying “I am not on social media,” got me many shocked faces and a great number of personal questions. Suddenly, my life was less than perfectly normal because of my lack of an online presence. And yet, that thing that made me different was something that gave me more joy, peace, and pride than anything else had in a long time. This realization suddenly applied to everything: why was I trying so hard to hide the things that made me different? Why did I spend so long being ashamed of the things that could make me most proud? My life, and consequentially, my instagram feed, may not look perfect if I don’t spend my time doing what everyone else thinks I should. But if moving away from society’s idea of “perfection,” when it comes to social media, is making me so undeniably happy, why aren’t I doing it in other areas of my life? If sitting outside, alone, with a good book, fills me with complete joy, why shouldn’t I do it? Just because someone else thinks it makes me look antisocial, lonely, or imperfect on the outside? What other people think, their idea of perfection, is never a valid reason to stop doing the things that give you the most joy

“This world, just as it is. This is the good stuff. This is the best stuff there is. Perfect has nothing on truly, completely, wide-eyed, open-souled present” -Shauna Niequist

4. I have an overwhelmingly large amount of free time, contrary to what I usually think. At first, this was extremely uncomfortable. Silencing your phone can feel like shutting yourself off from everyone you know. This often forces us to face things within ourselves, in the silence of our minds, that we avoid on a daily basis. But working through things in silence is a valuable skill that we all should relearn. I found it to be essential to my mental health. This free time also made me more productive. Out of sheer boredom, I began to do the things I knew I should be doing. Having those things done not only took weights off of my shoulders, but allowed me to fill the leftover time with things I had long wanted to do but had been putting off. I read a lot of books. And I mean, a lot. I studied French. I cooked. I explored bookstores and coffee shops. I went to lunch with friends. I took hikes, picnics, and trips to the beach. The free time I had been bored of became my safe haven, an escape from stress and reality.

5. I develop greater connections with the people around me: Not having a phone to fall back on when conversation dies down forces us into deeper, more fulfilling interactions with the people around us. We begin to ask questions to fill the silence, and, therefore, actually connect with the people we spend time with, beyond surface level conversations. And, as I mentioned in the story that began this article, putting away your phone allows you to appreciate the people and things around you, which has the power to make or break your entire mindset.

“The most important thing in all human relationships is conversation, but most people don’t talk anymore, they don’t sit down to talk and listen. They go to the theatre, the cinema, watch tv, listen to the radio, read books, but they almost never talk. If we want to change the world, we have to go back to a time when warriors would gather around a fire and tell stories” -Paulo Coehlo

6. I am less self-focused: Maybe this was a somewhat indirect effect, but being aware of the people around me, their perfectly imperfect lives, and the things that made my own day a little better, I began to prioritize differently. Instead of buying clothes that would look good in Instagram pictures, I bought coffee for the person behind me in line. Instead of sending memes to people I cared about, I sent them unexpected gifts, things that would actually improve their mood or make their lives a little better. I wanted to share the joy and peace I had found in my own life with those around me, and so the way that I treated others came to be built on this idea of true love. Imagine if the whole world lived like this! Imagine if we got our faces out of our phones long enough to truly make a difference in the lives of those around us simply by listening and paying attention.

“This world will tell you how to live if you let it. Don’t let it.” -Shuana Niequist

7. I am happier: This was the most  overwhelming effect. I have always been a highly empathetic person, affected deeply by my own feelings and those of others. Social media can be problematic for all of us in this way, but especially for emotional, deep-thinking people like me. However, when I left behind my online feeds, I found I was less affected by what went on outside of my own life; not in a selfish way, but simply because I wasn’t constantly worried about what everyone else was doing, how they were feeling, or how what I was doing and feeling compared. I didn’t miss out on the joys in front of me because I was staring at my phone screen. Instead, I gradually became more grateful for every opportunity, and my mind and heart were consistently oriented towards joy.

“What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over” – Paulo Coehlo

The myths about how deeply and intensely social media affects our brains and hearts are not myths at all. Social media pulls us away from ourselves and who we really are. And then we wonder why, as a society, we are ravaged by unhappiness and depression.

You will never be truly happy until you are truly yourself.

Cliche and generalized, I know. But there’s a reason people have been saying that for as long as we can remember: because it’s true. I didn’t entirely believe it either, until I tried living like that, until I consciously made an effort not to let other people’s opinions of what I liked and how I spent my time, shape who I was. But now that I’ve done it, I don’t think I can ever go back.

I encourage you all to try what I like to call a social media cleanse. It’s like a diet for your mind and soul. Deprive yourself of the things you think you need, the things you think are fun and exciting, and see what amazing things appear to fill their place. And then look back and tell me: do you think social media brings you joy? I have my answer. What’s yours?

