Coffee Cups and Stories

For some reason, my family has this Starbucks mug from Shanghai. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been, and my family probably hasn’t, but there it is, sitting among the rest of our mismatched mugs. My sister and I bond over baking and cooking together, and so tonight we are making a vegan chocolate cake. The recipe calls for some coffee, which meant that I obviously had to make an extra cup for myself (to those who find themselves worrying for me at this point, caffeine unfortunately doesn’t keep me up, which I found out to my cost in college). While she makes vegan frosting from scratch without a recipe for our cake, I’m sitting here nursing that cup and writing this blog post. I think we can all agree on who’s more talented. (She is.)

Whenever I find myself drinking out of an actual mug, it strikes me that millions of people have told stories over mugs. People become transparent, vulnerable, even emotional over a cup of tea or coffee. Honesty and authenticity are, for some reason, linked together in my mind with a cup of coffee. Somehow, the simple act of sitting together and drinking some sort of classy, caffeinated beverage allows people to reveal who they really are. 

This is one of the many reasons why I love spending time in coffee shops, doing homework or reading. I get my work done (Don’t worry, Mom!) but I also have the opportunity to watch the strangers sitting at the next table over, or the couple across the shop. I have the chance to see them say what’s on their hearts and minds, even if I can’t hear what the words are. 

The act of being vulnerable with somebody is really difficult. Too often, we’re hurt by the people we trust. Either they do something to break our trust, or they just fade into the tapestry of life, the busyness of the world around us. The cynic in me sometimes wants to say, “Enough! I’m not trusting anyone ever again. It’s easier just to go it alone.” The truth of the matter is, it’s not easier to go it alone. People are going to hurt and disappoint each other, but like I’ve said before, people will also go above and beyond to lift each other up and pull each other out of the depths. 

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it,” says Albus Dumbledore. There’s power in sitting with somebody and letting them tell their story. There’s strength in the words we use and the words we choose. For centuries, humanity has used stories to convey messages, themes, deeper meanings. I think we’re all pretty good at using words to hurt people, to be honest. I think it’s easy for us when we’re angry to say things that we know are going to hurt the other person, even if we don’t mean it. I know it’s easier for me to think of mean things than it is to think of nice things sometimes. But, sitting with somebody over a cup of coffee, using our words to help each other and build each other up? That’s remedying injury. 

Let’s start remedying the injuries we all are carrying with us.

What’s In a Song: “Look What You Made Me Do”

Chances are, you’ve heard of the new Taylor Swift song, “Look What You Made Me Do.” (If not, watch the music video below or click this link before/while you read the rest of this post, otherwise some things might not make sense.)

Okay, I could write a lot about the song itself, and the music video alone has enough to span thousands of theories (seriously, just look on Tumblr and you’ll wonder why some people are allowed to have the Internet and how anybody could have that much time on their hands), but that’s not what this post is really about. For starters, I don’t have infamous ongoing feuds with Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, and Katy Perry, and I also want to know if Taylor just has some beef with people whose names start with K in general. I’m not nearly well known enough to cause the Internet to have a meltdown if I delete all of my social media posts and post cryptic videos of snakes. If I dressed up as a zombie or had snakes surrounding me while I sat on a throne, I think my parents would be extremely concerned. But regardless, the song has become an anthem of sorts of me lately for a number of reasons.

First, one thing I’ve drawn from the song (and discussed extensively with some of my best friends) is that it’s okay to be upset and angry. It doesn’t mean you can be a terrible person, hurt lots of people, and then just chalk it up to emotion, but it does mean that your feelings are valid and you should embrace them in a way that is actually helpful. It’s even okay to not forgive someone immediately, which is something I think we’re expected to do. I do believe you should forgive people, but I think a key part of offering forgiveness is saying, “You hurt me, and I’ve felt the pain and gone through the process of embracing that hurt, but I’ve also forgiven you for what you’ve done.” Embrace your humanity in the sense that you’re a person living in the 21st century with feelings and emotions, and when you’ve been wronged or things don’t go your way, it’s okay to allow yourself to feel that. Now, I’m also a person who strongly believes in being nice to people and I’m not naturally a very revengeful person, so I’m not going to recommend slashing people’s tires or setting their house on fire (Picture to Burn, anyone?), but I will say that if you don’t allow yourself to embrace every emotion, it’ll come back to hurt you a lot more later down the road. I’ve had to learn how to stand up for myself and how to voice my feelings and emotions in a way that’s healthy, and I think there’s a lot of value in that.

