Dear, 15 Year-Old Me…

Dang, y’all – 35 years goes by so fast.

My mom always told me: the older you get, the faster time flies. As usual, she was right. I’ll never forget something Sandy Johnson said to me: Lacey, you don’t really ever age in your mind. I’m in my 50’s, but in my mind, I’m still 26.  I believed her because she was Sandy Johnson, but I now know it to be true. Age is just a number is something I thought old people told themselves to make them feel better about aging – but no – it’s true. Age really is just a number.

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Thank God, because I don’t ever plan on growing up. Neverland will remain my home and Peter Pan will always be my boyfriend.

I started thinking about what life was like at 15. Taylor Swift sums it up perfectly in her song Fifteen. Everything was so much easier back then. Whoever said being an adult was better – lied. Straight up lied. Oh, what my 35 year-old self would tell my 15 year-old self! Which got me thinking… What would I tell my 15 year-old self? Here’s what I came up with…

Dear 15 Year-Old Lacey,

It’s both a good thing and an unfortunate thing you don’t know how your story will unfold over the next 20 years. If you did, you’d do a lot things very differently and keep a lot the same…

You’d make wiser choices. You’d be more courageous and take more risks. You wouldn’t care so much about what people think about you – Especially in your bathing suit. You’d pick people over productivity. You’d buy the one way ticket.

You’d stay clear of the players you knew would inevitably break your heart into a million pieces. You wouldn’t have ignored the red flags. You would’ve listened to your gut.

You would get a college degree. You’d boldly state your opinion when asked. You would learn how to take care of yourself – body, mind, soul and spirit. You’d spend less time in the office and more time in the studio. You’d spend less time in the studio and more time with the people who love you – like your mom. You will only have her with you on this earth 24 and a half more years, so don’t waste a moment you have to cherish her.

You would’ve rejected those credit card offers and learned how to create a budget and stick to it. You would’ve been content to drive your 2003 blue Honda Civic Si till it drove its last mile.

You would’ve listened to your mother more. You would’ve prayed more. You would’ve guarded your heart better. You would’ve believed what God could do through you.

You wouldn’t have cut your hair like Felicity’s and you would’ve learned how to use a flat iron… and TONER. You would’ve demanded your hair stylist use TONER. *face palm*  And, while we’re talking about hair – you never would’ve dyed it red or brown. Mom was right. You look so much better as a blonde.

You would’ve gone to that intimidating audition – knowing full well you didn’t have a chance. You would’ve told that guy you liked him – knowing full well you didn’t have a chance with him.

You would’ve left that movie earlier or later so that guy wouldn’t have rear-end you at 55 miles an hour.

You would’ve ended that relationship sooner.

You wouldn’t have let that person go.

Lacey Louise, I know it sounds like your 35 year-old self has a lot of regrets. And, she does. I know it seems like she’s experienced heart break beyond what your teenage mind can fathom right now. And, she has. But, you know what? Just because she regrets it doesn’t mean she would change it. It’s made her who she is. It’s made you what you’ll eventually become.

You should know you’re going to live an incredibly blessed life. You’re going to travel the world. You’re going to love the wrong guys whole-heartedly. And, yes – it’ll result in heartbreak most of the time – but at least you gave your all, even if it wasn’t wanted. You will be proud of yourself for that.

You’re going to serve tables. You’re going to sky dive twice. You’re going to swim in the Sea of Galilee. You’re going to get your nose pierced. You’re going to work for a software company and wonder every day why in the world God has you there?. You’re going to create services and productions that will bring people closer to Jesus. You’re going to pioneer a school that will teach hundreds of people how to dance, sing, act, play music and hang from the ceiling on apparatuses.

You’re going to love animals and help the homeless – just like mom. Speaking of mom, you’re going to be more like her than you prefer to be right now. But, trust me – around 34, you’re going to be more than okay with that.

You will meet so many people who leave hand prints on your heart. People like Gail, Sandy, Bekah, Brianne, Rodney, Becky, Rachel, Taylor, Yvonne, Kevin, Brian, Nicole, Dede, Nathan, Grant, Telvin, Beca and Dave. Each one of these people will change you for the good. They are going to be a reflection of God’s unfailing love and grace in the brightest and darkest times of your life. They’re your tribe. It won’t matter how much time passes, what web of sin you find yourself in or traumatic life event you encounter. They’re going to be there in body, spirit or both. Never take them for granted.

Then there are the hundreds of dance students God will entrust to you. Those hand prints will bring you so much joy and sense of purpose. That’s because you are called to teach dance. Don’t ever think just being a dance teacher isn’t enough. It’s what He made you to do – no matter how old you get or where life takes you. His calling is irrevocable. Those students will teach you more than you teach them. Each one of them are as unique as the stars in the sky. Treat them how you wish your teachers treated you. While you may not be a mother for a long time, they’ll make you feel like you are – and they’ll make you so proud.

