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.
This past year marked my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. In light of this, my older brother, Kyle, and I reflected upon the life lessons our parents have instilled in us over the years. Without getting too nostalgic or saccharine, here is an A-Z list of some of our favorites.
A: Allow for U-turns.
Plans change and interests shift. Be compassionate toward yourself and change direction if need be. High school, college, jobs—these are all evolutionary experiences, and adjustments are sometimes necessary.
B: Be a Good Samaritan.
Be kindhearted, and go out of your way to help others. Do things that make Jesus smile.
C: Character over comfort.
I can't emphasize enough how many times I've heard this phrase. My parents were all about pushing us to do the right thing, do the hard thing, do the uncomfortable thing on our own so that we could learn (rather than them rushing to our aid and fixing all of our problems for us).
D: Doing what's right is probably not the same thing as doing what's popular.
I am such an unabashed rule-follower. Although rules can feel superfluous at times, they usually exist for a reason. And even though blatant defiance is "cool," it's usually not right (unless it is—use your best judgment).
E: Eat your veggies.
...and your fruit! Especially if it comes from the garden.
F: Follow your passions.
During her first year in a biochemistry Ph.D. program, my mom realized that although she liked science, she didn't love it. Prior to college, her parents told her she could only pursue math or science, even though her real passion was writing. So when I wanted to change majors (and then change schools), she was nothing but supportive.
G: Gossip is destructive.
Stick up for others, change the subject, and walk away if need be. Gossip isn't worth the repercussions.
H: Hold others to a high standard.
Sometimes my brother and I can take this to extremes, but for good reason. Build a community of accountability. Hold yourself to a high standard, humbly accepting critiques on your poor judgment and actions, and do the same for those around you. Push one another to be better.
I: Intentionality makes for strong relationships.
Back your words and actions in careful thought and lots of love, and watch your relationships grow deeper and stronger.
J: Jump on opportunities.
Admittedly, my brother is much better at this than I am (I am much more cautious, which comes with the territory of being an introvert). But when I voiced interest in transferring high schools to the brand new one, trying out for varsity cheerleading, going to college out of state (and subsequently transferring to a college in state), my parents encouraged me to try new things and say "yes."
K: Keep your standards high.
Don't settle—in friendships, academics, jobs, and certainly don't settle in romantic relationships. Keep heart, and keep your standards high.
L: Look for the intention behind words and actions.
Thinking about why people behaved the way they did makes for increased empathy and understanding. Did they have good intentions but bad execution?
M: Make it a great day.
My dad would always say this when he dropped me off for school (that one glorious year in elementary school that I didn't take the school bus). Make it a great day. Actively make your day excellent, rather than passively letting the day happen to you.
N: No TV on weekdays
I was rather unpopular for this in middle school and high school, as I was that one "weird kid" who wasn't up-to-speed on Pretty Little Liars or what have you. My brother and I weren't allowed to watch TV during the school week, which encouraged us to spend our time outside, in the pool, or with our nose in a book. And although I could watch TV on the weekends, I still wasn't up-to-speed on the trendy television shows—I opted for Scooby Doo, Phineas and Ferb, and Lizzie McGuire reruns.
O: Offer kindness.
Be kind, be kind, be kind. It's so simple.
P: Pray unceasingly.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Q: Question your motivations.
My brother and I have always been encouraged to be introspective about our motivations. Why did I want to take singing lessons in the seventh grade? Because I loved to sing? Or because I wanted to be Hannah Montana? (It was, undoubtedly, the latter, and the dream didn't last very long.) I ask myself the same questions now. Why do I want to post Picture A on social media? Because I genuinely want to share it with my friends or because I'm searching for attention? Be honest with yourself about your underlying motivations.
R: Remember birthdays.
Send a card. Send a text. One minute of effort can brighten someone's entire day.
S: Send thank you notes.
This was such a strictly enforced rule in our household that it eventually became second nature to me and my brother. I know that I feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone sends me a thank you note, so I want to extend my gratitude to others.
T: The clock keeps ticking.
I hated my first "real" summer job—working retail at a beachside surf shop. The hours were long, the breaks were short, and the tourists were both plentiful and generally unpleasant. Although I felt lucky to have a job at all, I dreaded going to work every day. My mom reminded me that whether I'm having fun or not, the clock keeps ticking. Even if I was having a lousy time, I could trust that the seconds were still ticking by, one step closer to closing time.
U: Understand the opposing point of view.
Be it small disagreements, political debates, or the world religions, understanding the other side is extremely valuable. While this understanding may help you better argue your case, it can also deepen your feelings of empathy toward the other person/party.
V: Verbalize (“use your words”).
I was, admittedly, a bit of a quiet pouter when I was little. Instead of sticking out my lower lip and sulking, I was encouraged to "use my words" and verbalize what, exactly, was upsetting me. As an INFJ and an HSP, I tend to feel and think deeply and internalize those thoughts and feelings, so the reminder to use my words is still significant.
W: Wear sunscreen.
Growing up in a family of swimmers (sans my dad), slathering up in orange-scented sunscreen was part of the daily regimen (and for good reason: skin cancer runs in the family).
X: Extend compassion.
Push yourself to extend compassion even when it takes a great deal of concentrated effort. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "it is easy to be heavy, hard to be light." (Can you tell that empathy, compassion, and kindness were the major themes of our childhood lessons?)
Y: Your sibling is your greatest supporter
...and competitor. :-)
Z: (Get your) Zzzzzs!.
Early to bed, early to rise. As you can see in the photo below, we have always taken our naps very seriously (I was three; Kyle was seven).
I love lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, bucket lists, shopping lists—my thoughts feel much more streamlined when they’re written down in neat, little bulleted columns.
And although I can’t deny the convenience of typing away on the notes app on my iPhone, I am overwhelmingly partial to pen and paper. A fresh notebook and an uncapped pen hold the (naïve?) promise that with a few focused minutes of list-making, I can, indeed, create order from chaos. The downside of paper lists, of course, is that they are everywhere. My lists are in my journal, in my philosophy notebook, on the backs of receipts, on sticky notes, and in the margins of my Spanish textbook. They're on the back of the church bulletin, on the back of envelopes, on the back of the Trader Joe’s ad, and on the back of my hand. I am, at my core, a highly organized person, but my proclivity for list-making has been testing my tidiness.
