Faith

Holy Week thoughts: a sermon

I was so humbled and honored to deliver a sermon during Harvard’s Morning Prayers service on Monday morning. Here is the full text of my homily (also posted on the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard blog):

A reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3:
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

God found me at Harvard. I say this with a great deal of hesitancy and humility, because reason tells me that that’s not really God’s M.O.: He is everywhere and in everything, after all, and therefore doesn’t need to play much hide and seek. But it seems unfair to say “I found God at Harvard” because that implies a certain amount of willingness on my part, and let’s be honest—I tried really hard to avoid God. A staunch atheist during my last two years of high school, I approached the subject of God in college from a purely academic and ethnographic standpoint: I studied how other people conceived of God because it made for a fascinating scholarly pursuit. I wasn’t really after the mysteries of the universe, here.

But the perspective of the distanced observer that I clung to quickly revealed a void in my life. I felt absent from my studies and from my social life, and it was out of the depths of that void God called to me. As a medievalist who studies early Christian mystics, I am normally quick to distinguish between physical and mental manifestations of God’s voice—but this was both. While I didn’t hear God with my ears, I felt a physical ache—a breathless, constant physical pain akin to heartache—that pulled me to prayer, of all things.

Last Wednesday night, the Episcopal priest Rev. Steven White shared with the Episcopal Chaplaincy his story of saying no to God’s call. He has said, “Never say no to a call from God. You can say yes, or you can say maybe, but you never say no.” I think I must have instinctively understood that I shouldn’t say no, because even though the idea of prayer felt foreign and downright silly, I started to pray anyway. In an effort to mitigate my perceived awkwardness of talking to God, I wrote my first prayers. A few months into my freshman year, a few months after trying to ignore or cover up the ache that drew me to God, I sighed and I faced the ache. I wrote, “God, I want to know you. I want to understand you. Help me know you.”

Out of my pain and wrestling came a desire to know God that defied all reason. Brother Geoffrey from the Episcopal monastery down the street recognizes that this is not an unusual manifestation of God’s love; after all, before Paul was writing down his own desire to know God, he was Saul, being struck blind by God on his way to Damascus to persecute Jesus’ followers. Brother Geoffrey writes, “…our truest selves…become real to us as we struggle to make sense of our own lives. The revelation comes through the struggle. It seems that God likes to struggle with us, and it is often through the struggle that we become who we most truly are, that we come to recognize God and recognize that God’s name is love.”

During Holy Week, we are plunged into the remembrance and recognition of Jesus’ suffering. I wonder if we might take the time this week to dig into that, to sink into the struggle and pain in the Bible and in our own lives, instead of only looking ahead toward what we know will be the glorious renewal of Jesus’ resurrection, because we might see God’s love that much clearer, and experience it that much more strongly, if we first understand the depths of the pain and struggle out of which it has risen.

Let us pray: “Almighty God, whose Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son, Amen.”

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Health

before the beginning: health + goal-setting

Can I tell you a secret?

 

I’ve always wanted to be an athlete.

 

When I was dancing, I wanted to be a professional ballerina. When I was injured my sophomore year of high school, I gave up aspirations of dancing professionally and turned toward my studies.

That injury over six years ago turned out to be a symptom of a chronic disease that has, in various forms, derailed many of my major life plans. However, it has been in “remission” (or as close as a genetic disease can ever get to remission!) for over a year now, praise God, and that dream of being an athlete? It’s back on the table.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome hasn’t dictated my plans for over a year, and I’m ready to make some new ones without the monkey on my back that is chronic illness.

ready to start dreaming

So I’m ready to start dreaming again. Slow and steady is the name of the game, but I have some big dreams and I’m setting some BIG goals. And I’m writing them down because I want to be able to look back in a few weeks, a few months, even a year, and see where my heart was at this point–before the beginning. Before I dive into training plans, weekly goals, data, data, and more data, I want to spend some time thinking about where I am, where I want to be, and why I want to be there. 

I’m taking inventory.

Why has this dream resurfaced, and what does it look like today?

First of all, it’s SPRING! Finally, finally, finally. This long winter was so hard at times, but it makes this sunshine and fresh breeze that much better. And when it’s spring, I like to move. I like to be outdoors and enjoying the sunshine.

