love letter to a 7th grader

Dear Charissie,

Today I dropped you off for your first day of 7th grade. I won’t lie, I cried a little after I finally got out of the madhouse that is the streets surrounding your school. I didn’t cry because I was so sad to be dropping you off but because I am just in awe of the wonderful person you have become and are in the process of becoming. What a joy! What a gift it has been watching you blossom.

I am so proud to be your big sister. I am just honestly so proud to know you. I’ve known lots and lots of kids your age throughout my life and I have to say that you are the most amazing of them all. I feel like when someone first said the phrase “march to the beat of your own drum,” they had you in mind.

It’s mind-boggling how much that phrase applies to you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are so apologetically authentic in who you are. There’s no real box you fit into at all — you have friends in all kinds of groups, your interests are crazy-varied, and your humor is ridiculous. You are both a tomboy and a little girly at times. And you’re perfect. I wouldn’t wish you to be any other way. I want lots of things for you in the future, but more than anything else I want you to remain undefined by the world.

When I dropped you off, I said all of the things I always say when I get to take you to school, whether it’s the first day or the hundredth: have a great day, learn something, I love you. But because today feels heavier and more significant than usual, I added a few new ones this year: be brave, be kind, be the best Charisse you can be. You rolled your eyes a little at me as you gave me a kiss and a hug, but those are my three wishes for you, three things I am praying for you this school year.

Be brave, my sister. It takes such courage to be brave. I hope you can be brave with your life so others learn from you how to brave with their lives. I hope you are brave in big ways but also in small ways, in ways that only you can fully understand and appreciate. I pray you are brave when others are mean or fearful or hurtful. I pray that you’re brave and you take risks, even if it means you will fail sometimes. Be brave enough to try and fail, because you’ll be brave enough to grow.

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Be kind, my lady man. There is enough cruelty in this world. You can contradict that poison with your gentleness, your compassion, and your love for others — it all comes from your kindness, your healing words. I’ve seen you do this with your friends. Keep doing it, every day. It is who you are and it is and will continue to make a difference.

Be the best Charisse you can be, my Charissie. You weren’t meant to be any other person. You weren’t meant to be like Heidi or Jane or Jader or Emma or anyone else but you and I love you exactly as you are. I tell our broken-hipped, noodle-necked Penny-dog all the time, “I wouldn’t want a Penny-dog any other way because it’s what makes you you” and even though you’re not a dog, the same applies. You are authentic because you embrace yourself fully. Be the best you. Don’t settle for less or for being someone else. Don’t let others convince you that you need to change.

I read a book recently called The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. White describes a scene where the main bird, Louis, is flying for the first time.

Louis was more excited than he had ever been. “I wonder if I can really do it?” he thought. “Suppose I fail! Then the others will fly away, and I will be left here all alone on this deserted pond, with winter approaching, with no father, no mother, no sisters, no brothers, and no food to eat when the pond freezes over. I will die of starvation. I’m scared.”

In a few minutes, the cob glided down out of the sky and skidded to a stop on the pond. They all cheered. “Ko-hoh, ko-hoh, beep beep, beep beep!” All but Louis. He had to express his approval simply by beating his wings and splashing water in his father’s face.

“All right,” said the cob. “You’ve seen how it’s done. Follow me, and we’ll give it a try. Extend yourselves to the utmost, do everything in the proper order, never forget for a minute that you’re all swans and therefore excellent fliers, and I’m sure all will be well.”

They all swam downwind to the end of the pond. They pumped their necks up and down. Louis pumped his harder than any of the others. They tested the wind by turning their heads this way and that. Suddenly the cob signaled for the start. There was a tremendous commotion — wings beating, feet racing, water turned to a froth. And presently, wonder of wonders, there were seven swans in the air — two pure white ones and five dirty gray ones. The takeoff was accomplished, and they started gaining altitude.

Louis was the first of the young cygnets to become airborne, ahead of all his brothers and sisters. The minute his feet lifted clear of the water, he knew he could fly. It was a tremendous relief — as well as a splendid sensation.

“Boy!” he said to himself. “I never knew flying could be such fun. This is great. This is sensational. This is superb. I feel exalted, and I’m not dizzy…

I was thinking about you and then a song called “Born to Run” came on the radio. I heard the lyrics, “Baby, we were born to run” and I thought about you and then Louis as he flies for the first time.

You weren’t born to run, my Goosie.

You might be scared to try that first time, but baby, you were born to fly. I am watching your body take flight, and let me tell you, sister, it is superb.

You are my greatest joy.

Love forever,
Sissy

dolphins, family, and dreaming big dreams

Dear President Beck,

Welcome to the dolphin family! My name is Krista Wilbur and I’m a CSUCI alum. I graduated in 2008 with a BA in English. I saw that you’re spending your first 100 days going on a listening tour and I would love to have you hear about my experience as a CSUCI alum.

