Very personal, a 5 month learning curve. by jill tranquilla

I've been thinking about writing this post for quite some time and to be honest I've held back for a vast number of reasons. 1, because it wasn't the right time and 2 - there has had to be a long time of healing for me before I could feel comfortable about sharing an experience online that is so personal - so personal to me. 

If you have known me for a while, off the internet, then you would know that about 3 summers ago I took a gap in my education to go study at a bible school in Montana of the great US of A. I was lucky enough not only to be brought into the program (only 14 of us were admitted over summer term) but also to do the program alongside my blogging penpal sidekick, from Coeur d'Alene Idaho. This experience was something that I had been dreaming for, for as long as it had drifted into my consciousness. A whole 3 months training in theology and dance, and then a 2 month outreach to Thailand where we we got to hang out with Prisoners and teach English in schools. Such an amazing opportunity, it would be sad for me to become ungrateful. 

I remember the first morning waking up in a dorm on a top bunk bed and praying how badly I never wanted this season in my life to end. I remember being so excited. 

Although I have some truly incredible memories (especially those of developing friendships with people in my team), a long story short, my experience was everything other then what I had imagined, it was worse. I met some amazing people for sure, developed really unique friendships but there was so much tension in leadership and the team towards me and some things that just went completely off that really shook my entire life. I have never in my entire life been put in such a place where my whole world was literally pulled under my feet and I was left exposed and then alone. The intentions of the staff weren't bad, there were just simply riffs in personalities and communication issues that ended up really really hurting.

Some people have amazing experiences at these gap years. I have many friends, and even friends who were in the same program as me whose lives where bettered by the guidance of the leadership and experiences. And it took me a LONG time to come to terms with being able to tell people that my experience was less then okay - and I think I have been nervous about coming forward about my experience because I know that it can be viewed as an 'attack' against the organization. But I need to be honest and upfront, and I finally feel ready. 

Here is what I learned when I was told that I might have to go home because I didn't meet the criteria anymore:

I learned that some people only want to believe what they want to hear. I learned that pride is a big pill to swallow, and one hard to throw up. I learned that sometimes soft candy and hard candy just don't mix. I learned that sometimes people will believe their assumptions of you even if they're wrong, and vice versa.

I learned that it doesn't matter where you're at, as long as there is growth. I learnt that a healthy environment of growth doesn't need to have the most qualified leader, but can be the simplest encouraging word from someone growing alongside of you. 

I realized that people do manipulate using ultimatums and truths, and most of the time they might not even know the damage they are doing. People can say things with the 'God Card' that they sincerely believe is truth but it's not - it's just for them. I now have experienced this and am careful to not impose my will on people while using the name of God, and I hope I never do. 

And here's what I learned when I realized I couldn't back pedal out of my circumstance:

Sometimes there are no words, there are no actions to get out of the places you've ended up in. Sometimes there is literally NOTHING you can do to change the minds of the people around you. Sometimes there is no human presence that will be able to help you in your pain. 

I for sure was no angel through this process. I acted very immaturely as a push back from what I was going through. I made life very difficult for some people. But here is the thing that I have come to realize the most, having had three years to reflect on what went wrong:

Without building a solid relationship with God in the first place I would not be where I'm at today. Honestly coming home, that would have been it had it not been for the countless times in worship and learning under people who genuinely took the time to not only mentor me but to become a friend to me. Sound foundation and pursuit of a relationship with God is the ONLY way to keep calm in the storm, even when the storm strikes in the most unexpected places. 

I can't help but remember the times where God actually met with me during those 5 months. When he actually met with me it was beyond special. The most incredible experience was a time where I needed to get away so I took a walk in the woods for quite a while and I heard a whisper telling me how to start a bonfire out of the last burning ember of a campsite. Or the time where I let go of a friendship only to have a strange encounter with a stranger who gave me such an incredible dead-on-point word in my life that to this day I am completely baffled and mystified, speaking to me directly about how God was ready to show me my true Identity. Or the friendships that developed out of me seeking comfort from the hell which was those 5 months.

My gap year ended up with me running a mile and jumping into the frozen lake. It left me realizing the pitfalls of any human-run organization and it made me learn to keep my eyes up but keep my feet on the ground. It was the most transformative and pivotal moments in my life in regards to my faith and worldview. But its okay. Sometimes the biggest ice water slaps in the face are the things that drive us to really being able to identify with people who feel far away from any form of hope. And sometimes the ability to emphasis with people in their real circumstances is more valuable then any other form of life experience. 

