A War with Many Battles

Believing in the worth of your craft is a war that sees many battles, and this blog is a field dotted with white flags. There was a time I posted here regularly. From 2008 to the end of 2011, I visited this space and typed words and hit publish. It was a habit. But in the last few years I’ve come here less and less. Instead of a post a week, it became one every few weeks, then every couple of months and by now I have all but puttered out completely.

Words are important to me and I don’t recall a time in my life that they weren’t. I remember riding in the car with my mom when I was very young, around the age when you first learn to read in school. She drove us down a familiar freeway and I sat and looked out the window and read each billboard and sign we passed aloud. HOME DEPOT. TACO CABANA. MATTRESS SALE HAPPENING NOW. I did this for a while until suddenly I became self-aware and turned to my mom and asked her why I wanted to read everything I saw out loud. She said it was because I was so excited I knew how to read.

Now, 20 some odd years later, I am still so excited I know how. Words thrill me. When they are arranged in a certain way that makes me pause, makes me sad, makes me underline, I read them aloud and feel I have just been let in on a secret of some kind. Like I’ve just learned to read.

And so I began English Lessons in 2008 with an excitement. I had just moved to England for graduate school and I wrote about my new country and what I was experiencing, my travels, my embarrassing American moments. I hardly knew how to check on the metrics, how many readers and subscribers I had, likes and all that. I was fairly ignorant and excited to be writing things my friends and my mom and dad could read whenever they wanted.

After a year abroad, I returned to America full of English Lessons to tell others about. I wrote a series called English Lessons after several months of writing nothing at all. It felt good to be back and writing. I was working at a publishing house and working with people who were much better writers than I. A challenge, but a good one.

In my new job, I began to learn about Twitter from the marketing team I worked with closely, though I was on the editorial side of things then. Everyone seemed to be on this Twitter and gaining followers. I wanted to catch up, so I joined. I quickly realized Twitter would be a good place to broadcast my blog. Up until then, I hadn’t broadcasted it anywhere. People found it if they knew me and I told them about it, or if they knew my mom and she told them about it. This Twitter thing meant I could get more people to visit English Lessons and if I got more people to visit, I needed them to keep visiting. I think that’s when it came back—the self-awareness.

I began to wonder what type of content I should create in order to make people come back. I thought another series would be good and writing on the same day each week would be good too because I had heard via a marketing person that you should do this. So I began my series of difficult questions in January of 2011 and vowed to keep it up all year. And I did, each Monday I asked a hard question and wrestled with it for 500-700 words. Fifty-two times I did this.

People started following and commenting. It didn’t get huge and no post came anywhere near going viral, but I was being consistent and I was providing somewhat predictable writing for those who were reading each week.

About the time I started the Asking the Hard Questions series I began a job in public relations at my company. I like PR. It’s a fascinating industry and it is all about being heard. But through doing research in my new role I realized something: Everybody blogs. Seriously, everybody. And this knowledge created nothing but insecurity in me. Because not only does everybody blog, but most people blog much better than I do. They blog more often and concisely and they stay on one topic and cultivate a large following—all things I was never really sure how to do. And though I continued writing religiously each Monday for English Lessons, I grew more and more aware that maybe all I was doing was reading aloud, and maybe it was only my mom who heard me.

I was relieved at the end of 2011 when I could stop writing each week on a different question. It had been a good experience, but I had been working in PR for almost a year by then and I knew how very small my voice actually was and how little I really knew about blogging the right way and cultivating that followership and making enough noise that people will hear. My writing was sounding monotonous by then, too. Ask a question, fumble through some possible answers, end with “I don’t really know.”

Since then, I think I’ve managed to squeeze out a post every couple of months or so, only when something is really burning in me and itching to get out. And only when I think enough other people will want to read it or need to read it. Sometimes I come here and look at the page, the same design it’s always been. I don’t even own the URL and I’ve never changed the picture at the top from a visit to Cinque Terra, Italy, way back in 2008. My blog has become a friend I used to know but never call or text and we’ve lost touch to the point where it doesn’t really matter if we ever see each other again. In fact, it would be awkward if we did.