Secondly, I graduate from college in less than two months. I have a job after graduation and a place to live. I have some space in my head and my heart cleared up for evaluating my habits and my choices since I don’t have anything major to keep on my mind. College has been a whirlwind, y’all. I’ve learned so much in such a short amount of time, but that means that all that learning has left little room for anything else. For the past four years, this time of year has brought me to a familiar place of restlessness and I have felt the urge to GO RUN ALL THE MARATHONS (hello, I live in Boston. Marathon Monday sound familiar? it’s all over the darn city.) AND MAKE ALL THE LIFESTYLE CHANGES. And of course that never works, because I didn’t have space to take inventory before diving right in.

Third, much of that restlessness came from not knowing God or choosing not to follow Him. That anxious, unsettled feeling was strongest when I was actively avoiding God’s call to follow Him, and got stronger the harder I fought to fill it with other, worldly things. What I noticed was a pull to go be healthy! eat better! run! But what was really happening was God calling me to get spiritually healthy.

This year, this time around, I’m feeling a bit more stable in that department. This dream is a different kind of restlessness, one that is rooted in hope and strength in something outside myself. I have so much hope for this journey because I know that when I fail (and since I’m human I know I will fail) I will have strength to fall back on that is not my own. And that is the best kind of hope.

So I’m dreaming big dreams, and making big plans. Can I share them with you?

Within the next TEN years, I want to:

  • ride the FULL Pan-Mass Challenge with my dad (it’s over 100 miles in two days, and the route runs right down my street in my hometown!)
  • run two marathons
  • participate in a triathlon

See? These are huge goals. But honestly? They make me smile. Every single one of them. And ten years is so doable! I have long-range vision, and thinking about these as goals I want to accomplish before I’m 32 gives me freedom to take the small steps without jumping headfirst into something that’s too hard or too big for my body or my heart right now.

This is something more than just getting fit and taking advantage of my health (that I know is all too precious)–it goes deeper. It’s a journey about learning about myself and how God has created me to contribute to this world, and I’m starting with small (but powerful) steps.

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Faith

I feel different.

My friend texted me after we left the service of Holy Baptism, Confirmation & Reception last Sunday: “Do you feel different? I feel different.”

At the moment, I was walking through the Square, grinning like a fool. I just could not stop smiling. I wanted to explain to everyone in CVS (where I stopped after the service to pick up some celebratory Ben & Jerry’s, of course) that I HAD JUST BEEN BAPTIZED, COULDN’T THEY TELL?! It was like a light had gone on inside me that made me see everything that much clearer, that made me feel that much more intensely about…well, just about everything.

It was a magical, magical day, last Sunday, March 30th. The sun went down on that day and I was a different person from when the sun had risen. I didn’t think that was possible, if I’m being completely honest with you. I was excited and a little nervous about the service, but those nerves were primarily about meeting with the Bishop and trying to explain my story to him. The excitement was about being welcomed into the Episcopal Church.

But, as I wrote to that same friend in response to her question: “I really, really do feel different. Who knew? I think this is where the whole supernatural thing comes in. Because I *am* different!”

Being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit changed me. And I think one of the reasons I remain so flabbergasted by this fact is because I didn’t do anything.

Today everything is new. #baptism #episcopal #christian #vscocam

Much of my journey with and toward God has been a lot of work. I look back on the past four years and see a lot of holy work, but it was work nonetheless. It was reading, studying, practicing, rinsing, and repeating. Much of the time, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew that I had to do something, and that stopping would lead to stagnation and bring back that painful, ever-present ache I felt when I was not trying to be with God.

And I did some work leading up to my baptism: I studied the history of the sacraments, Scripture’s take on baptism and the Eucharist, and what it would mean to be baptized in the context of Lent. I prayed and fasted (a little), and talked with my peers and chaplains.

But then Sunday came, and WHOOSH. Everything fell away.

I spent an hour with Bishop Shaw and the other candidates for confirmation or reception (I was the only one being baptized), and we talked through our stories. We cried and we laughed and we prayed and we cried some more.

And Bishop Shaw asked me the most incredible question after I explained my journey toward God: “Why do you think God has given you such an intense need for Him?”

I couldn’t answer. The best I could muster was that baptism was a step toward figuring that out, toward exploring the intensity of feeling He has given me for Him.