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I began CSUCI in the spring of 2006 with a heavy burden on my shoulders. Life had dealt me some very unfair blows and I had very inadequate means to deal with those things, so when I came to CSUCI I was floundering. I struggled through my first semester, earning failing grades in most of my classes. Except one.

That one class was a lower division American Lit class required for my major. My professor had no idea about the things I was struggling with, but when I asked her to make up some work I’d missed, she gave me the green light. And that forever changed me, being allowed to make things right when for so long I had made things so wrong.

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I caught up in that one class and finished it with an A. My other classes didn’t follow. I ended the semester with a terrible GPA, and I had to appeal my financial aid, and I had to attend a special class for anyone on academic probation, but I kept on going. In the fall of 2006, I took three classes with that professor and she made me feel like I was going to be okay. She listened to me as I wanted to grow academically. She challenged on the papers I wrote, pushing me to find my voice as a writer and encouraging me to go further, dig deeper, and to rise above whatever it was I thought I could do.

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She also gave me space to breath in the midst of those heavy burdens I mentioned above. When she wrote one-act play as part of a festival of one-act plays, I found myself relating to the lead protagonist in so many ways. I sobbed as I wrote her an email after the plays that night, telling her all of these things that had been bearing down on me for so long. She wrote back, words that soothed me — words that I carry in my wallet on a piece of paper folded into eights, its edges frayed and thinning and taped together. In the months after, that professor met with me every other week and helped me write a book, one chapter at a time. I hope you lead CI in a way that encourages professors to pour into students — not just the book knowledge but the personal stuff, too.

That is CSUCI.

In the spring of 2007 I attended an info session about being an orientation leader. I signed up to assist, not lead, and a few months later I ended up signing up to do the whole thing. I spent that summer, and the one that followed, helping plan new student orientation, leading students around a campus I loved, encouraging them to get involved and to let college go through them, as Doc would say, instead of simply going through college. I made friends and was encouraged to go to grad school, to pick a program that was entirely different than anything I thought I’d ever do. Those two summers taught me so much about having a strong work ethic, how to fight fair, and above all else what it means to love what you do. I laughed until I was sick to my stomach, the tears rolling down my face. I would go back in time and do it all over again if I could. I can’t look at those pictures from those two summers without a swell of pride coming over me.

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Being an OL taught me that whatever college you pick, you can find yourself at home there. I didn’t need a brand-name college. As Malcolm Gladwell writes about in his book David and Goliath, I had the chance to be a big fish in a small pond and it was life-changing. I hope you will lead CSUCI in a way that allows students, no matter how large the campus may grow, to be Big Fish.

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That is CSUCI.

In the spring of 2008, as May broke open its first few days on the campus, I watched as people began to set up thousands of white chairs in the South Quad, then a stage parallel to Anacapa Village. I took graduation pictures on the upper floor of the Bell Tower, the Bell Tower Courtyard in the background. I sat in that very courtyard between classes, listening to the silence and watching the squirrels climb trees. I bought a graduation robe and cried at everyone of these milestones. It seemed liked I’d never walk across that stage with my history, but there I was. Some of the tears I cried were in disbelief, but most were in sorrow. I was ready to graduate, but I wasn’t ready to leave CSUCI. It had been the first of the four colleges I attended that felt like home. I hope you lead CI in a way that makes it difficult to leave because it meant so much.

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That is CSUCI.

I came to campus in the spring of 2006 with every expectation of being a parking lot student. After all, I was older than most of the people in my classes, except my professors. I worked full-time off campus. I was simply trying to find a place to finish out a degree that was going to take me forever to get. I didn’t want to make friends. I just wanted to get done.

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None of that happened. I fell in love with the history of the college, with the care of the professors, with the concrete walls of the classrooms and the beauty of being outdoors. I made friendships that have still lasted. I was pushed and stretched and I cried but I was taught never to quit. I found a place where finally, after so much searching, I belonged. I hope you lead CSUCI in a way that makes everyone who steps foot on campus feel that they belong.

That is CSUCI.

CSUCI is a culture of family, of inclusion. It is a place where it’s safe to learn and question, to make mistakes and figure out how to comprehend the consequences of your choices in a healthy, supported way. It’s a place where friendships are encouraged, formed, and nurtured. It is a place of learning, of growing, and pf becoming well-rounded. CSUCI has and always will feel to me like that moment when you get home from a long day at work, with tired and achy bones, and you put on your pajamas and sit down on the sofa and your muscles just stop having to work so hard and you feel free in who you are. All of the little moments add to that. I hope you lead CSUCI in a way that makes it feel like a refreshing breath, a place to relax.

That is CSUCI.

I visit CSUCI a couple of times a year, and although it’s changed since I graduated eight years ago, I always feel at home. The first place I like to go is the student center, to the wall where donors have their names etched in brick. I gave money as part of the Class of 2008 senior gift and my name is on that wall. See it there always thrills me because I feel so proud to have played a part, however small, in a school that changes people in ways so very big.

