Dear Alaina,

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I could just end right here. The picture would say enough. I am wearing a fanny pack and a button-up shirt, and just look at you! Absolutely as fabulous at age 6 as you are now: 21.

Even for the fabulous, though, 21 is a very strange age. Good news: You are an adult. Bad news: You still don’t feel that way. You have to spend a lot of time convincing yourself of it.

After all, I still find myself thinking, “This situation needs an adult! Wait—I am an adult…I need an adulty-er adult!” Maybe that’s something we never outgrow? (I can’t say for certain, but it doesn’t look like it happens before 24.)

Lately I think we’ve both discovered that growing up is not what we thought it would be. The future isn’t going to look like we assumed it would—and that’s really hard. But as I’ve learned time and time again, the unexpected can be good, too.

Being friends with you is unexpected—and it is so, so awesome. You’ve become one of my favorite people in this world. We are more alike than I ever realized; our mutual weirdness delights me. It’s like we’re made of the same genetic material, because I look through your senior pictures and I just see me. I love that we text pictures of corgis and cupcakes and the gif-set of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta in Catching Fire and none of it ever gets old. I love that we started Christmas Eve yoga as a legitimate family tradition. I love that we make popcorn and watch Bones together.

And yet I love that you are your own person. You always have been the fabulous one. I love that you are unashamed of the things you adore, like showtunes and gemstones and mac’n’cheese. I love that you make amazing, cool jewelry that I do not understand, like the rings with the teeth, and other pieces that I do, like the necklace you gave me for Christmas (which I am wearing today, of course). I love that you take so many selfies, because you have the most brilliant smile.

So here’s my advice: That woman I just described? Never stop being her. As much as I love you for our similarities, I love you more for your uniqueness. Never start giving a damn about what other people think of you—whether it’s the clothes you wear, the music you like, the career you choose—because the woman you are is someone very much worth being.

The woman you are inspires me.

Happy birthday.243883_2104658055696_2126725_o

What It’s Like to Take an Antidepressant

pillThe first to remember is that this is not your fault. The second thing is that you will be okay if it is.

Of course, you can’t be certain about either.

Before you received this prescription, you were able to be sure of things—too sure, mainly of the fact that everything was your fault. You were able to feel things—too many things, all at once. They crippled you.

But what was so hard, after all? Maybe, in retrospect, the unexpected greatness of life did you in: simultaneously to have achieved success and to have been so uncertain of how you did it—and to have no idea how to maintain it.

But, again, you can’t be certain. There were a lot of factors. There were a lot of problems.

There still are; the pill does not make them go away. Wait. That should be the first thing to remember: The pill does not relieve you of your problems. It just makes it harder to feel them. That pill isn’t a wall, after all.

A pill is just a pill, and it doesn’t define you. Remember that as you take it first thing in the morning. You do not need to be afraid of each day or certain that the waking hours will overwhelm you. You are not less of a person—not less of a human being who is worthy of love—because you are depressed.

In the end, the pill doesn’t matter as much as the person taking it. You take it because you are strong and you are brave and you want to be better. You decided that for yourself, and the pill was just part of the answer. You take it because, in some cosmic cost-benefit analysis, the shame you feel is less than the relief it brings.

And you have to remember that that’s good.

Okay, but now can you remember all of the things you have to remember? It’s exhausting! Just try to justify the fact that life is hard and you couldn’t quite handle it on your own, because it’s also hard to remember now how hard it was. (It’s embarrassing to admit it, too.)

If only you could have been smarter, faster, stronger, thinner, braver, better, this never would have happened. You wouldn’t need medication. And now that you’re on it, you’re not sure that you do. Was it really that bad before—without? Was life really so overwhelming that you couldn’t handle it?

Yes.

So that’s it. That’s the subconscious thought that directs your hand toward the orange container and its white pills every morning: Because as hard as it is to forget what it’s like to feel, it’s so much harder to feel everything at once.

And you are certain that this makes it okay.

