Wedding Playlist, Made in Advance

All the boats I’ve missed
All the hell I’ve caused
All the lips I’ve kissed
All the love I’ve lost
I thank God for that
I guess he always knew
I was on my way to you 

-Cody Johnson

I have a notebook beside my comfy chair that’s incredibly special. It’s full of lists, but not just any lists. They’re specific lists of everything I want to read, do, see, and experience during my time on this planet. I started making these lists four years ago, at the start of my divorce.

One of these lists is a list of songs I want played at my wedding reception. It’s a short list, but I only started jotting down songs this year. Plus, I probably should stop while I’m ahead. (Sorry, future wedding DJ). I won’t name the songs, but, obviously, they are all county songs, since those are the best songs.

I started a ritual of randomly listening to these songs from time to time. Not limited to, but especially during, times that I’m feeling a little lost. Because they give me hope. They transport me to a future time and place where I’m in a white dress and I’m dancing with the one that God hand picked just for me.

Maybe that time hasn’t come yet. And maybe it never will. But if I can transport myself there for just a few minutes by asking YouTube to please play a song for me, I can shift my thinking and emotions toward something a little more positive. This never fails to get me through some momentary homesickness for a person I possibly have never even met yet. Sometimes I smile while the song plays, and sometimes I smile through tears.

I can’t help but wonder if this is how God thinks of us before we are born. He somehow knows us, and loves us, but we do not even exist yet. Did He smile through tears and think, Oh, that Amanda, she will spend so much time making Me laugh..

I like to think He does. There is something sacred about loving someone before you know them, right?

I also like to think that maybe, just maybe, one day I will get to stand in a white dress while a very familiar song plays and whisper in my dance partner’s ear, “Thank you for loving me.”

No matter what the future holds, I have this hope in Christ every day: I get to go through this crazy life in a rock solid relationship with the One who loved and thought of me (and possibly laughed at me) before He created me.

Thank you, God, for loving me.

XOXO,

Panda

What I’ve Learned from 6 Weeks of Being a Puppy Mom

I had wanted a dog for years, but held off for the right time. When I moved into a new apartment after a painful breakup, I longed for company. A few months later, I took a look ahead and knew I wouldn’t be interested in dating for awhile, so I thought it was finally the right time. I was financially stable, had a lot of love to give, and felt I was ready to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet. I had always planned to rescue an older dog to better suit my lifestyle, but when I saw a Corgi puppy for adoption, I thought I was getting the perfect apartment dog.

IMG_1983

The day I brought my puppy Cali home, I was ecstatic, but overwhelmed and unprepared. Because I didn’t realize the adoption process at the shelter was so quick, or that I would even be able to adopt her, I didn’t own a single dog-related item, except the leash and collar they gave me upon signing the adoption papers. Not to mention I had to go to work after I took her home, so I couldn’t exactly go get what she would need right away. Leaving her that day with so little was difficult; I was absolutely in love and just wanted to be with her. She was the most precious, most soft, tiny ball of fur with cute, pointy ears. But all of the chaos and unpreparedness that day made me determined to be an even better dog mama to her going forward.

IMG_1444(1)

That being said, the six weeks since then have tested my patience, made me question my decision to get a puppy in the first place, and have even caused me to set in motion plans to give Cali up because of her breed. The start of the journey as a puppy mom was excruciating at times, but I have recently come to realize how much I not only want, but need, this sweet, stubborn, mutt in my life.

Cali turned out to be a cattle dog mix. She also had diarrhea on and off the first four weeks, which made the nights incredibly difficult. It caused anxiety, worry, and stress during the day, too, because I never knew what kind of mess I was coming home to. I’ve come home to her covered in poop more times than I can count. I’ve made trips to the laundromat to wash her bed. And I’ve given her bath. After bath. After bath. She’s gotten pretty good at being wet.

At first, I thought I wasn’t able to provide Cali with the time and attention she needed to relieve herself. I felt horrible that I had gotten a puppy but couldn’t take care of it. How could I be so irresponsible? But then I realized Cali was actually sick, that it wasn’t normal for her to need to poop this much, and that she had an extremely sensitive tummy. A trip to the vet and some medicine cleared her diarrhea up, and I rejoiced at the corner that we turned. But less than a week later it came back full force.