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I have never once regretted my decision to attend CSUCI. It was small and still so new when I began. It was a risk. And that risk has been the one of the greatest I’ve ever taken.

Sincerely, and with much dolphin pride,
Krista Wilbur, ’08

Just listen (#blacklivesmatter)

Nearly 15 years ago I was sexually assaulted in the parking lot of my favorite restaurant by someone I once loved and in a weird way, for a little while anyway, trusted. To have these safe things — a place and a person I loved once upon a time — taken away or used against me shattered me into the splinteriest of shards. Those shards ended up slivers of glass that pierced the skin of everyone near me, shrapnel that came from every direction, and pushed me away from them as the tried help but ultimately minimized my experiences.

That night gave me what I am sure is a PTSD, the effects of which I still feel at 33. I am hypervigilant. I don’t like being in the middle of large crowds where people can touch me and where I cannot see everyone. I don’t like hugs or most kinds of physical contact with people who haven’t earned the closeness of my skin. Loud noises make my startle far too easily. I wake up with my heart pounding if I hear a noise — I do not sleep heavily. Falling asleep is hard. Every once in a while a certain smell or sound or some sends me back to a very trying time.

Although I have healed so much, that experience has really shaped the rest of my life from that moment on. I was thinking about that tonight driving home. I was struggling to explain to someone earlier how I see value in the #blacklivesmatter movement, a movement some will call divisive. As I was trying to sort through my own experiences as a white woman to find something in my own narrative that could help me show why that movement is so important, it hit me: when I think about how own rape and its aftermath, I can understand this movement so much better.

– – – – – – – – – –

I haven’t always been so open to trying to understand the other side. In college, I hated the idea of white privilege — not because I had it, but because I didn’t really buy into its existence. I was, after all, really not that privileged because I was white. I grew up very, very poor. I grew up under the critical and judgmental eye of the public school system. I don’t think anyone really ever expected much from me. I couldn’t see my own privilege in my 20s but it’s so clear to me now the things I wasn’t able to see then: that people around me looked like me, that people on tv and in books looked like me, that my teachers looked like me… I wasn’t really so different after all.

Yet it wasn’t until my 30s that these things became visible to me. My last semester of my undergrad, when I was 25 years old, I wrote an editorial for the school paper. I called my article “Wasn’t Last Month Black History Month?” (I am cringing and embarrassed at the thought of this being published.) I wrote these words:

I stared at my computer with all of this information in front of me, trying to process what I was feeling, because it wasn’t a happy, peppy feeling. It was depressing and pessimistic, and then I realized what I’ve felt for a very long time about these “history months”: they’re kind of stupid and despite their best intentions, they actually serve to further divide people rather than unite them…

Let’s look at it this way: as a society, we say that we want all people to be equal. African Americans and Asian Americans and Hispanics are all the same as Caucasian Americans, right? Wrong. When we divide people up and force them to pick which group they “belong” to, we aren’t creating or even attempting to promote equality. Instead, by creating these sorts of divisions, these different groups, all we’re doing is highlighting how people are fundamentally different. These groups, and consequently, these [history] months, send that the message that African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and women are so different that they don’t deserve to have their history incorporated within a “normal” setting – they’re so different that they don’t deserve to be “integrated” – they have to have their own special month, just like they had their own special seats on buses and their own special camps and their own special schools.

I am actually ashamed to have written these words because I so totally missed the mark. In every history class and literature class in high school, I mostly learned about men and women who looked like me — white, Protestant men and women. I could barely tell you who those people so different-yet-equal to me where because I had no clue.

Something clicked inside of me when I was in those first few months of my 30s and suddenly I began to see that my world was made up of people who looking shockingly just like me. And not only do people look a lot like me but there are not a lot of people in Ventura County who are black. Info from the Census indicates that in Ventura County, the population of African Americans is 2.3% (source). This shocks me but it honestly shouldn’t, given how few black people I went to high school and college with. It shouldn’t, given that while I spent an hour at Target yesterday, I purposely looked at the races of those around me and saw exactly one black person.

I began to realize that my world was very, very full of white privilege as my 30s began.

– – – – – – – – – –

In the days after my rape, my body was like a rainbow of colors. I had intense bruises on my shoulders (from being slammed against a grainy brick wall), both my wrists (from having my hands gripped tightly by a man hell-bent on stripping me of my power, dignity, and agency of body), and one tiny one right in the small of my back (from where my house key dug into me as I was pushed against the wall). Blood, bright red and then brown when it dried and scabbed, covered my feet, hips, and thighs. Eventually the blood rinsed away and the bruises bloomed from bright purple to a sickly yellow and finally to nothing at all. All that color left my body and it seemed to take with it even more than the colors imparted on me in violence that night — it seemed to take with it everything that had once made me feel vibrant and joyful. The fading of the bruises and the rinsing of the blood made me feel like I was no longer alive.

