Tis the Season: Light Amid Darkness

In past Tis the Seasons, I’ve shared many, many holiday stories: family traditions, interesting historical tidbits, heartfelt sentiments, favorite songs, and so on.  When faced with writing a post this year, though, writers block hit and it hit HARD.  I had lots of ideas, from sharing new memories to fleshing out older stories, but every time I sat down to write, I ended up staring at a blank page.  The words just wouldn’t come.

Then, I got thinking about what my friend Rachel said in her post earlier this week about Christmas being a time of light in the darkness and hope when all feels lost.  The more I thought about it, the more it felt right.  Light in the darkness… what a timely message.

We live in days of darkness, days of sorrow, days of pain, days of disappointment.  It’s been a rough year for so many both here in America and abroad.  We live in days of horrific war, days of the displacement and death of innocents, days of bombs and destruction.  We live in days of intolerance, of cruelty, of fear.  We live in days where people are massacred and ostracized for their beliefs, for their cultural heritage, for their orientation, and for their gender.  We live in days of doubt and days of deep insecurity where truth and trust cease to exist. Continue reading

The Drunkenness of Things Being Various

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to camp in Northern Minnesota.  A friend and I stayed in my uncle’s self-built rustic cabin in the woods a few miles from Lake Superior.  We had a wonderful time going on hikes, sitting by the lakeshore, exploring waterfalls, discussing morality in Game of Thrones, and reading poetry aloud at the campfire.

It was a peaceful weekend.  I felt all the clutter in my life fade away.  The sounds of daily life fade in comparison to the rush of a waterfall.  Alone time in nature, for me, is soul detox.

In my quiet moments, I reflected a great deal on how complex the human experience is–how beautifully multifaceted we all are.  I wrote in the margins of my sketchbook:   “Personhood is a complicated, beautiful thing–what an adventure it is to live inside myself.  There are so many corners, so many contradictions–How can I be so many people at once?” Continue reading

Emergency Dance Party

As far as weeks go, I think it’s safe to say that I’m having a terrible one.  To begin with, my parents are currently away road tripping to Oregon, leaving me in a big empty house with no one but my brother (who isn’t exactly a chatterbox) and my cat to keep me company.  Then, I made the mistake of wading into the wrong patch of woods on our farm, resulting in poison ivy rashes and blisters all over my legs.  To cap it off, I got sick on Monday night and made a big mess of it, making cleanup gross and difficult.  (Sorry if that’s too much information…) Continue reading

Writing into the Unknown

In general, I’m the kind of person that, once I know what I want, pursues it wholeheartedly.  I see my destination and nothing stands in my way.  Perfection is an impossibility and failure is inevitable–bearing this in mind, I push forward towards my goals.  This mindset has led to participating in the Minnesota State Speech tournament in high school, becoming part of Program Staff at camp, spending a semester studying abroad, and graduating college with top grades.  Once I know what I want, I form a strategy.  Step by step, I find a way.

But what happens when I don’t know what I want?

How do I push forward if I don’t know the direction?  People from all sides, from family members to strangers, are bombarding me with questions.  “Where are you going, Amelia?  How will you get there?”

To the world, I must look incredibly foolish.  Here I am, a twenty-something college grad living at home with no notion of where I actually want to go in life.  To cope with the unknown, I’ve resigned to taking things one step at a time.  I take the opportunities before me and hope that they lead me where I’m supposed to go.

A lot of my perspective on my future has to do with my faith.  I feel like God is deliberately keeping me in the dark.  I know that He has a plan for my life that is better than anything I can come up with on my own.  I want to pursue that.  When it comes down to it, I DO know what I want out of life.  I want my purpose and reason for living to be for God.  I have inklings of what I think He wants me to do.  I feel like God wants me to return to Europe–it’s always there, nagging at the back of my mind.  I also feel like God wants me to write.  But what does that look like?  Where in Europe should I go?  What should I do there?  How will I get there?  What should I write?

How do I pursue the unarticulated passions of my spirit and meet social expectations?  How do I balance blind faith with the pressures of stepping into full-fledged adulthood?  How do I move forward if I don’t know what I want?

I’m making this up one step at a time.  I’ve got two jobs right now.  Both will be done by Christmas.  Once Christmas has passed, I’m attending Urbana, the largest student missions conference in the world.  After that… Who knows?  Maybe, at the conference, my passions will finally be articulated and I’ll have a clear path.  Maybe I’ll find a missions organization to partner with and be on my way to wherever I’m supposed to go.  Maybe nothing will happen at all and I’ll find a full-time job and move to the cities.

