Soul Food

Soul Food {October 2017}

I am always channeling Anne Shirley, but it’s especially apparent when I obsess over the natural beauty of October all month long. Inwardly, this month has been weird, but also good; I’m ready to enter into a new one with a fresh mindset. Here’s a peek at some of the art and media that kept me company as I grew.

Music21686288_513911482284859_1899743120258588754_n

  • “The Sky is a Neighborhood” by Foo Fighters. This is going to be a classic someday. What a solid, meaningful rock ballad.
  • “Diving” by Bridgit Mendler ft. RKCB. Everything about it feels so dreamy and unreal, yet it’s vulnerable, too. I’m obsessed. The music video is also cool and ethereal.
  • Nick Voelker’s “Ghost Friendly” album. I so enjoy his unique acoustic-driven style and charming voice, and he pairs it with some sincere and poetic songwriting. I think every song on the album is worthwhile and good; my favorites might be “Distance” (so beautiful) “The Afterglow” “Momentum” and “Temporary.”
  • Emily Hearn’s “Paris, or Wherever We Are” ep. I celebrate female artists who have rich voices, poetic lyrics, and cozy melodies. Representation is important; when we see people like us doing things we wish we could do, we start to believe we can do them. Emily is one of those inspirations for me. This is ep is lovely and tells a story between the lines.
  • Cody Fry’s “Flying” album. He is such a skilled musician and writer, and this album puts those gifts on display. I love his incorporation of orchestral elements (recorded by a live orchestra; you can feel the difference it makes), 80s-inspired beats, and hints of swinging jazz with a more modern twist.  The title track was timely and wrecked me, so much so that I honestly struggle to listen to it now; it’s that real. Other favorites are “Better” “Go” “Falling in Love” “Want Me Back” “A Little More” and “I Hear a Symphony.”
  • “Do You..” by CASS. Her passionate and modern style pairs well with her non-cliché faith-based songwriting, which isn’t something I feel a lot of CCM artists have pulled off lately; I really enjoy what I’ve heard from her.
  • Will Champlin’s cover of “Angel Dream.” Gentle, emotional, and lovely laced with his wonderfully raspy voice.
  • “Hericane” by LANY. I feel like I mention a song from this album every month, but I’m okay with that. “I love you still, I always will, but you’re the one in the wrong…”

If you want all of this music in one place, I have a playlist! It’s on YouTube and on Spotify; scroll to the bottom for the newest additions.

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  • Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I didn’t have expectations for it, since this is the fifth film in the franchise and we didn’t honestly need the fourth, but I ended up really enjoying it! The new characters are loveable and that ending was so satisfying. Also, I’m not unconvinced that Brenton Thwaites wasn’t created in a lab to play Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s offspring. Speaking of which…
  • I’ve watched quite a few Brenton Thwaites interviews. Because after seeing him in Pirates I thought this young man had a bright future in film and I wanted to see what he was doing next. It turns out he’s not a child, he’s 28 and has a child. And he’s been acting for years and has already done a bunch of big projects both in the US and Australia; I’ve just been oblivious. Anyway, I really enjoyed this interview with him. He seems intelligent and free-spirited and fun.
  • Designated Survivor. I’m not as invested this season as I was last season, but there’s enough to keep me watching for now.
  • The Good Doctor. Although I stopped following his career when he landed Bates Motel (much too creepy for me), I’ve always thought Freddie Highmore was a fantastic actor. I like seeing him take on this new role of a young surgeon with autism; so far he’s nailing it! Not every episode is great writing-wise, though. And sometimes the surgery footage is too much for me.
  • The Mentalist. Just started season five, and it’s getting real.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming. Because it came out on dvd and I own it and I’m so happy about it.
  • Kati Morton’s video on handling flashbacks. Kati is a licensed therapist and her videos on mental health/self care are such a helpful resource.
  • This Andrew Garfield interview. I get proud little sisters feelings for him often, even when he’s a goof.
  • War for The Planet of The Apes. A stunning end to a stunning trilogy. My family unanimously loved it. Caesar is such a cool character and his story holds so much.
  • The Sixth Sense. My brother introduced me to it this Halloween. Compelling, entertaining, and surprising. I’m not at all a fan of scary movies but this was more eerie than scary; I really enjoyed it.

