Love Actually is All Around

This year, for the first time in my life, I was completely unable to get into the Christmas spirit.

Generally, I’ll admit, I start the holly jolly entirely too early. Just last year I cracked the vault of premature cheer in mid-October, when I realized they were already releasing new Hallmark Channel Christmas Classics. It was all hot cocoas and happy endings from then to New Year.

As the 2018 season approached, I was excited. The thought of Christmastime in years past hung over my head, and seemingly promised joy, love, and cheer.

I started cool and strong, with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” (Extra Festive) Holiday Radio playing in the background of every early November day like a 2000’s pop hits white noise machine (why isn’t that a thing?).

I watched a few Hallmark movies and then… nothing. I just stopped. I didn’t get back into the spirit and to be truthful, it never really felt like Christmas at all. The day itself was just another.

That is certainly not to say it wasn’t good, it just wasn’t Christmas-y.

This year I did not put out my decorations or put up my mini bedroom tree; I did not buy any Christmas presents until the absolute last minute. The outright saddest part is that I barely watched any of the quintessential holiday movies: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, The Santa Clause, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Holiday, Elf—I could shed a tear just thinking about it.

The one movie I actually did carve out time to watch, was none other than the hot-British-actor infested, equally gut-wrenching and heart-warming flick, Love Actually. Not surprisingly, the film did not in fact magically cure my depletion of Christmas spirit. It actually got me thinking about something else altogether: airports.

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Contrary to the opinion of most, I love airports. They feel like a home away from home—safe. My mind wondered back to all the airports I have been through and all the people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

This is the part where I reminisce.

 

Frankfurt Airport, Germany, 2014: Germany had just won the FIFA World Cup the night before and it was apparent: nearly every security guard either looked too hungover to stand, or so thrilled that they high-fived everyone who passed by them—there was no in-between. I smiled my way through customs and was allowed to check a bag that was 3 measly pounds over the weight limit, only to be stopped by security and taken into a private screening room with several security guards who could only ask questions in German, which I regretfully could not answer. After taking my luggage apart and causing a giant headache (more from their language than the inconvenience, I’m afraid), I nearly missed my flight back to the good ‘ol US of A.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan, 2014: I ran through the airport with a friend because 1) it is seemingly the longest airport ever and 2) we had just gotten off of a 14 hour flight and desperately needed to use our legs. I felt as if I could run and run and never stop; it was kind of like a fun game, one where I had to constantly dodge people and suitcases and little carts. Then I heard the most beautiful sound and immediately was stuck in place. I looked around frantically and my eyes finally landed on a man who had stopped on his way to wherever he was going to sit down and play the sleek black and utterly impressive grand piano nested between terminals. I sat and watched him for as long as I possibly could before I heard the gate attendant announcing last call for my flight home.

Los Angeles International Airport, California, 2017: I hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and my cardigan. Then I sat at a café table, ate some fruit, and celebrity watched because I couldn’t complete any of the other things Miley sings about in her song.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington, 2017: I had just gotten off of a red eye flight from Alaska and there was only one thing on my mind at the time (which was 4:30 AM)—coffee. As per instruction by a cousin of mine, I skipped the Starbucks and tried the local Italian espresso and pastry shop across the way. It did not disappoint. I walked over to the giant curved glass wall that overlooks the runway, sat down in a comfy Adirondack chair, and stayed there for a very long time, just sipping my espresso, and watching the planes take off as the sun rose above the horizon line scattered with evergreen trees and distant mountains. It was easily one of the best mornings of my life.

Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan, 2017: I only had about 35 minutes of layover time before my next flight, but I ran like crazy to the other side of the airport. It was such a silly notion and completely unlikely, but I still had to check. As I grew closer I heard the sound wafting through the commotion filled air and when I landed in front of the piano my heart gushed. A man was still playing the piano, and in my head, he had never stopped. I imagined people came and went over the years, switching out when it was time for the other to leave, but the music never ended. A small part of me wished I could sit there too someday, when I was brave enough to take a seat… or when I actually had the time to stay awhile.

Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, 2017: My previous flight had been delayed a whole 2 hours and I was in great danger of missing my next—an international flight. I grabbed my things quickly and literally sprinted off of the airplane and down the gate, knowing my next flight was probably already boarding. When I emerged from the gate, other passengers were standing in line to board our plane. I, frantic and flustered, ran right into one of them. It actually hurt a little because this guy was so tall and built like a tank. I looked up from his chest to apologize and thoughts raced through my mind, “Gosh you shouldn’t be running through the airport like a dramatic actor trying to reach their true love before they board their flight.” Then suddenly, my face met his and I felt like I in fact was a dramatic actor in a movie, because the face I was staring at was Rocky’s. (Well, Sylvester Stallone, but he forfeited his name with the fame of the movie.) And when I say staring, I mean staring, mouth wide open, for several seconds—plenty long enough for it to be embarrassing and awkward. I was dumbfounded and stupid words came out of my mouth that didn’t even make any sense. But thankfully, he was chill about it. He told me kindly I should slow down, then I remembered that I couldn’t slow down and I turned and started running again. This time, I ran to the bathroom, because I felt flushed and sick. I splashed some water on my face, got on the plane and watched the most incredible sunset, which these next pictures don’t do justice. There really is nothing like New York City at sunset.

