redefining family

I’ve spent the last couple days babysitting my stepsister’s stepkids. Does that make me  “Aunt Ali?” Or Just “Ali?” I’m still not sure… my family is kind of complicated.

But I guess welcome to family in the current age: most families are blended, people have half siblings or aunts and uncles they’re no longer “technically” related to because a legal marriage has been dissolved; people have in-laws or adopted children that are different ethnicities, people have uncles married to another uncle, kids grow up with split custody or in the foster system with a temporary family that may or may not be treating them well… family just looks different nowadays. Continue reading

why peace corps (instead of something else)

I got my staging information in an email this week – I leave for Peace Corps stuff a month from today. What. The. Heck. This can’t be real… can it?

A question I’ve heard from a variety of people has been “Why the Peace Corps? And as a Christian, why that instead of missions?” So I wanted to write a post explaining why for those that are curious and to also put to words things that have been jumbling around in my head like miscellaneous loose change for months now.

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lessons in commuting

I’ve spent the last few weeks with fingers impatiently tapping at keys and at a total loss for words. I feel torn between a desire for life to slow the freak down and speed up fast enough that my days blur by until boarding a plane. It’s hard straddling those two desires, that’s for sure.

But what I want to write about – no, need to write about – is not my life right now and all that is going on in it. I need to write about Jesus. About the fact that He is good and He likes me. Because in the midst of transition, questions, goodbyes, and bitter healing hearts, I really need Him. Pretty much more than anything else.

Which brings me to this epiphany I had the other week, which was a total reminder of all that.

So I spend every week day commuting from Boulder to Denver on a bus. I also spend every week complaining substantially about said commute (even though I know most of America does this every day). I’m thankful for my job and I’m thankful for where I live – I just wish they were closer together.

Now, let me tell you about my bus rides every day: they are never as expected. Whether it’s getting stuck trying to crest a hill in an atypical April blizzard or sitting next to some of the most unique individuals on the planet, it is never dull and never predictable. But one thing that is consistent, especially in the mornings, is that the bus always takes the good old HOV lane. ‘Cause we’re all carpooling, I suppose.

Taking the bus in the morning is a bit rough. First, I am not a morning person, so my mornings typically consist of repeatedly hitting the snooze button, groaning loudly, and eventually tearing my tired limbs from the warm embrace of my comforter. It involves a shower that always tends to take five minutes longer than it should, hot steam caressing my sleepy brain into a slightly more cognitive state. Stepping out of the shower usually entails a quick look at my clock, which invariably causes a “Dangit!’ to slip from my lips as I rev into hyper-panic-getting-ready-mode. I tug on my shoes of choice, run up the stairs and dash outside into the crisp Colorado air to my car. From there I drive like a crazy person to the bus stop (driving to go take the bus always seems sort of redundant to me, by the way), keeping one sleep-encrusted and wide eye on the ticking clock on my dash, watching the moments until my bus’ departure slip by. I race to the parking garage, whirl my car into a space, slam the door shut and sprint to the bus stop.

Generally I make it just in time to join the quiet, orderly crowd of multi-generational professionals, tightly-lipped and carrying brown shiny briefcases as we shuffle up the few, steep steps onto the bus.

I typically greet the driver, slip on by and sit down, crowded up against the window in anticipation for the stranger about to sit by me.

Getting to the bus is stressful. But once I’m on the bus, I literally have to let someone take the wheel (because on a bus, backseat driving just gets extreme – believe me, I’ve seen it happen and it’s not pretty). I’m not in control of when I get where I need to go, or even the route that I’ll be taking on the way there. I’m just along for the ride with a bunch of strangers, who hopefully got on the right bus and were planning on heading the same direction as me. I watch the word flash by a large, tinted window, and take a deep breath every single time.

The bus takes the express lane every day, and my gaze always lands on the parking lot of cars in the main lanes. More often than not, I dismiss the long line of stressed commuters whose wide-eyed faces are lit by the reddish tone of brake lights and acoustics of talk radio. Because regardless of how annoyed I am about taking the bus, I am pretty dang thankful most days that I’m not one of those people sitting still and stressing over the next two feet of forward motion.