Books/Blogs/Articleschaos-walking

  • The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness. I went into it not knowing if I’d like them– and I fell in love with them. They begin with a boy named Todd who lives in a town of all men, where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in endless streams of Noise. He’s been told their history, about a virus that killed all the women and gave all the men their Noise, but when he finds a pocket of silence (and the source of it) out in the woods, he starts learning maybe he wasn’t told the truth, and seeing how dangerous the truth might be. These are so gripping, thematically valuable, and special. I wrote in-depth reviews on my Goodreads for each book– The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Ask and The Answer, and Monsters of Men— if you’re interested. I so recommend these books. There are also three short stories that go with the series and are meant to be “half-books,” and they’re interesting, too, though not necessary to understanding the trilogy.
  • “Rumors of the Real” by Sarah Bessey. “Someday we may stand before Jesus like I stood before Van Gogh’s paintings in that gallery. We will be overwhelmed with beautiful reality, tears falling down our face, all arguments and timelines and histories and opinions and theologies cast down to roll away to the corners because their insufficiency to fully see and understand and touch the clarity of God.”
  • “The Reverse Side of Hospitality” by Addie Zierman. Vulnerable and lovely insight about being on the receiving end when you’re used to being the giver. “I can invite others into the spaciousness of my own heart. I can receive the gift of a place to stay.”
  • “There’s Blessing in the Longing” by Glenna Marshall. A friendly, knowing voice to sit with you in the ache for a few minutes.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Engaging, witty, sweet, heartbreaking, and important.
  • I also gave up on two books this month, because I finally realized I am not obligated to keep reading something I’m not enjoying or learning from.

What fed you this month?

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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?

Blossoms of an Artist

I Started an Etsy Shop!

art drawerThe idea to sell my artwork and some of my other creative projects through Etsy has been in my head for over a year. But I immediately faced discouragement when I first began vocalizing it, so I mostly shoved the thought away.

In November, however, I was given an opportunity that I so wanted to take hold of. It was going to cost more money than I had (or would have any time in the near future), but I had such a desire for it that I was ready to start taking the idea of an Etsy shop seriously and see if I could raise funds that way. I began to research, ask friends who had experience, and work on what I was going to be selling.

But because my situation is unique (living with my family and working on creative pursuits from home, with no income to speak of), I faced a lot of setbacks during the process. Starting a business was intimidating. Okay: it was terrifying. I was determined to push through the fear, but running into roadblock after roadblock was becoming more spirit-crushing with every instance. And when the opportunity that had spurred me to start working on this in the first place fell through… I just kind of left everything alone. I didn’t intend to give up. But I did give up.

When I had been working to build the business and began facing discouragement, the Lord had been so clearly and openly supportive of me. He pointed me to the story of the Eiffel Tower; when it was being built, the art community in Paris was circulating a petition to stop the work, claiming it would be an ugly mark on a beautiful area in the city. The builders continued anyway, and created a piece of artwork so widely loved that it has become an icon. He told me this story, and encouraged me to keep building. I wanted to listen. For a while, I did. But eventually I let the discouragement get to me.

Lately I have been revisiting some of our conversations from that season, and seeing what He said and didn’t say… and what I did and didn’t do. Etsy was something He said was good. And something I have ignored. I don’t want that to be the case anymore.

Last week– I opened my Etsy shop. Tessa Maye Makes Things is alive.

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I know I will face challenges. But I will face them, as they come, instead of letting them cripple me or keep me from something that could be good. I am nervous. But when I put the final piece of information in and saw my shop go live for the first time? I took a deep breath. I felt relieved, and I felt hopeful. I’m not going to ignore that.

If you want to check out my artwork/projects, feel free to visit the shop! I am brainstorming more ideas for it already. But, if nothing else, I want to urge you: that thing that still invades your mind sometimes? That He placed a desire for in you? That maybe He’s even told you He’d support you in?

Keep building.

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

Life as a Wind Rider

Hopes I Lived in 2016 {Part One}

My greatest fear is that what I hope for will not come to pass. There are so many good things I want to experience, and with every disappointment I face I become terrified that they won’t work out. That is why I keep a list.

