The Moment My Life Changed

I remember specific moments where my life had changed. The minute I bought that plane ticket to go halfway across the world; the time I chased a dream despite the many obstacles in my way; the moment I kissed that boy knowing the only two possible outcomes were happiness or heartache. I knew. In every moment I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that life would never go according to plan, and no matter how much you try to bribe your way into a better outcome, the dice have already been rolled and there’s nothing you can do but play the cards you have. I knew that they were course-altering moments and if I were in a movie, they would be the scenes that can be identified by a change in music, forcing the audience to feel one way or another. I knew.

I knew that in all the emotions I could have felt in every moment that my life had changed, the only one that pounded its way across my head, knocking into my skull time and time again to make itself known, was fear. It wasn’t the type of fear that held me back – binded at the wrists and ready to succumb to the innevitable outcome that I had no choice but to follow. Nor was it the fear that boiled my blood and left adrenaline coursing through my veins like a drug that couldn’t be stopped. It was a different kind of fear. It was fear that caused my heart to pound just a beat too fast and my mind to quiet like the world around me as it focused only on the moment I was in. It was the feeling you get when you explore a new place on your own – afraid of what could happen but curious and thrilled at the possibilities ahead. It was the moment on the track just before the gun is shot; the intensity of the musician as the conductor lifts their arms; the readiness of the actor as the curtains open in front of them. In every moment there was fear, but it was the fear of the beginning that puts everything else into action. I knew.

I knew that this fear, while not blinding or adrenaline-inducing, was one I would come to know and love because it meant my life was moving forward. While I never knew if that direction was one that would end in a triumphant roar of the audience or a defeated fall on my knees, what I did know is that I would be better off because of it. The victory would inspire me to go even further while the defeat would teach me to hold my head a little higher.

I have learned not to be afraid of being afraid – an irony that took me more time to learn than I’d like to admit. My mind has been trained into understanding that the greatest type of fear is the one you feel just moments before a change; moments before you push past the comfort zone you once set for yourself and fly into a new territory that has been waiting to be explored by you. Because the only two reasons that you can be uncomfortable with where your life is at is because you’re either staying in your comfort zone where you don’t belong, or you’re pushing past it where you’re not used to. And I would rather feel the fear of moving forward than experience the loss of standing still, and this is something I know.

A Lesson from a Mountain


In Krabi, Thailand, there is a place called Tiger Cave Temple, a Buddhist
temple that sits on a mountain nearly 1,000 feet high (278 meters to be exact.) The cave got its name from a monk who, when meditating, claims to have seen tigers walking through the cave. Ever since, the site has been a popular tourist attraction that only the strong-willed can enjoy… after all, not everyone is willing to climb 1,237 steps to see a temple.

When I visited this place two summers ago with my brother and a friend we were staying with in Thailand, I was feeling disheartened about my journey. I had spent two years working and saving to fly my brother and I out to Thailand, but after being there for some time, I realized how difficult it was being in such a new place. Nobody spoke English. The food was not my favorite. I was always hot and always tired. It was all so new and overwhelming that I began to think I may not have been cut out for this adventure. I remember lying in bed after the first few nights and debating booking an early flight home – my doubts about the trip were far outweighing the adventure of it all and I didn’t know how to handle it.

But I kept on. I had worked too hard to get there and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t tough it out and give myself time to adjust.

At the end of the first week, we all flew to Krabi to spend a weekend at a resort owned by a friend of the friend we were staying with. The resort was surrounded with mountains that were lightly painted with trees and had soft edges that made the view gentler. The first night there, we made a short walk to the beach and watched the sunset before cruising the market for some street food. The next day, however, is when the real adventure kicked in and we headed to Tiger Cave Temple.

We all stood at the base looking at a sign that says “1,237 steps to top mountain” and watched as monkeys danced along the side. Our gazes shuffled between the sign and the top of the mountain and back to the sign again as we took everything in.

My Thai friends are all laughing and making comments about climbing to the top – some have done it before, some haven’t. They go back and forth between speaking Thai and English, so my brother and I stand to the side and take in our surroundings. Eventually we all come together (everyone speaking English, thankfully) and huddle around the bottom discussing how bad 1,000+ steps can really be and judge the expressions of others coming down as some sort of guide to decide if we should go up. After some discussion, we decide to make the trek, my brother and I being the first to start and one person staying behind with our stuff.

