Misc. · Practical

A Look at How I Journal

old journal stackWhen most people find out that I keep a journal, their response is along the lines of: “Wow, that’s impressive; every time I’ve tried to keep a journal it just hasn’t worked.” It’s always an interesting response to me, because I don’t believe a person can “fail” at journaling. It’s something you do for yourself: recording whatever you want to, however you want to, whenever you want to. There shouldn’t be any pressure to make your journal anything but the space you want it to be for you.

In the spirit of that, I wanted to share how I personally use my journal. Not simply to give you ideas, but also to encourage you about how limitless, personal, and valuable a practice it can be in your life.

What I Write

There are a few things I (currently) record in my journal through words and writing.

Gratitude lists. If you’ve known me for nearly any length of time, you know that I don’t shut up about gratitude [and if you didn’t know that, you can read this]. Cultivating a grateful heart has completely changed my life in the best ways. The only thing that is a guarantee for me to journal every day is a list of the things I’m grateful for throughout the day. Writing these lists is the highest form of self-care for me, and re-reading them over time is a delight all over again.

When I wake up, I write the day’s date, pen the words “Thank you for:” in the corner, and start bullet points down the side of the page. I fill in the list as things come, or in a moment when I need to focus on building up the good. Sometimes the list will fill the page, other times I’ll draw a dotted line to make it a separate column from something else I’m putting in. I don’t have a minimum or maximum daily count; I just let it happen naturally and allow myself to be pleasantly surprised.DSC00314

Scripture reading log. I don’t follow a reading plan. I tried to in the past, and sometimes it worked for me, but often the plan would ask me to read too much in one sitting, or would make studying scripture feel like something to check off my to-do list instead of something to pour myself into. Right now, I simply read one chapter of the Bible a day. There are some days I don’t read the Bible, such as when I had pulled a near-all-nighter doing homework in college and could feel my eyes closing but was still reaching for my Bible when I heard clearly in my spirit: “Tessa– go to bed. Your mental health matters to me. We talked today, it’s fine.”

I decide which book to read by alternating between the Old Testament and New Testament in their orders. Recently I finished reading Numbers, and I am now reading Matthew; next I will read Deuteronomy, then Mark, and so on. If it’s a more difficult book to read, such as the books of the Law, I will also read a Psalm.

In terms of recording my scripture study, I pen a bracket and the name of the book and chapter I’m reading that day. As I read, if something stands out to me, if I have thoughts, or if something confused me and I did some research, I will write notes on those things or even process them through writing. Once I’m done, I pen the other bracket at the end. Sometimes, there are days I read the chapter and simply don’t have anything to say about it. In those cases, I will still pen the other bracket after the book name and chapter, so I remember I read it. It’s okay to not “get something” out of scripture every time you read it; desire to learn is already a delight to Him.

“Proper” journal entries. When I have a lot of feelings I need to sort through or when something happens in my life that I want to remember, I write a journal entry that resembles what most people probably think of when they picture journaling: straight up writing, stream-of-consciousness.

I think what intimidates most people about keeping a journal, what makes them feel like they’ve “failed” to keep theirs, is that they imagine they need to write entries like this every day. I definitely don’t write entries like this every day; I only write them when I want to, when I have something to say or process. If I tried to write entries like this every day, I would probably start getting discouraged and feel like my life was boring! They’re helpful and enjoyable when they’re written out of desire rather than duty. I just write what I care about; it isn’t for anyone but myself, so there’s no pressure.

Drafts. Occasionally, if I want to write something for my blog but am unsure about how much of my personal story and feelings to include, I’ll write the first draft in my journal. Sometimes it truly is a first draft. But sometimes, once I’ve gotten it all out in my journal, that’s where it stays, because that ends up being the best place for it to live. Starting blog posts in my journal has become a healthy habit for me because, to be honest, I’ve probably avoided some conflicts by doing it.flowers and journal

Book notes. Every once in a while, I will read a book so impactful that I want to take notes on it. When that’s the case, I write the name and author of the book, then below that I’ll record quotes or what I’m learning. When I stop reading for that sitting, I might write down which chapter(s) I read in case I want to find something in context again. I draw a little swirly line to separate my book notes from any other journal entry that might go on that page. It’s interesting to re-read later and see how my book notes have similar themes to my regular journal entries and scripture studies from the same timeframe.

Beginning-of-the-year thoughts. I don’t really set goals at the beginning of the year, but I do like to dedicate the first page of the year to writing out a few hopes for it. If I start a new journal in the middle of the year (which is a guarantee for me because I fill them with so much), I rewrite those hopes on the first page of the journal as a reminder.

Calendar notes. I have a calendar on my desk and do not at all ask my journal to function that way, but I do like to make a note of holidays, birthdays, and milestones next to the day’s date, just so I can easily remember if I look back.

[I also use a prayer journal and a poetry journal, but I like to keep those separate from the rest of my writing.]

How I Decorate

A colorful, thrown-together journal might not work for everyone, but it adds some extra sunshine to my life to be able to decorate my pages. Most of my decorations end up serving a purpose, too! I use a few different things.

Quotes. I’ve always collected quotes from anywhere I find them, so incorporating them into my journal pages makes a lot of sense for me, and also makes it a bit easier to find one if I want to go back to it.

I write them on any blank spot on the page I’m currently using. I prefer to use fun gel pens or markers, but if I only have my simple black pen with me I don’t mind using that, either. Cursive hand lettering looks pretty regardless of the pen you’re using.

