Necessary Paranoia || Life as a Female

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It was around 10:30 pm and I had just wrapped up a collaborative photography project for an anti trafficking group with a local male photographer. We had done some shots with a model and then we took some night cityscapes of downtown to be used for the website for the group we were both a part of. Afterwards, I went to his apartment that he shares with several other guys to load my pictures onto his computer. It was right downtown, only about a block from where my car was parked. Yet after we were done with the photos, I had to ask him to walk me back to my car.

It’s one of those things that as a woman, you are forced to be painfully aware of. We had just talked about how downtown was a major hot spot for human trafficking, so as an eighteen year old girl, walking a block through a dark ally was just not going to happen. It’s not the first time, and as I leave home for a college campus, definitely wont be the last.

I am an amateur runner. This May I started training to run and I love to take sunset runs down country roads nearby my house. I also love to have music in my earbuds to motivate me and I track all my stats on my iPhone. Yet I can’t really go running on bike trails nearby. Once, I tried to go over to this super awesome bike trail about a mile away and ran for about two miles over the hills on a beautiful day. But you know what? I felt so paranoid the entire time. My mother raised me with a heavy sense of Stranger Danger. I used to have nightmares growing up about being kidnapped. Since I was thirteen, I’ve been involved in anti trafficking efforts and have heard so many stories about girls being raped and trafficked in my own state. And yes, I’ve probably watched one too many crime shows that involve a female runner getting murdered on trails.

If I am single in my twenties, after grad school is finished and I’m “settled down,” I have no doubt that I’ll get a large dog. While I am a dog person, I would get a large one despite my preference for small dogs simply for safety purposes. That way I can go running and hiking and can sleep soundly knowing that even if my pooch is a softy at heart, he/she will scare off any intruder.

Within my first semester at college, I plan to take a self defense class. I also feel the need to get my conceal and carry permit. Which as a pacifist who can’t even watch movies with much violence because she can’t stop thinking of the souls of the people, that makes my heart heavy. Yet I am a young, single female who’s life goal is to work with survivors of human trafficking. I also plan to do a lot of work with troubled youth and women who have been abused, including domestic abuse. It’s not the safest life path to take. Therefore, I have to take precautions while also acknowledging that I could do everything right and still end up in an unsafe situation. (Note: because rape is NOT a woman’s fault. Repeat. DO NOT blame the VICTIM.)

And do you know what? I hate everything I had to write thus far. I hate it with a passion in my heart. I hate that I live in a world where I have to remember to “park under streetlights” if I go to a grocery store after dark. I hate that I can’t walk back to my dorm room by myself after working out at the wellness center across campus. I hate that I don’t feel comfortable going to parties in college because you never know when your drink could be spiked and you could wind up waking up with some vague recollection of being raped.

This is not the world that I want to live in. This is not the world that I want my friends and family to be living in. This is not the world that I want to raise my daughters in. I do not want to live in necessary paranoia just because I happen to be of a certain gender. I don’t want to live in this gut wrenching anticipation that my mentally handicapped sister will likely be taken advantage of in her lifetime because she’s pretty and vulnerable.

No, no, no. This is not what I dream of for myself or for women anywhere.

I dream of backpacking through Europe by myself.

I dream of hiking mountains.

I dream of solo camping.

I dream of going on a cross country road trip in a vintage camper by myself.

I dream of being able to walk to my car at night without twitching at every sound.

Not only do I dream of a world like this, but I want to do whatever it takes to get the world even a bit closer to that goal. Because I do not want to have my daughter someday to have to continually ask men to walk her back to her car. I want my daughters to feel as safe on the streets as my sons.

Am I crazy and delusional? Maybe.

Do I still hold on to hope? Absolutely.

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In The Eighteenth Year

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Here we are at last, at the eighteenth year of my little life. It’s a big step. It’s a new beginning. It’s a grand adventure sitting at my fingertips.

I say goodbye to my childhood. I say goodbye to being seventeen and crazy. Soon, I’ll say goodbye to my family and set off on my first chapter as an independent adult.

Though it’s a bit bitter sweet and my heart is slightly melancholy at the thought of how fast time goes, I am excited and so ready for what the future holds. I often feel as if I live in this constant state of excitement. Part of that is probably due to being an ENFP with a thirst for adventure and a lust for life. I want to get so much out of life, wring every last drop of goodness from each and every moment – because living always excited, though it gets tiring, is so fricken fun.

In addition to being constantly excited, I am an incredibly introspective person. I’ve been made aware how rare that is for extroverted females like myself. For me, everything holds significance and meaning and depth. So not only do I approach 18 with excitement, but I see it as a hugely significant time in my life.

At 1am on the day of my birthday, I dyed my hair red in the girl’s bathroom of the camp I counsel at. It was a last minute decision made after 1/2 off apps at Applebees with my camp friends when a bunch of us decided to dye our hair. It felt really right to make a big change on the first day of adulthood.

I’m kind of in a weird exploratory stage right now. I’m at this place where I am figuring out who I really am and who I want to be. Who is Olivia Erickson when she’s on her own? Who is she when her family isn’t around? Who is she in a brand new town? These are questions that this year will hopefully begin to answer. I am going to try new things. I am going to discover so much about who I really am when I am outside of my comfort zone and in the real world. And while it’s really exciting, it also scares me beyond any words. It’s more change than even I feel comfy with. Me and Change are friends, but right now it’s pushing me to places that freak me out.