I hate, hate, hate appearing foolish.  I hate the disapproval that comes from not having it figured out.  I hate that I know my extended family has conversations about what a hopeless floater I am behind my back.  The other day, my mom said something to me to the effect of, “Amelia, it’s really hard on us to see you like this.”  To which I responded, “It’s hard for you?  Try being stuck here.”

I know there will come a time when the pieces will align.  I know that I’ll end up somewhere.  Some days, I’m really positive and optimistic about the future.  Today isn’t really one of those days.  Moving forward is hard when I don’t know when I want to go.  For the time being, I suppose all I really can do is ignore the pressure and step blindly in a direction.

I’ve asked a lot of questions in this post that I don’t have answers to.  But they’re questions that need to be asked.  These things need to be articulated.  In an earlier paragraph, I stated that I feel like God wants me to write.  What does He want me to write about?  My answer: THIS.  I need to put my frustrations into words.  Maybe, as the unknowns solidify into nouns and verbs, I’ll find that my passions are finally articulated.  Maybe, through the act of writing, my destination will present itself.  I’ll continue to write until I find out.

Photo from Unsplash
Photo from Unsplash

Love is All You Need… Or is It? (Writing 101, Day 3)

I have never been in love.

Some days, this fact about myself makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. In a consumer society where the movies we watch and books we read tell us the most desirable thing a woman can strive for is romance, not having it sometimes makes me feel weak. Open. Insecure.

Singleness is often portrayed as a dreadful thing that women need to get rid of. I love romantic comedies, but how many center on women who are dissatisfied with their relationship status? To be single is to be a failure. If you’re not in a relationship, you’re not desirable enough. You’re not beautiful enough. You’re not smart enough. You are not enough.

What a bunch of crap.

Most days, romantic inexperience doesn’t bother me much. I’ve never felt the desire to date for the sake of dating. When I enter a relationship someday, I want it to be something that lasts. I don’t want to be with someone for the sake of not being alone. I want to be with someone because they fascinate and inspire me.  I want to be with someone who loves me for who I am. In reality, I’ve never actually met anyone I seriously wanted to date. Oh I’ve had crushes.  Lots of them.  But only one person has ever seriously caught my eye and that didn’t even start to go anywhere. That, however, is a story for another day.

When it comes down to it, I love being single. I love making life decisions without needing someone else’s input, worrying about distance, or providing for children. For me, there is a whole world of possibilities. I could move anywhere, do any job, and pursue whatever adventures come my way. Singleness is a unique time in life and I don’t want to spend it moping around.

I do hope to find love eventually, but why detract from the joys of life by buying into lies that I need a man to make me happy? Everyone says it comes when you least expect it. I figure that if I live without expectations of romance, I can enjoy all the wonderful things in my life now. When love comes, it will take me by surprise and will be so much more exciting.

My philosophy on love and dating may not resonate with everyone. Most of my views stream from my deeply rooted faith and security in God. But to go into all the spiritual aspects of my reasoning would be crossing into waters I tend to avoid in the blogosphere. (Maybe I’ll write about why I don’t talk about my faith much someday. I’ll add that to the list of post ideas.) Anyway, if my words don’t fit your perspective or worldview, that is okay. We’re all different. As the phrase goes, “You do you.”

The truth is, though, culture is wrong. You don’t need romance, dates, or sex to live a fulfilling life.

Falling in love? Maybe someday. Until then, I am enough.

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

On blogging and change

It’s time for a haphazard conversation about blogging, life, and change.  I’m not feeling particularly eloquent at the moment, but that’s no reason to not talk with you all.

You know that posting schedule I made at the beginning of the summer?  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t followed it for the past month.  My promised features have completely fallen flat.  Every once in a while, I put out a book review.  But those Thursday posts about my job at an apple orchard?  Those were abandoned by the wayside and I never looked back.

To be fair, I’ve started drafting a couple of book reviews that will hopefully keep me consistent over the next few weeks.  I’ve also been painting a lot lately, which means a new Sketchbook Corner is coming!  Keep an eye out for those over the coming weeks!

You may also remember that, a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I signed up for Blogging 201.  About that… half of the assignment emails remain unread in my inbox.  They just didn’t feel pertinent with my blogging goals.  (Which are relatively nonexistent, despite the fact that the first assignment was to set blogging goals.  But that’s beside the point.)

Still, I’m determined to take advantage of the Blogging University classes and have registered for the BRAND NEW Writing 101.  It starts next week and, from the looks of it, is aimed at helping with posting consistently.  I’m excited to start getting the assignments and engaging more in the WordPress community.  (Which I’ve been pretty dismal at lately.)

I have, however, been tweaking my site’s theme.  I’ve rearranged the widgets–check out the footer at the bottom of the page for some site navigational tools and a glimpse into my Goodreads page.  I also designed a new header, which I’m kind of in love with.  It conveys what I hope this blog is/will become much better than the old one.  It’s easy on the eyes, simple, and hints of possibilities and adventure.