When the sign says 1,237 steps, it fails to mention that these are not normal steps. Some are small and could barely be considered a step, others are six inches or more and require a heap to get up. It wasn’t long before my legs were physically shaking, and I was drenched (and I mean absolutely soaked) in my own sweat. The 100+ degree heat, 90% humidity and physical exertion made it impossible to do this climb elegantly and I fully expected to look like a troll when I finished.

Thinking about all those steps doesn’t sound like something too terrible and it was easy to convince ourselves that we could do it. But in the actual doing, it became very evident how easily the mind had played us. There were multiple times when my brother would stop in fear that he was going to throw up and swear he couldn’t keep going. Occasionally, I would sit on a step trying to rest because my head was spinning so much from dehydration that I could barely see straight (did I mention I didn’t bring a water bottle?). I encouraged him to keep climbing, keep breathing, and he can do it – words I told myself the whole way up as well.

Ten steps. After a certain point, that’s all I could do before I had to stop and rest. I would would take ten steps then sit on the blue railing that lined the path to the top and look around. The trees were so thick that there was no way of telling how high you were and the only way of telling how far you had come were the signs that scattered their way to the top to let you know how many steps were left. People coming down from the top would give words of encouragement, telling us how worth it it is to get to the top and to keep going. I would smile at them and sigh with exhaustion because speaking was not something that I could do easily at that moment. But once I could breathe again, I would climb another ten steps.

You’d be surprised how much thinking you can get done when climbing a mountain. For a while I thought about my time running track (partially how I regretted quitting because I was very much out of shape – something this climb made very apparent.) But more specifically, I thought about my first time running in high school. I remember sitting in the car with my older brother as we headed to my first high school track practice. I was training with the long-distance team, which my older brother also ran for, and I was pretty nervous. My only previous track experience was field events so running six-eight miles a day was going to be a challenge and I knew it. My brother was telling me about what to expect; what the coaches were like, who the runners were, who to stay away from, etc. Then, as encouragement, he said to me, “your mind is stronger than your body, remember that.” This was nearly six years ago, and I still think about that quote every day.

As I climbed ten steps at a time, I kept my brother’s words close. “My mind is stronger,” I would mutter silently to myself. With each step, I would push anything physical I was feeling to a place deeper down and bring this thought further out. My mind is stronger than my body.

100 steps to go.

90 steps.

80.

I had never felt fatigue like I did when I was pushing through the last few steps, but my mind is stronger. If I believe I can do it, nothing else can stop me. It’s like Louis Zamperini once said, “If I can take it, I can make it.”

20 steps.

10 steps.

Final step.

I made it.

Without hesitation I made my way to a water fountain that had a small cup tied to the faucet with a string. I drank diligently until I felt even the slightest bit refreshed and my mind was a little clearer. I became strangely aware of the fact that all my clothes had soaked through with sweat and I didn’t even want to know what my face looked like. I was disgusting and I knew it. But when I made my way over to the edge and looked at where I was, nothing else mattered.

1,000 feet up and I could see everything. The tops of the trees felt small below. I could see the sections of land that were busy with people and the sections that were devoid of people but dedicated to agriculture or forests. I could see other temples peeking from the green scenery, their tops of gold or white standing out as the sun caused them to glow among their surroundings. I could see the dirt roads that cut sharply through the land and disappeared into the green. I could see everything.

I sat down as others made their way up the final steps and took in the view. My mind was running wild with thoughts. I thought about the past week and how I had debated leaving and how now I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I thought about the past two years and how hard I had worked to get where I am. I thought about my older brother and his encouraging words. I thought about the steps. All the steps and how all 1,237 of them brought me to where I was at that moment.

As far as I can remember, my thoughts stopped there. They didn’t go any deeper and I didn’t push for them to, I just brought myself back to the moment and found peace in the present. But as I reflect on my life now and I look back at my journey then, I realize the importance of everything I went through. I didn’t know it then, but I learned that sometimes in life, whether you can see your progress or not, whether you’re tired or not, whether you think you can make it or not, you just have to keep climbing.

