What I Did On My Summer Vacation

What I Did On My Summer Vacation.

At the beginning of every school year, I remember teachers instructing us to take out our newly sharpened #2 wooden pencils, open up to a blank page in our black and white marbled composition book, and write on that prompt.

Did you go to the pool everyday?  Tell me about that.

Did you go on a trip to Disneyland?  Tell me about that.

Did you play video games from morning to night?  Tell me about that.

Well, what I did on my summer vacation was none of the above, but is definitely an event worth writing about on this blog.

I competed in a supertotal meet.

The two words, “super” and “total”, already feel larger-than-thou, grand, and just plain intimidating.  A total of what?  What’s so super about it?

For those that don’t know, I like to lift weights.  Not just randomly going to the gym, hopping on some machines and calling it a day, but I love picking up a barbell from the floor and pulling it straight overhead or placing it on my back and squatting down so that my hamstrings touch my calves.  I like to lift weights.  I initially started learning how to snatch and clean and jerk (aka the Olympic lifts that you see done remarkably well by Europeans and the Chinese at the actual Olympics), and then dabbled in powerlifting for a few months (squatting, benching, and deadlifting). I eventually shifted my focus back to weightlifting at the start of this year and became more serious about it when I bought my own barbell.  Anyhow, most meets will be either only Olympic lifts (2 total) OR powerlifting lifts (3 total).  A supertotal has all 5 lifts.  In a day.  Three attempts per lift.  The athlete hefts around a loaded barbell 15 times in a span of 6 hours to see how much weight she can lift.

Dang, it’s exhausting.

But that is what I did yesterday.  And while the experience was certainly memorable, there are a few golden nuggets I am taking away from this experience.

  1.  I love food.  Like, really, really love food.  I struggled with anorexia for a good part of my young adulthood, and now at 38 years young, I can say with assurance, I love food and it loves me.  I cut to the 97# weight class for this meet, and while I walk around between 101-103#, losing that much water weight and having to be stringent on the amount of salt, liquid, etc. I was taking in prior to the meet made me, well, pretty irritable.  I wanted to just eat ice cream because it was SO DARN HOT.  I wanted to eat my kid’s pizza but needed to watch my fat intake.  When I mentioned to a friend that I was cutting, a look of concern broached her face.  “Are you sure you’re going to be ok?  Even if the weigh-in is only for that day…do you feel tempted?  To, you know, be that weight?”  I love that she asked me that.  Why?  Because it showed she cared.  But also, because it was a sign, a landmark of sorts, because my response was instantaneous:  NO.  NO WAY AM I TEMPTED.  I FEEL TOO SMALL.  I CAN’T IMAGINE WALKING AROUND AT THIS WEIGHT FOREVER.  IT IS MADNESS.  And let me tell you, that first meal after weigh-ins was magical.  I ate without guilt.  Sushi?  Sure!  Frozen yogurt with chocolate toppings?  Yes, please!  Some cookies my husband bought?  Bring it!  This meet solidified that my worth is no longer tied to a number on the scale.  Emotions like guilt and fear are not linked to whether or not I had a bite of mac and cheese.  I love food.  And I have already started my journey to massing up to lift in the 49kg (107.8#) weight class.
  2. Be smart.  On the final lift of the day, the deadlift, I had the opportunity to break an American record.  I had already set a squat and bench record, and now, the deadlift.  Do I try?  Do I do it?  Do I go for it?  Surprisingly (as competitive of a person as I am), I didn’t.  I pulled three deadlifts that were pretty conservative (my nice way of saying “easy”).  Why?  Why not go for the gold?  There were multiple reasons.  I was already pretty exhausted and I knew my form would be less than stellar.  I was already at a low body weight so my physiology was further compromised.  I hadn’t trained conventional deadlifts much, let alone pulling the weight that would have had me setting the record.  I am a weightlifter, not a powerlifter, and I am starting a new weightlifting training cycle on Monday. Why compromise myself, injure myself, just for one lift?  Is hitting that arbitrary deadlift number really that important to me in the long run?  Uh, no, it’s not that important.  So I listened to my body and completed the meet uninjured.  That’s a win in my book, no matter what the weight was on the bar.
  3. Just have fun with it.  I met a new friend too.  It was her first meet.  She had just picked up weightlifting two months ago.  She arrived alone (her family, boyfriend and coach eventually came to the event), and while we waited to warm-up, we started talking.  And you know what?  She made the meet fun.  I loved sharing stories about work, lifting, and sports with her, but more importantly, seeing her take that step of faith to “just do it” (I know, corny corny corny) and jump into a competition was inspiring.  Meets are stressful, anxiety producing experiences, and yet, she did it all with a smile on her face.  This new lifting friend reminded me that while hitting certain numbers is a grand goal to have, ultimately the joy of the sport is not contingent on the amount of medals won.  It comes from that feeling of euphoria one gets when pulling a weight from the ground she didn’t think was possible.  It comes from the rush of adrenaline flowing through a person’s veins right before stepping up to the barbell.  It’s that energy, the excitement, of pushing oneself past just being comfortable and trying something new and challenging.

