Becoming Dispensable: The Memoirs of a First Year Teacher Who Lived to Tell the Tale

A few months ago, about half way through my adventure (penitential sentence?) of being a first year teacher, I realized that these days were numbered. Soon, I’d be shipping my lil 9th grade weirdos out the door for the last time and then the next time my door was darkened by kiddos, it would be a fresh bunch. No longer would I be doing this for the first time (thankfully, can I get an amen veteran teachers?). I would be learning from last year’s mistakes and successes. And while I’m sure there are infinite lessons to learn and I will continue to learn them (the hard way, because I know myself), this first year is special. I’ll always treasure it. So I jokingly sent an email to my co-worker with the titles of a book I said I was going to write on first year teaching. A book, probably not- but here is what I came up with. The memoirs of a first year teacher (so far):

High Schoolers are Weird

High schoolers are weird. This feels like something that doesn’t need to be said. The entire population, globally, knows this. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re talking to, if you tell someone you teach high school, the reaction is “why?” It’s like every human on earth is programmed to hear the words “high school,” and start nervous twitching and/or gagging. Half of the population really doesn’t even remember high school because it was so awful that their brain blocked it out as a coping mechanism.

Brain: I’m sorry, Suzy, the only way we can make it through college with even an ounce of self esteem is to pretend like the entirety of high school didn’t happen. *transforms into Gilderoy Lockhart* SAY GOOD-BYE TO YOUR MEMORIES!

It’s just not a fond time for most. Excuse the 2% of the population who peaked in high school. There have been books written about high schoolers, adolescents in general, hormones, development, blah, blah, blah. I know this because I had to read approximately one million of those books in my undergraduate studies to help me become a teacher. And to sum it up for you (express degree, you’re welcome), their frontal lobe is precisely nonexistent, they have more surging hormones than the Russian Olympians of 2018 (too soon?), and they want to be in control, but they are still infants. Trust me, these are all pure facts. I would know because I am a science teacher.

But seriously, they have very poor decision making skills with little ability to understand long term consequences. Puberty has turned them into a hormone cocktail, but like, one that’s not mixed well. One gulp is sweet and sugary, the next is straight bottom shelf vodka. Don’t act like you haven’t been there. And, as they’re moving towards freedom they so badly want to be in control of every aspect of their lives, but they’re just not quite ready for that yet. This combination of traits would make any human being at any age completely unreasonable. And that’s exactly what high schoolers are. Most of the time.

But they’re also awesome. To me, they are the perfect age group to work with. They’re old enough to get sarcasm and be funny and witty and learn abstract and complicated things, but they’re young enough that they’re still impressionable, still have room to grow, and when they’re being obnoxious you can literally tell them to stop doing what they’re doing because their existence in that particular expression destroys your soul. And that’s considered part of your job! There are not many other professions I know of where you can tell the people you spend all day with to knock it off because they’re annoying and be praised for it.

Teaching high schoolers is incredible. And after only one year with them, I’ll tell you some things I’ve learned that make them seem a lot less weird, and a lot more like us, sophisticated adults (she says at age 23, drinking a beer at 2pm).

1. High schoolers thrive under high expectations. I would very much like to get on my soapbox and tell you exactly why old people (sorry not sorry), looooooove to hate on young people, but I won’t. I’ll try to stay positive and leave the old people out of this mess and leave it with high schoolers need high expectations. My mom was a middle school teacher and she used to always say, (she’s Texan so please imagine this with the appropriate accent), “Kids rise to the expectations you set for them.” And that is so true! This year, my kids (read: 106 freshmen, when I say “my kids”) were known as the “good class.” They followed a really rowdy bunch and every teacher told them every year of their entire childhood that they were the good class. And they act like it. That’s their sticker and they’re proud to wear it. Similarly, the class above them, the aforementioned rowdy class was deemed the worst class ever. That’s their sticker and they’re proud to wear theirs, too. They rise, or fall, to the expectations set for them.

Kids need high expectations. High expectations tells them that you believe they are capable of more than they’re showing you, and you know they can do better. High expectations tells them that you’re invested in making them better and you’re not going to give up on them until they are better. My 8th hour first semester was orchestrated by Satan himself. All of them were excellent kids. Alone. Together, it was the embodiment of Lucifer. They talked incessantly, they were off task, they were apathetic and lazy. Also, it was the last hour of the day and I had 3 girls and 15 boys. 15 freshmen boys in the last hour of the day. Satan, away from me.

My first two months of school were riddled with terror knowing that 8th hour was coming. My other classes were usually so smooth with hardly any behavioral issues and I didn’t know how to handle my 8th hour. Finally, one day, I closed the door of the classroom and I said “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a new day in 8th hour.” I gave them a seating chart with at least one desk on every side of every student empty, like a checkerboard. I told them they would not speak unless spoken to, and if they did, they would show me just how quiet they could be in lunch detention until the issue was resolved. I told them there would be no working together, no chit-chatting, no fun until they could show me they could learn. I reminded them that my first job as a teacher was to make sure they could learn science, my second job was to make sure they had fun doing it- and we wouldn’t worry about the second until they showed mastery of the first. I told them that I wasn’t doing this because I was mad at them or hated them or wanted to be mean and vindictive. I told them that they were my lowest performing hour and that they were capable of being the highest. I told them that they were smarter than their grades showed, they could do better, be better, and I expected better.

My life changed. It took about a month before the big changes started. Of course they hated me for that month. They  literally called me a drill sergeant and dictator and said science was their least favorite class and I told them that just made me cry myself to sleep (read: I don’t care). About six weeks in, they were allowed to start working together. A week after that, they got a new, less isolating seating chart. As their understanding of content deepened, the conversations increased. They never made it to my highest performing class, but they did become my best behaved class. And they wore that badge with pride. It was never really about the grades. Is it really ever about the grades? It was about the expectations. I had to teach that class totally different from any other section. I had to become the bad guy. I had to become the dictator. I had to be hated for six whole weeks, and that’s hard. I had to set high expectations, give them the resources and supports they needed to reach them, tell them I believed in them, and had to sit back and let them do the work. They didn’t just rise to my expectations, they surpassed them.

2. It’s really not about the curriculum. You can fill in standards, learning targets, content, etc. here, but all teachers know that teaching isn’t about any of that. I tell my kids all the time that I don’t give a flying fart if they can balance a chemical equation, or calculate the kinetic energy of an object when they leave my room for the last time. I tell them that I care if they are kinder, more compassionate, better critical thinkers when they leave my room for the last time than they were when they walked in the first time. Some of you have probably broken into a mocking stanza of “Kumbaya,” but it’s true. We all have to believe this if we want to make it out as teachers. It’s hard for us because we basically get a dual degree in our content areas, and in teaching, but news flash: no one really gives a poop about the War of 1812, I’m not sorry for saying it- just like no one cares if they can recite the Kreb’s Cycle from memory. HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE INTERNET. Teaching isn’t about trivia anymore. It isn’t about memorizing things so that they’re not lost to future generations. That type of education should’ve ended when we invented writing. Teaching is about teaching character and life skills through content (shout out to my alma mater, UWEC, for that one). That’s what kids remember. I have been teaching for not even one whole year as I write this. In fact, it’s April as I sit here documenting my rambles. APRIL- barely even April. I gave my first semester final at the end of January. Already, I’m not kidding, a kid told me they really liked my final.

For their final, they had to solve my murder. To do it, they had to complete various chemistry tasks like balancing the chemical equation that killed me, drawing a lewis dot structure for one of the toxic elements, giving an element profile, etc., and received a clue in exchange. It was actual content on the final that hit every standard I had to teach and assess that semester. When this student told me they liked my final, I asked why. They said, and I quote, “It was fun. It was like a puzzle not like a test. We had to, like, put the pieces together and solve something. It was fun.”  I should’ve stopped there. I should’ve taken the compliment and patted myself on the back. But then I asked, “did you think it was hard?” I KID YOU NOT, this was their response, “I don’t really remember what it was on.”

IT’S APRIL 3RD. That means barely more than two months have passed since they took the final and they ALREADY don’t remember what was on it- and that’s an entire semester of stuff they have already drained from their brains. February isn’t even a real month so basically only a month has passed and they cannot remember it. They don’t care about the content. They care about the experience. And even though that child wasn’t exactly eloquent, I’d like to believe that what they were saying was they had to think critically to do well on the final. Yes, they had menial tasks related to the content, but the last question was putting all the pieces together and solving my murder, making that claim, and supporting it with evidence they gathered. A trial run in critical thinking.

Kids don’t remember the content. Don’t get mad. Do you really remember the quadratic formula? Do you remember who the 11th president of the America was? None of us remember the content. We have to use the content to teach our kids how to survive and thrive outside of school. They appreciate and remember you teaching those skills. They remember you stopping class to address a current event, or an emotional event. They remember the experience. That’s what prepares them for life beyond high school. They remember you teaching to their souls, not to their brains. Kumbaya.

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3. High schoolers are amplified adults. Everything you’ve ever felt, they feel on a scale magnified by one hundred million. They feel it stronger and harder and longer and deeper. This sounds scary because we all know our own emotional capacities and the thought of multiplying that is terrifying, but as a teacher, this is kind of comforting. It’s not like they have totally unreasonable emotions that are absolutely foreign to adults. They feel what we feel. They are people, too. Which means that we’ve all been there at some point. Which means they are going to make it through.

I have a teaching schedule that enables me to see some kids up to 3 times a day. And more often than not, they are 3 different people every time I see them. The emotional undertaking of high school is incomprehensible. And you slightly older people can roll your eyes at this or whatever, but they have probably 10 times more to deal with than any generation before them because of social media. They have a lot going on. And that coupled with their magnified emotions makes for a messy existence. The lucky thing in all of this is, if you know how to comfort an adult, you know how to comfort a teenager. I’m not saying they’re the same things, but they want the same things. They want someone to validate their emotions. They want someone who will just listen without telling them what to do. They want an outlet, not a therapist. They want someone to not judge them, but support them. It’s really not any different from what we want.

