The NCAA Dream

I still vividly remember sitting in the bleachers of Heritage Christian Academy as a little 6th grader.  I had just started playing for the middle school B-squad volleyball team– literally the worst team you could make– and I had decided it was a good idea to watch the high school varsity team play.  Backtrack about 3 years and a 9-year-old Annika had written in her journal that she wanted to “not just be good, but like, REALLY good” at one sport someday.  For some crazy reason, I had decided that volleyball was going to be that sport (apparently, I had no idea that I have zero fast twitch muscle or jumping abilities).  Sitting in the bleachers, starry-eyed 12-year-old Annika told herself that she was going to be an NCAA Division II volleyball player.

Yeah, that’s right, not Division I– Division II.  And I even knew right then I wanted to be a libero.

I played my first year of club volleyball that winter.  My coach had me as an outside hitter, and I would not stop begging her to put me at libero.  She finally relented during one match (apparently my hitting abilities were actually crucial to a team’s success at one point– that sadly fills me with pride to this day).

And I couldn’t get enough.  I may not have had natural fast-twitch athleticism, but I made it for it in my focus and hard work.  I would do every ball control drill I could find and feasibly do by myself.  I measured out the length of a net in chalk on the driveway and practiced placing my sets in the right spot for different types of hits. I would do ab circuits while watching TV, kettle bell swings before bed, and go to every U of M game that my parents would take me to.

I made the high school JV team and a good club team my 7th grade year (my teammates from that year now play at places like Purdue and Kansas State).  I kept working hard and ended up on high school varsity as an 8th grader.  I wanted to be just like Christine Tan, the U of M All-American libero– except I still wanted to play D2.

That starry-eyed drive never went away.  Throughout high school, I kept working my butt off.  I set a more short-term goal of our team making it to the state tournament (which was very difficult, as we were in the hardest section in the state). My freshman year, we were one of the best teams in the state and the #1 seed in the section, and we ended up losing in the section semifinals.  I still remember every moment of that final game.  It ended with a shanked pass– a pass that I threw myself into the bench trying to save.  The final point wasn’t my fault by any means, but I always wondered if I could have done something more to save it.  This disappointment led me to work even harder, adding running work outs and taking every opportunity I could to get passing and digging reps.

Then, sophomore club season rolled around– when recruiting really starts happening.  My club team did really well at nationals, and I started getting some attention.  I still remember turning around at one tournament and seeing a line of college coaches at the end of the court.  That little 6th grader was still alive in me– I was about to get everything she ever dreamed of, and I was so excited.

I quit softball after my sophomore year so that I could focus even more on volleyball.  West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy started talking to me, and I realized that if I wanted to go to either of those schools, I had to pass a serious physical test, so I sat down with my club volleyball trainer and made a plan for how I was going to get my mile time down and be able to crank out pull-ups.  I started playing for Vital Volleyball Club, and the club director was a Mens D1 All-American libero.  He started working with me individually any chance we got, and he completely transformed my game.  More than that, he believed in me and what I could become.  To this day, I credit him as the reason for much of my volleyball success.

I was late to commit to play college volleyball, largely because I had some weird, weighty decisions to make that most potential NCAA athletes don’t have to make, like whether I wanted to be a naval officer after I was done.  Then, right as my senior year was beginning, I got a call from Northern State’s assistant volleyball coach, who was Emily Foster at the time (still freaking love her– she is the head coach at St. Olaf now).  She had seen me play at a tournament, and they needed a 2014 libero.  I wasn’t even planning on looking into it (where is Aberdeen, anyways?) until I saw they were in the NSIC.  I grew up watching Concordia-St. Paul play, so I figured I would check out a team in their conference, especially since NSU was paying for my whole visit.

And I loved it.  I prayed heavily about my decision and made the seemingly crazy decision to commit to play volleyball for Northern State.  The night I committed was so amazing– I went to watch them play at #2 UMD, and they upset UMD.  The senior libero who I was replacing came up to me after the game, gave me a huge hug, and told me she wanted me to have her number, #2.  I was on Cloud Nine.

I walked into pre-season of my freshman season with one goal– to play as a freshman.  And it became clear very fast that I would at least be a DS (defensive specialist) on the court– if not the freaking starting libero.

I loved every freaking moment of that.  I was playing well, finding my groove, and it felt like every dream I had as a 6th grade girl was going to come true– except 10,000 times better than I imagined.