So that, THAT supertotal meet, is what I did on my summer vacation.  Who knew I could learn so much from spending a day with a barbell?


I Want Abs

I want abs.

I.  Want.  Abs.

The core.  The abdominals.  The stomach.  I want it.

Have I been persuaded by the Instagram personalities on the interwebs, slyly smiling a coy grin while holding up their shirts for the world to see their perfectly tanned midsections, to invest in a waist trainer, to purchase colon cleanses, to shrink my waist to nothing?

Have I forgotten the years of battle, the checking in and out of eating disorder units because my quest to eliminate the little-to-non-existent roundness of my stomach forced me to restrict my daily meals to one Subway sandwich a day?

Let me reassure you that I could care less if my midsection doubles as a cheese grater.   I take off my shirt at the beach, not caring that when I sit I get the inevitable rolls of stomach because, well, I’m human and eat and that’s what happens to skin.  What I mean when I say “I want abs!” is that I want to be able to function, to move, to twist and turn and bend forward and back.  I want to be a human being.  I want a body.  I want a life.

In reality, abs are a muscle.  Everyone has them, so it’s pretty ridiculous to say one “wants abs.”  They are there.  We are born with them.  We will die with them.  It is a part of the body, a necessary part of the body, that without would cause one to literally keel over.

So yes, I want a body.  I want to feel the security of bending down to pick up my toddler son, knowing that I can carry him up flights of stairs.

I want a body.  I want to be able to heft four bags of groceries up the stairs without stopping because I can’t keep an upright torso.

I want a body.  I want to be able to walk around my classroom, to turn to talk with students, to engage in games and activities with them without trepidation.

There was a time when I was scared to move.  Literally, scared to do anything besides lie down.  I wasn’t sure that my frail skeleton-like body could support the weight of me doing anything other than be horizontal on the sofa.  Ironically, my quest to “have abs” left me with “no abs.”  I had little muscle.  I had little strength.  I had, well, little of nothing.

It was then, during that time when I was laying on the cushioned pillows, wondering, pondering, praying that I would be able to one day have the energy to live and move and breathe and live, that I decided I wanted abs.  But not of the six-pack variety.  I wanted strength.  I wanted a body.  I wanted a core, a solid feeling of being that could one day house a child, that could one day become a home to another human.

I wanted abs.

And many years later, almost two decades later, I was able to have the child, and then another.  My abs were able to be their protection, their shield.

And yet I still want abs.  Because as time goes on and the wrinkles around my eyes get more distinct, I realize that abs are still necessary, if not even more important.  The body is slowly breaking down.  Sadly, the ability to move, to function how I once did as a kid and young adult becomes more of a challenge.  With every year and decade that passes, it is that much more vital that I have abs.  I want a body that will sustain me to do God’s work.  I want a body that can be a light to others.

