I want to say something about finding my place and my people. About the deep human desire for connection and roots, for depth, for investment. About figuring out where and with whom I am most at peace...and doing whatever it takes to be there.
Toward the end of my time in Texas, I began having significant health problems. What started as gastrointestinal issues and major weight loss turned to emergency room visits and cardiologist appointments and heart tests. I thought I might have cancer. I began obsessively scanning my skin, mouth, inner eyelids, fingernails for strange moles or signs of growths. I watched my bowel and bladder habits and kept meticulous track of my weight loss, of my heart rate and blood pressure. Every small nuance and change was cause for documentation. If not cancer, surely a heart defect. I could visibly see the tip of my heart beating out from under my rib cage, my veins grossly distended, heart rate in the high hundreds. Mom would call, and I’d inform her of my findings, and upcoming appointments. Time and again, she’d offer just this: “maybe you’re stressed?” I pushed back. NO. I am totally chill. If I was stressed, I’d do something about it! I’d ask for help! I’m totally fine. I have something WRONG WITH ME, MOM. I AM SICK. I was flying back to Oregon for a job shadow, then back to Texas to graduate and be in two weddings and pack my loft in a day and help a friend pack her house in two and making preparations for getting all my stuff shipped to Oregon on pallets and making sure my car was up to speed for the week-long journey home with dad and saying goodbye to my kindred-spirit Baylor friends and coming to terms with the fact that I was young and single and jobless and moving home to a town of 2,000 with seemingly zero prospects for either husbands or jobs and working on diplomatic explanations to offer the many well-wishers who felt the need to continually remind me of those two facts, and, and, EVERYTHING WAS FINE. Except me.
It’s been a full two months since moving back to this little town, nestled ‘neath the mountains I love, and my health problems have vanished entirely. Not a single issue since the day I left Texas. You know what I think? Mom was right. Though I didn’t notice any psycholgical feelings of stress, my body and psyche were being put through the ringer. I had been living for fifteen months in a place that provided NO peace. I had been out of my element, far from my family and close friends and mountains...and I was strained.
I wonder how many of us live that way, and think it’s fine. They say if you throw a frog in tepid water and slowly bring it to a boil, he’ll let himself be boiled alive. My boss just got back from a quick trip to L.A., and he was recounting details of the trip. “We could only run one, MAYBE two, errands in a day. Planned three hours for a fifteen-minute errand, to account for traffic.” I’m not picking on L.A. here, but substitue nearly any big-city name, and it’s the same story. “That’s just life,” some will say. But is it? Does it have to be? Are stress-induced heart attacks and strokes and cancer and hair loss “just life,” too? Do they have to be? I wonder how many of our bodies are being strained by unhealthy physical environments. How many of our lungs are crying for clear air, stomachs for clean water, skin for healthy sunshine?
Might there be something profound to be said for places where we are more connected with the earth, with creation? It has been said that we go to cities to see the work and power of humans...and we go to the wilderness to see the work and power of God. Man, I’ve gotta tell you--if I have a choice to wake up every day to see either the work of humans or the work of God, I’d be a fool to choose the former. Infrastructure is important, and I realize I am a product of its benefits, but can’t there be too much of any good thing? When the earth sighs, and concrete skyscrapers turn to rubble, do we realize that we don’t have as much control as we’d like to think? When we become rats on the wheel of progress--racing and racing and climbing higher only to realize we have become anonymous cogs, do we stop and reconsider?
There’s something significant about being here, home, living again in the village that raised me...and helping to raise those who are growing up now. Something about digging in, down through the top soil, and putting in roots, about living a life that is deep and meaningful, about not merely working for the sake of work but finding the sort of work that allows me to be of service to others--to help others and build relationships and look at interactions through a long-term lens.
I can walk these mountains, this high desert, and see my way in the dark--under starlight alone. I know the paths, and I am still learning them. I want to be here until I’ve learned and followed them all, and then teach my children and grandchildren to walk them, too. I don’t want to hasten to places because they’re tagged on Instagram or because a Facebook video says they’re the new hot spots. I want to be taken by friends, and by those older and wiser and more well-walked than I. I want my hair to silver and skin to wrinkle in the shadow of the mountains under which I once frolicked and flew kites with Dad, as a child...because it is by re-visiting places that never change that one realizes how much she, herself, has.