Our first preseason tournament was at Nebraska Kearney.  The night before we played, I almost didn’t sleep.  I had no idea what my role would be the following day, but I knew I was going to be on the court.  So when Coach read off the starting line-up and I heard “and #2 is our lib,” I internally freaked out.  I was the starting libero for the first match of my collegiate career.  We played at #1 Concordia-St. Paul, the team I grew up watching win 7 consecutive national championships, and I started at libero then, too.  I played the best match of that season against the team I grew up watching, and Christine Tan, the old U of M libero who I had always idolized came to the game to watch ME play (she now coached at Vital).  She came up to me at the match and said, “Hey, I came just to watch you play.” I was literally in tears– every dream I had was coming true.

I could go into all that happened that season, but it’s easier to just summarize it by saying college sports don’t stay a dream– it’s just reality.  Every athlete gets sick of waking up at the crack of dawn to lift.  Every athlete fails and has a bad game.  Every athlete wonders why the heck they ever thought they were good enough to play their sport at the collegiate level.  But sometimes, the people around that athlete worsen the situation. By the end of the season, the shiny newness of playing collegiate volleyball had worn off.  I still was grateful for the opportunity to play D2 volleyball, but I needed a break.  And I got one– Christmas break is conveniently right in between post-season and off-season for volleyball– and I came back recharged and ready to go.

Sophomore season was literally the most amazing experience I have been a part of.  We started off the year ranked #24 nationally (which, believe it or not, is not that great compared to the rest of the NSIC), and it was like something clicked with our team that year.  From the first match in Florida, we all knew that something was unique about that team.   Our offense was literally unstoppable.  We ended up blowing away the previous win streak record of 9 and went 21-0.  We didn’t even lose a set until the 12th match. We were the only undefeated volleyball team in the entirety of the NCAA (all divisions), and the NCAA did a story on us.  We beat two #1 teams in 3 sets– first UMD for Gypsy Days and then Concordia-St. Paul.  Beating Concordia was something I never, ever thought I could do.  If any of you have seen the huge volleyball pic outside of the NSU weight room, that was the Concordia match (fun fact: I had the flu and was puking between sets that match).  We ended up kind of falling apart at the end of the season and ending 26-4, but to this day, I still believe we got royally screwed over in not making it to the NCAA tournament (don’t get me started on that– I could rant for hours on how messed up the selection process is at the D2 level).

So I’m leaving out the elephant in the room– I quit collegiate volleyball after my junior season.

I still remember hearing that Brooke Dieter, an All-American outside hitter for Minnesota, had quit before her senior season back in 2009.  “Why?!” I wondered.  “She’s living the dream!”

To this day, I still get asked “why?”  Just like I’m sure she did.

Why would you ever end your dream early?  Why would you not take advantage of every moment of that opportunity?

But now I understand why she did.

Those of you who responded in utter dismay when I said I quit collegiate volleyball have no idea that there is a very dark side to collegiate sports, especially at the D2 level.

I have thought about writing about this for literally over a year now, and I finally decided that I need to speak out about it.  Light needs to be shed on this problem.  Just about every collegiate athlete plays in college because they freaking love the game.  That’s how they got good at the game, and that’s why they are willing to devote half their lives to the continued pursuit of excellence in the game.

Then why do SO MANY walk away?

Some might say that athletes just don’t know how demanding collegiate athletics actually are– and I would agree with that.  That explains the number of freshmen who quit.

But that doesn’t explain the number of upper classmen who quit.

And for every upper classmen who quits, you have no clue how many upper classmen almost quit.  I know way too many people at Northern alone who have almost, ALMOST pulled the trigger on their athletic careers.  The general public has no idea about this because athletes are too ashamed to even admit that they want out.  So many people would kill for the opportunity to do what they’re doing, and they realize that.  They don’t want to seem weak and ungrateful.

So what’s the problem?