I didn’t have any kind of words to explain this to anyone. I just had rage. I snapped at everyone. I felt constantly exhausted. I was afraid all of the time. No one felt safe — I only could ever relax at home, but even then it was hard because tv shows show rape. The news shows rape. Songs talk about rape. I couldn’t protect myself from rape no matter how hard I tried. Even if it was hearing or seeing a rape on tv, all I could feel were the bruises and blood that lingered in my body and radiated down to my bones, like a phantom limb itching and aching. Nothing was there, but the pain lingered.

Hearing others’ comments about how they would fight if that happened to them, or how they would rather die, or this or that made me feel like I would throw up. How dare they say those things?! How dare they even try to understand what it was like to be pinned up against a brick wall, barely breathing as a man’s hands wrapped around your own so tightly you felt your fingers go numb? How dare they say they’d scream when they had never had someone’s arm shoved so hard against their mouths that it felt like their teeth would shatter from the pressure? These comments made me so sad and so scared that I could either remain silent or act out in explosive rage. Rage is what won because the silence felt like it would kill me — or even worse, allow me to be killed.

– – – – – – – – – –

I cannot for a single second pretend to know what it’s like to be a black person living in “post racial” (in quotes for a reason) America. I have never been racially profiled. I have never been followed around a store by security guards. I was actually thinking about this yesterday because you know what happened to me once? About a year and a half ago, I was so terrified that my car wouldn’t pass smog, and that I wouldn’t be able to afford to fix it and renew its registration as a result, that I drove around for five months with expired tags.

If your tags are six months expired in California, your car can be impounded if you’re pulled over.

During month five, I was on my way to work one Sunday morning. I work seven minutes (five on a Sunday) from my house and about a minute away from the office, I saw blue and red lights flashing in my rearview mirror. My heart sunk and then it began beating faster. I pulled over into a parking lot just outside of work and put my hands on my steering wheel where they were visible, just as my dad, who works for the same department as the deputy pulling me over, had taught me.

The deputy asked for my license and registration, which I handed over. I explained my fears about my car failing smog and he saw my dad’s card in my wallet. A second car pulled up behind him — backup — and the first deputy waved the second car off. Then he gave me back my license and insurance and gave me a stern warning to get my car smogged because he didn’t want to see me again in town without current tags. He drove away and I drove to work, relieved that I didn’t get even a fix it ticket.

I was thinking about this today because I wondered: what if I had been a black man? I don’t know if I would have gotten away with a warning if the deputy hadn’t seen my dad’s business card. That is its own kind of privilege right there and that’s for a different time and place. And I don’t know that I didn’t get in trouble because I was respectful to the deputy — after all, I admitted that it was my fault and honestly it was. I couldn’t be mad that I got pulled over for a problem I created. But even if those exact circumstances applied to a black man, would it have all unfolded the same way?

I don’t know and that is what bothers me.

– – – – – – – – – –

My junior year in college, I attended some one-act plays one night, one of them written by a professor who has turned into a friend. In her play, her female protagonist admits she is raped. That night is the first time I was able to ever tell anyone “Me, too.” It was the first night I began to share the things that were burdening my heart, that were draining me of color. I wrote my professor a long email and she wrote back and said “I’m so sorry.” She listened to me talk about my experience. She read the words I wrote about it. She helped me process it and she helped me begin the healing. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so full of rage. Suddenly, it felt like instead of being drained of color, I was simply just washed out, that there was still something there, some kind of light waiting to burn brightly again inside of me.

A few months later, I participated in my first Take Back the Night event on my college campus. The following year, I helped coordinate and lead the Take Back the Night event. A year after that, I helped with parts of a Take Back the Night event at the university where I was interning for grad school. I also helped coordinate a Jeans for Justice/Denim Day campaign. I interned with a Rape Prevention Education Program at a university. I heard more and more people who helped legitimize my own experiences as a rape survivor. I heard others’ experiences, some vastly different than my own. Their own paths to healing looked nothing like mine.

Finally, there were people who validated all that I had been through.

– – – – – – – – –

This is why I believe there is such value in the #blacklivesmatter movement. My own narrative with rape is so short compared to their narratives of living black lives and with the history that comes with being black in America. I won’t try to argue that the two things come even close to each other. I am simply saying my own experiences with being victimized, and of ultimately finding myself and becoming a survivor, have helped me to understand what it must feel like to be constantly:

  • minimized
  • marginalized
  • criticized
  • invalidated
  • mocked
  • judged
  • shamed
  • and so much more

When I see rape portrayed on tv now, I remember. When I see rapists like Brock Turner receive a slap-on-the-wrist sentence, I feel like it’s happening to me all over again because it’s like no one even cares about the girls and women being raped. When I hear people say Josh Duggar doesn’t deserve more punishment because too much time has passed I feel like the color it took so long to get back could be sucked from my bones so easily if I allowed it to.