In these glacial lakes and between the ponderosa pines, I can breathe deep and reflect. I recall memories--of times long-gone, when I “came here with” this friend or that friend or those people. Here, the seasons mirror life and remind us that change is coming--that new life is on its way but winter must first bring the cold.
I hope each of you finds your earthly Place. I don’t believe any of us can be fully satisfied until we are with Jesus, in the Heaven for which we were created, but I do believe it’s possible to be intentional about having as much peace as possible, here on earth. Find a place where people smile and wave and let each other merge onto the road; where you can walk around barefoot in the grass and dive into a cold lake once in a while; where cars slow down or move over for bikers; where you can grow your own food sometimes and the air is clean. Where the sky is clear enough to see the stars at night. Where you know people and are known.
Find somewhere where you wake up and think, my goodness Someone must have perfectly orchestrated the natural world to create all this beauty. Where you can look out at the created order and realize that Someone will always love you, and always has. And where, if you lay real still under the twinkling night sky, you can hear the voices of the mountains and the wolves crying to the blue corn moon.
Yesterday, I officially finished nursing school. There were no fireworks, no parade, no whistling or clapping or cheering. It was just...I signed all my final evaluations and turned in my last little paper, and it was all over.
I pulled into my apartment complex and snapped a picture of myself, to make the announcement on social media. I had no idea, then, that it would be the most-liked and commented-on picture I have ever posted. I received comments and likes from people I haven’t heard from in YEARS. It was shocking that 300+ people cared about my nursing school journey and the fact that I made it to the end. Most of the comments were things like “way to go!” “you did it!” “you have worked so hard!” “you are a rockstar!” and I found myself wanting to curl up into a ball a little bit because the truth is this:
I originally wanted the caption of the picture to be “We finished nursing school today.” Not ‘we’ as in the class of May 2016, but ‘we’ as in all the friends, family, and strangers who have helped me for the past 22 years, and me.
I did not complete nursing school...or Baylor...or high school...or middle, or elementary...or my toddler years...in a vacuum. This may seem obvious, and in theory I think we all recognize its truth, but in practice we don’t always live like we believe it. We’re incredibly intent on, possibly even idolatrous of, individual achievement. But it’s only a myth...an often dangerous one, at that.
When we allow ourselves, our culture, to embrace the Myth of Individual Achievement, we give ourselves FAR too much credit. In seeing ourselves as people who can accomplish things “all by ourselves,” we inherently view others that way too. “If SHE did it, why can’t I?” “He made it happen--I can too.” We simply do not give enough credence, in practice, to the ways in which we are supported, built up, helped along, given breaks, and connected to others.
We also don’t give enough credence to our circumstances--the type of home in which we were raised; the financial capabilities of our parents; the color of our skin; our external appearances. ALL OF THESE THINGS are factors that help us succeed, or sometimes keep us from being able to do so. Most importantly, ALL OF THEM are OUTSIDE OF OUR INDIVIDUAL CONTROL.
The other day, I learned about multi-billionaire Sean Parker, one of the founders of Facebook. Wikipedia described him as a “self-made billionaire,” and I shook my head. ZERO PEOPLE are self-made anythings. Sean was born with an incredible mind, sure. At 15 years old he was making $80,000 a year because of his technological inventions. How? Through sheer self-determination? Well, a bit. But also because his parents let him use the family computer, which they were financially cabale of purchasing. And because he had a roof over his head and a bedroom in which to sleep and a mom to cook him meals so that he could spend his time working on his inventions. He had good friends who were also smart, with whom he collaborated, and a family environment stable enough that he was not psychologically damaged as a child. Then, he happened to be at the right place in the right time, befriending Mark Zuckerberg...and on and on and on.