I want to have abs when I’m fifty.  When I’m sixty.  When I’m seventy.  And beyond.

So, yes, I want abs.

I.  Want.  Abs.

Time Time Time Time Time

In a week, my husband and I will be celebrating our wedding anniversary.

Nine years.  Nine whole years.

In a week and two days, our little boy will be turning three-years-old.

Three years.  Three years whole years.

In three weeks, our little girl will be starting second grade.

Time.  It is running.  It is going.  It is stopping for no man.

Every summer I have grand plans.  Cleaning out the stacks of Shopkins and dolls in the little girl’s bedroom!  Reorganizing the kitchen!  Deep cleaning the dust that has settled on the edges of the door frames!  And every summer the same thing happens:  I run out of time.

I am a planner, I like organization, and my daughter will attest that my favorite words to her are “clean that up.”  So what happens during this 8-week period, when I have a checklist, swifter, and disinfecting wipes ready to go, yet inevitably end up at the end of the break with even more dirt by our garage door and more toys strewn about the living room?

Life.  Life is what happens.

During the school year I am so consumed with doing.  Doing planning for classes.  Doing grading for papers.  Doing emails to colleagues.  Doing doing doing doing.  By the time the first week of June hits, I am ready for a break.  I turn off my computer, erase Google Drive from my memory banks, and have a grand ole time going to the museum or romping in the ocean with the kids.  I make a list of things to do so that I will be productive (yet have fun!) during the upcoming weeks.  Cleaning.  Trying new food recipes.  Adventuring to the nearby trails.  The summer is looking to be one of accomplishment and productivity.

By week two, we are all settling into a routine, with the little girl heading off to summer school and the little man and I going to story time at the library or running around the gym’s kid’s club.  I haven’t yet gotten around to any of the household chores I dreamed up for myself to accomplish, but it’s ok.  There’s still the whole summer left.

Week three has me looking for fun (yet free) activities for the toddler and I to engage in.  New activities that ensure he is getting his fair share of outdoor time (biking!  sidewalk chalk drawing!) are difficult to come by, as by this point of the summer, we have exhausted many of the possibilities.  And the cleaning?  The disinfecting?  The swiftering?  Well, an afternoon nap sounds more enticing.  Keep those duties on the to-do list.

Week four, and I am getting tired.  Physically and mentally.  I am craving adult conversation.  I am starting to peek in my Google Drive, my work email, looking to see if I can have a conversation with some other adult, some other person who can engage in topics that are more than just about Sesame Street or Lightning McQueen.  Doubt that I can even sift through the drawers of Shopkins starts creeping in my mind.  Would it really be so horrible if I put that off until Fall Break?

Week five, I dream about my classroom.  Literally.  I have dreams about instructing freshmen on the first day of school and talking about Of Mice and Men with sophomores.  I attempt coercing my seven and two-year-old into using the baby wipes to help sweep the dust off the walls.  No such luck.

This is the evolution of my summer.

It would be quite easy to say that my summer was unproductive, my summer was a wash, my summer was wasted time.  In reality, these last few weeks have been some of the most rewarding.

I joke with my husband that it is more exhausting to be at home with a toddler than being at work (well, there is some truth to that statement), but if I didn’t have that time with him to read his favorite Planes book or wasn’t able to run alongside him as he peddled his little tricycle up our hill, I’d be missing out.  During the school year, I see my students more than I see his smiling face.  How wonderful is it that I have all this time to be present, to see his growth, to snuggle with him before his nap?

I admit that I am one to fall into the trap of letting time control me, of letting life control me.  I base my life around time–where do I need to be at this moment?  What did I schedule myself to do at this time?  Am I using my time wisely?  Major moments of my life are defined by time, and I use those markers (getting married, having kids) as a barometer.  But a barometer for what?  To show my age?  My experience?  My knowledge?  When it all comes down to it, time truly is in God’s hands.  I may put great stock and stress in the time my husband and I said “I do” or when our little boy decided to enter this world.  But what about God’s time?  What are the moments HE treasures and desires for us to experience?  Are they the same as the ones I value?  And what about the times that I see as less than or not as important?  Does he still see my summer routine just as valuable as the moment my daughter begins a new grade in school?