We’re not doing them any favors by telling them they’re being childish, to grow up, and then bark orders at them. Does anyone else see how contradictory that is? We tell them they’re being babies and to stop, but then we try to solve their problems and in doing so, end up treating them like babies. They need their own space to work this kind of stuff out- whether it is social, emotional, familial, or academic- they have got to have the opportunity to learn to work things out for themselves or they will flounder on their own. High school is a safe space for that. We are always there as a net to catch them, but we have to let them try on their own. Being that kind of support system for a teenager gets you in on their good side real fast. And I’m not saying you have to be on their good side to teach them, but it helps.

High schoolers are weird and messy and impossible to understand completely once you’ve passed through the threshold of puberty, but they’re wonderful. And whether or not you want to believe it, they are the future of our planet. So someone has to invest in them. And investing in them as their equally as weird, twice as sarcastic, embarrassing but fun teacher is the best way I can think of.

Things I Should Not Have to Say Out Loud (& Things I Should Not Have Said Out Loud)

Now that we’ve established that high schoolers are weird, I would like to take some time to embellish on that topic- provide evidence, if you will, of exactly how weird they can be. I’d like to attribute this to their underdeveloped frontal cortex. Teachers of all grades, I would assume, hear weird things day in and day out. It’s one of the perks of the job, I think. Below is a list of the weirdest things I’ve had to say out loud in the less than one year that I’ve been teaching- please remember that I teach 14 and 15 year old kids:

“Do not put that in your mouth.”

“This is an independent activity. Which means that you will be completing it without talking. Because you will be doing it independently. By yourself. Without other people there, talking to you. You will be alone. Because you’re doing this independently. Which means that you are not doing it with others because you’re doing it by yourself. Are there questions about these expectations?”

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“It is not appropriate to talk about my pants size, right now.”

“Yes, children, as your teacher who graduated college and who is married, I am legally allowed to consume alcohol. You are not. Do your work.”

“Stop braiding her hair while I’m teaching you about double replacement reactions.”

“No, you may not snort the hydrochloric acid to see if your nose burns.”

“Yes, this test is graded.”

“Ladies, wipe the drool from your chins and look up here.”

Things I should not have said out loud:

Because it’s my first year teaching and I want to keep my job, I’ll leave this up to your imagination. If you want to grab coffee and have me tell you stories verbally wherein I can later deny all of it, I’d be happy to.

 

Pop Culture References and How They Backfire

If you ever plan on making a pop culture reference, just don’t. Children know more about celebrities/songs/movies/games/etc. than you do, and if you admit to listening to Lil Pump* in front of your students, soon they will be begging you to play Gucci Gang before class, and of course you will say that’s inappropriate and then you will accidentally sing it to yourself while you’re monitoring their work time and then they will judge you forever. This will also likely lead to conversations about how you feel about legalization of marijuana and when you had alcohol for the first time. Do. Not. Engage.

*Insert any morally questionable celebrity here. Results will not vary.

Laughing at Your Own Jokes (and being the only one)

I regret nothing.

When you have the same taste in music as adolescents

See “Pop Culture References and How They Backfire”

Curriculum of Sarcasm

Does anyone else have a grandparent who went to a school run by nuns? Shoot, I’m not trying to out your age, but maybe you went to a school run by nuns. I’m not here to judge.

My grandpa went to such a Catholic school and he tells stories of these unbearably terrifying nuns who would smack the children with rulers if they were naughty. He talks about how well behaved the children were because they lived in fear of the wrath of these ladies.

I literally cannot possibly imagine a classroom more polarized from mine. And I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m just saying it because it’s true.

To give you a glimpse into my room, I’d like to start with the pizza garland I have decorating my whiteboard. The whiteboard usually has some type of lame science joke relevant to what the kids are learning on it, and their due dates. The desks are arranged in a double-horseshoe facing my Smartboard, and inside the smallest horseshoe is a coffee table on a children’s space rug that children can sit at during work time. Adorning my walls are, of course, periodic tables and a poster of Einstein, because hello, science, and also inspirational, encouraging signs I found on Pinterest. And those inspirational, encouraging signs are the alpha and omega of the “nice” things said in my classroom.

My kids have dubbed me the “funny” teacher, but also the “sarcastic” teacher. My colleagues have been known to tell children, “enough with the sarcasm, if you want to banter, go see Mrs. Haling.”

Now, I know that sarcasm is textbook wrong. Every education class tells you that sarcasm is detrimental in the classroom. And they are probably right. But it feels so good.

Sarcasm truly can be detrimental in the classroom. It all depends on who you use it with and how you use it. There are some kids who love sarcasm. They banter right back with you and it’s fun. There are some kids who definitely cannot handle it. And that’s where knowing your kids comes in. You have to know each and every one of your students. This can be a difficult task considering that you probably have 130 children and you see them for 42 minutes a day and you have to cram 7 chapters worth of your content into their brains. But you have to know them.

There are some children out there who have dark, twisted souls like me who love sarcasm. It’s their way of expressing humor and affection and it’s the little flare they add to their lives. And then there are some children who need a lot of encouragement. They need real affectionate and uplifting words and take every word you say at face value. Those kids crumble under a sarcastic remark.

I have one kid who has a hilarious sense of humor. He’s always ready to banter back and forth and will give you a run for your money is sarcasm. I was telling him once to stop doing whatever obnoxious thing he was doing at the time and he said, “Mrs. Haling, stop hating me just because I’m Mexican.” I responded instantly with, “I don’t hate you because you’re Mexican, I hate you because of your personality.”

I can hear some of you nice and sweet people gasping, cringing even. You said that to a child? That’s a little too far. What a great opportunity to talk about racial injustice and the strife for equality in our schools and you missed it!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was kidding, guys. He was kidding and I was kidding and we both laughed and you know what, he stopped being obnoxious.

If I didn’t have that relationship with him, there is no way that I could’ve, would’ve, or should’ve said that. But I knew not only that he could take it, but that he would laugh and appreciate it. The sarcasm worked. And because of our relationship, that comment was all he needed to stop being annoying. It was an unspoken way of saying, “I still like you” after I yelled at him, without actually having to say those sickly nice words.

That. Would. Not. Have. Worked. For. Every. Student.

Let me regale you with a story of misjudging my relationship with a kid.

I was wandering the room and assessing where kids were at while they had work time and my desk phone rang. One of my spunkier kids said, “can I answer it?” Without thinking my dark and twisted instinct took over and I said, “Who would want to talk to you?”

Guys, I was kidding. Hold your tomatoes! I’m sorry!

The kid instantly started crying.

Holy yikes. Not an easy situation to remedy.

Clearly my sarcasm struck a nerve- I hit on something that he was insecure about. I hurt his feelings when I was trying to do the opposite.

Of course I talked to the kid in the hall and I apologized one hundred thousand times and everything was eventually okay.

But dang. It was an eye opener to me. You can’t be flippantly sarcastic with every kid, all the time, about everything. There is a time and a place and a strategic audience. Sarcasm should only be used to enhance relationships, not hurt them.

I have to work really hard not to be sarcastic when I’m in a bad mood. It’s too easy to let your true feelings come through in hurtful ways that only make everything worse.

For me, my curriculum of sarcasm is used is used intentionally to bring humor to a situation, to relate to a kid, to lighten the mood. Never to embarrass or hurt a kid.

Knowing your students is so important. Knowing what they need to lift them up and knowing what will tear them down are equally as important. Not every kid has the same personality as you do. As a teacher, you have to be able to relate to all of them- the nice kids and the naughty ones.

As for me, I typically prefer the naughty ones.

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When teenagers are still mean and make you cry as an adult

Have you ever talked to a hormonal teenage girl who is insecure because the senior boy she likes talked to you and she is a child so she is jealous of you (forgets that you’re 23, married, and physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually repulsed by all male gendered individuals who are not your husband) and then she says really mean things and you have to keep your cool and deal out consequences and talk about how damaging rumors can be and then give the “I’m disappointed in you” talk, then you cry about it on your lunch break?

Me neither…..asking for a friend…..

The actual purpose of tests and quizzes

  1. To make children be quiet all hour
  2. To threaten children into paying attention when your super engaging lesson that you took one hundred years to plan fails and they are being rotten
  3. I suppose to assess learning or whatever

Essential Oils in the Classroom A.K.A. Vape Machines

First, self care in the classroom is important. Keep a snack drawer filled with chocolate, hide the good coffee from the children, keep your diffuser on so you can snort lavender when they make you insane, take deep breaths before responding, call your colleague who has prep to come watch your class then take long romantic walks alone to the bathroom.

Second, kids find a way to ruin everything (read: calling my essential oil diffuser a vape machine and trying to smoke it)

 

(I still love them)

Trying to Reach All Learners in 42 Minutes and Other Impossible Things

I simply do not have time to tell you about everything that goes into teaching.

See what I did there?

But actually.

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When Everything is Impossible but it’s All Worth It

I have no idea if I’m doing any of this right. I’m sure there is plenty I will learn down the road that I have done wrong. But I’m learning. And I love my job you guys. I love all of it, always and forever, amen.

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Growing Pains and Short Jokes

Growing pains. Many of you may think that I never experienced these strange sensations associated with getting taller, but I did. On occasion. Once or twice. Total. Accumulating a net gain of like one inch over 8 years, but whatever.

As a kid, growing pains were those super awful aches in your joints and in your shins when your body couldn’t keep up with itself. But now, as a semi-adult, it seems that growing pains are those super awful aches in your heart and spirit when your mind and spirit can’t keep up with itself.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of growing pains recently.

