The Power of Tea (Getting to Know People)

“I think people underestimate the power of tea,” my friend Cheyenne said in class the other day. “Why can’t we just invite someone over to drink tea and talk?”

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She’s this really cool yoga-loving, beach-bred, free spirit (with an Instagram that will leave you equally inspired and envious, especially because of her summer spent in Balicheck out @the_sandy_yogini on Instagram)

We were talking about how so many people feel like they need TV shows and movies and celebrity gossip to hold a conversation. These things provide an avenue for connectivity and give people something to talk about. The scripted drama and sharp words of reality TV shock us and provoke us; our appetites for this kind of entertainment become insatiable. (Like, Oh my gosh, did you see the newest Keeping Up with the Kardashians last night?)

But what about talking of our dreams, ideas, or favorite books? Something of substance and worth?

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s one of those quotes that everyone knows, plastered on the walls of elementary school classrooms across the nation.  I’ve never actually given the quote much thought until I thought about my own conversations with classmates and friends—convicting. The content of our conversations doesn't have to be about events or people. We don't have to have small or average minds. Through friendship, fellowship, and conversation, we can have great minds.

I’m really fascinated by people—their quirks, dreams, accomplishments and stories. We can learn so much from one another if we simply tear down the fragmented wall of “guardedness” that we’ve built around our hearts and minds. Vulnerability can be a beautiful thing, when done carefully.

Through The Little English Girl, I’ve learned that opening up my heart and letting readers sift through my thoughts can leave them soothed and encouraged by my own related experiences and positive words.

One of my favorite things in the world is sitting around a little table in the corner of a coffee shop, hands clasped around a steaming mug of cocoa, focused only on getting to know the person in front of me. With our phones tucked away in our pockets, we can channel our attention onto each other, laughing over childhood stories or breathlessly talking about our dreams. This is real connectedness, when friendship is about nurturing and building each other up, rather than empty gossip.

People are brilliant. I am so deeply impressed by the doctors, mathematicians, chemists, software developers and app-makers of the world—I never could do what they do, nor do I have much interest in following their path. I like to think that perhaps some of those people feel the same way about artists, writers, photographers, and philosophers. Our differences are brilliant.

As I shift into a new season of life, I’m making it a goal to get to know as many people as I can, so that my worldview and horizons can continue to be stretched on a daily basis.

Let's be pals? Delight in the sweetness of fellowship today.

Joyfully in Christ,

» Instead of Waiting for Someone to Bring You Flowers: Romance, God, & A Very Messy Heart

“And so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” | V. Shoffstall, After a While

I’ve always loved February 14th. I like pink and chocolate (& pink chocolate), flowers and stacks of love-laden cards.

I loved Valentine’s Day in elementary school. It was so exciting and so sweetly innocent. We would all cover little shoeboxes with wrapping paper and carry them proudly in the crook of our elbows, other arm lugging candy-stuffed valentines (one for everyone in the class—that was the rule) in a giant plastic baggie. The teacher would give us an entire afternoon to parade around the classroom, dropping candy into each other’s boxes, simultaneously nibbling heart-shaped cookies and giggling over “who likes who.”

The best was the first grade. My mom sewed me a beautiful dress with a swishy hemline to wear to school on Valentine’s Day. There were puffy sleeves, white pearl buttons and little white hearts peppered on the red cotton. There was a special assembly that day, where the police came to talk about “fighting bad guys,” and I was privileged enough to be picked to sit in the police car (as an envious crowd looked on). It really was the best day ever.

In later years, when my perfect little dress was passed onto a neighbor or folded neatly in a box, I still wore pink or red to school on February 14th, bringing with me a bulging bag of valentines and a huge smile.

I am a romantic when it comes to life, and unabashedly so. I have a soft and sensitive heart and a curious mind. I love making small moments special, and delighting in the little things—sunshine on the pavement, fresh-cut tulips, a sandwich wrapped in wax paper and tied with baker’s twine. If I could paint the interiors of my mind, it would be saturated with a happy and sunny yellow, with touches of seafoam green and big, joyful splashes of pink.