It’s a lesson I’m learning, how to enjoy the “being” of time and to know that life is more than clock hands ticking ticking ticking away.  Time will continue on, and unlike what Marty McFly or Doc Brown professes, a person can’t travel back in time or alter the future.  So what’s next?  Just be in time.  Just be in life.  Savor the seemingly mundane, the seemingly unplanned.  Remember that every bit of time here on earth is meant to reflect the love of God.

And with that, I’ve abandoned my plans of de-cluttering my home.  I have thrown out the to-do list.  I am relishing these last few weeks of summer with my son.  I am living, I am being, and I am letting time keep on going.

Sweetest Success

Emily Dickinson had it right.

Success IS counted sweetest by those who neer succeed.

Yesterday, I was death.  I woke up with an ache in my lower back and was feeling a bit warm.  The norm, considering it is summer in Hawaii, I am 38 years old and old age is slowly creeping up on me.

But my stomach.  I didn’t know whether to vomit or sit on the toilet.

So I did a little of both.  For the next two hours.  And I still had my little two-year-old to take care of.  I called my mother-in-law to see if she could watch him while I got a few hours of sleep.  She was going out to lunch and wouldn’t be at home.  My parents were in Las Vegas.  My husband was working.

I almost started to cry.  Almost. But then I stopped, took a deep breath, and prayed:


And you know what?  My little toddler boy fell asleep for a nap!  For 3 hours!!  And you know what else?  My husband finished work and took the kids to Ala Moana and BJJ class!!!  And I slept 12 more hours!!!!

Needless to say, I woke up this morning sans body aches, stomach in tact, and feeling, well, pretty good.

Now what does my 24 hour bout with the flu/cold/illness have to do with Dickinson?  It is this fact:  one really is unable to grasp the grandness of what she has until it’s gone.  And then in those moments of desperation and emptiness, she can say that in fact, yes, things were pretty grand.

Health is one of those things we take for granted until it starts going downhill.  Flus and colds that diminish us to beings wrapped in blankets, laying on the bed, unable to eat anything make us appreciate the time we could go about our daily business without a second thought.

School is another.  I sometimes wish I could go back to college, where the only job one really has is to learn.  Imagine that!!!  A person is purposefully devoting all of his time to reading, discussing, engaging, learning!  When I started my freshman year of college, I was livng in the inner cities of Los Angeles as a USC Trojan.  I loved the campus.  I loved my student fellowship group.  I loved the hustle and bustle of the city.  But health issues hit, I moved back to Hawaii, and ended up graduating from UH-Manoa.  Now don’t get me wrong, UH is a wonderful institution as well, but knowing all the cultural experiences, relationships, and growth as a student at that California campus I could have had there makes me a bit wistful of the time I did spend in LA.

And the kids.  Ah, the kiddos.  I really do love my two kids, no favorites here.  But when I look at my youngest, I remember how a year or so prior to his delivery, I was bawling on the sofa, having just miscarried what I believed would have been our second child.  You can’t believe the emptiness and desperation deep within my core after having the joy of “Yay, I’m having a baby!” be replaced with “God, why take this child from me?”  It took awhile to come to terms with the fact that we would be a family of three, and then low and behold, a blessing occurred.  An ultrasound showing a little bean with a beating heart.  A little boy.  A family of four.

Success is counted sweetest.

Success IS counted sweetest.

So what to do now that I am fully recovered from my flu/cold/illness?  What do I do now that I graduated with an English degree from UH? What do I do now that we have a wonderful husband, daughter, and son?  Do I remain trapped in the doldrums, looking at what was lost and not focusing on what is?

