That Time I Thought My Life was Falling A Part, Fell Down, Bleached My Hair, Welcomed Silence, and Picked Myself Right Back Up Again

You're probably reading this because of the incredibly blunt, long, slightly confusing title that peeked your curiosity and made you go, "Wait - wha?" You then clicked the link, wondering what the heck this title could be all about (kinda like what we millennials dub as "Click bait"...but I promise it's not click bait...even though it drew you in;)), and now, here you are, waiting for everything to unfold. So let's get going, shall we?

2016 - it was a year of growth, to say the least. If you keep up with my Instagram posts, you probably read the one with my reflections on this last year. I talked about how it was a year of planting a zillion seeds, failure, growing pains, soul searching, trial and error, ups and downs, learning the art of bravery + saying "ADIEU!" to old fears and recurring habits, questioning everything, putting some things to rest, whilst rekindling others, and letting some desires whither away, while reaping the fruit of others. I met some incredible people, traveled to places like NYC and Los Angeles, and conquered multiple flights/sleeping in airports/Amtrak rides/Uber (without being kidnapped, mind you)/getting from point A to point B by myself, began my yoga teacher training journey, traveled to FL, AL, and MS in 1 day, experienced a deeply painful, depressive battle with my own face, and then saw the pure grace and mercy of God heal and mend it, allowed myself to (finally) be open to the idea of relationships, got what I thought would be a dream job for the year, and quit the same day of training, wrestled with a spirit of sheer confusion, bleached my hair, had a million expectations, and a million slaps in the face from reality. I genuinely thought that my life was falling a part many, MANY times. I fell down many, MANY times. But I also picked myself right back up.

There was this recurring, haunting question that kept resurfacing throughout the year though. This question, as short and simple (HA! Try saying "Simple" to a young adult;)) as it was, seemed to plague my mind, get the best of me...and often times, resulted in  many of those "falls" that I mentioned above. Something about it made me cringe.

"So, AG...what's next?" 

It's not even that people would necessarily ask this with spiteful intentions. It's a question that people absolutely had a right to ask. People are curious. People have basic, human questions. People just want to know what I might have up my sleeve! But that question, specifically, is also precisely what made me want to shrivel up, crawl under a chair, and let the question simply remain unanswered. A bit dramatic? Yes. But let me tell you - asking a 20 something year old that, and especially when said 20 something year old is in a state of, "What the hell am I doing with my life?"...dang; it's a daunting question to ponder. It felt like trying to put together a 1000 piece puzzle, but missing 500 pieces.

The truth is that I really didn't know what was next. And the thought of not having a clear, concise answer to that recurring question was...well...a little terrifying. In 2016, I really didn't have an inkling of a clue as to how I should map out my life, how I would make ends meet, how I would actually pack my bags and uproot to L.A., how I could make being an artist + yoga teacher actually work. There were a million "How?s" with very few answers. Little did I know, not having answers was just what my anxious, withered up little soul needed. I soon realized that my answer to (some lifelong) prayers, my answer to being obedient to God...was pressing into an uncomfortable, irksome, time of stillness and silence. And boy, was I squeamish. There were many "Spiritual pow-wows", tears, disappointment, but ultimately? Surrender. A friend of mine - who bless her, is my "go to" when I need to be told that my soul is imbalanced - said something that changed my entire perspective, 

"Anna Gray, you're wanting so many answers, and so quickly...but you're not giving God any time to answer. You keep trying to do so much by your own flesh and your own power, but you're not giving Him any time to work things out. How can you expect to see God working and answering your prayers, when you're not giving Him any time?" 

She was spot on. I was rushing to conclusion after conclusion, choices by what my flesh sought, trying to tackle one too many obstacles on my own, and subconsciously shutting out any space of time for Heavenly Father. Something Moses said to the Israelites in Exodus comes to mind,

"The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."

Obviously, I was not an Israelite in danger of being slaughtered by an Egyptian (wink),  - but those words - I believe that they can still be applied to us in the 21st century. We force things to happen, harbor one too  many expectations, and carry a whole heck of a lot of baggage on our own...but do we ever welcome silence? 

So I listened to my friend's loving rebuke. I made room. I gave God space. And you know what's kind of funny? Things started happening. Things started unfolding. I started discerning God's voice in ways I never had before. Dare I say - I even felt a spirit of joy, which I had not in quite a long time. I took a mere 2 week hiatus from social media, made a (desperately needed) quiet time with God priority, and essentially had to say, "Lord, Your will be done." I welcomed silence. I let my rapid mind relax. I had to come to a place of being okay with aspirations and strong desires not panning out. I let go of expectations I clung so tightly to, and just let things happen.

