Pumpin’ Iron

There’s been a lot of heavy lifting going on around me lately. My mom moved houses and after an exhausting 72-hour marathon of pack and haul and pack and haul, I was about ready to put marinara sauce on my noodle arms.

She moved the weekend of the presidential inauguration and the Women’s March—it was funny to think of Obama moving from the White House as we were moving from our house (a very small brick bungalow, sans-Oval Office, but still). I was bummed that I couldn’t march with my fellow brothers and sisters in downtown Indianapolis, while people everywhere across the world lifted each other up. While I carried heavy boxes, strangers carried burdens as they marched through cities nationwide. While we were lifting our belongings into trucks, my friends in Milwaukee lifted the dignity of those whose arms are being tied behind their backs, whose hearts grow heavier as they’re crushed by the unwelcome mat.

There must be a lot of sore arms in this country. That’s a good thing.

After most of our belongings were moved into the new house, I was sitting at my kitchen table at home listening to the deliverymen grunting as they carried a washer and dryer into our new house. I felt bad that I was uselessly sitting there, so I busied myself with making brownies and texted my sister in a fit of unnecessary worry. She reassured me that heavy lifting was their job. They’re fine. She also probably called me stupid.

It got me thinking, as I’ve witnessed people marching, holding signs, calling senators, offering support, and engaging in meaningful conversation, isn’t heavy lifting all of our jobs? Shouldn’t we all be lifting each other up?

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My friends at the Women’s March in Milwaukee. (Also not my photo–one of my sweet friends took it but I regrettably have no idea who.)

After a weekend of carrying boxes the weight of small eight-year-olds, I felt profoundly strong. There’s something powerful and emotional about packing all of your belongings—donating half of them along the way because why do I still own my grubby Converse low tops from eighth grade—and planting new seeds in a new neighborhood. You might find yourself playing “Closer to Love” by Mat Kearney over and over again in the car as you transport your grandmother’s china set down Meridian. You might catch a glimpse of the skyline—even when you’re miles north of it—reassuring you that your zip code might change but your original home turf doesn’t.

With raw hands from packing and carrying cardboard, I picked up Small Victories by Anne Lamott and stumbled upon an excerpt that I underlined a long time ago:

“The welcome book would have taught us that power and signs of status can’t save us, that welcome—both offering and receiving—is our safety. Various chapters and verses of this book would remind us that we are wanted and even occasionally delighted in, despite the unfortunate truth that we are greedy-grabby, self-referential, indulgent, overly judgmental, and often hysterical.”

Anne goes on to say that this book of welcome isn’t written yet—that we have to write it ourselves. Luckily I was sitting in my bed because reading these timely, relevant words made me a little weak in the knees.

Whether we’re lifting our pens to write the book of welcome, lifting spirits, lifting dignity, or lifting washers and dryers, I pray that our arms grow strong but stay soft enough to embrace each other tenderly.

Better start doing some more pushups, huh? (After all, just because Mrs. Obama isn’t in the White House anymore doesn’t mean she isn’t our bicep queen.)

(Also here’s a song to lift to.)

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Full Circle

If you’re reading this and want a laugh to kick off 2017, please know this:

I once created a Word document titled “Why I Suck Right Now.”

I kid you not. It was December 31, 2013, and I was home for Christmas break after a rocky first semester of college. Here’s the thing about first semesters of college: usually, they aren’t great, but everyone is trying to pretend like they didn’t just fumble thousands of dollars on a stressful, clunky semester of school. Either you lie about how college rocks so you can appear to be thriving or God loves you more than the rest of us and you met really great friends right away. Or your parents kept you on a four-foot leash your whole life and you partied so hard that you can’t remember if your first semester sucked or not.

I had too much momentum going after my senior year of high school and backpacking through Europe before leaving for college. I went from hiking through the Swiss Alps and drinking my first cappuccino in Italy and seeing the Pope in real life to failing my way through biology class and completely relying on my smarty-pants chemistry lab partners. I went from Italian wine, Münchner Weisse beer in Munich, and Parisian street gyros to Natty Light kegs and dining hall food. I had lost that momentum.

To give you a window into what lost momentum looks like, here are a just a few items from the “Why I Suck Right Now” list:

  • “I don’t have a job”
  • “I am a complete failure at biomedical science”
  • “Journalism might not get me any money”

Other items from my now-laughable downward spiral were less palatable, more absurd, and uncharacteristically negative. There is, however, a second page to this three-year-old document. The second page is titled “Why It’ll Get Better:”

  • “I’m ditching biomed science and switching to journalism”
  • “Which may be my dream”
  • “Especially if I can work for NBC” (ok lofty, I know, but lofty is good when you think you suck.)

