Thoughts on Blogging, Social Media, and Finding the Right Balance

I’ve been giving my social media habits a great deal of thought lately.

I won’t go into the messy details, but over the past few months my habits have changed a great deal.  In January, I made the decision to scale back my consumption and deleted Facebook from my phone.  This may not be a huge change, but it’s deeply impacted the way I experience the social media world.

For one thing, I have more time on my hands.  Instead of wiling away the hours scrolling through status updates and baby photos and engagement announcements, I spend my time doing things that I love.  I go for long walks.  I read more.  I hang out with family.

Another consequence is that I’ve shifted more time to Instagram.  With only photos and stories, Instagram is more curated and eats up far less time.  The more time I spend on Instagram, the more I fall in love with it.  I love putting together photos that I find beautiful and coming up with captions and quotes.  This summer, I started using the story feature and am able to share quirky, more casual bits of my life.

And then there’s my blog.  At the beginning of this year, I set out to be more of an official blogger… and quickly fizzled out.  I attempted to do a series of posts of literary places I’ve visited.  That lasted for two weeks.  Here and there, I’ve done several one-off posts that I’ve been pleased with.

I’ve been blogging for nearly ten years now on a variety of sites and, over the years, I’ve tried a number of different techniques.  (And, before you ask, no I will not share a link to my blog from high school.)

I think that part of my inconsistency is that I lack a central focus and vision.  While I adore my title, Keep Your Feet, and all that it implies, I definitely don’t have a theme.  Sometimes, I’m a book blogger.  Other times I write about travel and adventures.  Other times, I write about more personal things.  And, sometimes, I hardly post at all. Continue reading

Urbana 15: Telling My Story

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend InterVarsity’s trip annual Urbana Conference.  For five days, St. Louis, Missouri, was invaded by 16,000 college students and adults seeking to learn about world missions.  This year’s conference was themed around one very important question: What story will you tell?

IMG_6976
Taken right before one of the large group sessions.

As a writer and avid reader, stories fuel my everyday life.  I breathe them in, soaking in the perspectives of others.  I breathe them out, letting my own experiences take shape through words.  Throughout the week, we heard countless stories from around the world.  We heard from indigenous people in the Pacific Island, refugees in Jordan, college students in Mexico.  We heard from the persecuted church in the Middle East–the stories of men and women imprisoned for their faith.  We heard the stories of our black American brothers and sisters, whose voices have been long silenced by racism and inequality.

We didn’t just hear their stories.  We entered into them.  Multicultural worship is a challenging, humbling experience.  It was uncomfortable at times.  We fumbled our way through Arabic, Korean, Hawaiian, and Swahili, to name a few of the languages.  My mouth stumbled over the strange words and sounds.  Even though it was different and awkward at points, entering into the songs of brothers and sisters from around the world gave me a larger picture of the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom is for everyone, for every tribe, tongue, and nation.  I got to experience what that looks like at Urbana.

As a writer attending a conference centered around stories, I can’t merely describe what went on.  I need to take up the pen and join in, adding my words.

I suppose my Urbana story starts with answering a question: Why missions?

My whole life, I’ve felt very drawn to Europe.  Growing up, I remember reading about far-away places and having this sense of urgency.  I couldn’t explain it, but I needed to go there.  I needed to see these places with my own eyes.  I needed to walk the streets and see the faces of the people who lived there.  In 2013, I spent a semester studying abroad in London, England.  During my three and a half months there, I traveled a great deal.  Finally, I could see and experience the places I’ve been dreaming about my whole life.  Along the way, I learned a great deal.  I learned that the world is a dark, empty place, and that even though Europe is largely comprised of first-world nations, there are people who desperately need the light and love of Jesus.

Upon returning to school in the United States, it was a matter of months before I felt the need rise up in me again.  I had been thinking and praying about going into ministry for a while, but my thoughts and prayers began to turn overseas.  “What if,” I asked myself, “feeling drawn to Europe isn’t just me wanting to travel?  What if God wired me with this desire, growing it with time, into a calling?”

Eager to dedicate my life to God, I embraced the calling.  He wants me to go to Europe?  I’m all in.  But so much remained uncertain.  Where would I go?  What would I do there?  Who would I serve?  How would I find the money?  What does the missions field even look like?