I think I first noticed it in my kids. (You thought I was going to go a whole blog post without mentioning my children but JOKES ON YOU! I don’t do anything without mentioning my children)

As the whole universe knows, thanks to my incessant word vomit about my job both in person (to friends and strangers alike) and via all social media platforms, I teach 9th graders. Freshmen. Frosh. The lil newbies to the carnival ride of high school. They. Are. So. Weird.

About 2 months ago I started noticing growing pains in them. The social circles of middle school were crumbling as kids branched out and made new friends, kids who had never (or rarely) been challenged before academically were being stretched, you could sense both a tension and a pressure among the kids to fit in to new places and with new people and you could feel the inner turmoil they were facing.

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It was then that I started to identify with the freshmen. It hit me that in the adult world, I am a freshmen. It’s my first year as a real life grown up- I’m the lil newbie to the carnival ride of adulthood. And I was feeling the growing pains, too.

I’ve been reflecting these last 2 months on these growing pains. Married life means my priorities are different. I no longer give a flying fudge monkey about “going out.” I like my couch, my husband, and my endless forms of streaming devices (read: Hulu, Amazon, HBO, netflix, ABC app, and so forth. Also, I pay for none of these. Thanks, college friends). Having an adult job means that I like going to bed before 10pm and I have do laundry more than once a month (no more flannels and leggings. It’s a tragedy). It also means that I have a future to plan for. We have a rough 5 and 10 year plan and I can’t justify spending all of my paychecks on chipotle and beer (that sentence alone makes me mourn the loss of my college days).

Things are changing and not everyone is with me on this. Just like my lil baby 9th graders, I’m growing at a different pace than the people around me. We’re all somehow in the same phase of life but totally different phases of life.

As I’ve been thinking about these changes and these growing pains in myself and my kiddos, I’ve been drawn to think about what stabilizes us. What do we (humans) need in these times of growth?

Because I feel that I am far more sophisticated than my 14 year olds, I naturally assumed that it would be easiest to figure out their needs and then work on my own (read: altogether neglect my own growing pains and hope endlessly that they fade into nothingness without ever being addressed).

Anyway, after careful research and trial and error (i.e. Spending time with my teenagers and saying random things hoping one would stick), I learned that what my lil newbies needed most was someone to give them the freedom to be themselves and freedom to grow. Painless or painful.

The kids needed someone to let them be weird. Pain makes people weird- have you noticed? It’s like they feel the tension in their social circles, so they just start speaking weird people talk. Like their words don’t make sense and suddenly they say something super mean to their best friend. Or they ignore their best friend and form super weird and forced quasi-friendships with people they literally never talk to. Or they overshare to their best friend and it lands them in a huge pile of drama. Or they feel the growing pains from their families and they show up to your room at 7:30 am and talk endlessly about how much they struggle with their step mom.

Or maybe they’re feeling the growing pains inside themselves. They’re not who they used to be and they’re grappling so hard with that. They contradict themselves and start listening to obscure music and then try to ask you about your pant size and what you were like in high school.

Growing pains make 14 year olds (WHO ARE ALREADY SUPER WEIRD) really weird.

And they need someone to just let them be weird. To grapple with everything that’s changing and reconcile what they see and do with what they feel and who they are becoming. And they LIVE for the stories of your own humiliating youth because they see that you turned out mostly tolerable (except for your lame jokes) and that you really like your job, so it gives them hope. It shows them that they can have these growing pains and make it to the end alright.

Alright, so I’m not far more sophisticated than 14 year olds. I’m just like them. Probably too much like them. The other day my kids said they would expect me to dance like Usher because “I seem like the type.” WUT. So obviously I had to try to dance like Usher and then I did a terrible job because LOOK AT WHO I AM I CAN’T EVEN SING AND CLAP AT THE SAME TIME AND YOU THINK I HAVE USHER’S RHYTHM? And then they all laughed at me and I laughed at myself and then I SOMEHOW HAD TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO REGAIN CONTROL OF THE ROOM AND TEACH ABOUT ENERGY AFTER THAT. I also know all the words to Superbass and Thunder and somehow this makes me relatable? But I digress.

When it comes to growing pains, I’m just like my lil babies. And I’m learning that more than someone else giving me the freedom to grow, I need to give myself that freedom. Like my kids, I have come a long way on this journey, but I have a heck of a way to go, too. And I have to give myself that freedom.

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Growing pains, in a way, are so beautiful. Because they mean we are growing. We’re changing and evolving and becoming more ourselves and along the way we’re learning resiliency and perseverance and how strong we are and how strong we can be.

I’m in the middle of a gratitude journey- expressing gratitude for each and everything I love about being alive, because a year ago I was in a downward spiral. A year ago today I was traveling toward a moment that would become the crossroads of my life. One on side would be the person I was and the fear and anxiety I lived in, and on the other side would be the person I was going to become. It was the moment I chose life over death- perseverance over giving up- love and trust over hatred and fear.

Why would I still want to be wavering in that tumultuous crossroads? Growth is so important and in spite of the pains that come along with it, it is beautiful.

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Recently I’ve felt a small relapse in my journey. I took a step back toward that moment, toward that crossroads and away from the person I want to be. I stepped back into fear and anxiety and now I’m experiencing those growing pains of taking the steps forward again- out of fear and out of weakness. It’s hard to grow.

Like my 9th graders, I continue to feel the inner turmoil of growing. Like my 9th graders I feel that inner tension and sometimes (probably all the time), I act super weird and say and do things that are strange because I’m learning. I’m learning how to keep stepping into love and trust and strength toward the person I want to be. And it’s hard. It hurts, but it’s worth it.

Growing pains are the most beautiful, graceful type of pain we can endure. And more than that, they are necessary. Growth requires work, but work that we must do to become who we are meant to be.

In all of this, I have learned to give myself the freedom and grace to keep growing. I have learned to extend that grace and create a space where others can feel that freedom, too. And I have learned to be honest with the people around me. Our own stories serve as a witness to others going through similar struggles.

I tell my kids that I am still growing up all the time and that I’ll probably never stop. Once we get past the short jokes and threats on their lives if one more is made (kidding…about the threats….), it’s a really cool, raw and honest moment. With appropriate boundaries of course, showing teenagers that things can be hard and challenging and can hurt but you can get through it and be a better person after is really important to me. They should know that it’s okay to keep growing. And it’s okay to feel those pains when you do.

I love teaching teenagers because they teach me so much each day (slang, pop culture, Snapchat tips, grace, humility, and embarrassment included).

They remind me that growing is important and hard but worth it. They are incredible kids on a mission to become incredible adults. They remind me that if we’re not growing, we’re staying the same. And in the words of one of my kids “no one wants to be a middle schooler forever.” My lil newbies to the carnival of high school give this lil newbie to the carnival of adulthood the freedom to grow. They inspire me to grow. And I hope I do the same for them.

Grow through what you go through, people. (If you think I’m not turning that into a sign for my classroom, you are crazier than my children)

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Teaching, Tragedy, and Turning It Around

I feel so incredibly lucky.

I’ve caught myself dazing off so much in these last few days, just sitting and reveling in how insanely lucky I am.

You guys, I just have to tell you. I’m bursting with joy aching to tell you. I have the best job in the whole wide world. I love every moment of my day. I cannot wait to get up in the morning and start a new day. I am anxious for my school day to start and I get little rushes of adrenaline when I’m standing in front of my crazy, weird, antsy 9th graders and teaching them science. I have the best fiance in the whole world who quite literally saved and changed my life, and in 5 little days, he will become my husband. I have the most fantastic friends in the world who are traveling near and far to celebrate our day with us. I have incredible family who love and cherish me and who are willing to bend over backwards to serve me well this weekend.

I am so gosh darn lucky.

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But even as I sit here and relish in all my luck, my heart is breaking.

Because there are so many who are not lucky, like me. And I suspect lucky like you.

You guys, tragedy is abounding.

In the midst of my joy and bursting and luck, there are whole populations swallowed up in tragedy, heartbreak, and gut-wrenching pain.

As my dreams of being a teacher and being a wife are coming to fruition, the dreams of thousands of people are crushed with a mighty fist in a single instance.

And while I would love to crawl up onto a soapbox and tell you how I really feel about the political climate, the stance on climate change, the attitude growing towards minorities, women, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and so forth, I won’t (okay, maybe a little bit).

Instead, I want to use my tiny little platform to tell you a story.

I teach 9th grade. Ask me when you have an hour or 18 free, and I will tell you every boring detail about how much I love teaching 9th grade.

9th graders live in a black and white world. For the most part. She is a terrible person because she did this to me last year. And he is a terrible person because he did this to her two weeks ago. And I feel so ignored by him, which makes me so invaluable. And she said this to her on Wednesday, so that must mean she doesn’t like me anymore. And if she doesn’t like me now, we will never be friends ever again. And she likes him now and isn’t interested in me, so I will be single forever. And since all of this is happening my world is ending and I simply cannot even DREAM of doing science until I have word vomitted this onto you, Ms. Mills. (x 105 students)

Bless. Their. Little. Stinkin. Hearts.

Now, what seems like surface level, roll your eyes, tell them to buck up and get over it kind of drama to us “rational” adults is, in fact, world ending, life changing, never going to ever be the same, once in a lifetime, real life horror in the eyes of my 9th graders. There is no dismissing this as petty. It is real. To them, it stabs them in the crux of their beings and they are doubled over with social pain, unable to focus on anything outside of their world until they can get all the words about all the feelings out.

Do you know what I WANT to do in these situations? Sometimes literally laugh out loud because OMG stahp. This will blow over in 0.6 nanoseconds. Sometimes grab them by the shoulders and shake them senselessly and say WUT EVEN R U DOING? Sometimes wince because I remember 9th grade drama, too. Sometimes ignore them and work on the 8 million first-year-teacher-simultaneously-planning-a-wedding things I have to do.

