PHONES & CONS.

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(Yes, I fully realize the irony of using technology to talk about the downsides of technology. Let’s continue.)

There’s a life I want to live.

It involves lots of books. Quiet times with God, as the sun rises, curled up in my armchair with a mug of tea. Visiting all the National Parks. Deeply investing in people; going the extra mile for them. Learning new languages. Sharing—the material blessings I’ve been given, the real and raw parts of my story, my faith. Running lots of miles. Being part of something bigger than myself.

There’s a life I’ve been called to live.

It is full (John 10:10). It is wise, making the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:15-16). It is clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12). It is free (2 Corinthians 3:17). It clings to what is good (Romans 12:9). Its center is this: to love other people (John 13:34).

And isn’t it interesting that on the lists of things that give my life meaning and things that I am called to, my phone doesn’t make the cut?

Seriously. You would think that, given the amount of time I spend on my phone, it must add some pretty substantial value to my life. And it does add value: it’s one way I connect to people I love, especially the ones who live far away; I enjoy listening to music or podcasts while I run or drive; I’m able to snap pictures of gorgeous sunsets. But mostly, my phone doesn’t add much value. It adds ease. It’s easy to use an app for everything from language learning to Bible reading to email checking. It’s easy to kill time waiting for the bus by checking twitter or Instagram. It’s easy to text words that would be scary or uncomfortable to say aloud. It’s easy to hit the “next video” button, over and over.

Funny how ease wasn’t on my desirable life qualities lists, either.

Added value (albeit limited) and ease are good things, certainly. But I’m coming to realize that, in many ways, my phone actually takes more from me than it gives.

According to my screen time stats, I pick up my phone 99 times per day and receive 119 notifications per day; disregarding sleeping hours, that’s an average of about one pick-up every 10 or so minutes and one notification every 9 minutes. I spent more than 26 hours on my phone last week; that’s more than a whole day. No one would think it’s unreasonable to say: that’s way too much.

And this problem is a lot bigger than me. Several studies link excessive phone use, as well as excessive social media use, to a rise in mental health problems for teenagers. (This is not to say that mental health disorders like anxiety and depression aren’t real or serious and should just be solved by getting rid of smartphones; reducing smartphone use may just be one tool in the toolbox for coping with mental illnesses.) Excessive phone use can also be related to sleeping less, damage to romantic relationships, chemical imbalances in the brain (this one got me y’all), and over-reliance on the Internet with so-called “lazy thinking.” I mean, what?! These little boxes in our pockets are way more powerful than they seem, and they don’t always work their magic in our favor.

Despite these downsides, I’ve resisted getting serious about some sort of digital detox. I always remind myself of the myriad benefits of my phone generally and social media in particular. But the positives don’t erase the negatives, and in this case, they don’t outweigh them.

So I’m getting a flip phone. Yes, I’ll still have my laptop, and yes, I’ll still be texting and calling. But kicking it back about ten years to when I didn’t have a smartphone is still a big move. It’s one I’m so ridiculously excited for, and that I’ll definitely be writing more about on this space. It’s the right move for me right now, because it’s moving me toward the life I crave and the life I am called to.

I am not imploring everyone reading this to follow suit, go to the AT&T store, and buy a flip phone. Please know that is not what I’m doing. I just want us all to think—really think, with our minds, not our machines—about the pros and cons of our phone use. My guess is that most of us need to make lists of the things that matter most and seriously consider how our phones help or hurt our pursuits of those things. The benefits don’t mean that the costs aren’t real and serious. If we don’t take action steps, as drastic as going off the grid or as small as setting a daily social media time limit, those drawbacks will steal our true connection, authentic presence, and joy.

We were not created to live behind a screen. Let’s start living like it.

THE FINAL WORD.

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There’s a song I don’t like very much.

It’s got some good lyrics, but the main one (and the one I have an issue with) is: “The cross has the final word.”

The cross, where Jesus was put to death instead of us. He was mocked, beaten, spit on, brutally crucified. He breathed His last on a piece of wood in the shape of a t, nails in His hands and feet. His body was broken, His blood poured out—for us.

And this means that the cross, this horrific and terrible thing, is actually great news for us, a tremendous work of God on our behalf. It canceled our debt to God (Colossians 2:14). It put to death our sinful selves (Galatians 2:20). It removed the barrier between us and God and gave us access to a relationship with Him (Matthew 27:51). It made He who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It created peace and reconciliation between us and God (Colossians 1:20). It set us free from accusation, making us holy in the sight of the Holiest God (Colossians 1:22). It healed us (1 Peter 2:24). It is the perfect picture of God’s love (Romans 5:8).