And here’s where my epiphany comes in (get ready).

One such morning, I’m staring out my window at the honking mess as the bus speeds past and a Bible verse floats into my mind like mist, a barely formed thought that I noticed just enough to try and reach out a grasp as it loosely tangled in my mind:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

(matthew 7:13-14)

And as I’m observing through the glass the five lanes of stopped traffic, I see out of the corner of my eye the clear and empty road ahead of the bus I’m sitting on and it clicks. Not that all those people in their cars are going to hell or some crap – nothing like that. But having been one of them, I know that they are stressed, impatient, concerned, and carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders wedged beneath that tightly fastened seatbelt. And there are a lot of cars occupying space across four lanes of highway just on I-25 in Colorado like that, much less across the whole country, filled with people who are not content.

But on the bus, I’m free. I literally cannot add a single ounce of effort to force the bus to get where it’s going any faster. And ultimately I don’t really have any control over where it ends up anyway. When you’re on a bus, there’s also only so many seats as compared with the hundreds of people stuck in traffic. And in that moment where the world sort of shifted into place, I realized that it’s a lot like faith.

I have been sifting through a bunch of lies and garbage stuck in my head about what I need to do to be a good person, a good Christian, a worthwhile existence on this planet. And in realizing that that garbage needs to be thrown out, I’ve been mad and sad and tired and confused about what fits into place instead. I’ve been at a complete loss for words and anything else of how to even try to begin to explain what just hasn’t been sitting right. And in that moment on my bus ride commute, the words came.

Riding the bus is a lot like faith. I hand over the control of my life to another and hang on for the ride. All I had to do is get on. The driver will take me where I need to go and give me the rest, the safety, the direction I need to get where I’m going. I don’t need to fret, force anything, make myself busy for busyness’ sake – I just need to be there. And it’s exactly the same when it comes to my walk with the Lord. I just need to show up and let Him do the driving.

And that, my friends, is grace upon grace.

the great southwest

Last spring break I took a 2000+ mile road trip with some really fun people. In honor of that being almost a year ago, here’s some fantastic photos from along the way:

western colorado

western colorado

moab, utah

moab, utah

arches nat'l park

arches national park

arches

arches national park

utah

nevada

VEGAS

vegas

hoover dam

hoover dam

grand canyon

grand canyon

grand canyon

grand canyon

four corners

four corners

santa fe

santa fe

salt and light: photo by scott shek

salt and light: photo by scott shek

the process of un-mullet-ing

It’s true – I had a mullet. By choice.

photo cred: Brittany Zeinstra

It looks a bit more like a hipster mullet than anything else in this photo, but it was as mullet as mullet is going to get on my head. And it went from hipster, 80’s-esque mullet to pixie cut, and then perpetual growing out mullet until now, over a year later, my hair has yet to reach my shoulders again.

The process of my un-mullet-ing is legen….wait for it…. DARY! It’s a story of humility, one of courage, and of figuring out what makes me, well, me.

Let’s start with why the heck I cut my hair into a mullet. I worked for this high school ministry my first year out of college, and our big winter retreat theme was “Mullets, Mohawks, and Mustaches.” Aka EPIC. Check out our promo video (awesome, if I do say so myself). Well, I had a conversation with some adorable sixteen year old ladies that were complaining about the theme being too masculine and kind of sexist. I flatly denied any such thing and to my horror, the words “I’m cutting my hair into a mullet” escaped my lips. Wide-eyed, in absolute horror, wishing I could stuff those fatal 7 words back into my mouth, those precious girls started laughing. And so just a few short months later, I did it. I went over to my friend’s house and asked her to give me a mullet. When she was finished  and swept up the loose  strands of my dignity off her floor, as I pulled on my coat she softly said, “Hey, Ali… can you not tell people I cut your hair? I’d really appreciate it.” Continue reading

happy december!

Happy December!! The holiday season is upon us!