That question felt heavy in my heart as we walked toward Christ Church on that cloudy afternoon, but it was a satisfying heavy. Sort of like the good kind of pressure that comes with a massage: you can settle in that pressure, rest in it a bit, because you know that once it is relieved you will breathe a bit easier and your muscles will move a bit freer.

On the blog today, I'm talking about my thoughts + prayers in anticipation of my baptism on Sunday. #vscocam

I nearly lost my composure when I renounced the forces of evil in my life as part of the Examination, and everyone at the altar (my chaplaincy priest, the seminarian, our chaplaincy Fellow, who is my mentor and friend) smiled and nearly started crying themselves. And when I bent over that fount to be sprinkled with holy water from the River Jordan, I couldn’t help but smile.

Who knew? I’m still asking. Who knew that a few splashes of consecrated water and a few words of blessing would create in me a new spirit?

The sacraments defy all reason. The service of baptism confronts all parts of my rational brain and dares me to find an explanation for the changes I witnessed in my own heart, my own life. And you know what? I am just fine without an explanation. In fact, I haven’t even tried to think about this rationally. I’m still reveling in the mystery.

 

Holy Baptism_BCP

Experiencing the mystery of Christ’s love is unparalleled. It is (quite literally) breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

“Why do you think God has given you such an intense need for Him?”

I still don’t know, but I think after last Sunday, I understand the power and reality of this intensity a little more clearly. Who knows where (or how) He will lead me?

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Blessings, Faith

being baptized

This Sunday afternoon, a little after 4pm, I will be baptized into the Christian faith.

This Sunday, I'm being baptized by the Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts by water from the River Jordan. Ahh!! Words cannot express the emotion I'm feeling this week in anticipation of this sacred rite. #episcopalian #baptism #gahhhhh #praiseGod

The weight of this statement is just starting to sink into my bones.

It’s not customary for the Episcopal Church (or any church, for that matter) to perform baptisms during Lent, but the Bishop is in town this weekend, so all things “customary” do not apply. And let’s be honest: this is an adult baptism in a denomination where adult baptisms are uncommon, and would anything about my story be customary, at this point? This feels right.

On the blog today, I'm talking about my thoughts + prayers in anticipation of my baptism on Sunday. #vscocam

The priest of the chaplaincy brought back water from the River Jordan last week, and the bishop will be using that water during the baptism. The rite will occur in a church as old as the United States (the exterior was completed in 1774, interior in 1776), a place where George Washington took a brief rest with Martha during the Revolutionary War, where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon one Sunday in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, where students and community members and clergy have come to seek shelter, rest, and peace for centuries. I am humbled by the weight of the history this place bears, which is to say nothing of the weight of the sacrament.

I’m writing down these thoughts because it is a busy season in school and in work, and I don’t want to miss this as everything else zooms by in this last few weeks before graduation. This moment deserves a generous cushion of pause, of reflection, and of prayer on either end.

It is so fitting that my four-year journey toward and with God has its apex right at the culmination of my undergraduate career. When I began college, I sort of guessed that I would leave here with a bit of new knowledge, some new friends, and maybe a job.

I could not have imagined that I would leave here with a relationship with Christ. This place, which has fostered the minds of so many for nearly four centuries, fostered in me a yearning for the Spirit. I found God at Harvard. If you’ve been here, if you know someone who went here even for just a short time, you know how out-of-the-ordinary that is. This university tests even the most pious, and does not necessarily invite spiritual inquiry into everyday discussion or awareness. The most challenging parts of these past four years did not come from school work, or even from navigating the waters of overwhelmingly-Type-A interpersonal relationships, but from the internal wrestling of a spiritual awakening.

I won’t go all Kate Chopin here, both because I’m not a fan and because that kind of angst-ridden experience doesn’t apply here. The kind of spiritual awakening I had, and that I imagine we’ve all had at one time or another, was intellectual and physical. After a long time spent thinking and wondering and asking questions, I started feeling. Sometimes it goes the other way, and there were points along my journey where it did go the other way. Sometimes it was easier to feel before thinking. Sometimes God pressed on my heart before my mind.

But the point is that He kept pressing me. He kept drawing me closer to Him in all the ways He knew how. To paraphrase an Ignatian concept, faith is formed retrospectively: I can look back now and see all the ways He was working in my life, when at the time I could not have understood.

