Category Archives: The F-Word

No, not that f-word. The F is for feelings. Feelings and Reflections.

Being the Same

Henri Nouwen is one of my heroes. His perspective on people, faith and life is inspiring. However, I often find myself experiencing this internal tension when I read something that he wrote- first there is pure amazement at the eloquence and honesty of his words, but then envy creeps in and I immediately become jealous and wonder why I can’t write like that? This is not one of my finer qualities.

So with that disclaimer, read this because he says it far better than I can or ever will:

“At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different. When you receive a compliment or win an award, you experience the joy of not being the same as others. You are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveler.”

I find it humbling that in so many areas of my life I strive to be different. I think we all do. We all want to be unique or set apart. We want our writing style or our blog or our fashion sense to be set-apart and special. I like it when my friends compliment me on something that I’ve made or praise me for some random fact that I’ve shared simply because it was different or unique. It feeds some part of me that seeks to be known and viewed as one-of-a-kind. But in reality, I think Henri is right– these compliments and shorts boosts of self-esteem for not being different from other people only brings temporary joy.

And who wants temporary, or fleeting joy, right?
What I long for in life is real joy.

Perhaps this joy comes from admitting to each other and ourselves that we are all really the same?

We come as broken and fragile beings, who actually need each other. Maybe we should stop striving to be different and instead try acknowledging that there is joy in being the same.

Quote Credit (and basically all thoughts and inspiration goes to): Mr. Henri Nouwen.

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I believe

Lesly is a friend of mine from Westmont and a fellow blogger, who creatively started writing these “I believe” posts. Her writing is marked by a sincerity that captures both the simple and complex moments of life. You can read more of her blog here.

So, in the spirit of capturing the simple and complex moments of life, here is what I believe–

i believe remembering peoples’ name is important and that’s it’s ok not to finish every book you start. i believe in farmers markets, reading the newspaper and reusing tea bags. i believe washing my hair is overrated. there is nothing wrong with honking. and people would be happier if we hugged each other more often. i believe writing is healing and car naps are essential. i believe in post-it notes and not putting syrup on my pancakes. i believe in a God that can handle my questions, even when I am too afraid to ask them. i believe war is not the answer. i believe “I’m sorry” and “I love you” go hand-in-hand. I believe good-byes are important and that the little things matter. i believe in leftovers, teenagers, and creativity. i believe eating outside makes food taste better. i believe in not always following the rules. i believe fabreezing and washing are almost interchangeable. dark chocolate makes everything better. and grace and generosity cover a multitude of sins. i believe in still using old fashioned maps. i believe teaching makes me a more patient person. i believe in good jokes, beach days and campfires. i believe in listening to what kids say. i believe saying yes, means saying no to something else. and i believe that sometimes not being in control, is a very good place to be.

what do you believe?

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letting go and hanging on

Last night I celebrated the end of 2009 with my two, wonderful sisters, all dressed up and out for a night on the town. So it seems quite appropriate that I welcomed the beginning of 2010 with a lazy morning in my uggs, all curled up on the couch with absolutely no plans for the afternoon.

I am convinced that one of the reasons this time of year with all of its’ fancy festivities and holiday traditions is so hard for many people is because it comes with a lot of expectations.

Sometimes there are expectations that I call the “keep it the way it is” expectation. These are the desires to keep things the way they are simply because this is the way it’s always been. These are the people who hang on to the tradition and the routine just because. It’s seems a bit ironic, but expecting things to stay the same, the way they’ve always been, is still an expectation.

And then there are the other kind of expectations, the kinds that hope and imagine what it could be like it if only…(fill in the blank). I call these the “wouldn’t-it-be-great-if-it-could-be-like-this” kind of expectations. These are the people (ahem, yes me) who constantly are on the lookout for how to make things better or improved. These are the expectations that long for something new, something different.

But regardless of which camp you fall in, the reality is when there are expectations, there are also disappointments. Expectations lock you into a stand still and don’t leave much space for change or flexibility or…surprises.

I have been thinking a lot about expectations lately. I have always been one of those people that holds high expectations for myself, my job, my family and basically, for everything else in life. But often these expectations leave me just a tad bit disappointed and discouraged because nothing seems to quite measures up to my expectations, even myself. I honestly think sometimes it’s easier to go through life without having any expectations— and then anything that happens is better than you expected!

But I know it’s not quite that simple. At least not for me.

