Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dream Well, Live Well

"We are here to laugh at the odds 
and live so well 
that death trembles to take us."
- Charles Bukowski

I was looking at my bucket list today, adding to it. I'm always adding to it. And I realized that I am a dreamer. I don't think there's a realistic bone in my body. I dream and dream and dream.

I want to write a book. I want to publish a novel. A best-seller. It would be fiction because that's all I like to write. I like pretending to be different people in different places at different times. I like imagining adventures. I like falling in love with my characters. I'll be a modern-day Jane Austen. I'll be bigger than John Greene.

I want to backpack across Europe. I want to explore Ireland, experience the cultures of England, hike through France, befriend people in Austria. If I were ever to run away, look for me in Europe. I'll be sitting at a cafe, writing my book.

I want to ride on the back of a motorcycle. I want to go skydiving. I want to go white water rafting. I want to go rock climbing. I want to have so many adrenaline rushes that my heart never slows down.

I want to learn everything. I want to learn how to make pottery. I want to learn to speak French fluently. I want to learn how to knit. I want to learn how to make the perfect green smoothie. I want to learn how to sew without breaking the sewing machine (sorry, Mom). I want to learn how to become a really great photographer. 

I want to get married. To some, this is a realistic goal. To me, this is a dream. I truly believe in soul mates. And my soul is crazy. So it's hard for me to believe that there is another soul as crazy and wild as mine.

I know that most of my dreams are pretty far out there. I doubt I'll ever have the resources needed to publish a book. And I don't have thousands of dollars and months to spend hiking my way through Mount Blanc. And I may never have the opportunity to go white water rafting. And I'll never have enough time to master a million new hobbies. And who knows if my soul will ever find a match?

So what will happen if my dreams never come true? 

I'll cry. I'll grieve the memories that I'll never have and the knowledge that I'll never learn. I'll miss the places I've never been to and the people I'll never meet. 

But what if, against all odds, my dreams do come true?

What if my novel gets published and future writers are inspired by it? What if people from all around the world travel to art museums just to see the Jessica Lee collection? What if my Instagram is filled with pictures of me skydiving or rappelling down a mountain? What if I spend a year of my life, traveling through Europe and learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee? What if I meet a man who is willing to keep up with my wild soul?

I would rather have dreams that never come true, than never dream at all.

I want to live well. And you can't live well, unless you dream well.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Soul Searching and Spring Cleaning

Today is the first day of spring. Everyone is wearing dresses and posting hopeful pictures of flowers. I, on the other hand, rolled out of bed 15 minutes before work, put on a baggy sweater, and blared Mumford (mostly Little Lion Man) on repeat just to match my mood.

Now I know that I could have done yoga or read the Bible or done something to make myself feel better. But sometimes it's okay to be sad, especially when you have a good reason. And I have a very good reason.

I am doing the most painful thing a person can ever do. I'm soul searching. I'm discovering myself. I am finding the ugly parts of me, trying to figure out when, how, and why these things turned dark, and  then the hardest part - trying to turn them beautiful again.

It's hard enough even discovering the ugly things. I find myself saying, "I never even knew these things were here!" Almost like finding the fast food leftovers that have been smelling up the whole car. But unlike finding the rotting fries, I can't just reach under the seat, say, "How long have you been in there?" and throw the problem away. I actually have to deal with it.

Have you ever tried to fix something you didn't even know was broken? Or try to find something when you don't even know what it is that is missing? I guess that's why it's called self discovery. Discovering the unknown parts of me, the person who I used to think I knew all about.

Only when I decided to start soul searching, I thought I'd find all sorts of buried treasure. I wanted to uncover new talents or amazing characteristics that would open up doors to all sorts of opportunities and remake me into a better, smarter, kinder person. But so far, all I've discovered are negative habits that started years ago and hidden secrets that I am no where close to uncovering.

People love spring because when the snow finally melts, we find a million new mysteries. Baby animals and green grass. And the sun always seems just a little brighter. Maybe with spring will come my beauty, too. Kind of like a spring cleaning of myself. If only it was as easy as sweeping up dust bunnies and shaking out the curtains.

It's more like someone ripping open your chest, exposing the parts of your heart that you didn't even know existed and you didn't even know hurt until the cold air blew on them; and someone yelling, "Look! Look what's inside of you! Look at what you've done! Look at who you are! Do you want to change? Do you?"

"Yes. Yes, I do."

And then comes the scalpel and the chisel, trying desperately to straighten out all the twists and turns of a hurting soul.

Let the spring bring pain, change, and beauty.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Remember Your Loveliness

I remember being young - probably about 6 or 7 - standing on an old, black leather ottoman and holding a bouquet of fake red roses that I got from the dollar store. I put on music, stood up tall, held those oversized flowers and made my mom take a picture. I was pretending that I had just received the Olympic gold medal for the most flawless figure skating performance that anyone had ever seen. Because I, in my 1st grade innocence and oblivion, knew that I was the most beautiful girl in the world.