I don’t really go looking for quotes to add in, because I regularly find a good amount that leave an impression on me in everyday life– from songs I hear, tweets, Pinterest, books or blog posts I read (I don’t often take notes on whole books like I mentioned earlier, but sometimes there are just lovely lines, aren’t there?), movies I watch, Tyler Knott Gregson’s poetry blog (swoon), and anything else relevant for me at the time.

Photos. At the end of every month, I look through my photos and print out a few highlights from that month to make a page or two into a mini scrapbook. I write “[Month] Moments” at the top of the page, arrange the photos to my liking, attach them with regular scotch tape rolled on the back, then add any little commentary I want to below the photos. Sometimes I won’t have a photo from something that happened, so I’ll bullet point those moments somewhere on the page. If there are photos from a particular event and I also have a little memento from it, such as a concert ticket or wristband, I like to pair those together.DSC00457DSC00323

If I have strips from a photo booth, I like to add those into my journal, too, but I probably wouldn’t wait until the end of the month. I would instead just add them when I got them, on the journal page from that day. I do the same with movie tickets.

Apart from my monthly scrapbook page, I regularly add in a random photo or two to most of my journal pages, simply because it brings me a little burst of joy; I’m very visual and love having lovely images around me. These random photos aren’t usually my own, instead I scroll through my Pinterest and find a handful that I want to print out. I print them wallet-sized on regular office paper from my home printer and save them in an envelope I’ve attached to the back page of my journal (if the journal doesn’t have a built-in pocket) until I want to use one. Sometimes the photo fills in an empty space on the page, other times I add the photo first and work around it. How I execute all my creative journal additions depends on my mood, which I like, because my feelings seem to be reflected on the page visually even if I didn’t write a journal entry about how I felt.journal spread photos

Washi tape, doodles, & stickers. These things generally serve as space fillers and just add a nice bit of color and interest to the pages.oooooooooooooo

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my journal, and that maybe you’ve even found a spark of inspiration for your own. Don’t succumb to any pressure you feel to be a daily writer, or make every page a work of art, or do anything a certain way. Just do it for you.

Do you journal? What works well for you? What about it makes you happy?

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Poetry · Practical · Responses

On Refugees: A Poem & A Few Ways to Help

dsc08915I could have been you.
I could have entered the world at war,
Could have seen horrors that echo,
Could have known nothing but danger and the desperation for escape.
But, somehow, I’m me.
I’m not where you are,
Don’t understand suffering the way you do,
Don’t know what it’s like to be hated in my core.

I could have been you.
But, somehow, I’m me.
So I choose to be your sister,
And fight so you’ll have a seat.
Your heart is safe with me.

I ache for my refugee brothers and sisters. But I also burn liquid hot with a growing passion to help them in every possible way I can. Here are some of the ways I have found, and encourage you to engage in as well:

Share the facts. Don’t let the voice of fear be the only one speaking. Be a voice of truth and of love. Share that the screening process for refugee entry into the US is already intensive, more rigorous than that of any other form of immigration. Share that the odds of being killed by a refugee-disguised terrorist in the US are 1 in 3.64 billion per year; you are more likely to be struck by lightning– while drowning. Share that “compassion and security are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing.” Share that the overwhelming majority of terrorism in the US has not come from foreigners. Share that “in cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” Share that banning any human being from anything solely based on their religion or nationally is discrimination and an attack on religious freedom, period. Share that ignoring the helpless is ignoring Jesus, and He will not tolerate it. Fear is a liar. Love tells the truth. Let love win in you.

Contact your officials. It is actually wildly easy to reach your government officials and let them know you want action on an issue. This form lets you email the president, your representative, and your senators all at once and helps you figure out what to say. You also have the option to see their phone numbers and call them with your concerns. The greater the volume of voices speaking the same thing, the more likely they are to take notice. Do not relent.

Support those working on the front lines. There are a few main organizations my friends who work in humanitarian efforts have recommended to me:

  1. Preemptive Love Coalition. They are based in the countries facing ISIS right now, providing real-time relief and aid to the people there. You can also directly donate to the work they’re doing specifically in Aleppo. They do things right; their mission and their methods are simply holy.
  2. World Relief. From their website: “Through partnerships with local partners and churches, World Relief is providing help, temporary shelters, hygiene items, and psychosocial counseling to displaced refugee families, as well as sponsoring child-friendly spaces for mothers and children. In addition, World Relief has been empowering local churches to resettle refugees in the United States for more than 35 years.” Explore their website to find the specific way you feel led to help.
  3. My friend, Delaney. She works with refugees and is currently getting ready for a trip to Germany to meet physical and spiritual needs of the refugees in the camps in Berlin, specifically the unaccompanied children. This woman shines bright, and supporting her work is something you can be proud of.
  4. I am also adding the ACLU, the group that brought this weekend’s executive order to court and put it on hold just one day after it had been signed. They appear before the Supreme Court more than any other organization besides the Department of Justice, giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. A different kind of refugee aid, but still important, especially given our current circumstances. The immigration ban is still being enforced despite the court ruling; we still have much work to do.

Be an advocate. You can sign petitions of solidarity, but you can also simply speak kindly of every race and religion, no matter what the people around you are saying. Align yourself with the marginalized; if someone wants to oppress refugees and/or Muslims, let them know they’ll have to face you first, not in an angry stance but in a poised, firm one. I am learning that we can be angered for righteous reasons, but our anger itself is not the righteous thing. Feel the anger– then let it go, instead of feeding it. Let the passion it awakened in you lead you forward, in love and in peace. We don’t fight fire with fire; we don’t fight fear with fear; we don’t fight hatred with hatred.

