Traveling is a bit like falling in love

A few days ago, I got in my car. With a deep breath, I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of my parents’ driveway.

I had meticulously filled my car with my favorite belongings and necessities for the road.

I had been held in the I-won’t-see-you-for-several months embrace of my parents.

I had double checked for the fourth time that I hadn’t left anything important behind.

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And then I did the thing I had been talking about doing since February.

I started heading west.

Gratitude spilled out in the form of tears as the reality sunk in, driving on Interstate 80.

I had been looking forward to palm trees and beaches and the start of this new season in California. But ahead of me lay thousands of miles of In-Between.

Not that I was dreading this trek across the country. I not-so-secretly love long drives in the car. And while the magnitude of this road trip was unprecedented for me, I had a sense of giddy anticipation for the journey ahead.

As the sun steadily rose in the cloudless sky, the familiar cornfields melted into the open plains that stretch through Nebraska.

img_2438In the late afternoon, my eyes strained to see the faint purple outline of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the sky.

The next morning, my car swiveled through the jagged mountain terrain, past cobalt mountain lakes, with placid surfaces mirroring their surroundings. Slanting morning sun cast shadows of evergreen armies, standing salute on the sloping foothills. 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy little Ford Focus sped onward through highways that ribboned around the stony towers, the gray and greens blending into rust-colored plateaus of Utah.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetMaybe it was the elevation, or maybe it was the beauty that made my chest ache. There were moments that I couldn’t contain my elation. It felt wrong to be zooming past this glory at 80 miles per hour.

As I passed the continental divide and started the downward slope, I entered a part of the country I had never been to before. The beauty of the foothills I was driving through seemed to reflect the foothills of this adventure I was embarking on. This was uncharted territory. Stripped of everything familiar, I felt exposed.

It was as if someone had turned up the saturation and contrast levels of my experience both internally and externally.

Alone with my thoughts, I’d oscillate between giddy excitement for what these next few months would hold and dread at the realization that I am now essentially homeless and unemployed. I’d revel in my solitude one moment, and feel the pang of loneliness around the next bend in the highway. I would feel lulled into a mundane daze at the endless miles ahead of me, only to feel a surging burst of excitement when another beautiful mountain range would emerge on the horizon.

I think anytime I find myself venturing out into the unknown, the vulnerability leads to an intensity of sensation.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt struck me that this trip felt a little bit like falling in love. That feeling when the whole world seems to have a filter of vibrant colors.

Like falling in love, travel is uncomfortable and there’s so much uncertainty about how it will all turn out.

But your heart is ignited and your eyes opened to the possibilities and breath-taking beauty that other people might have passed by.

The beauty felt is almost painful. There’s this urgency to claim it, possess it, to share it.

Both of these experiences leave you forever changed.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWith any pursuit of the things the things our hearts long for, there is a rawness that grips us to the core.This vibrancy is not to be feared or shied away from with numbing defense mechanisms. It is to be leaned into.

This is what it means to be fully human.

Confessions of a Tall Woman

I am 72 and a half inches tall. 

Not that anyone’s counting. 

Actually, that’s not true. Seems like everyone’s counting. And commenting. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that I get a comment from a stranger on my height on a weekly basis.

Ranging from harmless:

“Wow. You’re tall!”

“How tall are you?”

“Do you play basketball?”

to more Really? You really just said that out loud to me?? comments.

“You’re so tall, you’re as big as a universe.” (From one of my students… good use of simile… don’t ever say that again.)

“That’s the biggest girl I’ve ever seen!” (Translated by a “friend” for me in Portuguese when I was in Brazil.)

“You’re pretty tall. I guess you only date guys taller than you?” (an attempt at a pick up line, I suppose??)

or this one that I overheard at Target a couple of weeks ago:

“Dude, that’s messed up!” (friend) “What?” “That girl’s like two feet taller than me!”

I am just over six feet tall, although various strangers have passionately disputed this, like the guy at a gas station who argued with me after asking how tall I was “No way. You are taller than that.” But undeniably, I am taller than most. It is noteworthy. It is, I think, what people notice most about me. At least as far as first impressions go.

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Ever since I can remember, this– being tall– has been one of my biggest sources of insecurity, of shame. When the question gets asked “What’s the one thing you would change about yourself,” my mind jumps to my height. Every time I hear someone make a comment as I pass by them, every time someone gives me the up-down glance, every time there’s a group picture and I am told to head to the back, I cringe. It happens when I look at the pictures where I’m a head taller than everyone else, when I’m hugging shorter people and wonder if they fear I’ll crush them as I awkwardly squat down. With every comment from well meaning strangers, I feel this sickening mix of anger and shame in the pit of my stomach.