So what happened? What changes inside us? When does it become more beautiful to wear eyeliner and highlight your hair than simply to brush your teeth and (maybe) put on a clean pair of socks? When do the compliments change from "You're so beautiful" or "What a pretty girl!" to "Wow, have you lost weight?" or "I love what you did with your makeup - it makes your eyes pop!"

When does this happen? Is it an age? Does a switch get flipped?

I'm tired of spending money on clothes, but I have a fear that if I wear my favorite shirt (denim chambray) too many times in one month, people will think I'm ugly. And if I don't wear eyeliner (which I don't because I can't figure out how to do it without looking like I got punched in the face), I don't feel as beautiful as the rest of the girls around me. And if I don't dye my hair, or cut my hair, or curl my hair,  or do whatever is going around on Pinterest, I won't be lovely.

And I realized today that this is something that I've learned, that we've all learned. I'm not sure where I learned it first.

Was it the 6th grade "Your shirt doesn't say Aeropostale across the front?!"

Or maybe it was music, because after all, the only song that my brownish-green eyes can relate to is Kelly Clarkson's sad breakup song "Behind These Hazel Eyes" while every other song is devoted to baby blues.

Or maybe it was the countless movies and TV shows that broadcast unrealistically gorgeous expectations of what girls, and guys, are supposed to look like. I mean, how can I watch Pretty Little Liars when Aria and Hanna dig through the dirt all night and still have better hair than me?

But somewhere in the middle of all of this, we learned what beautiful is, and we were taught that naturally we do not measure up.

So we change things.

Haircuts or extensions. Bleaching hair or shaving it all off. A sleeve of tattoos or makeup to hide every freckle. Beards or clean shaven.

And that's the biggest lie that we've learned to believe. That if we want to be beautiful, if we want to be handsome, if we want to be lovely, we have to change something.

But that's simply not true.

Some people think it's of the devil to wear any hint of mascara or wear any clothing that shows off your body. I grew up with the words "God made you beautiful just the way you are" and "Modest is hottest" repeated over and over.

Personally I thank God everyday for makeup to cover-up blemishes that I swear only show up on class presentation days or date nights. I also thank God for push-up bras so that I can pretend to have more than an A cup. (A cups in college? Seriously?)

But neither of those things make me beautiful.

I saw a girl coming out of Starbucks last week with her hair dyed redder than the Little Mermaid's. She looked so cool but that hair color didn't make her any more, or any less, beautiful.

Nothing you can do will ever make you more or less lovely.

I discovered a beautiful poem today, but one line really stood out:

"Sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness."
- Galway Kinnell

You're already lovely. I'm already lovely.

All the makeup in the world, all the hair dye, all the best clothes won't make you or I any more or less lovely.

I wish I could say something to make you believe it. And honestly, I wish I could believe it completely myself. 

But after years and years of learning what to change or how to put on eyeshadow or what stores to buy clothes from, I think it might take more than just one passionate blogger to reteach the world their loveliness. But like the next few lines of the poem reads:

"To put a hand on the brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within"

So I'll just start with telling you. Telling everyone I see. You're beautiful. Not just your outfit (because next month it'll probably be out of style) or your makeup (because mascara only lasts so long before it dries up). 

But you, me, we're beautiful.

Your blue eyes and my hazel ones.

Your button nose and my parrot one.

Your big smile and my tiny one.

Your short body and my tall, lanky one.

Your long hair and my short curls.

Everything in between.

We, with or without makeup, with or without hair dye, with or without new clothes, with or without piercings and with or without tattoos, are lovely. And it is necessary that we learn that.

Again, this blogpost came straight from my journal, which I wrote this in immediately after reading Galway Kinnell's "Saint Francis and the Sow".

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Haiti has a Hold on my Heart

I'm not even going to try to explain it. Because if you weren't there, you wouldn't understand.

Friends who had gone before told me so many stories. They told me exactly what I would see, who I would meet, what smells would be in the air. I even knew some of the children's names and some of their beautiful language before I ever set foot on their soil. Culture shock won't get me, I told myself. I know what to expect.

But I sit here, writing this at the kitchen table, Bon Iver playing in the background, and I'm crying at just the thought of what I saw and what I experienced.

Culture shock is an understatement. As I stood on the back of a truck as we rushed through the unpaved roads that twisted through the villages, I was sure that this was not real. In fact, it still doesn't feel real.