The weeks of sleep deprivation were no joke. I was moody, short, forgetful, and unfocused at work. The all time low, though, was a Saturday morning when I’d barely slept the night before. Her diarrhea was flaring, and poor Cali needed to go outside almost EVERY HOUR. We had puppy class that morning, and when the time came, I had no ability to get myself ready to go. I threw a ball cap on, wiped the crust out of my eyes, and showed up late but hardly capable of functioning during class. The day before that, when I came home on my lunch break to walk Cali, I found her in need of yet another bath due to diarrhea incident #342. After cleaning her and her crate up and eating my lunch, I was late getting back to work. With all I had to get done by six, I was frustrated.

IMG_1726

I can no longer function. I can’t do this anymore. This isn’t working out. It isn’t getting any better. I loved Cali, but I wasn’t enjoying Cali. Puppies were supposed to be entertaining, fun, enjoyable.

After puppy class, a good friend invited me to a local pet store, where I got some solid advice on changing Cali’s diet. And later that day we all went to the beach. It was Cali’s first time seeing the ocean. She did so well at the beach, and on the way home she fell asleep in my lap, which she hadn’t done since the day I brought her home four weeks prior. For a puppy that didn’t lick me or wag her tail much for me, run to me, or cuddle with me, that moment was a treasure. Watching her sleep so soundly and perfectly, I felt guilt and fought back tears for thinking earlier that day that I no longer wanted to be her mom. No way am I ever giving this up, I thought.

IMG_1874

That’s when I realized Cali was teaching me about real, hard love. About not giving up when things got really, really bad. About sticking it out through the ugliest of days (and nights). About hoping and believing things would get better, and the terrible days were just a prerequisite to the better days ahead. And because there were things about her breed I didn’t foresee, she was also teaching me great lessons about patience and the art of adapting. And these days, adapting looks a lot like making my own dog treats, a hair full of dry shampoo, and eating a cold hot dog for breakfast on the way to work.

Cali is the kind of dog that prefers outdoors to indoors. She wants to get up early and go for a long walk or run, which can make getting ready in the morning a lengthy routine. She is the kind of breed that needs to go to the dog park daily. She’s crazy smart, but gets bored quickly and lets you know it. But even though Cali barks at me to be outside in the morning when all I want to do is drink my tea, she has made my apartment a home. She has brought so much joy and love (and poison sumac) into my life. Honestly, I cannot imagine being without her. I race home to her, I miss her when I’m away from her, and holding her makes my heart smile. I obsess over buying things for her. I can’t describe the happiness she brings me. And petting her is like therapy after the roughest of days. With her, those pangs of loneliness are long gone, and in their place is my very best friend.

So. It’s definitely gotten easier, we’ve gotten to know each other, and we finally have our very important routines and commands (and DIET) down pat. There have still been some bumps in the road, and I’m certain there always will be. But we are a team and we’re figuring it out together. And call me crazy, but I think Cali knows it’s been a rough start. Her upset stomach was stressful for her too, and she was certainly there for every bit of my tears, frustration, and Tourette’s-like outbursts. I think she trusts me more because I didn’t bail. Maybe dogs are like people in that way.

IMG_1955

XOXO,

Panda & Cali

It’s Called Heartbreak for a Reason

I can never be, never be free without You
I can never be, never be me without You

-Austin French, Freedom Hymn

I’m a fiercely strong, independent woman. It took an incredible amount of time, hard work, and pain to get there. I value the time I need to keep nurturing that woman, and Jason had a dominant side which threatened what I had built. He liked certain things to be his way. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it was conflicting for me in some ways that I didn’t address as soon as I should have (i.e., immediately).

One night we had a huge argument, and hurtful comments were slung in my direction. He loved me, but he wished I was different in some ways. When the person you love stands in front of you and says the relationship would work better for them if you would change, it’s kind of a tough blow.