I recently purchased a vintage Pee Chee folder to collect all of my list-y bits and scraps (the same folder that my mom used when she was in high school—I love old fashioned things), and there’s something so satisfying about having all of my papers in one place, neat and accessible. What I need to do, what I want to do, things I’m curious about, things I’m anxious about, people that inspire me—a little rifle through the papers is a little rifle through my mind. It's become a non-linear diary of sorts.
When I compiled my overabundance of lists, I came up with a sort of “best of” collection of all the things, people, and events that I have been enjoying recently. As highly idiosyncratic as “favorites” are, I love to read about them on other people’s blogs or watch them on YouTube, so I'm sharing mine in hopes that it will be just as fun for someone else to read as it was for me to create. Here goes...
For the sartorialist...
Madewell: I'm not particularly passionate about fashion, but I do have a sartorial vice that goes by the name of Madewell. My wardrobe is very small and minimalistic, as I'm drawn more to versatility, fit, and quality than I am to trendiness. Also, I keep my wardrobe edited down to about 40 items maximum, so I can be incredibly picky when I do decide to make a purchase (farewell to the almost perfect jeans that I sent back this week), and I am consequently more willing to spend a little extra money for a well-constructed, practical item. My favorite pieces in my wardrobe from the tomboyishly cool and artfully effortless brand? These magically flattering black pants (currently sold out, unfortunately), this simple bag, and this practical coat (also sold out as of now).
For the intellectual...
MIT Open Courseware classes: On this site, you can access free course materials from 2,260 MIT classes. On my to-do list? Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism; History of Western Thought, 500-1300; Politics and Religion; and Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times. (Yale has a similar program called Open Yale courses.)
The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D.: This graphic emphasizes the high degree of specialization that a Ph.D. student pursues and contrasts it with the whole wide world of human knowledge. I'm planning on pursuing a Ph.D. in Religious Studies in the near future, so this graphic was relevant to me, but I think in general it's just humbling to think about the vastness of human knowledge and innovation.
Printable Sudoku Puzzles: I love sudoku so much that it's concerning. Sudoku puzzles make for the perfect study break, as they require concentrated effort but are still very soothing (see, I told you, it's concerning). The rules are simple, and starting out on the "easy" puzzles makes for a luxurious little confidence boost. P.S.: I may or may not have asked for (and was generously given) a book of sudoku puzzles for my 21st birthday. I am a very wild 21-year-old, can't you tell?
Monica Lewinsky's TED Talk: I highly recommend watching Monica's TED talk (TED standing for Technology, Education, and Design) on cyberbullying and her experiences as a scapegoat (she even mentions how many rap songs that her name appears in, which is just so saddening). She is a skilled public speaker, and her message about cyberbullying is both powerful and heartbreaking (I told myself I wouldn't cry, but I did). If you click on anything from this list, please watch this.
Cal Newport's Blog: I have been reading Cal Newport's blog for at least five years, so I don't even remember how I stumbled across it (but I'm glad I did). On his blog, Newport explores concepts like deep habits, focus, and efficiency as they relate to school and work. He received his Ph.D. from MIT and is currently an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, specializing in the theory of distributed algorithms. He also has written a few books, with his latest being So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love.
For the old soul...
The Invention of Teenagers: LIFE and the Triumph of Youth Culture: This article explores the creation and evolution of "American teenaged culture" in the 1940s. After you read the article, don't forget to scroll through the slideshow at the top of the page (Image 14 is my favorite, by far). As an old soul, this had me dreaming of what my life would have been like seventy years ago.
For the adventurer...
Imagining the Universe: Cosmology in Art and Science: If you enjoy outer space, science, and art, or dreamed about being an astronaut when you were little, you'll love seeing how these topics relate. (Make sure you spend some time zooming in on the moon—I thought that was nifty.)
Autocamp: Santa Barbara's "Autocamp" is a boutique airstream hotel that is so darn hip and cute. They also have soon-to-be-open locations in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Francisco. I love seeing how hotels are becoming increasingly innovative and funky—they don't all have to be characterized by ugly carpet and low-quality chocolate chip cookies.
For the bookworm...
Snacks of the Great Scribblers: This New York Times sketch illustrates the not-so-normal snacks of choice of some of the world's greatest writers. I think I would get along quite well with Michael Pollan, Joyce Maynard, and Emily Dickinson.
J.K. Rowling's Hagrid Hut: J.K. Rowling is building a replica of Hagrid's hut in her yard in Scotland. Some have speculated that this will be where she'll work on the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, I might add, I am so excited for, the unabashed Harry Potter fan that I am. Additional and slightly related side note: I love asking people which Harry Potter house they see themselves in and who their favorite character is. Harry Potter is a great way to get to know a person—I would definitely be a Hufflepuff, and I see myself as a hybrid mix of Hermione and Neville.
For the entrepreneur...
The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People: This infographic illustrates how some of the most famous creative people structure(ed) their days. I sent this to my brother (a self-proclaimed creative), and he loved it, so naturally you will too.
Kinfolk: Issue 15, The Entrepreneurs Issue, focuses on the spirit of entrepreneurship in the workplace and seeks to encourage a healthier work-and-leisure balance than what is currently the norm. In general, I love this magazine company for its depth and attention to aesthetics.
#The100DayProject: 100 days of creating more than we consume. Whether it's coding, writing, photography, whatever, this is a cool project that encourages diving deeper into your craft and making time for it every single day.
For the artist...
Nobody Likes Me (Street Art): This street art is ridiculously cool, and I think there's a lot of meaning we can glean from this piece regarding self-esteem and attention span. I do think that the typical Millennial's sense of self-esteem has grown dependent on a constant influx of social media notifications and positive reinforcement (speaking to the common phrase "technology is a good servant but a bad master"). Also, the age of the subject is concerning (on purpose, I think), sparking a discussion on what age is appropriate for cell phones and social media. It already has me thinking about at what age my future child will have a phone—I hope to be the parent that facilitates outdoor and imaginative play over apps and computer games.
