Dear younger me

Dear younger me,

Look at you. So eager to walk across that gym floor and receive your Kindergarten diploma. I’m so proud of you. Six years old and ready to take on the world. I know you have some summer fun to get to, but first I want to tell you a couple of things.

  1. I promise that you will one day be as happy as you are now. Unfortunately, it won’t always be that way. You’ll go through some tough times. Worse than falling and scraping your knee on the playground. But just as you get back up to play, you’ll do the same in life.
  2. You’re going to feel left out. Your clothes won’t be new and you won’t have cool stories of family vacations. Kids will laugh. But don’t let that keep you from being you. Continue to be that crazy little girl that I’ve grown to love.
  3.  You know how you love racing all the boys during recess? Keep it up. One day that training will allow you to meet all sorts of people. Mentors, friends…family. You’ll be running all over the place!
  4. That older brother of yours sure can be a pain, huh? Not to mention that new little sister you have. Those two are your best friends for life, okay? They’ll be right next to you during the toughest times…so keep them close!
  5. What is it you want to be when you grow up? A teacher isn’t it? Well, keep your passion. And no matter where your path goes, know that there will be a million and one opportunities to teach people.
  6. In the next couple of years you are going to get called a lot of names other than Erika. But remember, you control who you are. Shrug it off, babe.
  7. You’re already such a hard little worker. Grandpa absolutely loves giving you all sorts of jobs. But one day you’ll grow tired of mowing the lawn and picking up cigarette butts. Promise me you’ll keep doing it. Spend as much time with him as you can. Play your imaginary guitar with him and bust a move; he’ll be gone before you know it.
  8. Sunshine, you aren’t going to get sucked up by a tornado. Stop being scared of those storms and enjoy the view. You’ll grow to love dancing in the rain.
  9. Go give your mom and dad a huge hug once you finish reading this. Things will get shaky for the next couple of years. But I promise they’ll come back around. In the meantime, you’re about to gain some super powers called resilience and determination.
  10. Finally, take careful notice of those around you. God is going to give you many angels throughout your journey. They’ll be of all shapes, colors, sizes, and species. You won’t see it at first, but they are what will get you through.

If you made it all the way through this letter then goodness, they need to put you at a 5th grade reading level or something. Such a smart little cookie.

Chin up, buttercup. That same beautiful smile you have now will keep shining through (minus all those gaps). No situation or person is going to keep you from succeeding. So go get em’ girl.

I love you,

From our fortress.

Use YOUR eyes.

It has been six months since I graduated. In that time I feel as though two worlds have slammed into each other. When I left this place I was a naive, scared eighteen year old girl. I cried when my mom left me in that dorm room. I thought that was the lowest I would get. I was wrong.

I spent four years separating myself from anything that ever was. At the time I don’t think I would have registered as so, but now I see that I was trying to reinvent myself. And I did. It wasn’t always a smooth ride. In fact I don’t think it ever was. The self I was trying to create definitely took many drafts. Drafts that I wish not to claim, but I must.

But I won’t bore you all with my life story. I’ve done that too much already. I never would have dreamed of ending up in my hometown after graduation. Yet here I am. And if I thought that the young woman who walked across McPherson College’s stage in May was the final draft of Erika, wow was I wrong.

Try going back to a town where everyone expects the girl they knew four years ago. And what makes that so frustrating is that I don’t even remember that girl. I guess I have my perspective of what she was like, but no one shared with me theirs.

Now I hear things like, “you act like I don’t know you” from my own family members. And it makes me cringe because they don’t know me. They weren’t keeping up on the last 4 years of changes. And because of that, they’re still reading the first edition of Erika without even picking up the 2nd. Let alone the 3rd that is being written now.

Anyways, you get the picture. I’m in this town that has preconceived ideas of me. But they aren’t the only guilty ones. I came back here, wearing the same glasses I wore four years ago. Seeing everything in the same light. The difference is that I ditched my glasses months ago.