I somehow thought that body image was something I’d leave behind in junior high, and while I am much more comfortable in my own skin than I was as a gangly thirteen year old, the fact of the matter is that our bodies can be one of our biggest sources of shame. It’s part of being human.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes– Allie, get over yourself. It could be a lot worse. Isn’t height admired in our culture?

Yeah, you’re probably right. And  when I hear a tall comment, I know cognitively that it’s not meant as a negative thing, but when I hear it again and again and again, when I hear “tall” what I’m really hearing is abnormal, large, giant.

So this came up a couple of months ago when the guy I was dating mentioned that he felt self conscious about my height. “I’ve just never been with someone that’s the same size as me. It’s just… different.” 

My first reaction was “Well of course. I feel weird about it, so it makes sense that you would too.” He was, and is, allowed to have his opinions and reactions to things. I appreciated his honesty.

But as I was driving home, the first tear slid down my cheek and the devastation set in. I realized I had been hoping that the person I was with would love that I was tall, and help me to overcome this insecurity. I thought that someone else’s acceptance would free me to accept it myself. I have long suspected that this quality in me has made men in my life uncomfortable and insecure and he just confirmed it. Well, that f***ing sucks. 

When my pity party came to an end, I assessed the situation. 

  1. I am not getting any shorter any time soon.
  2. It doesn’t look like people are going to stop noticing or commenting on my height either. 
  3. I cannot rely on someone else to bring me to a place of self acceptance. 

The only thing I can change in this situation is the power I am giving other people to affect my self image. I resolved to do the work, submitting to the process of not merely accepting myself, all 72.5 inches of me, but delighting in who I am and the way I was made. 

Because, I don’t know about you, but it sometimes isn’t super helpful when well-intentioned people try to help me feel proud about my height, offering benefits of tallness, or reminding me that height is valued in our culture. A guy at a wedding once told me that I was slouching and that I should stand tall, and while I think it was meant as encouragement, it just made me neurotically self-conscious about my posture for months. No, it has become clear to me that I need to do this on my own terms. 

I’m not entirely sure how to do this.. although, I don’t think it’s a formula or a 12 step process. It’s probably a long road of choosing, in the moment, to stop comparing, to be grateful, to not take myself so seriously, and to ask the people who ask if I play basketball  if they play mini-golf. 

Right now, I still feel a bit raw from that conversation a few months ago. I haven’t worn my one pair of high heels in months. I think of snarky comments to people’s comments on my height (but only after the moment has passed though… isn’t that always the case?) But I think coming to this realization is huge. Choosing to write about it and share it with you, dear reader, is a victory, and I am all about naming the moments of victory. 

In the year 2015, I think I have been entering into the process of becoming a woman. Which sounds weird maybe, but hear me out.  This revelation came on a different car ride, this past January (I always seem to have my epiphany moments on long car rides…) I was in this swirling storm of comparison and insecurity, painfully aware of how much I was basing my worth on my perceptions of others opinions of me. I felt this call to step away from that– to step into groundedness in who I am really. And then I wrote this poem, which is not something I do often, but it felt right. It has been a good anthem, and many times this year it has been a beautiful reminder. So I am sharing it with you.

I am a woman

confident and soft

elegant and untamed,

the Gentle Wild One.

I am a woman, steady and strong.

Still waters run deep

in a soul that is fed by 

the Spring of Living Water.

Yet I will not apologize 

or be afraid of my own humanity.

I refuse to be daunted by failure.

I will not shy away from the raw places,

for I am a woman.

Yes, I am a woman,

comfortable in my own skin.

In quiet confidence

I am able to Meet Their Gaze,

refusing to shrink away in fear 

or strive to meet perceived expectations.

I am a woman:

a Truth Speaker,

a Beauty Bringer,

a Created Co-Creator.

My words carry weight,

they bring life 

and the kind of hope that

diminishes the burden.

I am a woman, and I refuse 

to be intimidated by the lie of comparison,

the whisper of shame and insecurity,

and I simply have no time for bullshit.

I am a woman, 

and I am at home in the arms of

the Happy Trinity

I rest secure,

yet my hands clasp the hands of my sisters.

In connection and solitude

In the fray and in the stillness

I am 

a woman. 

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Your Very Flesh Shall Be a Poem

So it’s another Saturday night. And predictably, you can find me tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, reading and thinking and writing. (I’m fighting against the nagging feeling of being less valid for being alone on a Saturday evening, but it’s all good.)

Really, it actually really is. Good.

I looked up from the daily grind recently and was caught off guard by the happiness that had been quietly keeping me company. A heaviness, heartache, and a state of “crisis” had been such a constant companion for so long, that it was a shock to notice it had left.

