A List of Things I’m Good At

The past couple of years have been some of the hardest in my life.  At times, I lost my confidence.  A while back, I was a part of a writing group that went through a book about journaling. One of the methods in the book was list writing. One of the members of the group wrote a list of 100 things she is good at and I loved it.   In my journey to help restore my confidence, I decided to do the same.  As I got started I wrote and wrote reminding myself of things big and small that I am good at.  It was a healing experience.  I ended up with a list of 150 things.  If you are feeling beat down by life and discouraged, I would really recommend writing a list like this. Choose to be thankful for the things you succeed at if you feel like you are failing.  Here’s my list— with a couple that I didn’t think were blog-worthy edited out.  Some are almost identical to others because the book we read encouraged us to just go as quickly as possible without thinking too much about it or worrying about repeating ourselves.

  1. Making coffee
  2. Drinking coffee
  3. Having guests
  4. Learning languages
  5. Showing up for life
  6. Running
  7. Being consistent
  8. Praying
  9. Being a big sister
  10. Hiking
  11. Yoga
  12. Evening walks
  13. Talking about feelings
  14. Sensing if people are having a bad day
  15. Cooking for a crowd
  16. Writing newsletters quickly
  17. Being honest
  18. Being sassy
  19. Standardized tests
  20. Side crow
  21. Head stands
  22. Dancing in the kitchen
  23. Being goofy
  24. Not dying in Nairobi traffic
  25. Making great friends
  26. Dance parties and playing with Mikayla
  27. Making funny faces — especially at children
  28. Not quitting when things get hard
  29. Being respectful and nonjudgemental of people with different beliefs
  30. Driving in the rain
  31. Entering into other’s emotions
  32. Enjoying people
  33. Speaking truth/encouraging people
  34. Helping people belong
  35. Eating large amounts of food
  36. Making chicken parmesan
  37. Making lasagna
  38. Studying the Bible
  39. Applying the Bible to my life
  40. Hospitality
  41. Being myself (not changing for other people)
  42. Letting people in
  43. Not stopping— when running
  44. Doing things even when I’m scared
  45. Getting people to help me carry things
  46. Making mini deep dish pizzas
  47. Eating entire (non mini) pizzas
  48. Doing my makeup
  49. Consulting for NGOs
  50. Public speaking
  51. Hosting Thanksgiving
  52. Celebrating
  53. Sitting on my couch
  54. Crafting
  55. Decorating
  56. Making my house a home
  57. Figuring out what I need
  58. Making bad situations better
  59. Realizing when I can’t change things and going with the flow
  60. Giving advice
  61. Flying standby
  62. Going through airport security
  63. Painting nails
  64. Being uncomfortable
  65. Showing up to class
  66. Roasting chickens
  67. Lighting the stove with a match
  68. Having scented candles
  69. Drinking “sleepy time” tea
  70. Going places alone
  71. Exploring
  72. First dates
  73. Knowing what I want
  74. Making boundaries
  75. Not compromising on convictions
  76. Not paying bribes
  77. Discernment
  78. Trusting people
  79. Taking one more step—literally and figuratively
  80. Living in Africa
  81. Enjoying living in Africa
  82. Doing difficult things
  83. Soccer
  84. Being sporty
  85. Being the first person on the dance floor
  86. Not minding being different
  87. Facebook stalking
  88. Research
  89. Reading compulsively
  90. Being in libraries
  91. Administrative work
  92. Staying focused
  93. Making goals
  94. Saving money
  95. Knowing about Roth IRAs and mutual funds
  96. Swimming
  97. Learning new things
  98. Eating new (sometimes strange) foods
  99. Thinking quickly
  100. Strategically planning errands
  101. Writing “to do” lists
  102. Going to bed early
  103. Getting up early
  104. Baking cookies
  105. Giving spontaneous gifts
  106. Being a safe place for people
  107. Peer pressuring people to do silly things
  108. Dreaming big
  109. Being idealistic
  110. Keeping my mind busy
  111. Carrying three bags of books back from the library to do research
  112. Enjoying school
  113. Enjoying writing papers
  114. Appreciating art
  115. Laughing
  116. Experiencing deep emotion
  117. Keeping people on their toes
  118. Observing people
  119. Being able to predict people’s behavior
  120. Making seating charts
  121. Being thankful
  122. Admitting when life is hard
  123.  Always seeking to grow
  124. Water skiing
  125. Snow skiing
  126. Saying nice things about people
  127. Not settling for second best
  128. Shrugging at matatus (wild, Kenyan mini busses) honking at me
  129. Multitasking
  130. Making good decisions
  131. Having popcorn for dinner
  132. Talking
  133. Being the first to open up
  134. Not letting people push me around (recent)
  135. Getting people to visit me in Kenya
  136. Camping
  137. Chasing away baboons
  138. Moving forward even when I am afraid
  139. Living without the internet or a bed
  140. Brunch
  141. Quick, witty replies
  142. Not letting my 14,000+ emails in my inbox bother me
  143. Going after my dreams
  144. Being “mature for my age” aka basically grandma status
  145. Doing things other people can’t or won’t

When the sun rises

A little over a year a ago, on July 2nd to be exact, I started sleeping again.  After six long months of nights spent pacing my apartment until sunrise, driven from my bed by an upset stomach and anxiety, I was able to sleep.  Those first few weeks were saturated with mingled relief and disbelief.  It seemed too good to be true that after so long being sleep deprived I might actually be catching up on rest, that I might actually be able to function at a normal level again.

