“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” –Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Let’s face it. For many of us, fear is a real and far too constant reality in our daily lives, and it can motivate us to do (or not to do) a whole host of things. How many times have you decided not to try something new because of that tiny voice in your head that reminded you of the fifty different things that could go wrong? It happens all the time. I think many of us are prompted by fear more often than we’d like to think, and it can become a regular part of our decision-making process before we even realize we’ve let it in.

Admittedly, fear is the narrative my mind falls back on more often than not. I cannot count the number of times I’ve started up a new job, relationship, project, etc. and been greeted by a chorus of voices in my head telling me why it’s clearly a bad idea.

“Sarah, you’re not actually good enough to do something like this.”

“You’ll probably mess up and then everyone will know you’re a failure.”

“Isn’t it just easier to stick with what you already know?”

I’m an expert at holding myself to unreasonably high standards. I do it every. single. day. And it’s this fear rhetoric I continue to use that keeps me from accomplishing a lot of things that make life worth living.

So how on earth are we supposed to take back our power and change that story? It is not enough for me to sit contentedly in the boxes I’ve built myself into. Training the mind to think differently, however, entails a whole lot of willpower and an equal dose of grace. We have to be willing to embrace imperfection in order to allow anything new to enter into the mix. Real, unfiltered authenticity is tough. It’s scary. And it’s not glamorous. But it is part of being human and ultimately one of the most rewarding things we can allow ourselves to feel. We are all flawed and so far from perfect that it’s a wonder we ever tried to have it all together in the first place.

(I write this as I scroll through my Instagram feed of edited photos that make it look like I have the world’s most exciting life. Reality? I spent today avoiding thoughts of moving away because it terrifies me, and I missed an appointment because I can’t get my life together enough to get out the door at any decent hour. I’m craving routine and without it I feel like a certifiable mess.)

This process of embracing my mess is a gradual and somewhat unsettling endeavor, but it’s also more empowering than just about anything I’ve ever tried to do. Here I am in the midst of one of life’s most confusing seasons, and I’m forging ahead into the unknown because–well, honestly, because that’s the best I can do at this point. We’re making it, folks.

How are YOU choosing to tell yourself a different story? Today’s the day to start, and I want to hear all about it. Welcome your own chaos because goodness knows, life is full of it.

Here’s to new narratives!

Sarah

 

 

Displacement (n) — the act of moving something from its usual place or position

Wow. Sometimes we fail to realize how comfortable we’ve become in a certain set of circumstances until they are pulled like a rug out from under our feet. I’ve been struggling these past few months with the feeling of displacement and what it means to immerse yourself in a season of transition, when everything feels transient, impermanent and uncertain.

A month and a half ago, I packed up my college apartment and left the city I’ve called home for four years to move to Clarksville until I start my new job at the end of June. I’ve been spending my time nearly equally between my Toyota Camry, Green Hills Starbucks, and friends’ couches (Shoutout to everyone who has been letting me crash with you these past few weeks–I’m forever grateful!), and while it has been a grand adventure in learning to adapt to changing circumstances, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel strange not to have my own space anymore. I don’t think I gave much thought to the meaning of a home until I was without one of my own, and the realization that I will be traveling for the next year with nothing more than a few suitcases is thrilling and deeply frightening all at the same time.

How can we conquer the feeling of displacement without having a physical place to claim as ours? I think the most meaningful lesson I’m learning here is that place is a complex idea that encompasses more than a “You Are Here” dot on a map. It has to do with our entire set of surroundings and perspectives, and whenever those are shifted, it leaves us reeling without a sense of direction. Transitions make life richer but also profoundly uncomfortable and unsettling.

When I share news of my post-grad plans with people, I’m typically met with responses such as, “What an exciting time. You must be thrilled!” or “How fun it must be to have the freedom to see the country while you’re young!” While these statements are both absolutely true, sometimes I also want to add that traveling alone without a home can leave one feeling unsteady and confused. I want to say, “Thank you, but here’s another crucial part of my reality: I’m feeling utterly lost in this season of changes.”