I have an ever-growing list of things I hope for. I call them my “looking forward to” lists, to keep me trusting. Last year I decided to see how many things I’d lived from them– and found the number was fifty-six.

Dreams are made for life. Sometimes, it really doesn’t look that way. But I still believe it’s true.

And to strengthen that belief, I’m sharing some of the dreams I lived in 2016– of the 77 total. Let’s do it.

Reading more books. | Reading the Jesus Storybook Bible. | Reading more fairy tales. | Reading the Anne of Green Gables series. | Reading If You Feel Too Much.

I set my reading challenge to thirty books this year because I thought, “I was in college half of last year and I still managed to read 18 books! I can read thirty this year for sure!” I didn’t quite realize that I like taking my sweet time to read; I didn’t even reach 18 this year. What I did read, however, was overall wonderful. My favorites were probably The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr. Susan Jeffers (I wrote about it), and the last four books in the Anne of Green Gables series. You can see everything I read this year on my Goodreads Year in Books.

Going to more concerts. | Going to a rap concert.concertssssss

I was surprisingly able to go to a handful of shows this year! Meigan and I saw Rend Collective in February, which was a wonderful time of what felt like a family gathering; my mom and I took a mini road trip to Fish Fest in August with Cindy and Jamie, where we spent all day in the hot sun to see many acts, including Switchfoot (they played the song I secretly hoped they would and my heart soared); and in September I got to take a fun trip with Meigan and Brandon to see NF and Fleurie, two artists I admire so much.

Holding babies.

I did this often because I volunteered in a nursery. I also realized that working with children is not my passion, and stopped doing it. It was a weird discovery, but I think I’m relieved to not be guilting myself into serving a certain way anymore.

Seeing meaningful new movies. | Seeing new Pixar movies.

I’m not as much of a movie person as I once was; I do a lot more rewatching of films I already love as opposed to exploring new ones. But I still got to watch quite a few stories that touched me in some way this year. It terms of new films/Pixar films? Finding Dory was so, so wonderful and Rogue One shocked me with how much it made me feel.

Getting better at painting. | Making art that gets me excited when I finish it. Getting better at art-journaling. artttt

I practiced with acrylics a lot more this year and have become much more comfortable with them. Working in an art journal was a great way to try out different ideas and expand the ways I create. Something I’ve learned this year is that the greater volume of things you make, the more okay you are with making imperfect things, because you know there’s a lot more to come and that you’re getting better all the time. [The prompt journal I’ve used is the Wreck This Journal, if you’re interested in trying it out!]

Hiking a calm little forest trail. | Being reunited with college family. | Having a simple breakfast with people I love.spencers-hike-group

I got to spend a day last month with most of my little group of friends from college. It was refreshing to see them again. It’s also becoming refreshing to feel less tied down to what things were like in college and to welcome what’s here now. I’d never hiked this particular butte, and the view was wildly wonderful even on the cloudy day. I love Oregon. [Photo by Cooper]

friendiverseryIn August, I also happened to be in the same place with the three original friends I met during orientation years ago! We’re still cuties, aren’t we? [Photo by Meigan]

Buying scented candles and lighting them all the time. | Smelling roses and other wonderful smells.

I actually started using a candle warmer this year! I like how long the wax cubes last (much longer than a regular candle), and discovering where to find new scents.

Visiting the coast again. | Camping with people I adore.coastttt

I spent a night in a yurt with my grandparents. It was rainy and cold, but we found graffiti under a bridge and cried laughing while playing Jenga and Bananagrams. The next day was much more sunny; we visited a lighthouse and a lookout point. Oregon, man…

Taking a class from my beloved writing teacher again.

I wrote this on my first “looking forward to” list. I wasn’t sure at that point in time if I’d ever go back to college or not, but now I’m sure I won’t (which is completely fine with me; preferable, actually). But when I found it in my lists as I was preparing to write this post, I stopped for a minute and sat in all the emotions that came. My writing teacher died this summer. I’d experienced grief before, but not like I experienced it for her. She was supportive of me and invested in my growth during a time when I could have given up on myself. I still remember what she taught me, both in writing and in being a person, every single day. I love you and miss you, Ms. Lee.