For the spiritual...
Bible Journaling: I love that art can be a form of worship. Bible journaling weaves creativity into daily "quiet time," as beautifully demonstrated by Shanna Noel on her site Illustrated Faith. If you're a Christian with a love for painting, drawing, or calligraphy, you will probably love this. As a creative and Jesus-loving person that hates coloring "inside of the lines," I really connected with the freedom and deep, spiritual purpose of Bible Journaling.
I’m frequently asked why I study the world religions. Isn't it enough to know the ins and outs of my own faith? Why bother studying a religion whose far-flung adherents live hundreds of thousands of long and ocean-drenched miles away?
How on earth are the 613 mitzvoth, or commandments, of Judaism relevant to me? Why would I ever need to know Buddha’s Four Noble Truths or the Eight-Fold Path? And besides, isn’t that dangerous to learn about other faiths? Doesn’t it put my own in jeopardy?
Some of those questions are harder to answer than others, especially when I’m just taken aback from being asked them, sputtering and trying to formulate an answer that is probably, in the asker’s mind, already the wrong one. But for starters, no, it is not “enough” for me to just know my religion. Before you decide how offended you need to be, kindly let me explain. On a spiritual level, yes, it is enough for me to know just the ins and outs of my religion. Christ is enough. His grace is enough. His love is enough. As a Christian, I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus died on the cross to save me from myself and my sin in order to give me the unfathomably amazing chance to spend eternity with Him.
But on an academic level, no, it is not enough for me to just know my religion. I need to understand more than my own little sliver of the world.
Huston Smith, a big name in the Religious Studies world (yes, there is such a thing), once wrote that the greatest reason for studying the world religions is “to enjoy the wider angle the vision affords.” He continues: “I am, of course, speaking metaphorically of vision and view, but an analogue from ocular sight fits perfectly. Without two eyes—binocular vision—there is no awareness of space’s third dimension. Until sight converges from more than one angle, the world looks as flat as a postcard. The rewards of having two eyes are practical; they keep us from bumping into chairs and enable us to judge the speed of approaching cars. But the final reward is the deepened view of the world itself—the panoramas that unroll before us, the vistas that extend from our feet. It is the same with ‘the eye of the soul,’ as Plato called it. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’”
Religion is the pulse that beats through our lives, veins, and hearts. It underpins politics, economics, relationships, and hardships. Religion soothes and shatters, heals and harms. It is quite possibly the most highly polarizing topic, and for good reason—it’s central to the human experience. Even those who don’t adhere to a particular religion or don’t believe in God or any sort of higher power are impacted by religion every day. Political decisions, laws, literature—if you listen hard enough, you can hear religion’s heartbeat, however muffled or emphatic, in every moment.
So why is this? Why does religion seep into every aspect of our lives? It’s because religion is alive.
“[Religion exists] not as a dull habit but as an acute fever. It is about religion alive. And when religion jumps to life it displays a startling quality. It takes over. All else, while not silenced, becomes subdued and thrown into a supporting role” (Smith).
Even when subdued, religion is still pulsating quietly. It’s pulsating in public schools. It’s pulsating in politics. And it is certainly pulsating in more places than just Christian churches. That’s the crux of it—to study the world religions is to realize the power and prevalence of religion, but also to recognize its global role and role outside of my own religious experience. The religious texture of the world is undeniable; to shield myself from the religions of the world is to, like Huston Smith’s metaphor, live with monocular vision, not unlike a horse with blinders, living safely but small-mindedly in a world “as flat as a postcard.”
Religion, of course, has its sharp edges. The media makes sure we’re aware of that much, pandering (unabashedly) to an entertainment-worshiping society. After all, “the full story of religion is not rose-colored; often it is crude. Wisdom and charity are intermittent, and the net result is profoundly ambiguous” (Smith). And it's easy to dwell on the darkness. As G.K. Chesterton said, "it is easy to be heavy: hard to be light"—a profound and paradoxical truth.
But religion also provides a sense of purpose, and the ability to glean meaning out of madness and comfort from chaos. It’s what drenches our earth in color, nurtures our tired hearts, and guides our steps. We can lose our health and our homes, our jobs and finances and friends, but in the face of uncontrollable circumstance, we can hold religion as tightly to our chests as we wish.
It is, in essence, all we really have.
1. Finals are [finally] over:
After taking six finals (six finals...21 units was rough this semester), I am relieved to be free of the burden that is finals week. I don’t mind school (okay... I actually love school), but I do suffer from mild bouts of test anxiety and a (not-so-mild) case of perfectionism, making for a stressful testing situation. Of course, most of the relief comes when the grades are finally in the books and submitted, but being able to have free time now is exhilarating. I love waking up in the morning and thinking, “So Rachel, what shall we do today? Surfing? Baking? Peruse cute neighborhoods? Take a road trip?"
2. The weather turns drippy and cold:
Living on the California coast means that we have a 0% chance of snow (unlike the many ice and snow storms I got caught in when I went to school in Texas). Despite the snowless forecast, I love winter on the coast because the sky turns grey, and the weather gets “cold” (think mid 50s-60s) and rainy—perfect for curling up by the fireplace with an old Nancy Drew book and a mug of decaf.
3. Decorating the house:
I love nesting—carving out my own little niche wherever I am. I’ve moved several times over the last few years, which has helped me fine tune this nesting habit. One of the sweet parts about the Christmas season is getting to unload the (several) dozen plastic boxes from the attic or garage, as I put those skills to use and transform the home. With warm, rich tones and soft fabrics, the house becomes cozy and inviting during December.
4. Wrapping gifts:
As a creative little soul, I am always searching for projects (today I painted black chalkboard paint on a wood slab...). And though gifts are absolutely not the foundation of the Christmas season, I love being tasked with wrapping. Patterned paper, endless supplies of pens, ribbons, and tags... drool. I think I’ve asked my mom every day for the past two weeks if she needs anything wrapped. ("Brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things...") My fondness for detail means that all of the gifts match, ornamented with sprigs of pine needles or tied up neatly with burlap twine. So satisfying.