I had seen it on TV. I had seen it on the internet, probably under a big blinking tab that said "Give". And I probably did give. Oh, you poor thing, living in a sorry excuse for a mud hut. Sure, here's ten dollars. Hope this helps. Maybe I'll remember to say a prayer for you tonight. 

But it was so much more than the dirty, crying faces that I had seen on TV for my whole life.

This was real.

I wish I could tell everything. I want to tell everything. But I can only tell one story.

The last picture in this post is of a beautiful little girl. I don't even know her name. I asked so many times but I was never able to pronounce it.

She befriended me. She held my hand. She showed me around the beach. She gave me gifts of seashells and live crabs and broken glass and trash. She sat on my lap and she danced with me. She brushed the hair out of my face every time the wind blew.

She told me I was beautiful, and I told her she was very beautiful. For that day, for those few hours, we were best friends. She was my favorite person. She still is.

Like I said, you won't understand. You can't understand. Because I was there, and I don't understand.

What's the big deal about a little Haitian girl brushing the hair out of your eyes with her dirty little hands? I don't know. I don't know what the big deal is. I don't know why I proudly display those broken seashells on my shelf. I don't know why I think about her everyday. I can't explain it to you, because I don't even know the answer.

Haiti ripped my heart open, slapped me in the face, tore me apart. And even with all of that going on inside me, I've never felt more complete.

I swear, Haiti brings out the best in me.

Friday, March 7, 2014

I'm Sorry for Being Selfish.

I had a breakdown today. And then I had a breakthrough. Funny how they seem to go together.

I have tried so hard to not be selfish, that that's exactly what I've become. My thoughts have been consumed about me - what happened to me, what I'm doing wrong, how I could be better, how I am bothering everyone. I heard a quote today -

"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."
C.S. Lewis

I've been spending so much time, effort, and money on trying to be a better person when I should be using those resources to get to know others, loving them and blessing them. Because me moping around literally does nothing. There are a million people feeling the exact same way as me, and I'm doing nothing for them in the name of selflessness.

At the end of my life, God isn't going to say, "Wow, Jessica, you were so selfless, lying there on your bed all day, thinking you didn't deserve anything." No. When I die, I want to be remembered as a girl who loved others so much, always cheering them and encouraging them. 

Who cares if I don't "deserve" happiness - does anyone? Who has right to say that one person is more important than another? If I heard someone telling a girl that she was worthless, that she deserved nothing, that no one cared about her, I would be furious. So why do I treat myself that way? What makes me so much worse than everyone else? Nothing. And me constantly thinking of myself (and how bad I am and how useless I am and how bothersome I am) is selfish. Completely selfish. 

So I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that for these past few months, the only person I really cared about was me and how "terrible" I am and how "worthless" I am and how "unlovable" I am. 

I'm sorry that I always ask permission before telling stories. (Example: "Can I tell you something?" "Are you too busy?" "Do you mind if I say something?" "Want to know something?") If I believe that every person is valuable, and I do, then I am valuable too and I shouldn't be so scared to share my thoughts, my feelings, my secrets, my life with others.

I'm sorry to the 99% of my friends who I am fake with. I tried to be selfless by only showing you the happy side of me, when in reality, I cry myself to sleep and wish that more people knew my darkest secrets. By only showing you part of me, I was selfish, not letting you truly be my friend. Maybe I've hidden myself from everyone because of pride, or shame, or maybe even good intentions - I'm not sure. But I don't want to do it anymore.

And I'm sorry for apologizing too much. If anything goes wrong, I think it's my fault. If you're having a rough day, I put the blame on myself and how I'm a terrible friend. I thought this was me being selfless. It's not. It's taking the focus off of you and what you're going through, and instead putting it on me and how I'm not a good friend and how I need to do better. 

I'm sorry if I've ignored you or hurt you. I probably just assumed I didn't deserve your friendship. I don't believe people when they say they care so I put up a lot of walls. I'm really sorry that I do that. I wish I didn't, and I truly am working on it.

But this selfish selflessness ends today. I'm not going to feel bad about myself for no reason. I'm not going to view myself as invaluable or useless or anything else. I want to prove to others that they are loved, not by loving myself less (what message does that send?) but by loving myself completely and saying "Join me, let's love everyone, let's love ourselves." 

I've been wondering lately how to be a good example in this world. Well, maybe if I climb out of the pit I've put myself in, I can actually be seen. Because I'm worth being seen and the words I have to say are worth being heard. I know that now.

One last apology. And this one is to myself. 

I am so sorry for putting you down, hurting you, not getting help, calling you names. You're good. You try so hard. You deserve the best. You've been through a lot. But you're going to be okay now. And I'm going to love you. 

This post was written straight from my journal. If it doesn't apply to you, that's completely fine. This is here for me. (Sorry if that's selfish. Ha. See what I did there?)
Photo credit: Natalie Hagen.