But with just the cross, Jesus stays dead.

With just the cross, God is not greater than death.

With just the cross, I am free, holy, righteous, and reconciled to God—and what a wonderful gift that is.

But with just the cross, God’s glory is incomplete.


The story does not end there.

Graciously, blessedly, the story does not end there.

Because Jesus’ buried body breathed again. His heart started pumping again, He left that tomb, He walked among His disciples—He was raised from the dead.

And the cross may be great news for us, but even greater news is that of Jesus’ resurrection. In the resurrection, Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). In the resurrection, Jesus took back the keys to death and hell (Revelation 1:18). In the resurrection, God has given us a living hope (1 Peter 1:3). In the resurrection, God has won the victory (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). In the resurrection, we are made alive to God (Romans 6:11).

And let’s be clear, we were dead (Ephesians 2:1). Although we were breathing with our human lungs and walking around with our human legs, our spirits were separate from God, rotting in hell for eternity. Our sin was a death sentence (Romans 6:23).

But God raised Jesus from the dead. And with Him, us. Our puny, tiny, little human selves were resurrected alongside the Lord Jesus Christ. And because He is alive, we are alive. Alive, alive, alive, in Him, through Him, for Him.

So the cross does not get the final word. The instrument of torture that put the only perfect Man to death, the symbol of God’s sacrifice, the suffering of Jesus: it does not get the final word.

No, the empty grave gets the final word. And what a word it is: the word of eternal life (John 10:28, 1 John 5:13).

Happy Easter, friends. Let us thank God today for the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

WORDS THAT STICK: II.

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Safety, for me, is love.

I’ve been a big fan of So Worth Loving for the past several years. They’re a clothing brand/social movement centered around the message that you are worthy of love. God used this company to shine some serious light in my life in high school, and SWL has meant so much to me ever since. Last week, So Worth Loving released their very first short film! To say I was pumped is a major understatement. What Does It Mean Part I touched me in so many beautiful, meaningful ways. One of my favorite lines came from Emily:

Safety, for me, is love.


This world is overflowing with unsafe places and people. Online anonymity spurs hateful comments toward real humans on the other side of the screen. Students wonder if today is the day the gun violence epidemic arrives in their classroom. Sexual violence is way more prevalent than we’d like to believe. Bullies say and do some seriously horrific things. LGBTQ+ adolescents are kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets.

And on top of that, we face dangers that don’t necessarily activate our fight or flight response, but are nonetheless so toxic. Judgment, rejection, gossip, a decision from a person or group that we are too much or not enough. How often do we honestly feel physically, emotionally, and relationally safe to be our complete, authentic selves?

I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit feeling unsafe in my shoes. My best guess is that it’s a product of both my own faulty thinking and the harsh, judgmental times we live in. There have been too many moments when I’ve berated myself for speaking up or kept parts of my story hidden away. I think we’ve all had experiences of “unsafety” with certain people or in certain spaces.

Safety of any kind is such a rarity in this world of tweets and terrorism. And that’s why I think it’s one of the greatest forms of love we can give one another.

To sit across from a hurting friend and assure him that he hasn’t scared us off? To admire how loudly someone laughs when all she usually hears is criticism and harsh jokes? To create spaces where people feel seen, known, accepted, and valued, exactly as they are? To share our own imperfections so others know they can show us theirs? What a breath of fresh air this kind of love can be!

Creating safety doesn’t mean we never have hard conversations or that we don’t screw up and hurt some feelings. It does mean that we let people be vulnerable and share all the ugly parts of their stories and selves that they didn’t want anyone to see. And when they do, we don’t judge or criticize or blame or run away or betray trust. We sit. We stay. We say, “Thank you for telling me.” We affirm that their feelings and failings do not define them; we point out the light in them, we use mirrors to reflect it back. We remind them that they are not alone. We tell them that we love them; and by making them feel safe, we prove that we do.

Safety isn’t always easy or even comfortable, but love isn’t meant to be those things. It’s meant to be brave. It’s meant to be radical. And one of the bravest, most radical charges we can take up in this hurting, broken world is to be safe people for others.

HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE.

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Yes, add me to the long list of cliché bloggers who’ve written “hey again” posts titled after Adele lyrics.

It’s been over a year since I wrote on this space, and what a year it’s been. I served my beloved university this past summer as a parent counselor for Camp War Eagle, our orientation program. I traveled to Colorado, Germany, Austria, and India (not all at once). I very randomly made the switch to a plant-based diet. At my mom’s insistence, I finally invested in some curtains for my bedroom.