5. Christmas music (on repeat):
I’m one of those people that listens to Christmas music all year long. I definitely have a lot of friends that are opposed to this, but from my layman’s perspective (Polar Express reference), celebrating Christ’s birth through song should happen all year. I love sitting down to the piano or grabbing my guitar and pouring my heart into Little Drummer Boy or The First Noel. Christmas music is classic and pure; the soft sounds of Sally Harmon's Cozy Christmas instantly warm my heart and the home.
6. Light, light, light:
I’m scared of the dark (admittedly). But falling asleep to the subtle twinkling of the neighbor’s Christmas lights or going down for a snack at night and being greeted by the glittering Christmas tree is incredibly soothing.
7. Christmas newsletters:
My family sends one out every year; each person in the family writes a few sentences about what’s been going on in their life the past year, and we slap it all together on cute paper and add a letterpress Christmas card. It’s so neat to get Christmas newsletters in the mail from friends and family both near and far. Since I have moved so much (and I don’t have a Facebook), it’s a little harder to keep up with past neighbors, elementary school friends, old sports coaches, etc. But the sweet thing about a newsletter is the small, albeit significant, effort to stay connected at least once a year—to share the joys and triumphs and delight in friendship.
8. Advent calendars:
A piece of chocolate every day keeps the sadness away.
9. [Old] Christmas movies:
I don’t really like movies... my inattentive ADHD + highly sensitive soul + hatred of any sort of conflict (even just in a movie plot) means that movies are not my favorite thing, but my favorite movies happen to be Christmas ones (and are played all month on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas). My all-time favorite is Eloise at Christmastime—Julie Andrews, Gavin Creel (I would quite like to marry his character, Bill), Christine Baranski (Martha May Whovier in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Cinderella’s stepmother in Into the Woods, Tanya in Mamma Mia, etc.), and Sofia Vassilieva make for an incredible cast. Also, one of the main character’s names is Rachel, which makes me very, very happy. Did I mention the movie is set in the 50s? Swoon.
10. Quiet time:
Because of item one—no more finals—I finally have time for quiet, soul-nourishing, time-consuming activities like puzzles and baking and painting. Happy heart.
11. Christmas Eve Festivities:
My family is Norwegian, so our Christmas celebration is a little different than that of other American families. As is tradition, after church we eat dinner (tacos... not sure where that came from) then open all of our presents under the tree—Christmas Eve is our “main” Christmas celebration. On Christmas day we open our stockings, have brunch with family, and spend the rest of the day together (usually in pajamas). One of the things I love about the holiday season is that it makes me feel connected to my past; by upholding our Norwegian traditions generations after my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Norway (and great-grandparents from Italy), I’m reminded of where I came from. (Fun fact: On the Italian side of the family, my great-grandfather never even learned how to read and write in English! E' pazzesco... that's crazy!)
The alpha, omega, beginning, and end, He very well could have been numbers 1-12 on this list. Christmas has become increasingly commercialized—Santa Claus and his elves, though a lovely symbol of generosity and love, have overpowered the Christmas season, shrouding the real reason we celebrate. I was shocked the other day whilst watching the old Lizzie McGuire episode where Lizzie is building her Christmas float. She forgets what Christmas is all about, and her brother Matt quotes the book of Luke (as does Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Movie). I was surprised in the best way that the gospel was on Disney Channel, even though the episode was also laden with images of Santa Claus (played by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, no less). The sad part, though, is that I don’t think that would happen on any mainstream TV show in 2014. But I hope, hope, hope it will. Christ our Lord is the reason for the season.
“ ...And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
I read once, somewhere, that introverts have a “rich inner life.” The source has long since left my brain, but that little aggregation of words stuck to my brain: rich inner life.
I am, to put it baldly, introverted. And while the very composition of my being rests on the foundation of that word—introversion—the term has some connotations and assumptions attached to its twelve little letters that I’m not so fond of.
I'm not antisocial. I like people—I love people—and I appreciate a good conversation. I don’t enjoy spending all of my time alone, and I occasionally find a nice cheerful uproar to be as refreshing and invigorating, in its own way, as an evening spent in pajamas reading Papists, Protestants and Puritans under the sheets (a rather charming inconsistency of introversion, I think).
And, although this does little to flatter myself, I spend a lot of time alone. But the curious thing, which I think fellow introverts will be able to relate to, is that I rarely feel lonely. Which brings me back to the “rich inner life” thing.
I can’t speak for all introverts as an organic whole, but I can explore my own thoughts and feelings (the sweet power of introspection) and hopefully communicate those thoughts and feelings with hazy clarity (side note: I’m thinking about Dante’s Inferno; in one of the later cantos, he tells the reader of his struggle to find the right words to describe his experiences, which is, I think, how I feel when trying to write clearly about the messy complexities of the human psyche).
As an introvert, I feel like there is a certain ingrained emotional warmth that I have towards myself, as if I were my own friend. I tend to my own thoughts like they were directed at me, rather than within me (here we go with that hazy clarity...). I’m not implying that I hold conversations aloud with myself, but that I treat each thought as I would the spoken comment of a friend. Say, for instance, that I am thinking about how tired I am—it’s been a long day and my eyelids feel impossibly heavy—I respond to this thought not with reflexive or unconscious action, but I mull it over carefully. What would I tell a tired friend? So I treat myself in the same way, telling myself to shower and turn down the bed, to shut off the phone and turn off the lights. I think rather than simply functioning and reacting in respect to my thoughts, I am internally and intentionally interacting with my own mind.
Recently I have been reading Transformation of the Classical Heritage: Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome by Susanna Elm. The book explores Emperor Julian, a pagan, and Gregory of Nazianzus, a theologian. Elm highlights the men’s “common intellectual and social grounding” rather than their obvious differences.
As a bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus was torn. He was a highly sensitive man, characterized by “his desire for retreat and abhorrence of public office” but needed to be active in the community to make money to support his family (Elm, 6). An introvert? Maybe. Though Elm doesn’t make that particular connection, she does highlight a very familiar struggle between spending time alone versus with others:
"What philosophical life, in what composition of active engagement and retreat devoted to contemplation of the normative texts, could best ascertain the good rule of the realm and thus the salvation of all its inhabitants?" (Elm, 25)
For an introvert, the “composition of active engagement and retreat” forms a ratio in favor of the latter. But what I love most about Elm’s discussion of philosophical life is how she emphasizes productivity (“contemplation of the normative texts”) during the “retreat.”