Defining Love: A Message About the Meaning of Valentine’s Day

Being a college student, especially around Valentine’s Day, love has been on my mind a lot lately. The holiday brings up a rollercoaster of emotions in all of us. If you are single, it can make you sad or even bitter. If you are in a relationship, you may begin to panic about what gift you are going to get for your partner that will accurately sum up the depth of your love for them. But I think it is both incredible and terrifying that we allow one day to carry so much of our self-worth away with the breeze. Are we really supposed to believe that chocolate and cards and flowers are what represent “true love”?

I started reading this new book last week called The Other Side of Beauty. Written by speaker and former America’s Next Top Model contestant, Leah Darrow, the book talks a lot about material culture and the media’s influence on our ideas of beauty, love, and self-worth. In reading it, I came across some startling revelations and thought-changing quotes, shared throughout this post, which I thought only appropriate to share on the day pinned as the peak of love and romance.

So what is “true love?” It is, in essence, ineffable. It cannot be easily defined or put into words. But what I can tell you, is that our culture has got it all wrong, and is trying to sell us a definition of love that is entirely incorrect. Our culture is trying to sell us the idea that love, how much attention we give and receive, is the sole measure of our self-worth.

“Sometimes we are seduced into thinking that something is beautiful that really isn’t. And often this happens because we have a faulty definition of love…Your definition of love will shape your whole life. It will be the foundation of your understanding…of your own self-worth” -Leah Darrow

I spent far too long wondering why I wasn’t loved the way that I loved other people – completely and passionately. But looking back, I can see the traces of selfishness in my own love. I was wishing for the rewards of having people love me. Instead of honestly caring about the people I was blessed to have, I worked so hard to prove to them how much I loved them so that they wouldn’t leave. I told myself I was selfless, and I was in a lot of ways; but I was also still far too worried about how my relationships made me look to other people. I wanted people to know I was loved and valuable.  I wanted rom-com-worthy love stories and Instagram-worthy friendships. My definition of  love was flawed, as too many of ours are.

“This definition of love I adopted was purely physical, love was anything that made me feel good, and I loved whoever or whatever made me feel good…by limiting love to a mere physical act, I detached love from its highest calling, which is to desire good for others.” – Leah Darrow

In our current generation, love has become all about us. We latch on to people because of how they make us feel. We don’t commit to people because we are afraid the commitment might limit us or prove too much for us to handle. We think very little, as a culture, about how our feelings and commitments affect other people involved.

Because of this, our generation expects too much from love. We expect perfection and immortality. These expectations block us from seeing those who truly love us. In friendships, we think that people don’t care about us if they aren’t constantly around. In romantic relationships, we convince ourselves someone isn’t “the one” simply because we argue, or we aren’t physically, sexually attracted to someone 24/7. (I’ll keep this idea brief, because I already wrote a whole blog post on this called Honesty in Expectation). 

But these expectations are misconceptions, because that is not what love is. Yet, sadly, these misconceptions are what the the majority of the population has accepted as truth; that unless you constantly feel a burning passion to spend all of your time with someone, it can’t possibly be love. Blame it on technology, media, or maybe just too many Nicholas Sparks movies, but with our definition of love set so unreasonably high, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We sell ourselves short, and push away people that love us, all because our relationships aren’t the stuff of fairytales.

And I’m not trying to be pessimistic or hypocritical. I’m the first to admit that I am a hopeless romantic with high expectations. But at some point, we have to realize that love is the fairytale that we make it.

“Love isn’t merely a feeling; it is a desire to seek the good of the one you love. To say ‘I love you’ means ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to do what is best for you'” -Leah Darrow

We have to focus more on the you in “I love you.”

We have to be aware that sometimes, we will run out of things to say. Sometimes we will disagree. Sometimes we will get really annoyed and question the whole thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not love.

The best relationships aren’t the ones without fights; rather, the best relationships are the ones worth fighting for.

Love means you are willing to set aside your pride and be there for someone, because you love them more than their bad days.

Because true love is wanting the best for others, not for ourselves.

And this is a very difficult thing to do, because it means completely changing the definition of love that has been fed to us by the culture we live in for as long as we can remember. But I am working hard to do it, and I encourage you to do the same, because I promise you it will have the most lasting impact on your life and your happiness.

“If my definition of love is God’s definition – that love is desiring good for others – then I will be attracted to people who love in this way” – Leah Darrow

I want to love truly. I want to love selflessly. I want to share in the joy that successes and happiness brings to the people I love, whether or not those things involves me. I need to let go of loving others only for how they can serve me.

This Valentine’s Day I am going to work to celebrate true love, in its purest sense.