But most importantly, I hiked to the other side.

Many of you may know how hard my freshman year of college hit me. I didn’t just get knocked down, I was pushed off a cliff and beaten with a baseball bat once I fell to the bottom. For almost all of 2017 and 2018, I was fighting tooth and nail to escape that pit. I was crying and questioning and some days barely breathing. It was slowwwwww, sometimes steady and sure, sometimes not, progress. Then, as 2018 drew to a close and 2019 came closer, there was a change. Something clicked, and I realized: I had made it to the other side of this struggle. After two years of really, really hard work, I could finally wake up and say, “If this is how I feel every day for the rest of my life, I’ll be OK.”

I wish I had the words to express what a precious, precious gift it is to be here. For the first time in two years, I can truthfully say I’m in a good place. The only way I can think of to describe it is to say glory to God and leave it at that.

I all but stopped writing for the past couple years because the Internet just wasn’t a safe or healthy place for me to be authentic. I needed to process things away from the comparison, perfectionism, and vitriol of the screen. But now that I’m in a healthy place of growth and not a panicked one of drowning, the words are flowing again. Ooh man, am I excited about them. I can’t wait to share all I’ve learned in the year since I blogged last. For now, though, I’m going to say goodbye with a hello. Hello from the other side, everyone—there sure is a lot of light over here.

BSTUD :: ECCLESIASTES 3:9-11.

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What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

Bet you didn’t think I’d be doing one of these posts on a passage from Ecclesiastes.

I sat down with these verses the other day, asking God to help me understand how they fit together. As He answered that prayer, I began to see just how much they show God’s character and our identity relative to Him.

The first verse, verse 9, says: “What do workers gain from their toil?” A common theme in Ecclesiastes is wondering about meaning and meaninglessness. This question considers why the heck we work so hard all day long. It’s only gained more relevance as time has gone on and culture has progressed to turn us all into little worker bees.

Verse 10 continues: “I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.” Following verse 9, it seems like that burden is hard work with little to no reward. But verse 11 changes the game.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” God is the One who makes all things new and beautiful in His timing. He is before the beginning and after the end; He has put longing for eternity in our hearts, but not understanding for it in our minds.

How do a question about the worth of work, a statement about God’s burden for us, and a declaration of what God has done fit together?

As I sat with Him, God helped me make sense of it: The writer questions the meaning of work because He sees that so much of our work is futile, without God, striving for nothing that really matters. We work to achieve, when God has not placed an expectation for achievement on us. His burden for us is trusting who He is and what He is capable of. That’s why the writer switches pace to talk about how God has made everything beautiful in its time and no one can fathom His deeds. This passage shows that work outside God’s mission is worthless, because God has not placed a burden of work on us,  but of faith. His only requirement is that we trust Him, the One who makes everything beautiful in His timing, the One whose forever we long for but cannot comprehend. God’s gift of an eternal heart leads us to trust Him, because we have forever desires with worldly, transitory minds. We need to trust Him, because we can’t understand. We can trust Him, because He is who He is. Trusting Him is the “burden” He places on humanity, and that is why it makes absolutely no sense for us to slave away at work by ourselves, for ourselves.

God’s call is for strivings to cease. We may perceive it as a burden, because it’s hard to put aside our confidence in our own capabilities. But once we trust Him instead of ourselves, we discover a God who is infinitely more able, making more beauty than we can dream of, outside the realm of our tiny comprehension.

Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’

John 6:29

(BSTUD is a blog series studying the Christian holy scriptures. BSTUD = B(ible) STUD(y). You can read more BSTUD posts here.)

HONEY.

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Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve become a major slight health nut in the past year or so. I plan out my meals on a spreadsheet to make sure that I’m balancing macronutrients and food groups, I roam around the Internet looking for workout tips and tricks, and I’ve been known to launch into lectures when people use blanket statements like “such and such is bad for you.” (All foods fit, people. All. Foods. Fit.) I just want my body to be able to do all the things I want to do for as long as I want to do them, so I eat the kale and do the push-ups. In some of my recent Internet health research (which has admittedly become a time-consuming hobby), I came across a series of articles from Perry’s Plate titled “Staying Whole in a Processed World.” She talks about how to best fuel our bodies in the midst of American food culture. Something in her post on sweets caught my eye.

