California, Christianity, & Kin | Religious Pluralism

I've placed second in the California Pluralism Contest! My video will be part of lesson plans and lectures for high schoolers and Cal State + UC college students to celebrate California's religious diversity and promote religious literacy. 

What a sweet opportunity to share a bit of my heart and encourage others to delight in their faith and heritage! Thank you so much to the Religious Studies Departments of the University of California, Santa Barbara; San Diego State University; California State University, Fresno; California State University, Chico; and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 

Joyfully,

 
 

Insignificant Moments

I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want every day to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.
— Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

The other night, one of my dearest and far-away friends sent me this quote from Cold Tangerines, a book by Shauna Niequist.

And before the evening was over, I found myself buying the whole book on my Kindle—a whopping seven-dollar investment (for a college student, that’s like a Panera You-Pick-Two)—happy to support sweet Shauna because I adored her book Bittersweet, but surprising myself nonetheless. I mean... I didn’t even try to snag a dog-eared and faded paperback copy for less than a dollar from the hoards of used book offers on Amazon. No, that wouldn’t do. Overcome by a strange and compelling sense of urgency, I needed the book, then and there. And in my experience, anything but apathy is worth listening to, so the urgent little voice in my head and I clicked purchase and watched as it loaded onto my Kindle.

That night I began the book as I tucked myself in between the sheets. The first few chapters that I read in those fleeting evening hours (before sleep convinced my eyelids of their weight) were about making small, daily life tasks significant and pleasing to the Lord. I was captivated, but not convinced.

How could the monotony of my daily life—the making and unmaking of my excessive twelve-pillowed bed, the strands of dental floss that didn’t quite make it into the trash bin, and the granola bar I shoved in my mouth as I put the key in the ignition when I was running late be significant? Meaningful? Ecclesiastical? How could those moments be anything, really?

By the next day I had forgotten all of those thoughts, as deep thinking was temporarily lost to a laborious to-do list (and an impending marine biology exam). But in a moment of rest, I cracked open Jesus Calling and lingered over my comically large coffee mug: "Even the most routine part of your day can be a spiritual act of worship, holy and pleasing to Me."

So there it was again—moments of worth. Moments like diamonds and days like treasure. It was about bypassing the “Sunday morning show” and living in Christ’s truth as I made oatmeal and got the mail and ran out of the good shampoo. Had I been living like that? Had I really been doing life with God? Did I even know what that looked like?

So I kept reading Cold Tangerines. Shauna was on to something with this whole “celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life” thing. Through little bundles of chapters and bookmarked pages, I began to feel like she was this sort of older-sister-meets-mother mentor figure to me. And I felt God speaking to me through her.

Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.
— Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

Awareness of God—His love, His presence, His plan put to action in everyday happenings—makes all the difference. It’s in this awareness of the subtleties of His voice and the vastness of His love that we truly do life with Him. It’s in these small moments, like chopping apples and putting on socks, that we have the grand opportunity to dwell in His love and light and reflect it back out into the world.

Recently I’ve gotten into the habit of skipping over my usual Spotify playlists and listening to my “Jesus music” while driving. Little by little, driving has shifted from a tedious, basic task, to a time where I can reflect, recharge, and gear up for/wind down from the day’s happenings. By letting God into these otherwise insignificant ten or twenty minutes, my mood improves and outlook shifts.

By pouring out love and intention every day, we’re consequently filled up with Christ. It’s the crux of the Creator–creation relationship. As instruments of His love and purpose, we’re called to worship in all moments—both big and small—and make disciples as we cut the grass and chat with the UPS guy. There is worth, power, significance, and love in the non-events. And so today: be intentional. Pour out. Be filled up. Harvest joy. Practice gratitude. Every moment is your testimony. 

Joyfully,

 
 


Twenty Life Lessons by Age Twenty

Life is messy, but here's what I know so far...

 

1. “There is nothing wrong with loving the crap out of everything. Negative people find their walls. So never apologize for your enthusiasm.” | R. Adams

Negativity is draining. It’s human nature to slip into sourness and (shamefully) take it out on those around us. But because of the complexities of the human mind, changing your thoughts is possible. Gently step back from your next negative/hectic/stressful situation (sometimes physically) and reframe. How could this experience help you? Stretch you? Lead you? Next time negativity comes knocking, kick it out of your mind.

 

2. “I have sea foam in my veins; I understand the language of waves.” | J. Cocteau

I grew up on the coast and had a happy, sea-salty childhood studded with camping and kayaks, boogie boards and wetsuits. My weekends consisted of watching my brother compete in rough water swims, or donning a snappy one-piece for my own swim meets. A towel and swimsuit took up permanent residence in the trunk of my car by the time I was sixteen (for spontaneous beach trips). And at age seventeen I was baptized in the ocean with one of my best friends, redeemed by God’s grace and humbled by his vast, oceanic creation. Then came eighteen—Texas. No nearby ocean. No tide pools to wade in, dolphins to swim with, or shells to collect. When I returned to the California coast two years later, the ocean welcomed me with open arms. It was only once I left that I realized how much the ocean means to me. Find your happy place.