Brussels Airport, Belgium, 2017: I walked into the terminal with some of my very new and very best friends, but still stopped to look back at the picturesque landscape painted behind the tarmac on this particularly dreary day. After what seems like a desert hike through this airport, we finally find a bar that’s open; it is 7:30 in the morning. I order and quickly devour one of the best sandwiches I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Everything about it was grand: the crunchy bread, the fresh, juicy chicken, and the contrasting bite of the sweet cranberry sauce with the tart goat’s cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. We finish eating and find an airport supermarket then proceed to buy about a billion Belgian chocolate bars and stuff them into our backpacks. Then we grab some juice and find comfy seats at a Starbucks, where we sip, chat, and relax as the clouds roll away and sunshine peaks through.

Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia, (several hours later), 2017: The man working at customs asks me if I have anything to claim. I unzip my backpack to show him the loot of fine Belgian chocolate bars I am packing and his eyes get wide like a kid in a candy store. He actually asks if he can have one and I have a good laugh about that. As if.

 

These, of course, are just a few stories, and believe me, I have run into my share of ridiculous airport hassles, but in the end, I always have a good time. I think what I like most is simply watching the people. I have noticed this crazy dynamic that is only present in airports or on planes where literally no one cares. About anything. (I mean, why else would anyone actually wear those horridly ugly neck pillows in public?) It seems to me that everyone just sees the airport as a gate to pass through on the way to where they are going, a leaping pad for them to take off to their actual life.

But here is what I have realized:

Life is more like an airport than anything. It’s the place between where we start and where we end up, where we are and where we are going. You know the old saying that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. Well it is also what happens when you are sitting in a terminal waiting to board the plane that is taking you to those other plans you made. It is just as much a part of the journey as any, and to forget about it, see it as unimportant, or even a distress, would be a big mistake in my book.

I have lived some wonderful, spontaneous, inspiring, and peaceful moments in airports, and I plan to continue doing just that.

 

Indianapolis International Airport, Indiana, 2018: I get off the plane, take a few deep breaths and walk out of the terminal area to meet the people I love once again and go back home. Kam looks bigger, Dad is smiling one of those goofy dad smiles that only dads can, and Kade has his hands in his pockets ready to go eat somewhere nice. I don’t blame him.

I hug Laura first, and she cries, like always. And we have our completely corny, ironic, and cliché airport meet-up where we realize love actually is all around… just like Hugh Grant said it was.

 

Living Green: Why I Am a Vegetarian and What It Has Taught Me

It’s been one heck of a long year. When I started this journey in mid-December of last year, even I thought I was crazy. If you would have asked me then, I don’t think I would have had much faith in myself, if any at all. But now it has been a year… and I cannot believe what I have accomplished.

Before I dive in too far, I do have to say one thing: I love meat.

I love to eat meat and I have since I was able to chew. Hot wings were and are my favorite food in the world (of course, now I make them with tofu—please don’t knock it ‘till you try it). A double bacon cheeseburger at literally any time of day still sounds good to me and a thick, juicy steak would still make my mouth water. I used to throw chicken on exactly every meal, and if I weren’t a vegetarian I probably still would. And I’m not going to even go into the travesty that is (or sadly, isn’t) the spicy tuna roll.

However, if I am being completely honest, I do not miss meat at all. When I decided to stop eating meat, I told myself it would be for a week. Then, after the week had passed, I thought to myself, “That wasn’t so hard, I think I could make it a whole month.” And as you can probably guess, that cycle ensued—and here we are, one meatless year later.

Maybe this is the first you are hearing of my switch to vegetarianism, and that makes perfect sense. I learned very quickly that people have a lot of opinions on this issue. Not many are fans of my choice; I have gotten into more ridiculous arguments and been called dumb and rude by more people than I can remember. My favorite response is, “What do you mean you don’t like meat?!”

*Please see above paragraph detailing the many ways I love meat.

I get asked “Why?” most commonly, and I feel like that is a fair question. But I also have a question for everyone who asks any questions at all: Why does what I eat matter so much to you? The truth is, it shouldn’t and probably doesn’t. It’s just different—and that is what people are afraid of.

It didn’t take long at all for me to decide that it was best to keep the whole vegetarian thing to myself unless I absolutely couldn’t, or unless someone asked first.

But now that it has been a year, I feel knowledgeable and established enough to say something. The point of this is to answer all of your questions, and to tell you why I continuously wake up in the morning and choose to live this lifestyle—so grab a cup of tea and have a seat, because I have a lot to say.

The idea of being a vegetarian was first put into my head by an amazing teacher I had in Junior College. I took an environmental science class in the fall semester of my sophomore year, and to say that it changed my life would be… well, completely true. Mostly, I learned a bunch of stuff about our environment, and how wasteful and ridiculous we are as consumers. We discussed all of the small changes that we could make in our own lives to do our part, and it really got me thinking about the simply stupid things I did—like use a different plastic water bottle every day. There were some things that I actually did just turn my nose up at, such as taking shorter showers (long, hot showers are my favorite) or getting a more fuel efficient car (news flash—college kids have no money).

One day, we discussed the effects that consuming meat can have on the environment, and I thought, “Wow, that’s really terrible. I never knew any of that, but it makes perfect sense.”

Then said amazing professor asked, “Now, who would consider not eating meat, or even eating less meat?”

And I laughed in his face.

In a crazy and unexpected turn of events, I actually jetted off mid-semester to spend some time in the beautiful African country of Uganda. I have written multiple blog posts about this, and you should definitely check them out, but basically, I just saw the country and spent time with the people. And both were wonderful.