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But do you know what I ACTUALLY do when they come to me with their stories and heartache and worries and fears and insecurities and rage and anger and bitterness?

I just listen.

I don’t offer my opinions or advice. I don’t tell them they’re wrong or invalidate their feelings. I just listen.

First off, have you ever tried to rationalize with a teenager about their FEELINGS? HAHAHAHA. Like let’s take a second and praise our mama’s and papa’s and all the adults who somehow coached us into adulthood without giving up or jumping ship. Because if you have tried to rationalize with a teenager, you know that those thoughts are REAL.

So I listen because rationalizing, in the moment when cortisol is flushing their brains, ain’t gonna do jack, my friends (#science). So I listen.

Second off, I listen because for once, these angsty teens need someone to just hear their perspective. Someone who isn’t going to jump down their throat or invalidate them. Someone who isn’t a peer and going to run and tell their entire social group what they said. Someone who isn’t a parent who will (what seems to teenagers) smother them in advice or accuse them or ignore them. Someone who will just hear what they are saying. That is the therapy. To be heard.

Because often times, the thoughts of our teenagers are so muted. They are dismissed, overlooked, neglected, underestimated, disregarded, or even shamed.

But what happens to a group of teenagers who feel ignored and overlooked when they become adults?

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I listen because even as I sip my coffee and think that this is the 18th conversation I’ve had about THE SAME 14 YEAR OLD BOY FROM 9 DIFFERENT GIRLS, each one deserves to have her perspective heard. Even as I sip my coffee and think that this is the 18th conversation I’ve had about THE SAME 14 YEAR OLD GIRL FROM 9 DIFFERENT BOYS, each one deserves to have his perspective heard.

Even as I sip my coffee and think that this is the 4th conversation I’ve had the death of a family member from 4 different students, each one deserves to have their perspectives heard.

So as I sit here, drinking “not coffee” if you know what I mean, I am caught up in this thought spiral that I can’t break out of.

The first part goes like this: If I can somehow value what I, as an “adult” deem as senseless drama from each and every precious kid of mine, how can we, as a majority population, dismiss, overlook, neglect, underestimate, disregard, and even shame so many people without even hearing their perspectives?

The second part goes like this: If we are so used to dismissing, overlooking, neglecting, underestimating, disregarding, and even shaming our kids for their thoughts and opinions, no wonder we are so good at doing that to entire people groups.

My heart is torn because, as a teacher (have I used that identity enough in this post? Eye roll), I work so stinkin’ hard to make sure that when the quiet kid in the back raises their hand for the first time in 2930421393470 days, that kid gets called on by golly because if they are finally ready to share their ideas, Imma make sure the world frickin’ hears ’em. Excuse me while I get out my bullhorn and repeat what they said into 800 times from the rooftops, no shame.

So how do I reconcile that with a world that says “be quiet and stay quiet” to the figurative quiet kid in the back?

It’s a painful dilemma that, as teacher (go ahead, keep counting- probs won’t even be the last time in this post), I find even more troubling than I ever have before.

What world am I sending these precious, loving, hilarious, empathetic, sweet, intelligent, creative kiddos into? A world that cares that they are these things? Or a world that cares about their sex, race, religion, political affiliation, and sexual orientation?

You tell me, which matters more?

To you?

To your local government?

To our national government?

Which should matter more?

Which direction are we taking this country?

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What are we teaching our kids by example? That discrimination, belittling, cyber bullying through twitter, exploitation of our natural resources, destruction of our planet, ignorance of climate change, joking about genocide, ignoring entire countries plagued by natural disaster (created by climate change that WE have contributed to), and the silencing of entire people groups is okay?

What should we be teaching our kids by example? That hearing each person’s perspective no matter your personal opinion, agreeing to love one another and treat them the way you would want to be treated in spite of differences, treating our planet like it truly is all we have left, protecting one another from discrimination, and rushing to the aid of our fallen and wounded no matter where they are from or how many differences we can count between us is okay?

We are doing a mentoring activity with our 9th graders as they try to navigate the new world of high school, and we had students write down anonymous questions for older students or for teachers.  One question was: “How do you survive socially?”

As if 14 year olds are the only one’s asking that question.

And my answer to them is: try listening first.

We are so quick to rush to anger, to judgement, to silence the people around us because we feel differently.

But do you feel differently?

Do you even know if you haven’t heard their story- listened to their perspective?

As this world unravels- natural disasters wreak havoc on people all over the globe and the political climate brings division and bitterness to people across this country, and tragedy unfolds and heartbreak ensues, I challenge you to listen first.

Stop rushing to defend your ideas before you’ve even completely heard those of others. Stop spending your time formulating your response before they even finish their sentence. Stop buying into the political ideology that you deserve to be heard while others do not. Stop isolating yourselves in your own neat little social circles that never challenge you or what you believe to be true about the world. Just stop. And instead, listen to each other.

Listen to each other to understand. Listen to each other- what is being said and what is not. Listen to each other to empathize. Listen to each other to inspire a change within you. Listen to each other to realize that you have been there, too, in some form or fashion. Listen to each other to make this world a better place to send our kiddos into. Just listen to each other.

Maybe if we listened to everyone’s perspective and heard everyone’s story we would learn that we all just want the same thing:

A safe place to love, to be loved, and to grow.

And maybe then, we could all get on the same page about how to create that space.

If we just listened to each other.

It’s a good place to start.

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Beyond the Tunnel

I’ve been mulling over this post for 5 months. I’ve started it probably close to a hundred times, written the entire thing at least a dozen and erased it every time. I just never was able to find the words to tell the story well. I’m still not positive that these are the right words or the best words but they’re the one’s I’ve settled on. So please proceed with grace.

This story can only start one way: I am so glad I’m a teacher, you guys.

I will limit how many times I tell you how much I love my first real job and I will try to keep from gushing over my school and students and everything that is so incredibly marvelous about my career, but let me just say it this once: I love being a teacher.

I started school last week and had my students for 4 days and all you veteran teachers out there might be smirking to yourself and thinking “ohhhh, just give it time,” but I don’t care. I love students and I love my classroom and my colleagues and everything about every day I’ve had at school so far. I genuinely, earnestly, wholeheartedly love it.

And the story can only start this way because teaching has profoundly adjusted my world view in the last 4 days.

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I’ve spent 5 arduous college years preparing for these last 4 days, and arguably, the 14 years before that. And while there are certainly moments every student can question if the end goal will be worth it, there was a true moment where I didn’t know if I’d ever make it to these days.

The story continues with a strong feeling of conviction. I published my last blog post “Fleeting Moments and Tattoo Parlors” and in it I emphasized the necessity of being real with the people around you. I touched on the fact that we live these fake lives on social media and we don’t enjoy the moment with those around us because we’re so focused on the fake life we have to portray.

So after publishing that post, I felt really convicted for the fake life I had been living. And in the 2 months since that post, I’ve carefully tried to craft the right way to tell the truth.

So with a weird mix of gladness and conviction, here is the truth.

I was not okay for a long time.

For several months I felt like I didn’t want to see the dawn of a new day. There were events that lead up to feelings of helplessness and torment and fear and anxiety and each and every day I woke up to face a narrowing tunnel of light.

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And on April 5th, all the feelings got to be too much. The light was all but gone in my tunnel. I’ll remember that night forever. I was curled up in my fiancé’s arms in a park, the sun setting, and I told him in 100% earnestness that I was ready to see Jesus. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic. I wasn’t trying to get attention. I was, for the first time in months, being honest about how I really felt.

I told him that there was no way this life could ever get better and there were no other options and I was ready to leave this life of torture and find paradise. My hands were shaking and though it was cold out, I was sweating profusely. I felt nauseous and I finally released the knot that had been sitting in my throat for the last few months and cried uncontrollably.

To explain the conviction- I posted 4 pictures on Instagram over the course of this disaster and not a single one had even a remotely upset vibe to it.

If it hadn’t been for Dylan caring for me that night, I wouldn’t be here today. I almost took my own life, and yet I felt like I needed to keep up my appearances on social media.

And this wasn’t the first time. I had spent months feeling alone and isolated, feeling misunderstood and uncared for, but instead of reaching out to my friends and family, I told them I was fine and posted an Insta to prove it.

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I kept perpetuating the lies and I kept masking the truth and it all snowballed to the point that when I was at the lowest of low points, I still didn’t feel like I could tell anyone because it wouldn’t make sense. I had spent so much of my time and energy lying to everyone that when I really needed to tell the truth, I couldn’t. How could I expect people to understand the depth of my pain now, when I had spent so much time trying to convince them that I didn’t have any? How could I ever break the cycle of lies and come clean and be cared for when it would be so much easier just to end all of it?

With the help of just a few of the people closest to me, I was carried out of the trenches in my fight for life, but I still hadn’t told any other friends or family- people who meant the world to me- of the battle I had fought. I was so paralyzed with fear and anxiety that I still couldn’t be honest. So I continued to mask the reality I was living in.

But the thing about that kind of trauma is that it surfaces again sometimes. For what seems like no reason at all you have memories and flashbacks and triggers and you’re inexplicably angry and hurt and defensive and if the people closest to you aren’t prepared for that- if they haven’t born witness to your battle- there’s no way you can expect them to understand these incidents.

So what started as white lies to protect your privacy turns into a completely alternate facade of a life. What starts as guarding yourself turns into a life of pushing others away. What starts as your own pain turns into causing others pain, too.

I’m still dealing with how to reconcile those relationships where I put distance between myself and people I care about. I’m still dealing occasionally with triggers of those painful times. I’m still dealing with the consequences of living a fake life.

But it’s getting better with everyday. And I’m over-sharing once again, not to get pity or attention or whatever else this may come across as, but to give a message of hope.