 

3. “We have a tendency to want the other person to be a finished product while we give ourselves the grace to evolve.” | T. D. Jakes

As a sensitive old soul, I often set really high expectations for my friends/family/teachers/etc. and can’t help but be disappointed when said people don’t live up to said expectations. I don’t think the error is (always...) in my high expectations, but in failing to forgive easily. I need to be more generous in handing out my forgiveness. I can get a teensy bit upset when a cashier doesn’t smile at me, or when the secretary at the doctor’s office snaps at me on the phone! Although they need to read #1, I need to exercise tenderness and grace. We're all only human.

 

4. “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” | M. Oliver

Boys boys boys. Most girls want a guy that's honest, charming, funny, and blah, blah, blah... All of that is excellent, but you know what I really love? Curiosity. And not in a gossipy shallow way, but in a thirst-for-knowledge way. Curiosity is the desire to know how to do things. How a gadget works. Why whales migrate. What someone else's stance on carbon emission is. Curiosity enriches our lives as we learn from our neighbors, share our own experiences, and delight in the sweetness of learning something new. 

 

5. “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” | M. L’Engle

This lesson is challenging because discrediting other people or pointing fingers is often our automatic response (even if only in our minds). As a (world) religions major in college, I've been stretched and tested on a daily basis, studying other faiths and learning from/alongside people with different beliefs than my own. The gritty truth? It's hard. I remember calling my parents after my first world religions class, because I was having trouble relating to the diverse faiths in the classroom (present in both my classmates and in the textbook). But now, that's actually why I love studying all of the religions of the worldunderstanding other people and cultures is difficult without exploring the rhythm of faith that beats through their lives and hearts. As a Christian, I want to follow Christ with a servant's heart and act in a way that would make God proud.

 

6. “You can never get enough of nature. To be surrounded by it is to be stilled. It salves the heart. The mountains, the trees, the endless plains. The moon, the myriad of stars. Every man can be made quiet and complete." | A. Burns

I love being outside. If I could live in one of those open-air homes in Bali (outdoors and indoors at the same time!), I would. Even my best thinking (sometimes brooding) is done outside, as my feet lead me from one place to the next. I think just feeling the sun and wind on my skin and the grass or pavement under my toes makes me feel connected. Nature is humblingI realize I'm only a small fragment of His creation. In my oceanography summer school class, we learned that over 70% of the Earth is covered by wateras if I didn't feel tiny and wonderfully overwhelmed enough by the 30% of the Earth that is land! As my favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, says, "walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet." Side note: does everybody have a favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk?  

7.  “May you live like the lotus—at ease in muddy water.” | Buddha

In my childhood home, we had a huge koi pond beside the front door. Though the water itself was sometimes vile, the pond was my favorite part of the house (except for the bird aviary... more on that another time). The koi fish were each over a foot long, and one of them was in love with my brotherif he stuck his finger in the water, the fish would "kiss" it and not let go (oh, the memories). The pond attracted Snowy Egrets, raccoons, Blue Herons, and most of the passing by neighbors. But the most incredible part of it all emerged in May through September, when the water lilies bloomed. From the brownish-green, gunky water sprouted the most incredible pink and white and yellow blooms. And that's really the magic of itthe lotus will only grow up through the mud (though water lilies and lotus flowers are not the same to a botanist, they grow in the same conditions). We can only flourish by growing up through our own mud: the little annoyances, the big challenges, the life-threatening situations and the stubbed toes alike. Live like the lotus and embrace your circumstances. Learn from your mud. Grow from your mud.

 

8.  “Be careful who you open up to. Only a few truly care—the rest are just curious.” | Unknown

Remember the little distinction I made in #4? Curiosity comes in many forms, and it's important to realize that not everyone has sparkling intentions. Although this seems like a lesson learned in high school halls, I think this is one of those gritty, uncomfortable learning experiences that we all face more than once. It may be someone at work, in class, in your club/sport/group/whateversome people seem to prey on secrets and feelings and vulnerability. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), but don't shield it from those who truly love you. Be discerning.  

 

9.  “You have more to do than be weighed down by pretty or beautiful. You are a fiery heart and a wicked brain. Do not let your soul be defined by its shell.” | M.K.

As Ann Voskamp said, "Please hear me, Girl: The world has enough women who know how to do their hair. It needs women who know how to do hard and holy things." You're more than lipstick. You aren't the frivolous, frolicking, fairytale princess that the world assumes you are and should be. You're a kick-butt, get-things-done, selfless, brilliant, fiery kind of gal. (Or maybe you're a male reading this. You rock too.)

 

10. “I used to wonder why I was busting my ass at calculus when I was interested in the arts, but I felt that there was a relationship between working hard at school and taking your dreams seriously. I still think that if you’re excited about something, you have to work at it.” | E. Koenig

I love school. I am, as Elizabeth Gilbert once wrote, "such a shameless student." The hand-raising, correct-the-textbook's-punctuation, set-out-an-outfit-before-bed type. Growing up, I was an okay student grade-wise, making As and Bs, with each report card praising my "citizenship" instead of my academic abilities. I felt like I had to try so much harder than all of the other kids: middle school homework would take me six or seven hours, I couldn't write notes fast enough in high school, and I had no real motivation other than to "get good grades" so I could "get into a good college." What's worse, my older brother was a superhuman student (Who manages to get only one B in an entire college career?! And it was actually a B+...).  Luckily, there was a shift in the universe. It wasn't until college that I loved learning. Yes, I still think tests are scary and a red correcting pen is the devil's writing utensil of choice, but there is so much joy in knowledge! Books and documentaries, classes and speeches! I wanted to gobble up all of the facts and poems and paintings like a glutton. Working hard and appreciating subjects outside of your career path can be enlightening and can help prepare you for that disinteresting task you have to do/that internship that you don't love but want to stick with/etc.