Attending the largest student missions conference in the world seemed like the logical place to answer these questions.  Last week, I arrived in St. Louis, willing to go, wanting to serve, ready for God to point the way.  What I didn’t realize was that, although I was intellectually ready to take the plunge, my heart had a long way to go.

Let me pause here for a moment.  You should know that, although I feel very deeply, I’m not what one would call an emotional person.  I rarely cry.  I’m not very touchy-feely.  Emotional things don’t seem to impact me like they do others.  It’s as if my heart is sealed behind a series of walls and gates.  Within these walls, I feel very deeply and these feelings guide the majority of the large decisions I make.  But my heart and mind don’t often connect.  It takes time for the right keys to get into the right doors.

When one enters into service for the Kingdom of God, it is important for their heart and mind to align.

Going into Urbana, mine did not.  My brain was ready.  But, frankly, my heart didn’t actually care about the people I was supposed to be going out into the world to serve.  Of course,I didn’t realize any of this until after the fact.  More on that later.

The first half of the conference was extremely affirming.  To share a bit of my testimony, I grew up in a highly politicized church where one was treated differently if they held a different perspective.  My experience with the American Evangelical church is that it places certain values over others.  College was a wonderful time of exploring other worldview and perspectives.  However, I’ve been living at home for the past nine months.  Being back in this highly Republican community has me wondering if my family is crazy for caring about things like racial equality, LGBTQ rights, showing kindness to refugees, affirming women as leaders in the church, etc.  Through speakers and seminars at Urbana, God affirmed that we are not crazy and that we are not the only ones thinking about these issues.  He cares about them too.

As awesome as this affirmation was, I felt like something was missing.  “I’m at the largest student missions conference in the world”, I thought.  “Surely God brought me here to do more than affirm my perspective.”

I was right.

On Tuesday night, the large group session was dedicated to the persecuted church.  Individuals, often unnamed and unseen, told their stories of being imprisoned and tortured for their faith.  They talked about God empowering them to love their captors even in the darkest hours of their lives.  We then were given time and space to pray for the church.  Banners with different countries were raised and we could gather beneath them, praying for each nation.

It was a powerful night–16,000 people lifting their voices in prayer.  As I knelt on the hard concrete praying for Kenya, I felt God’s Spirit rising in me.  As I prayed, my words intangible even to me, I felt the keys to my heart unlock–The layers pulled back.  Finally, the deep desires of my heart were accessible and in the open.

“Lord, I want to go,” I prayed.  “I want to go.  I want to go.  I want to go.”  It was a prayer of frustration.  I came to Urbana hoping to find direction from God that would empower me to take the next step.  Where was my direction?  Where were my answers?  As the dust from my prayer settled, I felt God’s voice: Not yet, Amelia.  Wait.

I was confused.  “What do you mean I have to wait?” I asked God.  “I’m ready!”   But, up until that point, I was ready with my mind.  But my heart was sorely lacking.  That night, God opened the floodgates to my heart and prepared me to not only hear His voice in my mind, but in my spirit.

If I had to describe Wednesday in one word, I would say it was humbling.  With my newly opened heart, I came repeatedly before the Lord and listened to the words He had for me… These words were not comforting.

That morning, our passage in Bible study was the end of Matthew 25, where Jesus divides the sheep from the goats and says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me”.  As a large group, we studied the intricacies and implications of the passage deeply.  I emerged with the sense that, despite my readiness to go abroad, I hadn’t given much thought to the people I’d actually be serving.  I realized that when it came to serving others, I didn’t know how.

One of Wednesday’s speakers was David Platt, pastor and author of the books Radical and Follow Me.  His books were the catalysts of my decision to go into ministry.  I read them during a very spiritually challenging season and they pushed my desire to serve God with my life.  It was incredible hearing Platt speak.  The power, authority, and incredible love of God is so present in his voice and words.  He talked about the woman in Matthew 26 who pours a very expensive jar of perfume on Jesus’ head as an act of love and submission.

Platt’s words cut me like knives.  One statement hit my spirit like a ton of bricks: 1425524_1044940998901836_7089898850993416208_n

I see myself in that statement.  Here I was, trying to figure out how to get going when my heart and spirit had completely forgotten why I’m called to go in the first place.  In my ambitions to go abroad, I lost my heart for Christ.  Platt went on to say, “Missions is not meant to be your life.  Christ is your life.  Jesus is worth losing everything for.”