I think it’s important to acknowledge that displacement brings about its own unique set of challenges, but it also holds promises of growth and contentment if we allow ourselves to settle into the discomfort of the present moment. I’ve been asking myself to be fully present in this time of transition without immersing my thoughts too deeply in the past or future. It can be far too easy to fall into the trap of “what if” and “I wish,” trying to plan or change circumstances that are altogether outside of our control. This month of couch-surfing and eating burritos out of my car is teaching me a powerful lesson about letting go of expectation and allowing life to run its course. I am sitting here (at Starbucks–who’s surprised?) without a home, without a concrete plan, and without a semblance of control over what the next year holds. And most of all, I’m rejoicing in the uncertainty that comes along with this changing season.

Bring on June 28! Well, not until I pack my suitcases and clean out my car, but you get the picture. I am so excited for all this new chapter of life has to teach!

Sarah

 

6:35 AM. My alarm goes off. I ignore it for about two minutes and then roll groggily out of bed, pull on my leggings, socks, and five layers of sweatshirt material, and lace up my cotton-candy colored running shoes. They look FAR too pink and full of enthusiasm on this rainy morning, like they are ready to carry me twenty miles if only I’m willing to make it that far. Ugh. I grab my earbuds off the desk, floor, living room couch–wherever I threw them last–and head out the door. It’s February and it’s freezing cold. Help.

This is my usual routine, but most mornings it feels less like a glamorous shoot for a fitness catalogue and more like a never-ending chore. Why on EARTH am I outside doing this again? I am usually the definitive morning person, but early morning runs are another animal entirely. I’m not so sure about this today.

And then my feet hit the sidewalk. There is something about the friction between my shoes and the ground that dissolves every ounce of frustration, stress, and worry I didn’t realize I was harboring until this moment. Pounding out my thoughts on the pavement, completely vulnerable in the midst of rain, wind, and cold, I feel more alive than I have ever felt.

I am by no means a “natural-born” runner. I signed up for my first half marathon two years ago in an effort to force myself out of my comfort zone and get back into shape. It was a miserable experience at first, as I slowly trained my body to run one mile, then two, and so on. I wanted to be like those hippie ultra-marathon runners in magazines who just seemed so in touch with themselves, like they were finding their inner zen by running outrageous distances at a pace rivaling that of a cheetah. I was CONVINCED I would learn to love running if I kept at it enough. Yet every time I couldn’t breathe after the first two minutes, I wanted to quit.

Then something clicked. I don’t know at what point I discovered that running was healing, but before long it became something I couldn’t live without. It is the ultimate form of stress relief and also a “moving meditation” of sorts (to quote this article from On Being that inspired my post). I run because being outside in the elements, willing my tired muscles to move, is the most authentic form of prayer I have found.

I am training with several friends for my first full marathon this year, and I would be lying if I said the thought of surviving a 26-mile race didn’t terrify me. I’d also be lying if I pretended that I was one of those hippie, magazine-worthy ultra runners, always going on about how running brings me this deep inner peace. Sometimes (read: the majority of cold mornings in February) I’m just not feeling it. My running, as with my soul, is a work in progress. I am by no means an expert and by no means a champion. But I am deeply grateful for each step that reminds me of what it means to be spiritually awake and wholeheartedly alive.

 

Sarah

“For once you have tasted flight,

you will forever walk the earth with you eyes turned skyward,

for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

-Leonardo Da Vinci

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On July 11, 2015, I learned to fly.

Granted, I flew for only about seven minutes before coming down for a not-so-elegant landing, and I spent most of those minutes confused about what to do with my hands. (Note: This is a very legitimate problem that seems like a no-brainer until you’re in the air. EVERYTHING SEEMS AWKWARD so naturally I ended up flailing around like a crazy person the whole way down. So much for upping my cool factor.) Despite my failed attempt at gracefulness, skydiving remains one of the most surreal and liberating experiences of my life thus far.