In my mind, I was the flexible one. He was set in his ways and wasn’t very open to changing them. He wanted me involved in his family, social life, obligations, and interests, but he wasn’t equally as interested in being involved in or understanding mine. Our weekends felt more like his weekends. Our holidays and special occasions felt more like his. Our free time felt more like his free time. And the time that was my time was greatly influenced by him as well, mostly by how much he wanted me to be with him. Because I loved him so much and wanted to be around him often, too, I never put up too much of a fight about it.

But after our dispute, I realized the bending was about to turn into breaking. I had already modified myself, but it felt like it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t capable of compromising further or giving anymore of myself away.

He didn’t mean it, shouldn’t have said it, and was sorry. I received endless apologies, and I forgave him.  But having already been divorced, I knew I could no longer ignore the underlying issue: The way he needed things to be and the way I needed things to be just didn’t seem to go together. I moved out a week later.

I was devastated and shocked by the way things suddenly ended. I had pictured children, white picket fences, and tons of future memories to be made with this amazing, extraordinary man with a big heart. Before I broke up with him, I desperately tried to figure out how I could be okay and we could also be okay. I was sure I could figure it out without having to let him go. But the answer was right in front of me all along: I couldn’t handle the pressure of our relationship. The expectations. The routines. Trying to do it all on my own. I was buckling under the weight of it, and part of that was my fault.

And so solo I had to be, for the sake of my well being. After signing a new lease, moving out, and being alone, though, I still wasn’t free from the pressure I was trying to twist myself away from. I absolutely worried myself sick about the decision I made. I was paralyzed by doubt and fear, and I even had a few anxiety attacks, which were absolutely terrifying.

If I made the right choice, why do I feel so awful?

If  he’s not right for me, why does it hurt so damn much?

If it’s for the best, why does it feel like there’s a Montana-sized hole in my heart?

Will I ever stop missing him? Will the tears eventually stop?

If I’m better off, why am I so sick?

And for the love of all that is holy, am I ever going to get a normal night’s sleep?

On the verge of a breakdown, my loving and supportive friends told me I had to let the worry go. If it was meant to work out, it would. There was no need to kill myself over it.

It’s called heartbreak for a reason. When your heart breaks, even if you’re the one who did it, it hurts and there’s no sugar-coating it.  The pain is ever-present, widespread, and doesn’t back down. Leaving Jason broke his heart, and it broke mine, too. It wasn’t easy or pretty, and it still isn’t. In fact, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s putting one foot in front of the other and letting the tears fall when they need to. But nothing good comes easy, and the alternative was living a compromised life. That’s someone else’s life, not mine.

I realize now I have to be able to be 100% myself in relationships. 90% or 85.5% just doesn’t work. Part of being 100% yourself is asserting your needs up front, out of the gate. If one of the desires of your heart is to stand next to your partner in church and hold their hand, let them know. If you need the person you share your life with to also share in the misery of grocery trips to Walmart because then you would feel like you’re in this crazy train together, then don’t spare them and make them go with you. If you are going to a wedding out of town and need your partner there, say so, even though you know they don’t want to take time off from work. If you want to try new things and go new places, don’t settle for the same old bar stool every Saturday. If you feel like you should pay less rent because you spend way too much of your time cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry, speak up. And if that early morning yoga class makes you feel free as a bird, don’t miss out just because your SO resents you getting up early on weekends.

You only get one shot, one life. You have to do what is right for YOU. Even if it scares you to death. Even if people don’t understand. Even if they walk away without a backward glance. Even if really amazing people you love ask you not to. Even if it breaks your heart wide open and leaves a Montana-sized hole. You are so, so loved.

XOXO,
Panda

Be Still and Know

“We often define God’s faithfulness by how He gets us out of a situation, but His faithfulness is found when wdepend on it to get us through.”

I thought nights like these were long gone. The nights when I drank alone on my carpet, where the floor felt like the only steady thing that could hold me. The nights when I looked at my future from a new, empty living room and wondered what it could possibly hold, and just how long was it going to take to simply get better.

I’d forgotten about most of this. That I’d been here before, starting over after a divorce, and how hard and gut-wrenching it all was. How there was such a huge void in my life after subtracting one from two. How I spent a lot of time on the floor, where pain brought me to, and so did fear’s lies. How the tears would just come and there was no stopping them. How I would pray for it to get better as soon as possible so I would no longer have to feel the ache of loneliness, failure, and heartbreak. But I really didn’t want to wait, so I would try to control things on my own, or do things to escape my reality, to speed up the clock.