Seven Minutes Until the Train

ImageThere are seven minutes until the next train, and I am standing on the platform with a homeless man, an older Turkish tourist, and a man in a business suit. Two of us take out our phones to pass the time. One looks at a book of maps. The other holds his cane and fumbles with something in his hand.

It’s a $20 bill.

There’s a strange breeze in the underground station, and a gust catches the bill right as the homeless man moves to place it in his pocket. The bill floats off the platform and onto the track. We pause. Then, as if in slow motion, all four of us lean and peer over the edge.

Now we watch: The homeless man grumbles and shuffles to the edge of the platform. He reaches onto the track with his cane, attempting to pull the bill toward him.

I am already setting down my bag and taking off my coat. Then I hop onto the tracks.

This is not something you generally are advised to do. The platform is about 4.5 feet tall, and there may or may not be electric current running through the metal rail. For what it’s worth, I am wearing boots with rubber soles but this, along with many other thoughts about safety, doesn’t occur to me until later.

I’m standing on the Metro track and only thinking about how much a stranger’s $20 is worth.

I pick up the very grimy bill and hand it up to the man who is looking at me like I’ve just performed a miracle. He keeps repeating, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’m trying to say, “You’re welcome,” when it suddenly occurs to me that I’m not entirely sure how many minutes are left until the train comes—and that I don’t want to be standing on the track when I find out.

The Turkish tourist now has put down his book of maps next to my bag. As I place my hands on the platform’s edge, he extends his arms to help pull me up. “1, 2, 3,” he says. I jump on “3″ and it’s not pretty, but I scramble to safety.

Like a gentleman, he helps me put on my coat. “You must have climbed trees as a girl,” he says. I laugh—I never was very good at climbing.

Now the homeless man is smiling from ear to ear, waving the $20 bill around. I wish he would just put. that. bill. away. He is telling me about his granddaughter. She is his prize, he says, but she always wants… … … …he keeps talking, gesturing with his cane. I always try to listen when homeless people talk—because I’m not sure that many people do listen—but this time I can’t concentrate. My legs are shaking; I’m not sure why. I smile.

The train is entering the station now. “You’d better hang on to that $20,” I turn and joke, raising my voice over the noise of the cars on the rails where I was standing a few minutes earlier. When I turn back, the man in the suit is standing right next to me.

“Thank you for doing that,” he says. “I watched the money fall, and I thought to myself that there was no way I’d get that bill for him—and then you did.”

Having stated the obvious, he looks at me. I’m not sure how to respond. It’s kind of awkward.

The train stops, and I look the man in the eyes.

“It was the right thing to do,” I say.

The train doors open.

“It really was,” he says. “Thank you for being a good person.”

We all get on the same car.

Revisiting Those (20)13 Resolutions

Around this time last year, I wrote a post that detailed my New Year’s resolutions for 2013. I go back and forth about whether or not this was a good idea, whether or not it’s a habit worth continuing.

Let’s take a look at how I did on my (20)13 resolutions:

1. Run a half marathon.
2. Organize my finances.
3. Give up something for Lent again. Challenge someone else to do Lent with me.
4. Drink more tea.
5. Try real vegetarianism for at least a month. Include at least one week of serious, healthy veganism.
6. Bake a rainbow layer cake.
7. Make homemade yogurt.
8. Get back to D.C.—even if it’s just for a visit.
9. Bleed more.
10. Eat more pizza.
11. While I’m in Chicago, swim in Lake Michigan and find a coffee shop with a really good Nutella latte.
12. Go hiking/camping with Kim and Kane before they move.
13. Write a reported piece for CT that’s longer than anything I wrote in 2012.

My new home in D.C.

My new home in D.C.

Overall I completed 8.5 of 13 goals, and in the grand scheme of the year, some of the goals I finished were pretty huge: I challenged myself to give up an idol for 40 days; I stopped drinking coffee (and started again, of course); I went vegan (and stopped—that is hard stuff); I moved 1,000 more miles across the country; I stopped worrying about eating salads all the time; I spent a weekend in the Wisconsin boonies with two of my best friends; and I wrote a kickass, 5-page profile of an author who didn’t want to be profiled.