I am going to do my best not to be jealous, bitter, or petty about the couples in love or the exes that have found new partners. I am not going to pin my lack of meaningful relationships on the horrible immaturity of the people of the opposite sex. Instead, I am going to make a conscious effort to stop comparing myself to those around me and wishing for things that I don’t have. I am going to try to honestly be happy for those who have found love in their life, and appreciate the love that I have in mine. Only in being happy for others, and loving others in the way we were intended to, can we expect to live beautiful, loving lives. We are all in this struggle together.

So remember, this Valentine’s Day, that your worth is not defined by the significant other that you may or may not have. Your worth is not defined by the flowers you do or don’t have on your desk. Your worth is not defined by the love you receive.

Your worth is defined by the amount of love you purely and selflessly give.

This Valentine’s Day I am going to do my best to make sure that the amazing people that I am blessed to know feel worthy and loved, just for being who they are. And I’m starting here, right now, with you, my incredible friends:  

Happy Valentine’s Day, beautiful soul! I just wanted you to know that you are extraordinary. There is absolutely nothing that you aren’t worthy of. The world is in need of your precious heart. So remember, you are enough and you are loved, just as you are, today and every day.

(If you related to this message and want to have a Valentine’s Day marked by true love, I encourage you to spread the message of the last paragraph and reach out to those in your life. Go into your contacts on your phone or your friends list on Instagram, and copy and send this short message above, or something like it, to 10 (or more!) people that you want to love. Even if you haven’t talked to them in years, just send it. Be brave! I did it! The amount of love I felt was overwhelming, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the responses I did or didn’t get. That’s what Valentine’s Day should really be about.)

Honesty in Expectation

“Being enslaved to other people’s expectations has the ability to imprison us in a life that we didn’t choose…Far too often, I let my high expectations diminish the greatness of my reality.”

Expectations.

We all have them. It’s pretty much impossible not to.

But I have discovered that we allow our expectations to get the better of us on too many occasions. I am beginning to understand that letting go of expectations is the best way to find happiness with what you have.

Other people expect a lot of us. And that is something that we absolutely can’t change. Let me say that again; we can’t change other people. I learned that lesson the hard way. But what we can change is how we respond to others. We can let their expectations take control of us or we can choose to live unique lives. When we become overly worried about how we appear on the outside, about our material or social appearance, we are in danger of falling into a trap of winning the approval of others. When we let other people’s expectations control us, we choose lifestyles that are pleasing to society, rather than listening to the longings of our own hearts.

“It’s so easy to get stuck. You just get caught in being special or cool or whatever, to the point where you don’t even know why you need it, you just think you do.” – An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

Being enslaved to other people’s expectations has the ability to imprison us in a life that we didn’t choose.

And our expectations of others are just as, if not more, dangerous as the ones that people place on us.

Now let me clarify something before I move forward.

You deserve the best. You deserve to be treated like you matter. You deserve to be loved. You deserve to have people in your life that want the best for you and will listen to you when you’re at your lowest. You are allowed to expect kindness and love and friendship and generosity. These are not the expectations I am suggesting you push away. To do that would be self-destructive.

The kind of expectations I am talking about are the unrealistic expectations.

For example, I have a personal tendency to carefully plan out or write down (shocker) the things I am going to say before I actually say them. I throw different scenarios at myself, adapting to how I would react to different responses. Now perhaps this is somewhat extreme and is just the dramatic writer and performer that I am shining through into my personal life. But I know that I am not alone.

How many times have you planned out a conversation in your head and been extremely disappointed, even angry, when it doesn’t go the way you planned? How many times have you said something to someone expecting, or at least hoping, for a certain response? And how many times have you been disappointed when something you thought was going to go one way went completely in the opposite direction?

And we all do it. Every one of us. We tell someone that something doesn’t matter, expecting them to turn around and say “of course it does.” We tell someone that we are leaving them, expecting them to turn around and fight for us. We say or do something kind and expect to be recognized for it. And none of us want to admit these things, but they are true.

We build up expectations that don’t match our reality. We create people and things in our minds that are far more perfect than they actually are. The danger in this is obvious: no one is perfect, so no one can live up to our perfect expectations.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” – Paper Towns, John Green

And if we think about it logically, this way of living makes no sense. How can we possibly be upset when other people don’t live up to an idea that lives only in our minds?

And yet we do it. Constantly.

So I’m trying to change this for myself. I have a new goal: to be honest and live life without expectations of perfection. Because I have found them to be nothing but dangerous.

Holding on to unexpressed, impossible expectations is the easiest way to destroy happiness and relationships.

Because we are human. If we ourselves are incapable of loving other people perfectly, or responding to every situation perfectly, then we can’t expect that of others. We can’t test others, telling ourselves that they really care only if they respond exactly in the way that we expect them to. We can’t expect people to feel the way that we feel. We can’t expect them to understand everything going on in our lives, especially when we don’t tell them. We can’t expect people to read our minds.