Instead I try to listen to the peacemarkers. Last week I went swimming at a friend’s house and her two kids, who are 10 and 12, a girl and a boy, were swimming with us in their pool. The kids were messing around and suddenly the game that had been fun for my friend’s daughter was no longer fun. She told her brother to stop and he didn’t, because 30 seconds before his sister was laughing at him. Her mom called them over to where we sat and told her son, “Even if she liked it a minute ago, as soon as she says stop, you stop. That’s important for everyone but especially for you as a boy.” I almost cried while were swimming because those words were like the most beautiful arrow piercing my heart — healing it, not hurting it.

I listen to those who tell me, “Me, too,” when they hear my story. I listen to the ones who sit besides those who been raped and are in the hospital, advocating for the ones who feel silenced. I listen to the ones who grew up and spoke out instead of being hushed.

I listen.

– – – – – – – – – –

I want to go back in time and speak some tender words to the 25-year-old Krista who typed these words in anger on her computer: “When we divide people up and force them to pick which group they ‘belong’ to, we aren’t creating or even attempting to promote equality. Instead, by creating these sorts of divisions, these different groups, all we’re doing is highlighting how people are fundamentally different. ”

Dear Krista, I would say. A day is coming where you will see yourself as different. You will understand that your rape separates you on a real level from others who haven’t been raped. You will know that they don’t understand, but so many will eventually seek to hear your wordsm to read your story, and they will celebrate the things you have done and the woman you have become because of that thing that makes you so different. You are fundamentally different, and sister, it’s okay to let it be so.

– – – – – – – – – –

I have utmost respect for law enforcement officers. My dad is one. He is fair and honest and kind and I am proud of the work that he does. A few months ago, just down the road from where I work, one of his fellow peacemakers had to shoot a man who was advancing at him with a knife at an incredibly close distance. Someone, stuck with countless other cars in the traffic created by the incident, filmed the whole thing on their cell phone and the video was posted on a local news station’s facebook page. It was heartbreaking to see it happen. But it had to happen. Sometimes the police have to to these things as they keep the peace. No one wakes up in the morning hoping they get to kill someone — that would make that person a lunatic.

But it happens. As when it does, I listen to the why. I seek to understand. And I feel so thankful for the men and women who put on a uniform every day and protect me. What courage and bravery that takes, never knowing what your day will look like, or how it might end. This isn’t a bash against the police, the vast majority of whom are also fair and honest and kind like my dad, who I love so much.

This is a cry to stop what you’re doing and simply listen.

When you don’t understand: listen.

When you feel like the other side is wrong: listen.

When you cannot see how your skin has given you a VIP pass in life: listen.

Just listen.

If we would simply listen black people when they say they’re hurting, maybe the rage they feel would be tempered because we would stop attempting to invalidate them and their experiences.

– – – – – – – – – –

You cannot tell me the sorrow and grief I felt when the future Krista died the night of her rape wasn’t real.
You cannot tell me sorrow and grief they feel when their brothers and sisters are dying isn’t real.

You cannot tell me it didn’t happen.
You cannot tell them it isn’t happening.

You cannot tell me it wasn’t rape.
You cannot tell them it isn’t death.

You cannot tell me it didn’t impact everyone around me somehow.
You cannot tell them it isn’t impacting everyone around them in countless ways.

These things are real and I get to feel them and share them.
These things are real and they get to feel them and share them.

– – – – – – – – – –

Even if it is the only thing you can do:

Just listen.

Pray

When I first started working at Calvary Nexus, our lead pastor ask anyone who was in the office on Friday afternoon if they’d like to meet in his office around 2 pm to pray. We had a pretty consistent schedule of people who worked on Fridays and no one said no. We’d cram into his office, two of his sitting on the couch and to more on his extra-nice reception chairs. Sometimes we’d have to bring in an extra rolling chair. It was a lot of people in one office and I loved it.

After working for four years at my previous job, which at times had the feeling of being so cut-throat, I was elated to spend twenty or so minutes in prayer with my coworkers each day. My final two years at my previous job, I had been walking with Jesus but never would have imagined that I would gather to pray with my coworkers. I still didn’t love praying out loud, although I had definitely gotten more comfortable with it after attending church for a few years and being a student in our church’s School of Ministry program.

Eventually, those Fridays turned into a prayer meeting at 10:30 am on Friday mornings. We have a team of ladies who come assemble our programs on Fridays and we would gather as soon as they were done. Those ladies stuck around most of the time but not a lot of others came so we moved the gathering to 8 am.

8 am. On a Friday morning. For an hour. I wanted to cry.

My normal work days didn’t begin until 9 am and this was a perfect fit for me. I would get up around 8:30, wash my face, brush my teeth, change into regular clothes, and be at work by 9. But having to get up at 7:30 am proved hard. I began setting my alarm earlier and earlier in order to get to the office on time.