Well, here’s a fair disclosure: this is my opinion, this is my story– and a VERY abridged version, at that.  Maybe this isn’t the universal problem, but based on my relationships with a whole slew of female D2 athletes at various schools in various sports, I think I can make a few good points:

  1. Coaches dehumanize their players.  What I mean by this is that a coach turns a player into money in his mind.  That player is simply a chunk of scholarship money that either is or isn’t performing the way he expects them to in order to win.  Because it’s ALL about winning.  Now, I’m DEFINITELY not one of those people who is like, “It’s about developing as a person and winning doesn’t matter.”  People like that nauseate me.  I played D2 college athletics in the toughest volleyball conference in the nation because I’m ultra competitive. But when you treat your individual players as only mattering to you if they are making you win, that is just not OK.  Not paying attention to redshirts isn’t OK.  Treating a player who just had major surgery differently isn’t OK. Your players will start realizing that all they are to you is a chunk of money, and this puts immense pressure on them to live up to their monetary worth– and that’s not pressure that makes girls better players. Trust me on that.  They end up falling apart because they want to matter, not to be just a ticket to success. And when they fail to be the ticket to success (mostly because they are focusing so much on being that ticket), they realize that they no longer matter to the coach as a human being.
  2. Coaches play mind games with their players.  By the time you’re a collegiate athlete, you can handle getting yelled at.  Geez, at age 15, I had my coach yank me by the jersey to the sideline and scream in my face and that actually motivated me to play better.  I can handle criticism.  I can’t handle mind games, and neither can any girl athlete I have ever met.  Guess what mind games are?  They’re called mental abuse. Yes, I went so far as to call them that because they chip away at the girl’s self confidence until the girl can barely function on the court or field anymore.  In the back of their mind, every time they touch the ball, they are simultaneously thinking about what coach said or what coach said to so-and-so behind their back or what coach meant when he had them play out of position last practice.  Knock off the mind games, coaches.  You’re killing your players.
  3. Coaches seem to think adding extra pressure is going to help their players.  Yeah, because statting practices helps your players get better?  Really?  Because now they have literally NOWHERE where they can make mistakes.  They can’t get better because to get better, you have to first make mistakes. Is telling a team right before the first post-season match, “Hey, if we lose tonight we are done because the regional rankings just came out and we are somehow only #7” really going to help matters?  No, everyone is going to play scared.  Is saying, “To be an outside hitter in my gym, you HAVE to hit .300” really going to help?  No, because you just reduced the worth of that athlete to their hitting percentage, completing neglecting that a team needs an outside hitter with a certain demeanor on the court to succeed.
  4. THE PEOPLE IN AUTHORITY ARE DOING NOTHING.  Athletic administrators consistently ask their athletes how they feel about their coaches.  They conduct exit interviews for senior and transfers.  Yet, they won’t do anything more about the issues than “have a little talk with the coach.”  ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING.  Give the coaches an ultimatum.  If every single player that plays for them hates playing for them and cannot name one redeeming value of them as a coach, what does that tell you?  Who cares that they run a successful program– so could 80 other people.  With the talent that that coach has in this successful program, I guarantee you a coach that treated their players well would have even more success because female athletes play their best when they are treated well.

So why did I quit college volleyball?  Ultimately, it came down to the fact that I hated every moment of it by the end.  I hated practice, I hated matches, and I hated how many opportunities I was saying “no” to because of volleyball.  When you first start playing a college sport, it’s worth it to say “no” to stuff because your sport is opening up so many doors that you never could have opened if you hadn’t been a student-athlete.  I used to have written by my bed a quote that I actually came up with that helped me through the tough times: “If you every wonder why you’re doing this, remember you were once a little girl with a big dream– and today, YOU’RE LIVING THAT DREAM.” But when I started viewing volleyball as a chore that I dreaded– not just not enjoying lifting and fundraising, but dreading every single moment of the sport– I started resenting it for taking away opportunities.  Because I quit, I got to intern at Sanford Research and do actual pediatric leukemia research.  Because I quit, I got to work at the Sanford hospital and become a better future doctor.  Because I quit, I got to do mission work in Peru. Because I quit, I got to go present my embryology honors thesis research at the National Honors Conference in Atlanta.

But why did I start hating it?  Why did volleyball stop being “worth it”?  Every reason I listed above– but especially the mind games.  I got to the point where I hated everything involved with volleyball because of the severe anxiety it caused me.  Volleyball was no longer my escape– it was my #1 source of fear and shame.

So all those times you saw me play from about halfway through my freshman year on?  Yeah, I was fighting a mental battle I shouldn’t have had to.  I had demons I never knew existed breathing down my neck every serve received I passed, every ball I dove for.  After matches, I would literally feel the muscles in my back relax a little as I would start to breathe normally again.  Saturday nights after the final match of the weekend were my favorite part of the week– it was a whole week before I had to feel that tension again.  My passing average was who I was, my entire identity on the team.  If I failed at this, I failed at being a human. One time, I actually got reprimanded for saying, “How I do in volleyball doesn’t define who I am.”  I got SCOLDED for literally saying exactly at that.  So I don’t think I am over exaggerating in my previous statement.

