Tag Archives: feelings

The Aftermath of Agatha


Guatemala has been on my heart these past seven days. Maybe partly because I have friends who live there and people dear to me who lost loved ones in the mudslides. Maybe partly because I am moving there in two short weeks and these photos frighten me. Or maybe because disasters like this remind me just how fragile life is.


Besides the gigantic sinkhole in Guatemala City much of the aftermath of Agatha has not received much attention on the evening news. It always amazes me how quickly our sensationalized media moves on to something bigger and better. We tune in for the first breaking news coverage of Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti or the sinkhole in Guatemala, and then just as quickly we tune out and move on. But these families and people in the photos cannot just tune out. They’re living in it.


I read recently that the tropical storm Agatha has caused more damages in Guatemala than Hurricane Stan in 2005 or Hurricane Mitch in 1998. They are still getting more accurate information as the days go by, but currently the figures are 120 dead, 111,964 evacuees, 29,245 in shelters, 13 bridges collapsed, and many roads blocked by landslides or floods. One of my friends, who works building water filtration systems in the villages near Antigua, lost 4 of his relatives in a mudslide on Sunday.


I am not sure if the Red Cross has set up anything or if there is any international aid going there yet. I will let you know if there is a way to help. My friend emailed me on Tuesday and said right now they need volunteers to dig and move mud. Maybe I’ll spend my first weeks doing just that.


The photos were from a sobering sideshow found here.

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Filed under Travel & Perspective

Writing a Better Story


I write almost everyday. Usually it’s nothing eloquent or profound; actually more often than not it’s nothing more than muddled words and loosely strung together thoughts and prayers. But I still write it down.

I started writing in a journal when I was in the 6th grade. It was my mom’s suggestion (and probably desperation) to help her high-strung-stressed-out-daughter who couldn’t really express what she was feeling. I filled pages and pages of journals.* The pages were safe to express my growing worry and insecurity. And those pages also kindly held my hopes and dreams without passing judgment or disbelief. Writing allowed me room to be me without having to filter through my own or others expectations of who I should be.

I know that a lot of what I write is not new. Someone else has probably already said it better and/or sooner, but I am learning that writing is not about impressing people or being the first to discover some great thought. Writing is about creating space to tell a story. To tell my story. Writing gives room for ideas and feelings to take meaning and shape, when they might have otherwise sayed buried somewhere deep within.

Henri Nouwen said, “We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.”

This makes me want to write and live a better story. What about you? Do you like to write? What story to tell yourself?

(*yes, somewhere in some over-sized box at my parents house I still have these journals. And yes, I know one day I’ll have to throw them away)

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Filed under Neither Here, Nor There

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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Filed under The F-Word

the f-word

no, no. not that f-word.

the other one.

feelings.

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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Filed under The F-Word

Rollin’ Solo


Santa Barbara is a small town and it’s not uncommon to run into someone you know nearly everywhere you go. Last year I was sitting by myself in one of my favorite coffee shops with big windows and oversized chairs. I was quite content with my book, journal and large latte when one of my students. Sulleyma, a friendly, bright-eyed latina girl who looked like she was 14-going-on-24, walked by and waved to me through the window. She and her 3 other friends strolled inside, in a single file line, one girl behind the other.

And I’ll never forget what Sulleyma asked me:

“Ms. Acker, why do always roll solo?

I laughed to myself at her creative slang (to roll solo means to go out or be by yourself) and then I tried to explain to four teenage girls that this introvert at heart actually enjoys sitting in coffee shops all by herself. Regardless if they got it or not, I realized there are a number of things that I do enjoy doing by myself. I like rollin’ solo to a coffee shop for hours and strolling through the farmers market by myself. And I’ll roll solo for an afternoon at the beach or a run to the park. I’ve even become quite accustomed to rollin’ solo while traveling in other countries, but there is one place that I do not like (in fact, probably hate) rollin’ solo to…

yes, weddings.

I don’t think anyone really likes going to weddings alone. It’s one thing if you know lots of people and have a group of friends who will be there- those situations can be fun for sure. But if you’ve ever been to one of those weddings where you know all of three people, and one person is the usher who you escorted you to your seat, and the other two are the bride and groom, well, then that’s just recipe for a rollin’ solo disaster.

I went to a beautiful wedding for a friend from high school last weekend. It was the kind of wedding that had the perfect balance between simplicity and eloquence and yet just enough creative personal touches to make it feel like you were a part of the wedding, not merely distant observers. I walked in and gave my best effort at making awkward small talk with friends I haven’t seen since high school graduation. I was introduced to everyone’s boyfriends and husbands and…yes, KIDS. My friends from high school have children! Feeling more out of place then ever, I squeezed passed two couples and sat on the end with an open seat next to me. (fyi: I have come to realize that wedding industry likes even numbers. Have you ever noticed that most rows have an EVEN number of chairs and most tables seat 8 or 10…also even numbers. I have nothing against even numbers in general, but when you’re at a wedding alone it makes you feel like you’re the odd one out.)