She explained that in the olden days (like, olden olden days, as in Bible times), honey was as sweet as it got. The only other source of sugar was fruit. Wild honey was a lucky, delicious find. This got me thinking about all the times that honey is mentioned in the Bible. Here are a few examples I found:

  • “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)
  • “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deuteronomy 26:9)
  • “But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Psalm 81:16)
  • “The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:9b-10)
  • “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)
  • “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. Know also that wisdom is like honey for you: If you find it, there is a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 24:13-14)

A key feature of the Promised Land is abundant honey. God wants to satisfy His people with honey. God’s decrees and His word are called sweeter than honey, and wisdom is like honey. These verses have lost some meaning for us, because our bodies don’t get a sugar rush when we put a tablespoon of honey in our tea. But they would have signified plentiful, overwhelming sweetness for people in Bible times.

To (hopefully) give the same effect, think of your favorite dessert. Warm, homemade, chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven. Your favorite flavor of ice cream. Lemonade cake. Pumpkin-flavored anything when fall rolls around. A cinnamon roll from the Bean, which you absolutely must try the next time you’re in Auburn. Maybe it’s just straight-up M&M’s. Whatever your favorite sweet treat is, God. is. sweeter. His desires for you are sweeter. His word of truth for you is sweeter. He wants to bring you into a sweet place. Who He is and what He has for you are sweeter than a cookie cake with buckets of frosting.

God is good. It’s a key feature of His identity. But oftentimes, we translate His goodness to holiness and perfection. And while that’s definitely true, it’s easy to forget how sweet His goodness is. We adopt a punitive, harsh view of God, but His discipline is only ever meant to benefit us. We fall into thinking He is good but mean, when really, His goodness is so sweet.

Imagine a father’s face lighting up when his toddler rushes to greet him after he gets home from work. A friend staying up late just to talk to you, because they know you’ve had a bad day. A husband buying his wife flowers just because. These extravagant, delighted, lavish forms of love pale in comparison to God. He is the Father who lights up when we run to Him, the Best Friend who is always there for us, the Heavenly Husband who loves us when we run. Is He not infinitely sweeter than the cheesiest movie line or your favorite candy?

The enemy often leads me away from viewing God as sweet. I fall into the trap of worrying that He’s mad at me, waiting for the shoe to drop, expecting punishment and anger. But His goodness for me isn’t just holiness; it’s also sweetness. He is sweet to me, and He is sweet to you. He desires to give you good things, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. He wants to fill you up and satisfy your every need and desire. He is sweeter than honey, and because of that, we can run to Him with everything, lay our messes at His feet, and trust Him to love us through it all.

MOVING TO MALIBU.

 

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I’ve been really into learning from others’ stories lately. Obviously I believe in and love the Bible as God’s word (I have a whole post about it here, and a whole category of posts dedicated to studying the Bible here!). But recently I’ve been inspired to dig into accounts of how others have experienced Jesus. I imagine the early Church, who didn’t have the New Testament to read. They read letters from other believers like Paul and shared personal details of how Holy Spirit had moved in their lives. Thinking about it that way, it’s important to not only read the Bible, but also to get to know others and their stories about God. God is alive and well, working and moving in people every second of every day. We can see Him more fully when we listen to or read about others’ experiences and perceptions of Him, always comparing their views to the absolute truth found in His word.

Because of my newfound interest in others’ stories, I’m totally loving the Delight Stories and Devotionals book! Delight is a college women’s small group ministry that I’ve been a part of ever since coming to Auburn. I. love. Delight. so much. with all my heart and soul. I’ve made some of my best friends through this ministry, I’ve come so much closer to God, and everything they make is pink!

I was reading Haley’s (what a coincidence, huh?) story from their story and devotional book the other day, and this quote stood out to me:

I see it like this: say somebody gave you an all-expenses paid beach house vacation in Malibu, complete with travel, a car, food, and all the hip furniture and decor you could ever dream of. You could brag about your new lifestyle, tell all your friends, plan for it, and dream about it. But until you pack up and leave your current home, the new life is never really yours. You cannot live in Malibu and your current hometown at the same time.

Delight Stories and Devotionals, vol. 5

I love this picture of life with Jesus. God has given us the gift of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. When we believe in Him, our eternity and inheritance in heaven are promised, sealed forever, a 100% guarantee. He has given us the deed to His house in heaven. The rest of our lives on earth are us moving into that house. We’ve been given the gift of heavenly eternity with our Father, but we can start to live in that reality now. We own the house, so to speak, because it’s been graciously given to us, and we will move in fully when our time on earth is up, but we can start the moving now.

