Farewell, 2018

Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer”.

This quote was recently brought to my attention through On Being’s weekly newsletter. As I’ve been reflecting on the past year, it stuck with me.

I thought 2018 would be a year of questions. I thought it would be another waiting year. I thought everything in life would pause until I finished graduate school. If you had told me then where I would be now, I probably would have laughed in your face.

To my great surprise, 2018 was a year of answers.

I entered this year with a lot of questions. Primarily, I wondered, where am I going? Professionally? Personally? Spiritually? I was in a job that I loved, but was logistically unsustainable and unchallenging. Personally, I knew the time was coming to move out of my parent’s house, but lacked a job that allowed me to do so. Spiritually, my tendency to isolate myself from others was no longer serving me well. It was time to push myself out of my comfort zone and find true community again. But where does one even begin to find that? There were other questions, too. Will I ever find a place where I can flourish? Is flourishing even possible? Does a place exist within my sphere of daily life where I’ll be accepted and loved as I am?

Looking back, nearly every question has been answered in surprising, mysterious, painful, and wonderful ways.

At the end of 2018, I have a new job that I love that is close to home and closer to my friends. I have my own apartment. I have a supportive family that I love spending time with. I have best friends for the first time in years. I’m in a small group at church with women who encourage and inspire me. When I go to church, I not longer make a beeline for the door at the end of the service, too intimidated by the crowd of conversing strangers to engage. (#IntrovertProblems). Now, I linger because I always find people to catch up with.

In so many ways, this was a difficult, frustrating, and confusing year. Navigating change, especially when it happens all at once, is challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever been as squeezed as I was this fall, where I balanced managing two libraries, graduate school, orchard season, and moving. In the aftermath, I’m completely burned out and struggling to find rest.

I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. As I’ve pushed into uncharted territory, I have a better sense of how to care for myself, where to set boundaries, and where I need to be more brave.

As I look back and reflect on 2018, I am so grateful for all the change, all the challenges, and all the joys. I’ve truly come into my own this year. Through it all, God has been so faithful, always providing what I didn’t know I needed and always showing up when I need Him the most. My life is filled with so many blessings—far more than I could ever deserve. I’m grateful beyond words for all of it.

With 2018 ending, I turn my gaze to the future. With so many answers in my pocket, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and discover what questions need to be lived into next year. Stay tuned for more on that front.

In the meantime, I wish you a very happy New Year!

One of my favorite photos from 2018. Taken at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in August.

 

Evolving Faith

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day conference called Evolving Faith.  It was hosted and curated by some of my favorite Christian writers, Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans.  It took place in Montreat, North Carolina.  The campus was beautiful, nestled in the arms of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Walking around Lake Susan, exploring the streams and trails, there’s a deep sense of peace.  You feel in your bones that you are walking on sacred ground.

Now, what is evolving faith?  Each of the speakers at the conference offered a different definition.  Evolving faith is a faith that changes.  It adapts.  It breaks down.  It reconstructs.  It identifies problematic narratives and strives to imagine new ones.  Jen Hatmaker likened it to the story in Genesis about Jacob wrestling with God.  Evolving faith is a faith that challenges, questions, wrestles and, like Jacob, has the audacity to ask for a blessing anyway.  Jeff Chu introduced us to the “theology of the compost pile” where all the wretched, useless, and discarded things are transformed into rich soil that brings new life.  Evolving faith acknowledges the darkness in ourselves and in the world and chooses to light a candle anyway.

What I loved so much about this conference is that it addressed head-on all the topics that are notoriously avoided in United States’ churches. Things that are whispered in the back of our minds as we sit in sanctuaries were named boldly from the stage.  Speakers called out the idol of white supremacy, the strength, beauty and dignity of minority communities, the evils of the Trump administration, the immediacy of climate change, and the problematic fact that the majority attendees were white. Speakers called us to both “burn shit down” and strive to be peacemakers.  There was rage.  There was hope.  There was the call to live in tension.

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Hiking in Spring

Lately, I’ve been going on hikes to prepare for an upcoming road trip.  On the weekend, no matter the weather, I spend my morning at my local state park.  There is a five mile loop that goes along the river and up into the bluffs.  It’s a great place to train and an even better place to think.

This morning, rain was in the forecast and I had the trail all to myself.  One of my favorite things about hiking is the way the cadence of my footsteps pushes my brain to places that feel high and rich.  As I scrambled over rocks, past trees, and up high hills, I found myself deeply moved by spring.

In Minnesota, spring comes slowly.  It comes in waves of warm and cool weather, rain and sun, green grass and sticky mud.