Let’s talk about your beautiful family… I already mentioned you only have 24 and a half years left with your mom. You should take more pictures. I know you both hate having your picture taken, but do it anyway. You’ll be so glad you did.  (And, just so you know, this will be easier when you get a smart phone.) You’re going to take her on adventures like she’s never experienced. This will serve to create memories that will keep her alive in your heart and mind. Savor every moment you have with her. Every moment. By far, her hand print will always be the most influential.

After much prayer on everyone’s part, your brother will hear the will of the Lord and choose to marry Kristen. Haha. They’re going to have the most beautiful boys who will leave the tiniest, healing hand prints on your heart. Kristen will be the sister you never had. Her hand print will become even more evident when you encounter a life altering, personal shipwreck. She and your brother’s collective hand print will bring the brightest joy and provide much needed healing to your soul.

Just so you know, your dad will never cease to blow your mind. Just when you think you’ve figured him out, he will surprise you with his generosity, wit, wisdom, support, and rock-solid love. And, he is going to be the best grandfather you could ever imagine. You’re going to wonder where this version of him has been your whole life. The way he takes care of your mom all the years she battles cancer, you’re going to pray your future husband has half the amount of patience, love and support as your dad does. He will be the hero of your family, but remember he needs you as much as you need him.

I hate to break it to you, but you won’t have met your person – the man you’re going to love for the rest of you life – yet, but don’t worry. He’s out there. I know seeing all your friends get married, have kids and live seemingly perfect lives will make you feel like you’re on the clearance shelf every once and awhile. When you feel that way, tell yourself that Christ is in you and you are enough. Cause you are – just the way you are. You are enough for God. You’re enough for you. And, you will be more than enough for the man you spend the rest of your life loving. Just remember, there are worse things than being single…Marrying the wrong person is one of them! You’ll be SO glad you didn’t marry any of the guys you’ll consider to be options.

Funny enough, you’re going to be able to check off living in Texas off your bucket list by the time you’re 35. The situation that takes you there, the city itself and the people God puts in your life will shape you into a  stronger, better, braver version of yourself than you ever thought imaginable.  I’m not going to lie to you… It’s going to be scary. You’re not going to want to stay. You will experience depression and anxiety for the first time. But, if you don’t give up and trust God’s healing process, you’re going to be more than okay. You’re going to rise strong. You’re going to thrive. You’re going to live the next 35 years plus with a God-glow you could only get from persevering through adversity.

God’s got you, Lacey. And, this is just the beginning…. a new beginning of the rest of your life.

Standby for greatness,

Your 35 Year-Old Self

PS… I know you don’t like coffee now, but you’ll become an addict around 27. 😉

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Christ Is In Me. I Am Enough.

Lacey and Brianne, We Need to See You in My Office…
I remember the conversation vividly. It was a Wednesday right after our morning schedule of dance classes. My 16 year-old self and my best friend, Brianne, were called into the artistic director’s office.  We didn’t know what to expect. We knew we hadn’t done anything wrong. We’d been taking non-stop dance classes all week from a guest choreographer and were having the time of our lives learning his amazing repertoire.  Surely, whatever she and her husband had to talk about had to be about something good…

Artistic Director: We need to have a difficult conversation… We know this will be hard to hear, but we love you both SO much and only want the best for you.

Me and Brianne: *Nodding our heads*

Artistic Director: After talking with guest choreographer who will remain nameless, he confirmed what we’ve thought for awhile, but never wanted to address with you because we know it’s a sensitive subject.

Me and Brianne: *Nodding our heads*

Artistic Director: He thinks, and we agree, you two have a lot of potential – the most potential out of all the dancers in the company, but what is holding you back now and what will hold you back from being hired by companies in the future is your weight.  We think both of you need to focus on losing at least 20 lbs.

Me: *trying to stay calm and just breathe*

Brianne: *tears welling up in her eyes*

Artistic Director: Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah….

That’s about all I heard after that. As soon as we were dismissed, we jumped in the car and drove straight to Taco Bell. Brianne got a taco salad thinking that was the healthy option and I got a Chili Cheese Burrito, Mexi Melt, Cinnamon Twists AND a Dr Pepper. HA! Take THAT, Mrs. Artistic Director! You tell me I need to lose weight? Fine. I’m gonna do the exact opposite! Binge till my stomach is full and my heart stops hurting.

Hello, Shame. It Sucks to Officially Meet You.
My screw you attitude was in FULL flight, but deep down – I knew they were right about me. Now, Brianne, on the other hand, was already thin. I think I was more pissed at them for telling her she needed to lose the same amount of weight as me. But, whatever. Anyways…

My artistic director confirmed what I had told myself my whole life. I was too fat to be a professional dancer.