I started to get involved in the community (thank God for my boss throwing me into it). And let me tell you, this little town truly is a gem. The servant leadership and sacrifices that take place here are tremendous. The townies reading this are probably thinking I’ve gone crazy, but maybe they have the wrong glasses on, too.

I grew up in a family that had (still has) no/limited sense of community. I don’t think it’s their fault. They went through many struggles and only ever had family to count on. Outsiders aren’t something I was ever taught to put trust in. They have bad intentions and only look out for themselves.

Luckily, while I was away reinventing myself for the past four years, I was also changing my definition of community. In that time I learned to lean on those who didn’t have the same blood as me. And this is why my two worlds crashed into each other.

Here I am with my new glasses on. The glasses that highlight community in all of its glory. But now I’m around my family again. And they don’t realize it, but they are constantly trying to rip my new glasses off to put the old ones back on. I want to share my eyes, but they have to be willing to accept them first.

To save this from being a therapy session, I’ll say this: There will always be something or someone trying to pull you back in time. The familiarity of the old you is comfort to them. But sometimes selfishness is good. And this is one of them times. You’re writing a new, better version of yourself for a reason. Don’t start ripping out pages to make others feel better. Work on you. Publish that edition. And then start on another.

Growth and change never stop. In the words of Dory, “just keep swimming”.

With love, from my fortress. ❤

Changing perspective.

Today has been especially draining. Do you ever feel like you wasted a whole day? There was absolutely nothing I did today to change the world. And those kind of days leave me feeling helpless. And hopeless.

I feel like I have all of these ideas in my head. People I want to help and things I want to do. But after days like today, I can’t help but feel that I may be getting ahead of myself.

As I sit at my desk, with my head in my hands, I stop. This is how stagnation begins. A slow fade. Self-doubt. Self-pity. Self self self. And what a day to be stuck on self.

Time’s Person of the Year: The Silence Breakers. If any one of those individuals had succumbed to self-doubt or self-pity that campaign would never have been. If they thought that their one post couldn’t change the world, no change would have taken place.

And just like that I lift my head from my hands. There is no time to throw a pity party. Today, I choose to let those brave women and men be a lesson. We are never invisible. Our struggle. Our pain. Our dreams. Never invisible.

Stagnation is a slow fade. Something that creeps up on you while you have your head in your hands. And before you know it, you have no energy to lift back up.

We can’t take on the evils of the world if we are stuck on ourselves. So lift your heads. Maybe you can’t change the world today but you can change your perspective. Some days hold more impact than others. And know that each day you’re looking ahead instead of down, is a day that we are one step closer to progress.

oh Christmas tree.

I’m not much of a fan of Christmas. I feel like people have taken it so far from where it began. For this reason, I don’t decorate…like Grinch level. But this year is a little different. I’m out on my own. Friends are kind of MIA and work takes up much of my time. I wanted something beautiful to come home to this Christmas season.

I walked by the tree aisle at the local store…toyed with the idea of making my own stocking. But then I found my answer! I recently found a picture of a “tree” created by a stack of old books! BINGO! I love books more than Christmas. So maybe making a tree out of books would allow the season to grow on me. And boy was I right.

I just finished making my book tree. And wow, what a blessing in disguise it turned out to be. As I began making the foundation I pulled the largest books. A thesaurus because sometimes finding the right word is a journey, an english book from the 1930s, and a book that I read my junior year of high school that shaped a large part of who I am today. I continued stacking.

Oh, there’s that book I read that inspired my love for child psychology! And the one that began my secret obsession of Ayn Rand. Many that caused me to pause and remember the happiness I felt walking into the used bookstore where they were found. Even a small blue book that my 5th grade teacher gave me…the first book I ever received with a personal message in it. ❤

A sign language book that has been with me since grade school. A dictionary received as a Kansas Scholar. Poetry and religious books that pulled me from dark places this summer.  Robert Frost with messages of love. And books that have been bought and anxiously waiting to be read…(anyone else have that problem? oops, haha).