I still suffer from the mind games that got played with me.  I still can’t touch a freaking volleyball without feeling anxious. It took me a whole year to play 6-on-6 competitively again– and I was shaky the whole time (and it was city league!!).  It makes me mad to think about because I know for a fact that I am not alone. And the funny thing to me is, most of what these coaches are doing is counterproductive.  They aren’t helping their players reach their max athletic potential because to do that, players have to be in a prime mental state.  What’s the point of D2 college athletics at the end of the day if your players walk out hating the game?

So why am I speaking out about all this?  Because it’s about time someone called a spade a spade.  It’s time that someone did something about this epidemic problem in D2 women’s athletics.  I can’t do anything now but tell an abridged version of my story, of a little girl with a big dream who lived it– and then ended it early.

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The Light Inside Themselves

Looking back on my senior year of college, there are so many areas that I grew in and so many spheres where my naivety slowly melted away.  Every year of college I have developed in a unique way, but senior year was different in that I became a woman this year.

I always used to wonder when I would finally feel like an adult woman, not some girl in this weird in-between that college seems to encompass.  Although there are many angles as to why I have developed into a woman in the last year, the most dominant one is definitely what I have learned in relationships of all sorts.

At this time last year, I still believed that I had the super woman, Belle power to fix other people (see my post from July 3, 2017).  It took someone who I respect immensely telling me I had a savior complex, lots of self reflection, and then falling flat on my face in a failure to change someone (ironically, on July 4, 2017) to realize this– but I did.  For the first time in my life, I walked into relationships with the attitude of, “This is this person’s reality, and it will be their reality whether I enter their life or not.”

I finally accepted people for who they were, at that very moment.  Yet, the hyper-intuitive side of me chronically still sees past people’s outer layers and to the very marrow of their bones.  I may have conquered my savior complex, but I haven’t conquered seeing people for all they could be.

Isn’t this a good thing?  Well, yeah, I would say it’s awesome to be able to see past people’s mistakes and just love them where they are at–  if I do say so myself.  But there is a really dark angle to this.

This is where I am still learning, where I am still growing into my womanhood.

I am learning that I may see the absolute most amazing person in another human.  I might see someone who could make a huge impact if he realized his potential.  I might see someone who has a heart of gold that is hidden under thick layers of hurt and even abuse.  I might even see someone who I feel so incredibly connected to because of that person I see trapped inside them.  And this is where I am so glad I read modern poetry because the poem “Angels” by Lang Leav summarizes exactly how I am learning to handle when this happens:

“It happens like this.  One day you will meet someone and for some inexplicable reason, you feel more connected to this stranger than anyone else– closer to them than your closest family.  Perhaps this person carries within them an angel– one sent to you for some higher purpose; to teach you an important lesson or to keep you safe during a perilous time.  What you must do is trust in them– even if they come hand in hand with pain or suffering– the reason for their presence will become clear in due time.

Though here is a word of warning– you may grow to love this person but remember they are not yours to keep.  Their purpose isn’t to save you but to show you how to save yourself.  And once this is fulfilled; the halo lifts and the angel leaves their body as the person exists your life.  They will be a stranger to you once more.

______________________

It’s so dark right now.  I can’t see any light around me.

That’s because the light is coming from you.  You can’t see it but everyone else can.”

And what I’m learning is, no matter what, I cannot convince someone that this angel exists inside them.  They have to look in the mirror one day and decide that for themselves.  Maybe I’m looking to be saved by them and I never identified it– they, too, cannot save anyone, just like I can’t.

And at some point, I need to just take a step back and say, “I know the angel exists, but I can’t make you believe it” and leave them to find the light inside themselves.

Here With Us

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shown…” ~Isaiah 9:2

“And He will be their peace.” ~Micah 5:5a

I occasionally have theses paradigm-shifting moments where I realize that if I fully realized the impact of a certain reality, my whole mentality would shift.

Yes, I realize that was confusing, but read it again and I promise it makes sense.

Last night (Christmas Eve), I pondered what we are actually celebrating– yes, what most people clichely refer to as “the true meaning of Christmas.”  I’m not here to rant about consumerism or bash how Americans don’t understand the Christmas story.  I’m here to acknowledge that I tend to numb that nerve that connects the word “Immanuel” with what that actually means for my actual life as a 21st century American.