Sadly, I do tend to do that at times.  Just for a minute.  I think it’s natural.  We wouldn’t be human if there weren’t times of discomfort, sadness, and pain.  God created us with feelings and emotions, and to try to hide them or say they don’t exist is basically saying He didn’t know what He was doing when He formed us.  The danger lies if we remain in that depressive state, only thinking of what once was.  Because you know what?  Something great, something grand, something absolutely wonderful could be just around the corner.

24 hours later, I am feeling like the Lauren of old.  Heck, I’m even able to type out this blog post.  So what am I going to do?  Go out and play with the kiddos.  Enjoy a dinner with the family.  And praise God for the sweet success He has given to me.


I’m Going Where?!

“I’m going to yoga tomorrow morning.  Want to go with me?”

The words are foreign.

There was a time in my life, like, 12 years ago, when “yoga” and “Lauren” were synonymous with one another.  Purple sticky mat and lithe little Lauren were one and the same.

I had my certain spot in the yoga room I veered to whenever I opened up the mirrored doors.

I had my select yoga gear (it was actually just a handful of ratty shirts and long pants that I reserved for asanas) that got more mileage than my beat-up Corolla.

I had my favorite postures, namely camel and forward fold, and felt a ridiculous amount of giddiness whenever approaching these movements.

Yoga was my life.  And that is no simplification.  I was a posture, the posture was me.  Funny how today when my friend and I attended a class in the wee early hours of 9am (My body creaked!  My joints cracked!), it was the first time I set foot into a studio in, oh, hmm, maybe, was it 6 months?  8 months?  My daily attendance has dwindled to a bi-annually event.

What happened?

I could say that I gave up my yoga mat because I was getting tired of doing the same postures over and over again.  I was a Bikram and Ashtanga devotee, and those of you who know those two styles of asana can attest to the fact that there is always a set flow to each practice.   Every time.  No deviation.

Part of that is true, that the rigidity of going from pranayama to half moon to backward bend and so on was making me feel complacent.  But in reality, the expectations of being a yogi were getting to me.  Seriously getting to me.  And not just physically, but mentally as well.

Some background:  I was a long distance runner for as long as I can remember and took up Bikram yoga because I needed my body to heal from all the pounding and abuse I racked up from the miles on the road.  After my first sweaty class I was hooked because I realized I was a natural yogini.  Shorter legs, longer torso, extremely flexible–I could already do the splits without much prompting and in a heated room I could do even more.  Being the perfectionist and goal-oriented person I am, I continued my yoga journey in hopes of creating THE PERFECT ASANAS EVER.  When teachers proclaimed to “let your body guide you, only do what you can do today,” I internally scoffed.  No, I was going to push the limits of my flexibility.  I wanted to mimic the Chinese contortionists fellow yogis claimed I looked like.

After five years of continuous classes, hitting the hot studio once or twice daily, I was close to achieving the “I have no bones in my body” ideal.  Full camel.  Standing splits.  Full backward bends.  Guillotine.  Nothing was off limits.  But for what?  My joints ached because I was actually over stretching the ligaments.  I was constantly thirsty because I wasn’t drinking enough water to hydrate after being inside a 100 degree room for 90 minutes everyday.  Physically, I was tired.  My body was crying out for me to stop.

Mentally, my brain was also crying out for me to stop.  My identity was wrapped around how flexible I was, how “cool” it was that I could do splits on command.  Yeah, it’s a fun trick once in awhile, but the pressure to be “that uber flexible and so amazing yogi gal” was mounting.  I didn’t know who I was apart from my purple mat.

So I just stopped.  I threw away my yoga clothes.  I cut up my yoga mats.  I cried.  And cried.  And Cried.  It felt like I was discarding a part of myself.  It was cathartic and necessary, yes, but also very similar to the purging process alcoholics go through when weaning off the bottle.  For many months after I was an emotional wreck trying to figure out what my next sports mission would be.

I tried other activities.  I saw a CrossFit video and thought Fran seemed easy, so I tried doing a pull-up and realized all I could do was just hang there.  I tried rolling around in a jiu-jitsu gi and became dizzy after warm-ups.  I felt like I was failing, failing in being a powerhouse in some other kind of sport.