Keep creating. This one may not sound important, but it’s a way of pushing back darkness with light. I’ve talked about this before, about how putting our deepest loves into action in the world is how we kill the fear. Keep doing that. I don’t know what your passions are, but live them. We need that from you. We need what you have to give, whatever form that takes.

Pray. Genuinely, this is not a cliché or a cop-out. Your prayers reach the Father. And when you pray for refugees, you are praying straight into His own heart, because He is near to the broken, He takes up the cause of the oppressed, He avenges His children. Pray. It is not a fruitless thing. It is fuel for everything else you are doing. God is working, today. And He will not stop until every single one of His children is safe with Him.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

-Matthew 25:31-46

On Media & Art · Practical · Testimonies · The Basics

How I’m Replacing My Anxiety: On Power, Positivity, & Choices

dsc05066When I picked up a dingy little book at a yard sale for a few cents, it was simply because the title seemed interesting to me: “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.”

I was struggling with questions about anxiety and how big a role it played in my life, so much so that it was nearly all I could think about every day. I knew nothing about this book, but I’d reached a point where I was willing to hear out anyone who might be able help me figure out what I could do about what I was facing.

During the time I read the book, not only did I receive deep convictions from its words, but I also had an open conversation with a counselor friend of mine about anxiety and its presence in me. These things paired together, following God’s revelation to me about the peace He’s made for me to walk in, have helped me find a grip on my peace and led me in the process of beating my fear.

If you struggle with anxiety, I want to share what I took away from “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers with you. I know every experience is a bit different and not everything works the same in everyone. If these things end up not doing for you what they do for me, nothing is wrong with you; you are working hard and doing an incredible job, finding the best weapons and strategies for your own battle. Do not let shame lie to you, and do not give up. This is just my experience, and if you end up being able to share in it, it would be cruel of me to keep what I’ve learned from you.

Not everything I learned from the book is completely related to anxiety, but all of it has been transformative for me. These were my four main takeaways:

1) Fear is based on the lie, “I can’t handle it.”

When I become obsessive and fearful about something in my life, no matter how big or small, there is one common belief that fuels the anxiety: I believe that if the bad thing I’m anticipating happens, it will be too much for me and will overcome me. Usually I am not even aware that I believe this, but the presence of the fear reveals it about me.

A few months ago, I was overwhelmingly anxious about visiting my old stomping grounds. I didn’t want it to be a painful experience, and I’d had panic attacks the last few times I’d been there. But I asked myself: what would happen if my fears were true, and it was painful and I did have a panic attack? I’d have a few difficult hours in my day– and then I’d go home. It might take me a few days to recover, but I’d recover. Was that devastating enough to keep me away? Despite the anxiety I still hosted, I decided to go– and it ended up bringing a lot of healing for the bitterness I’d been hosting toward that place. I did have a panic attack, but afterward I had a lot of good moments, too. I’m glad I didn’t let fear keep me from them.

Two years ago, I was terrified to drop out of college, because I didn’t want to be occupation-less, lose relationships, or be looked down upon for it. But what happened when I did drop out… and I did become occupation-less, lose relationships, and get looked down upon? I cried. I was hurt. I grieved. I wrestled with armfuls of questions, for months. Then I made my peace with it, and realized I was healthier emotionally than I’d ever been before. I became grateful for the opportunity to live a life more true to what I was made for. My fears might have become reality, but it didn’t ruin me; in the long run, it healed me. I survived it and found treasure along the way. I needed things to happen the way they did.

When I accept my fears at face value, they seem giant and domineering. But when I look deep enough into them, I can see how small they are against the backdrop of everything else life holds. I can see that no matter what happens, positive or negative, it won’t be the end of me. I have experienced deeply painful, terribly oppressive times, lasting moments and lasting years– and I am still here. I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been. What we’re scared of does happen sometimes. But we survive. We learn and we keep walking. Nothing is final or too much for us.

Nothing can come for us that is bigger than He who is for us.

2) We can hold fear from two positions: pain, or power.

How you view your circumstances is known as your locus of control, and there are two possible versions of it: an external one or an internal one. If your locus of control is external, it means that you believe life happens to you and there’s nothing you can do to alter your circumstances. However, if your locus of control is internal, it means that you believe you have the power to use what you have in your given circumstances to create the life you want.

I refused to consider this concept when I first learned about it. My locus of control was completely external; I believed I was stuck where I was in life, which was a terribly harrowing belief to have, because it was eating me alive to stay in my circumstances. When I was told I could change my situation if I wanted to, I immediately shut the idea out, because I didn’t believe I was capable of doing that. But multiple people from multiple areas of my life all began unknowingly asking me the same thing: “Have you ever thought about doing something else?”

And my answer, when I finally gave one, was: “…no. Is that possible?”

Once I opened myself up to the idea of making my own changes, once I realized I had power over myself– God showed me how to use it. He didn’t leave me floundering by myself, nor did He become angry at me like I feared. It turned out that He was the one who made me powerful in the first place. Using that power was not, in fact, a rebellion against Him, but rather a submission to Him and His design for me.

It took months for me to say yes to my new direction, and even longer to tell anyone about it and begin acting on it. But I did. I started making changes. I left old things and started pursuing new ones. It was still hard, but a different kind of hard than before; this was the kind I knew was going to birth good things.

I’m not stuck anymore. I know that, at any time, if what I’m doing is not good for me, I can change it and do something else. I have the power to do that.

When we’re in any situation, we are making a choice to stay there. We can choose not to stay there anymore if we want to. I used to constantly say, “I can’t do that because this thing is preventing me.” But the truth is that there is truly nothing I can’t do.