The infinite God– YAHWEH, the Creator of the whole universe who always was, always is, and always will be– decided once at the beginning of time to create me.  And you. And He knew full well that you and I would choose sin time and time again.  Even though He had every right to justly send us straight to hell, He decided that He wanted to come here.

He wanted to not just save us from our sins, but He wanted to meet us right where we are at.  I think that’s one aspect of the Christmas story that we tend to under-emphasize or just completely miss– He came as a baby so that He could look us in the eyes as Someone who understands what it means to be a human.  He has experienced the struggles, He knows the pain of watching someone die.

All because love meets you right where you’re at.

So what does this mean for me?  For my life today?

So often I revert to this almost deistic state– and I think this mindset pervades much of Christian America, especially regarding Christmas.  God is this distant– albeit omnipotent– Being that provides a moral compass, a backbone for statements like “Don’t worry! God’s in control!”, and an assurance of salvation.

Hence, stagnant, lukewarm American Christianity is born.  I want to acknowledge here that I fall into this category frequently– I’m calling myself out as much as anyone else.  I, too, pull the 1 minute prayers before bed and the mindless devotions, all while gushing, “Wow, Jesus is so good!” at Bible study and at church on Sunday.

But Jesus didn’t come down to Earth as a baby to just save us– He came to be WITH us.  He didn’t go through the perils of being a human just for the heck of it.  And honestly, He didn’t have to come as a baby.  He could have saved us from our sins and died on the cross without going through 33 years of humanhood.  Yet He chose to.

We serve an intensely personal God, a God who wants to know Him on the same level that He knows us, His greatest masterpieces.

THAT’S WHY HE CAME TO BE HERE WITH US.

So why am I not passionately and recklessly pursuing Him?

We’re Not Belle– or Wonder Woman

“True, that he’s no Prince Charming, but there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.”  ~Belle, Beauty and the Beast

“Jamie has faith in me. She makes me want to be different, better.” ~Landon Carter, A Walk to Remember

Behind every little girl exists a fairytale heart.  Girls exist in all sorts of extremes in this area, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a little girl whose eyes don’t light up at the thought of being a princess.

I am a self-proclaimed princess wannabe.  I spent a large portion of my earlier childhood playing dress-up with sparkly clothes and went to church wearing a tiara until I was 7.  Then, when those antics were no longer socially acceptable, I turned to reading books about English royal history, turning over in my head what it would be like to be a real live princess of England in the days of the Tudor monarchy.  And then my junior year of high school, I was the only adult-ish female present not chaperoning a young girl at the Princess Party on a Disney cruise.  I’m actually obsessed.

Anyways, princess confessions aside, although I find this princess desire common to most females generally a good thing, I have grown to realize its many dark angles.

My own life has exhibited one of these dark angles clearly– and I never even noticed it until just recently.

Why do we love the story of Beauty and the Beast so dearly?  Of all the Disney Princess movies, this one will always stick out to the Western world as being timeless and just perfect.

I have a hypothesis about this: I believe we are so chronically enchanted by this story because we women want to change “him”– whoever that may be.

The Beast is so horrible and repulsive, and yet Belle is able to soften his angry and selfish heart.  All she has to do is enter his life, and she pierces through his harsh exterior, eventually transforming him into a handsome prince– the man he was “always meant to be.”

Sound familiar?

“He’s an amazing man, deep down.  I just need him to show it more.”

“I know he has his problems, but he’s actually a good guy.”

“I know I can change him.”

Women utter these statements so frequently.  We all seem to think we can be a combination of Belle and Wonder Woman and extract that amazing man from his scuffed package.  We watch more “real-life” movies like A Walk to Remember and see how just Jamie’s very existence makes Landon want to be a better person and believe that we, too, can motivate a man to be better just by being our lovely selves.

And then, because we are in real real-life, he doesn’t change.

He still drinks heavily or still has his addictions or still won’t focus on his faith.  Perhaps, he exhibits a temporary life change that gives us a false sense of hope, and then he resorts back to his old self.  It was all transitory in the end.

I think every woman has this instinctual urge to fix that which we see that is broken– and this is actually such a beautiful thing.  We want to spread our beauty throughout the whole world and throw flower petals to everyone who will catch them.  We believe enough in our ability to be the valiant warrior princess and get our hearts ripped out in the process.

We fail at changing him, and then we tell ourselves, “I wasn’t enough.”

And then this becomes a source of major shame.

But what if he was never yours to fix?