And the bigger picture persisted:

  • “Nature changes but lives”
  • “I’m healthy”
  • “I can read and write”

 

I spent Friday morning at the healthcare office, waiting for an expert to treat my goopy cough, gunky throat, and sweaty, cold body. A delightful, older Indian doctor gently checked my symptoms and prescribed me medicine and–unbeknownst to him–inspiration. After asking about my schooling, I told him that my major was journalism. “Journalism!” He exclaimed, eyes lighting up. He then proceeded to tell me how smart journalists are, how they sometimes ask the best questions, and how integral (good, honest) journalists are to democracy.

He expressed a genuine awe at my major, something no one in the health field has ever voiced to me before. Certainly not my fellow peers back when I used to study biomedical sciences freshman year—in fact, their competitive nature and cutting remarks about all other majors in general played a huge factor in my despise for and switch from the biomedical realm.

Three years later, I have studied what I knew was my passion all along and graduated with a degree that gives marketable wings to my mission to write. I’m invigorated by the possibilities within reach as a writer–possibilities that naturally and eloquently align with and weave into my mission as a human, not just as a professional. It’s fun to shake hands with your gut instinct and invite her over for tea.

This doctor’s delight and praise and encouragement brought happy tears to my sallow eyes. Exactly three years ago I spit poison at myself–for supposedly “sucking,” for giving up the medical path. Little did I know, a much more enriching path awaited–a collection of unconnected dots that would create a much fuller circle. And wonderfully so, it would take a nasty case of sinusitis and an appreciative, praiseworthy doctor to clue me in.

 

PS. During my second semester of freshman year, some divine dots connected and I crossed paths with some of my soulmate friends–ten of whom I live with in a century-old house. They are some of the best people I have ever known and loved; if I knew back on December 31, 2013, that I would have met them, then this blog post and my dumb list would have never existed. (So if a lost, downtrodden freshman in college is reading this right now, keep the faith and once you get back to school, agree to go to McCormick Hall to meet your friend’s other crew of friends! It gets better!)

PPS. Shoutout to my good friend at Marquette, Jake, who shared this insight of connecting the dots with me: “You cannot connect your dots forwards, only backwards.” It has clearly stayed with me.

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A Reading from the Coloring Book According to Chance

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This past summer, my church was a cafeteria table.

My church was a downtown café in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

My church was the Monon Trail and my Sunday best featured a pair of Mizuno Wave Inspire runners.

My preacher of sorts was a talented, refreshing rapper from Chicago.

My homilies came in the form of 7- and 8- and 9-year-olds’ life stories.

And my prayer?

Maybe this.

I love my parish back home, where I received my First Communion, graduated eighth grade, sang in the children’s choir, where I’ve walked down the carpeted aisles since I was a little nugget, where I’ve fainted (along with both of my siblings), where my faith has evolved over two decades.

However, this summer I encountered Jesus in less formal settings and heard the Word through new channels. Through my headphones as I listened to Chance the Rapper’s “All We Got” while running on the Monon; through the voice of a ten-year-old boy as he told me how he recognized his parents’ weariness; through the early morning pep talks and power stances my mom exercised as she told my sister, “Repeat after me: I am STRONG! I am SMART! I can do ANYTHING!” (10/10 would recommend starting your day this way.)

A few weeks into the summer, I started my internship with the Indiana Writers Center, working with kids at the St. Florian summer camp. Around that time, my sister introduced me to Chance the Rapper (late to the party, I know). After writing with the kids at camp, I would post up at Calvin Fletcher’s Coffee Company and transcribe their stories—sometimes chuckling to myself, sometimes swallowing a heavy lump in my throat. These children shared their deepest feelings with me and unknowingly showed me a different corner of Indianapolis.

One day, while transcribing at Calvin Fletcher’s, I listened to Chance’s newest album “Coloring Book” approximately 20 times. After a spiritually charged but Mass-absent summer, I felt a twinge of Catholic guilt. But as I continued to listen to Chance’s album, I recognized and interpreted his words as a supplemental kind of spirituality. Certain lines stood out:

“I speak to God in public. I speak to God in public.”

 Public. Speaking to God isn’t limited to His house or a spiritual little corner in front of a cross because human beings are little walking vessels of God’s light. Wherever they are—an IPS school downtown, for example—God also is. “I am happy because I can still feel my grandmother in my heart,” wrote one of our young St. Florian writers, Justin. Speaking kindly and deeply to each other—loved ones and strangers and insightful, resilient kiddos alike—must be some kind of way of praying.

“Call me Mister Mufasa, I had master stampedes.”