It was as if I was living in darkness during those six months.  When I think about them, I visualize the sky being enveloped by clouds, unable to see the sun or feel its warmth.  My cognitive functioning was drastically decreased.  I frequently lost my train of thought when talking to people.  I was overly emotional, always “two breaths” away from tears.  The boa constrictor of anxiety had wrapped himself around my ribcage and was slowly squeezing the air from my lungs, the life from my body, the joy from my soul.

Everything is harder when you can’t sleep.  Sometimes it took all my strength, all my courage, to leave my apartment and go to work.  I kept a picture of me with three of my best friends by the door.  On those days that it was hard to leave the house I looked at the picture and told myself, “Those people love you, and you can do this.” This was the only way I was able to get myself out the door at times.

Those closest to me were really worried, which made me more anxious.  I hate making people worried.  My supervisors in the US wondered if I should go spend some time in the sates to recover.  I decided to stay, to tough it out, because my friends and family would be visiting soon and I knew that if I left when things were really bad it would be hard to get on the plane to come back.  My coworkers here told me to take a month off to rest and spend time with my family while they were here, not to try to work at the same time.

It felt like things were never going to get better, but everything changed suddenly for the better. I began to sleep again the same week that I started my marathon training long runs.  I think that the hours spent running in the forest helped soothe my anxiety and tire out my body enough to sleep.  It was like I was finally able to relax again.  I don’t really know why the long runs had this effect on me but they did.

The reason that I count July 2nd as being the first time that I was able to sleep again is because there were certain triggers that caused me not to be able to sleep, namely, going out with friends.  When I would try to sleep my body felt like a buzzing neon sign that just wouldn’t turn off.  Maybe my body had too much adrenaline in it after going out to be able to go to sleep.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that the sleeplessness made me afraid to have fun, to spend time with friends, to do things I enjoy doing.  July 2nd was the day of our big Fourth of July party last year.  Believe it or not, we don’t get the Fourth of July (or other American holidays) off in Kenya, so we often celebrate on the weekends. Even though I knew that it would probably mean not being able to sleep, I decided to go to my friend’s party.  I had a great time.  It ended up being one of my most memorable days in Nairobi.  I did all the things that had been causing me not to be able to sleep since January, and yet, I slept.  I was honestly astonished.

I have an inch long scar on my ankle from that night.  I cut it on the bus we took to get into town.  The scar is a physical reminder of that time in my life and the joy of being free from it.  Nothing lasts forever, even if it feels like it will never end.  Which, trust me, when you haven’t slept in six months you wonder if you’ll ever be able to sleep again.  Those wounds that are so fresh and painful now will fade into scars with time.  Healing comes.  The pain changes you in positive ways if you let it.  It has the ability to soften you, to make you more compassionate and empathetic.  Remembering and reflecting on the difficult things that have happened isn’t easy.  Scars aren’t pretty, but they are real.  They are a part of the human experience.

One of favorite songs during the time after I started sleeping again was “Seen A Darkness” by John Mark McMillan. I honestly don’t know how often this song was the soundtrack for my happy, overwhelmed, thankful tears.  I love John Mark McMillan’s  music because he addresses the dark and messy sides of life instead of just trying to cloak difficulties in overly spiritual language.

We have seen a darkness

But we have seen a light

We have felt the love 

Of a hope’s hot blood 

In the machinery of night

We have seen a darkness 

But we have seen the sun

We have come undone

To a love’s hot song 

In a symphony of blood

The valley of the shadow knows our name

We have seen a night

But we have seen the day

Dressed in the blood of love’s hot veins

We have overcome

Yeah, we have overcome

Born into the grave

But born a second time

We’ve been born again 

Into love’s hot hands 

On someone else’s dime

The valley of the shadow knows our name

We have seen the night

But we have seen the day

Dressed in the blood of love’s hot veins

We have overcome

Yeah, we have overcome

You have called us loved

And you have called us wanted

One time we were bruised

We were bankrupt and hauntedIMG_7305

The valley of the shadow of death might know your name, but you don’t walk alone. No matter how dark the night, the sun rises in the morning.