 

11. “Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we’re waiting for.” | C. Stanley (Isiah 64:4)

Patience is my Achille's heel. Learning to wait on the Lord is somewhat of a work in progress. I hate the unknown (anxious person problems) and always want to be in control of situations. Since my leap out of one university in Texas and into uncharted waters, God is making sure I'm getting my fair share of practice. 

 

12. “Being positive in a negative situation is not naïve. It’s leadership.” | R. Marston

Last Thanksgiving break, I found myself on an extremely turbulent flight back to my university. The plane was lurching and dropping in the air (planes ride in the air like boats do in the water. There are currents both good and bad...according to the pilot), and everyone was screaming. My little soul didn't know what to do, so I ended up holding hands with the woman next to me as we prayed and tried to comfort her little dog. "Jesus has given the pilot all of the skills he needs to fly this plane," she told her dog. "The pilot is very capable."  I was taken aback by her positivity amidst the chaos. Maybe it was more to reassure herself than her pup (who surely had zero clue what was going on besides its little popping ears), but her positivity was leadership in those scary few hours.

 

13. “They want to see you do well, but never better than them.” | Unknown

I'm convinced that competition is engrained in our genetic makeup. As another one of those "human nature" things, we want to excel more than our peers, even if those peers are loved ones. In high school, there was a girl on my swim team who was both my biggest rival and closest friend in the sport. Every 50 freestyle we would end up 0.1 or 0.2 seconds apart, often with me as the loser (though not always... heheh). I was thrilled that she was doing so wellshe was my friend, after allbut I didn't want her to be better than me. For some reason, it hurt more to lose against her since we were friends! With a rather "colorful" background of 10 sports under my belt (thanks, Mom and Dad), I know what it feels like to be the sore loser and to receive the negative energy from a sore loserneither feel good. Can we just encourage each other? And hold hands? And all be friends? (Perhaps I also have a young soulprobably around kindergarten or preschool-agedpining for the days of sharing crayons and making friends by sharing my cool big Ticonderoga pencils.)

 

14. “Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart—one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.” | M. J. Ashton

It's easy to yell at whoever left their stuff on the stairs (Whiskey, my Golden Retriever, is so guilty of this). It's tempting to snap at the cashier who forgot to take the security tag off of your new $200 swimsuit (I've actually been that cashier before...). It's second nature to do a little eye rolling here and therewhen parents get a little too micro-managey, when someone in the group project shows up late, or when the professor announces a pop quiz. It's easy to tear people down in these small but significant ways. But you know what's even more significant? Nurturing. Flick the little devil off of your shoulder (à la childhood cartoons) and resist the urge to snap/yell/gossip/whatever. Channel that energy for good. Build someone up. Listen without judgment. Help someone out even when it's inconvenient. To think someone could be left better after meeting you is a very powerful thing.

15. “Settling for less makes you feel less. It actually makes your energy smaller. Deciding to not settle might mean you have to wait longer or challenge the typical, but if you are passionate about what you are creating with your life, the way always appears.” | D. Claudat

Settling and apathy are dangerous drugs. As humans, we're often tempted by the safer option, the easier and faster option, or the higher-paying-yet-horrendously-boring option. Boys, jobs, universities, internshipswe're seduced by Settling's instant gratification. But if that boy/job/university/internship isn't everything you've ever dreamed of, pull on your patience pants and be productive in the meantime. Patience is wicked tough, but often worth it.

 

16. “Be with someone who doesn’t make you want to check your phone.” | Unknown

This is SO big for me. I am so tired of going to dinner with friends only to look around the table and see everyone on their phone. While it feels natural to do a little Twitter scrollin' or to edit Instagram pictures right then and there, this actually sends the message that what's on your little screen is much more important or entertaining than those actually sitting next to you. Be with the people you are physically with at gatherings. When I can feel my phone vibrating in my pocket, it takes 110% of my mind-over-matter powers to ignore. But relationships are worth the agony of missing some notifications. Give people your attention. Be fully present. Set an example for others. And to be frank, when it comes to friends or relationships, you shouldn't even want to check your phone around them! This past weekend I was in San Diego with my two best friends, and although we snapped a few pictures at brunch, we all waited to post until after. Easy peasy. 

 

17. “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” | M. Dell

It feels good to be the smart one. My former university required all students to take a general ed religion class, and since I was a religion major and was bound by this requirement, I excelled times 43,855,245 in the intro-level course. The professor would use my essay as a class example after every exam and everyone wanted to be my partner on group quizzes (though I don't think they even knew my name...boohoo). While it bolstered my self-esteem and confidence in the classroom, pridefulness snuck into the mix. Luckily, every subsequent course had me working harder and harder, humbled when the material no longer came easily to me. That's where the meaningful conversations, stacks of pored-over books, and the feeling of being so small in such a vast chasm of knowledge come into play. That's where the growth happens. (Growth seems to be the theme in this season of life.)