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On a personal note, I’ve started seriously thinking about what adventure to pursue once my orchard job ends in December.  I’m not exactly sure what I want to do (does anyone?), but poking around job listings have started giving me ideas.  I had a conversation with my mom yesterday about a potential local opportunity that got me excited just thinking about.  I’ve also started fantasizing about furniture arrangements and having a kitchen of my own.  I take these as signs that, when the time comes to move out on my own, I’ll be more than ready.

So far, my post-grad life hasn’t been the daring adventure I hoped it would be.  But I’m definitely enjoying the fact that, in a few weeks, I won’t be going back to school for the first time in my life.  And, although my current job isn’t the most thrilling thing in the world, I actually enjoy it a great deal.  When the time comes to do something different, I’m excited to see what adventures crop up–small or big scale.

What changes are going on in your corner of the universe?  (This can be blog or life related.)

Time for some Real Talk.

Hey there.  Amelia here.

At the camp I used to work at, Real Talk is what we call deep, heart-to-heart conversations about things that matter.  This post has been churning around in my head for a long time.  The words have finally formed into coherent sentences.  So let’s just dive on in.

I seem to be in a bit of a slump.  The dog days of summer render me lazy, unproductive, and a bit disheartened.  I’ve lost touch with so many things–my faith, my goals, and even my blog.  I find myself going for days without opening my computer to avoid facing the inevitability of adulthood.

These days, I spend a great deal of time in my head.  My job entails endless hours of field labor, so when I’m not marathoning the Harry Potter series via audiobook (for the tenth time), I find myself asking questions.  Mainly…

What next?

Where?

When?

You see, during the past year, I finally figured out what I want to do with my life.  I feel called to pursue a life of Christian ministry in Europe.  Although I didn’t attend a Christian school, I’ve got plenty of experience under my belt due to three summers working at a Bible camp and heavy involvement with campus ministry.  I spent a semester abroad in Europe a few years back and, ever since, feel a tugging in my heart to go back to serve.  My English degree has made me a good writer and grammarian, has given me a sharp analytical eye, and has shown me that most of the world’s problems can be solved through learning to see things through the eyes of others.  (Or, as Atticus Finch says, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.)

But I’m still left with questions.

What next?

Where?

When?

Doing ministry in Europe can mean a LOT of things.  Really, it could mean anything.  Teaching.  Translating.  Secretary work.  Counseling.  I’d add more to the list, but the possibilities are so endless that I don’t even know what to write.  Poking around the internet for potential jobs only makes me more frustrated.

I don’t know where to look, but I feel it.  I feel the call to go.  And it’s maddening not knowing where I’ll be going.

What irks me most about the whole situation is that I’m afraid of looking like a failure.  I’m afraid people will look at me and see the stereotypical college grad who lives at home and isn’t going anywhere.  When people ask me what I plan on doing with my life now that school is over, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can be honest with them.  I say, “I want to do ministry in Europe.  What that means and where that will be, I don’t yet know.”  But the responses… I hate the responses.  Most people are polite.  They smile, nod, and wish me the best.  But behind their smiles, I can see the doubt.  “Good luck with that,” their eyes seem to say condescendingly.  “That’s the type of thing people dream about, but never actually do.  You’re not going anywhere.”  It’s downright disheartening.

I’m definitely in a slump… But I’m trying.

I have a job.  Yes, it’s working for my parents.  Yes, it’s below my education level.  But work is work and every bit counts in the face of student loans.

I read.  In addition to marathoning Harry Potter on audiobook, pounding through a 700 page long fantasy novel on my Kindle, and slowly creeping through the copy of The Silmarilion I received for Christmas, I’m currently reading the book Get Wise by Bobb Merrit, pastor of the church I attend with my family.  Based on the book of Proverbs in the Bible, Merrit discusses how to make wise choices.  When I finish, I plan on picking up The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now by Meg Jay.  My older brother read it when he graduated college and gifted me a copy for Christmas.  Talk about relevant books for a season of transition!

I blog.  In fact, to get me out of the WordPress aspect of my current slump, I signed up for Blogging 201 to help give me tasks to work on.  At this point, any kind of goal feels like a valuable one.

I do other things–I pray a lot.  I spend time with family and friends.  I recently saw one of my favorite bands (Rend Collective) live and have tickets to another concert (Brandi Carlile and Iron & Wine) in a few weeks.  I saw an outdoor, in-the-park production of Hamlet the other day.  I go to movies.  I make art.  I try to get enough sleep each night.