Your mind is stronger than your body, and this mountain you’re climbing has nothing on your mind. Let its steep steps and willingness not to be climbed strengthen you. Let the ache in your body drive you. Let the doubts in your mind feul you. When the time comes, you will be humbled by the view from above. 

Bloom

Winter beat me down. Freezing the soil that was supposed to help me grow and leaving my soul covered in ice and ready to shatter at any given moment. The constant battle between feeling the warmth of the sun and hiding in the shadows became exhausting and left me tired. Tired of the pain that comes with clawing my way through the frozen dirt. Tired of the ache that is felt when my mind wanders to a place it shouldn’t. Tired of fighting for people who didn’t fight back, leaving me covered in bruises while they were left standing tall. I had been pushed away, people not realizing that what really happened was I had been pushed down as they walked away. There had to be more to life than this. Flowers don’t bloom in frozen soil and you can’t move forward when you’re lying on your back.

But I know that winter is both an end and a beginning, and I will honor every ending. Even if the ending is a broken heart. A broken soul. A broken smile. The sun continues to shine every day and whether I’m hiding in the shadows or not, the ice around me will still melt. And while the sun shines around me, I know that there is a light within me that shines as well. It may be hidden behind the cold and darkness right now, but it is trying to break through and eventually it will thaw out the frozen heart that aches within my chest. The light is beautiful, and so am I. When it gets its chance to shine through it will flicker and fade like everything else, but it will shine with an urgency that lets the world know that I am not done. I have not been defeated.

Soil cannot be used until it has been beaten and rained on. I am confident that while I have been put through the wringer time and time again, I am being prepared for something great. For someone great. Someday I will know how the stories that have been building up inside me were being archived to tell to the right person. To someone who wants nothing more than to hear about the mess within my mind and smile when I tell them about all my little victories. About how sometimes simply getting out of bed made me proud. About how the mud that once covered me flaked off my skin to reveal a softness I never knew I had. A softness that was preparing my heart to love in a way it never knew it could. They will see the unsteady light within me and know that it, too, is something worth fighting for.

Though winter beat me down, spring brings a new sun. A new peace. I still have to fight my way through the cold and rely on my own uneasy breath to warm up the layers of ice that have been collecting over my spirit, but I will keep breathing, even if my lungs begin to ache. The soil that has been stomped on, trampled over, frozen and soaked is only being prepared so a garden of the most beautiful flowers can begin to bloom in the new sun. There will be daisies and sunflowers. Things that remind me of light and beauty. Things I always have but cannot always see. While I have been left hurt and uneasy, I am grateful that I was pushed down and beaten by others because it has ripened my soul. I am not always the best and I am not always right, but I do my best to do what is right. A new season is coming and by the grace of God, I will bloom in every way I know how.

Do You Deserve the Love you Accept From Yourself?

Growing up I had always been afraid of heights. I remember having panick attacks on roller coasters and clinging to my best friend on a ferris wheel because the idea of being so high up and having so far to fall terrified me. There was no sense of “freedom” being up so high, it was just pure fear. At some point, though, I decided that I hated being afraid of something so trivial. So, I did what I could to tackle that fear. I rode more roller coasters. I climbed to higher heights. I tried to expose myself to the very thing that scared me so much so that I no longer felt afraid. Or rather, so that the fear didn’t mean nearly as much to me as the thrill.

I did the same thing with love.

Throughout this year, I began to analyze myself more deeply and learned a lot about my fear of love and where it came from. I learned that the amount of failed relationships that had surrounded my life had paralyzed me to the idea of love and caused me to (subconsciously) live in fear of relationships. So, just like with my fear of heights, I decided to dive headfirst into love.

I met a few people here and there and explored the posibility of love with each one, but it never felt right – none of them felt like the perfect match. Then, I unexpectedly fell in love with a man who wasn’t, by any means, perfect. His hobbies were more like obsessions; his temper was strong but shortlived; his opinions were nothing shy of (overly) passionate. But none of that mattered to me because I still saw perfection even in all of that. I saw his crinkly smile and felt the way it made my heart skip. I heard his laugh (which was more like a giggle) and couldn’t help but feel laughter bubble up within myself. I listened to the way he talked about things that mattered to him and I felt something that made cliche’s seem normal and love songs make sense. I knew I was in trouble, but with everything he did and said, I fell a little more.