On the trail, most of the forest was still brown and dead.  The leaves were just starting to peek forth–a green blush against the rainy sky.  The ground was scattered with little flowers–pink and white and purple and yellow.

What a miracle it is, that life emerges from the bare earth. It reminds me that there will come a day where there will be no more crying, no more pain, no more injustice.

Spring comes forth in quiet radiance, whispering of life and peace and, best of all, hope.

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The Days After the Election

I think it’s safe to say that, no matter where you lie on the political spectrum, this week has been crazy.

On the day after the presidential election, a progressive Christian magazine I enjoy put out a call for readers to share their stories.  Wednesday was pretty turbulent for me emotionally and putting things into words is usually helps me process things, so I took the time to write about how I felt.

Usually, I keep my head down on social media when it comes to divisive current events.  I try to keep away from politics and anything that will cause division, judgement, or criticism.  I broke that rule on Facebook a few times this fall in outrage over our now president-elect’s words about women.  In the days after the election, though, I found that there was just too much going on inside me and found the words pouring out.  If I were to put my piece in a category, I would call it a lament: an outpouring of emotion that captures the pain of a moment in time.

I submitted my piece and, to my surprise, Sojourners published it on their website.  Before you read this post any further, please take a moment to read the piece, which can be found here. Continue reading

I’m Crossing the Pond

I have big news.

I’ve been holding on to this post for a while, unsure when to actually make my plans public. But this morning I woke up and thought, “Screw it. I’m putting it on the blog.”

I’m going back to England in January.

If you had told me a month ago that my next adventure is right around the corner, I don’t think I would have believed you.  It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, watching my dreams solidify into something tangible.

A few weeks ago, I published a particularly depressing post  where I vented about feeling directionless.   I shared it on Facebook and, a few hours later, got a text from my aunt recommending a ministry called L’Abri.

What is L’Abri?  It’s a ministry that integrates intellectual study with everyday life.  Half of the time is spent studying theology and discussing hard questions in Christianity.  The other half is spent contributing to everyday life in the form of everyday, practical tasks.  It’s an open door for anyone wanting to stay.  All you have to do is let them know you’re coming.  There is a cost, but it’s not high.

I did some research and tucked L’Abri in the corner of my mind.  Within the next week, it seemed to crop up everywhere… which made me stop in my tracks and begin to hope.  As I curled up in bed at night, I imagined myself there, living in an old manor house, engaging intellectually with the faith that is the center point of my life.  Once the idea took root, there was no stopping back.

I decided to send an email.  It’s amazing how a single message can change your course.  I inquired about their openings for their Spring term, never expecting them to say yes.

A week and a half later, here I am, L’Abri confirmation letter in one hand and a one-way ticket to Europe in the other.  I’ll be crossing the pond a few days before my program begins to give myself time to recover from jet lag and wander the streets of London, my favorite city in the world.  I’m going to buy my return ticket later, as I hope to do some traveling when my program is done.  I’ve got a friend studying abroad in Berlin that I might visit and I don’t want to pass by an opportunity to visit my Austrian friends.

It’s hard to believe that this is my life.

There is so much to accomplish in the next month and a half, but for the first time in ages, I have direction.  It’s a scary step, uprooting myself and moving across the globe all on my own.  But it feels right. I’m torn between terror and wild excitement and couldn’t be more content.

I’ll end this with a fitting quote from my hero, J.K. Rowling.  

Of Faith and Refugees

My Facebook newsfeed today was filled with opinions this morning.  This isn’t unusual, as I have friends on both sides of the political divide.  I usually don’t like to engage in such things on social media.  I don’t like to associate with a political party.  Such things breed division and strife–so I keep my opinions to myself.

But in lieu of current events and the hate that has risen in their wake, I’m finding it hard to remain silent.

As I’ve been following the debates regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, I have been absolutely appalled by the response from Christians.  My Facebook feed is filled with messages along the lines of “Close the boarders because we don’t want terrorists to get in”.  I saw a comment that said, “I’m all for helping the refugees, I just don’t want to let them in.”

Or, in other words, “I’m all for helping people as long as it doesn’t impact my life.”  “I’m all for taking care of the poor and needy, as long as my comfort isn’t threatened.”

This makes my blood boil.

What, then, is more valuable?  Comfort or human life?  The ease of the rich or the despair of the poor?

To make things clear, I understand the fear.  The refugees are people who are very different from us.  They look different, sound different, and follow a different religion. Differences are unknowns and unknowns are scary.  And yes, there is a risk that the wrong people can get in.  Is this a risk we are willing to take?