 

18. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. To be light and frolicsome. Improbably and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.” | M. Oliver

I don't know if it's possible to change personality types while growing up, or if the "Type A and B" theory is even accurate, but I've always been a B: creative, reflective, and easygoing. By my second year of college, I was the hybrid mix: creative, reflective, driven, perfectionist, workaholic. It may have been the increased responsibilities or newfound passion in school that led me into Type A territory, but recently I've been missing my old "go-with-the-flow" nature. I think what I've gleaned from this is to enjoy every moment of youthto say yes to adventures, be willing to go exploring, and get out of the monotonous comfort zone. As the 1600s proverb goes, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" (James Howell).

 

19. “The greatest cruelty is our casual blindness to the despair of others.” | J. Straczynski

I received an email once from one of those people. If you've ever read the comment sections on YouTube videos, controversial blog posts, news articles, or celebrity Instagram photos, you'll know exactly what kind of person I meanthey hang around on the internet, search for a vulnerable target, and hit them (hard) with sharp words and painful phrases. The email snarled with harsh opening words, going on to insult me in ways I didn't know possible. The final line of the email? He or she wanted to kindly let me know that no one cares about my stupid, boring life, and that I should really look into writing about something important for once. Particularly the starving kids in Africa. Ouch. Swallowing these words wasn't easy. That kind of speech, funneled to a stranger behind the safety and anonymity of a computer screen, is inhumane. This insensitive, remorseless email was cyber-bullying. I'd hate to sound like a Disney Channel commercial, taking about the dangers of the internet and why bullying is wrong, but my gosh, it's hard to really grasp how much words can hurt until it's directed at you. This experience left me with a whole lot of empathy for anyone who has dealt with cyber-bullying before. And again, it was a character-building experience. With 7.046 billion people on the planet, not everyone is going to like you or me. Pick your battles, say your prayers for the bullies, and "write hard and clear about what hurts" (Hemingway).

 

20. "To live content with small meansto seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not richto study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heartto bear all cheerfullydo all bravely, await occasionsnever hurry; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony." | W. E. Channing

Mr. Channing [note: not Channing Tatumthink 200 years older] is a smart fellow. Not because he was a Harvard grad in the 17th/18th century, but because of his awareness of what's actually meaningful and essential in life. I feel like present-day society is gluttonous, driven by validation, entertainment, and shock-value. And it's easy to be seduced by fancy cars, night life, and lavish clothesbut does it really matter? They're just things. Man-made things. The real treasures are in the moments, the relationships, the laughs and tears, and the things that GOD cares about.

 

Joyfully,

 

 
 
 

Planting in Faith

You are a woman. An image bearer of God. The crown of creation. You were chosen before time and space, and you are wholly and dearly loved. You are sought after, pursued, romanced, [and] the passionate desire of Jesus. You are dangerous in your beauty and your life-giving power. And you are needed. As a woman who has been ransomed and redeemed, you can be tender and strong. You speak to the world of God’s mercy, mystery, beauty, and his desire for intimate relationship...The King is captivated by your beauty...Whatever your particular calling, you are meant to grace the world with your dance, to follow the lead of Jesus wherever he leads you.
— Captivating

Following the lead of Jesus has proven difficult lately, as I find myself tangled deep beneath all of my selfish wants and wishes. I strain my ears to listen for His quiet call, instead hearing only my own anxious mind firing off thoughts at 100 miles per hour. It's so humbling to think you're headed one way--and to be completely confident about said direction--only to be wrong. 

Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.
— Elizabeth Elliot

In this time of gritty trust and blind belief, I'm realizing the strength of the poison that is doubt. It begins small--a second thought or a hesitant moment--and grows rapidly and wildly, flailing its limbs and rearing its head. Soon every decision is coated in the poison, attracting Doubt's dear friends, Anxiety, Fear, and Apathy. Together they make an unruly bunch, diluting trust and cutting out faith. They're wicked strong, wicked stubborn, and freaking annoying.

It feels like hiking at night.

I have my boots laced up and my flashlight in hand, but the beam only illuminates one small patch of the mountain at a time. If I get distracted by the foliage or animal noises, I could diverge from the path, ending up hopelessly lost. If I become too obsessed with the end goal, shining my flashlight way ahead of me, I will stumble and fall, or perhaps step on a friendly neighborhood rattlesnake. If my light stays at my feet with my eyes glued to the ground, I could take the wrong path, run headfirst into a branch, or just miss the beauty of looking up at the moon in the sky. 

Balance is hard.

The biggest comfort in times of radical change or instability is knowing that God would never "throw you to the wolves" (unless you're David and the wolves are Lions... and even then He'll still be with you and protect you!). His right hand will guide you (see Psalms 139:9-10). Sometimes silence is His answer. Sometimes the answer is "not yet." Sarah was 90 when she gave birth to the son that God had promised to her and Abraham. She even laughed when the angel of the Lord told her she'd have a son (Genesis 21:6), but Sarah was patient and God was faithful. And so when Sarah was 90 (and Abraham was 100), she gave birth to Isaac--whose name means "laughter" in Hebrew. Besides, worrying is literally betting against God. Stay hopeful. Stay joyful.