If I wanted to move to Los Angeles today, I could. I don’t have money, transportation, or a place to stay, but I could pack a suitcase and get on a bus, and once I arrived I could find a shelter somewhere. Would it be the wisest thing for me to do? Probably not. So I choose not to do it. But I don’t get to say that I can’t do it.

If I want something badly enough, I have ability to go get it. It is just that sometimes the payoffs of not doing it at this point in time might outweigh having it right now. That’s okay! It teaches me patience and trust. Life is largely about the process; waiting times are not times we have to despise or rush to escape. Sometimes it’s the right time to make a change; other times, it’s the right time to wait it out for a while. But we are never stuck. Once we understand that, we are living from a much more productive and positive place.

I think a lot of us grew up viewing power and control as negative things. I have known and been affected by controlling people my entire life, so I know it’s easy to have those negative connotations. But do you know why controlling, manipulative people do what they do? They feel powerless. The reason they are seeking to control you is that they see power in you and want to benefit from it; they don’t believe they can do what they want to do themselves, so they use other people. Controlling people have an external locus of control.

A healthy sense of power is so different from that. When you believe you are powerful, you believe in your ability to do what you want to do, not to make someone else do it. A truly powerful person is someone who knows they are in control of their own actions and attitudes, and exercises that control in order to make good choices and love well.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit; it’s something He gives us and wants to see in our lives. It is not simply the ability to keep yourself from bad choices, like we seem to teach all the time– it’s also using your power to make really good ones. When you use your power well, you are demonstrating spiritual growth.

This all affects our relationships with fear and anxiety because if you believe in your power, you will start using it. With an internal locus of control, you know that your circumstances don’t control you– you control you. Whatever fear is living in you, you know you are bigger than it and that you can combat it. You do not allow yourself to become a victim of anxiety, but rather a master over it. You might have anxiety, but it is you that owns it, not the other way around.

When I am afraid, I have a choice. I can choose to succumb to it and let it lead me, or I can choose to ride the wave out and get through it. Fear still exists for me, but it doesn’t have to win out over me.

It’s a cliché now, but it’s still true: when you learn you are powerful, you begin to realize you also carry responsibility. You realize you can’t blame others for your happiness (or lack thereof) anymore, because you are in control of your experience. No one can be responsible for your quality of life except for you.

There’s an important distinction between your experiences in life and your experiences of life. Things happen to us that we had no hand in. We don’t get to choose where we grew up, or what programs accept us, or who falls in love with us. But we do get to choose how we let those things affect us. Bitterness? Despondency? Entitlement? Those are responses. And while we may not be able to choose our initial feelings and it’s important for us to recognize them, we one hundred percent control what we decide to feed and sit in versus what we decide to let go of and move past. We have control over how we choose to live; we have the power to look at everything through a hopeful lens instead of a victimized one.

I have found that when I take responsibility for my feelings and my mindset along with my behavior, it is easier for me to be kind to others and to love my enemies. I can’t get mad at someone for not giving me something I have the ability to give myself. It doesn’t mean I’m condoning their negative behavior; it just means I’m not letting it change my positive behavior.

3) Being positive is not being in denial, it’s being perceptive.

Many of us have been told that when we look for the positive, we are not aware of the reality of the situation and are being oblivious to what’s going on. But let’s take a minute to think about this: what makes it so that a positive mindset is less realistic than a negative one? Both are perspectives, ways of viewing reality. And the way you view reality determines how you treat it. So if we choose a negative mindset in the name of being realistic, what we are really doing is determining to have a negative reality.

Choosing a positive mindset is not being unrealistic– it is choosing to have the best experience possible in reality. When we view life through a positive lens, we don’t need denial, because we can see possibilities for ways to make things better, and we are more likely to act on those possibilities because we believe they can make a difference.

Positivity is not weak, it is empowering.

It can be wildly hard to get rid of a negative mindset when you’ve been hosting one your whole life, or when you are in environments that are full of the kind of talk that fuels one. Perseverance matters so much in this. Our subconscious’  believe what they are told; if they are fed insecurities, lies, and thoughts of helplessness, and they aren’t also being fed a greater measure of affirmations, truths, and motivation, they will continue to operate out of destructive patterns.

We have to out-talk our negativity. When you feel insecure, name strengths and good traits you possess and point out to yourself how you’re doing a good job; when someone tells you something that is against your God-given identity, reaffirm your identity and what it means for you; when you start to feel helpless, tell yourself that you are powerful and remind yourself of all your options. Be kind to yourself. Be active and relentless about it, and have people in your life who echo these kinds of healing words to you. Let love, not fear, have the final word in you.

4) When it comes to making decisions, there is no loss, only gain.

I am the queen of indecisiveness. If there are multiple options, I pretty much go into paralysis until it’s narrowed down to two, at which point I will toss the two options every possible way they can be turned, then make a very hesitant choice. I will proceed to doubt my choice for weeks. What a fun cycle, eh?

But making decisions is actually a lot less complicated and dire than I’ve believed it to be. No matter which option I choose, the truth is that there is not a losing decision. On any path I walk, there is a wealth of lessons, experiences, and treasures for me to find. I think often we fear making a bad choice because we don’t want to miss out on something good. But what if we had a different perspective when making a decision? What if we focused on what the different options have to give instead of what we’d potentially lose? When we do that, we are no longer looking for the least costly option, but instead for the most rewarding one. It is much more productive to function this way.

And if you end up being unsatisfied with your decision? You can still make a different one! It is okay to make mistakes. No matter how many zigzags you make on your path, you’ll still be able to get to where you’re going. We gain lessons and experiences from everything we go through. God’s business is redemption; nothing is wasted. And He knows what you’re going to choose before you choose it, so you can rest in knowing it’s all part of something bigger, something that will always work out for your good.