A couple of my friends posted links to a short piece on Relevant Magazine titled “What the Bible Says About How to Treat Refugees“.  I recommend giving it a read, for it is very good. It is a list of verses with little commentary, letting the Bible speak for itself.  These verses speak of loving the poor, caring for the needy, and putting the needs of others before your own.  They talk about setting aside what is comfortable in favor of preserving human life.

I’d like to add a verse to the list.  1 John 4:18:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (ESV)

Is allowing refugees into America worth it, despite the risk of letting terrorists in?  Absolutely.  Because perfect love, God’s love, casts out fear.

We, as Christians, are called to love the needy and care for the broken.  It’s not an option.  Loving one’s neighbor as ones self is not only a command, it’s the GREATEST command.  So are we going to obey? Are we going to trust that, even though there are unknowns and even though we are afraid, God is in control?

I realize that I am addressing this from a Christian perspective and you may not share my worldview. This is okay. Biblical rhetoric aside, I think my questions are still valid because this is, ultimately, not only a Christian issue. It is a human issue. These refugees aren’t faceless, soulless drones. They may be different, but they are human beings with just as much right to life as I. They have the same capacity to love, to feel, to dream as you and I do.

Are we, Christians and non Christians alike, going to set aside our comfort, riches, and fears, and care for the refugees?

I honestly don’t know what this looks like in my life.  As an American, I live a life of incredible privilege. There aren’t poor and homeless people lining up at my door. The refugees are on the other side of the world. But with privilege comes responsibility. If and when the time comes to take action, I hope that I am able to do what is RIGHT and not settle for what is EASY.

It’s a complicated issue.  There are a thousand arguments and counterarguments that can be made.  It can be discussed for hours on end.  Your opinion and worldview may be different than mine, and that’s okay. I don’t mind. Differences are not something to be afraid of. They are our greatest strength.

But I’m tired of remaining silent. I’ve been given a voice and am choosing to use it. So this is me, adding my thoughts to the universe.

Thanks for reading.

  

Go Bold

There are friends.  And then there are friends like Jenny.

We met during my freshman year of college.  Although we became acquaintances in the first month, I didn’t get to know her until spring semester.  I was close (and still am) with her roommate, Julie.  Because the shallow friendships with my floormates began to run their course, I took up the habit of visiting Julie’s dorm in Gay Hall.  It’s then that I got to know Jenny.  After a couple of weeks, it became evident that I was no longer crashing Gay to see Julie.  I was all about hanging out with Jenny.  We’ve been close ever since.

How do I even begin to describe Jenny?

She’s the kind of person you want by your side.  She’s a wonderful listener and is always ready and able to give you encouragement.  She’s smart, insightful, and notices details that often get glossed over.  She’s incredibly funny and can drop puns like nobody’s business.  She’s gifted in hospitality and an expert in how to make an excellent cup of coffee.

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I’d post a nice photo of the two of us, but they kind of don’t exist. They’re all similar to this one. (Yes, I am in the midst of eating cheese. Cheese is glorious.)

 

Most of all, though, she has an incredible heart for God.  It’s been amazing watching Him turn her life around.  When we met, she had her heart set on majoring in biology, running a nursing home, marrying a lumberjack and settling down with kids.  Now, she’s a Morris grad (with an English degree) on the brink of moving to Japan to spend the next two years as a missionary.

Throughout college, I got to see Jenny’s faith grow and evolve.  She had her own plans and dreams, but one day, God spoke to her.  He said: “If I asked you to go, would you?”  She said yes.  The process of being called to a lifetime of missions wasn’t an easy one.  Jenny had to let go of a lot.  She had to face her struggles, her insecurities, her fears.  She says it this way:

While I can hardly believe I felt this way initially anymore, at first I felt utterly dejected. Like I said, I had other plans for myself, filled with good things that I wanted to do in this world. I knew I was going to have to let those go. So I asked God, that if this was really what He wanted for me, to change my heart, to make every other possible career choice and plan for my life be completely unsatisfying and empty. Over the course of that year He did exactly that.  Now there is hardly a thing that excites me more than active ministry and loving people. (Taken from one of her blog posts)

Although she graduated a year early, Jenny has been one of my solid rocks this school year.  She’s been living at home, floating from job to job, and has always been available to talk.  When I’m frustrated, I call Jenny.  When I’m ecstatic, I call Jenny.  When I just need someone to talk to, I call Jenny.  With her, conversation flows from one subject to the next and, before I know it, hours have passed.

Yesterday, I saw Jenny in person for the last time.  We went out for tea and, in true fashion, talked for hours.  I intended on being home for dinner, but it wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  Why go home when I can be with Jenny one last time?  In a couple of weeks, she’s off for at least two years teaching English in Japan.