P.S.: Welcome to my new site! After using Wordpress for 2 years, it was time for a change. Whether you are new to my blog or have been reading my thoughts for awhile, click below to learn more about who I am and what I do.

Joyfully,

 
 



Emptied of Me to Be Filled with Christ (New Adventures and a Missing Sock)

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until the bags are packed and unpacked, the boxes are taped up and ripped open, and you’re sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor wondering how you’ve accumulated so many socks and realize that one is missing—potentially stuck to the wall of the dryer in your old apartment 1,700 long and looping miles away—and there is no possible way you will ever see that little pink Nike sock again.

Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until you have one of those trippy moments looking in the mirror, when you really see yourself and realize "this is me... This is my life. I'm a person. I'm living" (Does everyone have these moments? Nope? Just me?)

Life has a way of having long days and short years, with months that drag on and decades that whip by faster than you can say “Beanie Babies” (or Furby, Skip-It, BopIt, or HitClips—I swear we’re still in the ‘90s). I still write 2012 on the headings of my school papers, which was the year I graduated high school (I’m currently a junior in college), not able to digest the fact that we’re almost halfway through 2014.

It didn’t feel real, buckled into my little hybrid, the back window plastered with my sorority letters and the back seat stacked high with Tupperware bins and random, single shoes (we got to the point where my car was so full that we had to stuff clothes and shoes into every pocket of air available—very Tetris-esque). It didn’t feel real as we drained giant cups of sweet tea in Texas, Sonic slushies in New Mexico, and In’n’Out pink lemonade in Arizona (such a California tease!). Even the lease paperwork, endless roadside gas stations/rest stops, getting whistled at by scary truck drivers, and the multiple hotels didn’t really solidify the fact that I was leaving Texas for good.

The road signs kept me updated as to how many thousands, hundreds, and tens of miles we had until sweet California welcomed warmly (literally), but even the giant blue “Welcome to California!” sign in a dusty corner of my favorite state didn’t make it feel real. I wasn’t reciting some sort of Texas eulogy, or caught in the thick of emotions from goodbye and change and a new hello. I was just driving.

It wasn’t till I was sitting on my bedroom floor, exercising my inner obsessive-compulsive, domestic, perfectionist goddess, surrounded by socks and sorority shirts and a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, that I began to physically feel one chapter of life closing and the next opening. It wasn’t a sad feeling at all—just a sweet reminder that God’s hand is guiding me every day, and that I’m back in California for His purpose and by His grace.

I went to a beach bonfire with a friend last week.

After digging a fire pit in the sand (disclaimer: there was no sign saying it was illegal...although the cops showed up eventually), the fire was crackling and the s’mores ingredients were passed around (including S’moreos—s’mores Oreos—my new friend’s creation). After prayer, we all ended up singing worship songs led by a girl with a guitar and a voice that sounded “somewhere between Elvis [...or female equivalent] and angels,” to quote Hannah Brencher. With bare toes buried in the sand, a disposable camera in hand (I’m bringing them back), and the mingling song of the ocean and Jesus-loving voices, I felt the loving sovereignty of God, as he began to tie together all of the loose ends and frayed edges of my life, giving me new adventures, new hope, and new purpose. 

 

Joyfully,

 
 

Finding Peace in a Busy Season

IT'S FINALS SEASON.

Laced with energy drinks, late-night swipes into the library and printers running dry of ink, finals season is the microcosm of “real world” deadlines crammed into a two-week period.

It’s like the volume dial of the stress radio was crank, crank, cranked to full blast, then broken off and stuck in position. So here we are as college students, with broken pencils, messy hair and under-eye circles, fueling caffeine addictions and nursing (or numbing) our tired minds.

Although I’m not a late night studier (I’d rather get up at 5am—perhaps a rare trait in my age group), I fit every other finals week stereotype—sleepy, swollen eyes, clothes that I fell asleep in, and a textbook never leaving the crook of my arm.

I am a school person. A perfectionist. An “oh my gosh, I got an A-” kind of gal (although I would never admit it in a classroom setting—people who verbalize that really test my patience). Being so “schooly” has its pros (good grades) and cons (a bundle of nasty stress breakdowns/freak outs/meltdowns leading up to finals week). I make flashcards and rewrite notes, annotate books and fill the pages with sticky note flags on important bits of information.

And side note: that's okay. That's who I am. I think a lot of college students think it's cool to laugh about failing classes, brag about not studying, or joke about not even having the textbooks. And I say: It's seriously cool to be smart. It's not something to be embarrassed about.

smart

But... Even though I usually have a good turn out once finals week is over, I’m often left a little wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m so hard on myself that my emotions are usually frayed, and my self-reflecting thoughts aren’t exactly the kindest. My brain turns to mush (or is hollow with a dull humming noise vibrating off of the empty caverns). I’m sleep-deprived, exercise-deprived, and nutrition-deprived (real nutrition—my finals week diet of protein bars and water doesn’t count). And worst of all, when I get to this broken (but academically excellent) point, I’ve neglected my relationship with Christ.