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Here is the hope I have to offer you:

People care about you. I don’t know who you are or what battle you’re fighting, but people care about you. And you need to let them. Because you absolutely cannot do this alone. I know, it’s not easy to cry out for help, but I promise you won’t regret it. I get it, it’s not easy to share the depth of your wounds, the reality you’re living in, but people are so kind. The few people who knew about my struggles are the champions of my life. They didn’t look at me as weak, they didn’t think less of me, they didn’t judge me for those months of trials, they didn’t get mad at me for putting up a front for so long, but they cared for me. They shined their own light in my narrowing tunnel, they reminded me of the joys of this life, they loved me through the torment I was feeling and they continue to do so.

People care about you and they will come alongside you and show you that this life is worth living. I let fear control who I let into help me fight the battle I was facing. I let voices in my head that weren’t my own talk me out of being honest with so many people who still mean the world to me. And at the time, I didn’t have the foresight to look beyond the fear. But now, I regret so much the fake life I tried to live. Looking back, I know that if I had only trusted the people around me, if I had only been honest from the start with them, I may not have ever had that fateful night in the park.

Don’t be afraid to be honest with the people around you. They care about you.

The second hope I have to offer is permission to feel your feelings. But you have to put down your freakin’ screens sometimes. Social media is so awesome for so many things- pulling you out of a spiral of despair, riddled with feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness is not one of them. It can be so hard to overcome the pressure to put your best you on social media and hide who you really are and what you’re really feeling, but that will only cause you more pain. As soon as you start lying about your experiences and invalidating your feelings by pretending they aren’t important or real, you are distancing yourself from the people who love you, and you’re inadvertently giving everyone else permission to dismiss how you feel, too. How can you expect someone else to truly acknowledge the depth of your reality if you can’t do it first? How can you expect someone else to validate your struggles if you can’t do it first? Feel your feelings earnestly and sort through them with your treasured tribe. Swipe up on Instagram and call someone you trust. You need real, honest, deep, conversation with someone who loves you. You do not need to compare your valleys to other’s peaks. And you certainly don’t need to try to prove anything to anyone through a stupid screen. Feel your feelings and deal with your feelings. Don’t live a fake life. Feel and deal.

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The third hope I have to offer is that the Lord’s grace is abounding. God became flesh and dwelt among us and experienced in human form the brokenness of human life. And He died to make us whole again. There is no trench we can fall into where God has not been, and there is no depth of human sorrow that God has not felt. But He has conquered it all. And He conquered it for us. So when you find yourselves drowning in pain and sorrow, invite the Almighty Maker to fight your battle for you. Scripture is full of promises God makes to fight for us, to draw near to the broken and to heal our wounds and even though it may feel like you are at the time, trust me, you are no exception to that. Call on the Lord to come alongside you and carry you through the storm. He is still carrying me, and I promise, there is plenty of room in His arms.

And so my story draws to a close the same way it started: I am so glad I’m a teacher, you guys.

It has profoundly changed my world view in the last 4 days.

It has shown me what life beyond the narrowing tunnel looks like. This summer was a lot of built up anticipation and excitement for school to start, a lot of challenges with new things, but now that I’m living my dream, engaged to my literal life-saver, I can really see a future growing- something I have struggled to see for a while.

You guys, I cry so much now. I cry at commercials, TV shows, staff meetings, really good food, puppies, students’ responses on surveys, everything. I have become so soft. But. It. Feels. So. Good. No more holding back how I’m feeling or invalidating my emotions. No more lying to keep up pretenses. No more Instagram on bad days. No more bottling it up. No more going at it alone. No more. We have been in school for 4 days and I’m pretty sure I’ve cried at some point every single one of them and I have no regrets. I even cried writing this post. I weirdly love crying now.

And I love crying now because it’s so honest. I’m reveling in the honesty of how I feel and the sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful truth of my reality. Honest emotions in this season beyond the tunnel are the best thing that has happened to this heart of mine.

I am so glad I’m a teacher, you guys.

I am so glad that I lived through the darkness. I am so glad I chose life over death. I am so glad I finally cried out for help. I am so glad I have lived to see these days. I am so thankful that people came alongside me and dragged me out of my narrowing tunnel. I am so thankful for a God who is merciful and mighty and who is using me to further His kingdom by loving students. I am so glad I made it to my season beyond the tunnel.

I am so glad I’m here, you guys.

I’m so stinkin’ glad.

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Fleeting Moments and Tattoo Parlors

I was 20 when I got my first tattoo. It was preceeded by double pierced ears and a nose ring. Not exactly bad-ass material yet, but I felt like I was ready to have a needle rapidly push ink into my skin that would remain there forever. I mean, what could I possibly regret about that later in life? I was 20 for heaven’s sake. I was an adult.

Truthfully, it wasn’t really a whim. I labored for months over the image and the words I wanted, the font , the placement, the size, the color. I set up the appointment and went in for a consultation and then set up another appointment. I ate the right things and didn’t drink caffeine and brought hard candy and did what I was supposed to according to the almighty internet. But then, all of a sudden, in a fleeting moment, it was done. The ink was there, permanently injected into my skin where it would remain on my body until my last breath.

Just a fleeting moment. With a forever consequence.

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I got the tattoo after falling from grace earlier that year.

A few months prior, I got into not a little bit of partying trouble. I’ll spare you the details, but that night took me by the shoulders and shook me relentlessly as if screaming at me “who are you? What have you become?”

It wasn’t by any means a conscious decision to go that hard that night. It was a just another drink, just one more shot, just a small piece of vodka soaked watermelon (I don’t even like watermelon, ok?) string of decisions in fleeting moments that capsized into an unforgivable morning.

Between this fateful night and the perma-ink in my arm, was another fleeting moment with forever consequences.

It was Good Friday. The day of reckoning. After months of reflection, months of tears, months of sober nights and endless questions, I found my answers at the foot of the cross. I recommitted my life to Christ in a fleeting moment of trembling, saturated in brokenness, vulnerability, and grace.

Almost a year later I found myself walking home from a friends house late at night. A few kids I knew stopped me and asked me to come into a house party and hang out for a little bit. I thought about it, for a now seemingly endless second, and agreed.

They went in to find the drinks. I went to the bathroom. Century-long moments later, I was breaking through a bathroom window and running frantically away from the man who locked me in there and sexually assaulted me.

Fleeting seconds, never ending moments, forever changed.

Somewhere in the midst of those fleeting moments of shame and grace and hurt, I met my soon to be husband. It was the first time I had ever felt like my heart resided in my stomach, which as a scientist (I can say this now because I have a degree in biology, so there), I can tell you is not the anatomical norm.

One day he surprised me at my best friend’s house during what was supposed to be a girls weekend. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. In the same breath I said yes. Not even a moment to think.

Fleeting nanosecond. Joyful, exciting forever consequence.

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It’s these fleeting moments stitched together with sunset and sunrise after sunset and sunrise that have made up the 22 years of my life.

They always seem like fleeting moments, that’s the trouble. They’re just instantaneous choices. But their effects are so long lasting.

In the last few days I’ve been captured by this idea. All of these fleeting moments- the horrors of my life, the treasures in my story- they come and go so quickly. But then, do they ever really go?

The first part- the come and go so quickly- has my attention in so many ways. At first I thought, I am in a season where so much is happening all at once- this is just a special time in my life where things are coming and going and every moment must be precious and appreciated.

But then I thought, LOL. Ok, stop being and idiot, Rach, when is there a time in life where things don’t come and go quickly and every moment shouldn’t be precious? This isn’t unique to just this season.

But this season is so full of these moments. Moments of spontaneous camping, moments of beer on the roof, moments of euphoria from my first ever real job, moments of terror over my first ever real job, moments of intense challenge after moving in with my fiancé, moments of insane joy after moving in with my fiancé, moments of love and laughter with friends before they move away, moments of love and laughter with friends when they come back and visit, moments, moments, moments. Moments that will never come back. Moments that came disguised as ordinary life, swept me off my feet, and have left me in awe of this ordinary life.

I lay in bed at night and I’m, as Dylan says, ooey-gooey. My stone cold heart is soft and warm and beating loudly for the moments of this season. I love this life.

I hope every season to come is grounded in this realization that we don’t get these moments back. That these fleeting moments come and go, masquerading as unimportant. That one day I’ll look back on this life of mine and it’ll be these fleeting moments that I remember- these fleeting moments that will have carved me into the person I am- these fleeing moments that I will treasure.

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The second part- the do they ever really go? That part makes my heart skip a beat. In good and bad ways. I just spent a novel talking about how they come and go so quickly and to treasure each moment and all that Hallmark-kumbaya-stuff- but truthfully, if we’re honest, most of these fleeting moments never really leave us. Like the tattoos on my body, these fleeting moments have been pushed into me, engrained into my being where they will remain through my dying breath.

They all become a part of us. They are the forever consequence. They are the reason I hate Fireball, the reason for the panic attacks that sometimes ensue after entering a dark bathroom, the reason for the overwhelming gratitude I feel on Good Friday. They are the reason I will soon be called “wife,” the reason for the greatest friendships I have. They are the forever consequence.

Pick out the good moments and call yourself #blessed, and pick out the bad and call it grace.

Together, they both help us become who we are. So embrace the moments. The fleeting moments where you find yourself in trouble, the fleeting moments where you find yourself saying “yes” to the love of your life, the fleeting moments where you introduce yourself to a stranger who becomes your best friend, the fleeting moments where you find yourself curled up and bawling on the floor, internally screaming for comfort, the fleeting moments of ordinary life. Embrace them. Each and every one.

Finally, this idea has me captivated, my heart skipping a beat, my hands trembling because in this life of sewn together fleeting moments, we are inevitably a part of someone else’s fleeting moments. And you have to ask yourself, what will your forever consequence be?

As a fiancé, a sister, a daughter, an almost daughter in law, a friend, and now a teacher, what kind of forever consequences will I impose on the people around me?