That was when God showed me this:  Is my body really just for sport?  To receive medals and acolades for?  Or is my body meant for more–to honor Him, to do His will, to do His work?

It was a total paradigm shift.  Yoga was not my life.  Sport was not my life.  Jesus was my life.

So I approached new activities with no expectations, no restraints, no labels.  And you know what?  I HAD FUN.  I didn’t have to be “that super strong girl” or “the girl that runs really far and really fast.”  I could just be me.  I laughed with my husband as he tried to teach me how to put on gloves and box.  I jumped around with excitement when I was able to do 10 push-ups in a row.  I cheered with friends when I finally achieved a 1.5x bodyweight squat.  I was having fun because I didn’t need to have my sense of worth, who I am, wrapped up in a certain number, asana, or label.

And by bi-annual yoga class today?  All I can say is, it was fun.  My friend and I ended up being the only two in the room with the teacher.  We laughed during the last savasana (I know you’re not supposed to, but whatever!), we breathed into alignment with the postures, and after, we had a great lunch together and enjoyed one another’s company.

It was fun.  It was grand.  I got to hang out with a friend, work on my spinal alignment, and basically spend some time just being me.  Have I already signed up for my next 90 minute asana session?  No.  I have no idea when I’m going to another class.  Maybe next week?  Maybe next month?  Either way, I’m entering that room with no expectations and no asana bar I have to reach.  It will just be fun.  Pure fun.

The Novel Three

My favorite book in high school was The Great Gatsby.  True story.  I think my love for Fitzgerald was born because my English teacher was emphatically in love with the flowing writing style of the American author.  Plus, there was something mysteriously heartbreaking about a grown man trying to relive the past, only to find his dreams dashed and broken in the end.

I loved Gatsby.  I loved Daisy.  I loved the classics.  Sadly, I doubt many of my students share the same love for literature I had.  So in my quest to read what I think teenagers are into, I finished three books within these past two weeks:  The Outsiders, Speak, and 13 Reasons Why.  Why those three?  Well, the Hinton classic is a required summer reading book for the incoming freshman, and I needed a refresher on Pony Boy and his coming of age.  Speak was one I always saw on the library shelf but never had the time to actually borrow, sit, and read.  And 13 Reasons?  There is so much controversy surrounding that novel, I had to know what it was all about before coming to any definitive conclusion about the tale.

Lets just say, after reading all three books, my heart is heavy.  Incredibly heavy.

Bullying.  Rape.  Violent fights.  In all three books, the protagonists all share one similarity:  they were forced to undergo extremely physically and emotionally stressful situations, and as a result, found themselves speechless and without a voice.  Actually, “stressful” is not even the best adjective to describe what Pony Boy, Hannah, and Melinda had to endure.  I can’t even begin to think of an appropriate word that could encompass all the drama these individuals endured.

And to think, high school students are going through these exact situations.

Feeling unable to voice his or her true feelings.

Feeling stuck in a situation with no way out.

Feeling torn between friendships.

Feeling like no one can be trusted.

It’s a lot for a sixteen, seventeen, or even thirty-eight-year-old person like me to endure.

As I pray and prepare for the upcoming school year (yes, it’s never too early to think about it!!), I am reminded that I am in a high school classroom for a reason.  Maybe I can be that one adult, that one person, a sophomore feels comfortable talking to about her fears about deteriorating friendships.  Maybe I can be that one teacher a freshman confides in about his depressing thoughts or feelings of inadequacy.

Maybe I can be that ray of hope or light in one person’s life.

Every morning I open up my devotional and ask God what it is He wants me to pray about.  Good weather?  Good health?  More often than not, it’s the students.  It is a prayer for the upcoming adolescent kids who have their whole lives before them.  It is a prayer that they will be filled with expectant wonder in all they learn.  It is a prayer that these teens will be protected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that during times of trial and strife, they can seek Him for peace and guidance.

It is a prayer that my daily actions, my words, my demeanor, will highlight the joy of Christ and be a blessing to them.