Four years later, here I am again. Burying my face in crossed arms on the carpet, knees bent and head down. Watching the tears fall as I lay face down just trying to get calm. Red, puffy eyes and swollen eyelids, trying to fight the voice of fear inside my mind. Tempted to control things, to speed up the depressed phase and get to the “Okay, it’s-all-better-now” part. I hate these nights, but I don’t want to rush through them this time.

Because this is the part where God says, “Don’t bypass identity for relief.” This is the part where I need to not get out of it, but to stay in the struggle, to let God do His work to build my character. To not control, escape, or rush. But to let Him provide what only He can: His work in me.

This is the part where God says, “Be still. Be still and know.”  Instead of flinching in faith, I want to be able to be still and face the world crumbling around me, knowing that I’m in a relationship with a loving, faithful God who is on my side. To acknowledge I can remain in a place, as uncomfortable as it may be, and still embrace the relationship He sacrificed so much for. And instead of asking God to get me through it or let it pass, ask Him to keep making it hurt if that’s what it takes for Him to make me into who He wants me to be.

After the difficult and painful ending of a serious relationship one month ago, there have been many hard moments, full of weakness, doubt, and tears. But I don’t hope for my circumstance to end so that I can have relief. Because I don’t want to miss out on whatever it is God wants me to experience in the middle of it.  Be still and know. You are so loved.

Love,
Panda

 

Dear Future Boyfriend

Dear Future Hottie in Black:

Dating me won’t be easy, but this letter isn’t about baggage or explaining how much I’ve been hurt. This letter is about what really matters in a relationship: sex.

JK, JK!!

This letter is about how much I want you, but am not ready for you just yet.

Take your time getting to me. Do what you need to do. See what you need to see. Work on what you need to work on. Because I’m doing the exact same thing. If we both do that, then, hopefully we won’t get lost on our way to THE GREATEST ROMANCE EVER.

Because I will like you A TON, I’ll be afraid to show myself for awhile. But because you’re different from all the other guys, you won’t give up on me. You’ll be patient and smile at me with your eyes to let me know you see me and you like what you see.

And because you’re patient and kind, you’ll give the best hugs and whisper really sweet, motivational things in my ear. You’ll know I hate being vulnerable so you’ll put yourself out there first. You’ll make my jaw drop, because in you, I’ll see things I never saw before.

You should know that you’ll have to follow through on everything you say to me (annnd cue Gavin DeGraw song…). If you promise me a cookie, or a trip out of town, it will be forever etched into my memory. So don’t overdo it, capeesh?

See you soon. Stay sweet.

XOXO,

Panda

 

 

 

 

Hit the Ground Running

Love will not betray you, dismay you, enslave you
It will set you free.

-Mumford and Sons

It was a violently windy night. Everything around me was moving, but I stood dead still in my tracks. The sound of the wind moving through the branches and leaves above my head faded into the background as I listened to words that began to heal something in me that had been damaged for years. I still can’t quite describe it: something broken coming together that I never thought could be fixed.

It was exactly two months after my husband and I had separated. I called him and said, “It’s time. We have to make the call. Face to face. It can’t wait anymore. I’m on my way.” I hung up and headed in his direction.

When I moved out, I asked for it to be a trial separation. Even though we both really knew it would and should be permanent, it seemed less scary to call it that. We would “give it a couple months, just to be sure”, and then make the final call. I had marked the day in my calendar, and when it finally came, I was ready to be relieved of the countdown.

I had needed my freedom for quite some time before there was ever talk of divorce, but I quietly fought it. What started as a silent, internal battle with myself became a resounding, external one between us that only grew exponentially as the years passed. We had been hurting each other by staying together. We both needed to walk away so we could live and grow. The writing was on the wall, but we ignored it for so long. That stormy night, we finally faced it head on.

And so I was standing in the front yard of a house I used to live in, watching the wind destroy flowers that I no longer cared about. How do you say goodbye to someone you love? How do you let go? The problem was, I couldn’t. I wanted so badly to let go, but I was afraid of the pain, and of what I didn’t know. I was in the boat and I could see the shore; I was starving for it, even, but I was still too scared to take off the life jacket.