These words are so simple and straightforward, but my heart forgot.  I forgot what it feels like, what it means to love Jesus unconditionally.  My spirit churned and I felt God’s voice rising again, with words that were not comfortable:  Amelia, how can you go into the world and represent My Kingdom if you love yourself more than you love Me?  You want to serve me, but don’t know how.  The answer is simple: love My children.  Care for them.  Give yourself for them.  What you do for them, you do for Me.  Go, Amelia.  Feed My sheep.”

I left large group that day feeling burdened with God’s Spirit, wondering what living out this command looks like in a practical manner.  What does it look like?  How am I to care for others?  What skills and abilities do I have to contribute?  Where do I fit in the grand scheme of things?  How can I serve others with the gifts I have?  As I meditated on my questions, God slowly revealed answers.  I attended more seminars and large group sessions and began to receive smile answers.  I could go into what those answers were, but that would end in lots of tangents.  So I’ll start wrapping this up…

I went into Urbana feeling confident and ready.  I left feeling the opposite–small, weak, and inadequate.  There is so much to process.  There’s so much I don’t know.  Amid a big, dark world… I’m so small.  So unsure.  I’m leaving for England in less than a week and I don’t feel ready.  I’m stepping into the vast unknown with a one-way ticket and have no idea what is in store.

The most terrifying thing is that I honestly don’t know if I’m ever coming back.  At least, not permanently.

But maybe that’s the point.  God isn’t looking for people who are ready.  He’s not interested in how prepared I feel.  He cares about my heart.  He wants me in a position of weakness and humility, for it is then that I need Him most.  At Urbana, He showed me that my prayers need to shift from “Where will I go?” to “Show me how to love others the way You love me”.

I don’t need to have all the answers.  What I need is a heart for Christ.  Like the woman in Matthew with her alabaster jar, I need to place myself under God’s authority.  I need to relinquish control and let my story align with the beautiful story God is writing all across the globe, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that He will provide the next step.

I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading.  Yes, this is the story of how my life was impacted by attending Urbana.  Additionally, it’s also the beginning of a new story–a story I don’t know the end to–a story in which I don’t hold the pen.  There is still so far to go in the journey of cultivating a heart for others.  But this is a start.

IMG_7063
Gateway Arch at sunrise.  Taken Friday, just before we headed for home.

300 & Counting

I’ve hit a landmark.  Recently, I reached 300 followers.  For many blogs, this number may seem small, tiny, inconsequential.  For me, though, it means the world.

When blogging, it’s always a challenge to straddle the line between creating quality content for the sake of your readers and quality content for sake of pleasing yourself.  I do my best to write posts that readers will enjoy.  I love you guys and want you to stick around.  At the end of the day, though, my ultimate goal is to remain true to myself.

I’m a selfish writer.  I really am.  I do this because it brings me life and I can’t imagine ever stopping.  I know that everyone who follows Keep Your Feet isn’t necessarily a reader.  That’s okay.  Although I try to follow only sites I will actually read, there is a tendency to follow others just for the follow-back.  I get that.

But for those of you who DO read, thank you.  For those of you who have not just hit “Follow”,  but take time to come along side me and spend time with my words, thank you.  By reading, liking, and commenting, you inspire me to keep going.  I’ve got a universe of words within me and there are days when I just want to throw them in a bucket and let them rot.  When this happens, the thought of you is what motivates me cherish my words and lovingly string them into coherent thoughts.  I’ve learned a great deal about myself and my identity as a writer over the past few months, and that would not have been possible without you.  Your words and encouragement mean the world to me.

I don’t know where Keep Your Feet is going.  I don’t know if it’ll stay at is it is or grow or shrink into obscurity.  Frankly, I don’t care.  I’m just thankful to be where I am today.

Apples & Writing

Lately, I’ve been embracing my identity as a writer.  I currently live at home and work on my family’s farm, so writing and agriculture have been on my mind.  I’ve been learning that writing and farming are more similar than one would think.

My family’s business is apples.  In the spring, apple trees bud and blossom.  Alone, these flowers are beautiful and fragrant, but fleeting.  It takes external forces, namely bees, to preserve their beauty.  Once the flowers are pollinated, fruit sets in.  But that’s not the end.  It takes months and months of growing and care for the fruit to grow.  Even then, it’s not always ready when you think.