"So, AG...what's next?"

After all of this lengthiness and setting the stage, that's the million dollar question. ;) After a year of silence, a year of the unknown, a year of ...well...only fragments of what I wanted in life...I can now confidently answer that "horrific", "daunting" question. Let's go. 

1) Never say "NEVER"...No; I'm serious

I always swore to myself that I would NEVER go back to school of any sort, and NEVER, by golly, have anything to do with science (I still am working on not giving Chemistry and Physical Science the finger). Ever. High-school and I sometimes found common ground. But it was rare. We were never BFFs. I've realized that God likes to shake up my world and humor me a little, because typically, things I swear I will never do...I end up doing. After years of claiming, "I WILL NEVER!!!", then feeling a Holy nudge all throughout 2016, praying ceaselessly, throwing my hands up and saying, "God...I can't do this on my own," and "Where the heck do I get the means for tuition?! I'm a starving artist! I CAN'T AFFORD THAT!", being still, and surrendering to Heavenly Father, I am beyond excited and overjoyed to tell you....

...Beginning March of 2017, I am going to Massage Therapy School.

So yes, yours truly - who swore against it all - is in fact, going to a medical arts school, going to be submerged in 200 hours of anatomy/kinesiology/physiology/pathology, and claim the official title of  "Licensed Massage Therapist", come December, 2017. I still can't really believe it. There's an entire story as to how this adventure into massage therapy came about, my "why" behind it, and the specific clientele I want to work with, in which I invite you to pull up a chair, and the 2 of us have a coffee chat. ;) But really - "excited" doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about this crazy season quickly approaching.

So now, let's clear some things up!

2) "So you're not going to Los Angeles?" 

Quite the opposite, actually! Since some of my "life skeptics" have jumped on this question, complete with a sinister grin, I thought it deserved some limelight. Did you know that it is entirely possible for things to come up - you know, like huge, LIFE decisions and opportunities to come up - that perhaps require a gap before proceeding to execute a bigger plan? Did you know that it is entirely possible to acquire a new set of skills, while still kindling an original plan?

Well, in case ya didn't know...yes ya can! And that is just what I am doing! BOOM!

*transitions out of strict, teacher voice* ;)

  The short, sweet answer to this is that YES - I most certainly am still planning to uproot to the big, bad world of Los Angeles.  And you know, I really did think that 2017 was to be my year to West Coast it. I was ready to hurry up and go too. But in that same breath, there was this slight piece of me that did not have full peace. And I know the difference between feeling those fleshly nervous butterflies, versus feeling spiritually not at peace. I was not spiritually fully at peace, and considering massage therapy, teaching at a yoga studio, training for my first marathon, and a few other opportunities came into the picture...I now see why I did not have full peace. I do now - but it is full peace about waiting that extra year, instead of jumping on my fleshly instincts of moving in 3-4 months.

 So, come 2018, you just might see some big, West Coast updates. ;)

3) "So you're not pursuing the arts anymore? And what about being a yoga teacher?!"

I've also learned that 99% of the population is unaware that you can have multiple outlets. Just as developing another career path does not = trashing CA plans, developing another career path ALSO does not automatically = trashing hobbies and other career paths that are near and dear to my heart. Let me explain. I still want to pursue the arts. I still want to teach yoga (actually, I am teaching yoga. I just need the piece of paper saying, "200 HR RYT" to make me look like I have more credentials). But here's the thing -  I do not want to be a starving artist. And by that, I mean that I do not want to move to an expensive city with over 12 million people, juggle 5 entry level, 1st and 2nd shift jobs that don't make my heart and soul soar, room with 5 other people, and obliterate my mental sanity, all for the sake of trying to "make it" as an artist. Some people can do it, and I honestly applaud them for it. Go show 'em what you're made of!  I, however, learned that I cannot do that. Part of my "soul searching" in 2016 was learning to negotiate with my mental sanity. Though I naturally am a super Type B, scatter brained, super fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person...I need some source of stability in my life. Massage therapy, as we just unfolded, is what Divinely fit the gap in the puzzle. Do I expect to suddenly have booming clientele, sign a contract with the Seahawks and Juilliard as a massage therapist for athletes, and rake in a million dollars? Obviously not. But - with my long term goals and the opportunities with massage therapy, I do not fear that I will sleep in a cardboard box, or have to forgo the idea of ever creating a pension plan.