At first I dreaded those hours. It seemed so impossibly hard to spend an hour in prayer. I could binge watch Netflix for an hour or read without interruption for an hour. I could talk about books or Celine Dion for an hour. I could do anything for an hour but I was sure I couldn’t pray for an hour.

I will never forget the first week of our hour-long prayer gathering. It was when it was still at 10:30 and I purposely left my phone in my office, where I wouldn’t be tempted to look at the time relentlessly. I prayed. I listened to others pray. I constantly had to refocus my mind on God. And then the pastor said, “Amen,” and I was shocked silly.

I could barely believe an hour had passed. It seemed like no time at all.

I have spent many work hours praying over the last few years. We gather on Fridays and right now on Wednesdays for an hour and on Sunday mornings for half an hour to pray. I come to these gatherings with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Some mornings I pop out of bed, super refreshed and ready to go, ready to start my day with some prayer and stillness with my church family. Some Wednesdays, I am hungry to seek God’s face in the middle of an always-busy week.

But not every week. Sometimes I am a crank. I like sleep. And I’m not always very good at putting down my book or turning off Netflix at 11 pm. So when my alarm goes off at 7:15 on Friday mornings, or 6:30 on Sundays, I feel tired. My eyes are stuck together and I don’t want to get out of bed. On Wednesdays, when I’ve been at work for a just a few hours, it’s hard to tear myself away from a big project or from my emails to drive to a church across town.

But every.single.time the pastor leading the group issues that final “Amen” and we all open our eyes and blink at the other people in the room, I know one thing: I will never regret that hour, or half an hour, of prayer. I still might be tired. I still might have a to-do list eight miles long. But my heart feels centered. My feet feel a little more stable on the ground.

But my attitude is not the same, no matter how much sleep I didn’t get or how many things I have to accomplish in the day.

God doesn’t need my prayers. He can and will do whatever He wants whether I pray or not. But every time I pray, my heart is changed. It’s clear to me that I am the one who needs to pray. It’s not about how God answers my prayers — and He always does, whether it’s with a yes, a no, or a not yet. It’s about how He changes my heart through that time together.

Even in my own prayer time away from the office, when I’m lying in bed after a long, hard day, a day with lots of tears, and I’m praying in that hushed angry voice I get when I’m trying not to cry because I don’t like crying, God changes me. Even when I’m driving in rush hour traffic and begging God because I don’t understand so many situations seem to not make any sense on this side of Heaven, God changes me. Even when the tears are running down my face as I celebrate and I am uttering prayers of rejoicing and thankfulness, God changes me. Even when my body is shaking because I am so upset and I can’t even pray because the words won’t seem to come, God changes me.

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Those changes that take place in my heart during these times of prayer are profound. They build up on top of each other, one after another, grace upon grace. They turn me into a different person. They soften my hard heart. That soothe my big emotions.

They remind me of the might and mercy of a magnificent God.

Prayer isn’t just for Friday mornings at 8 and Sundays at 8:15 and Wednesdays at noon. It’s for every moment of our lives. Prayer is what gets me through and connects me to God in the most intimate of ways.

I am so thankful to be with Him in every season and every emotion. It fills my soul.

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This post is part of a series leading up to my book launch! Check back here on Tuesday for the next installment. And if you haven’t preordered my book Four Letter Words, you definitely want to do it no! Fill out this link and I’ll send you an invoice.

Rise

God did lots of amazing things when I was at the IF:Gathering a few months ago (I wrote a little about it here), but it was the end of that weekend where the things He did humbled me to my very shaky bones. And what I love best about God is how His love for each of us is so personal and so specific — He loves us each in the different ways we need to be loved. He pulls our lives together in ways that make sense for me. In Austin, He created a story so intricate that I can’t share what happened on Sunday without talking about what happened on Thursday when I sat on an airplane in the last seat in the last row for three and a half hours.

As I left Los Angeles at 8:30 am Thursday morning, I glanced out the window and saw the vast, blue ocean below me and I snapped a picture of it to post to Instagram later. In the notes app on my phone, I wrote, “I’m coming into this long weekend expectant but with few expectations — I just long to see God move.” I closed the app after that and took out my Bible. I had a message to prepare for the high school girls I was speaking to on Sunday night. I read a few verses, thought about a few things, and started drafting my message. A few hours later, I was hot and sweaty and my sinuses hurt from the pressure of the plane, but I had a message I was proud of. I had confidence in delivering it.

Friday at the conference, I heard so many great speakers. And Saturday morning, there were many other great speakers, too, women who I respect immensely, whose stories made me long to love God with even more of my heart and life than I do now. I felt inspired and motivated.