As part of our teacher education, in one of my many classes we were asked to respond to the prompt, “Who is your most memorable teacher?”

Some kids talked about their favorite teachers, or the weirdest teachers, and some of us talked about our least favorite teacher. And then the discussion on lasting impact was had. As teachers, we will have a lasting impact on our students. And we hope that it’s a good one.

But how many of us hear “teacher” and think of some horrific thing a teacher said to us once, a response they had, an attitude they showed?

And now, think not just about teachers, but about those scars you bare from a person who burned you. Someone who, in a fleeting moment, did or said something that changed you forever.

Chances are, we have all been in someone else’s fleeting moment that left them with a forever scar. And as I prepare for a new phase of life- one with new friends, new students, new families- I hope and pray that in the fleeting moments I have with these people, I will leave them with a joyful forever. And I hope and pray that others will do they same.

Because it’s in times like these- times where people hide behind screens, afraid to be in the raw presence of other people, times where hatred from both ends of the political spectrum overwhelm and barrage our eyes with vulgar words and hurtful comments, times where older people hate younger people for being different than them and younger people hate older people for not understanding, times where we check the box to advance us to the next step without taking a moment to look up from our resumes to build relationships, times where sad and broken people post happy and pulled-together facades to trick the world into thinking they have it all- in times like these fleeting moments become more powerful than ever.

Fleeting moments of unapologetic joy and laughter and passion and excitement are to be treasured above political rightness and haughty “I told you so, I’m better” moments. Fleeting moments of pain and heartbreak and terror or brokenness are to be honored- to be shared with our most trusted tribes and are exposed so that they can heal. No more facades to hide our hurt. No more falsely perceiving pain as weakness. These real moments of every day life are fleeting. And if we don’t look up from our screens or take a break from telling “them” how wrong they are, if we don’t start being honest with each other about who we really are, if we don’t quit hiding behind an agenda and a resumé, we will miss the good fleeting moments and live in a world of endless, abusive fleeting moments that are sewn together by letters and a camera on an iPhone.

So, I’m striving today, tomorrow, day after day until I meet my Maker to embrace every fleeting moment. To celebrate each joyful moment and to learn from each difficult one. I’m striving to be aware of the words I say and the things that I do so that in the fleeting moments that make up the lives of those around me, I leave a better forever for them.

At the end of this life, it will be these fleeting moments stitched together with sunset and sunrise after sunset and sunrise that have made it up. It’ll be these fleeting moments that came disguised as ordinary life, swept us off our feet, and will have left us in awe of this ordinary life. It’s these fleeting moments. I am deeply in love with each and every one of them. Are you?

 

Final Ramblings

I know in the past I have regaled you with things that I’ve learned so far on the Camino, but as our adventure winds to a close, I have a few more things I’ve learned that are, at least in my opinion, slightly more important and have certainly been more transformative for me. I suppose there is something to be said for that whole “Twenty-something self-discovery” thing or whatever. And while I won’t treat this like a diary and share with you everything I’ve learned about who I am and who I want to be, I do want to share some of the small insights the Camino has given me.

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First of all, you should know that this past year at school hard. It was certainly one for the books. (To get the depressing details you can read my old blog posts) It was a year of sadness and lostness and pain and hurt. 8 deaths of friends or friends of friends, 2 incidences of sexual harassment, physical impairments, mental breakdowns, broken hearts…you name it, it happened this year. And I came into the Camino with a mixed attitude.

Part of me was excited about an adventure. I’m 21 and vying for any adventure this life can take me on. But honestly, mostly I was excited for the 2 week trip FOLLOWING the Camino that my dad and I have planned in Italy and Austria- that was the adventure I really wanted. Part of me was like let’s just get this thing over with and then go party for real. And part of me was absolutely terrified of the Camino because that’s a long time to spend alone with your thoughts and I really just didn’t want to deal with my own thoughts. After a year like the one I’ve had, I wanted nothing more than to sweep it all under the rug and move on as if nothing bad ever happened.

But there was no sweeping.

I was confronted with memories, questions, pains, and hurts from this past year. Why do people we love get taken from us so early? Why are people so unkind to each other? Why do people think it’s ok to violate another human in any form or fashion at all, let alone in a sexual capacity? Why do such awful tragedies occur on a seemingly daily basis? Why? Just why?

And as I’ve processed the brokenness of this year, I’ve decided that I believe 2 things for certain.

  1. I don’t believe in a God who orchestrates tragedies.
  2.  I believe in an enemy who does.

Thankfully, my heart hasn’t been the sole heart on the chopping block these last few months. By and large, I’ve been the witness to the heartbreak, pain, and suffering of those I hold most dear. And on the one hand, I’m glad that it wasn’t just me, as selfish as that sounds. But on the other hand, my compassionate heart has been broken right alongside my friends and family. Their pain became my pain, their suffering, my suffering. I am an empathetic being, and I hurt when you hurt.

As I’ve been with my sweet friends through their trials and tragedies, there is always a common theme in their pain- they want to know why. Why him, why her, why them- why?

And as I’ve thought about this over the last 32 days and processed the “why’s” I’ve decided that if I’m going to hold anything close to my heart it is the belief that God isn’t a puppeteer who pulls the strings on hands holding the triggers to horrific, painful events. He doesn’t design tragedies. It’s not in His “plan” to have your best friend killed, your cousin raped, your mom diagnosed with life-threatening cancer or whatever other terrible thing you can of. I think that’s an unfortunate and hurtful concept that is perpetuated especially within the Christian community. Times of hardship or pain are met with comments like “It’s all part of His plan” and “You’ll understand why this happened one day.” And I just don’t believe any of that. That’s not the God I know, and I refuse to believe that His character is anything similar to that.

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I do believe in an enemy who does all he can to rip our lives to shreds- to tear us away from love and joy. An enemy who thrives as we fall, who trips us just as we get back on track, who lives to destroy. And I have no doubt in my mind that every horrible, awful, heartbreaking event in our lives is at his hand. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the gift of freewill. If we are free to do whatever we want as humans, we are free to fall into the snares.

However, that being said, the 3rd belief I hold true is that our God is a God who lives and works among the brokenness. He is a God who can bring healing from pain, wholeness from brokenness, joy from sorrow, life from death. And in every tragic moment in our lives, He is there. He is there in many forms- words or people, smells or hugs, song or silence- He is there. And He will always bring you out of the misery the enemy leaves you in.

You just have to let Him.

Which needs me to the next demon I faced.

Self-worth.

If you read my last blog post, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I’ve had issues with self-worth in the past. Who hasn’t?

I’ve gone through many phases of Rach in my life and I’ve never been totally satisfied with any of them before. I’ve always let the enemy sneak into my heart and take up residence- tell me I have no worth and that I am unworthy of belonging and love. I’ve let that little voice inside me scream out that I’m not good enough for a long time- that I’m not strong enough or smart enough, pretty enough or fit enough, funny enough, or kind enough. I was never enough. The little voice inside me told me that I had no worth and that I was unworthy.

But here’s what I’m learning: we’re all flawed. We’re all terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people at some point or another in our lives if only for seconds at a time. We make mistakes. We do the wrong thing. We hurt other people. We hurt ourselves. We’re flawed. That’s just how it is. And you can beat yourself up over and over about your flaws until you’re a self-loathing disaster. Or you can recognize your flaws and love yourself anyway.

Because while we’re all terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people at some point or another in our lives, we are also insanely wonderful, beautifully strong, resilient, fierce, loving creatures. And, thanks to Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please, I’ve come to view the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad parts of people as just hungry monsters to be fed. The more you think about how terrible you are, the more you fixate on the bad parts of yourself, the more you feed the monster. The monster inside you thrives on hearing how terrible you are and yearns for you to hate yourself.

But cut that little bitty off. Ain’t enough food in this world to feed that thing, amiright?

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Remember that you’re an insanely wonderful, beautifully strong, resilient, fierce, loving creature who don’t need to take no crap off the monster inside you.

You are strong.

When faced with hardships, in the wake of tragedy- remember this. You will not be defeated by your circumstances.

Destiny is for losers. You’re captain of your life. You wake up and make decisions and choose how to live your life- you choose your actions and your reactions and you’re in charge of you. Destiny is hogwash. You’re not the victim of forces beyond your control. You decide. Figure out what you want and get after it because, like I said, you’re an insanely wonderful, beautifully strong, resilient, fierce, loving creature, and you can do anything you set your heart on.

You have worth and you are worthy.

You’re the captain of your life. Don’t let the monsters inside you stage a mutiny. Take charge and believe in yourself.

Be kind and do good.

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That’s the next bit of advice life has thrown at me on the Camino.

On the Camino you interact with dozens and dozens of people. I’ve met people from 23 different countries and 19 different states. There are dozens of languages spoken, a bajillion different brands of clothes and gear, different looks and different cultural norms- but in spite of all of our differences we pretty much all treat each other the same.

On the Camino, no one gives a flying flip how you look. If you’re not dirty and sweaty are you even doing the Camino? No one cares what your GPA is or what your extracurriculars are. No one cares how much money you make or what your Christmas bonus last year was. No one cares what car you drive or how big your boat is. I’ve met millionaires and homeless people- college kids, and businessmen, miners and high schoolers, retired people and little kids. No one cares. No one cares if you take 17 minutes to get up a hill or 2 hours. No one cares if you’re old or young, fat or skinny, gray haired or blonde. No one cares what brand of gear you have, whether you’re using walking sticks, or if you even have a pack. We just don’t care. You’re a pilgrim and I’m a pilgrim and that’s the end of it.

All the external factors, societal pressures, surface level BS we deal with in the real world falls away. You know what we do care about on the Camino? If you don’t say “Buen Camino” when you pass. If you’re rude and impatient to the local Spanish people. If you cut someone off without even acknowledging them. If you don’t tell someone when they dropped a sock. If you don’t get someone’s attention if they’re going the wrong way. On the Camino, we care if you’re kind. We care if you do good to other people.

