Your Fear is Not Your Reality - Fight It.

"Dreams are what you want to happen; goals are what you set to make happen."

Yesterday,  my humble little class and I were pinned as seniors, and at the end of the day, got a homework assignment with what we plan to do after we graduate, and setting actual dates for those goals.

And while it's incredibly exciting to think about finally having a career basis in massage therapy as I build my life as an artist, it also is gut-wrenchingly terrifying to think about suddenly being met with a reality that I want fruition from. I graduate in December. That's only a handful of months away. I've wrestled with a great deal of anxiety and emotional stress these last couple of weeks, but yesterday hit me like a ton of bricks, for some reason. I like to think of myself as a strong, level headed, passionate go getter, but the honest to goodness truth is this:

While I love dreaming, planting seeds for my life, and watching them begin to nourish and grow...setting dates in stone to make actually happen absolutely freaks me out. The steps aren't necessarily pretty to get there. It's not comfortable. It's this metaphorical effect of taking the train alone. Don't get me wrong, the thought of finally, after years of hard work and praying and thinking and failure and trial and error and wondering when it would be my turn to begin fulfilling these things...is absolutely amazing...but it also is exhilaratingly terrifying. If I'm being honest?

Last night, I sat down on my floor, and I ugly cried. I am apprehensive. I am scared. I am afraid of doing something wrong. I don't want to waste my life. There's so much to be done. I fear leaving important people behind, but by that same token, I also fear never taking a chance and risking my comfort and stability for something that could be adventurous, eyeopening, and Spiritually quenching.  The thoughts are daunting. Writing them out literally makes my heart rate escalate, and my hands feel a little clammy. I'm processing what date to set to pack my bags, and open my new chapter in Los Angeles. Do I dare to just rip it quick, like a band aid - away from my home and usual surroundings and jobs I have and people I love - and leap into the unknown as soon as 2017 comes to an end? Would it be too soon? And so, that little voice of fear nags my brain. What if it's a mistake? What if I leave behind people who I'm not meant to leave behind? Friendships? A near and dear relationship? Potential job opportunities and collaborations? What if I am supposed to stay longer? What if I end up lonely? What if I don't find love again? What if I fail? What if I unintentionally hurt others by leaving? And if I just rip the band aid, pack my bags, and don't look back...what if I end up financially unstable? What if I don't find stable roommates, or a roommate at all, or ever have a place to call my own? What if I end up killing my dreams, rather than kindling them, and it all goes to waste? How do I juggle 3 career paths at once, kindle them, and merge them so that I love what I do, yet support myself, but also continue chasing my wild dream of being an artist FULL time? And if I stay here a little longer...what if I end up settling, never daring just to take a risk and a chance? What if I resent friends and loved ones? What if then, my visions of traveling and being on the West Coast die, and I'm bound here? What if I become stuck in a comfortable routine, seeing the same stores, same places, driving down the same roads, same intersections, smelling the same cigarette smoke at the same places, feeling the same sensations, breathing the same air, living the same old, never changing life? 

Those are the thoughts that wake me up during the night. They are what I have found myself pondering, and often feeling a sharp twinge of panic about, during the day. And I try reassuring myself that they are just thoughts, not reality...but it is super hard, because you see - the thoughts feel like they already are reality. It makes me ache the deepest ache imaginable. It's silly, because as my heart races and my jaw clenches from stress, absolutely nothing catastrophic is happening. Life is still unfolding, and yet, my mind seems to keep determining that it already has unfolded, and that the daunting, devastating worries of my mind are my reality. Deep down, I know that is not true. I know that those thoughts do not come from God, and I know that his light eradicates darkness. It's spiritual warfare, really. It makes it incredibly difficult to experience full peace and rest in simply being content with saying, "Lord, Your will be done," however, when it feels as though the mind's full capacity has been invaded by fear and assumptions and predetermined devastation. Does that make sense? Probably not. But hear me out.  

I want to be ambitious of the future, but I do not want to fear. It's hard when everything seems to be colliding at once, and I feel as though I'm being pulled in a million different directions, with a million, fuzzy puzzle pieces in my brain that haven't connected and clarified yet. I love redeeming endings, and usually try and give some sort of perspective or things that have worked for me, personally, when I write...but today? I have no, "Eureka! Here's how I fixed myself!" conclusion. The truth of the matter is that all of this is something I literally wrestle with as I write, yet I also know the Biblical truth of it all, and the fact that although I feel these intense thoughts and emotions...I 100% believe they can be overcome. Today, I'm using this little space to admit that fear is a struggle of mine, accept that I don't have all the answers and that I am struggling really, really bad, but that I also am fighting it, and know that it will not last forever. Even though fear tries to make itself known as my "new reality", I am clinging to the promises that: God does not inflict a spirit of fear upon his children. He is not arbitrary, so he therefore does not place us as humans in (seemingly) nerve-wracking situations just for the heck of it. He delights, as John Piper states, in the good that pain leads to. There is growth in the pain. There is growth in the unknown. There is growth in denying human nature, and accepting the invitation to follow Jesus as Shepherd - Yahweh Rohi.

"God loves you even though you don't feel it. He can handle your life even when you can't." -Stephen Altrogge


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.