But you know what was in the back of my head the whole time? All of these facts about what meat consumption does to our environment and the world’s economy.

I would see things and associate them with a fact. Here are a few examples:

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Me: See’s lots of barren land and has to change clothes three times a day because it’s a million degrees and I am sweating through everything in this heat.

My brain: Deforestation for agricultural use releases around seven billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year, which attributes to the global warming crisis.

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Me: See’s livestock roaming in the street—literally goats, chickens, even some giant long-horned monster thing (see above).

My brain: If releases of methane gas from the way we keep cattle and other livestock continue at the same rate, we look to add 615 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2050.

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Me: See’s starving children with swollen little bellies and soft sweet smiles who have no food and did nothing to deserve their circumstances and misfortune.

My brain: Forty percent of the world’s grain goes to feeding livestock, instead of the world’s people.

You get the point.  (All stats are from the Post Carbon Reader– a wonderful collection of essays about scientists and sustainability experts across the globe.)

I returned from Uganda and continued to allow these things to fill my mind. I did a whole lot of research, contemplating, and praying on my knees for there to be another way, but I didn’t see one.

I wanted to help the people I had met and loved and grown close to, even if I couldn’t be there to hold them, or talk with them; I wanted to love them from afar. I wanted to keep them safe, and give them hope for a future.

When I look at, think about, or contemplate eating a piece of meat, this is what I see in my mind:

I see the most generous and kind and loving little girls with paint on their faces and dirt caked on their bare feet, giggling and dancing around in their yard completely content and joyful just to be alive and loved by a God who they fear so much despite the insane hardships they face every day. I see innocent children who know that meat is a delicacy—only for when the Mzungu’s (whites) come to visit. Eating meat is such a privilege; it is for people who have money. Living in the US, it can be difficult to believe, but I have seen first-hand the effects living my “comfortable” life style can have, and I don’t like them.

At many of the places I visited in Uganda, water was sparse. I remember seeing a sign in one restroom that asked people not to flush the toilet because they were having to truck in water. I can go to the sink or the refrigerator any time I want to and have a drink of water. Some of the children in Uganda have to walk barefoot with an infant strapped to their back for miles and miles to get a pail of water from the nearest well—if there even is one.

It takes about 660 gallons of water to produce one hamburger. 660. If someone stood in front of me and gave me the option of eating a hamburger or donating 660 gallons of water to malnourished, poor, dehydrated, and completely beautiful little people, I know what I would do. And I have decided to do just that. Water is necessary for survival, but it does not come in endless supply, as with most of our resources. Meat is not necessary for survival, and the over-consumption in our society has left a depletion in a life-sustaining resource.

I am a vegetarian for the simple reason that consuming meat is not sustainable. You may think that the effects of eating meat will not show up until many years later, but that is just not true; they are plain to see all around the world.

When someone asks me why I make this sacrifice, I want to show them the pictures and tell them about the beautifully innocent people who are hungry and thirsty, and explain that I don’t eat meat so that poverty and starvation don’t have to be a reality any longer and so those who are less fortunate can have a chance to live, because we should all have that.

It may seem dumb at first, but it is literally a matter of life and death. I take it seriously, because it is serious.

 

In addition to learning about how not eating meat can help others, I have learned a little about how it is helpful to me too. Our bodies weren’t designed to eat the abscess amounts of meat that we do. Somewhere along the line, our portion sizes became completely out of whack. We need nutrients and water, first and foremost, and those come in the form of fruits and vegetables. I know I am preaching to the choir here so I won’t spend too much time on this one, but we are so unhealthy as a society. Food is fuel, and the vast majority of Americans eat way more than what their body needs.

Being a vegetarian has not only made me incredibly aware of what I am putting into my body, but also how much I am consuming and how those foods in certain amounts make me feel. I love fruit, but sugar clouds my mind and literally makes me feel so sluggish and disgusting, so I eat it in smaller portions at certain times of the day. If I eat until I am full, I feel miserable for the next few hours and I just want to stay in one place and not move. Food is not supposed to make you feel tired and sluggish, it is supposed to propel you forward. If it is not, you aren’t using it right.

I have hypothyroidism and I have been able to make changes in my diet that work for my body and its needs. For instance, I try to stay away from soy, uncooked broccoli, and wheat/gluten, because they are all things that make me feel like I swallowed a rock, thanks to my under-active thyroid.

Changing how you eat changes everything. I won’t lie to you, I still face the struggle of wanting to eat a brownie when everyone else does, or wanting to have fried foods instead of a salad when I am out to eat because I love the notion of “treat yo self”. But I can treat myself in other and better ways. I never feel like I am missing out when I don’t eat meat, because I can literally have everything that anyone who eats meat can have. Veggie lasagna, veggie and bean tacos, baked tofu hot wings, veggie pizza, veggie quesadilla—the possibilities are endless. I have yet to find something that I cannot come up with a delicious alternative for.

 

One of the main flaws of my person is self-control. I hated admitting that and accepting it in the first place, but becoming a vegetarian truly forced me to confront that problem, because I was placing such a large restriction on myself. I have always been one to do things without thinking: popping another cracker into my mouth, watching another episode of that TV show because I didn’t get up to turn it off in the ten seconds between, and – if you know me at all—always, always, always having a snappy comeback for every situation.

I started to notice all the other self-control issues I was having immediately, because when you are focused on something, you see it everywhere.

Thankfully, I had already made one right change, and it opened my mind to the idea of making more right changes and being flexible to the right things.