This process reminds me of writing.  As a writer, I have universes in my mind.  Thoughts, feelings, ideas, entire novel length stories exist between my ears.  Sometimes when I sit down to put these sentiments to words, I find myself unable to speak.  Like apple blossoms, bursts of inspiration alone aren’t enough.  It takes external forces–life experiences–to give the inspiration the depth and meaning it needs to bear fruit.  Even then, sometimes the words aren’t ready.  It takes months and months of bouncing around in the back of my mind to grow and take shape.

We have field trips at our orchard and one of the things my mom tells the kids is actually really important: Just because an apple is red doesn’t mean it’s ripe.

It’s the same with words.  Recently, I’ve found the need to write bubbling up in my spirit and bursting forth at unexpected moments.  But just because words are building at the tip of my toungue does not mean they are ready yet.  It doesn’t mean they’re ripe.  I’ve got an ever-growing list of post ideas, but not all of them feel quite right yet.

So I wait.  I mull over the words and scribble drafts.  I put down my pen and let the world around me pollinate my ideas.  I wake up in the morning, go to work, read books, spend time with friends, and wait.

When the time comes for the words to burst forth, I’ll be ready.

photo-1414396914239-e70522479d13.jpeg

Blogger Recognition Award

After Writing 101 ended, I kind of crashed and spent my free time binge-watching Netflix for a solid week, leaving me a bit behind on the blog.  I’m slowly catching up on awards.

A couple of weeks ago, Shannon from If You Captured Your Life in Snapshots, What Would It Look Like? nominated me for the Blogger Recognition Award!  It’s designed to spread love among the blogosphere and recognize sites we love.  Part of the award includes sharing

BloggerRecognitionAwardI don’t know if sharing your blogging story is part of the award, but Shannon did in her post, so I’ll continue the trend.

When I was fifteen, I was deep into the Harry Potter fandom.  This was before Tumblr was a thing and, in order to engage with my fellow nerds, I entered discussions on fan forums.  I ended up becoming a core member of a forum dedicated to a particular podcast and, in the process, made my first online friends.  Anna lived in Chicago and liked to knit.  Cathy, who is a fantastic poet, lived in California.  We were all roughly the same age and would spend hours on the forum talking about life, love, and Harry Potter.

One day, Cathy brought up the subject of blogging.  I was an aspiring fan-fiction novelist at the time, so writing was always on my mind.  Being a fan of my work, Cathy suggested I start a blog.  I thought about it for a while and thought, “… why not?”  Having a corner of the internet to myself sounded like fun.

After doing a bit of research, I ended up getting an account on Blogger.  I stayed there for five years, recording the woes of high school and occasionally posting snippets of my writing.  The only people who read my site were fellow writer friends.  Thank GOODNESS.  Blogging back then was a messy affair.  I used my site as a spewing place for all my thoughts and emotions.  Looking back, I’m thankful to not have a wider readership.

When I studied abroad two years ago, I knew that I wanted to start fresh and make a travel blog.  I also knew that I wanted to switch over to WordPress.  So I did!  In the Bellow and the Uproar was born.  Named for a Virginia Woolf quote, it was home to my travels and adventures in England for three and a half months.

When I came home, I knew I didn’t want to go back to the old Blogger site.  It reminded me too much of my high school self and didn’t reflect where I wanted to go from here.  But I still wanted to write.  So, a year and a half ago, Keep Your Feet was born.  I’ve been here ever since.

That, friends, my blogging story!  Starting young has allowed me to grow into myself as a blogger.  I’ve been told I have a distinctive voice in my writing.  Friends say that, when they read my blog, it’s so me that they hear my voice in their head.  There are a lot of things I wish I could go back and un-say, especially on my first blog, but I’m still thankful for the chance to always learn and grow.

Now for Shannon’s bonus question: If you could go anywhere, would you go to a Where or a Who?

My first impression is to say Where.  There are so many dots on my “To-Visit” map.  But I’ve done a great deal of traveling in the past and, although solo adventures are exhilarating in their own way, they’re also a bit lonely.  Seeing the world isn’t as fun if you don’t have someone to share it with.  So I think my answer is Who.  I don’t have many super close friends–only a few people in the world truly know and appreciate all the corners of me, messy bits and all.  The older I get, these few souls seem to move farther and farther away.  One of my dearest friends lives in Japan, others live in Austria, and I’ve got people all over the United States that I miss so much my heart aches.  Seeing them again would make my month.  We’d drink tea and talk for hours.