Learning an instrument. | Feeling more skilled in things I currently feel like an amateur in. | Having my passion for music be known by the people around me, instead of bottled within myself.

Last year, if you had asked me what I do, I would vaguely mention art; I was ashamed of my skill level in music, didn’t feel like a true music-maker. That has changed this year. I’ve discovered songs in my ancient Casio’s keys during my frequent playtime with it, and teaching myself to play a few songs through YouTube tutorials has been helping me train my ear and get better at using both hands. I love saying, “I play with piano.” It’s truly like a delightful game for me. I have so much more to learn, but I am learning, and I love it. Music is home.

Setting up my easel and painting somewhere outside. | Having painting parties.artttt-oopsssss

When your best friend calls you asking if you can come over “like, right now” and paint with her from a birdwatching tower, you say yes. Such sweet times with her. Thanks for getting me to dip my toes in the world of oil paints, Sierra. It inspired me to go and paint the lake I grew up next to the next week.

dsc07810I also had a few friends over to play around with watercolor near my birthday. Look at how great they did (mine’s the one that looks like it’s framed by fruit loops ignore that one)!

Getting letters from people I love. | Writing letters.skinners-with-katie

Always writing to Katie from across the country, except now she gets to write about her wedding plans! Love her so much. She came to visit during the summer.

Discovering more musicians I’ll cherish forever. | Growing more associations with albums and seasons of my life.

The most impactful discoveries this year were NF, Fleurie, Anthem Lights, Jeremiah Daly, and Kings Kaleidoscope. You’ll find them all on the playlist I made throughout 2016, which is on both YouTube and Spotify if you want to eavesdrop.

Adopting a pet. | Holding adorable little animals.dsc07779

Jonas came into my life in October. I wrote about him.

Wearing more pretty dresses.

I became a little obsessed with my black and white striped dress, and may have just gotten a navy and white striped dress with longer sleeves because I like the look so much…

 Seeing my best friend again and going on a random little adventure with her.

Our adventure this year didn’t go as we planned. But with all the children’s books, car talks, tea, bad karaoke, borrowed pajamas, and Eloise at Christmastime gushing? We’re still my favorite.

Coloring with children.

My dad had me watch his friend’s granddaughter on the fourth of July; her adventurous spirit and ability to color way beyond her age’s typical skill level were wonderful surprises.

Making notebooks for friends.

I don’t make them for my own school notes anymore, so I like being able to still put them in schools somehow. Having my friends be the vessels is the best way I can think of.

Making prayer-art a regular part of my life.

In high school I met a woman who “prayed in color;” she’d paint in a journal whatever came to her mind as she prayed, and was able to express some of the wordless things she was feeling. I was inspired and wanted to do the same thing, but it didn’t really connect for me like it seemed to for her. I’ve learned that it serves a different purpose for me. When a friend asks me to pray for them in a specific way, sometimes I’ll feel like I’m supposed to paint about it, so I’ll do that as I pray, and will often send them the artwork afterwards with a note about any impression I was getting. I also feel driven to create when tragedy hits the world in some way.

Watching fireworks at our annual Fourth of July barbeques.

I went through a video-making phase during the summer, so I have this year’s fireworks set to music. You can watch it here.

Playing Loaded Questions.

We played for hours at a church group I go to; I laughed harder than I had in a very long time. We’re good at being a bit intense in our discussions, so it was nice to have a light-hearted night and get to know each other’s personalities a bit more.

Making more quote signs.principles-painting

A pretty common practice for me, but always fun. And the past month or so, I’ve been working out some plans concerning my little encouragement posters! Hopefully you will hear about it soon.

Writing about some of the big things. | Finding new things to write about.

I wrote about being kind to myself; about having flaws, and how maybe that’s okay; about forgiveness that doesn’t stop being necessary; about getting defensive on the internet; about using religion as a tool instead of a fence; about being hopeful despite the fear of getting crushed; about not finding a place shaped like me; about love being the cure; about shame, and what it was like to grow up in church; about my pornography addiction and honesty; about God’s revelation to me concerning anxiety and the tools He’s given me to replace it; about my promise to be your friend in our differences… yeah. Some of the big things.