That’s a lesson I hope to carry with me forever- be kind and do good and let the rest fall away.

Next, the Camino has taught me that time isn’t money.

Don’t let anyone or anything ever convince you otherwise. Time is not money. Time is irreplaceable. Time is worth more than money could ever buy. Time is a gift. It’s a moment of laughter with a stranger, it’s resting when you need to, it’s getting to know other people better, it’s getting to know yourself better- every passing second is an invaluable present. Don’t waste it.

On the Camino, we run on what we have affectionately deemed “Camino Time.” Everything is late. Stores open late, trains run late, your bill comes late, you eat late. Everything is late. Everything is lazy and leisurely in all the best ways. And in Spain, the siesta is a real thing. All the shops and schools close in the middle of the afternoon. There is a certain disregard for punctuality and hurriedness that I think is so valuable.

Treasure the time you have. You haven’t been given this time to spend it rakin’ in the dollas and forget who your loved ones are.

Run on Camino Time. Take your sweet time at meals and enjoy the conversation. Pause in your day to take care of yourself. Work to live, don’t live to work.

Time isn’t money.

And to go right alongside that, the last piece of wisdom the Camino has given me is that it’s important to spend time with the people you love.

My parents are funnier, smarter, weirder, sillier, cooler, wiser, kinder, and way more humiliating and embarrassing than I had ever realized (I mean that in the best way- if you’re not embarrassing your kid at least once a day, are you even a parent?). They are incredible guardians who are slowly and surely becoming incredible friends. I wouldn’t trade these days with them for anything. They’re my people and I love them wholeheartedly.

Find the people in this life you love wholeheartedly and spend time with them. Walk through their tragedies with them, love them, care for them, remind them of their worth, and never make them feel like they come in second to other commitments. Because at the end of this life, when all is said and done and you’re meeting Peter at the gates of heaven, you won’t have your face pressed against the bars anxiously looking for and awaiting a reunion with your BMW.

God doesn’t orchestrate tragedies. You have worth and you are worthy. Be kind and do good. Time isn’t money. Spend time with the people you love.

It has been a buen camino, my friends. Thanks for keeping up with me.

30 Days of Being Ugly

Pre P.S. Sorry for the long post. Also, enjoy the intermixed ugly pictures of me. 

What a month of being ugly has done to me:

I’m not really a “girly girl.” I never have been. I’ve never been an outright “tomboy” either- mostly because I was never good enough at sports to be considered one.

Growing up you could find me sporting one of my MANY pairs of overalls, hightop yellow chucks, purple rimmed glasses, a bucket hat, boys basketball shorts, and oversized t-shirts tied up with hair ties.

I know what you’re thinking….

Work it, mama.

And, you know, I did work it. I was never overly insecure about it. I just did me and strutted my stuff and cracked jokes and did my homework. My self worth wasn’t found in how I looked at all.

Then middle school hit.

Can I get an amen?

Middle school is otherwise known as the worst century-long 3 years of any girl’s life. The time in which you are a prisoner of puberty, the laughing stock of the male population, the targeted prey of the female population, the captive of your hormone cocktail, the misunderstood ball of emotional rebellion (as seen by your parents). It goes on. It’s the worst.

You define beauty as whatever your mother looks like in elementary school and you think nothing of your own beauty or lack there of. Beauty is something everyone has before middle school.

And then, suddenly, you’re hyperaware of the fact that beauty is no longer your mother, (sorry mom, you’re gorgeous). Beauty is what we see on TV, in movies, on magazines. It’s something that she has that I don’t.

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(My mom is real-life beautiful)

Looking in a mirror becomes an exhausting hypercriticism of everything from your eye color, to hair volume, pore size, and nose arch, lip shape, and forehead span, cheek bone structure, and skin tone evenness.

In elementary school, the only thing that could be wrong with your face is when you were eating Spaghetti-O’s and got sauce all over it. In middle school, hiding your face with sauce is probably better than showing it to anyone- I mean, look at how big your pores are- aliens can see them from their galaxy far far away.

And then high school hits and maybe you’re lucky enough to find friends or have family that sees your beauty and reminds you of it. Or maybe you’re unfortunately surrounded with insecure lady friends who seek validation by bringing you down.

I’m not here to rant on about society and the role it plays in destroying our egos, falsifying our self-images, demoralizing our definitions of beauty, violating our perceptions of what women should look like and so on. Whatever. Society is stupid.

I am here to talk about what 30 days of looking ugly has done for me.

As I said before, I’ve never been much of “girly girl.” Aside from that hideous phase in early high school where I either didn’t own a mirror or thought seven inches of eye liner was cute, I’ve never been a big make-up wearer. I’ve never been ladylike enough to appreciate dresses. I’ve never learned to curl my hair without leaving at least two burn marks on my hands or neck. I have no idea what concealer is and I bought an eyelash curler once because I thought it looked like a tool aliens extracted body parts with (i.e. could be GREAT in science demos as a teacher later on in life) I own a single pair of high heels that I’ve worn one time. I’m terrible at painting nails and I don’t know how to french braid. I’ve never dyed my hair, I don’t know what the word “contouring” means, and I’ve never owned lipstick in my life. The few times I have endeavored to look even semi-decent has been more out of laziness than anything else- like asking my roommates to curl my hair because I wore it up all day and now I want to wear it down but it has that ponytail-lump. Or showering and braiding my hair at night while it’s wet so it looks fancy the next day, but really I just didn’t want to wake up early enough to shower….

My morning routine consists of waking up, showering in under 7 minutes and putting on the top pair of leggings in the drawer and the first flannel in the closet. Divalicious, I know.

Now, at the risk of sounding like a self-righteous, girl-hating jerk, I have to tell you that for a long time, this has been a point of pride for me. I laughed at girls who spend hours in front of the mirror putting make-up on. I scorned the girls who care enough to curl their hair before class. I wondered who they’re trying to impress by wearing dresses. I attributed their desire to look “pretty” to some kind of insecurity and need for validation. I mean did you see her? Cake face. Look at the line of make up on her face. That dress…vavavoom. Who is she after?

I have now spent 30 days being ugly.

I mean, technically one could argue I’ve spent arguably 21 years, 5 months and 28 days being ugly ( I think that math is off, but idc, you get the point). I have some quality double, nay triple, NAY QUADRUPLE chin photos. I can curl my lips in so it looks like I don’t have any. I’m super good at re-wearing clothes and sometimes I forget to brush the other side of my hair. (That’s more out of exhaustion than lack of appreciation for hygiene. I mean, I shower everyday but sometimes a girl just forgets about the left side, am I right?)

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So I suppose saying I’ve only spent 30 days being ugly isn’t completely accurate.

But work with me.

I’ve spent 30 days being ugly.

I’ve been wearing the same 3 shirts and SINGLE PAIR OF SHORTS for 30 days. (Alright, alright, I wore leggings two days when it was cold). I rewash my clothes everyday after we walk and hang them up to dry, only to put them on before bed again so I don’t have to waste time in the morning. Aside from washing my hair and brushing my teeth, I pretty much haven’t participated in any kind of beautification at all.

I wake up and go. I wear a baseball cap. I have no make up on. Its 750 degrees Fahrenheit out here and we spend 6-7 hours a day walking in the sun. I’m also donning a knee brace, an ankle brace, and socks with sandals. COULD I GET MORE GLAMOROUS?!

I’ve spent 30 days being ugly.

And this is what I’ve learned.

  1. I’ve spent my entire life being afraid of being pretty. I am a very short, very young looking female and I get comments day in and day out about how young I look. “Oh my gosh, you’re in college?! I thought you were 15!” is like the soundtrack of my life. I’ve never fit the standard of pretty. I’m short, a little on the stocky side now (S/O to lifting), young looking, and I have never really “tried.” I’ve been so scared that if I tried to look pretty, people would laugh at my attempts. Boys wouldn’t like me because basically every male claims to like “girls who don’t wear makeup” and that girls would mock me because “look how hard she’s trying.” I’ve never really given myself the opportunity to feel beautiful. Blending in, looking normal, accepting the fact that people will think I’m 12 until I turn 45…it’s all easier. That way, I don’t have to worry if my attempts to look pretty have failed or not. Go unnoticed, Rach. No one can laugh at you for that.

And that’s stupid. No one should be afraid of being pretty for reason I will get to later…

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2. I have been so unfair to my fellow gal-pal, girlfrand, strong lady, ferocious women. SO unfair. Who the heck am I to look at a girl who has put time and energy into looking beautiful and pass judgment that she’s “trying too hard.” Like Rach, just because you can’t freaking remember to brush the left side of your hair doesn’t mean than you are any more of a “woman” than the girl who curled her hair. And just because she can manage to wear a dress AND walk in heels and you can’t even pick out a shirt and flannel that match, doesn’t mean you’re anymore confident in yourself than she is. In fact, the very fact that you’re afraid to even try to look pretty is a solid indicator than you’re probs not that confident in yourself.

Just like there is this skinny-shaming/ fat-shaming culture in our society, I definitely think there is a “girly-girl”-shaming/ “tom-boy”-shaming culture, too. And it’s rampant. Girls who aren’t in to playing dress up and playing with make up at an early age are labeled tomboy, and taught to mock “girly-girls.” If they like those things they obviously can’t be good at sports and they probably don’t like dirt or climbing trees and they’re probably super prissy and basically the worst to be around. And girls who love those things are labeled “girly girls” and taught at an early age to mock the tomboy. They’re just another one of the guys. They’re not refined. They’re not ladylike. They’re probably super crass and gross and basically the worst to be around.