And so on Sunday, I will come full-circle. I started my journey four years ago, seeking the religion of my childhood, and finding confusion, tension, and silence. In the middle, I found God in academics, in comparative religion and in evangelical-style worship. And now, here, I’m committing to the very beginning of a lifelong walk with God. It’s the end of this particular journey, but the beginning of the kind of sweet, redemptive new journey only God can orchestrate. In my hard questions, in my moments of doubt and fear, in my joys and trials, He will be beside me. And I will promise to recognize Him in everything I do.

Friends, would you pray for me this weekend? That I may be reborn to new life in Christ on Sunday, to live in righteousness and holiness through Him? 

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Blessings, Faith

marriage + models

Being single isn’t something I think about very often. I go to class, I am heavily involved in my extracurriculars, and I just got a post-graduation job. Relationships and dating aren’t frequently on my mind these days, and I’m comfortable with that. I’ve been single for five years after having a three-year relationship in high school, so I don’t really know how dating in the real world works. Frankly, it scares me a bit too much to think about embarking on that part of the adult journey quite yet.

But lately I have been thinking about the kind of life I would like to have after dating. I know I should take things one step at a time, but I’m a planner–I’ve made and adjusted a five-year plan every single year since fifth grade, and doing so has served me well. I get to see how much I’ve grown and changed, and I can plot the ways God has worked in my life. My plans are flexible maps of progress and sustainability: where could I go with this? where should I go with this? what kind of person do I want to be in five years, and how can I take steps to create the habits and ideals that will get me there?

So I suppose it’s natural for marriage to be on my plan now (I do want to get married, after all!), but the ways in which the thought of getting married manifested itself in my life kind of caught me off guard.

First, my pastor mentioned premarital counseling a few times to me, both during his sermons and in casual conversation. It seemed like such a natural thing to discuss, and an essential part of his job as an Episcopal priest. He genuinely enjoys premarital counseling, and mentioned a few of the topics that frequently come up during his sessions. To him, premarital counseling was a necessary step for couples about to get married, and one that could bring them great joy and happiness as they grew closer to God together. Before these conversations, premarital counseling seemed like a punishment to me. I had never thought about it as a blessing but only a curse.

That’s probably because I had only thought about it in the secular context. I had no conception of marriage as a holy union before my pastor started talking about his role as a counselor to couples about to get married. I don’t think I had ever taken the time to think about marriage as involving God!

This brings me to the second way marriage came up in my life, which was in a model for a marriage that has God at its roots.

I love reading about people’s relationships online because they serve as examples for what I want my relationships to look like. However, the internet still doesn’t feel quite real to me, and those relationships end up having the same function as relationships in fiction books for me: I can use my imagination to picture the people involved and the work it took them to get there, but I’ll never have physical proof.

But that changed last week, when I met a real live couple who rests the foundation of their marriage on Jesus, and to say I was rocked off balance would be an understatement. I was on choir tour in the South, and I stayed in the home of an incredibly generous couple in Austin, TX with a group of three other girls. This family has three children, the oldest of whom is a senior in college planning her June wedding.

We spent three nights in their home, and gathered in their living room to chat each night we were there. The parents were so genuinely interested in us and our stories, and it was clear through their interactions that they loved each other and they loved Jesus. Their home was covered in Scripture, and they had managed to find a balance between work and family that allowed them to live it out in their lives.

I watched them with such fierce curiosity, and they showed me what it looks like to put God first in a marriage. I got just a snapshot of their lives, of course, but those four days served as a model I’m going to hold close for a long time. When I think about marriage, now, I think about this family, and pray that God helps me emulate their example…eventually.

 

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Faith

what lent looks like

This is the first time I’m “doing” Lent. I hesitate to use a word that suggests that my actions affect the season, though. Lent happens every year, whether I understand it or not.

So, more accurately: this is the first year I’m trying to understand Lent. I’m pouring my heart into this season of penitence because I see value in spending conscious, focused time trying to be near to God. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about the liturgical calendar: a chance to refocus and realign one’s heart toward God, supported by one’s community of believers.

So on Wednesday I went to have ashes imposed on my forehead for the very first time. It was a small noon service, with mostly retired Cantabrigians and the odd seminarian. I nearly cried when the priest said “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and I can’t quite figure out why. I think the weight of those words rested on me as he smudged my forehead with black soot, and that moment will stay with me for at least these next forty days.