We can take our earthly mindsets and move them to a heavenly one. We can take our flesh caving in to temptations and transfer it to letting Holy Spirit’s convictions change our behavior. We can look at our worldly worries and trust God instead. We can excavate bitterness, annoyance, and disappointment in others, and replace it with purity, love, and forgiveness toward them. We can move from earth to heaven while our bodies are still on earth, because our spirits are already citizens of heaven.

True faith in Jesus is like a moving van for us on earth: its purpose is not only salvation, but also sanctification. Holy Spirit is gradually taking our earthly, sinful selves and replacing them with who God created us to be. That’s the moving. That’s us moving from our earthly reality, the death we were condemned to, to our heavenly reality, the one God created for us when Jesus died and was resurrected. We don’t have to wait for heaven to see this heavenly reality that supersedes our earthly one; we can move now.

Here’s the thing about moving in real life: it’s hard work. You have to haul boxes up and down multiple flights of stairs. If you’re moving in Auburn in the summer, you sweat. A lot. You have to leave behind what’s comfortable, which can be painful and lonely at times. Moving requires others’ help to lug mini-fridges and giant armchairs around. And let me reiterate: it’s hard work.

But Malibu is so much better than the broken-down shack. God’s heavenly reality is infinitely better than our earthly one. We have already received the gift of heaven, and it is nothing but that: a gift. Whatever we have to sacrifice to live in that gift now, is worth it. Moving may be hard, but Malibu is better.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 2:12-13

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

C.S. Lewis

BREAK THE YARDSTICKS.

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If you come into Haley’s room and cuddle with her, she’ll want to talk to you.

If she starts talking, soon she’ll get emotional and start crying.

When she starts crying, her nose will start running, so you’ll need to get her tissues (usually a large box).

Once she has the tissues, she’ll realize that she’s thirsty, so you’ll need to get her a glass of water.

Once she has the water, you’ll need to somehow get her to stop crying so you can leave and go to bed.

If You Give a Haley a Cuddle, a modified version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

All jokes aside, I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours of sleep my mom has lost from our late-night conversations. One we had recently was no exception; it fit this poem to a tee, right down to the tissues. As I talked and cried, my mom noticed how frequently I was using the word “enough.” Eventually, she commented on it: “Haley, where are you getting your ideas of enough? Who gave you these standards? Whatever yardsticks you’ve somehow found for yourself, I wish I could just break them.”

Before that point, I hadn’t realized how many of my tears were coming from perfectionism and comparison. Because I wasn’t perfect, because I wasn’t like Everyone Else, or because I wasn’t perfect like Everyone Else, I didn’t feel enough. I saw myself as inadequate in my relationships, in how I take care of my body, in my academic and professional ambitions, in my walk with Jesus, in my living out God’s mission. I kept staring at the gap between where I was and where was perfect, frustrated and embarrassed at my inability to close it. I let that gap start to fill my head with lies about my identity and capability. And it all resulted from these stupid yardsticks.

The yardsticks of perfectionism and comparison will always be bigger than who we are and what we’re doing. If we use them to measure ourselves, we’ll grow exhausted, ashamed, bitter, and angry. We’ll end up exactly where we don’t want to be because we’ve strived and strived to get where we want to be but haven’t been able to quite make it happen. But the problem isn’t with us: it’s with our theres. We will never get there if our there is perfection and not progress, if our there is what Everyone Else is like and not who we are meant to be in this moment. The yardsticks get longer the harder we work to measure up to them.

I’d bet that if we dialed in to our thoughts and emotions, we’d all find perfectionism and comparison at the root of looooots of our problems. When we put pressure on ourselves to do it all, to be the very best, to be like Everyone Else or even better than them, we start focusing on where we’re not living up to those impossible expectations. We focus on the gaps we can’t fill instead of focusing on Jesus, who came to close the most important gap of all: the one between us and God. He lived up to every perfect standard so that we don’t have to, because news flash, we can’t. And the enemy wants to leave us striving instead of accepting grace. But that’s not what I want for myself or for you. I want us to experience freedom from the bondage of perfectionism and comparison. I want us to trust that our Savior has been perfect for us and made us perfect in Him, so we don’t have to live perfectly. I want us to live the life we were created to live, not by always trying harder, but by accepting our shortcomings and praising Him for forgiving them.