Those are the things I need to remember when I look back on 2013. I scrolled through my past blog posts this morning and realized that my blog doesn’t really reflect those accomplishments. Rather, it reflects a different side of 2013: It was a very, very hard year.

And I’m not sure 2014 will be totally different.

For reference: Here is an artist's rendering of my life.

For reference: Here is an artist’s rendering of my life.

The only thing that’s changed is that I know it now. I entered 2013 expecting it to be as grand as the year that preceded it, which was easily the best year of my life. Instead, 2013 felt like drinking from the firehose of hard life circumstances, and many of those things don’t change just because we call it a new year.

So that’s the lame part, and if you made it this far, kudos! Here’s the fun part (I guess?): I’m still making a list of resolutions this year, still putting them on the blog, and still hoping for the best in finishing them.

1. (Still) Run a half marathon. (already registered. BOOM. This is happening)
2. (Still) Bake a rainbow cake.
3. (Still) Make my own yogurt.
4. (Still) Get my finances organized.
5. Paint my bedroom. (here’s hoping this gets accomplished sooner rather than later)
6. Leave the country. (ch-ch-ch-check this one off the list, too. Also already happening. I started this list before I knew that, though)
7. Start researching/writing my book.
8. Go on a date. (…the bar is low here)
9. Blog 26 times—once every two weeks. (and the bar is high here)
10. See Kim and Kane again, one way or another.
11. Hike in Rock Creek Park.
12. Find and ask someone in D.C. to be my professional mentor.
13. Eat ramen at Toki Underground on H Street.
14. Learn to wake up without the snooze button on my alarm.

Okay, so clearly I started to run out of clever, deep goals for the year toward the end; I was mainly trying to reach 14 total goals that are not completely abstract or wildly un-accomplishable.

I mean, if we’re going to go there, it’s obvious what my goals would be:

1. Hold a sloth.
2. Cuddle a sloth.
3. Love a sloth.
4. Find a person to buy me a sloth.
5. Marry that person. ^^
6. Own a sloth.
7. Live happily ever after with my sloth.

sloth

12 Signs You Work at 1776

photo (2)Many of you have asked what I do, and even more of you have asked what 1776 does, exactly. 1776 is a startup incubator in downtown D.C.—directly across from the Washington Post building—that provides co-working space and resources for startups in highly regulated industries, such as health and education.Our co-working space (we call it “campus”) currently hosts about 175 member companies…and counting. Continue reading

When the chapter hasn’t ended yet.

There was one time I moved to D.C. and my experience caught me completely off guard. I had arrived in August, hopeful and expectant. But then the position I had lined up fell through almost as soon as I arrived, throwing me for a loop. A big, unexpected loop. A living-across-the-country loop so huge that I considered moving home—no small feat, especially since I had just arrived and was committed to staying for much longer than a few days.

Yet, a funny thing happened to me that one time I moved here: I survived.  Within a few weeks of what I was sure would lead to my ultimate doom and failure, I was doing all right. Almost two years ago today, I was walking into the Washington Post’s newsroom as an intern for the very first time.

I’ve been reminding myself of that story—my own story—quite often these days. It’s a story I love telling because it’s the best example of God’s faithfulness that I’ve ever experienced, and it has a good ending.

But how would I tell that story if I didn’t know the ending yet?

I would tell you that I arrived in D.C. with a lot of hopes. And a lot of plans.
I would tell you that things didn’t go exactly as I had planned.
I would tell you that I didn’t regret coming to D.C. at all. In fact, I’d tell you that I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
I would tell you that D.C. is awesome! (Because it is.)
I would tell you that I was confused about everything, too.
I would tell you that I don’t know what the next step is, and that I’m not really sure why things are happening this way.
I would tell you that if I think about it too much I start to get humbled, scared, overwhelmed, and a little bit nauseous.

Most of all, I would tell you that I was looking forward to the ending, however and whenever it comes, because, man—I really don’t like not knowing it.