Then Angie Smith, who has had the most impact on my faith walk a person can have, got up to speak. She wasn’t even supposed to speak. But she that her refusal to speak was disobedience, and the founder of IF overheard her and gave her 15 minutes. I am beyond humbled that God gave her those 15 minutes because it was while she was talking about the first two questions in the Bible — the snake to Eve and God to Adam and Eve — that I heard God tell me Talk to those high school girls about shame.

Shame? But that wasn’t what I had spent hours on the plane writing about.

Shame. Talk about shame, Krista. Talk about the shame I’ve taken from you and how you still give it Me every day.

So. Shame it was. While my friend Stef and a few other girls went to a cool shopping area in Austin, I holed up in Starbucks for three hours, deleting and copying and pasting my notes as I did some searching on shame. When Stef texted me that she was ready to meet me at the car, I saw that I had something ever better than what I wrote on the plane. And funny enough, as I was preparing to share my testimony, which is riddled with things that have caused me great shame in my own life, shame I thought was totally gone, I felt these waves of emotion rising through me. That emotion was straight up shame.

I felt unworthy to deliver this message.

Never mind that I was confident in my bones that it was God who had given me the message in the first place.

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I did the only thing I could do: I prayed specifically as I opened that God would rise up and be greater than the shame I felt, that I would rise up to the task that He had set before me.

I have to do that every day. Every time I post about my own experiences on Facebook or on my blog or anywhere, I wonder, “What will people who don’t know yet think of me? Will they look at me as less?” And so yet again I must turn it over to my God.

If I have to do that every day for the rest of my life, then so be it. I will refuse to bow down to the fear and taunts from an enemy who tells me I am not good enough; instead I will rise up to use the gift that God has given me, even when it feels daunting.

He is, after all, worth the climb.

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This post is part of a series leading up to my book launch! Check back here on Tuesday for the next installment. And if you haven’t preordered my book Four Letter Words, you definitely want to do it now! Simply fill out this form and I’ll send you an invoice.

Sift

I’ve moved a lot. I mean, a lot.

Growing up, that meant going to ten different schools by the time I finished elementary school. I used to get really bothered by the fact that I couldn’t list all of the schools I’ve been to because there were just so many. It seems like a made-up number but it’s not. Some years, I went to multiple schools (in sixth grade, I sat in seats at three different schools). I moved so much, in fact, that my academic record doesn’t exist on paper until 7th grade, when I transferred to my second middle school.

I hated it. I hated not having friends and never feeling like I knew what was really going on around me. I used to think that I would never move when I grew up.

I was wrong.

As an adult, I have moved a lot. It seems as though every few years I grow restless. I’ve rented rooms and lived alone in apartments. I have lived in dorms over summers. I have been a roommate with someone in their house. I’ve moved my furniture around my bedroom when the restlessness grew deep within me but I wasn’t able to fill boxes with my life and put them in a different house.

I’ve been living in the same house for a lot time — it will be two years in August. It’s a record since… well, probably for almost my whole life.

The thing I’ve found so cleansing about moving is that it’s the only time I want to throw away so many things. It’s the only time I have ever felt comfortable letting go.

As a kid, we didn’t really have a lot of our stuff move with us from home to home. because we didn’t have much stuff to begin with. As an adult, I have boxes and boxes of stuff. I moved them from one room to the next house to the dorm back to a room again. I stored them in a storage facility. I watched those boxes and bins get beat up and lose their lids. I’ve taped the sides of busted cardboard boxes up and scribbled the contents on the top in dying Sharpies.

The last time I moved, I got rid of so much. I looked at those boxes taking up space in the shed outside and I thought about my new house and my big closet. It was big enough but not so big that all of those boxes would fit. I was filled with an overwhelming urge to throw it all away. I didn’t care what as in the boxes. I just wanted to be free from all of it.

So every night after work, I would sit outside as the light grew dim and the porch light turned on automatically. It was summer and big mosquitoes flew around my sweaty skin. I swatted them away as I pulled everything out of those boxes, one memory at a time.

That’s what I realized I was holding onto after a while — the memories and the way my physical stuff made me feel. I had so many emotions tied to all of it. My orientation leader binder from college? I saw that and instantly I was filled with days spent with my friends as we laughed and helped students. I thought about the secrets we shared and the time I wore my new wetsuit in the swimming pool. I remembered waking up and seeing pictures on Facebook of Sarah drinking my salsa from the jar. I remembered Eva going with me to get my first tattoo.

It was like this for every item. All my books from grad school. The awards that I had won in college. My notebook of high school essays. Boxes of pictures. An old DVD player. Thing after thing. A duffle bag full of clothes that I wore when I was much thinner. A big box full of journals.

So I took every item from the box and made myself decide if I loved it or if I loved the memories tied to it more. More often than not, the memories of the things got to me. And I began to understand that I could have the memories without the things. My ability to see my joy in the past wasn’t because I had access to a binder or a pair of jeans or a picture. My heart would always remember those memories even without the things.