I have felt stuck, not in writing necessarily. I still write. I can’t not write. I don’t know how to do that. But I am slugging through this confusion in how to use a blog in a way that is meaningful to others. I’ve felt my writing of late, the type I’m doing now, is not worthy to be here and to be read by strangers or friends because it is not on hot topics and it is not on things people regularly search in Google. It is not 500-700 words long, sometimes it’s longer, sometimes shorter. The subject matter varies. Nothing about me or my writing these days is cohesive and I’m still asking the same questions I was in 2011, so nothing is resolved either.

But deep down I know my silence on andrealucado.wordpress.com represents too loudly my insecurity in the words I put down in secret because I believe others don’t need them. The silence on my blog, overall, says I think I am not a very good blogger. Which is assuming two things: 1. That I know what a good blog is, that there is some sort of science to it and 2. That it matters if I’m good at it. Both of these things I would like to stop believing. But how do I stop believing “truths” I’ve let settle into me? One way is to simply blog what I blog, write what I write.

I think we should all do this in whatever way it is that we artistically express ourselves. Carve out times in our week to simply make the art we are making and share it boldly with others. Blog what we blog. Write what we write. In doing so we are saying this, “What I craft is worth it. What I love is worth doing.” This is a hard thing to agree with within our own selves—that our art has meaning and worth outside of our personal journals. It really can pull at you like a war, but maybe writing here again on a regular basis will be a way for me to win one of the battles.

It will be on Monday mornings again and maybe some other days in the week. Not because Monday is a popular time for blog traffic, it’s not, but because Sundays are typically good writing days for me and I worry that if I let a post sit for too long, I will come up with excuses to not publish it.

It will be long or short and about what it is about and that’s as much as I can say about it. I will blog what I blog; I will write what I write.

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Beauty: The Race We’re All Losing

andrealucado.wordpress.com woman-looking-in-mirrorIf beauty is fleeting, why do we chase it?

I was fortunate to be told by loving parents again and again that I was beautiful. Their compliments came naturally, but I took them for granted. Sometimes, I didn’t believe them and many times they even got on my nerves. Great, my dad thinks I’m beautiful, but no one at school does. And the guy in my algebra class was the real opinion that mattered. I wish I could say not believing in my own beauty ended in high school, but scrolling through old Facebook pictures recently made me realize it hasn’t.

Have you ever done that? Accidentally clicked the arrow the wrong way and suddenly you’re staring at a photo of yourself from eight years ago? I continued to click through the pictures of my years in college. All the way through. There were so many. I had done so many things I had forgotten about. Activities, entire sports teams I have vague memories of being a part of. I hope I’m not the only one whose eyes go directly to herself when looking at a group shot. I did this each time and even though these pictures were so old, I had myself under a magnifying glass thinking thoughts like, “I must have been a size 12 in that picture…size six in that one…why did I wear that same t-shirt so much…what’s happening to my hair….seriously, how did I have friends?… I realize why boyfriends have been few and far between.”

I was 27 getting angry at my 20-year-old self for not being more beautiful, for not measuring up to the compliments from my parents and others over the years.

I hate to admit that as a Christian, independent-type woman, I have allowed external beauty to rule, but I have. If I feel ok about the way I look, I feel ok about me. If I’m receiving less compliments or not getting asked out, I assume it is because I don’t look attractive, and I begin to wonder what I need to do to gain back my attractiveness. I don’t know who I am without beauty, or at least the chase of it.

What would we do without this comparison game that consumes our thoughts? It’s my favorite game. I compare my arms to hers, and my ratty hair to her perfect bun, and I think about all of the things I need to do and be doing now and do later that would allow me to achieve all of the things others have that I want.

Of course it’s crazy when I really think about it. If I achieved this, I would have four different types of hair on my head, one long and skinny arm and one muscular one. A big butt cheek and a small one. Short legs and a long torso and different colored and shaped eyes. To look the we “want,” would be to look like an ugly Picasso painting.

And after years of this tiring and endless game, I think I’m starting, starting, to see my mind shift a bit. Like the other day when I was running on the treadmill at the gym and staring at every woman who came into view. I’m sure I looked creepy, but I didn’t care; I was having a minor breakthrough. I studied so many different bodies during my time on the machine. I could tell some of the women were healthy and allowing their body’s shape to be what it was. And some I could tell had worked hard to form a different shape. It’s like we are potters trying to turn clay into a glass table. We have been given certain materials, but we want to create them into things they can never be. No wonder we are exhausted. No wonder we don’t feel beautiful. We have the wrong goal. Our clay will never turn into the beautiful clear glass we are wanting because it is meant to be clay.