And then we get older and the girl who wears make up and dresses up is trying too hard and the girl who doesn’t wear any make up and who like sweatpants and sports is probably a dyke. And don’t even think about trying to cross over. You’ve never tried to “look good now” so why should you start trying now? And you can’t “let yourself go” now- the boys won’t like you and the girls will talk about you behind your back.

This whole shaming each other thing is awful and disgusting. We’re all just doing our own thang. Y u gotta h8?

As I put on the same outfit for what feels like the 80th time in a row, and as I look at my hot and sweaty, sunburnt face, and as I put on my rockin’ sox w sandals, I have found myself doing what I never thought I would- longing to feel pretty. Yearning to put on something I feel beautiful in. Aching to look and feel like a girl again.

And I’m learning that it’s not because I’m trying to impress anyone. LOL. There are like basically only 80 year old men walking the Camino. But I digress. I’m not trying to fit some beauty standard or attract boys or prove to other women that I’m worthy of their friendship because I’d be a good wing woman or whatever. I just want to feel pretty.

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Day 4 between Estella & Los Arcos

And maybe, just maybe, that’s what all these other “girly girls” have been doing all along- doing their own thing to feel confident in themselves. Maybe being pretty isn’t at all about how you look…but how you feel.

Which leads me perfectly to number 3 (great segway, Rach)

3. Being pretty is a feeling.

I mentioned before that I’ve spent my whole life afraid of looking pretty. I didn’t want people to think I was trying because then it seemed like they would critique me harder. I didn’t want people to think I cared how I looked because I was raised well enough to know that it’s what is on the inside of a person that counts (thanks Mom and Dad, and also probs Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood). But as I’ve spent these last 30 days being grody and ugly, aching to feel pretty, I have learned that like Mom and Dad and Mr. Rogers taught me, pretty, like everything else, is all about what’s on the inside.

And yes, your personality is what counts and your soul is what make you beautiful and all that blah blah blah- I mean don’t get me wrong, that’s an important lesson to learn but it kind of just feels like empty words. Go find a 13 year old girl, just walk up to her and say “hey, it’s what’s on the inside that counts”- guarantee you she will burst in to tears because what what you said is “hey, it’s what’s on the inside that counts” but what she heard is “you’re ugly, but at least you have a decent personality.”

We can talk about the problems with that scenario another time, my point is, knowing that you have a great personality doesn’t make you “feel” any better about how you look. And we can say “looks don’t matter” until we’re blue in the face but we all know that unfortunately, in today’s world they do matter. We’re humans- born into flawed insecurity and until we can overcome it, looks will always matter. I’m not saying looks are the the most important thing a person can have but tell a 13 year old girl who is bulimic that looks don’t matter, tell a 17 year old boy who is anxiously trying to put on muscle weight that looks don’t matter, tell an aging woman who is covering up the gray that looks don’t matter, tell a middle-aged man trying to lose the beer belly that looks don’t matter. Looks do matter. They matter to all of us. It’s a disappointing truth. (Yes, other things matter more but you can’t just ignore that lookism exists and you can’t just invalidate how people feel about themselves because of what we’re taught about looks)

Anyway. Back to prettiness is a feeling:

Ask any girl who has every been cat-called. It’s stupid. Being pretty is having intermediate, fleeting physical characteristics that are pleasing to an individual or group of individuals. Being pretty is a label that other people put on you when they think you have the right combination of ratios and symmetry and other BS. Being pretty is something you can be without your consent, without your emotion, without your approval or input. Being pretty is something that’s up for debate based on each critics personal preferences. “Being pretty” is pretty much worthless.

Ask any woman who has put on her favorite outfit and done her favorite thing to her face and hair, whether its sweatpants, no make-up and a messy bun, or a dress, smokey-eye, and high heels- Feeling pretty is feeling like you are working it. Feeling pretty is feeling confident in how you look and who you are. Feeling pretty is feeling like you deserve good friends and good relationships. Feeling pretty is being aware of your flaws but knowing that your strength outshine them. Feeling pretty is feeling like you are proud of who you are and you ain’t gon’ change fo NOBODY because you like who you are. Feeling pretty is feeling like you got this. Feeling pretty is knowing that you are the only person in the world like you, and knowing that you have something to offer. Feeling pretty is something you get to decide for yourself about yourself, without the input, approval, or validation from any other person. “Feeling pretty” is empowering.

I’m learning that prettiness is about what’s on the inside. It is a feeling more than a physical characteristic. No one person is found physically attractive by all other people. We all have different tastes and preferences and what not. Therefore, being pretty isn’t a physical characteristic. Having green eyes is a physical characteristic. No one will argue, no one will disagree and no one will refer to you as “green eyes.” It’s a physical characteristic that you possess, among many others. You have green eyes. You are not “green eyes.”

Do you ever feel happy (pls say yes. If not, let’s talk)? It’s like a thing that you feel inside you- sometimes people describe it as having a warm heart, or enjoying something- like you just “feel” happy? Anyone?

I feel happy a lot (thank you, Jesus). And when I tell people I’m happy, no one really argues. No one says “no, I don’t think you really are. Her, over there, now she’s happy. But not you.” There’s no conversation about “well in my opinion you’re happy, but I have a huge weakness for this kind of happiness. Jeff, is more of a that kind of happiness guy so don’t take it personally that he doesn’t think you’re happy.”

That would be absolutely ridiculous. When I say I’m happy (and actually mean it- this isn’t a blog about hiding your true feelings and pretending that everything is fine- I have other blogs about that…) by and large, people believe me. Because they’re my emotions. I know what I’m feeling and I’m feeling happy. People believe me. It doesn’t matter if my version of happy is as simple as the sun is shining, and your version of happy is getting a $10,000 raise. It’s all about my definition of happy and my definition of happy says I’m feeling happy. And I get to wear that as an identity. I’m happy.

So why, then, don’t we get to feel pretty and decide that we are? Why do people hear that we feel pretty and get to argue with us? No one argues with me over my green eyes because it’s not a “perception,” there is no personal opinion, bias, or interpretation involved in deciding that my eyes are green. It’s a physical characteristic that I possess. End of discussion.

But I decide that I’m pretty and it’s like I’m opening up a debate, as if people should be allowed to weigh in on this. People think that prettiness is a physical characteristic that people either do or don’t possess. And even worse, people think that they get to decide who possess it. But prettiness isn’t a physical characteristic that anyone can possess. It’s a feeling. And people end up thinking that their opinions, their perceptions, their interpretations, their biases are important enough to decide how another person feels about themselves AND they think that they’re decision is so important that they get to label another person with it. People would never argue with you when you say you feel happy, and they would never whimsically force the label of “distraught” on to you without any reason. But people think that they should be allowed to argue with you when you say you feel pretty, and they by and large have no qualms about forcing the label of “ugly” on to you. And people are wrong.

We don’t get to decide who is pretty. Somehow we’ve entered into this alternate reality where we think that we get to determine other people’s worth based on how they compare in our own minds to a set of pre-conceived, ever-changing, media-influenced, impossible-to-reach criteria. And we are harsh in our judgements. Because if we rank them lower, if we decide that they rank lower on the prettiness scale than us, then we’ve just elevated ourselves. If they’re lower, we’re higher. We get to feel prettier by making them feel uglier.

And that’s just it. That’s how I know prettiness if a feeling. Because when your are serving up hot-mama, feelin’ good, struttin’ yo stuff glamour and someone says your hair looks bad or your outfit is tacky or your face is too fat or whatever, you start to think you’re ugly, right? Did they change anything about your physical appearance by saying that? No. But did they change how you feel? Absolutely. You feel ugly.

Prettiness is a feeling, and just like you don’t get to decide if someone feels sad or happy, you don’t get to decide if they should feel pretty.

We have to stop this human/human shaming. You are pretty.

As I’m rocking my pilgrim grossness, I get to decide if I feel pretty. Who knows, maybe I remembered to brush both sides of my hair that day and it sends my confidence through the roof. Who knows. Whatever, I get to feel pretty if I want. When I get home and undoubtedly wear my Goodwill flannel and leggings after a 5 minute shower and I forget to brush my hair, I still get to decide that I feel pretty. And if I decide to wear a dress and do (probs ask someone else to do) my hair, I get to feel pretty.

She gets to wear whatever makeup she wants and do whatever she wants to her hair, and she gets to wear whatever she wants, and she gets to rock those high heels, and she gets to wear sweatpants, and she gets to wear no make up, and we get to do whatever we want to our appearance and we’re still pretty.

Prettiness is something everyone should feel. Everyone should feel pretty and everyone should feel great about feeling pretty. And everyone else should celebrate that other’s feel pretty.

I think in our heads, when we hear someone say they think they’re pretty, little alarms go off. Oh she’s so cocky. Wow, she’s full of herself. She probably thinks she’s pretty than me. Guys probably think she’s pretty, too. Well, I don’t look anything like her so if she’s pretty, then I’m for sure not pretty. Can there be more than one pretty person in a room? In our school? In this state? IN THE WORLD? OMG. I just met the only pretty person in the world. And she’s so arrogant. Ugh, I hate her.

Like, what even is that sickness?

Can we just celebrate? We should be thrilled that our friends have found something about themselves to feel good about. Goodness knows the world is always trying to tell us all things about ourselves that we shouldn’t feel good about. So let’s celebrate! No one knows how hard it is to be a girl except another girl, so why do we make it harder for each other?

In my 30 days of being ugly, I’ve learned that prettiness is a feeling. It’s not a physical characteristic that you either have or don’t, it’s the way you feel about yourself regardless of your looks. In my 30 days of being ugly, I’ve learned that it’s ok to feel pretty without first receiving that validation from someone else. In my 30 days of being ugly, I’ve learned that it’s ok for other people to feel pretty, too. In my 30 days of being ugly, I’ve learned that if other people don’t feel pretty, I owe it to them to tell them why I feel they’re pretty until hopefully they feel it, too.

In my 30 days of being ugly, I’ve learned how to feel pretty.

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