——-

Phew! There is so much to unpack in these concepts, so much we can reap from them. I encourage you to keep ruminating on them. And, if you’d like, I so recommend reading “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway.” The last two chapters are a bit out there and I admit I only skimmed them because they were more opinion-based, but the rest of the book was such a transformative tool in my life.

Anxiety doesn’t own me anymore. I am better equipped to face it than I knew I could be. All of this is my story; I’m not going to present it as the cure or the never-failing balm for anxiety. But I wanted to share my experience and the tools I’ve found useful, if there’s any chance you might be helped by it, too. I am rooting for you and fully believe in a breakthrough for you, however in comes into your life. Thank you for being interested in how in came into mine.

Practical · The Basics

My Personal Guide to Internet Anger

Nov 5 15The same thoughts flash through my mind every time I see things that anger me or cause others to argue on the internet. I haven’t voiced or articulated these thoughts, even to myself; I’m scared I’ll contradict myself and am aware of the irony. But I’ve decided to write this as a reminder to myself when those situations come up. If you want to use it, too, that’s totally cool, but I’m not going to claim I know the correct way to handle it. These are just things I’ve learned are good guidelines for me and the way I personally want to interact with people through my computer screen.

So, Tessa–

You do not have to have an opinion on everything. It is a great idea to do your research and figure out what you think about a topic. But if you resonate with pieces of both sides? That’s okay. Don’t be afraid of letting things exist together. You don’t have to choose a side if none completely line up with your own heart about something. More often than not, both sides have genuine merits to them. It’s not you versus me; it’s us, together, trying to figure it all out. Having this mindset makes it hard to see anyone as an enemy.

Or, if you’ve done your research and still don’t really know what to think much at all? That’s okay, too. I have not been able to forget this tweet:

There are a few topics that we simply cannot understand, no matter how much research we do, because we’ve never lived it. We can read all we want about it, but we still won’t truly know what it’s like to experience it; we can have opinions, but we cannot speak into it with understanding, because we can’t know what it’s like. Sometimes it’s just too big to grasp. That’s okay. You are a human being with limitations, and there’s no shame to be had in that.

You don’t have to have an opinion just to add to a conversation, especially if choosing a side brings more hurt to more people, people you’re not even sure are wrong. Most of the time, we just need to listen. And to show love to everyone who speaks, no matter what they’re saying.

Correction has it’s place, and it has places it should not go. Someone is being pretty irrational and using circular reasoning and contradicting himself, and you’re annoyed. But you take a breath, and ask yourself why. “Because someone is being rude and not making sense!” you answer quickly. The follow-up question you get to ask is:

Do rude, non-sensical people heed to someone who points out that they’re being those things?

I’ve never seen someone change their heart because someone else debated with them on the internet. I’ve definitely been challenged and had thoughts introduced to me through something someone has written on the internet, but it has always been something they shared independently, from their own experience, in their own internet space, left for me to find on my own. It has never been in response to me or someone else on a Facebook post or in a comment section.

Correction is necessary for everyone, but here’s the thing– we do not have grounds to correct someone we have no relationship with. If I were to vocalize that I believe something cruel or irrational, my closest friends would talk to me about it– privately, in person, with love for me and with hearts that seek understanding of where I’m coming from. It would be a conversation. Even if we ended up disagreeing, I’d still listen to them, because I know they aren’t just seeking to nitpick or start an argument; they care about their friend.

But if you don’t know me and I come to tell you you’re wrong, what reason do you have to listen to me with an open mind? You know nothing about me that qualifies me to advise you in thinking or living; it wouldn’t make sense. We might not even share the same moral compass. My points could be valid to me and still not matter to you, because your values are different from mine.

It is so tempting to join in and to correct people who have struck a nerve. But correction is meant to be found in the context of the safety of relationship. Which I’m inclined to believe doesn’t include calling someone out in a comment.

We have to remember– humans cannot change other humans. Our goal is never to change people; it is to love people, right where they are, like our Father loves us. Only God can change a heart. And He leads us to repentance with what? With loving kindness.

“Wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:35). Time is such an interesting friend; it will tell us how true our thoughts really are. As time passes, we will see how things actually play out, what lasts, and if our ideas come from love or from fear.

We need to have the humility to say, “I believe this with all my heart– and I could still be wrong.” It’s okay to be in that spot; it means we’re teachable, with a healthy view of ourselves. We can be wholly firm in what we believe even as we remain accepting of our fallibility. We might end up being right. But we can be loving, if we’re right or wrong. And seeking to understand the motivations behind any opinion, even if we’ll probably never agree? What a beautiful way to love.

[Listen]

Not attending an argument isn’t the same as not using your voice. I have experienced things that have been more difficult because of teachings that weren’t true, written or spoken by people who had no personal experience or were biased. When it comes to those things, I will speak. I will speak about certain sensitive topics because those things were made more difficult for me by people who spoke spoke falsehoods. I point out the patterns that I recognize, the ones I know deep in my soul to be harmful. I passionately, intimately believe in what I speak into.

But when I see something I don’t agree with, that does not make it on par with the things I advocate for in my life. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with, but my involvement in a conversation about them most likely is not necessary; I don’t have to “speak up,” because I’m not doing it for any purpose aside from adding my two cents. Honestly, that isn’t speaking up as much as it is asserting myself.

There is no reason for me to argue about something that I’m not actively working toward being a voice for in actual life. We show we care when we act, when we do something about it. If I have a voice, I better be using it for something that matters and I better be using it well, stewarding it as a gift that I don’t deserve.