That’s the other misconception of introverts. If I spend the entire day at home, I’m not watching Netflix and eating cereal from the box by the handful (although, we all have our days, am I right?). What feels productive and empowering and recharging to my soul is the quiet study of religious history (+ whatever schoolwork is on the agenda), sharing deep conversations with family and close friends, and never being farther than a few inches from my golden retriever. A full day at school, however, leaves me over-stimulated and sometimes, if it has been an exceptionally long day (cough cough, Tuesdays), reeling from sensory overload—the classmates and quizzes, the fluorescent lights, congested parking lots, and booming professorial voices.
I’m not sure that there is any sort of resolution to this post, seeing as there is no way to “solve” introversion since it is not a problem to begin with. But I do think it is rather therapeutic for me to think and write about topics like this. It’s also a challenge to be translucent about topics as complex and personal as introversion and sensitivity—sorting through these complexities and finding a way to “write hard and clear” (thanks, Hemingway) is a valuable learning experience.
“The writer must be in it. He can’t be to one side of it, ever. He has to be endangered by it. His own attitudes have to be tested in it. The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.” – Arthur Miller
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.
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.
Although San Diego was my hometown for a solid 90% of my life, my affections for its sun-drenched streets and sea-salty air have only heightened over the past two years that I’ve been elsewhere.
It’s human nature to take things for granted—even if those “things” were glassy, salty sliders (a.k.a. gnarly waves, brah), perfect weather, and bare feet. But it’s also human nature to romanticize these fragments of life that we’ve long since left behind. So when I went “home” to San Diego last weekend to visit my two best friends, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Maybe San Diego wasn’t as all-around-lovely as my memories were insinuating. I knew my friends would be amazing (as always), but was San Diego still my home? Did it still feel magical? I was a little worried.
And yet, the moment I arrived, I knew my memories weren’t idealizing San Diego in any way—if anything, my memories fell short of the real thing! Hopping in the car with one of my best friends (and clutching a sweet yellow bouquet of flowers that she had brought to welcome me), we took to the back roads, looping through one of San Diego’s most beautiful and unabashedly wealthy areas. Between shout-singing our favorite songs at the top of our lungs (current favorites: Age of Worry by John Mayer and Leave the Night On by Sam Hunt) and ogling over the sprawling estates and palm tree-lined sidewalks, I realized how lucky I was to have multiple places to call home, but mostly how fortunate I was to have such sweet friends to come home to.
We spent the weekend engaging in all sorts of shenanigans.
Between creamsicle shakes at our favorite beach-side café and visits to Trader Joes to stock up on “supplies” (those big tubs of tiny chocolate chip cookies and sea salt pita chips), I felt God’s light and love in both of my two friends. Their laughter was contagious, their attitudes positive and adventuresome. We did a photoshoot with a friend-of-a-friend photographer, melted over Jack Johnson’s sweet melodies whilst stretched out on blankets with thousands of other concert-goers, and even managed to make it over to Michael’s for craft supplies (we ended up spending an hour drawing out our favorite bible verses and worship song lyrics—tune my heart to sing thy grace).
In the midst of the joy, the workaholic part of me felt gluttonous, spending three days with my favorite people, eating nothing but my favorite food, and doing all of my favorite activities. But don’t we need those kinds of weekends? My soul felt entirely refreshed after Labor Day weekend, and I was reminded of the real urgency in taking care of myself and mixing in ample play time with work time.
As a perfectionist taking 20 units of school, nursing a fascination in interfaith dialogue/microfinance/social business-meets-religion books (there are six on my bedside table right now), and big dreams of getting my Ph.D. in Religious Studies, I forget to play. I remember to lie in front of the television watching cartoons and eating cereal out of the box at 9 p.m., but I forget to play. To gather up friends, release the stresses and responsibilities for a few days, and just romp around town.
Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe your workday is long, your sleep cycle is out of whack, and your friendships are fraying. Maybe your grades are perched between a rock and a hard place, you’ve run out of mac and cheese (sincerest condolences), or your family is driving you mad. The washing machine is broken, the gas gauge is on empty, and the jury duty summons came in the mail. You’ve cracked your iPhone and shattered your patience with this whole “life” thing.
We’ve all been there, friend. So my humble call on this Thursday evening is this: work hard tomorrow and play hard this weekend. Go surfing. Go hiking. Make dinner with your family. Go on a run with your best friends. Think. Dream. Talk about something meaningful.
In closing, I’d like to mention something about that last line: talk about something meaningful. Last night I was talking to one of my best friends (the same one who brought me flowers when I arrived in San Diego), and she said:
“I have a question for you. Do you think you are who you believe you are, or you are who you choose to be? C.S. Lewis thought the first; I’m more inclined to think the second. And it’s been rattling my brain.”
We ended up having the best discussion about valuing action over passive thought, and we decided on a prayer that we both want to start praying more frequently regarding turning our actions into a stronger faith in Christ’s presence and steadfastness. I feel lucky to have friends that are sisters in Christ. I feel lucky to have San Diego as one of the many places I call home. I feel lucky that God blessed me with an incredible weekend to recharge.
Passing on a little positivity this evening-
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 world—understanding 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 humbling—I 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 water—as 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 brother—if 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 it—the 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/whatever—some 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 well—she was my friend, after all—but 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 loser—neither feel good. Can we just encourage each other? And hold hands? And all be friends? (Perhaps I also have a young soul—probably around kindergarten or preschool-aged—pining 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 there—when 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, internships—we'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 youth—to 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 mean—they 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 means—to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich—to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart—to bear all cheerfully—do all bravely, await occasions—never 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 Tatum—think 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 clothes—but 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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,
Pinterest is my sun and moon and angelic, devilish, omnipresent companion.