Here’s the thing. I think we all have a lot of things we could be angry about. I know I do. And in the past, when I’ve been angry, I’ve told myself to ignore it, to push it down, to distract myself, to pretend it isn’t there. Every time, I’ve ended up hurting myself and somebody else an awful lot more than if I’d just addressed it at the start. Every time, I’ve done more things that I regretted that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t chosen to ignore it. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m saying we should act on our anger, because doing that also results in a lot of pain and regret. We have to find the middle ground, in other words. Even when I left Oregon, I had friends and family who were really angry on my behalf, which is mildly entertaining if I’m being totally honest, but I didn’t let myself be angry at first. I didn’t really sit with it and allow myself to experience it when it happened. I have since, though, and by allowing myself to feel it and to acknowledge that it’s there, I’ve been able to let go of it. I think I’d still be pretty angry now if I didn’t do that. (And I can personally confirm that writing a song about someone actually does help release some of that hurt.)

The second thing I’ve learned is not to be ashamed of who I am. Obviously I’ve learned this lesson from listening to more than this one song, but if there’s one thing I love about Taylor Swift, it’s that she’s unapologetic and authentic about who she is. She didn’t set out to be this perfect, unattainable celebrity figure, and she’s getting a lot of hate for her mistakes and imperfections which I personally think are just her being a human being. I think “LWYMMD” is totally a revenge song, getting back at the people who’ve said terrible things about her and wronged her, but it’s also acknowledging her own hurt and the fact that she’s a real person who can and does experience those emotions. There’s a line in the song that says, “Sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? ‘Cause she’s dead!” I won’t necessarily advocate for completely ditching your past, which isn’t really what I think she’s saying anyway, but I will say that there’s something really empowering about saying, “This is who I am now and my past brought me to the present, but the past isn’t who I am. Love it or leave it.”

The “Love it or leave it” portion is the third thing that struck me. Now, I’m naturally a people pleaser, which overall doesn’t do a whole lot for my wellbeing, because it ends up becoming more about making other people happy and not making myself happy. That doesn’t mean that I want to be selfish and never think of other people, but I’ve had to learn how to discern when I should make myself priority. We can’t please everybody, and that’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way. Rather than let everybody else’s emotions, feelings, and opinions, trump mine, and at the expense of my self-confidence, my self-esteem, even my mental and physical health, I’m learning how to figure out when to take care of myself. I was never the popular kid in school, and people knew me more from my relationships (such as my dad’s daughter or my brother’s younger sister) than for things I did on my own, so I’ve always wanted people to like me and know about me, to recognize my own accomplishments as an individual.

A major consequence of wanting to please everybody is that you compare yourself to everybody. I wanted a boss to like me and approve of my work, so what did I do? I compared myself to every other person in the office and tried to be better than everyone else. I wanted to be the best in school, so I compared myself to every other student who walked through the door. The comparison game is terrible, because you’re always going to lose. I still find myself playing the game a lot, but the reality is that it’s only ever going to hurt me, and I’m learning how to step away from it and see myself on my own terms, not on the world’s terms. I’m figuring out who I am not based on everybody else, but based on how God sees me, and what I individually have to offer.

Now, as a side note, I don’t like using phrases such as, “You MADE me do that.” On one hand, I don’t like thinking that other people have control over me to do things, and on the other, it puts the blame on them and makes it sound like I’m rejecting my own responsibility. That’s why I think it’s so important to know and embrace who you are. At the end of the day, who you are and what you do is your choice, not anyone else’s.

Here’s the thing: if you spend your whole life trying to get other people to like you, you’re going to end up being somebody you don’t like.

I don’t apologize for my emotions, although I will apologize if I wrong someone as a result of my emotions. You won’t hear me say, “I’m sorry I got angry,” but I will say, “I’m sorry for yelling at you.” There’s a major difference between the two. One’s apologizing for an emotion, for a part of who I am, and the other is apologizing for something I did. I’m a human being, which means I’ll get angry every once in a while. We all do. I won’t apologize for how I feel, but I will apologize for what I do if it hurts someone, regardless of my emotional state. I don’t allow people to tell me my feelings are invalid or my emotions and opinions don’t matter, but I do want people to tell me if I’m being mean to someone because of them. I don’t apologize for being who I am, and I try at the end of every day to be a person I like, to be the real me, and to be okay with that.

2013_pumpkin
In honor of fall unofficially starting and Pumpkin Spice Lattes being back in stock at Starbucks… I really like pumpkins and I miss those boots.
Be you.

Be unapologetically you. 

Change is a good thing, right?

2016-2017 has brought a lot of changes for me.

TL;DR, I graduated from college over a year ago, moved to Portland, Oregon, was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, lost a major relationship, and moved to Colorado. Obviously all of these changes have made a profound impact, and I’ve needed time and space to process all of them. Here’s what I’ve learned.