It’s so easy for me to sink into the depths of my schoolwork, disappearing completely into projects, presentations, papers, and study guides. I get so stressed out and mad at myself for not remembering that phosphorous makes red blood cells with folate and that the Rastafarian religion stemmed from the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon (I always think it's David because he is associated with Bathsheba...close enough). I forget to brush my teeth (eww kidding...kinda) or my hair. I barely remember to take deep breaths, let alone pray.

But I’ve been realizing something this time around, when my stress is greater than ever before and when the two weeks to finals also means two weeks left in the state of Texas: God is great and I am not. Riding the rush of a good grade is sweet for a few moments, until the to-do list piles back up, there’s another test on the desk in front of you, and you’re trying to handle everything on your own. I’m realizing during this finals season how much I need God. I need someone to talk to, someone to love me when I can’t remember the stomach enzyme that breaks down lipids, and someone to calm me down when my computer crashes.

The gap between our frail discipline capabilities and God’s available strength for us is bridged with nothing but a simple choice on our part.
— Lysa TerKeurst, Made to Crave

His omnipresence is a great comforter—literally a giant, soft, squishy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. With Him I’m finding the peace and joy in this finals season, and in these last two weeks at this school. I feel blessed to be able to study exactly what I love, to have a cozy apartment (with a fireplace DVD playing on loop), and to have a family that knows I’m doing my best no matter what the outcome. He keeps me from falling. He holds my hand. And sometimes, when it’s the end of the school day but there’s still more to do, he just carries me. I’m thankful for a God like this. He is my source of strength and perseverance, my cheerleader (that’s a visual), and my Heavenly Father. And of course, knowing that in two little weeks I’ll be hopping in my hybrid and cruising back to California is a giant motivator.

Joyfully in Christ,

 
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Wandering Feet, Anxious Heart

It wasn't the first time I found myself being yelled at in Sudanese Arabic.

Actually, it definitely was.

I wasn’t sure if the taxi driver was yelling at me to get out of the taxi—perhaps he wasn’t available—or to get in and close the door. So there I was, perched in an uncomfortable squat, half-sitting in his taxi, half-standing on the pavement. Eventually he managed the word “door” in English, and motioned to the phone clenched to his ear. Enlightened but thoroughly annoyed, I closed the door and sat back in the grimy taxi van seat, embarking on my overpriced journey from the airport to my college campus.

Once he got off the phone, he told me that he was from Sudan. It had been his wife calling from overseas, so he couldn’t hang up when I climbed into his taxi. He was here in Texas and driving this van to support his family back in Africa. At one point he fluidly shifted from English to Sudanese Arabic, forgetting that I was just a little English (-speaking) girl—pun intended. In fragmented sentences and broken English, he talked about war, uprisings, and water. When I got to my apartment that night, and took a drawn-out shower and left the sink running too long, I thought of Mr. Taxi Driver’s wife, and a Sudanese water purification struggle.

Sometimes my world gets a little too small.

As it shrinks, my own problems metastasize. My rapidly narrowing perspective makes running out of coffee into a disaster, or an imperfect outfit or homework assignment into a tragedy. Sometimes it takes a little bit of exaggeration to make a point. Obviously these things are not disasters, tragedies, or heartbreaks, but I will sheepishly admit that I let extremely mild annoyances turn into mildly extreme problems. 

It's like the love-hate relationship I have with my major.

I love my major because I’m a thinker. My brain loves to finesse complex ideas and break down multifaceted concepts. I’m passionate about happiness—the science of it, the thoughts behind it, and the way to get to it. Through my major, I learn about the Buddhist “Six Perfections” that a bodhisattva must practice to become enlightened. I love relationships and examining all that comes with them. I can explore the tensions between the four branches of Judaism, or the many Christian denominations. It’s fascinating to me—I devour the words in my religion textbook like they were tiny, chocolate-laced pastries doused in powdered sugar or sprinkled with sea salt. But other times... I hate my major; studying other people and cultures is a harsh reminder of how small my own world and problems are. I’m glad for this wake up call, but it doesn’t always feel good.

I’m passionate about so many things—healthy oceans and beaches (Surfrider Foundation), nutrition, rainforest preservation, and animal treatment—so how is it that my fading tan and minor stress breakout were all I really thought about today? The older I get, the more aware I am of my little world. I want to preserve it, nurturing and protecting my “innocent” mind, and staying safe within the boundaries of a white picket fence and trimmed rose hedges. At the same time, my empathetic nature makes me hurt for impoverished people I will never meet, abused pups I will never play with, and oil-drenched oceans I will never visit. 

And so here I am, back in the uncomfortable position. I am half-sitting in a taxi that promises to show me a beautiful, corrupt world, and half-standing on the pavement, where life is safe and feet are rooted to the ground.