So today, I invite everyone into a process. It’s one I underwent in that conversation with my mom and one I continue in today. It can bring emotional, mental, or relational freedom. It can break the yardsticks. And even if you don’t believe me, it’s worth a shot. What do you have to lose? Here’s how it goes:

  1. Pay attention to the word “enough.” When you think or speak, where does it pop up? How often? Relationships are a common area that trips me up.
  2. Once you notice your use of “enough,” dig a little deeper. Why don’t you feel enough in this area? Is it because you’re not doing everything perfectly, or because you’re not doing it as well as Everyone Else seems to be? I sometimes don’t feel enough in relationships because I think I’m selfish or think that I don’t feel all the right emotions.
  3. Trace it back to the yardsticks. This is my favorite part, where the truth comes in. Realize that your yardstick is impossibly big… and realize that God’s love and grace for you are so, so much bigger. Acknowledge your yardsticks of perfectionism and comparison (or both), and then tell them: You are not realistic. I will never measure up to you, but I don’t have to. Because I have a Savior who’s already measured up, and because of His grace for me, I measure up, too.
  4. Break the dang yardsticks. Snap. them. in. half. If you need to, do what I did: march out to Home Depot, buy a yardstick, break it, and hang it up on your wall. Reinforce the truth that you are enough by living like it. Repeat the truth over and over, every single day, until it speaks louder than the lies of perfectionism and comparison. The best way to do this is to fix your eyes on Jesus. When you look at Him instead of the gaps between who you are and who you want to be, it becomes clear that God does not see the gaps when He looks at you. He sees His son or daughter.
  5. Repeat as needed. Even as I type this post, it seems similar to others I’ve written before. And that’s because it is, because I’ve struggled with perfectionism and comparison a ton in my mere twenty years. Yardsticks creep into my brain when I’m not paying attention. The enemy is sneaky. His lies take root in my mind and start to look like truth. And when that happens, I need to say enough with the not-enoughs, because I am enough as a daughter of the King. And you are enough, too.
  6. Help a brotha out. (I’m guessing I should never use the word “brotha” again.) Sure, we can try to take out the lies on our own, sit down with a journal and cup of tea until we’re believing truth again. But I don’t know if I ever would have realized my issues were stemming from yardsticks if my mom hadn’t pointed it out. We need one another. We need other people to speak truth to us, and we need to speak truth to other people. It’s certainly not a substitution for believing truth ourselves, but oftentimes, others can see our yardsticks much more clearly than we can. It’s so much easier to break those yardsticks together.

I hope this helps someone who is struggling with perfectionism and comparison. And if that’s not you today, I hope you bookmark this post for a time when the yardsticks might come to get you. Wherever you’re at on your journey, I hope you hear me when I say: You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.

Now let’s break some yardsticks.

For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Hebrews 10:14

FAVORITES OF 2017.

Snow Fun!

What a year it’s been. I wrapped up my second decade on the planet, I discovered a new love for almonds, I changed my major to Social Work, I launched this blog, and I learned a heck of a lot. I won’t be diving into everything from 2017 here, but I will be sharing my favorite books, music, movies, TV shows, and recipes from the year. I hope your 2017 was fabulous, and I hope you enjoy the following finds!

Books

2017 was a better reading year than 2016 (in that I read more books), so huzzah for that! Here are some of my faves:

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Is this book meant for children? Yes. Did I still thoroughly enjoy it? Absolutely. Did it make me cry? Of course it did. Wonder is about how a boy named Auggie, born with a facial deformity, goes to mainstream school for the first time. It’s inspirational, emotional, and fun. In this book, I loved both the plot and the characters. I also enjoyed the split POV, the short chapters, the humor, and the overall adorable vibe. Sometimes, you just need to take a break from teen angst and dive into a children’s book, and Wonder was wonderful for that.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi: This fantasy middle-grade book is both thought provoking and incredibly whimsical. Furthermore follows Alice Alexis Queensmeadow as she and her new friend Oliver search for her Father and learn a lot about magic, telling the truth, friendship, and themselves along the way. My favorite part of this book was the ending, because it was an extremely well thought-out plot point. I also enjoyed the growth of Oliver and Alice’s friendship and the way Tahereh Mafi develops consistent themes in such a wild ride of a book. I recommend this to anyone looking for some fantasy fun (and also to anyone who wants to read a book that makes them sigh with happiness every time they close it because come on, the cover).
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King: Glory O’Brien was my favorite book of 2017. Honestly, it’s just weird. Glory O’Brien and her friend drink a bat and are suddenly able to see other people’s pasts and futures when looking at them. (Didn’t believe me when I said it was weird, huh? Try actually reading it.) I enjoyed all the weirdness, as well as how well the writing style fit the storyline and how Glory’s character develops.
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis strips down Christianity to its bare-bones basics. He begins with a logical argument for Jesus being who He says He is and continues into clear and compelling explanations of theology. The content of this book is just phenomenal. I also absolutely love his writing, which is full of strong word choice and stunning metaphors. I think this book would be an interesting, exciting read for long-time believers, new believers, and non-believers alike, so basically, I recommend it to everyone.