Can we change this? I hope we can. I think we can. But first we have to stop the chase altogether. If beauty is fleeting, it will be gone the moment we attain it, so let’s stop trying. Give up the chase altogether. That’s when we will begin to desire the clay, to work with the clay, and eventually one day, we will love the clay.

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Ate A Lot Over the Holidays? That’s OK.

Circus_Animal_Cookies

This New Year, I’m trying something different: I’m not going to beat myself up over eating too many sweets during the holidays. You shouldn’t either.

Usually on January 1 I think about all I indulged in over the last several weeks with remorse. Even when it was happening, I anticipated the remorse. I drank eggnog with gnawing unease, knowing I would regret it later. Each holiday treat was consumed with some guilt and anxiety that my pants wouldn’t fit by the end of whatever Christmas party I was attending. A cookie could steal my joy a little. The second cookie ran off with it completely.

Not all women are like this, I know. Some of you eat dessert and you’re all, “Whatever, it’s a cookie.” But if you’re like me, food has not been simple for you in a long time. You have a calorie calculator in your head and you keep a running tab on how many days you’ve exercised that week. You think twice about everything you put in your mouth. Food is emotional, it’s either comforting to indulge in followed by regret and guilt later, or it’s too terrifying to taste and you skip it altogether.

I remember my skinniest year. I had a ridiculous amount of control over what I ate. It’s what I thought about most of the day. I fell asleep at night hoping I hadn’t consumed too much and thinking about what I would eat the next day and how I would avoid all the unhealthy stuff.

When I look back on it, Christmas during that year o’ skinny was so sad. I was home in Texas at my parents’ house, which is always overloaded with edible gifts by the time I arrive. I assessed everything in sight and decided that each night I would allow myself one or two pieces of chocolate after dinner.  It was a hungry Christmas. And although I looked “great” and hadn’t gained an ounce by January 1, I would rather my head and heart never be in a place like that again. It was dark. I lived under the deception of my own control.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar, or you’re experiencing it now. Recent memories of the holiday dessert table haunt you. You are mad at yourself, you don’t like what you see in the mirror and above all, you feel shame. In attempt to rectify, you are now trying to set a really drastic resolution to make up for the damage you did. But you are already afraid you won’t follow through with it.

If this sounds familiar, you’re in bondage. You’re a slave to your appetite and body. It seems healthy from the outside, but the reality is it’s not normal or freeing to care so much about a few Christmas cookies. I know this because a counselor, close friends and smart books have told me so over the past few years.

Anxiety and guilt are strong emotions, so associating them with food gives something that was meant to fuel us, that was meant for us to delight in, much more power than was ever intended for it.

Many articles and blog posts about the “New Year-New You” are simply adding to this overwhelming feeling of body shame. I want this post to be different. I want you feel absolved of the guilt and regret you feel now after having eaten everything in front of you over the past couple of months. And if you’ve been constricting and restraining from the good stuff, I want to give you permission to indulge in the leftovers. It’s ok. Really, it is. You’re not going to die. You’re not going to gain 40 pounds overnight. ‘Twas a season of celebration, and it’s not too late to attend the party.

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Going Home and the Hills that Greet Me

A weekend spent in the city I grew up in is always a string of hours spent remembering the things I had forgotten about home. This time it was the weather so characteristic of a south Texas summer. The dry heat and triple digit temperatures were something I took for granted until recently. I say took for granted because blistering hot and desert dry summers are truly a unique gift, only realized once you move somewhere like Tennessee that seems to have endless rainy summer days and a humidity that actually makes my body swell when I leave the house. Suddenly the jeans that fit perfectly four seconds ago, are snug and my skin is sticky in a way that makes me avoid brushing shoulders with others.

Texas heat and sun framed my whirlwind of a weekend trip this time. Despite the lack of human activity outdoors, I wanted to spend as much time as possible dripping in the air that’s mere feel transported me to summers of childhood and adolescence.

With loyal and understanding family, I trekked to a trail typically buzzing with runners and cyclists and walkers. We were the only car parked at the trailhead, of course.

Trailhead

Yes, that is an eliptigo, in case you were wondering.