Here is one of my most beloved photos of me and my dear friend Liz, in Thailand on outreach. I did manage to get some amazing photos. The rest of the photos are all in print, but this one was my favorite anyway:

Based on the responses I've gotten from this post (which have been so supportive), I remembered too look back at my Vine's from the trip - Which I documented the fire incident. Yes, that actually happened! Sorry for my weird cheers:

Confronting Fear by jill tranquilla

Being a highly sensitive person alongside having tremendously high expectations for myself and the people around me, you can imagine that I am an emotional train wreck just about 24/7. I'm not really someone who likes to live in labels, but if the world was separated into black and white cubes I would definitely fall into the ones labeled HSP+tremendously high expectations=major stress case.  One of the things I find the most challenging is that as I've grown up, I've been less scared of risk and more scared of stress. This might be a curious sentence, because fear and stress tend to go hand in hand. But now, my fear tends to be the idea of failing, due to having too high of stress levels. Tonight was one of those nights.

One thing you have to know, before I begin, is that I've never been one to take many risks. Most of my childhood memories consist of images of me crying for the most elusive reasoning. In grade school, if a teacher were to call me out in class I would be a crying wreck for literally no reason. From a very young age, I lived in fear. Fear stifles dreams. Fear tells you, you can't. Fear, in this context, took away most of my childhood. 
I'm not positive where this general un-confidence in myself derived from. Sensitivity, like many other traits, has its pros and cons. I think that the real problem was that I began to believe that what I felt, do to my sensitive nature and emotions, must be the truth. That when I didn't feel my best, it must mean that I would never be any better. Now, looking back, I can see how fear of not succeeding found its way deep into my core and rested there as a parasite. It began to control everything from how I mutter to my bad posture. I can see how fear still makes me sit in front of my tv instead of being active in defeating the fear. Fear, wants you to always be comfortable, and to not reach your full potential. 

Breaking out of the intensity of that situation, has been a work in progress. I find that the best way to break something as abstract as fear, is to do something in the physical to be victorious over it, ie. take a risk. Confronting you fears can mean facing your fears. For me, it meant coming to realize what my true dreams are, and deciding to pursue them rather then keep telling myself, I can't. This meant, for me, that I started taking voice lessons and a lot (A LOT) of dance classes. In my heart, I've always wanted to express myself in these ways, publicly,  and never claimed it out of fear. But this isn't where it ends. 

Taking the initial step out of fear, some might say, is half the battle. The other half, is discipline to reach your goals, to gain the confidence to spit in fears face (which actually might be 99% of the battle, but hey.) Each time I walk into the dance studio, I'm taking a risk. And this is something that maybe no one will ever tell you. But, since taking these risks, I have failed. Numerous times, including tonight. But I can tell you that I can see my fears in my body literally shifting. I'm no longer scared to go to the dance studio. I'm no longer scared to keep up with the choreography (well... haha). I'm no longer scared that I'm going to look completely horrible. What I am scared of, right now, is my stress levels preventing me from reaching my own goals. Right now, this is my biggest obstacle. I find that if I let stress take over, when I let the fear in, I will blank out in the choreography. This leaves me feeling as though I'm back at square one, but that is a lie. It's funny, because this stress, actually comes from having overwhelming high expectations for myself. When you are at a level, and you convince yourself that you should be #x levels higher then your at, of course you're going to be discouraged. For me, I've had to rewire my perspective on setting goals, and have developed two categories that help me reach my extremely high goals in a healthy, balanced disposition. 

The first category, is defining the ultimate goal. I'm working myself up to being confident performing in front of people, and hopefully can perform at an advanced level, to the best of my potential. The second category, is where I have to pace things out and remember that I'm only human. Reassuring, that as long as I'm working towards that ultimate goal, I'm already where I need to be in this seasonI've already taken a step into gaining more confidence where I otherwise lacked, and as long as I continue to confront my fears, they can't have control over me. Another good set of advice is to own where you're at. Instead of focusing on where you are discouraged, focus on the progress you've already made. And when you don't reach where you think you should be, or you make a mistake, know you're not alone. Everyone who has pursued a dream has ran into obstacles. No body is a super human. While some people have genetic talents bred into them, they have still reached where they are due to persistent discipline and not giving up. So, shake it off. Find the joy in where you're at. I love dance, because it's fun. Balancing my expectations actually brings me more joy then if I am continually stressing about where I 'should be.'  

I'm still a stress case. I'm still nervous about memorizing choreography, and singing in front of a crowd, I'm still scared of not reaching my goal. But I'll let that be the incentive to keep trying, rather then giving up. I hope that maybe identifying where your fear is can propel you into challenging it, as well. 

Philippians 4:13 (MSG) I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.