So all of that to say? I am, indeed, still pursuing the arts and yoga and other wacko, artsy shenanigans. ;)  I want massage therapy to be the basis of my career, so that I will then have the means to pursue absolute, ultimate goals such as film acting and claiming my "200 HR RYT" certification as a yoga teacher.  I have learned, at least for myself, that hobbies and outlets and aspirations come in seasons. Sometimes my focus is 100% the athletics, and studying yoga and its captivating postures and mudras and attending teacher trainings. Sometimes my focus is 100% the arts, and picking back up my own camera, or working on camera, collaborating with other aspiring actors and producers, doing background work, revisiting vocal lessons, writing my own monologues. Sometimes it's both. And sometimes, it is diving into a broad career path, like massage therapy.

And from here, the rest is history in the making.

I know that I am not alone in the struggles I have faced, the squeamishness I have felt, the failures I have experienced, and the ambitions and desires I pray and hope to achieve. Please hear me when I say - your ambitions and goals matter. I don't care how old you are. I don't care how many people have reprimanded you and made you feel like a failure. Your goals matter. You matter. If you are steadfast in seeking God's will for your life, and dedicated to kindling your ambitions - you are no fool. Not everyone will get you, and you know what? That is okay. I have learned that people can be wearing identical frames, yet have lenses that perceive things differently. I'm here to tell you that it is okay if you find yourself missing 500 pieces of that 1000 piece puzzle. It is okay if you are in a season of having to press into silence, and simply wait to see how things unfold. It is okay if someone asks, "So what's next?" and you have no clue. If I have learned anything, it is that sometimes, the unknown is often what will mold you and shape you and force you to grit your teeth and dig a little deeper. And who knows? Stepping into the unknown just might be your answer. Give Heavenly Father space. Press into the stillness. Welcome the silence. See what happens.

2017...it's going to be good. We've got this.


the numbing effect.

I prefer to keep my Facebook page mostly positive and uplifting. Though I talk about my emotions and how I feel, I get down to the nitty-gritty right here.

And that's where I am, in this moment, as I write. 

This past month, I have felt an immense wave of sadness and emptiness. This past week, I finally cried the angry, frustrated, bitter, confused tears I've forced back for almost a year. I sat in my floor, and I let my coordinated eye makeup smear down my cheeks. I've seen hopes and almosts and aspirations crumble. The word "No" has felt like a perpetual mantra. I've felt let down, and honestly felt like God has waved something in front of my face just to snatch it away. And I know, deep down, that God's character is not like that. But I'm just being real, and if I'm being real, that's how it has felt. There have been pockets of joy and bliss, and for that, I am grateful. Words of affirmation are my love language, and I am surrounded by a beautiful community of people. But, nonetheless, I have felt physically and mentally overwhelmed by a deep feeling of sadness and shame. It's not healthy either. It affects multiple parts of my life. When these feelings occur, my numbing tool is withdrawing myself, and staying busy. And this week, God convicted me of just that. 

Busyness. It's my coping mechanism; my go to when my own thoughts and life become too enormous and too daunting. In my denial, I tell myself that I am just getting coffee or just taking a therapeutic drive or that I've worked hard and deserve this or that the music is just giving me fuel and inspiration. But the harsh reality is that these otherwise simple, pure things are made a drug by my abuse of them. It's my escape. And there are consequences. My car's gas light flicks to that horrific, orange color. My spending account suddenly has a cringe worthy dent; and I can tell you now that 99% of that money wasn't spent wisely, thoughtfully, thinking ahead to the future. I drown out my mind in music. I tap the volume button until all other noise is blocked out; even that of my own mind. I go from one place to another - it doesn't matter if it's a coffee shop or the gym or driving aimlessly around, hoping I'll have some "Eureka!" moment - as long as I am doing something, the deep pain and emptiness I feel is soothed. 

"If I stay busy, I don’t have to feel those things.

I don’t have to worry about them, don’t have to let them blossom in to full-fledged questions. I don’t have to sit and think about that thing someone said about me recently when they didn’t know I was there, something I can’t get out of my mind. And so I run away from it, and from everything, faster, faster, faster." (Read more here)

And then, the time comes to go home. I am exhausted. My energy now feels like adrenal fatigue. I want to cry. I walk into my bedroom, and I have no choice but to face my own thoughts. I mistakenly glance into the mirror, and am at war, once again, with the body and face I have tried declaring peace with again and again and again. I sit down on my cold floor. I sigh a deep sigh, and contemplate all of the expectations I had for the week, and the brutal reality that became of them. It hurts. It sometimes makes me wish I could curl up and die. I feel like a failure. I feel empty. 

And so, the pattern continues. There is this song called "Habits" that I have always had a strange connection to. Obviously I don't smoke weed and "watch freaky people" in clubs, but the gist of the song? I get it. As much as it can be played on pop culture radio, the lyrics intrigue me every time. One lyric, in particular, sticks out to me: "Can't go home alone again; need someone to numb the pain."