I love loving others and making small efforts to bring them joy. I love loving the little things in life. I love loving God because He is so gentle with me, and the Holy Spirit because it/He (let’s get theological, friends!) is what fills me with peace and joy and a zest for life when I make the conscious effort to both pray and praise. I love my parents and friends, professors and major. I love my beachy home and Texas sweet tea.

There are little pieces of my heart all over the world; I love a lot of people and places and things...but I don’t love romantic love.

I’ve always been comfortable being independent. I’ve dated, but never seriously, and singleness has always brought a genuine sense of relief. Once I settled into college life and had close friends and sorority sisters who were, gulp, engaged, my glorification of independence started to chip and crumble. Did I need someone else? I was, for the first time in a long time, questioning whether or not I was behind in the rat race of romance. My soft heart, once rooted in self-reliance, and saturated with patience, confidence, and trust in God’s plan, began to feel a little bit bruised and a lot a bit sad.

Once in college, wearing pink on Valentine’s Day didn’t bring me the same joy. While neighbors in the dorms received elaborate rose bouquets from loving boyfriends near and far, I had a brown paper box from my mom filled with treats and bits of home, and my family’s comforting words to cling to. I remember wondering how in the world everyone got so...grown up. Did I miss some crucial step in the aging process that would fashion me into an adult, stripping me of my pink-wearing, valentine-making, mom-loving nature?

The feeling lingered, drifting into the following year and colonizing the present moment. I already made valentines, and I still plan on wearing pink, but I have been dreading Friday’s festivities—or lack of festivities—for the past two weeks. My heart has been a little glum and (always) anxious. While I have always taken comfort in giving my other anxieties to God, turning to Him about romantic love felt unimportant and just embarrassing. Where would I begin?

Thank God for God. He saw me wrestling with my thoughts. “My daughter,” he said fondly, holding my hand. “I will love you more than any man—any boy­—ever can. Run to my arms. If you let me, I can be all you need.” We talked for a while. It wasn’t pretty at first—there were frustrated prayers and anxious tears. When I no longer had words for the overflowing, overwhelming feelings that were bubbling up, I took pen to paper.

The ink became thread, stitching together letters to explain the feelings I couldn’t verbalize. The words became a sea, swirling around my knees. The pen became my avenue to God. The page became His invitation to the wild soiree in my heart.

 

And then He hugged me. My entire body felt like it had been soaked in a warm lavender bath, or enveloped by a blanket from the dryer, warmth still lingering.  I no longer had to—have to—limp along alone. Since Sunday school, I’ve known he is “with” me, as He is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. What I didn’t grasp was that he is actually with me, a coalescence of the compassionate King and his humble servant. He is with me because his spirit fills me. It’s this radical, boundless love that reminds me I don’t need to be independent or romantically linked. I don’t have to be anything but His daughter. I am the daughter of a King who is not moved by the world. For my God is with me and goes before me. I do not fear because I am His.

 

“Dance with God and He'll let the perfect man cut in.”

Happy Valentine's Day (week?), friend.

...And now I feel like wearing pink.

 

Cultivating Curiosity

I was a very inquisitive child. I remember my childhood brain vividly; my mind was saturated, soaked with a quirky imagination, my dark green eyes always widened in fascination. I had a couple of chipped teeth, proof of my long days of playing, and a big, tender heart.

I remember the books—oh, the books!

A giant case of all of my favorite titles sat unwavering outside of the white wooden door to my bedroom. On the occasions that I could coax my golden retriever into my towering, blankety fort, I would read her/him/her (Ginger, Spencer, and Baylee, respectively) storybooks, careful to give full view of the pictures to the set of chocolate brown eyes next to me. There were even big kid books, stacked on the tippy-top shelf, gleaming in all of their grown-up glory. I would run my tiny, unpolished fingers over the titles, praying that each book would silently and graciously bless me with the ability to read long words one day. Atlases and chemistry manuals and Kyle’s battered European History text each showered me with tiny kisses, down in my little soft fort, telling me that one day I would be tall enough to reach and old enough to understand. In the meantime, it was princesses and fairies, noble knights, and a gorgeous pink book with gold-rimmed pages brimming with bedtime tales. I was fiercely curious, eager to dip my toes into other cultures and lands, going for a midday imaginative swim through the pages and pillows and blankets and words.