And every tree has to have an angel at the top. So I placed my angel right where he belongs. Keep shining bright, Grandpa.

I didn’t expect to gain so much from this little tree. I never realized how much of who I am can be found by opening these covers. I always question myself. Worried that maybe one day I will run too far away from me and who I want to be. But I think as long as I have the contents of this tree I will never lose Erika.

I may have just put this tree up tonight but it’s been in the works for over 12 years. Thank you to those who have helped me create this masterpiece. You will never know how much I am continually impacted by every page stacked here beside me.

With love, from my fortress ❤

Pinch me. I’m dreaming.

I remember telling my friends that I would never get to travel the world. I knew there was no way I would get a job that would let me go anywhere beyond my desk. They told me I could always travel on my own. I found that hilarious. Before college I had barely escaped the boundaries of Kansas by car, let alone an airplane. I made up excuses that my background didn’t give me the foundation to know how to travel (like what does that even mean??).  That my anxiety would squash me dead before I even started packing.

Now here I am. Six months out of college. I’ve walked the beaches of Costa Rica. Sat on the edge of cliffs as the Atlantic crashes into Ireland. Sailed into a San Diego sunset. Relaxed in a London coffee shop. Flown over deserts and mountains. And walked the streets of New York City.

If you had walked up to me as a high school freshman and told me what my life would become…I would do two things: Externally, I would laugh in your face. And internally, I would of started the biggest anxiety attack I’ve ever had.

You may be reading this and thinking, Okay Erika. Calm down. So what, you’ve taken a couple of plane rides. And yes it could seem that way to you. But to me, this is like God answering every prayer I ever had. Every birthday wish coming true. But I don’t remember wishing or praying for any of this. Do I deserve this? Can I enjoy it? Or will it seem as though I am bragging?

Isn’t it crazy how even when we are happy we second guess it? What kind of question is “Do I deserve it?” EVERYONE deserves to be happy. And the only time it is unacceptable is if you are the only happy one around. I’m allowed to be happy. But once I am full, I have to make sure I am sharing that happiness. God is blessing me so much. So how can I pay that forward and bless someone else? I sure can’t buy them a plane ticket, but I can tell them stories and show appreciation.

This post might not be as exciting as my others but I’ve been storing this in my fortress. Along this journey I’m learning how to best receive these experiences so that I can give back just as much.

As I child I used to hug my pillow as tight as I could and pray for a better tomorrow. Never did I imagine that those tomorrows would look like today.

shatter my dreams.

Asleep with no defense. My thoughts crawl like vines, strangling the hope I built through the day.

The hidden trauma pushed to the surface; guerilla warfare while awake.

One word or face bringing feelings that can’t be explained.

Eyes a fountain that won’t stop running.

Pain unseen but felt so deeply.

Who is the villain? Where do they dwell?

Awakened; a plan devised to prevail.

But defeat expected with the Unconscious two steps ahead.

Waiting ’til dark to crumble the blueprints to freedom.

Another night, new strikes.

How to defeat that which is within me? That betrays me through every slumber.

They told me my dreams would set me free.

Free from what? Sanity.

Fall.

It’s in the way the leaves fall one by one. Spiraling through the air. The first ride they have ever taken. And the last.

It’s the way the breeze drifts across my skin. Creating chills. Yet the sun manages to reach the back of my neck to send warmth running down my spine.

The earth erupts into color, spouting the most glorious last words ever known.

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This is your love. It creeps in before I can stop it. And once one beat of my heart falls for you, the rest follow. Like the brown leaves from the tall tree, quietly but quickly.

My fears will chill my heart but your embrace will kiss my soul like the sun on my neck, warming me to my core.

The smell of burning tells me our love will spark a passion that inspires the world.

But your presence eludes me the same as the magic of this season.

Every smell, sound, and color leave me longing. But for what?

One day we’ll meet, and when we do, I’ll accept you just as the ground does every dying leaf…

Gently and forever.