It’s hard saying goodbye to someone who has had such a big impact on your life.  But, with Jenny, it’s not as if this goodbye is forever.  Even though we’ll be on the other sides of the planet, it’s not like we won’t talk.  That’s the beauty of the internet.  Yes, staying in touch is challenging and definitely takes work.  But, with Jenny, it’ll happen.

If you’re interested in getting to know Jenny, following her adventures in Japan, and seeing what God does in her life, you can follow her blog, Go Bold.  If you ask me, she’s worth paying attention to.

A new perspective on sharing my faith

I loathe being told to share my faith.

I mean, it’s something that we are called directly to do.  Jesus says in Matthew 28:16 to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  We’re encouraged to share our faith, to spread the good news, to be lights in the darkness of the world.

But in Christian circles, there’s a lot of guilting that goes on when it comes to evangelism.  So often, I come from those talks feeling like, by not sharing my faith, I’m doing something wrong.  And then I feel guilty.  I feel like I should share my faith out of obligation and duty, not because I want to.  So often, evangelism makes me extremely uncomfortable.  In order to do it, I feel like I must have all the answers, like I have to start going up to my classmates, shoving Bibles in their faces, and taking them through the Romans Road.  It makes me uncomfortable and inadequate. I feel pressured and that, if I don’t present the message well enough, I’ll be a failure.  Sharing faith in these ways sounds just seems unpleasant.  I don’t want to do it.  But then I feel guilty for not wanting to do something God clearly asks of us.

The thing is, I genuinely want to share my faith.  I want to tell people about the joy, the love, the security I have in Christ.  But I don’t want to demean others and I’m afraid of being seen as the Bible-shoving stereotype.

At IVCF last night, an old classmate came and talked about the dreaded topic.  What she said really hit home.

To summarize her message, she talked about talking about faith the same way we talk about things excited about.  We don’t have to have a perfect message.  The outcome of sharing our faith does not depend on us.  We don’t have to worry about how we are received, because God is bigger than that.  He can handle it.  Instead of preaching to people, we should talk about Jesus as if He’s a real person.  We shouldn’t spew off boring facts as if he’s merely a figure in a book.  Instead, we need to be open and honest about what He’s like, what He says, what He does, and what it’s like to hang out with Him.

Boldness is key, but not to belittle.  Not to condescend.  Not to preach.  We need to be bold in sharing our excitement about who He is and what He is doing in our lives.  Because if we’re excited, then it will spread to the people around us.

The other thing that is key is trust.  We need to trust that God is bigger than us.  He’s bigger than us, bigger than our circumstances, bigger than our voices.  We don’t have to defend Him.  He can defend Himself.  He knows what He is doing.

I’m not very good at sharing my faith.  I really struggle with this.  As previously stated, I’ve always felt this sense of obligation, that I should be doing more, saying more, preaching more–and this has always made me REALLY uncomfortable.  But all this time, I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way.  I don’t have to go out and do anything.  I just have to be me.  I simply have to live and not restrict my relationship with God to my personal life.  I have to let the love I have for my savior, my best friend, my beloved show.  I have to be open about Him–open about what He’s doing and willing to tell people about my excitement.

It’s encouraging to know that I don’t need to have it all together.  More than anything, though, it’s wonderful to walk out of a faith-sharing talk without feeling guilty.  For the first time ever, I actually feel good about being open about my faith.  Which is incredibly freeing.

 

Looking to the future and finally having some answers

About a month ago, I wrote a post where I posed the question: What brings you life?

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately.  I mean, with only a few months left of college, it’s to be expected.  People keep asking me what’s next.  I keep telling them I don’t know.  Just now, though, I realized that I DO know.

I want to do something that brings me life.  I don’t want a job to pay the bills.   I want my work to be my passion.  I want to feel a sense of fulfillment at the end of a week.  I want to do something I love so much that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I got lucky with college.  During my final years of high school, I knew exactly what I wanted to major in.  People ask me why I chose to be an English major and I answer them, “I’ve been an English major my entire life.  I just didn’t know that is what it’s called until I got to college.”  I didn’t chose English for the career track.  I became an English major because it’s the only major I imagined myself pursuing.  And, although there have been rough patches (I’m looking at you, Virginia Woolf class), my studies have spurred my passions and brought incredible life.  But it’s not what I want to do forever.

I now stand at the brink of another crossroads.  Where do I go after graduation?  What should I do?  The answer is clear: I need to find what brings me the most life and I need to do that every day until I die.

At this point, I have a good sense of what that is.