I usually love Pinterest, gathering recipes and craft ideas with each swift scroll of the page. I choose who I follow wisely, almost babying myself to ensure I don’t accidentally stumble across a fragmented, sleazy corner of the internet. I follow a joyful, deep thinking, creative crowd, peppered with fashionistas, writers, and chefs.
Pinterest is my siren call and my lotus flower. For those not studying literature, Homer’s Odyssey explores the Greek mythology of the lotus-eaters on an island off of North Africa. The lotus flower was a narcotic; if a person consumed a lotus blossom, he would drift into the dreamiest, softest, most lethargic sleep imaginable.
Pinterest inspires me, but entices me, pulling me deeper and deeper through the computer screen until I am practically inside the website, losing sight of my surroundings completely. For some people it’s Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Pinterest is my bittersweet bride (groom).
And then the other day I saw it. Tucked away in a little corner of my newsfeed was a picture of a handwritten quote. It looked humble and simple, but those are often the best kinds, so I clicked. I wish I hadn’t.
I knew it wasn’t mean spirited by nature. I knew it wasn’t an attack on me. I knew all of these things. So why did it feel like I was kneed in the stomach? As a writer who loves taking pictures and making art, I felt convicted and attacked. Contrary to what I thought about myself, or what my parents, friends and professors thought about me, I felt like my passions were no longer legitimate. I felt as though my words and paints and pictures just swirled into the creative efforts of the rest of the right-brained world, muddling and mixing until nothing of worth was left.
It’s like when you mixed every hue from your kindergarten watercolor set back in the utopian days of naptime and snack time. Your teacher told you that you’d get a swampy brownish-black if you mixed them all together, but your little five-year-old heart still believed that you would, indeed, be left with a rainbow color. I felt like the five-year-old—the world was saying “I told you so,” and I felt cheated of the respect I thought I deserved for at least trying to be innovative.
It’s like how (seemingly) everyone has a blog.
Everyone and their mother have a blog—often literally (pssst... I know “their” is incorrect in that sentence. It’s a cliché... work with me here!). When I began The Little English Girl in high school, blogging wasn’t foreign, but it certainly was not cool or mainstream (or maybe it was cool, and I just wasn't "in the know"). These days, my Facebook newsfeed (when I did have a Facebook, anyway) is littered with the same Buzzfeeds and Gifs and trivial articles as usual, but the feed is no longer sprinkled with blogs—it’s saturated with them.
When I began to see this influx within my own friends and acquaintances, I felt a little jaded. I didn’t want to be spiteful, but blogging was my thing—wasn’t it? I quickly realized that being possessive over blogging illustrated the same irrationality of being possessive over painting, using Pinterest, or once being a cheerleader and competitive swimmer. All of these things were “my” passions, but did that mean I would be offended the next time someone picked up a paintbrush, pinned a picture, did a toe touch, or dove into the water?
As for the legitimacy of my passions, I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t want to turn to my parents. I knew they would tell me that yes; I am more than legitimate and enough. They would tell me that I am their gifted, creative, sensitive daughter—yes Rachel, you are special.I didn’t want to turn to God (out of my own stupid stubbornness). I knew He would tell me the same thing... except... He didn’t. Even though I didn’t give my insecurities to Him, He still knew my thoughts. He knew that telling me I was special would only fall upon deaf ears—the idea that “if everyone is special then no one is” was the entire crux of my argument. He knew I wasn’t ready to dive into the thick of the topic, and so he soothed my mind in the moment and I went on with my day.
It wasn’t until today that I got my answer.
This month, my book club and I are exploring the novel Eat Pray Love, dipping our toes in the cultures of Italy, India, and Indonesia. I have read this book a handful of times for a handful of reasons. I really connect with Liz Gilbert’s writing style. Equal parts witty and insightful, each line drips with subtle humor and beautiful language. I also connect to Liz as a person (maybe a little more than I care to admit). Her longing to escape the mediocre and mundane speaks to my own dreaming heart. Her personal depth, need for support, empathy and affection (I think at one point she refers to herself as somewhere between a Golden Retriever and a barnacle), and her love of the little things in life mirrors my own spirit. It’s a thoroughly wonderful book overflowing with whimsy and experience.
Reading the book for the 4th, maybe 5th time, proved deeply satisfying. Even though I know the characters and plotline by heart, I began to unearth some really interesting bits of narrator commentary that I hadn’t previously noticed. This one, I knew, was God’s doing:
“Because the world is so corrupted, misspoken, unstable, exaggerated and unfair, one should trust only what one can experience with one's own senses, and THIS makes the senses stronger in Italy than anywhere in Europe. This is why, Barzini says, Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captain of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors... In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
And with that, stitching together words, smearing paint on canvas, building a lyrical sanctuary through verses and music, and taking pictures of His creation is 100% legitimate. I no longer had to (have to) bitterly envy those who posses different gifts and talents than me—the finance majors, engineers, mathematicians, and chemists, fluent in Latin and fortified with intelligence and prestige. My right-brained, religion-and-English-studying mind need not fret no longer.
Stitching together syllables and examining theological underpinnings is important to the world because it is important to me. Though I am a stark contrast to my biochemistry, computer science, business and finance-laced family, creating beautiful things—as sometimes only beauty can be trusted—is more than enough.
P.S.: You may or may not have noticed I no longer utilize social media. More on that later. If you'd like to contact me, follow the "write me" tab at the top of the page and fill out an email form.
"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.
“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.
1. Wake up early.
The little window between 5 and 9am is incredibly peaceful and substantially joyful. While the rest of the world idles in deep sleep, you rest in the quiet comfort of morning stillness. Reap the benefits of a few uninterrupted hours, knowing that your cell phone can stay tranquilly tucked away, and your mind can contentedly latch onto your latest project. No distractions—just you, productive work, a steaming mug of coffee, and the rising sun.