I am done reading those three novels, and am wondering what my next reading choices will be.  What are some books you think are great representations of what teenagers are going through right now?  Comment below!

This is Me

This is me.

I love that song.  In fact, so do my children.  My seven-year-old daughter loves belting out the ballad while riding in the car, and my lovely two-year-old son follows suit, crooning, “This is me!!!” while waving his chubby arms in the air.

This is me.

The senior class I advised this past school year chose that powerful melody as their graduation song, and honestly, when I first heard of their choice, I was a bit mystified.  It’s an awfully challenging tune to sing because, well, lets face it, Keala Settle has the voice of a soulful angel.  How would a group of a hundred-something seventeen-year-olds perform the tune?  And in synchronization?

In the end, the class worked out the logistics of getting everyone swaying in time and singing together, and whenever I hear those lyrics, “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be–this is me,” I am reminded of this eclectic class and how that powerful ballad really was the best choice, as everything about the tune is rooted in them–the lyrics, the power, the emotions are all THEM.  The song also reminds me of one other thing:


No joke.  Freshman through senior year may seriously be one of the most challenging moments in any person’s life.  As a high school English teacher, I often times forget that a student’s life does not revolve around the symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird or the irony of Mark Twain.  Romantic relationships are being formed and broken.  Identities are being tried out, retired, and then tried out again.  Family bonds are shifting.  Pressures to belong to a certain group of friends are mounting.  Throw into the mix the stress of athletics, clubs, church (if one attends), AND academics, and it’s easy to see how navigating (and just surviving) through four years of high school is enough to drive any student a bit crazy.

There were many times this year when I wondered to myself, “How can XXX ‘just forget’ that there’s homework?!”  Well, it’s actually pretty easy, now that I have time to really sit and think about what high school is like.  Or what MY high school experience was like.

Trying to “dress unorthodox and unique” in Dr. Martins and short skirts so that I could outwardly show that I “didn’t care” what others thought about me, when all I wanted was for a friend to not bat an eye at my throwback to Courtney Love’s grunge style and instead like me because I was me.

Analyzing every inch of my face for blemishes or big red zits so that I could erase those marks by scrubbing, exfoliating, and clay-masking the clogged pores, almost as if I was attempting to erase all of the outward imperfections in my life.

Praying for a boyfriend, some guy to walk to the snack bar with and hold hands with so that others would see me with a cute boy and think, “Wow, that Lauren, she must be something if THAT guy likes her.”

Notice the theme.  I was consumed by how I presented, how others perceived me, how I wanted them to see me.  It was exhausting, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

And I’m pretty sure that same issue–desiring an outward appearance of perfection and acceptance–is an issue that many of my students are grappling with.  Everyone wants to belong.  Everyone wants to feel needed and loved.  It’s human nature.  But to have to go through the process of finding true friends, maintaining strong bonds, and discovering strength in oneself during these incredibly trying and stressful high school years is daunting.

And so when I hear “This is Me”, I too belt out the lyrics with gusto, and more times than not, I get a bit teary-eyed when I sing, “When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, I’m going to send a flood, I’m going to drown them out…this is me.”

I think about the different individuals in this past year’s senior class who lived out the lyrics to this song.  I see how life’s challenges could have broken them down, yet in the end, although a bit bruised and scarred, they came out stronger and more resilient.  I see how many of them didn’t just survive the four years of high school, but rode the ups and downs of adolescence head on and came out that much wiser and ready to face the next chapters of their lives.

I think about the seventeen-year-old Lauren, who nineteen years ago had a high school diploma in hand, but lacked the insight and strength that these 2018 graduates have.

I think about how long it took me to come to the realization that God molded me perfectly and wonderfully in His image, that the things I saw as imperfections were actually beautiful and unique because they were created by the ultimate creator.

They are brave, and although it’s taken me a bit longer to catch up to them, I too know I am brave.  They are bruised.  And so I am I.  But one fact remains.

This.  Is.  Me.