Boulder star

Boulder star

And while this includes festively dressed carolers walking down Pearl Street, beautiful Christmas lights around town, the Nutcracker ballet, fresh baked Christmas cookies and piney wreaths, and the Boulder star on Flagstaff being lit for the world to see, it also brings stress.

I see it written on the foreheads of people I interact with – creases of worry and panic hewn into their faces while shoulders hang heavily burdened with the desire for generosity. You can even hear it in their voices – clipped tones of impatient and frantic to-do lists or deep croaks from do-gooders sipping on peppermint mochas that barely coat their sore and winter-scarred throats.

You see it in stores like Target – red shirted and khaki wearing employees exhausted to the bone wear false smiles of cheer and customer service, stocking endless boxes of holiday lights and rearranging holiday wrapping paper displays, driven by the elusive promise of meeting fourth quarter sales goals. You hear it over mall stereos, the repeating and overly familiar refrains of the seasons being retold by various artists with unusual time signatures and in different keys as those listening begin to think, Are there really that many ways to sing “Jingle Bells?” 

Welcome to the holidays… I guess.

Don’t get me wrong – I love this season. I love winter wonderlands (c’mon snow!) and tinseled pine trees and ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ and James Bond marathons on USA and Hanukkah candles and ‘8 Crazy Nights’ and family and togetherness and really, really great food. Continue reading

would you come to my funeral?

Earlier last night, I was talking to my friend Annie about the loneliness and isolation this season of life has brought. It feels like I’m absolutely out there on my own – the phrase I used last night was something along the lines of “If something awful happened to me and I died or something, no one would even know what happened to be able to come to my funeral.” Because that’s how it’s felt lately – I don’t see anyone frequently enough where if I went missing or worse, anyone would notice until several days later. I know this train of thought is morbid, but I’m just being honest. Maybe people would be suspicious if I was never responding to phone calls or text messages, but I don’t see or talk to anyone frequently enough that they would notice anything amiss.

But the irony came full force  when a car slammed into me around ten last night. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even react. And as my car spun off course, I remember thinking two things: 1) Wasn’t the light green? and 2) Thank You, Jesus. And even though it happened in a town where both of my parents still live, both of them happened to be out of town last night. Because as a witness sprinted over to my car and started tapping on my window, shouting things, and I dazedly got out of the car, I realized that I am okay. But even for someone that values their independence and believes they are strong, facing something like that absolutely alone is terrifying. Especially when you have not a lot of money saved, a car is your only lifeline to get to work, and you have the most minor of health insurance policies. I panicked, totally freaking out over how I was going to pay for the situation, how I was going to handle not having a car, how the heck all I had was bruises. I sat on the curb, knees aching, body shivering, watching police officers pick up the pieces of my car, papers being blown down the street, my haven completely smashed, and I felt so alone. But I wasn’t alone. My Lord was with me. I’m still piecing together all the things that He has provided for ahead of time to help me deal with this situation and honestly, the fact that both of us drivers walked away totally okay is a straight up miracle.

But, let’s not forget now, my God is a miracle worker. And He loves me. I know this sounds morbid and weird, but in the midst of potential tragedy and being faced with my fragile mortality, I feel so unbelievably and overwhelmingly loved by Him.

Today, I woke up incredible thankful. Because I might not have.

Life happens in an instant. It can also end just as fast. And regardless of whether or not anyone else would be at my funeral, I have been forced to remember that death is the ultimate place that I won’t be alone – I’ll be with Jesus. But I got to wake up today. I can tell the people that are important to me that I love them today. I can walk and think and joke and face whatever comes. And my God is with me.

amen.

please clean filter.

Last weekend, I spent a great/tiring/restoring/stressful/emotional/dancing-full/technical/lady-filled weekend up in Breck, CO for the Women’s Weekend Getaway (If you are around the Ft. Collins-Boulder-Denver area and looking for something to do next October, definitely check it out next year!)

I absolutely love being in the mountains, especially in the fall when they look like this: Continue reading