Becoming a vegetarian has allowed me to examine myself in a vulnerable and honest way. I can identify my own personal strengths and weaknesses, and accept them so that I may begin addressing those areas that need work in my life.

My mental health has always been a struggle for me. Its cliché and I know I just sound like another millennial with a billion problems that didn’t exist before 2010, but handling the negative talk inside my own head has been a battle I get up and fight every day. It hurts my mind that I never really know what is coming next, and whether it will be bad or good. It drives me crazy that I run myself ragged trying and trying and trying some more to get everything in my life together and to be at least half way successful at all the things, only to be left feeling exhausted and never good enough. I am so overly aware of the bad things on this earth that I can do nothing about, but having made the choice to be a vegetarian, I feel like it is the one earthly constant—the one thing I can count on to be a good thing and to not change. I rely on that constant, and it helps me to have something that I know is mine and that my head won’t try to mess up.

I have learned a lot in the past year, but it is because I wanted to.

I love listening to the Armchair Expert podcast by Dax Shepard, and on that podcast, he often throws out quotes. One of my favorites is this:

“It is easier to act your way into changing your thinking than to think your way into changing your actions.”

Being a vegetarian was only supposed to be a one week thing for me.

Now it is a life thing for me.

I researched a little beforehand, but mostly I went off of a gut feeling. My best advice, reflecting on the past year, is to just start. Try it, and then learn along the way.

The more I researched and found out, the more I found myself wanting more. I wanted so much more that I had to actually sit down and write out what exactly it was that I wanted. It seems simple, but I challenge you to try it for yourself. It may be harder than you think.

For a long time, I did not know what I wanted, but when I took a step back, and looked at things with fresh eyes, I was able to come up with a few things I knew I wanted regardless of circumstances, ego, or ability.

The next step is the most important. Ask yourself why you want those things, how you will get them, and the potential outcomes of you receiving them.

You may find, like I did, that you don’t actually want those things you thought you wanted the most. Maybe you don’t like what is required of you to receive them. Maybe you don’t like the consequences they will have.

If what you want is to eat a burger, because it is what you desire, and what sounds good to you, and what you think will satisfy the hunger you feel, then it seems like the right choice. But when you consider that eating that one burger may prevent other parts of the population from eating or drinking or living at all, you may realize that you don’t want that burger after all.

Changing your thinking is the key to changing the world. I changed one thing, and it led to a ton of other changes. I stopped using plastic bottles and invested in a reusable, stainless steel water bottle. I don’t leave the lights on, or the refrigerator door open, because it wastes energy. I spend more money on products that I know were ethically made by companies who care about their employees enough to pay them a living wage. I got another job so that I could afford the costly health food that my body needs (organic kale isn’t cheap) and could invest in a vehicle that releases zero evaporative emissions from its fuel system. I take my lunch in reusable containers and bring my own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. I bought a set of stainless steel straws and I take them into Starbucks proudly. And I still shop the Goodwill, because reusing is cool and thrift is in.

I will leave you with one final thought.

People love telling us who they are—or who they think they are. The reality is, we are who we are, and not who we think we are. If we say and even believe we are one thing, but act like another, then we aren’t who we say we are. And we cannot be surprised or upset when people see us as our actions. If we act mean, but our intention was to be kind, we are still just mean. If you intend to make sustainable changes and be environmentally friendly, but you continue to live in the same ways you always have, then you aren’t a sustainable person. If you intend to be a responsible citizen of earth, but you don’t educate yourself on issues such as climate change and world hunger, then you aren’t a responsible citizen. If you intend to love and care for the poor children in Africa and South America, but you don’t do anything to help them or show that love, then you aren’t providing them care and you aren’t providing them with love.

Being a vegetarian is the easiest thing I have ever done, and it becomes easier each and every day. This choice makes me better in every sense. It teaches me new things and it makes me the person I say I am, because my actions are aligned with my intentions. That is why I not only do it, but am happy and proud to do it.

Letters To Me

Life is so funny. One day you are great, the next you’re not. Seasons change in a split second. Sometimes they last a month, sometimes a year, and sometimes they never seem to end.

I’ve tried to figure it out, like there is some algorithm for which days are going to be good ones and which are going to be… not so good. I’ve been in the midst of a more difficult season of life for a while now, and I knew there was nothing I could do to make it better or fix things happening around me.

Those were lies I told myself for the past 138 days and believed—that I couldn’t change anything, because I did not have that power.

Back in July, while I was attending a writer’s conference, one of our instructors had us write letters to our future selves. She took them and told us she would mail them out in October.

October came and went and I waited for the letter; it never came. I forgot about it.

The past couple of weeks I have felt something inside of me telling me to keep going, despite the fact that it was hard, and despite the fact that I had given up on myself and despite the fact that I honestly didn’t care anymore. I saw the days unfold in front of me and I felt a new season, a season of change, approaching.

Thank God, I thought to myself.

I had been so anxious after having that initial feeling; I wanted a sign—I wanted to know I could trust my own intuition.

On a Tuesday evening, I walked into the kitchen and saw a letter with my name on it sitting on the table. It was in an ivory, card-sized envelope with no return address, a pink rose stamp, and a seal from a post office in Denver, Colorado.

As I picked it up, confused, I said aloud, “Who would send me a letter in Colorado?”

I looked at the handwriting on the address line, and it felt so familiar.

In a split second, I knew: it was mine.