If you had asked me at this time last year whether I would consider jumping 14,000 feet out of a plane, I would have laughed at you. Frankly, I might have given you the same answer even just last month. I have never been an adrenaline junkie, and as a young child I was convinced I faced imminent death every time I stepped into an airplane. My adventurous parents used to joke about my picky eating habits and lack of courage to do most anything outside of my comfort zone. I was queen of the safe, hesitant, and familiar, happy to stick within my own little bubble but apprehensive to take even the tiniest step out. The path of least resistance still leads somewhere, right?

WOW, was I missing out! I have learned a powerful lesson these past few years about the joy, fear, and exceptional growth that come from living a life that is wildly uncomfortable and uncertain. The most defining experiences in our lives do not come at moments when we order buttered noodles instead of pesto sauce or choose to stay in a bad relationship rather than break free of it. We are most deeply affected when we break the mold, jumping headfirst into the unknown without keeping a running list of every possible wrong scenario.

There are about a MILLION wrong scenarios at this moment. Believe me, I had thought about them. Yet here I was.
There are about a MILLION potential wrong scenarios at this particular moment. Believe me, I had considered them. Yet here I was.

I knew that for my birthday this year I wanted to give myself something a little out of the ordinary. Like most things for me, skydiving wasn’t solely about the experience of jumping out of a plane- it represented a larger metaphor for the type of life I want to lead, one that marches headfirst into uncharted territory without letting excuses get in the way. I’ve always looked at skydivers and thought “I could NEVER do that.” But here’s the catch: What if I could? It’s easy to talk ourselves out of things and far too difficult to take the leap and commit to them. So in early June I decided, much to my own apprehension and my family’s surprise, to do something I never thought I could.

It didn’t surprise me when my best friend Danielle jumped immediately on board. If there is one thing I admire about Danielle (and actually there are about ten million things), it is her spontaneity and willingness to do almost any anything that involves adventure. She has taught me volumes about being fully present rather than living life like a to-do list, which is a trap I tend to fall into when schedules get busy. (She also promises me that it’s okay to be late sometimes and that traffic is a good thing because it allows more time for conversation.) Danielle is a shining example of God’s tendency to place specific people in our lives exactly when we don’t realize we most need them. She is a blessing far greater than I’m able to sum up on this page.

Should I just turn this into a Danielle Isbell appreciation post? Probably.
Should I just turn this into a Danielle Isbell appreciation post? Probably.

Here’s the thing about experiences that scare us: they make life infinitely richer because they teach us we are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit. Whether it’s something as major as skydiving or as minor as changing up your order at Chipotle (kidding, that’s a HUGE deal), do something today that makes you uncomfortable. Life will be that much fuller because you took the leap.

Blessings,

Sarah

Summer rainstorms are vastly underrated.

I’ve never been more sure of this fact than on Monday, when Danielle and I decided to go on an outdoor adventure despite weather forecasts that looked less than promising. It was Memorial Day, we had the afternoon off, and we were not about to let the opportunity pass, especially after suffering through our first practice GRE test and watching Janie Townsend valiantly battle a giant cockroach on the living room floor. (Seriously, it was an inspiring thing to watch.)

Our destination of choice was Greeter Falls in Grundy County, which, if you’re familiar with rural Tennessee, is located in the absolute middle of nowhere about an hour and a half southeast of Nashville. We talked religion and baristas and farmers along the way, and I was reminded why I’m lucky to call Danielle my hip, theology-loving, overalls-wearing best friend. After all, it isn’t always easy to find someone who’s willing to trek to a waterfall with you in a thunderstorm – but more on that later.

From the parking area, it was a 0.5 mile hike-stroll to the waterfall itself. The water was freezing cold and lovely, and we ended up making new friends and climbing back and forth up the falls three separate times to get a decent picture. The rain came later, and it made the whole day feel a lot more like an episode of Man vs. Wild than a casual afternoon swim. Danielle mentioned that this was the most “Washington thing” she’s done in a while, and for a Southerner like myself, that translates to COLD.

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We took advantage of the rainy weather and relative lack of people on the trails to hike to Boardtree Falls, located nearby. Danielle and I passed the time pretending we were hobbits making the treacherous journey to Mordor in the cold and freezing rain. (I mean, come on, how ridiculously dorky can you get? It was wonderful.) We weren’t completely sure where the trail led or how far we were going, but that made the whole experience all the better.