A friend of mine gave me this passage a few weeks ago. It’s an excerpt from Helen Cepero’s book Journaling as a Spiritual Practice. She describes the tension and limitations with expectations far better than I can:

“Understanding the difference between hope and expectation is critical if we are to allow our future to be shaped by God. Hope longs for good but is able to be flexible about how that good might appear. Expectation grasps at solutions and becomes easily attached to outcomes. When we are hopeful, our imagination and creativity flourish. But when we are locked into expectations, it is easy to turn our pictures of the possible future into an idol.”

“Expectations assume that everything will turn out as predicted…but sometimes our expectations must die in order for us to live in hope. When our expectations are dashed our prayer then needs to look toward the God who is not only with us but also is in front of us, forming a future that we cannot yet imagine happening out of our own effort”

I have started to ponder what expectations in my own life need to die in order for me to live in hope. It’s a humbling process, but one that I want to embark on during 2010.

This is my prayer for the year:

Lord, in my pride and insecurity I often take matters into my own hands. I try to create and build my future by my own effort, littered with my own expectations. I can become so attached to specific outcomes that I miss your mysterious presence walking with me in the process. I want my expectations to die, so I can live in hope.

May you too live in hope during the coming year.

Happy New Year!

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Yesterday I celebrated my 27th birthday. In many ways it was a fairly normal Wednesday, but with just enough little extra surprises that it felt special. I like birthdays for that very reason: a day full of thoughtful, little things that somehow make a big difference.

Here are my top 27 little things that made my birthday really special:
• Waking up to a beautiful, sunny October day.
• A phone message from my sister in Italy including the words “freakin” and “sweet” and “birthday” all in one sentence
• Surprise coffee deliveries to my classroom (yes, plural!)
• One of my students gave me a bundle of sage and said…and I quote, “Here, Ms. Acker this is for your birthday…you’re supposed to burn it.” Umm, that might have been the oddest gift I’ve ever received, but I think his intentions were sweet
• Even though it seems cliché, the host of facebook messages and wall posts meant a lot.
• Lunch with one of my favorite friends, complete with my favorite sandwich and favorite bag of chips
• Lots of dark chocolate
• Practicing being honest, with others and myself.
• When one of my students guessed my age and said 39! (what the $%*!)
• A text from my parents in Indonesia- the night before. (thank you, international date line)
• A FREE car wash! (yes, people…if you don’t know about this, you should. Fairview Car Wash gives FREE car washes on YOUR birthday! Take advantage of this one)
• Greeting cards that made me laugh!
• Thankful for my health and that my bad knees still let me run for 30 min along the beach
• Ingrid Michaelson’s new CD
• Learning to let people help me, instead of pretending to be completely self-sufficient and independent
• Hamburger, fries and a beer from the Boathouse with two of my best friends.
• Good friends who remind you about the “remember when…” and look forward to “one day…”
• Delicious homemade brownies from my roommate
• My ninety-year-old grandma who still sends me a handwritten card for my birthday every year!
• Learning to let go; life doesn’t always happen in the order we expect it to.
• A car nap
• The comfort of a home and place to just be me.
• Redefining what it means to experience God’s presence in seasons of pain
• Getting emails and messages in Spanish from friends in Guatemala and being able to read them without using google translator
• Feeling more comfortable and confident in my own skin; instead of always comparing myself to others
• Getting to wear my favorite brown boots all day because it felt just a little bit like fall
• Being thankful.

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An Ok Place To Be

My church recently started a new Saturday night service and yesterday I had the opportunity to speak (which sometimes feels like a privilege and other times just a burden). There were three of us invited to speak and we were asked to share about how we have encountered God in our lives recently.

(and if you were at the service on Saturday, my apologies, because this will be redundant and long winded and you might just want to just skim it)

Here is what I shared…honestly, vulnerably and nervously:

“I have been thinking about waiting. No one likes to wait. We are a people and culture who like things instantly, quickly and efficiently. Think: drive-throughs, microwaveable meals and how much most people despise waiting at red lights. Nothing about waiting is instant, quick, or efficient.

Waiting by definition is hard. It implies a longing or desire for something that has not yet been met. And it’s not just an unmet desire, but also the uncertainty that comes with it. It’s like a packaged deal or something- Waiting comes along and brings its accomplice, Uncertainty, and the two stand together forming a long, dark cave of the unknown.

And regardless of what season of life you’re in, the truth is we all wait. There are different types of waiting. Some people wait, longing to find a new job or sense of direction in life. Other people wait for physical healing or reconciliation with an old friend or estranged family member. And still other people wait and hope to be married one day and some wait hoping to conceive when they’ve had years of infertility. And I know some people wait and long for the day when they’ll wake up without feeling that deep ache and grief in their heart.