This was the letter I had written to myself, the one I had waited expectantly for all October. But now that it was in my hands, I was filled with an overwhelming fear. I couldn’t open it. When I had written the letter, I was in a great season of life, and I remember having felt so joyous and peaceful as I took my pen to the paper—like I could achieve anything.

What if I had written goals, dreams, or aspirations that had long been left behind? What if I had failed myself? What if I let me down? I was so afraid of not meeting the expectations I had for myself 138 days ago; I put the envelope, unopened, in a book, closed it, placed it on my shelf and walked away.

Wednesday, I was sitting at my desk reading an article, and a quote on the page stabbed me in the heart, because I knew it was meant for me.

“Today, will you choose courage or comfort? You cannot have both. There is nothing comfortable about being brave with your life.”

Ugh. Brené Brown and her convicting words made me feel guilty

But I knew she was right.

I got up and went to the bookshelf, then (admittedly, somewhat reluctantly) opened the letter. To my surprise, I hadn’t written this letter to myself after all—I had written it to God.

This next part, I debated sharing, but decided that sacrificing my own vulnerability was necessary to claim a spirit of bravery and blatant honesty, and to tell a complete and true story.

The letter read:

Dear God,

I surrender my expectations. I surrender my thoughts and feelings on how the outcome should go. I know you are always working in the meanwhile. I give up trying to be perfect, because I am like you, but I am not you. I give up trying to plan out my future. I give up trying to write my own story; you have already written it for me, to me, and delivered my life, and I do not need to be the author of that story. I surrender control and I surrender laziness, I surrender sin and I surrender anger and frustration that comes from my own unmet expectations about college, money, love, writing, travel, family, and life. Help me to live in the story you wrote for me so long ago, because it is so much sweeter than the one I am trying (and struggling) to write. I am nothing—a blank page, waiting for the words to be typed and the story to form. I have hope because I know all you have to do is move a finger.

I was worried about expectations I had already surrendered. Those lies I told myself before seemed really silly, because I realized the only thing that had to change was my fearful, hopeless, bitter attitude. God would take care of the rest, because it was in His hands. I just got tired of the waiting, and gave up on what I thought He was going to do—what I thought He should do.

Waiting is excruciating. But God’s timing is perfect.

I wanted to be successful and I wanted to write this a long time ago, but I didn’t have all the pieces to do so. If I would have ignored that feeling to wait and done what I wanted, this story would be incomplete. Not knowing what is coming next, or why God makes us wait for things, like I waited for my letter, can be painfully hard, but I have learned to see the experience as more of a blind adventure, one where I am forced to rely on Him at every turn.

On the other side of my letter was a verse: Hebrews 12:1-2.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seared at the right hand of the throne of God.”

That verse brought to mind a few others—the verses that say “He is good”, and “Trust in the Lord”, or “Wait on the Lord”… and my personal favorite, “Be joyful through trials and tribulation”.

The thing is, when life is going good, it’s easy to say that He is good, and that you trust Him, and are patient and joyful. But when things aren’t so good, He may not seem so good, and we may not feel like trusting anymore or waiting for Him to fix things—and we (or least I) definitely did not feel like being joyful.

I have to remind myself daily that I trust a God who allows hurt. And if I only have patience and hope and joy in the good times, then I don’t really trust God. Part of me wishes I could forgo the hardest days of life, but another part of me loves to see how God takes all of these broken pieces and creates something new and holy, and beautiful.

Not long ago, I heard someone say that allowing God to break the thing you are clinging onto so tightly is the best thing you can do, because when something breaks, it multiplies. When we give things over to God, he is able to do more than we ever imagined, to multiply the gift.

Breaking hurts by nature, but letting God break my expectations, actually made it a lot easier for me to achieve the things I wanted, and to have a joyful mindset about it. I know that in the midst of hurt, rejection, depression, and tragedy, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that they just have to trust blindly.

It seems irrational, but that is exactly what faith is: trusting blindly. The important thing to remember is that even when we grow tired of being faithful to God, God is always going to be faithful to us, and he will show up, even if it isn’t in the way or time we expected. He will send your letter, so keep waiting—hopefully, joyfully, blindly… faithfully.

Live Colorfully

 