“We’re calling it, right? I just need to hear it,” I said, raising my eyebrows and then letting them fall. I focused on looking him in the eye, trying to erase all the fear that might be showing in mine.

As usual, I wasn’t being very brave. It was all an act. The phone call. The focused, intent drive over. I was still holding on, but was acting like I wasn’t. I maybe even fooled myself into thinking I had and was simply there to make it official. But I was bluffing. What I was really doing was leaving it up to him, putting myself second, just like I always had.

He saw through it. He knew my routine.

“Yeah,” he replied, nodding, looking down at the ground for several minutes, his hoodie covering his face. But then he looked up with tears in his eyes and said, “Amanda, I have to let you go. I have to do this. For you. This marriage is killing you, and I can’t watch it anymore. So just go, baby. Hit the ground running. And don’t stop. Grab life by the horns and don’t let go.”

I’ll never forget that moment. He said those words slowly and with conviction. He spoke every syllable with pain and love. With urgency and authority and no room for negotiation. It was a sweet but firm command. Just go. Like I was born to just go and live my life and so what the hell was I waiting on?

“Don’t you dare worry about me. I’ll be just fine. I will gladly take ten years of pain to see you happy. Just go.” He raised his arm and pointed into the distance, away from him and into the unknown.

For so long, I had blamed him for my pain. For not growing and changing alongside me. For letting me lose myself so I could keep us. Once the seed of resentment was planted, it grew into a forest. Our marriage caused me unbearable pain and isolation, but I was too scared to take responsibility for my own needs. And just like my inner critic always had, it told me I didn’t deserve much to begin with. And so I suffered through my growing pains, making us both miserable. That night, he handed me my freedom. Just like that. No more trial separation. No more dragging it out. No more hanging on. No more excuses for letting my life pass me by. No more life jacket.

On the way home, driving through my old neighborhood, I looked up at the sky and smiled and thanked God. My heart was broken, but I felt so relieved. Instead of the familiar misery, I had peace. It had finally ended. It was finally over. No more decision to make; it had been made for me. It wasn’t hanging over my head anymore, and I could live my life. I felt light, uncaged. I felt free. It was still a long and winding journey ahead, painful even, but I couldn’t have asked for a better departure from the driveway.

The thing about letting go is there is no instruction manual. You don’t think; you just do. You put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You wake up every day and keep moving, and you don’t look back. You can’t keep glancing behind you because you must focus on what’s ahead. And you simply welcome the space between where you were and where you’re going. It’s like getting a tattoo. There is no escaping the sting until the work is complete. You just embrace the pain and smile because you know change is good but it doesn’t come easy.

Looking back at that night, it’s hard to see how I could have been so scared of something that ultimately gave me the most beautiful thing: a full life. But that’s exactly how I learned heartbreak is not a mistake. It’s a gift. It’s not something to run from but to follow. Everything beautiful starts with a broken heart. The road from heartbreak is less traveled, but it leads you to the most breathtaking places.

Airlie

IMG_0959

IMG_0880

When a door closes, it is your saving grace, not your demise. Maybe that rejection wasn’t what you wanted, but what you needed. That “no” could be the best damn thing that ever happened to you.

So, sit there with your heartbreak awhile. Let it become your fuel. Let it remind you there is no such thing as what could have been. And whatever it is you might be falling from, it’s your chance to just hit the ground running.

XOXO,

Panda

 

How friends change your life

You know how, when you get to know a person, it either becomes a deep, lasting connection, or it doesn’t? You either become really good friends, or just acquaintances at best, only occasionally making surface-level conversation. At least for me, there’s never been an in-between. We’re either real with each other about shit, or we exchange polite smiles and go about our day:

Me: “How was your weekend?”

Other person in the room: “Good. How was yours?”

Me: “It was good!”

Other person: “Good!”

The introvert in me cringes every time.

hate small talk, and I’m too passionate for superficial relationships. I’d rather know what’s in your heart than talk about the weather. There was never small talk with my friend Julianne, never a shallow conversation or a frivolous night out. She helped save me from small talk, loneliness, and perhaps biggest of all, myself.