Seeing friendships grow deeper. | Hugging people I love.dsc07791

Two of my favorite things about life. Enjoy this photo of my sister and I near our birthdays.

Finding a purse that suits me.

I haven’t had good luck with purses because I don’t want to lug around something big, yet I want room for a sketchbook or journal amongst my other little things. Finally found something in a good size that’s also pretty cute (and it was on sale)!

Driving in tree-filled areas during the fall.

My situation is a little different from what it was last year, and I was a bit downtrodden when I realized I probably wasn’t going to be able to drive much, if at all, this fall. But I did get to drive a few times. And one particular day, I drove under so many trees that I was able to be in the dance of what felt like hundreds of leaves by the time I reached my destination. Grace.

Owning more band merchandise.

The concerts I went to this year helped! I super enjoy my t-shirt with some of my favorite Switchfoot lyrics, and my NF hat (I’ve discovered a love a good ball cap, by the way).

Watching more episodes of great web series.

Oh my goodness, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party came out this year and I loved it! Not only is it hilarious, but it’s super well-written with a mystery that I couldn’t nail down until the very end. If you want to see classic authors blame each other for murder in the most hilarious ways, but also be curious and in the dark along with them, definitely check out Poe Party!

Giving and receiving words of love on our message board.

We do this super often now that only two of us are home during the day. My mom writes little notes every single morning; sometimes there are puns…

Making food for people.

I put the frozen pizza in the oven every Monday night. I’m saying that counts.

Drinking strawberry lemonade.gee-katie

I’m not the biggest fan of Roadhouse Grill, but we go there once a year for my parents’ anniversary and I get the strawberry lemonade every single time. Wow it is good. I also had watermelon lemonade at a little picnic with Katie and G’ma Edie this summer.

Writing new poems that express what I want them to.

I’ve written a poem every day this year. Not only has it helped me as a writing exercise (if you’re a writer of any kind, study/read/write poetry; it teaches economy of words and gets your head voice familiar with what sounds right), but sometimes it’s my opportunity to get what’s inside me out and find the starting point of some closure or insight. Gems have come from it, at least in my perspective. I’m working on figuring out what to do with them.

You can find my “looking forward to” lists here, here, and here.

Next week I will be posting part two of the hopes I lived this year!

Testimonies

On Struggling & Peace

I don’t usually like telling the stories behind my artwork. Often I want to, but then I remember a friend who told me about a piece of mine that connected a few dots for her. What she gained from it was not at all what I’d meant in those brushstrokes, but it was just as meaningful. I don’t want to ruin the beauty in what you see by sharing what I thought you’d see.

But this time… I need to tell you. It matters to me that you know what it means.

I painted this piece yesterday:DSC05919

There’s a story behind it, but it’s not a complete story; it’s honestly just an early paragraph of what I’m still living. The prologue: I struggle with anxiety sometimes. And sometimes I can’t fall asleep because I’m just so alert and afraid. What am I afraid of? Honestly, I don’t really know. Fear doesn’t have to make sense, because it’s the practice of telling stories to yourself. If something isn’t real, it doesn’t have to make sense to terrify you, because you believe it’s real.

I haven’t always known what to do in situations like these; only in the past year have I recognized how big of a struggle anxiety can be for me. I didn’t know there was anything I could do. But now, when I’m lying in bed and my heart is pounding and I don’t want to move or open my eyes– I breathe. I inhale deeply, and exhale long. I do it over and over until the wave passes.

At some point, I realized the best way this worked for me was when I visualized Jesus lying there with me, leading me in my breaths like a faithful husband would. And it’s not something I’m imagining in the sense that I’m projecting Him into my situation. He is there with me, and He is leading me into peace. It’s real. I simply need some semblance of His physical presence when I’m that hyper-aware of my surroundings. And He meets me there, and He stays.

One night, I was anxious, but not to the point of panic. I simply closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

He gave me a vision.

In the vision, I was lying on a giant, royal blue pillow of silk. It waved like the sea, and it floated among the stars. On that pillow, I was at peace.

“It’s me,” He whispered. “You’re with me.”

I haven’t been able to forget it.