I’ve been quite introspective lately, and I have realized that I am the epitome of someone with a chronic “saving complex.”  It took my pastor at school telling me this to actually realize that I am becoming the woman my mom always warned me not to be– the idealistic woman who will never give up on him.  The woman with an absent or even abusive husband trying to raise three kids while he still sorts through his demons.  Since my pastor pointed this out about me, I have realized that I have been this way with so many guys, whether they were friends or more to me.  And then I walk away feeling dejected and with a scar of “you weren’t enough” carved into my brain matter.

Tonight, I read a bit of a book I read two summers ago, and I came across a portion of a sentence that I actually have memorized.  It used to be written on a notecard and placed on my desk.  Clearly, I stopped taking it to heart, as it reads:

“Just because something breaks, or comes to you broken already, doesn’t always mean you should script yourself an invitation to go on and fix it.” ~Hannah Brencher Sheats, If You Find This Letter (pg. 144) [emphasis added]

When Eve fell in the Garden, she encoded in our spiritual DNA the tendency to sin in the areas where we possess the most good.  As women, we have so much to offer the world– and so much that is unique to being a woman.  Our desire to fix him and spread our beauty throughout all of creation is such a magnificent desire– but what if we extend ourselves an invitation to fulfill this desire in areas in which God has purposefully not sent us one.

Ultimately, you nor I cannot save him– only GOD can.  No matter how perfect and enchanting we are, we cannot be Belle.  We cannot be Jamie.  We cannot even forgo the sweet approach in favor of the Wonder Woman alpha-girl style of saving the day.  We will fall flat on our faces in failure every time.

So maybe we need to end up staring straight at the concrete with scrapes on our elbows and knees a few times before we stop inviting ourselves to save the day.

After all, it’s God’s job to save him, not our’s.

I’ve committed to taking a step back every time I’m tempted to swoop in and save the day.  If he’s a friend, he’s not mine to worry about.  If he’s more than that, he shouldn’t be more than that.  Even if he tells me he needs me by his side to change, how can I in good conscience allow myself to get in God’s way of saving him by trying to do it myself?

Like I said before, I’m a chronic saver, so this is going to take some major self-control and probably a lot of tears.  I’m re-training my brain to believe the truth– that his choices are 100% his and I have not business trying to change them.

But, in the end, it’s not my fault.  It’s not my responsibility.

We aren’t meant to be Belle.  We are meant to be Cinderella– to find our Prince Charming who is already all he is meant to be.

Introspective on Father’s Day

Today is, of course, Father’s Day, and unlike most Father’s Days of my life, I am weirdly introspective.  Well, I suppose “weirdly” is not an accurate way to put it, as I did not feel this way until I listened to my pastor’s sermon at church.  He took this day as an opportunity to speak to the men of the crowd and A) call them out on their complacency and submission to normal culture and B) implore them to submit more to the LORD rather than just to “try harder” as being more “perfect” men.

So, obviously as a female, this may seem to apply very little to me, but I realized through the sharp ache in my heart during most of the sermon that this message actually applies to me on so many levels.

I realized that almost no man in my life possesses these attributes.  Now, before I go on, I want to say that I’m not trying to rip on every guy I know.  Some guys I know might be the epitome of this God-fearing man and I just don’t know it because I’m not close with them.  And those guys who I am close with and I don’t see this attributes in, that doesn’t mean I’m calling you a horrible person or trying to push you down.  Right now, I just need to process how I feel realizing that I see such a lack of these integrity-filled men in my life.

I am only 21, but I already feel absolutely worn-out by how little I see men lead nowadays.  Maybe it’s partially due to the push for feminism or maybe men are just getting lazy, but as a Christian woman, I want to be led and guys aren’t doing this.  As much as I have recognized that I have a “saving complex” and that causes me to be drawn to people with rough pasts who are just clawing their ways out of them, I’m absolutely exhausted of being the person trying to make a guy, whether a friend or more than that, into a person who pursues the LORD willingly and unabashedly.

I know, it’s a bit of a contradiction that I have this innate desire to fix people, yet I want to find men who are already there.  Men who will admit they don’t have it figured out and are so freaking fallen, yet who pursue the LORD with a ubiquitous zeal that makes some people uncomfortable and others also want to submit to the LORD.  I’m sick of being the leader– yes, assertive, Type A Annika just said that.  I’m sick of stepping back and trying to motivate and entreat men to look to step up and pursue Him.  I want to be surrounded by men who are already there, who push me to be a woman who submits to Him every single day.