My anxious, wandering spirit craves both comfort and chaos. My feet and heart and mind want to roam; my body doesn't want to get out of bed. And here you are, feeling the same way. Or maybe you're rolling your eyes, yelling at me through the screen to buy a plane ticket to Sudan--I received an email a few months ago asking me if I had ever stopped to think about the children in Africa, because certainly that is the only meaningful issue in the world. I beg to differ. Although I feel stuck, unsure if I want to venture into the world or stay with my feet on the ground, I know that meaning can be found in daily life. Though some of my worries today were laughable (how did my leggings get so see-through?!), I think you and I can really make some positive change happen here. Here. Where we are. Now. Gandhi said: "In a gentle way, you can shake the world." He was right. Ask someone how they're doing--how they arereally, genuinely doing. Challenge yourself to not engage in gossip. Send someone a letter if their corner of the world is feeling a little broken and gloomy. Hop off the social media and do something productive. Go to the beach and pick up every styrofoam fragment and bottle you can find (recycle when applicable, of course). Buy someone sunflowers. Talk to the cashier (working in retail taught me that small talk is, indeed, meaningful). Find something you're passionate about and pursue it. Do something today that is productive and positive--something that helps someone other than yourself. Besides, those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

It all began by being yelled at in Sudanese Arabic.

Joyfully in Christ,

Feeling Restless: The Monotony of Routine

"When I look at the galaxies on a clear night--when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged--I rejoice that I am part of it." - Madeleine L'Engle

I needed a change. I felt restless but rooted; each subsequent day overflowed with equal parts urgency and apathy. How had I let myself become so entangled in monotony? I was reluctant to unclench my palms, letting go of my familiar, comforting, dull, maddening routine.

I tried to push the feeling back down, but it kept sprouting up again. Tireless and consistent, the feeling that I needed to change something felt as if God were knocking on the caverns of my mind, shouting joyfully, “Wake up! Wake up, my daughter! Taste and see the world! I can give you a new perspective if you simply ask me. Wake up, sweet daughter!”

 

& so I got up.

 

I flung open the windows, and blasted John Mayer (the man of my dreams—that “beautiful, tortured soul”). I pulled a few pots and pans on tiptoe from the cupboard, and gathered ingredients. I brought water to a rolling boil, and added pasta. In another pan, I began making a humble, homemade sauce with thick diced tomatoes and little bunches of minced garlic. I moved all of the furniture in the adjacent living room to the edges of the walls, gifting me with luscious floor space. I piled blankets and pillows on the carpet, filled a glass with water and ice and lemon, and put on my favorite “playclothes.”

The breeze drifted through the wide-open windows, as the curtains snapped joyfully in the wind and the sauce bubbled deliciously on the stove. Something about the simple act of moving the furniture and letting in the Earth’s breath made me feel like my little cottage-y apartment was completely new. For a lingering moment, the ordinary—my little herb garden, the guitar jauntily propped against the wall, and the rollout piano stretched across the floor—was thrilling and novel and fresh.

It’s easy to drift into Tedium’s grasp; she gluttonously laps up every drop of novelty, and robs us of our happiness. It's especially easy for students to slip into routine--a huge chunk of our lives is scheduled out and penciled in, neglecting spontaneity.

We have our favorite spot in the library, that one food that we have at least 3 times a week, and the shirt we seem to wear every day. Even the Friday Night-ers are adamant in the order that they “hit the bars.” Routine is a college thing. We aren’t mindful about the food we consume, the conversations we have, or how long we sleep. This heedless “auto-pilot” mode leaves us flighty and distracted, or stressed when the test we were “meaning to study for” is suddenly staring maliciously up at us from the desk.

There is little time for real whimsy or exploration. We wake up—three or four alarms later—and roll over to check Facebook, Twitter, texts, email, and Instagram in tandem, a faithful servant to connectivity. We spend a few moments sitting on the bathroom counter and staring in shock at our reflection (raccoon eyes, knotted hair, a zit, a weird cheek indentation from sleeping strangely...).

Climbing back into my beddish, blankety ocean between classes is no longer a cozy treat. Naps don’t connote restfulness or relaxation, but exhaustion and negligence. Packing a snack to enjoy during long day of schooling no longer alludes to elementary school lunches (sandwich with the crust cut off, veggies in a baggie). Lipstick and perfume and a swipe of mascara no longer wink of date nights or dinners. I am thrilled by these things when they happen rarely; routine unpacks pleasure when small joys become daily actions. I’m extremely analytical and introspective, so when I began to dismantle my feelings of apathy (basically just a case of the “blah’s”), I realized how many other areas of my life echoed the same passive, lethargic, indifference (more “blah’s). The biggest one broke my heart—I'd forgotten the magic of creation.

When was the last time you looked up at the stars and thought, “God made those, in all of their fiery, interplanetary wonder, and he still made me”? Or when was the last time you even looked at the stars?

I am broken and sinful, easily discouraged, and self-indulgent. There are very few days when I feel quite as radiant as the celestial bodies, and even fewer days when I feel as significant or purposeful. Stars just know what to do—they are kindled, then burn and shine for trillions of years, illuminating our backyard campouts, guiding sailors home safely, and proclaiming the place of Christ’s birth. And me? I go to school. I eat lunch. I swim, run, or walk. I sleep. How can I even compare to God’s mighty creation?