It was noon and pushing 100 degrees. Any sane San Antonioan was inside protected by their air conditioning units. Not us, we were walking the dry trail, cut out by dry trees and dry grass every step of the dry way. And I did not feel tired, nor overheated, nor desperate to be back inside once I re-discovered the heat of that noon sun. No, the thing I felt most was comforted and comfortable. I began to remember things I had forgotten. Things that had happened in similar temperatures during Augusts from years ago:

-floating on tubes in the Guadalupe River, the water line so low in places we had to stand up and walk half the way, carrying our tubes over our heads and rocks cutting the bottoms of our feet

-self-inflicted sunburns, deep red due to my reluctance to get out of the water and reapply, and due to my Irish ancestry that blessed me with fair skin

-waking up early for the first day of volleyball two-a-days, preparing to be in pain for the next two weeks before school and season started

Visiting home in the summertime again after so many summers away, made my once normal, regular south Texas upbringing a well of memories in a place suddenly magical with its steam rising off the asphalt in the afternoon after a surprise rain attack that lasted approximately 14 minutes. Fourteen minutes of rain is a most welcome surprise for a city that sees it and feels its relief far too sporadically. My mom and a few others in the restaurant even applauded when it started.

Water and everything it is for us and does for us can only be truly appreciated in a city like San Antonio, in an area like south Texas. The hill country, we call it. Though the hills are low compared to many others and on them the grass is a light brown and the trees struggle, these hills are my favorite. That trail carved by the dryness might even be my favorite type of beauty, not for its aesthetic qualities but for the backdrop that it provided a childhood of more joy than is typical for many children, with its share of confusions and mess-ups and heartaches of course.

Growing up I would look at those hills from my rooftop on nights I was thrilled to be alone with time to think, on nights with friends when we “discovered” a new constellation and named our secret club after it, on another night when we spied on my sister and her boyfriend and I wandered for a long time what it be like to have one. And on a night when I finally did have one and we sat on the rooftop together and I somehow knew that would probably be the first and last time we did.

Those dry hills surviving the summer in such a triumphant way greeted me as I returned just a few days ago, as the old and mature adult that I am now. But those hills know, they know more than anyone or anything that I’m still Andrea, the 13-year-old spending too much time alone on the roof thinking about things she didn’t understand then and still, for the most part, doesn’t. And the real beauty in those hills is not a plethora cedars but their steadiness. That they don’t leave. And that they are always there when I come back.

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Lessons for a 13-Year-Old

We are taught a lot of things at age 13 in churches and at our youth groups. I remember nights around the campfire at church camp that were profound and talked about Jesus in a way I hadn’t thought about him before. I remember hearing that who I was was in Christ and not in whether or not boys liked me or what I looked like. Those were the lessons I remember being driven home the most. Because, as I know now, a girl’s worth is one of the hardest fought battles in her lifetime. Our youth leaders knew this, so we talked about it lots.

This weekend I traveled to Seattle to watch my big sister speak at a conference called Revolve. It’s a speaking and concert tour for girls ages 13-18, 6th to 12th grade. I’ve gone to Revolve to see Jenna four of the five years she’s spoken on the tour. Each year, about ten minutes into her talk I always feel this strange mix of fandom-“wow, that girl is cool and knows what she’s talking about”-and proud sister-“wow, that’s my blood up there, speaking truth.” And each year I learn as much from her talk, and others’, as the teen girls who bought tickets to the event.

Anthem Lights at Revolve

Anthem Lights performing at Revolve

But this year I learned extra. It was like the words spilling over the edge of that stage in that auditorium were heavier and whacking me in this almost annoying way. Because I knew it wasn’t new. People had been reading those scriptures to me and over me for years but I was feeling them deeply again and for the first time.

It makes me wonder, what does it take? Seriously what? For these lessons to stick once and for all? And to be so sticky they can never be scraped off? How do I keep it on me? How do I make sure it stays on the girls in the youth group I volunteer with? I see it bouncing off of them all the time, as much I try to put it back on nice and neat.

For truth being what it is—singular, God-breathed and, well, true—it is incredible how resistant our spirits are towards it and how thirsty they are for it. I’m dying of thirst, but don’t give me water, but give me water, but don’t.

the girls backstage

Backstage with Jenna (middle back), my mom (arms around my waist) and little sister (front right) and some of the other speakers/friends on the tour–Christine Caine, Kari Jobe and Christa Black. OMG

I think confessing and recognizing our thirst is a continuous, conscious effort. I guess the 8th grader sitting behind me at Revolve is just as in need as I am. In fact, I feel needier now than I did at that age. Even though I feel like I should “get” it by now. But believing Christ and comprehending grace is not a one-time event on your knees; it’s a lifetime of “getting” it. If we got it all right now in one moment, we would probably swell up with too much knowledge of the beauty of truth—think blueberry girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, rolled away quickly to avoid explosion.