More and more, this narrative of “pull yourself up by your boot straps and you can become whatever you want to be,” isn’t jiving. I actually am not where I am solely because of “hard work and determination”. I think that narrative is both false and destructive. We need to be more nuanced than that. For one, I am here (a woman educated, able to vote, etc.) in part because of the suffragist movement. For two, I’m here (financially stable, able to own land, with parents who own land and a house) because at one point the government gave my ancestors money to homestead and farm, up north and out west. For three, I’m here (with minimal college debt, money in my bank account, and promising job prospects) because I had the good fortune of attending a solid high school with teachers who really cared, so I received nearly half of my Baylor tuition on merit scholarships. I have money in my bank account because I have an strong support system and therefore was able to pass nursing school with honors and hold down a job at the same time; and I have promising job prospects because I happen to know “the right people” and have a vast network of friends and family (and strangers) to connect me to the right people.
Yesterday, my car broke down...twice. The first time, I had to buy a new battery. The second time, my alternator went out and both my alternator and A/C belts were shot. It was a $700 day that could have been stressful and exhausting, but it was neither. Why? Because I have parents who pay for me to have an annual AAA membership (so all I have to do is make one phone call when I have a problem, and someone comes to wherever I am, within an hour, and helps me) and because all the people who helped me yesterday did HUGE favors that were 100% outside of normal operating procedures to replace my alternator and my belts before 5pm. Also because I have an “emergency family credit card” in my wallet, so I simply charged all the expenses to that and didn’t give it a second thought. I’ll reimburse my parents at some point, but it’s not like I’ll be wanting between now and then. For some people, a spontaneous $700 day of car repairs would send them into debt...or break them.
When I ended up in the emergency room with heart problems last week, my mom was on a plane by 3am and by my side by 2pm the next day. How? Because we have airline miles stocked up (my dad’s job used to fly him back and forth to China so often) and money saved for “emergency flights.” I bet there are a lot of mamas whose babies end up in the emergency room who simply cannot afford a plane ticket to “get there in time.” I’d bet my life on it.
For the past four years, I’ve been receiving $20 bills in the mail, and sometimes checks for more, from my grandpa in Minnesota. They’re always a surprise, and I never expect them to come...yet faithfully, they do. Most of my gas since college began has been paid for this way.
When my family lived in Texas, they let me take “whatever I needed” from the house every time I came home. I don’t think I’ve had to buy toilet paper, paper towels, almond milk, coffee, flour, or sugar in four years. My Nana bought my bed and couch from an auction one Easter...and my down comforter, too. My printer is Dad’s old one, and Jake gave me the dresser from his bedroom.
When school was overwhelming, Trent and Bree would encourage me to the nth degree. When I needed to verbally process with someone who could reply immediately, Paige was on the other end of Voxer. My Baylor friends Skyped and called and kept the Family Group Text going, for comic relief, and faithful pen pals from high school and college continue to write. Vanessa sent me a box of love that arrived on a horrible day, in the rain; Suzanne still leaves me voicemails telling me she loves me; Nicole gives me permission to let my hair down; Sydnie leaves the kindest comments on my instagram.
Mentors from home (too numerous to list, honestly) have been cheering me on since I was a little girl. Aunnie, Uncle Greg, Jennie, and Stephen love me like none other, and Grandma bought me rainboots. Alli keeps me grounded and will forever be my Roomie--our memories together are unending. I have a dozen “second families,” and my second moms take care of me like I’m their own. The Starnes let me sleep at their house and fed me for over half the weekends of my nursing school career; the Falcones let me keep 33 boxes stacked in their family room; Elizabeth and Jimmy taught me about Jesus. The Ecclesia staff let the church become my “home away from home,” and my introverted self spent countless hours down on the couches around the church offices, doing school work and reading. Luke and Phil helped me stay sane by forcing study breaks (“wanna grab a beer after we get off work?”), and my PaperCo coworkers provided an incredibly fun environment in which to work and make tips. Aunt Michelle & Uncle Rex, Laura & Justin have been just a phone call away. Truthfully, this list is only the tip of the iceburg.
So what I want to say is: Thank You. It’s easy to believe that I’m pretty darn great and smart and hardworking and put together, until I stop and think about it for half a second. If I am working toward becoming any of those things, it is only because I am loved so well by you all.
We did it. We finished nursing school. Let’s keep doing life together--we make a good team.
hey, i'm jordan.
i write here because i think our words are worth sharing.