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There is something so raw and beautiful and marvelous about standing outside in the middle of a rainstorm and just embracing it for what it is. First-worlders shield ourselves from the elements so often, cranking up the A/C and sitting indoors when the weather is too hot, cold, or humid for our liking. I’ll admit I’m guilty of this too. But being there in the complete quiet of the forest with the rain bringing life and sustenance to everything around us, it is remarkably easy to see God’s handiwork and feel completely wrapped up in it. If you have never hiked in a thunderstorm, it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.

We ended our day by scarfing down the BEST SOUP EVER from Taco Mamacita and watching (yes, I’m admitting this) the Kimye wedding special. WARNING: I don’t recommend this, as Danielle later had a dream that she and Kanye were being forced into marriage against her will. But that’s her own story to tell.

Blessings,

Sarah

Hello friends!

You guessed it- this is my official introduction into the blogging world, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ll get the hang of it before long. With summertime upon us, the extra hours of sleep and sunshine tend to bring out my reflective side, so I’m starting this blog as an opportunity to share thoughts on life, faith, funny stories, and everything in between. Plus, I’ve always been more of an academic writer than a casual storyteller, so this gives me an outlet to step outside my comfort zone and explore a whole different type of creative expression. Here’s hoping I learn lots and write something worth sharing.

Introductions aside, I want to start off by talking about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately- the fact that junior year is over and adult life is getting closer than many of us would like to acknowledge. I was laughing with friends last week about how quickly time has flown since freshman year and how thankful I am that I’ve become a lot cooler than I was three years ago (or at least that’s what I’d like to hope). Graduate school research and applications are becoming a reality, and it’s exciting and terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. Classmates are talking about senior year, graduation, and the fact that one year from now many of us will say goodbye to each other for the last time.

Hang on…what?

I’d be lying if I said that the thought of leaving this place didn’t frighten me to my very core. It’s easy to stay wrapped up in what people call the “college bubble” of classes, student organizations, friends, and generally avoiding actual adult responsibilities. And at least on my end, I tend to feel like things aren’t going to change anytime soon. But lately I’ve been starting to wonder about what life will be like without my Hillside apartment, afternoons in the Beaman, and frequent trips to Hipster Central aka Bongo, where I’m typically wearing a monogram and feeling rather out of my element.

Like I mentioned earlier, I always get contemplative around this time of year, and the past several months have been somewhat of an adventure in accepting the reality of uncertainty. I’m a planner, someone who would be perfectly content to iron out the details before they occur and not constantly wonder about how things are going to turn out. But if junior year has taught me anything, it’s that God delights in surprises and that no matter how many brightly colored agendas we keep, we cannot possibly plan our lives. Often the most beautiful stories play out precisely opposite of our predictions, and we end up being undeniably thankful that our own silly plans failed so miserably. Lean not on your own understanding, Proverbs tells us, for we serve a Creator that rejoices in the unplanned intricacies of our unexpected lives. So next time you’re wondering whether you’ll find something meaningful to do after graduation, take a deep breath and remember the last time things didn’t go according to plan. You made it this far, right? Let’s embrace uncertainty as a sign that life is messy and beautiful and REAL.

On similar note, I want to take a minute to thank everyone who made my junior year so special. This was a school year full of my highest highs and lowest lows, and I have learned more about myself than I thought possible in a matter of short months. To those who encouraged me to seek a deeper relationship with Christ, thank you. To those who taught me that spontaneous trips to Cookout can be a much-needed stress reliever, thank you. To those who encouraged me to keep going when I felt completely lost and without direction, thank you. To those who didn’t laugh when I bought two crop tops and a fake nose ring, thank you. To those who loved me when I didn’t deserve it, thank you. You have left an impact on me that runs much deeper than memories of trips to Starbucks and Hilary Duff sing-a-longs (c’mon though- Why Not is a classic).

I love you all! Here’s to one more year of college, new beginnings, and a future that is beautifully imperfect, exciting, and unknown.

Blessings,

Sarah