Already feeling like I was the odd one out, I intentionally dug through my purse, checked my cell phone and scanned through old pictures on my camera trying hard not to also look like the odd one out. Thankfully, the music started and with it began one of the most beautiful weddings I have been to in a long time. The whole ceremony was sweet and personable and just different. And I tend to like things that are a little different. Ya know, not always abiding by the status quo just because it’s the way it’s supposed to be done.

The gentleman who officiated their wedding had a grandfather voice and a tall, lean body the hunched over, ever so slightly. With his words and presence came a wave of emotions: encouragement. hope. freedom.

He began describing how our society often talks and jokes about marriage being restrictive. We speak of “tying the knot”, settling down and the tender trap of making this permanent and binding commitment. But he went on to explain that we can actually find marriage to be a source of tremendous freedom:

“Within marriage, you are free to fail without being rejected. You are free to succeed without causing jealousy. You are free to journey through one stage of growth to another, while drawing strength and support from your partner. You are free to face huge problems knowing that each problem will be less intimidating and more manageable because you will face it together. Marriage also allows the freedom to exchange hopes and fears and the whole gamut of feelings with one another. Such intimacy requires hard work and courage, but it is a kind of hallowed journey and, ultimately, a source of fulfillment and freedom

This isn’t to say that all of this is impossible outside of marriage. This is to say that the marriage commitment especially lends itself to such freedom because it provides a secure framework within which such risk and creativity are possible.”

I just love this.

He named something that is so true and so beautiful and sometimes I fear, so forgotten. His heartfelt words brought encouragement to the rollin’ solo feelings that had crept into my heart and mind that cloudy afternoon. I was reminded why marriage is worth waiting for. And regardless of the wedding or the dress or the rings or the flowers or the countless other things that consume a young bride’s mind, this lifelong commitment is the essence. The day-to-day freedom to grow and serve and learn how to do life together-that is what marriage is about.

And that truth left me with a renewed ability to hope. and trust. and pray. and wait.

This is a season of weddings. And any single person in their twenties or thirties or forties can probably agree that weddings have this uncanny way of bringing a truth and hope that reminds you what love can look like, but they can just as quickly bring a lonely, heart-ache that makes you doubt and question, Why am I still here by myself?

My advice: 1) Don’t roll solo to weddings. And 2) Take time to ask the hard questions, but don’t lose the ability to hope and trust and pray and wait.

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Tupperwear and Red Wine

I was (ok, maybe still am) slightly obsessed with Tupperware. I was probably the only college freshman who moved into Clark Halls with my tupperware plates, matching microwaveable bowls and two matching cups in tow. I won’t try to convince you, but having good tupperware in a variety of shapes and sizes really has a plethora of benefits- ya know, storing leftovers from dinner, making a salad for work, keeping already cut veggies fresh, or crackers from going stale and I could go on. (Never mind the fact, that I have never actually purchased a single tupperware item in my entire life- thanks to my mom’s generous donations, I get all of her old tupperware instead)

Tonight I put my tupperware to a new use- a portable wine glass.


Now, I am not normally in the habit of sipping red wine out of yellow tupperware cups but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Sometimes I go through life busy and distracted. There are so many good things happening and so many more things to-do and in the process I sometimes neglect my feelings. I mean I know I have them (feelings, that is) but all too often I don’t really know exactly what I am feeling. But when life slows down a bit, and I stop and listen, I can usually recognize the mysterious feeling that has been gnawing at my heart.

And tonight I felt lonely.

I know loneliness is a universal, human emotion, but it feels humbling and a bit vulnerable to admit it. The horrible thing about feeling lonely is that it slowly starts to eat a hole in your heart so it doesn’t matter exactly what you do or even who you are with, everything starts to feel a bit like something is missing. It’s kinda like taking a bite of a chocolate chip cookie, but discovering that someone took out all of the chocolate chips. Just plain, blah, cookie. I think that’s what loneliness can make life feel like- just plain, blah, life.

In my attempt to fight the loneliness and ignore the small hole encroaching upon my heart, I decided that I would take myself to my favorite park, throw down my picnic blanket and enjoy my cheese and crackers with my tupperware filled wine cup in hand. But it wasn’t working. I sat there overlooking the blue pacific, as the sun was setting behind the trees and sighed. I gave in. Maybe it was just going to be a lonely Sunday night.

David Wilcox, one of my favorite singer/song writers, wrote a song that I have listened to countless times on nights like tonight. Sometimes music has this beautiful way of bringing my heart and mind together and naming what I can’t quite name for myself yet.

The chorus of his song “That’s What the Lonely is For” goes like this:

When I get lonely ah, that’s only a sign
Some room is empty, and that room is there by design
If I feel hollow – that’s just my proof that there’s more
For me to follow – that’s what the lonely is for

So maybe it’s ok to have some nights where you feel lonely. And maybe its ok to drink red wine from tupperware cups, too.

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