2. Fuel your body with the good stuff.
Growing up in San Diego, I couldn’t help but slip into the wonders of organic produce, farmers’ markets, and cold-pressed juices as well as the heavenly call of Whole Foods, Jimbo’s, and Sprouts. While in Texas, peers say that I’m “so Cali” for the way I eat (side note: I will cringe if you say the word Cali), but I’m simply dedicated to treating my body the way it deserves to be treated! Daily meals of chicken fried steak and butter-infested mashed potatoes are just not the answer for me. When I’m feeding my body kindly with dark leafy greens, gluten-free super seeds like Quinoa (yes, friends, it’s a seed and not a grain), and the pure goodness of a tall bottle of Suja Juice, I feel healthy, happy, and motivated to take on the day. Spilling with incredible fruits and vegetables, Suja Juice is a San Diego-based company that cold-presses their ingredients, resulting in crisp and clean goodness. While I’m a firm believer in juice cleanses (more on that later, perhaps?), I love to drink Suja as a snack or meal to replenish my body and soul and replenish vital nutrients. My favorite is Fiji: 2 apples, 6 celery stalks, ½ of a cucumber, a handful of spinach, 3 collard greens, 3 kale leaves, a squeeze of lemon and a hint of ginger. How sweet is that?
3. Walk somewhere.
I’m an explorer. I crave a constant change of surroundings, and thus can be infected with fidgety, squirmy, cabin fever,where all I can think to do is lace up my running shoes and get out. Especially on a college campus, I find so much comfort in neighborhoods—walking through them, running through them, or just playing football in their little parks. Exploring the pockets of southern mansions and college cottages brings me so much joy. Plus, there is something about being in touch with the world and under the stretch of sky that both refreshes and inspires my soul. My best thinking is done while walking. Get up, lace up, and get out.
4. Drink water continuously.
While my intent is not to be motherly, drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is a complete game-changer for me. I drink water like it’s nobody’s business. While I’m not so bold as to carry a giant jug, my Camelbak goes with me everywhere. Like a baby blanket to a child, I feel lost without my water and refuse to go anywhere without my tall, blue, plastic container of wonderful. Your health will thank you, your skin will love you, and your mood will improve. Water cures much.
5. Keep the bed sacred.
Living in the dorms last year, my bed became my life. If I wasn’t at my desk, I was tucked into bed at any and all times of the day. It was my eating spot, my homework cocoon, and just my complete dwelling place. In a dorm, you don’t have much choice—unless you enjoy being glued to your rolling chair at all hours of the day, the bed is the only other spot that’s completely yours. As a sophomore in my own apartment, I began this year with the same mindset—the bed is a lifestyle. I quickly learned that not only am I incredibly lazy and unproductive in bed, hanging out in the depths of the fuzzy covers was majorly affecting my sleep at night. I had confused my body. No longer did curling up in bed in the evening signal to my mind that it was time to unwind; since I was constantly chillin’ in the covers, my internal clock had no idea when to settle down and sleep deeply. Since this bittersweet realization, I’ve kissed my comforter goodbye and now make my bed as soon as I wake up. As a slight (AKA major) perfectionist, once my bed is made up to fluffy excellence, I cannot even bring myself to wrinkle the flawless cloud of cozy. Thus, going to bed at night is extra special and peaceful, and I sleep like a little baby : ) .
6. Pray like it’s a conversation.
So often I slip into the droning familiarity of, “Thank you for ___, help me with ___,” and I tune out of my own prayers. When I was little, I would pray with my mom every single night, repeating, “Dear Lord, please put your shield of love and care around us.” I repeated the phrase so many times that after a while I didn’t even process the request. Now since I live alone, I love to talk to myself (confessions...), sing constantly, and read out loud. I’ve recently begun praying aloud in the style of how I would speak if I were on the phone with my mom or dad. I just update Him on life, talk to Him about my day, and speak about my fears, joys, trials, and triumphs. I feel so much more invested in my relationship with Christ when I speak out loud, and the contrast of the complete stillness after my prayer is absolutely amazing. Sitting in complete quiet after I talk to Him blankets me in noiseless peace; I can hear His voice more clearly and differentiate it from my rambling thoughts.
7. Pay for the person behind you.
I’m smiling as I write this. Once at In’N’Out, I drove up to pay for my meal (hamburger, cut in half, + Neapolitan shake—always), only to hear that the sweet man in front of me paid for my meal already. It was such a complete delight. Although I could have easily spared $5, the joy stemming from his kindness meant so much to me, I swear I cried a little. I haven’t gone out to eat since it happened (refer to #2), but I am itching to pass it along. The little things are the best things.
8. Tuck love notes around your city.
I have a massive crush on More Love Letters. (Is it possible to be in love with an organization?) MLL is an amazing group that inspires people to write encouraging and uplifting notes and scatter them around their city. The notes aren’t the mushy “Notebook-esque” love letters (which kind of make me want to vom), but are just raw, positive, inspiring notes scripted with careful thought. Although I’ve never found one of my own, I can visualize the overwhelming joy I would feel from reading that a stranger thinks I am valued, wonderful, smart, and enough. I like to do this in airports, leaving them tucked away in the restroom. No one can resist an envelope labeled, “for you: yes, you!” The organization has a list of do’s and don’ts of letter writing, and asks that their URL be scripted on the envelope so the receiver can read up on the concept. It’s such a beautiful way to love on everyone and to gently shake the world (thanks, Ghandi).
9. Indulge in an old, favorite book
Oh my. I cannot even tell you the number of times that I’ve happily revisited any given Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, or Callahan Cousin book. These texts are so dear to me, and cracking them open is like revisiting another world to which I belong. The characters are my friends, and Hogwarts, River Heights, and Gull Island are each my home. It’s so wonderful to melt away into an old favorite for a while.
10. Turn off your phone.
If you’ve been reading The Little English Girl for the past two years or even just this month, you’re probably noticing my not-so-subtle love for keeping my phone off. In a world so focused on constant texts and calls, coupled with the importance of responding only moments later, it can seem radical to advocate going cell-phone-free for even five little minutes. However, this does wonders for my productivity. Completely powering off my little white rectangle of iOS7 innovation is the only way I can really tune into whatever project I’m working on, or new business I’m dreaming up at the moment (ah, the joys of entrepreneurship), thus leaving me inspired and joyful. Radical.
11. Buy yourself a little somethin’.
Retail therapy is the sometimes-answer; when done in moderation, buying a little something can absolutely generate happier mood, even if it's a tiny, steaming cup of coffee. My favorite purchase recently was from Amanda Catherine Designs on Etsy—lovely pencils white pencils with gold engraving (She has charm. She has wit. She has gumption).