Sometimes I feel like we have a tendency to compare different people’s seasons of waiting. We listen to silly messages in our heads that say things like “oh what they’re waiting for is so much more important than what I am waiting for” or “His season of waiting is not nearly as hard as what she is waiting for.” But the truth is, I don’t think we can quantify and qualify waiting. We can’t compare. I am learning to name it for what it is…Waiting is hard, regardless of what you’re waiting for.

A few years ago, about a month before my 25th birthday, I distinctly remember when one of my students casually asked me in font of the class, “Hey, Ms. Acker when are ya gunna get married?” An innocent question really, but I was kept thinking, How the hell do I know? I gave some diplomatic teacher response and continued the lesson. But that question began to stir something inside of me. I realized that my mom was 25 when she got married. She was my age, but I was not anywhere close to being married. I wasn’t engaged or even dating anyone seriously. I started to feel like maybe there was something wrong with me. Maybe I needed to change? Maybe I was doing something wrong? Maybe I had missed some secret lesson that every other 25-year old married woman had learned? In my effort to figure it out, I confidently told God, I was ready. I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to get married.

Another year went by and all of that stirring inside left me with a lot of doubts and questions. It felt like most of my friends were engaged or married. I was in two of my best friends’ weddings and I went to nine other weddings in a period of ten months. I wanted nothing more than to be happy for my friends and their new spouses, but at every wedding these inconvenient feelings of envy and jealousy would creep up. I would quickly shove them back down where they belonged, but they didn’t stay where I wanted them to. Somehow even my most genuine sentiments to celebrate my newly married friends, simultaneously opened up this ache in my heart. I wondered if or when it would be my turn? I felt kind of forgotten by God. Like my life was on the back burner, while everyone else’s life was bubbling with excitement and newness. I felt like I was just sitting on the back of the stove, not even simmering, just sitting there; watching and waiting.

I struggled with feeling like the odd person out at social events and table arrangements that are conveniently designed for even numbers of people…which is just fine, except when you’re by yourself. And I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but even harder than going to weddings alone or social gathering by myself was going to church week after week alone. Sometimes church can be a lonely place- and not just for single people, but for lots of people and probably for lots of different reasons. But all of this contributed to feeling left out and forgotten. This was not how I had expected my life to look. I asked a lot of questions, but I had no real answers. I had to sit with the feelings of sadness and loneliness—and just wait.

And perhaps the hardest part of this whole season was that I felt like I was “supposed” to be content and grateful, but the truth is that I was longing and hurting and waiting.

During this time a friend of mine gave me a book by Ben Patterson called Waiting. Well, obviously no one wants to read a book called waiting when you’re in a season of waiting. I pretended to read chapter 1 and then strategically hid the book on my bookshelf so she wouldn’t see it and ask me about it. Then about six months ago I picked it up again. Reluctantly, I began reading it, and soon I was soaking up every word and chapter. I was surprised that someone (or something) was naming feelings and thoughts and questions that I had not been able to name for myself.

In the book, one of my favorite parts is when Ben describes the story of Hagar from Genesis 16. The super condensed background story is that Abram and Sarai are on their own journey of waiting to conceive a child. They are getting up there in years so Abram decides to take matters into his own hands. He sleeps with Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, and of course, she becomes pregnant. As expected Sarai is filled with jealousy because Hagar is now pregnant with the baby that she so dearly wanted to have. She begins to mistreat Hagar, so Hagar flees. She runs away. I can imagine this is not exactly the life Hagar had planned or expected for herself.

And this is the part I love.

Vs. 7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert…

God found her. She wasn’t looking for him. In fact quite the opposite; she was running away, she wanted to escape and hide and it says God found her! It reminds me that God finds us wherever we are, especially in the dry, lonely deserts of life.

And then he asked her two questions:

vs. 8 He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Those two questions get at something. It hit me all of the sudden. For the first time I realized that maybe in my season of waiting I have been asking the wrong questions. The first question God asks her, “Where have you come from?” is a call to look back, to reflect and to remember. How has God been faithful to me in the past? How has he provided for me? Sometimes when I am so in the present moment it is hard to look back and remember. And then the second question, “Where are you going?” is this invitation to dream and hope. It’s a reminder to look forward. To imagine and pray for the future.

The story continues, and God and Hagar begin to have this conversation. And at the end of their conversation:

vs. 13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me.”

You are the God who SEES ME- wow. He sees her, a slave and a woman, two characteristics that would have made her virtually invisible in that cultural context, and yet, God still sees her. He knows her and loves her. And that gives me hope. The God that I believe in is a God who sees me—
and you.