Let your positivity outweigh their negativity. My favorite thing to do when I see something online that frustrates me, that doesn’t seem right, that makes me want to respond back with my own opinion? Independently share some kind of positivity instead.

I don’t have to respond to the particular person and I don’t have to address the specific subject. It doesn’t even matter if that person sees or hears what I share. It’s not about being right– it’s about being a source of love. Love is always the right thing.

The good things we share with the world can outweigh the negativity others are putting out. If you see someone spreading words to shame others? Spread different words to tell others of their worthiness. While that person is being a voice for shame, now there is another voice. And it speaks of love and of grace.

As I said earlier, I’ve never been changed by someone calling me out on the internet. But I have been changed, sometimes radically, by things people have shared in their own spaces simply to express their heart or experience. That’s where I believe the real power of having a voice on the internet lies.

The unkind voices are loud. But when there are more kind voices, they ring louder. And they echo for a long time to those that need to hear them.

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
-1 Corinthians 8:1-3

I’m sure this list of guidelines and reminders is not complete or comprehensive. If we’ve learned one thing these past few minutes, it’s that I’m a flawed human being just doing my best to figure things out. We all are.

I guess I’m just writing in hopes that we remember we get to do this as a family.

Practical

For The Hard Days

I’m in a transitional season, a time of waiting. Usually I’m pretty good at seeing positive things in where I am and doing what I can here. But… there are also hard days.

I’m realizing that we all have them. I don’t know why I thought I was the only one, but I definitely did. I used to be ashamed of it, like I needed to find the good things in it and turn it into a good day because I shouldn’t be having a hard one in the first place.

But I have learned that self-pity is different from grief.

shoes and dandellionWe can grieve a lot more than death. We lose many things over the course of our lives, and those losses are painful, even if it seems like they shouldn’t be as painful as they end up to be. I lost a lot of things when I entered this waiting season. I lost the life I thought I was going to lead; I lost a few dreams; I lost dynamics I had with people; I lost a lifestyle I didn’t know I’d loved so much. Those are painful losses, life-changing losses. And if I have days where I have absolutely no desire to leave my bed, where the only thing I can do is watch sappy films, where I’m restless inside for no reason I can pin-point– that’s okay. It’s normal to have days like that when you’re grieving; it’s healthy. I don’t have to make myself more positive, or turn the day into a better one, or drag myself into doing things I don’t have the internal energy to do, or be angry at myself for not being able to function very well. We wouldn’t ask people in the midst of grief to do those things.

Yet here I am, dealing with loss– asking those things of myself.

Grief is okay. Grief is a necessary piece of being alive. It isn’t simply wallowing in sadness– it’s the process of dealing with everything that comes to us in times of loss. We cannot deny ourselves the time we need to grieve. This season of waiting is seriously hard sometimes. But I am starting to see that maybe He isn’t giving me a new direction yet because I need to grieve what I’ve lost before I can accept and pursue something new. I pray every day that He would lead me into grieving well.

[I’ve been reading “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero this year, and grieving things lost is what the entirety of chapter seven is about. I recommend this book more than I have ever recommended one before; it is permanently changing the way I treat my thoughts and feelings.]

Knowing that I am grieving, and knowing that we all have hard days, has encouraged me to be more honest about where I am and to learn how to handle it in the best way possible for me. It also makes me want to share what I’ve learned so far with the people around me, because I continually discover that they have hard days, too. We all do. And that means we never have to be alone. We get to share with each other. So, please, may I share some of the things I’ve learned with you?

It is okay to say that today is one of the hard days. I know that it’s harder to do than it seems. We don’t want to label it because we want it to get better, but that’s the thing: saying, “I’m having a hard time right now,” is not at all the same as saying, “Things are not going to get better.” Hope is huge, and something we need. But admitting where you are doesn’t mean you don’t have legitimate hope for where you’re going to be. The problem with not understanding this is that it tends to not allow us to be honest with ourselves about what’s really going on; it puts us in denial. Saying, “I’m okay,” when we’re not is so much worse than honestly admitting, “I’m not okay right now.” Have hope, yes! I pray hope over your life! But it’s okay to have hope in the midst of pain. That’s where hope thrives.

It is hugely important to feel what I feel. I’ve written about this before, but I cannot stress enough: please do not bottle your feelings. Feeling your emotions to the hilt does not mean that you have given them control over you. Feelings are reactions, and it is not only healthy, but wise to at least hear them out. “I have a lot of anger inside me right now. What has triggered it? What would help me find resolution for the cause of it?” Your feelings can almost be like clues on a map that help get you where you need to go. It is not wrong to feel the way you do. It’s okay to feel negative feelings; just don’t allow them to influence your behavior into negative actions.

“We ought to listen to our emotions before we start preaching to them.” –Adam S. McHugh

It is so helpful to tell someone when I’m having a hard day. I have a few friends I know I can message any time, and they will listen to me and have genuine love for me and pray for me the rest of that day. It keeps me out of denial when I talk to them, reminds me of reality and that it isn’t all bad. Their words of love and their prayers, even if they don’t always make the present moment better, give me the assurance that people are walking beside me, with their arms around me, helping me stand when I’m tired inside. One of my favorite poems at the moment expresses it so beautifully:the thing about love

It’s okay if, try as I might, I can’t get any art out on hard days. Yeah, it’s hard when I don’t feel at all creative, because creating is one of the biggest reasons I know Jesus has me where I am. But the thing about grief is that sometimes it steals energy from you, makes you lethargic and internally shriveled. That’s normal, I’ve come to understand. And saying, “Okay, nothing I’ve tried is remotely working out, so I need to stop today,” is so much different than giving up. If doing something you normally love doing just has no appeal on the hard days, you are not obligated to do it. It’s okay to take a day off. Your emotional health is important, more important than a task being completed. Do what you can, listen to your limits. And one off day does not mean you’re not capable or that you’re not doing well. You’re probably doing better than you think. Just try again tomorrow.