12. Dream bigger.
I was talking with a friend over coffee the other day, and she spoke to how she’s been dreaming too small. We fantasize about finding the perfect job, husband, or little house, when we could have that and shake the world. Dream bigger. Stop limiting yourself with picket fences and tire swings and aim for what you daydream about. Think back to those scenarios you play in your mind as you fall asleep (we all do it). What is the heart of what you want out of life? Chase after it. Don’t stop running until you’ve reached the path for success, and even then keep pushing forward. If you want something out of life, then give this life something of you—your time, energy, effort, heart, and passion.
13. Expand your horizons, friend-wise.
I love networking. One of the greatest joys in life is friendship, but I would be willing to argue that the happiness cultivated by meeting new friends and pouring out into them is just as sweet as continuing to invest in an already-tight-knit group. I’ve been really tested by this concept this year, and am beginning to find that my closest friends are scattered all over campus—no longer am I solely looking within my dorm or sorority or major to provide me with a group. It’s a combined effort. My most satisfying friendships are with people in different sororities, clubs, majors, and teams. Variety is truly the spice of life, for each of these people bring something different to the table. Little groups can be a safe harbor, but if you solely stick to “your people,” you may be at risk for missing out on a lot of other really wonderful friendships.
14. Be a light.
Lastly, I truly feel that the most foolproof way to have a joyful day is to focus on allowing God’s love to shine through you. Approach the day with a servant’s heart, ready and willing to be a light to the world. Seek first the Kingdom, eager to please the Lord with your actions and words. Harvest joy by delighting in Him.
There is so much controversy in this.
The Shack by William P. Young is easily one of my favorite books. It’s extremely controversial, although I even feel that “extremely” isn’t even extreme enough. It’s a polar book that somehow thrusts you on one side or the other (yay or neigh) as soon as you hit the first page. You hate the book—and vehemently so—or you are enamored by its warmth and delight in its fictitious yet scripture-based plot and characters. Quite obviously, I am a wholehearted fan of the book. Just by Googling the title, you’ll be faced with a plethora of full-blown theological arguments. Seemingly safe on the other side of the monitor, you lean into your screen to better read the arguments in tandem, drenched in vehement hatred and offense. Your nose is licked by the flames of hostility as you peer into the screen, and look on at the total mayhem that this book has crafted.
While I’ve written about my wringing fear regarding writing on controversial topics, I unabashedly adore reading such. My second favorite book? The Da Vinci Code, which was deemed a major threat to the church both within the realm of the plot and in reality. My third is May Cause Miracles, which was written by a modern-day yogi with a handful of beliefs that I strongly oppose.
To read—eyes skimming across a page and mind soaking in concepts—doesn’t mean to subsequently and blindly believe. I think that’s absolutely imperative to understand, especially since I study English and Religion, thus shoving me into the trenches of controversial literature, articles, and opinions. It has become essential, especially on a college campus and even more specifically within the realm of studying religion, for me to be inquisitive, to research, to pray, to formulate what I believe, and to be unwavering in that.
I believe in a God that loves me sincerely and passionately.
My heart overflows with my adoration for Him. I believe that Christ, his son, died on the cross for my sins, thus gifting me with His perfect promise of eternal life. I believe in His grace. I believe that I am horribly unworthy, but through the thorns on his forehead and the blood that he shed, I am made clean. I believe in a God that is sovereign and holy and just. I believe in a God that loves you. Sincerely and passionately.
In The Shack, Young follows the story of a man whose little daughter was violently murdered in an abandoned shack while the family was camping by the lake. The story strings along the man’s skepticism toward God, as well as a tender, heart wrenching journey toward recovery, coupled with the recovery and faith journey of the man’s wife, who rests in an intimate relationship with the Lord and warmly refers to Him as “Papa.” Eventually within the book, the man spends a weekend at said shack, where God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit come to meet him.
If we weren’t already there, here comes the controversy: God is portrayed as a large, sassy and spirited black woman, who goes by Papa, and is “especially fond” of all her children. Through a weekend of gentle interaction, testing conversations and a continuous trust mêlée, the man’s bruised soul is healed and replenished by the Lord. Papa explains:
“My purposes are not for my comfort, or yours. My purpose are always and only an expression of love. I purpose to work life out of death, to bring freedom out of brokenness and turn darkness into light. What you see as chaos, I see as a fractal. All things must unfold, even though it puts all those I love in the midst of a world of horrible tragedies—even the one closest to me.”
I love all of the separate characters equally (which really is a mind-bending concept, as they are the representation of the Holy Trinity, and thus are one, while being separate. Human minds cannot fathom.). However, the Holy Spirit’s character really resonated with me. Described as a small Asian woman, Sarayu is easier to see out of the corner of the eye than head on. She sort of flutters in the wind—there, but not completely—and utilizes soft and gentle interactions to bring about radical realizations and understanding. It’s a beautiful depiction of the Spirit. She leads the man to understanding why he is so incapable and broken on his own:
With a warm smile and friendly eyes, the crooks in his soft flannel shirt contain traces of sawdust, and the warm and worn palms of his hands hold the trace of very real scars.
Jesus is Jesus. Lying on their backs in the grass, Jesus and the man listen the lapping lake waves and speak of increasingly tender and pain-rimmed topics while gazing at the stars.
I don’t mean for this to be a book talk (à la 6th grade reading class), but the book has been on my heart, and clattering around the caverns of my mind all week. I think God put it on my heart to just open up conversation. I truly don’t think that the controversy or the characters or the author are the point. Instead, it’s how saturated and full of love the Lord is, and how he drenches us and blankets us and pours over us this radical, sweet, perfect love.
Perhaps the key is within character Jesus’ last thought—grow in loving people. Harvest the love and pass it on. Pull a Matthew 5:16 and be a light. Share Christ’s love as He shared it with you. Spread the joy. Spread the Word. But even when others don’t want to be convinced that they’re loved so deeply by the One who died to save us, “you are free to love without an agenda.”
Pass it on.
All quotes from William P. Young’s The Shack
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.
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!