That moment, introduced me to shame like I had never encountered before. What hurt the most was my artistic director wasn’t just my teacher. She was my mentor and my hero.  I wanted to be her when I grew up. I know she meant well, but when the person you admire the most thinks you’re not enough, what do you do then? You fall into the vicious, non-stop cycle of shame – That’s what.

Shame by Definition
I’ve been reading a lot about shame lately. ICYMI, it’s the latest buzz word in the counseling world (along with vulnerability and authenticity).  Shame doesn’t care who you are – we all experience it whether we realize it or not.

A shame researcher (yes, such a thing exists), Brené Brown, defines shame this way:

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Shame sounds like the voices in our head that tell us:

Who do you think you are?

You are never enough… and you never will be.

Shame Has Babies
You know what shame breeds? Perfectionism. You know what perfectionism breeds? Comparison.

Just so you know, dancers are some of the most perfectionistic people on the planet. Bless our sweet, little hearts… Not only are we required to have perfect technique, but we’re required to have the perfect body to execute this perfect technique. And, while we’re striving for perfection, all we see are other dancers around us who have better technique and better bodies. ShamePerfectionismComparison… It’s a vicious, non-stop cycle… and it’s exhausting on every level.

And, guess what? This cycle easily transferred over to my career in dance education and full-time ministry. How fortunate for me…

I never thought I was enough…My work, my body, my choreography, my teaching technique,  my creativity, my singleness…  I am not enough.  Unfortunately, shame makes you do things to prove you’re worthy of love, acceptance and belonging… and they’re not always good things. For me, it made me open and susceptible to sin. The kind of sin I could allow God to forgive me of, but couldn’t forgive myself.

Then when you add in my personal shipwreck known as the first eight months of 2016, the shame cycle about destroyed me beyond what I thought was repairable.

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Getting My God-Glow Back
On August 9, I made a conscious decision: This is NOT how my story is going to end. I was no longer going to let my story be narrated by shame, perfectionism, and comparison. Something clicked. I decided to be the woman my mother always told me I was. I decided to believe what God believes about me. I decided to get my God-glow back.

I had spent eight months grieving my past, wanting things to go back the way they were before the shipwreck. But, it hit me…. I was a broken, hot mess of a person who never felt like she was enough. Why in the heck would I want to go back to her and that place in my life?

So, I adopted a new mantra I learned from Steven Furtick:

Christ is in me. I am enough.

So now when shame, perfectionism and comparison try to tell me I’m not enough or question my audacity, I literally say that mantra out loud. Multiple times if I have to. Thinking it just doesn’t cut it. I’m sure people who hear me think my crown is a little crooked, but I don’t give a crap. It works. I know this to be true because a friend recently told me I was getting my God-glow back. Ya dang right I’m getting my God-glow back…Christ is in me. I AM ENOUGH.

The Art of Self-Compassion
You know what else has been essential to getting my God-glow back? Self-Compassion. This a completely new concept for me. I’ve been nothing but mean and cruel to myself for so long. If I treated others like I treated myself, I wouldn’t even want to be my friend!

Trust me, I am more aware of my flaws than ever before (and so is everyone else), and guess what? I’m okay with them. I’ve accepted them, and am learning to give myself grace in every area of my life. It’s amazing what happens when you’re kind to yourself. It feels a lot like freedom.

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You know what makes me laugh? I used to place such a high value on productivity. It didn’t matter if I was at work, in the dance studio or at home. You know what that was, right? The hustle… the striving to be enough. To prove my worth to myself and others. Guess what is NOT on my list of things I place high value on? You guessed it: Productivity.

If anything, I have learned:

The most productive thing I can do for my heart and soul is be compassionate and kind to myself.

The person I am becoming will always be deeply flawed, but I’m liking her so much better already. She’s kind to herself. She extends grace to herself. For the first time, she’s taking care of her body, heart, spirit and soul. The grace she’s been shown has changed her forever. She’s moving forward – only looking back to see how God has used everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING – for her good.

But, most importantly, she believes that Christ is in her and she is enough… And so are you.

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The Good, the Bad and the Wicked

When I was a little girl my absolute favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz.  I’d parade around my house wearing my little rainbow dress, drape my basket over my arm, while clinging to my stuffed animal version of Toto. My parents claim it was adorable. I will take their word for it. rainbow One of my most vivid, cherished childhood memories is when my dad would sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow while slow dancing with me in our tiny living room. I hope he’ll slow dance with me to that song again someday.

As most children were, I was scared to death of the Wicked Witch of the West. She didn’t have a name, you know. All we know is she was a mean, ugly witch who wanted to avenge her sister’s death and reclaim her glittery red shoes. After thinking about it though, I’d be pissed too if a house fell on my sister and someone stole her fabulous shoes! But, wicked people deserve whatever terrible thing happens to them,  you see.  She didn’t have the right to mourn or seek revenge…  she was wicked, after all… Or was she?