Life and being a person have been a bit difficult lately; I’m struggling with a lot of fears and doubts. Normally, I’d be the first person to turn all this into an encouragement. Which isn’t a bad thing, and I do hope you find encouragement here. But if I were to do that completely intentionally this time, it wouldn’t be the fully honest thing.

The honest thing to do with all of this is to tell you that sometimes, things get hard. And sometimes when things get hard, you know what you need to do; you know the simple truth and what response it calls for. But sometimes… even the simple thing is incredibly difficult.

I know the key to peace is to rest inside my Father and His strength. I know it. I know it’s what my vision meant. And it’s such a simple act to lay down your burdens and just lie on your Father’s chest, to let Him take care of you and find peace in Him. Yet it is something I am working so hard to do right now. I trust Him. But I also fear what’s to come. Which means there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust Him. And it takes a lot of effort every day to silence that part of me, to break out of my worries and just let Him be my peace.

I want to tell you to rest in Him, to let Him do the work, to trust Him. And I do tell you that, whole-heartedly. A mind focused on Him the key to peace. But I also can’t tell you that without also telling you even rest can be hard sometimes. Because we have to keep actively choosing to remain in it, when there are countless distractions trying to steal us away. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we can trust Him; that He loves us right where we are, and isn’t angrily demanding more from us; that His invitation into rest is a warm entreaty He’s making because He wants to be with us and wants to love us well.

I think that’s why He gave me the vision, and why I felt I needed to paint it and tell you about it. Like I need to visualize His presence in my anxious nights, sometimes I need to see that His presence is here for me to find safety in, here for me to delight in… here. With me. When I’m overwhelmed or afraid, I think of the vision and the world slows down for a few moments; now when I look at my wall, maybe I’ll remember to snuggle close. And maybe you’ll remember the picture when you’re feeling burdened, too. Maybe it could help you. How wild would that be?

Sometimes peace takes work. And sometimes, when we fully believe in how loved we are, we rest in knowing the hardest parts have been done for us.

Testimonies · Thanksgiving Projects · The Basics

There Is More: On Gratitude

I’ve been keeping gratitude lists for around three months now. Ann Voskamp shared undeniable evidence in her book, One Thousand Gifts, that joy comes from gratitude, evidence I just could not argue against. I don’t know why I wanted to argue, why I didn’t want to believe there was a key to joy; maybe I thought it was too easy, and feared that meant I was responsible for my own bitterness. Well, that fear was real. I did have to own up to my cynical heart, and it didn’t feel good at all. Even as I began to write gratitude lists, I was still battling with struggles and sadnesses, and my circumstances didn’t get better.

I kept writing. I kept listing the things I saw, things that were good around me, even if it was something like “donuts,” or “paint marks on my skin,” or “warm hugs from a friend.” And I started seeing that giving attention to the good things does not mean ignoring the bad things– it means celebrating that there’s more in life than the bad things.

Ann described it as winning back some ground. When we see and name and give our attention to the good things, we are telling the bad things that they don’t reign; we are keeping the hard things from taking more room than they require or deserve. There is more to life. There is pain and hardship, yes, and there is more. When I started using the lists as a way to see the good, instead of a way to fix what was wrong, my heart began to change. And when I started being grateful to the Lord for those things, instead of simply being grateful inside myself, I started seeing that it was His love surrounding me.

Everything, everything, is a gift. And in times like this, when I am reminded just how messed up and broken I am, it hits me that I don’t deserve anything. That absolutely everything is grace. Everything is given to me by my Father, for my good; given because He loves me. Sometimes I still write the lists out of habit because the hard things seem more prevalent than the good. But my love for my Father grows every day, as He continues to love and I learn to love back by saying “thank you” for each gift I can find. There is always more. There is always grace.

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”  -John the Baptist, in John 3:27

Every November, I do some kind of gratitude/positivity project for Thanksgiving. Because gratitude lists are a daily habit for me now, this year’s project is a collage of the gifts I recorded in my journal, written on strips of paper with colorful markers. There are numerous layers to this collage, and it was made solely during the month of November.

Immeasurable grace, all around me, hardly captured. I can never stop being grateful.DSC02569