My split from my husband in 2014 and some dates in 2015 left me pretty  jaded. By dating for the first time, I thought I was being brave, but in reality, I suffered through the emotional stress of those dates for no reason. I was nowhere near ready and had no right being there. Granted, I didn’t start to date out of boredom or for a confidence boost. I naively thought it was what I was supposed to do at some point after a divorce: get back on the horse. And everyone around me enthusiastically supported the idea. At the time, I didn’t have Julianne around to tell me how I needed to do what I needed to do, not what I thought I needed to do.

One particular late-night, after a couple of bad first dates, an emotional battle with myself prompted me to text Julianne a rather desperate question that I wouldn’t normally ask.

“I’m sorry it’s late, but can you please just tell me I am capable of love and being loved?”

Her reply was this: “Duh, silly. You are not that weird. Now stop PMSing and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Things began to click, gears began to turn, and I became more self-aware of my tendency to rush. All this time, I was pursuing some version of myself that I thought should have manifested by now. I was too busy looking at other people’s paths instead of my own. I was so tied down by chasing the destination that I was overlooking the journey. I realized that I actually really liked being the loser third wheel all along and to hell what anyone else thought. So hows about I just slow down for a bit so I can enjoy it? Being single was, in fact, THE SHIT. That meant I was THE SHIT. Insert light bulb emoji here. Just enjoy being the shit, Amanda. That is all you have to do.

Julianne continued to encourage me. She emailed me reading material about being single. The bookworm/geek/blogger in me loved this, and I hastily clicked on the links. The gist of those articles? Being single = sweet, sweet freedom = take advantage = Why the hell did I waste precious time on OKC when all I really wanted to do was read and write and explore and JUST DO ME?

I had been missing the boat for awhile, but I was finally on board. I became unapologetically single and never looked back. I was OWNING it. I was KILLING it. I was over my impatient couple-envy and impulsive, self-torturous dating habits and ready to invest in only the things that made me feel alive. 2016 was going to be my year. But back to my friend Julianne.

I first met Juls in a coffee shop. We had arranged to meet after I responded to her ad on Craigslist about a potential roommate situation. I could tell right away she was my kind of people. I liked her instantly because she was sarcastic and a great conversationalist and pretty stinkin’ intelligent. Not in a boring way, or in a conceited way, or in a way that makes you feel stupid. But in a way that got your attention and made you want to listen, because clearly she had been around the block a few times and had valuable things to share. I also liked her because I could tell that, like me, she hadn’t had the easiest go of it lately but was making the absolute best of life anyway. She was no-nonsense, honest, humble, funny, resourceful, and classy. She went out of her way to show me herself and her life so I would feel comfortable living with her. She was even up front about some things that I might not like. Also, one night she cooked me dinner. Food = love in my book.

Though she had already won me over, I ended up declining her offer to be roomies for strict geographic reasons. It was a hard decision to make because I feared it meant that we would consequently go our separate ways.

“No one has ever broken up with me before,” she laughed. When I told her I still wanted to hang because I thought she was AWESOME, I expected her to think I was just being polite or letting her down easy. I was hopeful but didn’t really expect her to be interested. But to my surprise, our friendship didn’t end that night. Instead, she stuck around, helped me through my serious post-divorce restlessness, and became the closest friend I’d had in years.

IMG_1501.PNG

I love her to pieces. She is my greatest Craigslist find and accidental friend.

IMG_1494

I lucked up when I met her. She inspires me daily to be a better friend, and to get over myself. To always be sincere in my words, actions, and gestures. And that you just never know.

XOXO,

Panda

 

 

 

 

 

The year that I lived

The end of a thing is better than its beginning.

2015. There was so much unknown. There were so many affairs to tend to, decisions to make, and random flying objects headed straight for me. All I wanted to do, though, was just take cover and survive the split from my husband in 2014 . But 2015 proved to be so much more about coming to life than surviving it, and the realization that there are much worse things than the unknown. I am so grateful for 2015.

It was the year I discovered Anne Lamott, and how much I really missed reading books. I made a book “bucket list” and began to check it off.