My imagination was so bright! Thick like oil paints and smeared like watercolors, my thoughts swirled to the notes of an imaginative symphony, singing to me, “Eat up all of that knowledge, little Buttercup. Eat it and taste it and make worlds out of it.” I wanted to know everything.

Shining eyes, large with wonder, my pupils danced left to right, left to right. I stitched together big-kid words, gliding through waves of sentences. On sunshiney Saturdays, Mom would take the big canvas tote to the library, filling it with new titles to bring home for me. There was a story about Mexican tradition, and a mystery with pearls. I remember towering stacks of yellow hardcovers with black ink—Nancy Drew—and the red and white gingham covers of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s adventures.And after the last page had been turned, I would linger on the last word, not ready to give up my own newfound life between the pages.

There were these old, lace curtains, torn at the seams and snagged in the middle, that I would wrap around my tiny torso and fasten with an old brooch.

My great aunt had gifted me with braided strands of pink and white freshwater pearls; on special days, my mom would let me wear them too. My little feet would slide into Mom’s cream pumps, the very ones she walked and laughed and danced in at her wedding. I’d then use hair ties, balancing in my too-big heels on my mattress, to fasten a blanket canopy to the top of my four-poster bed.

Under my canopy I would play and read and draw a little, just happy to be living.

I was curious, quick to learn and slow to forget. I savored every morsel of life and every string of words. Besides my curtain dress, I wore “playclothes” and romped outside. I bruised my elbows and picked leaves to make very inedible soup (the world will never know why on Earth I didn’t call it salad). I fell down and rolled in the grass, got itchy, and jumped in the pool. I ran barefoot and swam in dirt. I picked tomatoes, delighting in their tight, blood-red skin, and played with Kyle’s basketball when he let me. The Earth was a song and a poem and a picture; under every rock was a new critter friend, and the flowers sang ballads. Everything was interesting and joyful, and learning was scrumptious.

There were bad days, yes. Sometimes there were crocodile tears, thick and splashy. There were red cheeks and scraped knees. I was sensitive, and had not yet learned how to live with it (HSP, which stands for Highly Sensitive Person, is a psychological trait). I was a little bit anxious and a lot a bit shy. There were moments of hiding under the oak table in the dining room. But those moments, overflowing with gritty feeling, were fascinating to me. Life had color, triumphs, texture, and tears, and I wanted to understand every last bit.

I’ve heard some adults, in stressful and busy seasons of life, long for their pre-internet brain. I long for my pre-understanding brain. I long for the times of raw curiosity, before I decided I knew everything there ever was to know in life, ever (the comicality is unnerving). I want to linger over words, drinking in the syllables.

...says Giovanni to Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. She delights; he laughs. “Let’s cross over. It is so ordinary,” he states, eyebrow raised and English thick with Italian undertones.

“He couldn’t understand why I liked it so much. Let’s cross the street? But to my ear, it’s the perfect combination of Italian sounds. The wistful ah of introduction, the rolling trill, the soothing s, that lingering “ee-ah-moh” combo at the end. I love this word. I say it all the time now. I invent any excuse to say it.” | Liz Gilbert

Sweet Liz and her wonderful travel tales pinpoint my desire for childlike curiosity. I really know so little. In my 20 years of life, I’ve established some sort of arrogance of “been there, done that.” There is nothing left to see, taste, touch, hear. But really, to believe this is true is to devalue the world and God’s incredible creation. The whole world is still at the tips of my fingers, lands to explore, words to learn, people to meet, hearts to be mended and tears to be shed.

 Let’s discover. Let’s create. Let’s explore and uncover and understand. Let’s stand in awe, drinking in the glory of the skies and the chemistry of our bodies.

Let’s be curious this year