It’s okay if not everyone is supportive. I knew months ahead of time that I would be in this place, so I had time to solidify what I knew in my core before I had to announce it to anyone. Do I recommend waiting as long as I did? Hahaha– no. But I do recommend that you sit down with yourself and build your foundation out of what you know. What has Jesus made so clear to you? What does He say about where you are? What is He asking you to do? Know those things. Because I was completely sure of those things and placed them immovably as a piece of my foundation, when I told other people what I was doing, their opinion on it came second. People I love and look up to and respect don’t see the sense in what I’m doing; have written me e-mails saying not to; have looked down on me. But I simply cannot take any of that to heart. I know what He said. I am firmly planted in it. I still love and respect those people, but it’s okay if this is an area I can’t take their guidance in. The Lord is my guide, and if I know what He said, I have to acknowledge when some people in my life cannot speak into my situation this time. It doesn’t mean they can’t give me wise counsel again; it just means that I’m listening to Him before I listen to them.

And for every person who doesn’t understand or doesn’t support me, there are so many more rooting for me. I have beautiful people in my life who write to me sometimes just to ask, “How are the open seas right now?”, who call to see how I’m doing and say that they are excited for me, who tell me I can succeed at what I’m called to, who even offer to hang out with me on hard days. You have those people, too. It just takes patience and courageous honesty to find out who they are sometimes.

“Grief and praise go hand-in-hand.” I watched a video about grieving, and that was something he said in it. I don’t think the video was from a Christian standpoint, but this statement carries double meaning for anyone who knows Jesus, definitely. The way he meant it, he elaborated, was that we need to appreciate the things we’ve lost. It’s okay remember them fondly.

I remember what it was like to think I had my life figured out; I remember what it was like to believe that a few particular things could be part of my life; I remember every single day I spent with the people I love, and all the laughter, stories, and tears we shared; I remember the small joys in the old routines I partook in every day. I remember these things, and I smile because they were so good. It’s possible to remember them and how good they were without taunting myself with them. No, I’m not getting those things back– but I had them. I had good things, and I am so grateful for the amount of time I got to have them. I miss them, and I’m glad they’re part of my story. Two-part statement, no contradiction, using the word “and” to connect them. I appreciate the things I lost even as I grieve the loss of them.

It’s completely necessary to talk to Him, and there are so many ways to do it. I’m still learning this one, but I promise you: we cannot do this without Him. If I don’t tell Him about what I’m going through, inside and out, everything just becomes blurry and gray and even harder than before. He is here to hold us up, even if we’re angry at Him or incredibly messy or at a loss for anything to say. He’s here to receive us. We must go to Him.

Practical

Advice & Reminders for Incoming Collegiates

I recently finished my first year of college after a lifetime of homeschooling. Some might think that because it was a small Bible college and I still lived at home it wasn’t too different, but it definitely was. I’m a little shy, I live 45 minutes away from campus, I wasn’t used to homework, and I was honestly pretty mad at the college for a few experiences I’d had with it before the semester began, so there were a few things I needed to work through; Jesus had to calm me down and remind me to look around me instead of behind me. I finished the year absolutely loving it.

But I’ve realized my circumstances were slightly unique. I was 100% homeschooled, living at home, going to Bible college, and there are not hoards of people who can claim all three. Actually, I’d say by themselves none of them are the norm! Consequently, advice specific enough to fit me was a little hard to come by. That’s why I would love to share some of the things I’ve learned this year with anyone who fits any of the unique circumstances I had! I’m not at all an expert, but I learned some valuable things I wish I’d known beforehand. I’ll separate this into sections so you can look for yourself in it, but I’d say you could probably benefit from bits and pieces of every area even if you fit none of them. Here we go!

Homeschoolers:

  • taken April 14, 2014Check up with the financial aid department at the school before the summer gets rolling. Mine still needed a few papers from me!
  • Used books on Amazon are your friends. The condition doesn’t have to be great as long as it has everything it’s supposed to have. Also, keep a list that includes what you paid. You might be able to get tax credit!
  • Get a daily planner and write in the due dates of all your assignments right when you get your syllabi. This will feel slightly overwhelming and pointless, but I promise, it is so useful! I could overlook my week and figure out when the best time was to tackle an assignment; if I had barely any homework due on Monday but quite a bit on Wednesday, I would know to do some of Wednesday’s over the weekend. It’s such a handy checklist! Keep it in your backpack and write in specific details or changes when your professor brings them up. [I stole this entire idea from my writing professor, shh!]
  • Ask questions and don’t feel dumb about it. Everyone secretly wants to, and in the beginning you honestly have to. No one is going to check up on you or remind you of things anymore, but no one is going to think less of you for trying to understand something, either. Just make sure you don’t do what this guy did, haha!
  • Don’t underestimate the value of making flashcards! I relied heavily on them for my biology class and would not have done as well without them. Little drawings helped my visual brain, too.
  • Try doing as much of your homework as you can on paper. Computers are blessings, but they also make it incredibly easy to get distracted.
  • If you keep getting distracted even while doing your homework on paper, make the things that are distracting you rewards. I like to start the day with a list that alternates homework with something fun. For example: “1) Do the reading for Literature. 2) Watch Sam and Nia‘s latest vlog. 3) Mark observations in the passage for Introductory Bible Study. 4) Paint.”