It was the year I became a runner. Running cleared my head. It made me feel free when something was holding me back. It made me feel fierce, no matter the battle I might have lost that day. It made me feel like I was fighting for something when it felt like I had no purpose at all. Running was a way for me to take my negative energy (there was a lot of that brewing) and turn it into something positive and productive. It made me feel grateful because it reminded me that I was free and strong and alive.

IMG_0811

It was the year I took 4am beach trips. Sometimes it felt like I might never see anything beautiful again. So I would have to go watch the sunrise and prove myself wrong.

It was the year I also took midnight drives speeding down Oleander and screaming at the top of my lungs because I was angry that I couldn’t sleep anymore and I was sick of dealing with the pain of change and loneliness that was bone deep.

It was the year I realized divorce is not a defining moment, but rather something that just happens. People will judge because they think they know, but all that matters is that you don’t judge yourself.

It was the year I realized how much I had changed. That being married seemed like a million years ago. I didn’t know how badly I had wanted my freedom until I had it in my hands. I didn’t even know what freedom was until I stepped out on my very own, for the first time. What happened blew my mind: Instead of falling, I flew. Instead of breaking or folding, I expanded. My dreams grew like I never thought possible. They exploded in my head on a daily basis. It was like a door opened up and there was wide open space where there had never been any room before. It was like I had been in a coma for 27 years but then came back to life. To have a dream, even the smallest dream, and then to live it out? There are no words to describe the glory. I couldn’t believe what I had been missing for so long. I couldn’t believe I ran away from the beautiful, blank page instead of running towards it. I couldn’t believe I had sacrificed my happiness for so much heartbreak. That I had traded it in for a life that was second-best, all because of the fear of starting over. That I had let a person hold me back so much that I no longer even knew who I was. That I had compromised myself to the point of having nothing left. I would never do it again.

And so it was the year I got to know myself. And spent a lot of time in my head. People talked and I didn’t listen. I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to, for the sound of my dreams in my head was just too loud. And the discovery of every single new thing stunned me. I was simply too busy taking it all in to pay attention to much else.

It was the year I realized how awkward I was, but that I shouldn’t let it hold me back. I was like the fresh skin you’d find under a Band-Aid. Even the air felt new and weird. I was incredibly vulnerable, and every experience was intense and amplified. I was excited just to have a second chance. I walked around alone, through crowds of people and I smiled like an idiot and it felt amazing because I took a walk alone. I learned that being alone and doing things by myself made me feel content and happy and free in a way that I’d never felt before, and it awakened things in me that I was passionate about.

IMG_0746

It was the year I met someone who, overtime I realized, could hurt me if I started to care. It was the very first time that I realized I could be rejected and actually give a damn. I was so thankful to know him, and not just because of the sweet delight of sharing good days and fun times together. He helped me learn about myself, about what I wanted and didn’t want. True, I was scared of getting hurt, but it made me realize I would rather care than feel nothing at all.

It was the year I realized it’s ok to be a complete and total mess. And I’ll never really have my shit together, because life just isn’t that organized. The people who really matter won’t give a damn about your current season of life or how messed up you are; they’ll love you more for it. Your true beauty is never about the finished product; the real beauty is the invisible work happening on the inside as you live, learn, grow, and wait right now.

It was the year I realized all I had to do was show up. Sure, showing up was hard, and it took a lot of work to be present and engage and connect and open my eyes. But it took more work to not show up. To run. To hide. To deny. To pretend I didn’t care about anything. Offer yourself as you are, not as you wish you were. Show up with your limits as well as your potentials. The more people see you, the more they see themselves.

IMG_1495 (1)

It was the year I met my best friend and my mom got sick and I felt things I never felt before and I made more mistakes than I ever had and a million other things happened and I grew and changed so much that even I struggled to keep up with what I wanted on a daily basis.

It was the year I realized sometimes you have to be brave and break your own heart. Happiness is a form of courage. And fear is a valuable teacher and motivator. The goal isn’t to push fear away forever; it’s to refuse to be pushed around by it. To let the fear of the unknown control you is to be dead inside. Anne Lamott said it best when she wrote, “When you make friends with fear, it can’t rule you.”

XOXO,

Panda