The fine print: 

I graduated from Azusa Pacific University in May 2016, magna cum laude, with a major in Biblical Studies and a minor in Youth Ministry. Obviously, my degree has helped tremendously, as evidenced by the fact that I’m currently living with my parents and am unemployed. (lol.) Let me tell you, the process of going from a college student with some independence and some adult expectations to a college graduate with a lot more independence and a lot more expectations is not easy. It’s exciting and I couldn’t wait to finish (mostly because I was tired of not sleeping), but it was also really stressful. I had to figure out what I was going to do after I graduated, and I knew graduate school was in my future although I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. At the time, I was thinking of a career in education as an elementary school teacher, and I had it planned: prerequisites before going to Cal State Fullerton and getting my teaching credential, working as a live-in nanny at the same time. Then, life threw me a curveball.

My boyfriend at the time and his family decided to move to Oregon, and my parents had already left California for their new lives in Colorado, so I made the choice to move to Oregon instead, knowing I could pursue my career in education anywhere. Plus, I was stubborn and decided I didn’t want to live with my parents again after four years of living on my own. Now, here’s the thing. I don’t regret that move at all because it brought some incredible people into my life, it gave me the opportunity to work at a fantastic chiropractic office with a great team of co-workers (plus, who doesn’t love free chiropractic care and discounted massages?), and it taught me a lot about myself and who I was and who I’m supposed to be. I don’t regret the relationship I had or the fact that it took up almost four years of my life, although I’ve had friends and family say things along the lines of, “that was a waste.” It wasn’t, because without it I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t know how to stand up for myself, I wouldn’t have the confidence to walk away from people and relationships that are ultimately toxic, even if they’re comfortable and I think I’m happy sometimes in them.

In hindsight, which is usually much more clear than present sight, I’d known for a while that the relationship wasn’t healthy. I’m not saying it was terrible and all bad and nothing good came out of it, because a lot of good things came out of it. I had a partner who was (sometimes) supportive and who knew how to cheer me up when I was sad. I had a pseudo-in-law family who encouraged me and gave me a foundation in Portland that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But I also had someone who was critical, who didn’t support my dreams of continuing education, who didn’t like it when I was right and he was wrong (or even just when I was right). I was with someone who got progressively meaner as things stayed the same, who didn’t like to think I had other things to live for than him, who tried to control what I did and who I talked to and where I went. It culminated one night when we both lost our tempers, he did and said things I like to think he’d come to regret, and I made a decision to leave. After almost four years together, suddenly, it was over. My parents, of course, came to my rescue, putting me up in a nearby hotel for a few days while my dad jumped on the next flight to Portland, helped me sell my car (sorry, Shrimpy), and drove back to Colorado with me and a moving truck way too full of my stuff.

That night, my phone rang literally off the hook as I sent text messages to the people I cared most about and trusted the most in the world to tell them what had happened. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this whole thing is who is really in my corner. I’ve learned who I can count on to really be cheering me on, encouraging me, and allowing me to angrily vent to them when it gets to be too much. I have had a difficult time in the past, believing in the worst of people and believing that people are going to leave. It was just a matter of racing against the clock, praying that every minute isn’t going to be the one when someone tells you they’ve had enough. This moment taught me that it’s not always that way. People are going to leave you, they’re going to disappoint you, they’re going to hurt you. But people are also going to drop everything to help you in the moment you really need it. People are going to surpass all of your expectations. They’re going to offer words and actions that start to mend some of the wounds, even if it’s just a temporary band-aid. It’s a start.

So, like I said, I moved to Colorado, back in with the parents. Let me tell you, the change isn’t easy to adjust to after five years of living, for the most part, on my own. But I’m grateful for a beautiful home, for my parents who offer support and the occasional twenty-dollar bill for food, and obviously, my dog, whom I regularly force to cuddle with me and whose love I buy with treats. I have three of my siblings in Colorado nearby (one living just upstairs), and while it’s nice to hang out with your siblings every once in a while, generally a person needs friends who maybe weren’t around during your diaper years. I’ve been fortunate to have a friend down the road that I’ve known for a while, but otherwise, I’ll be honest – making friends has been hard here. I’m social and I’m good at talking to people, but when you’ve been hurt and your life stops looking like how you want it to, it kind of puts a damper on the friendship-building thing. It makes the “getting to know you” portion of the conversation kind of difficult, because who wants to start it with, “Well, I was recently abused”? (I did this exact thing one time when I first moved to Colorado and it was really awkward. I don’t recommend it.) It makes people look at you and treat you differently.

I’m a planner. I like organization, I like schedules, I like knowing where I’m going next. Recently, I really don’t have any of those things set in stone, although I am planning on getting a Master’s in Occupational Therapy. I think one of the best remedies for feeling helpless, to get rid of that feeling of grabbing at loose strings, is to help other people.