Bible College Kids:

  • Check to see if your school puts on an early registration event. Not only will you know your classes (and books!) early, but it’s an excellent way to become familiar with a few of your classmates before the school year even begins.
  • Don’t associate annoying or hurtful situations with the school itself. I faced rejection from the creative arts program and from work-study, and it was so discouraging, but I allowed it to make me bitter against the school. You have to remember that the faculty and staff are human beings; the college system itself may not care about you as a person, but your teachers and leaders do. Don’t let feeling like a victim ruin all the good things God has for you there.
  • Be kind and genuine with staff members. It’s awkward to ask for simple information like the open hours of the school store, let alone serious things like the policy for excused absences. But if you have one or two people who work at the school that you actually have some sort of relationship with, it’s a lot easier and more effective. Most Christian colleges want a family atmosphere and don’t scoff at the idea student-faculty friendships, and professors actually want to get to know their students. In my case, one even invited the class to her house for a game night, and it was such a blast!
  • Being at a Christian college does not mean all of your classmates will act like Christians. But in my experience, many of the people who fall under that description won’t come back after Christmas break. However– no matter what, you need to be kind and not look down on anyone.
  • You’re going to learn so many things that will both grow and test you in your walk with Jesus. Just remember what the Bible tells us to do: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1). The fact that your professors have PhD’s doesn’t mean they’ll never be mistaken. Be respectful, but hold to what you know is true.
  • Adding to that: be honest. If you disagree with something your professor says and they are a humble person, you can go to them after class and ask for clarification. Bible college professors should be open to questions and discussions, and if you present your perspective kindly and humbly (and with the motive of understanding, not displaying your knowledge) they should happy to listen. Unfortunately, not every professor will be this way, but in my experience phrasing my disagreement as a gentle and genuinely curious question makes a lot of ground.
  • If you’re working on a project you’re deeply passionate about but you’ve reached a standstill, ask for prayer support. The enemy might not like what you’re discovering, and you need to keep discovering it!
  • Make sure you don’t act like you’re an especially wise Christian simply because you’re a Bible college student. Yes, you have things to share and you should share them, but do so with the amount of excitement that you had when you received them. Christians can be incredibly wise, if they have a ministry degree or if they never set foot on a Bible college campus.
  • Set aside time to spend intentionally with Jesus, even if your homework involves Bible reading. It’s just not the same.

Homebodies:

  •  If you don’t have your driver’s license, go get it right now. This is not advice, this is a command from the girl who didn’t get it until her second semester of college. You should be able to spend your spare moments doing your homework, investing in people, and sleeping– not practicing your driving. Plus, it’s all kinds of not fun.
  • Photo credit: Taya! [Dear everyone in this photo, I love that I can tell who's who just by our shoes!]If you still need tuition money, start looking for a job before school starts. Work study is great, but there’s not a guarantee that you will get it; I found out two days into the school year that I wasn’t accepted for work study, and suddenly I was looking for a few thousand dollars more than I’d thought I needed.
  • Sometimes, it will feel weird that you’ve made such a life change yet are living in the same place. And that is okay. Just make sure you still intentionally enjoy your family when you can, even if it means being in the room with them as you do homework. Things in your life have changed, but your close relationships with your parents/siblings/whoever don’t have to. Remember that this is a whole new experience for you, but they might not be experiencing feelings of overwhelming change like you are.
  • Go to school events. Yes, gas prices are a thing, but this is one of the best ways to build friendships! Interacting with people in a fun atmosphere is much different than sitting next to them in class. Don’t let your commute be an excuse to succumb to your fears.
  • For some reason, packing lunch is embarrassing. But half the time, people are actually envious of you because they’re stuck with cafeteria food or McDonalds as you eat a homemade meal. Keep packing that lunch, you blessed and money-savvy person!
  • On the topic of lunch, keeping mints in my lunch bag is one of the best ideas I’ve had. Okay, maybe not, but it is pretty handy.
  • There are definitely other commuters who would love to hang out with you during Christmas break/spring break. Go shopping for sweaters on clearance then accidentally wear them to school on the same day, obsess over books, eat at Noodles & Company, watch Frozen! Spending time with friends completely outside of school is so much fun and somehow makes it surreal that you have these people in your life.
  • Keep in contact with friends you already have. Call, write letters, send care packages, hug. They are so, so important!

I hope this was helpful or encouraging in some way! Do you fit any of these categories? Do you have any questions I might be able to answer? Would you add anything to what I’ve said?

Practical

The “Thy Will Be Done” Cup

     I love this project! I found it in “Even God Rested” by Kim Thomas (a great read; my review here) last summer and made it on a whim; now I use it often and it sits proudly on my desk! To make a “Thy Will Be Done” Cup:

  1. Find a cheap or no longer used mug or cup.
  2. Write Luke 22:42 on a slip of paper, and tape it to the cup: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. You can also use a decorative sticky note like I did.
  3. Cut small slips of paper and write one thing you surrender to God on each one– worries, habits, fears, thoughts, etc.
  4. Leave the cup out, along with more paper and a pen, so you can surrender daily.  Let it serve as a reminder that God is active and carries you!

     What is the purpose of it, you ask? It’s a tool to help you remember to surrender your will to God’s. It makes you more serious about giving something up if you write it down, believe it or not! When you write something down and put it in that cup, a little bit of the weight already feels lifted. I can’t tell you how many resolutions come back into my head and heart when I look at my old Hello Kitty cup! Just remember that the cup won’t surrender for you. You have to purposefully make efforts to let God have your burdens, to cast your cares on Him. He promises to do these things for you. Just listen to Him and say “Yes!”, and you will be amazed as you look through the papers after a few months how many things He has worked in!