I’m taking on a few spiritual disciplines during this season: fasting from meat and gluten (I have been ignoring my body’s signs for too long with the “I’m writing my thesis, I can eat anything I want” excuse), praying the Daily Office every morning and evening, and reading through the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books.

When I first began to seek God actively three and a half years ago, I was prompted to do so by a nagging emptiness in my life. I tried to fill that emptiness with many things–book shopping, reading, eating, the list goes on–but that emptiness remained and nawed at my spirit.

I sometimes feel that emptiness start to creep back in, especially in these first few days after the end of my thesis journey. This Lent, all I want to do is to fill that emptiness with God. I want to make turning to Him a habit and a joy. I’m going to keep saying “Yes” to God’s offer of free grace until that emptiness is full.

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Blessings, Faith

being seen

“How are you doing?” she asked me, and I knew she meant it. Finally, someone who wanted to hear my answer, not simply wait for a canned response before launching into a litany of problems they themselves were facing.

I sighed, unable to verbalize how I was doing. Truth is, I was torn apart. I felt threadbare, with all of my strings pulled in too many directions at once, without anything to hold them all together.

But then: “You deserve a reward.”

I didn’t want to be relieved when I heard that, didn’t want to be appreciative of her recognition of how hard life was at that very moment. Compared to others, my life is smooth-sailing. 

But I was so grateful that she saw me. That I didn’t even have to say anything, that she picked up on my weariness and acknowledged it.

__________

This week, I was snappy, I was teary, I was grumpy–all hidden by a mask of “I’m holding it all together.” 

I really wasn’t holding it all together. I was constantly in prayer, trying to figure out how to keep all the pieces from becoming unglued, to figure out how to make sure nothing broke. But I wasn’t really listening to the answers I was getting.

Instead, I settled into a rhythm of self-pity. I pulled out all the stops for my friends who were also trying to hold themselves together: I went on unsolicited coffee runs for fellow thesis-writers, trekked through the snow to bring tea and a hug to a friend who is trying to figure out Plan C for post-graduation plans, and made a get-well basket for a friend who was in and out of the hospital this weekend. I did these things without consciously wanting something in return–I barely even thought about them before I did them. But deep down, I was begrudging my own acts of serving these girls I love.

Yesterday, this passive feeling of “No one else would do this for me, so why should I do it for them?” welled up into a ball of self-pity at the back of my throat. And when someone looked me in the eyes and asked How I was doing, that self-pity burst.

Here’s the thing: I struggled with the relief that came from being acknowledged, because it felt greedy and needy. I shouldn’t need someone else to tell me that I’m doing a hard thing! I should just do the hard things selflessly and give of myself until the balance sheet stacks up: as much as I’m struggling, I should give that much more to others.

But that’s not the way it works. That’s not the way God designed us to work.

There’s a fine line between being known and understood and being put on a pedestal, as Jessi from Naptime Diaries explained so elegantly yesterday. But I think that being known by the people we want to know is just as important as us knowing them. If we give and serve until we fall apart, there won’t be anything left of us to give. It’s ok to need a hug. It’s ok to need someone to look you in the eyes and tell you that you are loved and that your work is appreciated. These moments of being loved on are gifts from God just as much as the moments we spend loving others.

When I didn’t think that anyone saw me, I turned inward. I turned to ugly thoughts that pitted me against the world. And I prayed for God to right my heart, to fill me back up.

So he sent someone to share some of her love with me.

The only way we can keep loving on others is by letting others love on us. So take those compliments gracefully, and answer How are you? truthfully. It’s ok to be broken in front of others. It’s ok to ask for help in putting your pieces back together. It’s ok.

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Faith

risks + redemption

Something you may or may not know about me:

This happened. #tattoos #sisters

I have a tattoo. (the other hand is my not-so-little sister’s)

And…I love it. I love it more every single day.

Ok, so at first glance this might not seem super risky: it’s a tame tattoo, and is easily covered by a ring or even a bandaid, should the need ever arise. But it’s visible. And not everyone (especially a large part of the Christian community) appreciates tattoos.

For me, this was a huge risk. What will people think? What if someone thinks less of me? I am the epitome of a straight-edge (my words, no one else’s): I shy away from doing anything that seems remotely rebellious, including wearing patterns, dyeing my hair, or skipping class. I do what is expected of me, a young, middle-class female. I try to make people happy by exceeding their expectations, by being perfect.