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For months, I have avoided it. I tried to stay off of social media, and I didn’t want to read the articles or watch the news broadcasts. I continued to push aside any thoughts or feelings brought on by the never ending airing of the culmination of life. I knew these weren’t my stories to tell, but a piece of my heart tugged consistently, asking why I suddenly had so little to say when the opportunity to speak something meaningful had finally presented itself.
Still, in a very human attempt to remain in control, I ignored the whispers, and expected them to pass with time. The problem is, they did not. In fact, they only grew louder and more frequent. I finally found myself in an unwilling surrender as I stood in a narrow clearance aisle with a set of candles in my hands, looking down at the words spelled out in front of me. The box was plain and white other than two simple words: Live Colorfully.
The purse I carry every day is Kate Spade, the sleek phone case I hold for endless hours is Kate Spade, and the navy cross body I pack on every trip is etched with her name. The media has since found new and more exciting ways to attract attention and cause controversy, but her story, her pain, and the pain of every other person struggling with mental health issues have certainly not disappeared. I didn’t know Kate at all, but I was a fan of her work; it was the thing that connected us to one another… or so I thought, until I was standing forever as time seemed to halt, reading and re-reading the words on a box of candles, realizing our mottos for life and work were one in the same.
I’m no expert on politics or mental illness, or even fashion design, but I do have some experience in the area of living colorfully. The first thing to note about life in color, is that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Ironic, isn’t it? There will be days clouded grey, and times when life feels more black and white than a shade on the spectrum. But the truth is, life has to have ups and downs, or it wouldn’t really be life.
In terms of color, however, I think we are wrong to define depression and other forms of mental illness as the black and white of life. In fact, it is the absence of all color: not black and white, but transparency. Suffering from complete hopelessness feels as though anyone could walk or see right through you, like you didn’t exist at all. It is not a feeling of pain, but an absence of feelings altogether—it’s nothingness.
I would argue that it is in our very nature to make lists. We write out the things we want to accomplish, the requests we have, the things we need to pick up at the store—even praises. I am not trying to imply that lists are not helpful, but I do think they have the potential to be harmful. In making lists, we are setting expectations for a life that—whether we care to admit or not—is out of our hands. No matter the amount of planning we do, or millions of lists we write, or even the hundreds of lists we actually complete, there are things we simply cannot account for.
You see, the reason we make lists in the first place is not because we are concerned with proficiency and accomplishment, it’s because we want to foretell the outcome. We are so obsessed with the ending that we forget to trust God in the process.
Life is unpredictable at best. And even though I can’t have things how I want them all the time, and even though I don’t know why the most difficult of things happen, and even though there are things that I cannot change, I still have hope.
Disappointment isn’t anything new. Pain, shame, and guilt have been filling the cracks of brokenness since the first sin of mankind. It wasn’t originally supposed to be this way, but we are less than perfect; all the wrongs we have committed cannot be undone. This is the reality we live in.
We have to let go of the expectations and shed the misconceptions about the way our life and the lives of others should be. One of the largest failures of our society as a whole, is the inherent lack thereof; we are too busy, too selfish, too preoccupied to actually become a community. Simply, we do not care enough about other people.

Van Maanen once said, “We need now more than ever precise, complex, concrete images of one another if we are to continue to occupy this planet as a species.”

If we do not understand one another, we cannot empathize with one another and we cannot connect to each other on any level—whether mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual. It seems we are unable to resist the urge to compare our pain and our problems with the sufferings of others. Pain is pain is pain. And it doesn’t validate you to act inconsiderately. Most importantly, it doesn’t fix the problem or promote healing to focus on the issue of who has it worse.
Mental health, or more accurately, mental un-health is becoming more prevalent in society by the day. Perversely, there a still a large stigma surrounding the issue that only prevents us from addressing the matter. Even further hindering, is the truth that few are ready to talk civilly, few are prepared to venture into the unknown in pursuit of a solution, and many are at the ready with arms bared to fight—even if they have no idea what they are fighting for.
In the same way that we write lists thinking it’s about the aftermath, we live life believing that it’s about the end destination; the reality is, the end of life on earth is just that, the end. The important part, is what happened on the road to the finish.

We must remember the words of S.B. Merriam:
“The interest is in the process rather than the outcome, in context rather than a specific variable, in discovery rather than confirmation.”

Everything that happens in the process of life determines the aftermath of life; the ending itself is actually only a miniscule moment in respect to the complete timeline. We say that in the end it will be alright, and that pain is only momentary, but when pain is all we have ever known, it can be near impossible to see past it.
Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. The point of humans constantly changing and developing is to increase our abilities and stabilize ourselves and our society.

“To become mature is to develop the power to represent one’s experiences as hunches, words, thoughts, or other symbols. A growing person becomes able to reflect on his past and current experiences, to imagine, anticipate, plan, and hope.” —Heath

I believe that this description of maturity and mental health are interchangeable. Perhaps the root of the problem is the lack of maturity in society. As a child, I couldn’t wait to be an adult. In my mind, grown-ups knew everything, and they didn’t have to face problems; to them, life simply made sense.
Now that I am grown, I realize my momma just had the world’s best poker face.
Most days it feels like life is actually getting more complicated each time I open my eyes and sluggishly reach my arm out to snooze my alarm. I know less and less, and face difficulties more and more. Nothing makes any sense and everything is confusing. And the world is unjust.
I started writing this on the twelfth of June, thinking it was going to be about one person I didn’t even know. Now it’s the twenty-third of August and approximately 6,393 more people have lost the battle raging against their own minds. Some of them I knew, most of them I did not. But every time, it hit a little closer to home. I still cannot believe all that has happened; it honestly doesn’t seem real. The only thing I can think now is: how long until it gets us too?
It’s here and thriving. I can’t tell you how to fix it or make it better. The only thing we can have is hope for ourselves, and love for one another.
A couple weeks ago, this statement in an article I was reading caught my eye:
“I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes bring God into what’s wrong before I thank Him for what’s right.”
This is true. So true. But it’s difficult to approach life in this way when it seems that the ‘wrong’ grows each and every day while the ‘right’ only continues to shrivel. Maybe all we need is a change of perspective, but it is hard to have hope in a world that appears more like a hell than a heaven.

img_8288I don’t have all the answers, and most times I don’t know what to do on those days, but I know that today I still hear a voice behind me saying, “This is the way, walk in it”, and all I have to do is have the courage and the bravery to take the next step.

The Purpose of This

I would argue that in life, it is easiest to overlook the small things, the short things, and the seemingly meaningless things. After all, how can something so tiny have such a big impact? While I am completely guilty of overlooking the simplest lessons of everyday life, once in a while God will open my eyes to something that I have looked at a million times before, but never actually seen.