This is the magnificent part—we need not be intimidated. We can rejoice simply because we are a part of it (Madeleine L'Engle). Neither tedium nor apathy can erase the marvel of creation. Nothing can wipe away my astonishment that we are special elements of a macrocosmic masterpiece. Routine will still attempt to steal my joy and hamper my productivity. Monotony will still seek to blanket my purpose, but just knowing that I am a small (yet meaningful) part of the brilliance of creation is enough for today.

» 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.

 

Filled Up

As a sophomore in college, I find myself in this teetering, in-between stage.

I’m hovering between the fairytale wonders of childhood and the supposedly enchanted mysteries of “grown-up life.” I have so much to look forward to, to strive for, and to dream about. I already have had so much sweetness, joy, and sorrow in my past. I have had wonderful days and terrible months; I am reminiscent and nostalgic by nature, and thus revisit these memories frequently. And yet, even with the hazy promises of a smile-studded future and the steady lessons of a laughter-encrusted childhood, I’ve become so fiercely focused on and enamored with the present moment. I suppose it’s somewhat of a quarter-life crisis (hopefully more of a one-fifth-life crisis, but the math is hardly the point). I realize that with nearly two years of college under my belt, I still feel like the same three-year-old, blonde, dare I say chubby, little girl that watched Little Bear religiously and wore white cowboy boots and hot pink jelly sandals. I have faced a plethora of lessons—often the hard way—and my path has been shaped through the adverse and through the joyful. I was blessed with a wonderful childhood in a charming San Diegan neighborhood, and my soul was filled with sunshine, sea-salty air, family, swim practice (my mom will love that!), a rigorous school district, and an amazing, comforting home church.

Nearing twenty years old, I really can’t help but begin to fantasize about my future.

Call me young, but I go to school in Texas, where it’s practically quintessential to be engaged by 22. While I’m not particularly eager to settle down so seriously or so soon, my mind has recently been wandering down that path when I’m not careful enough to discipline it. Who will I marry? Where will I live? Will I be working? Writing? Will I have kids? I think it’s completely normal for a twenty-something to be consumed by these thoughts intermittently. While they scare me on occasion, I attempt to blanket my anxieties with a positive light—there is so much promise and wonderful mystery in my future that God is unfolding for me with each new morning. I am both comforted with and encouraged by the thought that He wants what’s best for me, and is holding my hand, walking by my side, and carrying me if need be as I discover each piece of his intricate life-puzzle. Because of His promise, my soul is filled with excitement, love, trust, and comfort, knowing that some of my best years are ahead of me.

Which leads me to today, on this present moment, at 8pm on this Monday night. With so much promise ahead of me and so much that has been learned behind me, I realize that these moments in this season of my life are both my past and future. Tomorrow is absolutely uncharted, and for all I know, my life could be impacted in powerful ways at some point in my usually tedious Tuesday. When I fall into bed come 9pm (yes, that is when I like to go to bed), my day will be my past. I will be able to reflect on the lessons, both big and small, that I gathered, knowledge I cultivated, and friendships that grew. This present moment is significant. Although I am filled by the lovely memories of my past and the enchanting mysteries of my future, my soul is thirsty for the now. I need to take a step back from the nostalgia and the dreaming, and invest myself more fully into this moment, these next five minutes, and into this day. I will fill my soul—now—with the bittersweet bond of the day’s trials and triumphs. I will consider each new acquaintance as a fresh chance at a delightful friendship. I will finesse the ordinary, typically tiresome happenings of my daily life into captivating, enchanting adventures. I will stop and smell the eternally blooming flowers that my university so kindly replants every few weeks (just to make sure campus always looks pristine). I will channel Christ in my dealings with others, enveloping peers and friends in love. “I really just want to be the warm, yellow light that pours over everyone I love.”

Make it a great one. Make it significant.

I Can Feel God Working

Lately I’ve been feeling stuck in a too-comfortable, too familiar rut-like routine.

I’ve felt frustrated by elements of my college experience that aren’t exactly headed in the direction that I have planned or hoped. It is only when I make a conscious effort, taking a moment to quiet my chaotic, worry-filled mind and anxious nature, and just sit in peace that I can feel this sort of vibrating energy in my heart.

I am overcome by such a powerful feeling that although I can’t see Him orchestrating, he’s crafting a beautiful symphony that is my future. Weaving melodious friendships with the sweet air of laughter, rich tones of joy after sorrow, and harmonious songs of love, He carefully and thoughtfully shapes each note of my life. I am thoroughly excited to uncover His will, living out His perfect plan for me with a servant’s heart.

I love Him. I love how He loves me. I am in awe of his goodness, for I don’t deserve such a rich, deep, boundless love, and yet I am showered with His sweet compassion anyway. I am eternally, deeply, fully thankful for the blessings that I’ve been given.

Thank you, God, for dwelling in my heart. I trust you entirely and I eagerly await the day when you reveal to me your perfect plans. Please give me a patient heart and grant me the wisdom to differentiate between the sounds of my rambling thoughts, clanging against the interiors of my mind, and your steady voice. Thank you for changing my heart and molding me into a woman of God. Thank you for this incredible life and I’m sorry if I don’t love it enough. Give me a fresh perspective, allowing me to see the sheer abundance of blessings in my life, and the pure magnificence of your creation. Thank you for working in my heart, molding the path that awaits me. I love you so much!