I put myself in a very narrow box  at a very young age. Rachel reads voraciously, Rachel gets straight A’s, Rachel is easy to get along with. I never ventured outside my box, and I settled inside, comfortable in a false identity that was rooted in comparison with the idol of perfection. I thought that was what my family wanted me to be, even though all my parents ever told me was that they wanted me to be happy.

To a large extent, being a people-pleaser does truly make me happy. I love to serve others by being steadfast and loyal, a support that never bends. I like that people don’t have to worry about whether or not I will come through for them. But I’m learning that that doesn’t mean that I have to keep such a narrow definition of “normal” for myself–or for others. And I’m being convicted of how sinful striving to fulfill this definition is.

See, when that box I have built up to define myself starts to turn people away because they don’t fit inside its narrow walls, it starts to cave in on itself. I start to categorize and judge people in terms of their flaws alone while simultaneously avoiding my own flaws. I stop loving, and I start judging.

The truth is, I’m just as much a sinner as anyone else out there. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) The tattoo was a spontaneous idea; my sister and I had joked about it, but when I went home for Columbus Day this past October, she printed out the design, offered to pay for the tattoo for my Christmas present, and off we drove to get our matching tattoos. It started out as a symbol of how close we’ve become over the last three years: we fought a lot in high school, but through the grace of God we reconciled and have become best friends again. Water lilies bloom again every morning, so it symbolized that our friendship and love for each other can only grow more beautiful–we’ll never go back to that place of darkness and mistrust.

That meaning still holds, but over the past five months it has developed a much deeper meaning for me. It is a reminder of the truth that God planted in my heart a long time ago, a truth that has begun to blossom and change me. People will always judge me, whether I appear to have it all together or if I am an absolute wreck. If I constantly worry about the judgment of others, I will miss out on some of life’s greatest treasures–things that come from taking risks, from stepping outside that box and leaving it behind for good. I’ve taken the plank out of my own eye and engraved it on my skin. My tattoo is a daily reminder that I need only please God, not through good works or striving for perfection, but through faith–something that is impossible to see.

And sometimes, this invisible, rebellious faith is the riskiest thing of all.

 

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Blessings

routine: for when everything else is being shaken up

I talked earlier this week about how the only thing I’m feeling steady about right now is Jesus, but there are a couple things that are keeping me afloat.

I have always been a routine girl; my parents tell me that it was clear that I did not like change from the time I was three months old. I thrive when I have a schedule to follow and little tricks throughout my day that signal my brain to stay relaxed and productive.

Every morning: coffee, Jesus, kitten (not in that order). How can we (my cat and I, since she loves to be a helper) lift you up in prayer this morning? #stacksonstacks #bethmoore #shereadstruth #bestbookofall

Morning Devotional time.

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: the first hour of my day is (almost) always spent with God. My current routine is this: I roll out of bed and sit on the couch to mull over that day’s Praying God’s Word Day-by-Day prayer, and then I move to my table to start journaling in prayer. I really don’t journal much else besides my prayer; I have taken notes on my Bible studies before, but I’ve been able to really soak up the wisdom God is sharing with me by praying by writing (and I often share that on Instagram! come play.) I wait a while in prayer until I open my Bible for the morning because I stay really focused this way, and I close the hour with #SheReadsTruth. The past few weeks of doing my morning devotions this way have been so incredibly life-giving. I wake up early eager to spend time with God! He has truly changed my heart.

I lost the yellow legal pad I've been using to brainstorm for the past 3.5 years, and when I started dreaming about it I caved and bought a new one. For some reason it takes the scary out of writing. #justgowithit

Work in a comforting space.

When I get back home from class, I pull out this yellow legal pad, and my brain switches into high gear and I can write for hours…unless my space isn’t clean. I just take a few minutes before working and reorganize: put books back on the shelf, move mugs to the sink (no dishwasher for this college gal), and straighten pens. It works wonders for my psyche (and my word count).

Get some fresh air.

The Getty Museum gardens. I love my New England winters, but going from 80 to 30 in six hours was a little much even for me! Such a great trip.

(this was at the Getty in Los Angeles this fall; what a gorgeous space!)

When even my yellow legal pad doesn’t do the trick, I pick up and go for a walk. Even when it’s below freezing! The sun makes everything seem better, and sometimes I’ll tie that in to an errand to the post office or the library, so I feel extra productive.