This past weekend was not one of those times—it was huge, to say the least. I went to a conference where I was surrounded by powerful women (and a few men) who brought the best of what they had to offer and did it all for the glory of Christ. I made connections, and friends, and did all of the things I was supposed to do; I even took away significant lessons from influential people. But when I returned back to my ‘normal’ life,  something started to happen… something very small.

All the little details of the weekend came flooding back, and I realized the true significance of all the people I met and the speakers I listened to; my takeaway was not the big thing—it was the four word sentence that fell randomly into a lecture, it was the miniscule piece of advice that I got from the woman sitting next to me, and it was the feedback I got in the form of rejection. Those little things are what stuck, and they are the lessons I am most likely to recall, and to take action on.

Tucked in the book of John, at the end of chapter twenty, is a short section containing only forty-eight words and two verses. It reads:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of this disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

     The fitting title of this section is “The Purpose of This Book”. Now, I cannot tell you if ‘this Book” refers to the book of John, the Gospels, the New Testament, or the entire Bible— but I can tell you that I have never read that section before today. It was so small; I skipped it. Right in the midst of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus—the literal climax of the Bible—are two of the most important verses of the entire story. And I skipped them.

Every writer knows that a good story answers the staple questions: who, what, when, where, and why? The recounting of Jesus’s life story gives us the who, the what, the when, and the where, but these two verses give us the why. Without it, the who, what, when, and where would be meaningless. If Jesus did not preach, teach, come into the flesh and die a criminal’s death, then rise again—you and I would be paying for our wrongdoing with our own lives.

Every person I spoke with through the course of the conference asked me, “What are you writing?” And of course, I could tell them. But when one women changed the question to, “Why are you writing?” I was at a loss.

During one of my sessions, my tired mind was drifting in and out of actually listening—until I heard something that I knew God meant for me.

     “You are putting too much of yourself in your writing…” she said.

Talk about convicting.

I tried to come up with an excuse in my head: “Well, of course I am going to put myself in my writing. I’m telling my story.”

No. I knew it was wrong as soon as I thought it. He corrected me so quickly and so gently.
This is God’s story. I’m not writing for me or about me. If I were, my words would become mere stems of pain in you or the world, because I don’t know how to use them of my own accord. Hire a carpenter to bake your wedding cake and you’ll be eating sawdust.

When I read those verses (30-31) in John 20, it clicked for me.

Jesus is performing miracles all around me, every day. Not all of them are on this blog, or even in writing, but the ones I include and the ones I share are so that you may believe and live life to the full in Him.

My why is you. And His why in choosing me to share my victories, shortcomings, and lessons learned, is you too. He wants to win your heart and your life.

So I challenge you to evaluate the thing you do—writing, singing, dancing, loving, mothering—and pay closer attention to the little things you might normally overlook.

What’s your why?

 

 

The Bookshelves

The final days of my trip to Uganda consisted of pure, lighthearted adventure. The other voyagers and I traveled up to the northern Nile and stayed in Murchison Falls National Park. The African savannah is absolutely beautiful and nearly surreal. To physically be in a place I had only read about as a little girl was dreamlike. It took a minute for my brain to realize that I was actually seeing baboons playing, giraffes eating, elephants walking, and even a few lions basking in the sun right out my window.

Each place I stayed in Uganda was brilliant. I kept thinking to myself that it surely could not get any better, and then we would move on and I would be proven wrong again. Our final stay was at Paraa Safari Lodge, which was so nice I felt like I was on a high class vacation and not a mission trip. It sat right along the Nile River and personified the perfect tropical paradise.

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(The view)

 

One part of the lodge that stood out to me, however, was the bookshelf in the main lounge. It was just a normal bookshelf, but all of the books were the wrong way. Now, when I say ‘the wrong way’ I do not mean that their spines were facing inward and the pages outward; they were all lying down horizontally on their covers in carefully arranged stacks.

 

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(The shelves)

 

I had never seen a bookshelf organized like that in my life. I found it odd, but so very intriguing at the same time. Maybe it was simply for aesthetic, or as a means of artwork; it was a talking point by my terms at least. Perhaps it actually was done for functionality and with purpose.

In my contemplating thoughts, it hit me. Why did I automatically assume the way the books were lying was wrong? For something so inconsequential, I was very quick to judge and label that wooden bookshelf as erroneous.

I think entirely too often, we get caught up in our own ways—how we like to think about and act upon things—and instead of taking the time to acknowledge others’ opinions and ideas, we automatically assume they are incorrect.

Knowledge is the root of wisdom, and is acquired by an awareness of supplementary matters, philosophies, and designs floating in the lives of others. Proverbs 24: 23 reads:

“These are also sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good.”

I evaluated the bookshelf in partiality to my personal accumulation of knowledge. After all, that is the only information on which I have to make judgements. The reality of prejudice is that it is always laid upon a foundation of individual knowledge; in twenty years of experiencing and witnessing bigotry, I have concluded that we are all simply too obtuse and senseless to pass judgement on others, not because we are lacking, but because we are human. All the knowledge in the world could not save us from ourselves.

Who knows? It could be I am the one arranging her books in a peculiar manner. The thing I think we all need to appreciate is the distinction between being wrong and being different. The way that bookshelf was structured was in fact different than what I was accustomed to, but nothing about it was wrong. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of books lying on the shelf in sideways stacks. It was visually very interesting, even though there were some functionality quirks I still had to work out.