We just can’t handle it all at once. But we would die without it in small doses.

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The Houses We Build

My balcony

my new balcony

I moved again, into a place that this time is mine. I own it. The whole thing. Both bedrooms, the kitchen, the balcony, all of it. The fridge and washer and dryer and everything else in the laundry closet and the cabinets. That is a lot of stuff to fall under my possession so suddenly.

Since I’ve moved in, I’ve become a little, or maybe a lot, obsessed with making it look good. Exactly the way I want it. I care about it all. The colors on the wall, the brass hardware (gross), at which position this lamp should be on this table and how the chair in the corner is angled. Now that I own something, I want it to reflect me accurately. And I especially want the giant mural over the fireplace in tribute to the great state of Tennessee gone asap, as well as the faux-painted marble columns in the dining room. No, I’m not making either of those things up.

A few days ago, I spent all day working on my balcony. Several hours spent working on about 20 square feet of space. I got pretty carried away and looked at the clock just in time to get ready for my friend’s birthday party.

Why am I doing it? Pouring myself into project after project, corner after corner of each room– why do we care so much about our houses? I say “we” when I may be in the minority, but I know there are others of you out there: you nesters, decorators, shoppers, ottoman-scavengers, just like me. It makes me wonder what we’re decorating and arranging and re-arranging, what we’re actually making look nice.

I’m no psychologist but I did take one semester of psychology my freshman year of college so you should probably write this down: I think when we rustle about in our homes, setting them up just so, we are wishing we could do that with ourselves and maybe even believing we are doing that with ourselves. We wish that inside of our souls, in the dark parts, we looked as nice as our freshly painted kitchens with the silent-shut drawers. If we cannot create perfection within our confused and sinful selves, we strive for it within the houses we build.

I’ve seen it in my condo obsession and I’ve seen it in my interactions with others. I like to know the right things to say to whom and when. The things that will make me look good and, above all, make that person like me. If I don’t know the right thing to say then I try really hard to figure it out, and if I can’t, I’m lost until I can. The work is tiring and endless. The work of perfectionism.

When I looked at the time after working so hard on brainstorming what type of hanging plants to purchase for my balcony, I had to tell myself, “Just quit. The work could always keep going. You have places to be. Take a break.” I was speaking truth to myself. The work of perfection is never-ending; there is always more to do, and I wonder what places it is preventing us from being.

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Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? Part II

unrequited love

A little over two years ago I wrote a post entitled Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? It is consistently my most-read post. When I visit my handy dandy WordPress dashboard, that tells me I haven’t written a blog post in months and 14 people viewed it last Tuesday, I see that one of the most common search terms bringing people to English Lessons is a variation of that question: Why do I love someone who doesn’t love me back?

This has fascinated me for these past two years. People Google that. A lot of people Google that. Unrequited love is a mystery we are asking a search engine to solve for us. I think I get why. Loving someone who doesn’t seem to return our feelings is painful, and when God doesn’t make the pain go away when we ask Him to, we ask Google. And then we land in places like my blog that do not wholly answer the question or heal your pain, but they do make us feel less alone. The power of this, this realizing your problem is shared by many others, can not be underestimated.

Two years ago my answer to the posed question was that this type of love mirrors the Gospel, and we can find solace in that and the fact that sometimes we just love people we shouldn’t and we can’t help it. I talked about my dad making me feel better by telling me, “You can’t help who you love.” Now that I’ve seen how many people responded to that post, needed to read that post, I realize that maybe my dad’s statement was so helpful because he was using the plural “you.” He wasn’t saying, “You, Andrea, are unique and can’t stop loving the person that broke your heart.” He was saying that none of us can stop loving the people we don’t have business loving. And that communal element helps heal us and give us what we need: the strength to move on or the strength to persistently love the unloveable.

I wish I had learned more about this subject over the past two years and had more to say right now. I wonder at how little clarity I’ve gained and how cloudy it remains. But here it is, what Google has to offer you as a result of your search. I hope you’re encouraged and I hope you come back in two years for Part III, where you’ll see that I’ve managed to learn even less about this stuff.

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