Feel like this post is missing something?  Check out my personal rules regarding awards on my Award Policies page.

I Write Because I Refuse to Stop (Writing 101, Day 20)

Four weeks ago, I was asked an important question: Why do you write?  Unsure of how to respond, I gave it some thought and came to the conclusion that I write because I always have and cannot seem to stop.

I’ve learned a few things about myself in the past few weeks.  I now realize that, at some point during college, I lost sight of my identity as a writer. It always seemed like my classmates were so much better than I was.  Compared to their eloquent prose and poetry, my words felt feeble, hollow, and lifeless.  But maybe that is because, all along, I wasn’t doing the right kind of writing.  I took creative writing classes, but I’m not a creative writer.  I’ve won essay contests, but I’m not an academic.  That’s not me.

This place, this blog, these posts… this is me.

So much time has been spent comparing myself with other writers that I’ve forgotten who I am.  Participating in Writing 101 has brought everything back.  My identity, ultimately, does not stream from my classmates, friends, and fellow bloggers.  It comes from myself.  It comes from the fact that there are words bubbling from deep within me, waiting to be released.  The words pester me.  They nag, pulling at the back of my mind.  I cannot keep silent.

At the beginning of Writing 101, I stated that I write because I cannot stop.  At the end, I find my answer has changed.

I write because I cannot stop; I write because I refuse to stop;  I write because this is who I am.

I Don’t Know How to Stop (Writing 101, Day 1)

Today’s assignment is to answer a question that isn’t actually as simple as it sounds: Why do you write?

My gut reaction: It’s complicated.

I could say I write for a lot of reasons. I write to lose myself; I write to find myself. I write to know; I write to forget. I write because it’s akin to breathing. I write to make my thoughts clear. I write because I am. I write because I write.

Those reasons sound beautiful and poetic… they’re the kind of thing you’d imagine a writer to say. But are any of them actually true?

As long as I can remember, I have been writing. When I was eight years old, I decided that my greatest ambition was to see my name on the cover of a book. This dream persisted most of my early years.

Growing up, I wrote because I was good at it. At least, that’s what everyone told me. I remember in fifth grade I wrote a little essay on the importance/value of reading and, during my parent-teacher conference, Mrs. Klinke told my mom that it was phenomenal. In eighth grade, we had to craft our own stories based on Greek Mythology. Mine was fifteen pages long and my teacher gave me a special award because, in his forty years of teaching, it was the best he had ever received. In high school, I was on the Speech Team in the category of Creative Expression, enabling me to perform my own work. Once I had two years of competition under my belt, not a meet passed where I didn’t make the final round. I even went to state. As long as I’ve been writing, I’ve been told that I’m good.

Many years, fairy stories, embarrassing Harry Potter fan fics, and creative writing classes later, I realized that although I love to write, I don’t want to write books.

College quickly dissolved any notions that I was a great writer. Sure, I had a natural knack for words, but I was constantly blown away by the work of my peers. Among such storytellers and poets, I realized that I lack the drive, dedication, and attention to detail to make a career of the craft.

Still, I continued to write. I was the weird kid who loved essays. When I sat down to work on an essay analyzing spirituality in Dracula or artists in Biographical Novels or constructing allegories about Courtly Love, I would enter zen-mode. It felt like being underwater. Everything in the world faded away and nothing existed but the text I was grappling with. I would bury myself in the library for hours on end, emerging rumpled and triumphant. It was so satisfying.

I loved my time as an English major, but the farther in I got, the more I realized that many of the standard careers were not for me. Teaching? No thanks. Copy editing? Too much detail. Creative writing? WAY too much detail. Research? I’d suffocate.

During school, I wrote because I had to and I loved it. But now that I’m out… why do I write?

I’m still not sure I know how to answer that question.

I suppose I’ve been writing for so long it so long that I don’t know how to stop. It’s habit—something that has been part of my life since I was eight years old. I can’t imagine my life without it.

That’s why I blog.

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

bu-featured-alt3