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Then of course you have Glinda (or Galinda – with a GAH!) the Good. Here we go again with the labels. Glinda was good because people thought she was and people liked her.  Hmmm… People liked her. I wonder how often we decide not to extend grace to people because we don’t like them?  I plead guilty, your Honor.

Good or Evil… Glinda or Elphaba?
This is why I adore the Broadway musical Wicked. It tells the back story of what happened before Dorothy arrived in Oz. It’s no secret it’s my all-time favorite musical. I’ve seen it 8 times and my old office had an entire shelf dedicated to the paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years. Now some is displayed on a shelf in my writing nook.

32a366fdccd7ccbab2323b1739c160ad-1Story Time!
It was just after midnight  on October 31, 2007, making it officially Halloween. My best friend, Nathan and I decided we couldn’t wait any longer to see it. So, we bought tickets online, jumped in the car around 2 am, and drove to NYC through the night. Well, he drove. I slept 🙂 Even though we were on the very last row, dead center of the Gershwin Theater, it didn’t matter – I still got all the feels. So yeah, that’s how I saw it for the first time.
In the musical (and book), the Wicked Witch of the West has a name. She’s not just called dc14dcdf5c1fb57213b1ac5fd91e9914by her assumed wickedness. Her name is Elphaba – or Elphie for short. (Yes, I named one of my dogs after her. This makes me either a real fan or a mean dog owner.)  As the story reveals, Elphaba wasn’t wicked  – she was just misunderstood. Glinda wasn’t all that good either. In fact, she was quite the bully. And, don’t get me started on the Wizard… He definitely had people fooled.

There are SO many life lessons to be learned from this multifaceted story! But, recently it got me thinking how often I view people through the either/or lens. People are either good or they are bad. They are either black or they are white. (I’m referring to heart color – not skin color!).

It seems we’re perceived as good as long as we keep our sin and shame under the rug and out of sight. But, what happens when our sinful humanity is exposed? Now we’re perceived as bad.  You’ve heard it said before, good people do bad things. How often do you hear, bad people do good things? Once someone has been labeled bad, it’s a hard perception to reverse. When bad people do good things, their motives are almost always brought into question.  And, worse, we rejoicify when they fail. (No, rejoicify isn’t a real word, but it is to me and in the world of Wicked!)  I can’t think of a better example than the Presidential election. Everybody is so quick to label their candidate as a good person and so quick to label the opposing candidate as a bad person. And, they spend MILLIONS of dollars trying to convince us of that. Unfortunately, it works. We need people to be all good or all bad.

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But, the longer I live and the more life experience I gain, I’ve come to the conclusion there is no such thing as a good or bad person. We are all, in fact, a beautiful, convoluted, concoction of both. And, comparing our goodness and our wickedness to each other just breeds pride and self-righteousness. It’s a good thing God understands and looks at the heart.

 

The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But, I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. – Jeremiah 17:9-10

I admit I have administered these labels and presumptions on people based on rumors, wicked-defy8their reputation or from first hand, personal experience. I’m aware that I, too, am perceived as both good and bad. It just depends on who you talk to, what they’ve heard or who likes me at the moment. More than ever before, I understand how important it is to allow each other to show our true color… Our shades of GRAY. The combination of black and white, the good, the bad and the wicked. But yet, still offer each other generous grace and empathy – the same kind we want from others when our wickedness shines brighter than our goodness.

We see in black and white, but we love in color.  – Brené Brown

image63My favorite part of The Wizard of Oz is when Dorothy steps into Oz for the first time. The transition from black and white to color stuns me every time. The smile that moment causes is involuntary. It just happens. I like to think that’s how it is when we love people. Love gives access to a beautiful, colorful alternate world where people feel the safety of home. Their gray is accepted because everyone else is aware of their own grayness. It’s as simple as grace and empathy, and it should be extended to people we like, don’t like and everyone in-between.

You are more wicked than you dare to admit, but more loved than you could ever imagine – all at the same time. That is the gospel. – Timothy Keller

You don’t know their full story. They don’t know the full extent of yours. I firmly believe that not everyone deserves to know your story. And, should someone entrust us with their story, may we show generous empathy, grace and love. You never know… the person you thought was bad, might just be misunderstood. 7bd6436b88d018ed783f104e6c996d11.jpg

There’s a song by The Apache Replay and the lyrics say home is not places – it is love.  Well, if that’s the case, then I agree with Dorothy… There’s no place like it. And yes, I was clicking my heels as I typed that.

Lastly, SEE THE SHOW ASAP! Don’t – I repeat, DON’T read the book! Unless you prefer dark and twisted stories. But, if that’s your thing, then go for it. Dark and twist it up!