Now, at the beginning of this post, I casually mentioned that I have a benign brain tumor. I was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma on my left side in December of 2016. Basically, an acoustic neuroma (or a vestibular schwannoma if you want to be fancy/possibly more correct) is a benign tumor that grows on the sheath protecting the eighth cranial nerve, or the vestibulocochlear nerve. This nerve connects the inner ear to the brainstem and transmits sound and balance information (thanks Wikipedia). The acoustic neuroma is benign, meaning it won’t spread anywhere else, and it is usually slow-growing. Good things to hear, according to my neurosurgeon. The drawbacks? I’ve lost most of my hearing in my left ear, have tinnitus almost constantly, and frequently suffer from dizziness spells and vertigo attacks. An MRI scan found the tumor in December 2016, and specialists here in Denver recommended an observation period of 6 months. Since I’m a master procrastinator, I waited 8 months before getting a follow-up MRI, which showed significant growth and pushed the medical team dealing with my case to recommend treatment in the form of surgery. I’m in the process now of meeting with more specialists and getting that surgery scheduled for hopefully the end of October/early November.

Here’s the thing. Even though it’s benign and won’t spread and it’s not too big and the prognosis seems pretty good, the word tumor freaked me out. I’ve had family friends die from tumors. I’ve seen people suffer tremendously from these little clusters of cells that don’t know how to be normal. I’ve felt some of that pain myself. There’s no reason the doctors could give as to why I have this thing growing inside my head. I’ve had a lot of medical problems, from eye surgeries to major reconstructive foot surgeries (which consumed a lot of my childhood) to problems with my sinuses and being sick almost constantly. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which contains a whole host of issues that I don’t have time to dive into in this post. I have depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve had more than my fair share of hospital stays and visits to the operating room, as my neurosurgeon pointed out a few weeks ago. So, when my doctor’s assistant called me back in December 2016 with the news that the MRI came back and showed an acoustic neuroma chilling there, my thoughts instantly jumped to one question. “Why me?” I’ve asked that question a lot of God recently. I’ll be honest, it’s put some distance.

Why, when I already have fifty other things on my plate, would a tumor need to be added to that heap? I’ve had some people say things like, “Well, it’s because God knows you can handle it and wants to work through you.” Okay, yes, I’m relatively emotionally strong, but I’d like to stick to the things I’m already dealing with, if you don’t mind. There’s truth in that God works in and through us and through our circumstances, but if I’m brutally honest, I’m getting tired of feeling like a show of sorts. I still don’t really have an answer to the question of “why me?”, but one thing I’ve had God teach me over and over again is that I don’t have to have answers to everything.

The beautiful thing is that, just like the night when I lost my relationship, this experience has taught me about the trustworthiness of people too. It’s taught me about what community looks like, about how it feels to have people rally around you, lifting you up in prayer and offering support. In December of 2016, I came to Denver to meet with some specialists and also had some family friends gather around me and pray over me. Moving to Colorado in 2017, I’ve had people pray over me and offer me support, love, and encouragement.

There’s a quote in one of my favorite books of all time, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, that says, “So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” I don’t know all of the reasons for why I am who I am or why I’m going through the things I’m going through. I can’t always control situations where I lose people that are important to me, or control the fact that I have all these random diseases and disorders. But, I can control where I’m going from here. I can choose to treat this tumor, praying for success now so that I don’t have to revisit it later. I can choose to pursue school, which was something that was pushed to the back burner once I finished my undergraduate degree. I can choose to walk away from situations and people who are toxic and who make me doubt myself or make me unhappy, and choose instead to spend time with people who encourage and love me unconditionally. A lot of days it’s easier and way more comfortable to stay in bed all day and watch Netflix and not talk to a single person, but I can choose to participate in things. I can choose to open up, and ultimately, I can choose to believe that we have a God who is good, even (and especially) when life isn’t.

If you’ve read this to the end, thank you! I invite you to respond and share some of your thoughts with me.

First blog post… eek!

Hi there! My name is Meredith, and for a full bio that I spent a shamefully long time writing and that I’d rather not duplicate here, check out my About page.

I plan on using this blog as an outlet for my writing, so expect to find random musings, song lyrics, and other works from time to time. Recently I’ve undergone a lot of changes in my life, and journaling has been an almost constant recommendation from everyone – from friends to mentors to random people at Starbucks – to help with the coping process. I welcome your suggestions and critiques, as per the Contact page.

I’d like to state a disclaimer at the start: I might say things that are not totally politically correct or that might make readers uncomfortable because of the honesty and vulnerability I share, and while I won’t apologize for those things, I will say that it is just as hard (if not harder) for me to write them as it is for you to read them. I invite you to challenge me, ask questions, and even disagree with me, as long as respect is given and received on all sides.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s journey together!