It makes sense. Once all of the fun is over, what is going to numb the gut wrenching feelings? What is left? How do I cope?

"The busy-ness is a drug to keep me numb, and a defense to keep me safe.

And it works. But numb and safe aren’t key words for the life I want to live. I want so much more than numb and safe. And when I pursue numb and safe, what I get is busy, and after that what I get is exhausted, and after that, fragile and weepy and quick to snap and fearful.
So much for numb and safe, which aren’t even something to aspire to anyway." (Read more here)
God has convicted me of not just the things in which I use as numbing, coping mechanisms - but also the fact that I put more power and faith in those things, rather than in him. We've had some interesting time together. My prayers have been a lot of, "God, you feel arbitrary" and "God, sometimes it feels like I am praying to air" and "God, I just want a clear answer." Some have been desperate. Some have been selfish. Some have been a little absurd. Some have involved choice words. You know what, though? Every time, I am reminded that he is my shepherd. Yahweh Rohi. Even if I, in my stubbornness, question his goodness and his character, I am reminded that he is my protector. He is my guide. He is on my team. When I try to run and hide from my own thoughts - when busyness becomes a drug to keep me numb, and a defense to keep me safe - and the outcomes of my life, He is my shepherd. He warms my chilled bones. He fills my emptiness with life. 
He reminds me that the materialism and the chaos that I choose to cope with only gratify for so long. He reminds me that numbness is not a natural state of being. It's not how we, as humans, are intended to function. We were created to empathize, not become desensitized to our feelings and surroundings. 

It's hard; I know. But we've got this. Just as heat has the power to bring feeling back to cold fingers; our Creator has the power to awaken a lamenting soul. 


waiting on the groom.

(Photo courtesy of the wonderful Megan Travis Photography)

   Last weekend, I got to play dress-up and be a “fake bride” (as I like to call it;)) for a stylized shoot with 3 amazingly talented photographers. Passersby congratulated me, stopped and watched, and asked if it was my “big day”. We laughed, because although we DID end up just playing along with it, it was obviously NOT my wedding day. In fact, there was no groom to even be found! When I look at the image above, I see a bride waiting attentively to walk through the doors to meet her groom. What the bride’s story is, I don’t know. Who the groom is and what he looks like, I don’t know either. But that attentively waiting bride, and the unknown, “invisible” groom are very metaphoric to me. They remind me of how sometimes, all we can do is wait. Sometimes, our response to prayer, our response to honoring the Lord, our ANSWER, is to be still in Him. I am notorious for having the mindset of, “God, I need this NOW." What can I say? I'm a "go getter". I always tell people that I can be patient with others, but find it difficult to be patient with myself. Being still has never been in my nature. Even as a child, I was always restless; always doing something. But even in my constant days of chaos, craziness, restlessness, and feeling like I need all of my dreams and aspirations, accomplishments, and answers to lifelong prayers to come forth in the NOW, I realize that sometimes...sometimes, we are supposed to wait.

 On Sunday, I had long run day. If you've ever trained for a marathon, you've probably had a schedule with short runs throughout the week, and the (sometimes dreaded;)) long run on the weekend. Well, that was me, trying to pound it all out in an hour. So, I decided to combine some sprints to get done faster. The result? I not only ran to the bathroom dry heaving, but my body completely maxed out. My friend working at the gym shook her head and told me, “Don’t go at your max to try and finish faster when you’re training for a marathon. Pick a steady pace, and stick with that.”

 I find that this is how humans function, more times than not.

 Rather than patiently enduring the way our lives unfold, patiently waiting for that “groom”, we rush. We take short cuts in haste, but oh, we max out. Rather than finding peace, we find ourselves tangled in a frazzled, anxious, and sometimes confused mindset. The bride doesn’t breathlessly sprint down the aisle to her groom. No. She prepares herself. She takes a deep breath. She strolls gracefully and eagerly, taking her time to reach him. What if we practiced the same thing? What if we allowed ourselves to be still for a little while, and simply wait, making room for God to work in our stillness? Two friends and I have been studying Exodus, and last week, I underlined and made a sloppy, scribbled note of THIS, in 14:14:

"The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." 

Obviously Moses was speaking to the Israelites, but these are words that we, even in this millennium, should still cling tightly to. To me, it serves as a reminder that my flesh can only do so much. It reminds me that as much as I beg and plead for things to come in the present, and no matter how much I mentally kick and scream and humanly try and make things attainable...sometimes my response is to be silent, be still, patiently wait for that groom, whatever it might be, and ready my heart for the Lord.

“Like a bride waiting for her groom; we'll be a church ready for You. Every heart longing for our King, We sing, ‘Even so come; Lord Jesus come.’”