I wish I could say there was a happy ending to the relationship and, because of him, I learned that there was nothing to be afraid of, but that’s not the case. Instead, I learned why I was afraid to love – I learned how much it could hurt if it didn’t last – and added that to my current knowledge of where the fear came from.

I’m not going to give any of the gory details on how the relationship ended because I don’t want blame to be pointed in any one direction. (I may write something that focuses on the relationship later on, but for now, this is a little more about me.) I believe wholeheartedly that the failure came from both ends – we each had things we needed to work on and that’s simply why we couldn’t be together right now. But when I look back on the relationship, I’m able to see how, in my opinion, we were doomed from the beginning; he never knew how to love me and I never know how to accept love from him – it doesn’t mean the love wasn’t there, it just means we were on a track that would eventually run short.

While I’ve never felt a pain worse than heartbreak and I think I definitely have quite a bit of healing to do, I’m glad I got the time that I did with a man who has such a great heart so I could learn what it’s like to love and allow myself to learn more of who I am. My last post was about my own mental health struggles, and being in love with someone else was exactly what I needed for me to realize how little love I had for myself. Each time I got upset about something he did or didn’t do or the appreciation I did or didn’t feel had little to do with him, but a lot to do with me. It was a realization that was hard to accept, but I’m glad I know it now.

Opening my heart up as much as I did when falling in love with him and then having it broken in the end was the only way for me to see inside of my heart and take a deeper look at what was in there. All of my insecurities, loneliness, and struggles were finally making themselves evident and it’s because of the appearance of those things that I couldn’t have a successful relationship with anyone even if I wanted to. I would always end up either pushing that person away or putting too much pressure on them, something that wouldn’t be healthy for either of us.

But maybe that’s what falling in love is all about. Maybe it’s about learning what’s in your own heart and then acting accordingly. It’s easy to hide from things until you start exposing yourself to someone else. Shallow relationships will never get you there, but deep relationships will force you to expose some of the most vulnerable parts of yourself, and that’s part of what makes them hard but so worth it.

I learned that I could give all the love I have to someone else, and I think I did that to the best of my ability, but that doesn’t mean anything if I don’t know how to love myself. After all, how can I truly accept love from others if I can’t even accept it from myself?

“We accept the love we think we deserve,” right? I would encourage you to truly ask yourself what kind of love you think you deserve…

Does it align with the love you’re showing others?

Does it align with the love you’re showing yourself?

Epidemic

There’s a lot of commotion going on in the world right now. With opinions that differ in more ways than one and people butting heads over the desire to be right, I feel as if there’s been a dwindling of hope spreading across the nation – an epidemic of moral losses as everyone searches for a political gain. But the problem doesn’t lie outside of us – it’s not something we can put limitations on or negotiate – the problem lies within us.

I have a thing for encouraging shirts. No matter where I’m at, if I see a shirt with an encouraging or optimistic phrase on it, I have to buy it. It all started when I bought a shirt that says, “peace starts with empathy.” This shirt is my favorite, because it reminds me to be empathetic (understanding or compassionate towards experiences or people without having firsthand experience) no matter what the situation is. I think this world could use a lot of empathy right now. We seem to have collectively looked at the world, pinpointed a problem, and settled on the quickest and “easiest” solution possible, but the only reason this “solution” seems easy is because it doesn’t require any real change within us – it leaves all of us free of guilt while also leaving us free of change. But we can’t have both.

We need to change. Not laws or legislation, us. We need to be more responsible with our actions, more careful with our words, and more generous with our hearts. We need to make a point to reach our hand out every chance we get instead of stepping over all the people who have fallen and expect them to be okay. We need to get rid of this, “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mindset and start helping others – the change may start within ourselves, but an individualistic mindset will lead to individualistic actions, and this world is in desperate need of collective actions.

Stop giving people reasons to feel alone. Stop giving people reasons to believe nobody cares. Stop giving this world reasons to lose hope. Let’s start a new epidemic – start filling yourself up with empathy and spreading light and love everywhere you go. The world is too dark of a place to keep it all inside.