Above all else, my time here in Morris has taught me that, although English is something I love, it’s not something I want to do with my life.  When I look back what stands out the most is spiritual growth and involvement in ministry.  Over the past four years, God turned a quiet girl with her identity in a box into a confident, passionate leader.  Being involved in IVCF, prayer ministry, Bible studies, and (of course) working at camp has done more for my career than any professor in any classroom.  He’s given me a taste for service that leaves me longing for more.  All I want to do is serve God with my life.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I’ve realized lately that I feel the most fulfillment when I’m pouring into people.  It’s my favorite thing.  There’s nothing that brings me more joy than praying for others or meeting one-on-one and giving encouragement.  I love taking the lessons I’ve learned and the things God has spoken to me and passing them on.  It’s such an amazing experience, helping others draw closer to Him.

That, friends, is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life.

Now I just have to find someone willing to pay me to do it.

 

Versatile/Liebster Awards

It’s always an honor when a fellow blogger nominates you and features your blog.  The thing is… I’m terrible with awards.  On the one hand, I think they’re fabulous and are a wonderful way to connect the WordPress community.  On the other, they feel a bit like chain mail.

Recently, I’ve been nominated for a number of awards.  So, instead of putting them off, I thought I’d respond to them in one big post.  The thing is, though, I’m not going to pass the awards on.  I know that it defeats the purpose, but the part of me that resists anything that feels like chain mail is simply too strong.  (I mean, I even avoided doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last spring, despite numerous nominations.)

Versatile:

A few months ago, Britta of It’s a Britta Bottle! nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Part of the award involves sharing seven facts about yourself.  Here goes:

1. I believe in the Loch Ness Monster.

2. During my junior year of high school, I held a lead role in a production of Disney’s High School Musical.  (In case you were wondering, I played Taylor McKessie.  Second to the left.)

3. I have read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban over fifteen times.  (Yes, I kept track and have since lost count.)

4. This past summer, I was in charge of the children’s programming for an international Ethiopian Church Conference in Minneapolis.

Me withs some of the girls

5. I have seen The Phantom of the Opera on the Broadway and West End stages, as well as a traveling production.

6. In high school, I wrote a novel length Harry Potter fan fic.

7. I spent my 21st birthday in Oxford and had my first drink at the Eagle in Child pub, where my literary heroes J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and friends (also known as the Inklings) used to have their weekly writing group.

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Liebster:

Yesterday, Akanksha of The World Past Me nominated me for the Liebster Award.  Part of this award includes answering a number of given questions.  Here are my answers toAkanksha’s fantastic questions:

1. What do you want from life?

I want a simple life doing something meaningful.  I want to work in full-time ministry serving and building the Kingdom of God.  I want to travel the world.  Someday, I want to settle down with a husband that I love and raise a family.

2. What’s your secret fantasy?

To eat all the Nutella in the world and not gain weight.

3. What is your favorite color and why?

Green.  Because it’s pretty.

4. If you could change  into an animal anytime, what would it be and why?

I would become a beluga whale because every time I see one in real life, I become so full of joy that I nearly start hyperventilating.  (Yes, I’m a weirdo.)  I want my presence to bring joy to the lives of others.  Also, beluga whales are adorable.


5. Do you believe in love at first sight? Why/why not?

There are lots of kinds of love out there, each very complex and distinct.  In a romantic sense, however, I do not believe in love at first sight.  I think you can see someone and be incredibly attracted to them.  But the kind of love that lifelong marriages are built upon takes time and commitment to foster.  It can’t be captured in an instant.

6. What do you believe is humans’ greatest strength?

I think that one of our biggest strengths is our ability to create.  There’s something about art, literature, and music that transcends words.  Crafting beauty that moves and inspires is something that only we human beings are able to do.  It’s absolutely incredible.

7. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind every morning when you wake up?

Usually, I think about Jesus.  He’s my best friend.  (I also do my daily devotions first thing, so He is naturally the first thing on my mind.)

8. A trip with your best friend or a brunch with good friends?

This is a tough one.  I’m going to go with brunch with good friends.  Why?  As much as I love travel and as much as I love my best friend, we’d kill each other if we were in each other’s company for too long.

9. What’s your favorite book?

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.  The first time I read it unabridged, I didn’t know what to do with myself for a week.  I felt like I had lost a very dear friend.  Hugo has crafted a novel that captures the essence of the human existence.  It never fails to move me.

10. If you could date one celebrity, who would it be and why?

Andrew Garfield.  Because LOOK AT THIS MAN.  (Although, in real life, I don’t think I’d ever want to date a celebrity.  Too much publicity.)

So… that concludes my awards acceptance post!  Thanks so much Britta and Akanksha for the nominations!

P.S. I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award in the past, so do check out my previous answers!