Sharing. Helping. Building.

I have this overwhelming desire to help. The suffering of others literally feels like a wild animal clawing through my heart.

If I can prevent someone’s sadness why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t we?

But that’s the thing, we can’t prevent the suffering of others, can we? I tried my hardest but doesn’t seem that I can make a difference.

WRONG. I believe that society has brainwashed each other to think that if they cannot directly lead a battered woman to safety or feed a starving child then they can’t help.

We have to face the fact that we cannot take on the whole fight. There are things that we can’t do and because of that, we have to do our part and make sure the next person does theirs.

How? As simple as having conversations. And yes I know, one of my pet peeves is people who talk and talk but never do. But in this case, how do we get people to do if they don’t know? Never lose an opportunity to share.

If people realized even half of the resources they possessed, this world would be forever changed. I’m not even talking money or a fancy house. I’m talking experiences, knowledge, thoughts, etc. You know, the stuff that makes us human. That “human” stuff is what connects us.

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At some point we created this disconnect between the “wealthy” (not just financially) and the “suffering”. We have to rebuild that bridge. And it’s not a wood bridge. It’s a story, emotion, fear, experience bridge. And the supplies aren’t just from the “wealthy”. The “sufferers” hold resources, too.

The beauty of the bridge? It’s the key to showing the world what we truly are…..human. The wealthy can suffer and the suffering can be wealthy.

I think the craziest part is that we all desire that connection. Have you ever wondered the success of Humans of New York? We want to feel connected. We are drawn to other’s stories but we refuse to share ours…to give our piece of the bridge.

I don’t know about you guys but I’m here with my hammer and my dreams, fears, stories, and experiences. I’m ready to build.

Much love from my fortress. ❤

 

Excuse me, Nag coming through…

Why is it that when I woman sits across a table and asks for updates and deadlines that she is labeled as “nagging”? Meanwhile a man can sit across and ask the same questions and be considered someone who gets things done.

You might say, “well Erika, what was your tone? Are you sure you weren’t nagging?”. Here’s the thing friends, I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to change the way I react. When I was young I didn’t get to express my thoughts and feelings very well and it overlapped into my teenage years. I never learned to manage my reactions because I wasn’t allowed to react. I was literally called “Mouth” as a family nickname. That has to create some pretty sensitive spots, right?

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When I hit college I had to reevaluate everything. I was coming across too strong; intimidating. I learned that I can be wrong and that I can disagree without raising my voice. I had to learn that my expression in my house may be different than during practice or in class. I analyzed myself with a magnifying glass. And it took all of those four years to get it as close to right as possible. So yes, I’m still learning…but I know what nagging is and isn’t.

So when a man sits across the table from me and claims to the other two men in the room (yes he didn’t even say it to me), that I do and will nag…that pushed a couple of buttons. But I took a deep breath and clenched my jaw. I was not going to give him the reaction that he was after. If I would’ve reacted their response would have been, “see women can’t take a joke”. That’s how I know I’ve grown.

I have to wonder, will I continue to ask those same questions if I know I’ll be labeled a nag? And you know what I say? HECK YES. There has to be a line drawn. Those men see it as a joke. Those jokes are the same reason that thousands of women sit at the table and keep their mouths shut.

And let me tell you, I get it. Being the quiet woman is less stress. Especially if you’re already having a less than stellar day. But I’ve never been good at keeping quiet. So I take the challenge head on.

Some days are more discouraging than others. Yesterday definitely was. I did all the improving I could and at the end of the day it didn’t stop the label from being thrown on the table. My job is amazing. The whole company. But it’s a male dominated industry. And yes I knew that before I chose it. I’m not going to let that one fact discourage me from receiving the great experience that everyone else is having at this company.

The only thing left to do is change those men. My success is not a joke. I will not be looked down on simply because I have boobs and pee sitting down. My deadlines are no different than those put in place by the males in your life. But of course, men don’t nag…it’s scientifically impossible, right?

Sincerely,

Mouth.