Yes, there are moments of loneliness, self doubt, and messiness, and it’s honestly not where I thought I’d be, but life is good right now. There is much to be grateful for, and in His gracious kindness, God has opened my eyes to the gift of this current, blessed, uncomplicated season I am in right now.

Oddly, I find myself searching for a crisis. I think that I feel more valid when I have an issue that I have to work through- soul searching to occupy my mind and introspection to indulge in. How funny- am I really that stubbornly discontent? Yes.

I’m learning to take myself less seriously. Becoming less shocked at my own depravity and more quick to trust His sovereignty.  And that is not from my own efforts. It is a gift. I am aware that this sweet, uncomplicated season won’t last, and that’s ok. But I don’t want to miss out on the depth and richness in wholehearted living right now in this season because of this bracing myself for some theoretical impending pain. Choosing to become an expert in the the ways that life is beautiful, and dismissing that which insults my own soul.

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Art by Sabrina Ward Harrison

Lost and Found: Femininity

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I catch these glimpses of strong-willed, brave, passionate women and it is undeniably moving.  True Femininity is a beautiful and gravitational force.  It’s enigmatic, hard to put into words, but when I see it, my heart leaps up.

The feminine concept has had a tough go.  More often, it is either shrouded in cheap gaudy imitations, poisoned with reactionary fist shaking, or reduced to an impossible list of Martha-Stewarty perfection that no one can attain.  Lost in the cacophony of voices telling us what it means to be a woman, most of us get the vague sense that we aren’t doing it right, somehow simultaneously not enough, and too much.

And in the hiding and striving, we’ve lost a core part of our identity.  

Henri Nouwen said that

“A person becomes a person only when (she) is capable of standing open to receiving all the gifts which are prepared for (her).”

I feel the call- the invitation to release my tight fists, grasping at who I think I’m supposed to be- to open my palms and receive an identity He has for me.

I came across this magazine, Darling.  It is a refreshing call to Something New- Good News for a girl exhausted by the endless striving. It has fueled some mind-shifting thoughts that have inspired a quest for true femininity; both discovering how that plays out in my own identity, as well as calling it out in others.  On the back it claims:

 Darling Mission

Darling is a catalyst for positive change, leading women to discover beauty apart from vanity, influence apart from manipulation, style apart from materialism, sweetness apart from passivity, and womanhood without degradation.  Darling leads women to practice the arts of virtue, wit, modesty, and wisdom— all the while creating beauty and embodying love.  Darling says women are not only interesting, but original, not only good enough, but exceptional, not just here, but here for a purpose.

Beauty Apart from Vanity

The long scrutiny in the mirror.  A staring contest with my reflection in the mirror, brows furrowed and ending in a big sigh.  It’s astounding how much my confidence, my mood and the trajectory of my day is based on how I feel about my reflection in the morning.  If I feel like I’m having a good hair day, or like the way my outfit looks, it’s a much better day.

On the one hand, I am annoyed at this shallow thought process.  Why am I allowing external and fleeting circumstance to dictate my self image?  Why do I care so much?  Surely more “holy” women didn’t waste their time on such frivolities.

And yet… there is a still voice inside that is insistent:  beauty Matters.  We do not live in a universe with an infrastructure of sterile functionality, but rather an extravagant symphony of complex artistry.  As a reflection of the Creator, we have the impulse to create; a human desire that has been playing out in a myriad of ways since the beginning of time.  I’ll admit, something in me delights in wearing red lipstick, or the feeling of a silky dress on my legs.  I’m not doing this as a peacock, a vain attempt to be noticed or applauded.  There’s just something that delights my soul in creating beauty, whether it’s on a blank canvas, arranging food on my plate, or getting dressed for the day.

The snare is in thinking that beauty is solely an outward affair.  Something to put on.  To cover up and adorn so as to transform into something aesthetically pleasing for the purpose of outward approval and validation.

I’m coming to discover the reverse to be the case.  Beauty indwells every woman.

When I forget

my sisters remind me

that I come from love

and go to love: the only mirror;

that to be called beautiful

is a birthright

as united to me as my own shadow,

handed down

from woman

after woman,

like a chain of living paper dolls,

with joined hands

and unruly hair.*

Coming to Know our own beauty- to claim it and reveal it in our own way is a life long process. One that we must embark on, taking the hands of our sisters along the way. Our Beauty is not up for the evaluation of others for validation.  It exists already, as is.  True beauty shines brightest from the illuminated souls of those who are deeply aware and quieted by the knowledge that they are enough.  Celebrating it without needing it to be applauded.

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*This was a poem in a recent Darling Magazine– I didn’t write down the poet’s name, but LOVED it!