Music

I discovered some new artists in 2017, and some of my favorite artists released new stuff. What a good time! Here are some of my favorite tunes from this year:

  • Notos by The Oh Hellos: This album just came out a few weeks ago, and it is grand. The Oh Hellos are back with their classic folk sound, upbeat melodies, and fun vibe. Basically, I’ve just really enjoyed listening to this album.
  • “I’ll Stay (Carla’s Song)” by Matt Stinton: I cry. This song is about choosing to stay with someone forever, and it. is. beautiful. Matt Stinton’s not-quite-crisp vocals and the simple acoustic guitar blend really well, and the lyrics are just wonderful.
  • “New Year’s Day” by Taylor Swift: T-Swizzle got a lot of hate this year, but I love her new album Reputation. My favorite song from it has got to be “New Year’s Day,” although “Getaway Car,” “Dancing with Our Hands Tied,” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” are also contenders. Contrasting with the rest of her very pop-y album, “New Year’s Day” is stripped down with gorgeous lyrics and simple instrumentation. Honestly, it’s just really pretty.
  • Starlight by Bethel Music: This is my favorite worship album of the year. It’s Bethel’s second all-female-led album, and it’s both powerful and extremely well done musically. My favorite songs are “Starlight,” “You Came (Lazarus),” “I See the Light,” and “Extravagant.” The lyrics on the entire album are poignant, inspiring, and refreshing. And of course, all the vocals are phenomenal!
  • JOHHNYSWIM: My favorite artist find of 2017 is JOHNNYSWIM, hands down. I’d heard of them before this year but didn’t start listening to them until the spring, and I’m so glad I finally did! This band is led by married couple Abner and Amanda Ramirez, which is just precious in and of itself. But to make matters 1000 times better, their music is also dang good. The harmonies are gorgeous, the songs range from upbeat and fun to slow and smooth, and the lyrics are honest and meaningful. My favorite songs of theirs include “First Try,” “Villains,” “Diamonds,” and “Adelina.”

Screen Things

All of these movies and TV shows are available on Netflix. You’re welcome.

  • Poverty, Inc.: Mark this down as the only documentary that has made me cry. Poverty, Inc., explores the compassion industry, from governmental foreign aid to TOMs shoes. It’s brutally honest in a way that is so, so necessary for reforming the broken systems that we use to “help” others. I highly recommend it to everyone, but especially those who are interested in helping others, whether you’re a nonprofit CEO or someone who donates a few bucks to Salvation Army every Christmas.
  • The Crown: This Netflix original series details the personal lives of Queen Elizabeth II, her loved ones, and her political contemporaries like Winston Churchill. It’s dramatic, emotional, and beautifully done; the colors and the atmosphere are artfully created. If you’re interested in history, Britain, or both, The Crown is a great show to try! And speaking of Britain…
  • The Great British Baking Show: I have never been able to get into cooking shows, but last week I straight up cried at the season 1 finale of Great British Baking Show. I am obsessed. I started watching it as something to put on in the background while I cooked, but then I became genuinely invested. Now, my mom and I are watching season 2 together. Even if you don’t like cooking shows, you would like Great British Baking Show, and my theory is that it’s because the contestants, hosts, and judges are all British. They’re so pleasant! Their accents are lovely! They’re competitive but also kind and considerate! They have such wonderful attitudes! Watching British people bake patisserie has brought me so much joy, and it can do the same for you.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: I loved this book series when I was a kid and was so excited when Netflix debuted the TV show, especially after the movie wasn’t the most accurate thing in the world. The show is so well done! The sets are very creative, the visuals are stunning, the writing is incredibly witty, and the storyline is accurate. I can’t wait for the following seasons to show the rest of the books and dive into the intriguing world of the Baudelaires!