And friends, I am going to be really real here. I am the biggest culprit of this. Far too often, I let my high expectations diminish the greatness of my reality. I read into every word of a phone call. I let the unanswered text message spiral me into a place of self-doubt. I start to think “if they really cared about me, they would have [insert my own personal, unexpressed expectation here].”

“Most people see the world as a threatening place, and because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.” – The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

The only way that I have come up with to fix this issue is honesty. We need to have the courage to discuss expectations, the ones placed on us by those around us and the ones we place on others. We have to be willing to lay our expectations on the line and we have to be willing to tell others that some expectations are too much for us.

And just think about what would happen if we were honest and learned not expect things. If we were able to limit our own impossible expectations, everything would become a blessing. Our days would be filled with moments of joy, instead of disappointments. Instead of being upset when something doesn’t go the way that we expected, we might be pleasantly surprised. Instead of being sad about what doesn’t happen, we would be happy about what does. Everything good that happens would be an unexpected gift. 

So I am going to try to learn to let go. I am going to make a conscious effort to be surprised by the good and the bad. I am going try to appreciate people for who they are and understand that the fact that they may not think and love like me is what makes this world unique and creative, albeit challenging. Because how boring would it be if we were all the same and just simply lived to live up to expectations?

“I was beginning to understand, though, that there were no absolutes, not in life or in people.” – Just Listen, Sarah Dessen

Not Too Ashamed to Care, But Too Caring to Be Ashamed

“You have to learn to stand up for yourself.”

“You have to take initiative.”

“You’re just too nice.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a genuine longing to do things for other people. I love buying gifts for people. I like giving out compliments. I will pay for the drink of the person behind me at the coffee shop. I jump at the chance to  sit with my friends and give them advice.

But recently I discovered a trend in my life that made me question everything.

The other night, I found myself crying to a best friend on the phone at nearly 1 am. I was crying because I gave everything to someone that decided I wasn’t worth it. I trusted someone that used my heart against me.

And in the midst of that conversation, my friend said “you know, this is a theme in your life. Maybe you’re attracted to certain kinds of people because so many times you give everything to people who use you. ”

And she was right. I had noticed it before. Way too many times, especially in the last few years, someone I called a friend had leaned on me in order to make themselves feel better, only to then decide, one way or another, that I was too much too handle. That the love that I had to give was too much for them to take on.

And it left me feeling so stupid and broken. What was I doing loving these people? What was I doing being kind only so they could turn around and use me?

The solution I came up with? I decided not to care so much. I decided to make surface level connections and not put so much stake in my relationships. I pulled away from people I loved, out of the fear of scaring them away by caring too much.

This didn’t work. Not even close. I pulled away from people I cared about and kept my feelings to myself so that I wouldn’t get hurt. But as I did this, I just became more and more broken. I found that I was further and further away from my authentic self.

And then one day, when I was at my lowest, someone said five words to me: “you were made for more.” This changed my whole perspective and I had a realization.

I am not the problem.

I had spent such a long time trying to change myself, trying to be someone I was not, someone with a smaller heart, in order to fit the world’s image. But that’s not who I am, and so it was never going to work. I was never going to be happy being dishonest with my heart.

So if you are like me, and you feel things deeply and you love too hard, let me be the first to tell you:

You are not the problem.

The  problem is that the world we live in is one  where “nice” has become something of which you can be too much. Everyone tells us that we have to change ourselves, have to lose our compassion if we ever want to get where we want to go in life.

We are living in a world where I have become the one responsible for other people’s treatment of me. We are living in a world that teaches us that to be kind and vulnerable is to ask for abuse. We are living in a world in which I am the one pinned with feelings of shame and regret when someone takes advantage of me. We are living in a world in which caring has become something to be ashamed of.

It is the world that needs to change, not me.

I am imperfect, and there are certainly ways in which I can better myself, but, regardless of what the world tells me, hiding my feelings in order to keep from scaring those who cannot appreciate and respect me for them, is not the way to do that.

And so I have made a decision. I have decided that I would rather be the one who cares more than the one who doesn’t care at all. I would rather feel the pain of a broken heart than regret not loving.

I have decided to love bravely and care passionately, to “love like there’s no such thing as a broken heart.”

And I pray that, one day, selfless love will once again be an act of true character instead of the characterization of a desperate person trying to win affection. I pray that we will all strive to lift up the ones with the bravery to be compassionate, instead of using them up and tearing them down.

Some people might think this prayer is naive. Me? I just think it’s necessary.

“They were needy, afflicted, tormented…Of them, the world was not worthy.” -Hebrews 11:37-38