It’s my freshman (well, academically I’m a junior… but still!) year of college and I don’t think in all my day dreaming for all these years did I think it’d be this scary. It hit me the other day at camp that I will have very few people I can get hugs from at college. And hugs are essential to me. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a week without a hug in my life.  Little things like that are coming to mind that I never considered as a kid.

So as I embark on this 18th, what is my goal and what is my hope? It is this:

 I want to live this next year to the best of my ability, not dictated or held captive by fear, insecurities, or loneliness. 

This does not mean I will not feel fear, insecurity, or loneliness in the next year. C’mon, it’s my first year away from home – all those things are pretty much givens! The goal is to not live under the control of these things. I do not want to make decisions based on fear. I do not want to be crippled by insecurities. I do not want to become desperate out of loneliness. I want to find my identity in who Christ has made me and stand tall with that knowledge, no matter what my feelings tell me.

There’s one Bible passage that I have taken on as my verses of the year. I want to plaster it around places where I will see it and cling to the wisdom and truth in the middle of my self discovery. It just rings true in my soul and reminds me that despite the whole figuring myself out thing, I should not get distracted from what really matters. So I will leave you with the words of Proverbs 4:25-27.

“Let your eyes look directly forward,

and your gaze be straight before you.

Ponder the path of your feet;

then all your ways will be sure.

Do not swerve to the right or to the left;

turn your foot away from evil.”

Change is in the Air

change-1I sat on the hard wooden bench in the simple wooden chapel and cocked my head oddly towards the front. My facial expression was stuck in that of confusion and my brain was in slight disbelief. I had never doubted this decision before. I had it locked down. It made sense. It was as logical and as practical as any life decision of mine could ever be. But there was this still, small whisper telling me to make a change.

There’s a Howard Thurman quote that we’re all familiar with that goes, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” In some regards, I agree with this. In others, the thing that makes me come alive the most is also draining and beyond me and leaves me dead to myself and alive to God. Which in a way, ought to be one of the goals of our lives as Christians; to become fully alive to the presence of God and less dependent on ourselves.

Since I was in eighth grade or younger, I have felt drawn to counseling. It’s taken many routes of interest through the years from music therapy, art therapy, to just general counseling. For years I’ve wanted to work with victims of sexual exploitation – something that makes for an interesting dinner conversation when the extended family asks what you want to do when you grow up.

There have been many times where I have doubted myself. Actually, most of the time I feel like a crazy lunatic. I’ve fought God on this subject more times than I can count. Can’t I just have a comfy job, marry some handsome man, and settle into a peaceful suburban life with three kids and a dog? Yet time and time again, God reminds me that His plan for me is not always what I want.

What God wants me to do is to go into counseling and He got to smack me in the face with that reality while I was at camp counseling 9th & 10th graders a few weeks ago. My favourite part about camp is that the counselors have a one-on-one with each of their campers. I always struggle getting through all my one-on-ones simply because they are so dang long. For some reason, me and these girls get to talking and some of them just start pouring out their hearts and their lives. I listen and ask questions and give advice or insight as needed. Well this last week, I was dealing with some intense situations. My girls were so amazing, but were struggling with some hard things and it was through my attempts to help them, that God reminded me once again that this was what He wanted me to do with my life.

So I sat in our little chapel on Friday night with the pounding thought in my head, “Liv, you were meant to be working with broken women.” It wasn’t a new thought at all, but what was new was the startling thought that came part way through the speaker’s message. He was talking about The Principle of the Path and how our determination and desire doesn’t determine our destination, what determines destination is the direction that we are pointed. He was talking mostly in a spiritual sense, but for a brief moment he mentioned how it applies to careers and education as well.

That’s when it hit me.

I needed to change my major.

So that’s why my head was cocked and a funny look was on my face for half of the message. I decided I was going into Advertising and PR in November and I hadn’t doubted it for a minute since. It made so much sense. It was a mixture of psychology, business, and art and I could actually get a job doing it. There were lots of factors that made it a logical and safe choice. I would minor is psychology and maybe someday down the road go on to grad school if the situation was right.

But God asked me there if I was willing to commit to what He has called me to do; what I’ve known for so long is my purpose. It was almost this still inner voice that went, “c’mon Liv, you’ve known this for years. Just commit already. Stop running. It’s not going to work.”

So after more prayer, seeking the counsel of my parents and a few others close to me, and looking into my options – I decided to switch my major to a BA in Psychology. This also cements me in to a future at grad school.

Not only is grad school in my future, but I now have a significantly harder major for myself. I have to take college algebra AND statistics. This is from the girl who hates math with a burning passion and sung “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” on the way home from her math final this spring. I thought that was the end of math. I guess not. I also am required to have a 2 year foreign language proficiency, so I will have 14 credits of Spanish by the time I graduate. Yes, that’s another class I didn’t think I’d need.

Yet despite the stress and the added pressure (not to mention the weirdness of being in the Math and Science Department at NDSU) – I am confident that this is the right path for me. And if it isn’t? If I am a lunatic and I am not cut out to go into counseling? Well, then I suppose this is learning it the hard way. I have faith, that though this is not the easiest option for me in any means, this is the calling God has on my life. Yeah, I’m going all super spiritual sounding on you all, but it’s the truth. This is what has been pressed upon my heart for years and what this incredibly fickle girl has always come back to.

So I’ll pursue it full speed ahead.