I think of my small but mighty St. Florian friends, telling me their stories of mastering stampedes while mastering stampedes by telling their stories. A lot of young writers actually wrote about their resemblances to lions and lionesses because of their strength. My eight-year-old buddy Jeffrey wrote, “I was sad when my mom died and it happened 3 months ago. It was from breast cancer…At the funeral I told her, ‘I’ll see you later.’” Jeffrey still wrote, still smiled, still showed up and showed me what mastering stampedes at the age of 8 looked like. More recently, I think of close friends gracefully mastering stampedes of grief, overcoming metaphorical wildebeest with beyond-human strength.

“I think we mutual fans.”

I’d like to think God has a sense of humor—that he delights in us—and if God listens to music, I have no doubt he’s a Chance fan. I also think He roots for us in our accomplishments. It’s a pretty fun thing to imagine God with a foam finger, cheering us on from the stands, as we approach the batter’s box in this crazy game of life.

“I got angels all around me, they keep me surrounded.”

I’m not sure how or when it started, but my roommates and I have fallen into the natural habit of calling each other angels. Never before in my life have I felt so aware of the angelic humans surrounding me both at school and home. My St. Florian angels still surround me with their words sitting on my dresser at school and the sweet imprint they left on my life. Sometimes when I wear my glasses at school, I chuckle and think of my little St. Florian friend Lauren: “I don’t like your glasses,” she once told me, “I can’t see your face well.”

There’s no way for me to know Chance’s intentions when he wrote these lines. I learned in one of my journalism arts reporting classes this semester that you don’t have to be an opera aficionado to have a valid opinion of a performance; if you experience the art and if it moves you, then you have the right to feel a certain way about it. I don’t mean to compartmentalize his reach or message either; his songs can land on different ears and still perform.

Chance raps real words without the pedestal, praise without the shame, with equal parts optimism and strength and humor and cool. He’s the only radio companion that could appropriately suit both a Friday night and a Sunday morning. “Coloring Book” hit me at a time when I needed God’s message through a different channel—and some new sick beats for my running playlist.

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Take a Load Off

A few weekends ago, back in early April, I lost heaviness.

Not heaviness in the physical, literal sense. Not weight in the physical sense—in fact, I ate my way through the Gateway to the West. I lost heaviness that was gripping my heart due to fear.

I had the distinct pleasure of road tripping to St. Louis with some of my wonderful friends to see them run a marathon. Within five minutes of watching people run 26.2 miles, I was reduced to tears. As a runner (who cannot wrap my brain around running 26.2 miles), there’s something so beautiful and unifying about running. It’s raw and difficult and not very poetic when you’re the one pushing your body to its brink (for me, that would probably be about mile 5…I am weak). But when you’re the one watching people pushing their minds and bodies past the point of medical recommendation and extend into a pure spiritual territory, it’s amazing. A running mother stopped to hug her baby and husband on the sideline; an adorable nun was holding a sign that read “Go Sr. Liz;” two women who had travelled a great distance to see loved ones running hugged me after I helped them track their runners’ pace so that they’d be able to see them at mile nine.

A few days before I went to St. Louis, a beloved member of my high school community—a friend, son, theater teacher, includer, among other rolls he played—passed away suddenly, shockingly, and in a devastating situation. Hearts ached and heaviness settled. I experienced the sobering nature of death and a sense of fear that unsettled me; suddenly the rhythm of the universe seemed more negatively unpredictable. I worried about leaving my school to drive in the car to St. Louis. What if something happened unexpectedly? I kicked myself for being irrational and I went anyway, despite the worry that my mind had created.

Worry, while sometimes inevitable, is such a heavy weight. And it’s not a weight that you build muscle from or get stronger by; it simply drains energy that could be used in more positive capacities.

Yes, death is sobering and fear is paralytic. However I’d like to think of it as a frozen thing, and frozen things can always be melted. Sometimes our fear freezes us like icebergs, which take time and patience to melt away (NOT saying I want our icebergs to melt!!! Reduce, reuse, recycle, people!!!). And sometimes fear freezes us like the popsicles I sell in the summer, which melt quite easily and will definitely not last the drive home to northern Carmel on a hot day without melting all over your car.

Faith, on the other hand, is warm. It’s what eventually melts those “icebergs.”

It sounds dramatic and irrational be afraid of something bad happening, but I couldn’t shake the ominous fear leading up to the weekend before going to St. Louis. I thankfully swallowed my doubt with a spoonful of faith. Surrounded by some of my best friends, exploring a new, beautiful city, watching people have faith in themselves by running 26.2 miles, I started to feel that fear melt. The weight of worry lifted and positive energy took its place.

 

We wouldn’t run a marathon with unnecessary weights strapped on our shoulders, so why would I run through this life with the unnecessary weight of my own fears?

 

It can be tough to find a way to give up that weight, but I have a feeling that God can bench press all the fears and worries of the world without breaking a sweat.

 

 

 

P.S. Ben Howard has a very topical song called, “The Fear,” that you may want to listen to if this resonated with you at all.

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