I believe Christian women, at their very core, desire to be led.  However, we– especially the Type A ones– are not going to allow men to lead unless we see them as fit to lead.

And I’m exhausted.  I want to play the role the LORD designed me to play.

So, I guess on this Father’s Day, I just want to find more men that allow me to do exactly what God designed me to do.

21 life rules

I stole the idea of creating a number of life rules for myself equal to the number of years that I’ve been alive from Hannah Brencher Sheats, one of my life inspirations.  She stole the idea from someone else, but I’ll give her the credit (see her blog) and then she can give the credit to the person who actually deserves the credit.  These rules are a reflection of what I’ve learned recently about life and who I aspire to someday become.

I started writing these for myself, and then I realized they actually could be considered 21 pieces of advice to girls entering college, so I figured I would post them for your entertainment or perhaps your edification.  Or maybe you can just learn more about me.  Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy.

  1. You have everything you need inside you or at your disposal that you will need to do whatever God tells you to do. It’s OK to be nervous and afraid—in fact, it’s good because it makes you utterly human.  But don’t let those nerves overcome you but instead ask yourself, “But what if you fly?” 
  2. Listen to moving movie soundtracks whenever you A) need inspiration, B) need to focus and people around you won’t shut up, or C) want to experience your emotions fully. (My go-to’s are The Imitation Game, Schindler’s List, and—don’t hate me—The Titanic.  So I suppose this list demonstrates that I love Benedict Cumberbatch [true], am morbidly obsessed with tragedy [half true—I am very intrigued with the psychology behind evil, such as how Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler managed to manipulate as many people as they did] and into sappy romances [sadly, very true].  Or, this list could suggest I have great taste in music, so give them a listen!)
  3. He/she isn’t yours forever. People—whether boyfriends or best friends or just your average friend—come into your life for a season.  In fact, 95% of the people in your life, even the people who seem like lifers, are only in your life for a short period of time.  Release your grip and let go when it’s either A) they want to go or B) it’s time for them to go.
  4. To go along with #3, realize that many people will claim to be “lifers” in your life. Boyfriends and best friends are the usual culprits here.  Remember that most people will say anything to feel secure.  Either that, or they are completely un-self-aware.  Realize that a promise of forever means very little unless it is from one of those rare extraordinarily steadfast people or made during marriage vows.
  5. Take a full month off of life if you can. Tell people “no.” I just spent the whole last month at home doing almost nothing that has to do with school or my constant pursuit of getting into medical school.  The only way to completely de-stress is to take a month away from everything.  Some people don’t have this luxury, but if you do, take it.  It’s worth it.
  6. Look nice more often! Most people are more productive when they dress well and put a little effort into their appearance.  I’m not saying to take a Kardashian amount of time getting ready, but getting up 10 minutes earlier for a little mascara and a casual dress can turn exhaustion into productivity very easily.
  7. Go to Walmart whenever you’re invited. Ok, I know that may make no sense to someone who isn’t a college student in Aberdeen, SD, but only good memories can be formed when you go with a random group of fellow sleep-deprived students to a place where anything goes.  And make sure to wear your fluffy Frozen Elsa PJ pants and oversized hot pink Split Rock Lighthouse sweatshirt while you’re at it.
  8. Write it all down. I have never regretted writing my thoughts, no matter how crazy, out by hand in a journal.  Those thoughts, no matter how fleeting or seemingly transitory, reflect a time in your life that deserves to be remembered and actually may illuminate what choice you should make later in life.  Stay up at extra hour and be sleep-deprived the next day if it means you pen your thoughts.  It’s always worth it.
  9. Apply for everything you’re remotely interested in. Whether that be a summer research program, a scholarship, a job, or a Fulbright, as cliché as it sounds, the worst that can happen is the same thing that would happen if you didn’t apply.
  10. Learn to take delight in and laugh out loud at your mistakes. I did a couple really stupid things this last school year, and usually I beat myself up about them late at night when I’m trying to fall asleep.  But last night, I was thinking about the situation one of those mistakes put me in, and that situation is one of the few times that I lived all-out-crazy-no-regrets in my life.  For the first time, I started laughing to myself about how fun it was.  I can’t change my past mistakes, so why not take joy in the side effects that are now great memories?
  11. Eat homemade tater tots whenever life gets hard. They feel like comfort food but are really not bad for you because they’re baked instead of deep-fried and are made of almost 100% potato instead of 98% preservatives like the ones at restaurants—and they’re only $4 for a giant bag at Walmart.