In the end, as homage to the message evoked, I decided to change my own personal bookshelf around a little bit. Now, every other shelf is lined with books the way I have always had them, and the remaining shelves are stacked with books the way I saw them in Uganda. It is a reminder and signifier to myself that integrated ideas are, most often, much more effective and better than the ones living alone in my head. I have to listen to what others have to say, consider their views, and take them seriously, just as I hope someone would do for the ideas I have to bring to the table… or in this case, the shelf.

 

Little Red Dots

It is mind-boggling to me how quickly things in life can change. In a matter of seconds, everything can be different: one moment you are a child, the next an adult, one moment you are single, the next engaged, one moment you are a renter, the next a home owner, one moment you are a couple, the next a family—and the list goes on.

 
While I haven’t experienced all of these changes particularly, I have made a few of my own split-second decisions, which led to prompt changes. Each of them is significant, and each of them has shaped the person I am becoming.

 
Something I feel we often forget is that many changes in life can be undone: you can sell your house or car, change career paths, get divorced, or even return a shirt you bought at the store. Undoing changes can be a good and bad thing; they can bring healing and they can bring hurt.

 
On the other hand, just as many changes in life are permanent: the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, the pictures you post on the internet which seem to continue showing up no matter how many times you have removed them. Permanent changes inherently carry more weight, merely by definition.

 
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, a long-time friend and I sat in a booth at a local coffee shop eating pastries, sipping javas, and laughing in a carefree fashion. It was our first semester of our freshman year of college, and I suppose that single large change wasn’t quite big enough for the both of us. As one topic led to the next, our conversation by some means steered to the subject of tattoos.

 
I am unsure of how exactly it happened, but not even a half an hour later, we were sitting in opposite chairs at a tattoo parlor down the street, completely ready to be inked. The crazy thing is, I do not remember having any hesitant feelings at all—I was wrapped up in the whimsy and fun of it all.

 
We walked out of the tattoo parlor together feeling independent, valiant, and larger than life. My friend had chosen to get a small hummingbird tattooed on her ankle, while I went for something literally larger than life:

 
On my left forearm, sits the entire world. What I mean to say, is that I got a tattoo of the world map flat-laid across my arm. I love travel and I love adventure, and it seemed completely fitting.

red dots

The part of getting a tattoo which I failed to take into account, was the various reactions of others which ensued immediately and continue to this day. Of course, my family member’s responses were among the first: I still cannot forget the wide-eyed look my mother had on her face—it was one of sheer disgust and horror. My brother cried, my uncle teased me, my sister was completely speechless.

 
Not all the feedback was destructive. My tattoo has proven very popular among friends, barista’s, and frequents of vinyl stores. And over time, my family has grown to fancy it too.

 
The completely dippy element is—everyone has an opinion to report on my choice. Random people I pass in public or complete strangers at literally any place in the world feel it necessary to give their outlook on my left arm—positively and negatively. Sometimes people are vivid with their words, and other times their expressions and body language do all the talking.

 
My whimsical decision to make a permanent change has taught me an important lesson: our choices and actions will have an effect on the people interacting with us whether we intend for them to or not. If you choose to have a child, the person sitting in the office waiting room is going to have an opinion of that child, whether it is crying or sleeping or laughing. If you choose to get divorced, the person across the counter at the drug store is going to have an opinion of you when you take your hurt out on them in the form of frustration.

 
Picture the ocean for a moment.

 
It is massive and bluish-green and waves are crashing against the shoreline. Whatever the context of your imagination, I can tell you exactly what you are envisioning: the surface.

 
We have only ever been accustomed to see the shell of the largest piece of the earth. Beyond our vision is more natural life and activity than we can know, but we continuously and instinctually see the surface.

 
I don’t think the solution is to change that part of ourselves; seeing the ocean as merely the surface has much to do with the functionality of our eyes and the messages they send to our brain. Altering our biology is not the answer.

 
What we can change, is the way we judge, treat, and react to others—even over something as insignificant as a tattoo. We have no control over the feelings, emotions, and responses of others in part to our own actions, because they only see what is on the surface. It is entirely frustrating, I will admit, but the only way to subdue adverse reactions, is to become exceptionally wise, humble, and forgiving in our own actions.

 
I am a rather carefree person; it does not bother me when people give their opinion of my tattoo. I know it is in human nature to be curious, candid, and even concerned.

 

To avoid conflict, I have to focus on my own ocean—not just the part that people see.

 
In an age where it is easier than ever to give an opinion, it is more difficult than ever to find common ground. Escaping conflict does not mean that we dodge everyone who has a different opinion than we do. I seriously doubt there would be very many people left if that were the case.

 
Do not let your own insecurities keep you from freely engaging with others.

 
I know that the reactions to my tattoo will likely never stop. That is okay. What I see when I look at down at my arm is not just some ink, some art, or even some mistake; I see my life in experiences. I see little red dots on all the places I have been, and those dots remind me of the incredible memories I have made, beautiful things I have seen, and remarkable people I have met. I look at my tattoo, and I see my story; I recall how it has intertwined so perfectly with the stories of others, and I am able to identify the hand of God throughout.

 
My permanent decision, while having somewhat naïve beginnings, cultivated a treasure and some fresh perspective. Upon reflection, I have concluded that the biggest changes often do happen in the shortest amounts of time—whether that be by the signing of some papers, the flip of a switch, or even the fleeting pinch of a needle, hastily producing another little red dot.

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