I will be 27 in a few days and in many ways I am still in this season of waiting. Nothing has drastically changed in my life circumstances during the past two or three years. In fact externally my life looks pretty similar, almost identical to how it looked a few years ago, but internally I feel like my heart and mind have been squished up, wrung out, turned over and pried opened up in a rare and painful way.

Every so often in my most broken or fragile moments I get a glimpse of this humility and hope that is emerging through the scattered pieces of my life and I am grateful. But there have been times when I did not have the energy or perspective to look back and remember or the desire to look forward and dream, all I could was try and hold onto the truth that God sees me, and he seems me just where I am. And I think, maybe that is an ok place to be.

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the f-word

no, no. not that f-word.

the other one.


ok, I realize the word feelings and other four letter f-words are not exactly on the same playing field. But just go with me. I have been kind of mia from the blog world these past four weeks. And I could list a bunch of very valid reasons for not writing sooner- the school year started and with it all of the craziness of new students and papers to grade and post-it notes with to-do lists scattered on my desk. And then I was in one of my best friends’ weddings and with it came the celebrations, rehearsals and preparations that make weddings both wonderful, and a lot of work. And somewhere between saying good-bye to my little sister before she left for Italy, garage sale shopping for household essentials like, umm, say a table and planning the final details of a new Saturday night service at church, I realized maybe I am also avoiding something.

yep. feelings.

It’s not that I think feelings are bad, its just that I am just not always in touch with what I am feeling. When I was little if I were upset or angry I would often storm off to my bedroom crying and collapse onto my bed, as tears soaked into my pillow case. My mom would patiently sit on the edge of my bed and pat my back. In her caring and most nurturing voice she would start asking me a slew of questions.

Are you sad? Did something happen? Do you feel left out? Did someone say something? Are you angry?

These were not complex, philosophical questions. I think most seven-year-olds would be able to answer with a simple, whimpering yes or no. Because that’s what kids do. When you’re sad or hurt or angry and someone asks “Are you sad?” it makes sense to say yes or no, right? Well, for whatever reason I couldn’t. I mean I really couldn’t. I would lie on the bed and shrug my shoulders. I knew that I was feeling something, but I didn’t know what. My mom would ask “Did something happen at school?” shrug. “Are you upset at someone?” shrug. “Are you sad?” shrug. And this question-shrug-question-shrug routine would continue for 15 or 20 minutes. And my mom with all of her patience and compassion, just sat there. trying. waiting.

I realize this sounds like some annoying, manipulative game that a kid plays to get what they want, but it wasn’t. I really didn’t know how to express or talk about my feelings….well, because I didn’t always know even what I was feeling.

Now, I have come a long way twenty years later. I am a tad more self-aware and introspective. I know when I am feeling frustrated or envious or disappointed or hurt. I can usually pinpoint why and yes, I can even talk about it– sometimes. But I am learning that when I am busy and distracted and thinking about what I have to do the first thing that I neglect are my feelings.

I think this is one of the main reasons I write- to have a place, to name and acknowledge and give space for feelings. I think my only blog readers are probably my mom and a few close friends who silently blog stalk me. But that’s ok. I am not writing for them. I am writing for me. And maybe with the slight hope that someone else, somewhere may identify.

I learning to listen to my feelings and let myself feel them- even though at times it would be much more convenient and efficient to put them in a box on a shelf instead of letting them roam free in my tender heart. But I guess I am trusting that there is probably something very healthy and whole about letting feelings have their rightful place.

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Following My Heart

I tend to be someone who makes decisions with my head- I think about and analyze and sometimes over-analyze what I should do. Or I weigh my decisions on the scale of efficiency- what’s the most practical or efficient way to get this done. And not that those are inherently bad ways to make decisions, but sometimes I can neglect or overlook my emotions or my heart.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about learning to follow. And part of that means learning to listen to and follow my heart. So as the end of summer school was near I realized I had two free weeks before my one of my best friend’s weddings and I started thinking about what I wanted to do. I had a complete list of what I should do and what I could get done if stayed in Santa Barbara, but some part of my heart just felt this tug to go back. To go back to a country that I love. To visit dear friends and enjoy a simpler and slower pace of life. To wander around cities without a map and sit in coffee shops and soak up more Spanish. To go back to a place that for the past two years has shaped part of who I am and forced me to see things with a different perspective.

So I am following my heart…back to Guatemala. And the best part is that my roommate, Jen is coming with me. I am SO SO excited. Can you tell? I am excited. I leave in T-3 hours and I cannot wait.

More posts to come from Guatemala…

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