  12. When you feel the need to control a situation or a stupid person, focus on controlling your own response. This is more for Type A people (i.e. me) than anyone else.  I have really struggled throughout college with trying to control both people and situations that aren’t mine to control, and recently I realized that this desire is actually good.  I just need to channel it into controlling myself—and that can take the form of controlling just simple aspects of me, down to just my breathing.  I was really frustrated Saturday night with someone, and I felt the urge to control control control, so I just concentrated on the rate of my breathing.  That helped me to feel in control of the whole situation, and I handled it better than I normally would have.
  13. He’s not yours to save. The best way to describe this is via lines from Sarah Kay’s poem, titled B: “Don’t keep your nose up in the air like that.  I know that trick; I’ve done it a million times.  You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him.  Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.”  You can’t save him, you can’t change him—and it’s not your responsibility to.  His choices aren’t your fault, they aren’t a result of your failure to be “enough,” and don’t let him tell you they are.  It’s not your fault.
  14. You are never a victim, so stop acting like one. You have a choice in how you respond to everything around you.  Yes, you have your initial involuntary influx of emotion, but once that passes, just like he has his choice in #13, you have your choice.  Don’t you dare act like you don’t.
  15. Have an idea of what you’re doing in the future with a few rough blueprints, but don’t plan too much. Set yourself up to successfully make any of those blueprints a reality and then diligently and strategically ride the waves until one of those can become a reality.
  16. Spend as much time with family as possible. Parents get cooler the older you get.  Snag any moments you can with them, and make sure to go to your 12-year-old brother’s baseball games when you’re home (and walk away and go for a quick walk to blow off steam when you get too competitive and want to yell at the kids and/or ump—they’re only 12).
  17. Create a prayer corner where you can literally get on your knees and write out your big prayers. Tape those big prayers on the walls in your little corner and read them whenever you are struggling in your faith or life—you’ll be amazed at how faithful God is by reading them.
  18. Say no to frivolous expenses so you can study abroad and travel. I have failed epically at this, so this is a new rule for me as I go into my senior year of college and plan to study abroad the summer after.
  19. If you hate doing something you once loved, wave goodbye to it, even if it was a lifelong dream. You aren’t letting yourself down by doing this, you are actually loving yourself more fully.
  20. Consistently read poetry. Read modern stuff and old stuff and in-between stuff.  My favorite modern poets include Tyler Knott Gregson, Lang Leav, Sarah Kay, and Mary Oliver.  John Donne and George Herbert are great oldies.
  21. Don’t believe him. If he, whoever “he” is for you, told you (whether through actions or words or connotations) that you aren’t enough, that you aren’t beautiful, that you are too much, that you will never be truly loved, that you aren’t worth loving, don’t believe him.  For me, that “he” isn’t a father or even an ex-boyfriend, but another guy from years ago.  Make sure he doesn’t win.  Don’t believe a single second of it.  Don’t waste a day of your life even sifting through what he said to see if there’s any truth to it.  Just don’t. As Warsan Shire puts it in her poem “For Women Who are ‘Difficult’ to Love,” “You are terrifying and strange and beautiful something not everyone knows how to love.”   

 

Writing Indicted Me

If you’re reading this for a snippet of talk about God or a good read, stop right now.

I want to write right now, but I can’t.

My head is pounding, my eyelids puffed up, and every time I eat my body treats the food like a foreign substance.

Yet, I know I need to write.  Writing has been my outlet for processing for many years now.  It translates the throbbing thoughts of my brain into clear, tangible reality– reality that I can address, that I can do something about.

I know something is very different, though, when it takes me 3 minutes to write one single, easily-constructed sentence– and it still uses passive voice.  Is it possible that I am too far gone for even writing to help?

Life changes a lot in a week, huh?  I always used to say that to myself, but I am still surprised when it happens.  Maybe I can find hope that this will all change in a week.  It’s not true, though.

One of my roommates said to me today, “The old Annika would be absolutely dying right now.  You must finally realize that you deserve better.”

I am dying right now– I’m just hiding it better.  I laid in bed for an hour this morning trying to get myself to stand up (luckily, I woke up before my alarm, so it didn’t matter).  I’m not ok–  I’m just not externally dying.

The saddest part of this is it was my words that indicted me.  Me just trying to process the normal turmoil that pulses through my INTJ brain became evidence against me.

None of this writing is coherent, but I need to stop writing.  It’s not helping.