I threw away a lot, probably 75% of the stuff I had stored. I donated tons. I freed myself from so much in those early summer evenings as I sweated my way through sorting out my life.

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Life is kind of like this for me, too. It requires sifting. Some things I have carried with me for too long. I have tried to give them to God but have let my sticky fingers grasp tightly to those things, to that pain. And it’s done no good. It’s only weighed me down in ways that have prevented me from moving forward.

It’s kept me from getting close.
It’s kept me from being free.
It’s kept me from worshiping God fully.

I don’t want those things. None of them are so dear to me that I want to carry their weight and sorrow on my back for the rest of my life.

It’s a fine line  when it comes to discarding them, though. I’m finding the balance of saying goodbye to the things like shame and guilt and condemnation while still being able to look back at the things that happened and talk about them with others in order to help bring healing to those people.

Finding this balance is all about seeking God’s grace and mercy as I remember and move forward.

As I sift, I am so honored at the joy that I get to keep, the beauty that I get to hold on to. It has been a crazy-beautiful life and letting go of the hard and the bad and the negative means that there is more space of glory and joy.

I’ll do the process every day for the rest of my life to make more room for the things that really matter.

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This post is part of a series leading up to my book launch! Check back here on Tuesday for the next installment. And if you haven’t preordered my book Four Letter Words, you definitely want to do it now! Simply fill out this form and I’ll send you an invoice.

Back

So much of my life I spent wishing I could go back.

Back to rushing into grad school when I wasn’t positive what I wanted to do.
Back to basically almost failing out of college (twice).
Back to the night I said yes to going on a date, the night I was raped.
Back to choosing not to carry my pregnancy.
Back to when the molestation began.

I have wished to go back so I could do something. So I could say something. So I could alter the course of what was to come. These things, I see them now in a way I couldn’t as a teenager and in my early twenties. I see how they were building blocks for bad choices. One thing preceded the next, and each new thing made me feel a little more reckless and a little less alive.

I want to go back and rescue that little girl. I want to save her from a man who made her feel like no one could protect her. I want to go back and reassure that teenage mom. I want to tell her that it would be hard but she would figure it out. I want to go back and hold that college girl as she wept, so afraid she would never made it. I want to wipe her tears and tell her that she was going to make it through. I want to tell that grad student filling the whole in her heart with school that it didn’t matter how great her GPA was and how well she scored on the comps. I want to convince her that she didn’t need to find her worth in those numbers.

But I can’t. As much as my heart longs for me to be able to close my eyes and reach back into time, I just cannot.

And you know, in a weird way, I don’t think I really want to anymore.

I heard a speaker last week talk about the life he and his wife had before her massive stroke at 26. It should have killed her but God spared her life. The husband said that sometimes they had wished they could go back to before — before the stroke and the endless disabilities and medical tests and surgeries and and and.

Then he said, his voice so steady and clear, “We could never go back because we were different people.”

The experience had changed him. He could not unknow. He couldn’t go back to the person he was and his wife was because time and heartache had changed them, but the change all wasn’t for the worse.

God reminded me gently then, “No matter how hard you burn to go back, you can’t. You only get to move forward, and forward is so much better than back could ever be.”

It’s so true. I can look back and yearn for a peaceful life, but it won’t be do any good. I can pine for the person I would have become had those terrible things not happened to me, but she will never be someone who exists in reality — only in my imagination will I know her. And that is a little hard. I mourn for that girl who never got to see the light of day. But. There is always a but.

I can say clearly now, my own voice steady and unwavering: how can I long to be anything but thankful for the woman I am today? I have endured so much. I have suffered and I have cried and I have feared for my life. It has been a hard and an unfair road compared to so many my age.

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But I have known joy, joy that has imparted itself in my very bones, into my DNA. I have laughed and celebrated and had my heart changed and stretched. I have felt love that is so beautiful is leaves me breathless, heart racing. I look in the mirror and I don’t see a face that reflects a lifetime of suffering. I see a face that reflects a lifetime of delight.

If I could go back, I might not be hurt so badly. But I might miss all the joy. I might miss the moments that have made me proud of who I am today. When I think about all those times God told me, “Look ahead. Focus on what I have down the road for you,” I remember how hard it was for me to have trust and how somehow I did it.

Not trusting would mean that the great hope I have seen and felt and have within me would be diminished.

So I’ll choose to trust. I won’t look back, at least not in a way that leaves me wishing I could change things. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ll never really be able to fully understand while I’m on this earth why I had to suffer, why my road started out on such uneven footing. But I trust that there is a plan, and I see it unfolding in front of me like a map, one panel visible at a time. I see how my words and my experiences are bringing others light in their darkness.

I can never go back because I am a different person. And it’s simply beautiful.

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This post is part of a series leading up to my book launch! Check back here on Tuesday for the next installment. And if you haven’t preordered my book Four Letter Words, you definitely want to do it now! You can preorder it here.