Noms

This fall, I moved into an apartment (with a kitchen) and started cooking for myself. I used to be self-conscious about my stunning lack of chef-ness, but now, I absolutely love to cook! Here are some of my favorite recipes from 2017:

  • Smoky Potato & Chickpea Stew: I made this stew a few weeks ago when I was starting to feel sick, and it totally hit the spot. It’s got plant-based protein, delicious flavors, and kale; what more could you need? (This recipe and the Chimichurri Chicken & Rice came from BudgetBytes, which has a ton of recipes under $2 a serving. As a broke college student, this site is one of my favorite finds from the year!)
  • Autumn Sausage, Veggie, & Apple Sheet Pan Dinner: Sheet pan dinners are great for meal prep (which I do a lot because I need to grab stuff quick when I’m running late for class, and because I’m cooking for one) and for the tiny, tiny, tiny kitchen we have. I used turkey sausage for this recipe and added some brown rice to stretch it from four servings to five.
  • Pumpkin Turkey Chili: Call me basic, but in the fall I’m all about all things pumpkin. This chili has lots of veggies and was so easy to make, so that’s a win in my book!
  • 5 Ingredient Turkey Stroganoff: I used ground turkey instead of ground beef for this super simple recipe. It was a great weeknight dinner and meal prep. After adding a side veggie or side salad, this stroganoff is a filling, easy, and healthy meal.
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins: Another pumpkin recipe with absolutely no apologies. These pumpkin chocolate chip muffins are delicious and good for you. (A nutritionist actually told me to eat a piece of dark chocolate a day, so the chocolate in these muffins is good for you, too.) Shoosh yeah.
  • Chimichurri Chicken & Rice: This one is my favorite recipe of 2017! I modified it a little by adding more frozen peas (can you tell I’m a little obsessed with vegetables?), using brown rice, and subbing balsamic vinegar in the chimichurri. This one-pot meal was quick, easy, and SO DANG YUMMY. I can’t wait to make it again!

Thanks for reading, everyone! Farewell 2017, and here’s to 2018!

THE TWELVE DAYS OF LOVE LETTER WRITING.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! First of all, it’s Christmastime, so the holiday tunes, yummy food, and pretty lights have got me feeling all sorts of festive. Be Rich, my church’s annual giving campaign, just wrapped up with amazing results. Aaaand… it’s the Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing with More Love Letters!

The World Needs More Love Letters is a fab organization that writes love letters to people all over the world. Anyone can request a letter bundle for a loved one who’s going through a tough time—illness, loss, breakup, or just down in the dumps and needing some encouragement. Then, people can view those requests on the More Love Letters website and write an uplifting note to them. The person who requested the bundle gathers all the letters and gives them to the bundle recipient in one huge outpouring of love.

Since its founding by Hannah Brencher in 2011, The World Needs More Love Letters has celebrated the holidays with 12 days of 12 letter requests. The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing is one of my favorite things about the holiday season! I love taking a break from studying for finals to write a word of encouragement to people who need it (and sometimes, the notes I write for others are exactly what I needed to hear myself.) It’s a great way to dig in to what the holidays should be about: giving love to others without expecting anything in return. In a time that often becomes more stressful than joyful, we need to remember that people need us. We have the incredible opportunity to be there for one another. The Twelve Days of Love Letter Writing is one way to do just that.

The Twelve Days campaign started on Monday, and a new letter request will be published on the More Love Letters blog every day until next Friday. If you’re looking for a way to spread some holiday cheer, look no further! You can write a letter to one of the requests or go cray-cray and submit a note to all 12 bundles. All letters should be postmarked by December 20, 2017.

Today’s request is for students at REAL School. This one is close to my heart because I’m a student, I love working with kids and families, and I believe in the importance of education. I’m encourage all of my readers to write one note to the following request:

REAL school serves middle school students who require structured therapeutic school-based supports and are at-risk in the areas of academic achievement as well as emotional and behavioral development. Most are dealing with challenges at home and in the community—trauma, abuse, violence—as well as mental health disorders. They and their families oftentimes lack access to effective resources and lack exposure to people outside of their communities, city, and the world around them. Research shows that these types of disconnections lead to ongoing struggles: incarceration, homelessness, a lower lifetime earning potential, chronic difficulty getting and keeping a job, living in extreme poverty, lack of health insurance, substance abuse, and chronic depression.

Our students (we currently have six boys in the program, ages 12-14) are resilient, vibrant, creative, outspoken, musical, funny, caring, curious, resourceful, athletic, and often, overlooked. They love to rap, dance, play sports, do arts and crafts, and learn about others. They deserve to feel appreciated and supported. They deserve unconditional positive regard. And, most of all, they deserve to feel connected with others.

I’d love to share letters of encouragement and motivation, of overcoming tough times, and of different life experiences (cultures, cities, people) with our students as well as our amazing REAL School staff members.

Please address all letters to “Dear Students” and mail them to the following address:

Students of REAL School

c/o Elizabeth L.

12 S. Stafford Avenue Apt. A

Richmond, VA 23220

USA

Let’s brighten one another’s lives this holiday season! If you’re interested in learning more about The World Needs More Love Letters, you can check out their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on twitter and Instagram.