That’s the story I’m telling this time around. I’m in D.C. and it’s not the transition I expected, but it is still so good. It’s taking a lot of faith. It’s taking a lot of energy. It’s taking a lot of…oomph (some unquantifiable term to describe the effort it takes to get out of bed at a reasonable hour). It’s taking a lot grappling with the unknown.

But here’s one thing I do know: God has a history of turning my biggest setbacks into the best experiences of my life. I’m looking forward to the day when I can write that history repeats itself.

Red String of Fate.

Wedding party

Ivan Postivka Photograpy

I spent much of the past week at home in Washington state, where I celebrated my childhood best friend’s wedding. I first intended to write this as a letter to her, but I decided at the last minute to amend and share it as a speech at her rehearsal dinner. Afterward, she reminded me of another memory I had forgotten entirely at the time; it’s funny how things come full circle.

I read once that East Asian cultures believe in what they call the “red string of fate.” In this myth, the gods tied an unbreakable red cord around the ankles of two people who were destined to be together. Regardless of time, place, or circumstances, the two would be drawn to each other time and again by the magical bond; though it might stretch, twist, or tangle, the cord would never break.

That story describes my relationship with my friend Morgann. And while I don’t believe in gods tying our ankles together, I do think God gave us each other long ago for good reasons I’m only now beginning to realize. I’ve never been more aware of just how much my heart needs Morgann.

full-1We have, at times, literally been tied at the ankles. In elementary school, Morgann and I ran the three-legged race in multi-church youth game competitions (which are just as deliciously churchy as you’d think) and we were fast. We dominated those races; we set the record. We could loop that Velcro band around our ankles, wrap an arm around each other’s shoulders, and just run in total lock step, totally in sync.

Maybe those three-legged races were more symbolic than we thought. When the games were over and the Velcro came off our ankles, I guess we just stayed that way in our hearts.

Over the last ten years, Morgann and I have done both everything and nothing together, especially since she started college in California and I adopted this annoying habit of moving farther and farther away. Our families live about half an hour away from each other, a distance I used to think was much too far; little did I know growing up that God would one day put an entire continent between us. Even back when Morgann and I were just thirty minutes part, we still went to different schools and churches. And then we chose unique universities and studied different subjects with distinctive vocations in mind. We made new friends and even drifted away from each other, as often happens with relationships forced to stretch over many miles.

And yet:

She is there. She was there. She always has been there, so much so that I can hardly recall a time in my life before her—before her heart was right next to mine. I think we both know that the red string that ties our hearts is made of so much more than just fried chicken and camping trips. It has stretched across continents of heartache, and twisted as we’ve helped each other fight our battles. The red string has been the rope with which she has saved me, pulling me up out of deep holes, time and again, when I didn’t know how to help save myself.

Even when I didn’t know my heart needed Morgann—perhaps especially then—she was there. I hope she knows that I was always there for her, too.

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Ivan Postivka Photography

She got married on Saturday, and I got to be there—really, physically, there. My presence there wasn’t perfect. It actually was very hard. Yet, Morgann showed me grace in many ways in the days leading up to her wedding, reminding me and my forgetful heart how much I admire both the girl she was and the woman she has become.  To be there Saturday was an honor: I dressed her, prayed over her, danced with her in the ready room. And then I watched her walk down the aisle and officially tie her heart to Nathan’s.

But the irony of my presence this weekend does not escape me: This is the first time I cannot be there with Morgann, either physically or metaphorically. My heart cannot go where hers is, into a new stage of life as a wife. I’m just not there yet, so it’s easy to feel like she’s going without me. It’s easy to feel like I’m losing my best friend.

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There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

But that’s not true. As I lamented on Friday afternoon that she was moving on without me, I collapsed onto my bed and happened to spot some old picture frames that I stored behind it. One was a gift from Morgann, a photo of the two of us on which she had printed a single verse: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

The words tugged at my heart, at that red string that still is in place. It might, actually, be stronger than ever.

Thank God for friends who grow up but never apart.