Get crafty.

Guess I'm not finishing this crochet project anytime soon... ;) #kitten

(gratuitous kitten)

I have been devoting at least 30 minutes every day to some hands-on creating. Right now my favorite thing to do is crochet, but I’m about to take a class that includes a quilting lab (!!) so that will become my focus soon. Doing something with my hands helps me feel grounded: it’s a really humbling task to make a garment, blanket, or any other object instead of buying it. This was my mom’s Christmas present that I finally finished this weekend; it was a labor of love, and I know she’ll appreciate it so much more than if I had simply bought a scarf and wrapped it. Academic work can be super abstract sometimes, and hand making anything keeps it real–especially when you have to pull out a row (or 4) because you zoned out and stopped paying attention. :)

Tea before bed.

Evening #thrive tea to accompany the #SOTU tonight. Taking a break from writing and job searching to sit on the couch and listen. I haven't been drinking nearly enough tea since the semester started! It's definitely my #selfcare secret: a big cup of tea & a blanket change everything.

My favorite right now is Tazo’s Thrive tea. It’s green, so the caffeine may not work for everyone (it barely affects me; that’s a problem I will tackle after I turn in my 70-page thesis), but the peppery notes keep me stimulated for long enough to finish my evening reading but the spearmint signals that bedtime is approaching.

These are the big ones that I find myself doing every day lately. Some other things that have made a huge difference in my stress levels are:

  • lotion and chapstick in every spot in my dorm, from the kitchen to the bathroom. This is a trick from my mom: in the wintertime, invest in a few extra bottles of your favorite lotion and sticks of chapstick to put all around the house. My hands aren’t chapped, my lips are soft, and my immune system is pleased! There’s an added bonus of a little self-soothing touch with the hand lotion as well.
  • blow-drying or curling my hair. Taking a few extra minutes at the start of the morning (post-devotional) helps me feel special for the rest of the day, and I feel like the day is worth tackling.
  • recharging with a worship music playlist on Spotify. I have class late in the afternoon, so when I get home the sun is about to set but I still have hours of work left, so I sit down with my headphones and close my eyes as I let Scripture set to music flood my mind.
  • snacks throughout the day. I keep a granola bar or a bag full of almonds with me everywhere for some quick protein and fiber that will help keep my blood sugar stable and my attitude positive.

How do you avoid the winter blues?

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Blessings, Faith

transitions.

On Monday I started my final semester of college. I knew it was coming; no one starts their undergraduate career thinking that it will be longer than four years, but when the fourth year (and the eighth semester in particular) arrives, everything seems so much weightier than you anticipated.

The last first day of school. When I walked out the door to head to class I felt a twinge of sadness–I haven’t taken any “first day” photos in four years! My mom always insisted on capturing me and my sister in the outfits we had spent so long choosing, but I was always so anxious to get to the bus stop that I never stopped to appreciate those moments.

Nostalgia is an interesting feeling, and it’s not one that I cherish. When it wells up in the back of my throat I often find myself letting out an audible “Ugh” and shaking it off, but it has been hanging around here lately, especially since I’m not headed immediately to graduate school.

I thought I was going to grad school, but when applications came due I decided I needed a break from academia. So I’m in limbo: I have one foot in the thesis-seniorlife-takingclasses room and the other in the I-have-no-marketable-skills-other-than-marathon-paper-writing-please-hire-me-soon room.

It’s…stressful.

But there is so much grace in this process. I have been blessed to be surrounded by friends who are going through the same thing, and we build each other up and speak sense and life into each other’s worries. I get to take two really fun classes this semester in addition to my last two requirements, which I wasn’t expecting, and I have the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge, wisdom, and experience from this incredible place while I still have the chance. I have stumbled upon internships that I wouldn’t have been even remotely qualified for two years ago, but somehow managed to gain *just* the right kind of experience for opportunities that will actually make a difference in this world.

So my life after May is looking a bit shaky. I’m not that anxious 11-year old who needed to be at the bus stop 25 minutes before its scheduled arrival anymore. I don’t need to know what’s coming next. He already does, and He’s got my back.

 

P.S. I took a two-month hiatus. I’m excited to blog through these transitions, though, and hope you’ll stick around.

P.P.S. Got any fave verses about transition? I’d love to hear them, and to hear your connection to them, below.

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