My biggest step in the Europe plan has been registering for Urbana, one of the largest Christian student missions conferences in the world.  Taking place every three years in St. Louis, Missouri, it’s a gathering of over 16,000 young people who are interested in missions.  It’s a five-day event spanning from Christmas to New Years, filled with speakers, seminars, worship, and fellowship.  Hundreds of missions organizations come and set up tables.  For a girl interested in dedicating her life to missions in Europe, it’s the perfect place to go.

The problem is… Urbana is in December.  It is currently July.  Which means… I’m stuck where I’m at for five months.  I don’t want to get a full-time real-adult job if I’m going to be gone for such a big period of time.  Plus, I don’t want to lay down too deep of roots.  This means getting my own place, buying a car, etc. are out of the question.  You see, when the opportunity comes to go, I want to be as free as possible.

So I’m living at home.  I’m guaranteed a job through November.  I read, I blog, I pray, I do things.  I wait.  I wonder.  I spend time in my head.

Despite everything, I know that I’ll get there.  If missions in Europe is something I’m called to do and I’m willing to go, there is no way God won’t provide the chance.  But being in the slump, the in-between, the transition is absolutely maddening.

So there you go.  That’s what’s going on in my life at the moment.  Thanks for listening.

Next stop, Blogging 201.

Kidnapping the Austrians

Over the past year, I’ve been in a position where almost all my close friends live far away.  For the most part, this absolutely sucks.  I’m the type of person that doesn’t need to be surrounded by people all the time.  Give me a few solid souls to lean on and I am set.  It’s been incredibly difficult without the people I love most in the world by my side.  No amount of reading and Netflix can compensate for deep talks and belly laughter.

The one good thing, though, is that it makes the time I have with my dear ones so much more precious.

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Right to left: Anna, Emma, Anna-Laura, and me. Taken while waiting for the hometown parade to start.

This past weekend, I was able to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world, who happen to live in Austria.  We met at Camp Shamineau, where I spent the past three summers working, but our friendship has gone far beyond camp life.  When I studied abroad in Europe, I visited their home in the Alps.  This weekend, I brought them to see my home.

I don’t really know what to say about my time with the Austrians.  I dragged them through several charming small towns, to a local parade, a waterfall, and (of course) Target.  We laid around, ate good food, and soaked in each other’s company.

Being around people you care about brings out the best in you.

During the past few months at home, certain pieces of myself have gone dormant.  I’ve forgotten what a joy it is to serve others, to put their needs before my own, and what it feels like to be surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters.  My faith does best when I am on my own, independent of my parents, and although this summer hasn’t been BAD, it hasn’t been productive.  I’ve lost sight of what it means to GROW in my faith.  I’ve settled for getting by.

The two days spent with my Austrian friends reminded me of these things.  Just by being in their presence, listening to them talk, I felt God’s Spirit flare up in my heart.

Anna and I by the waterfall near where I live
Anna and I by the waterfall near where I live

I felt a desire to grow, to serve, to love.  I wanted to spend time investing in my faith instead of hobbies and activities.

Saying goodbye to Anna, Emma, and Anna-Laura today was incredibly sad.  They’re some of the dearest people in my heart and, since we live on other sides of the world, I don’t know when I’m going to see them next.  But being with them helped remind me of so many things that I had let slip by, giving me badly needed encouragement regarding my future plans.  I am so thankful for that.

However, I do know that these girls and I are friends for life.  I never imagined I would come to be tied so deeply to a bunch of people from Austria–of all places, why there?  I cling to the knowledge that we will meet again.  Friends like them don’t come along every day–and when they do, they stick.  I don’t know how much time will pass between today and our next meeting, but I earnestly look forward to it.

This weekend was, by far, the highlight of my summer thus far.

It’s all acting

When it comes to academics, there are honestly some days where I feel like one big phony.

At this point, it’s all a game.  Go to class, speak up, do the readings, write the papers, give the professors what they want.  It’s funny how the deeper I have gotten in my upper-level courses, the more I know this isn’t what I want to do with my life.  Academia isn’t for me.  I don’t want to be a student anymore.   When I speak up in class, when I write papers, when I look like I’m so on top of things, it’s all an act.  It’s me playing the game to get the grade.

I want to do something meaningful with my life.  I’m sick of sitting around.  I’m sick of playing the game.  There are times when I feel like Rapunzel, trapped in her tower, singing about all the mindless things she does to pass the time.  The parallel isn’t perfect, of course.  I lack magic hair, an emotionally abusive mother figure, and am certainly not trapped in a tower.  But I’m tired of waiting.

I’m so close to graduating.  There’s just a couple of months standing between me and finally getting my degree.  My life is going places–big, exciting, unknown places.

Do I have it in me to play the game for just a few more months?  I sure hope so.

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.