Friday, February 24, 2017

Roll My Windows Down and Find Myself a Good Song || road trip mix tape

I have something special for you today—a playlist I use mainly for driving, road trips, and the occasional hour at work when I need a little extra motivation to get things done.

These are some of my all-time favorite songs, not all my favorite songs, but a lot of my recent favorites with a few good oldies sprinkled in here and there. You will find an odd assortment of folk, folk rock, rock, pop, and folk pop, and that indescribable orchestral amazingness that is Future of Forestry’s latest album. This past year has been a year of discovering a lot of new artists and music and I have to thank many of my friends, mainly my barista-coffee-wizard friends, because we all know they know where it’s at when it comes to the best vibes and the best music.

In order to listen to the playlist, you need to download Spotify onto your computer. If you do not have Spotify on your computer you can listen on the web player. I promise this is not a sponsored blog post (if only I had sponsors!) 

Last winter my parents took a post-Christmas vacation to Gulf Shores, AL. My sister’s in-laws happen to live in the area so we got to spend some time with my sister and her husband as well as their extended family. Their family has deep roots in Alabama to the land itself. I often think this is something we miss in the rapid-paced and ever-transient lifestyles of our world today. We miss that connection to the land itself. I remember an Irish pastor telling me this very thing years ago during a youth conference in Pittsburgh, PA but I had little idea what he was talking about until I saw my brother-in-law’s grandfather and realized what it means to love the land you were born in, to own the land and belong to it at the same time. My brother-in-law’s grandfather, who we all know affectionately as Papaw, showed us around his old farm house and property. I could sense the history there but could only imagine all of the memories stored up in those hundred acres. He also gave us a tour of the airport where he has worked for many years now, which also happens to be the airport where he says his grandson “caught the fever just like his father” and by fever he meant “the impulse and desire to fly airplanes”.

The majority of our vacation was spent with just the five of us, me, my parents, and my two youngest siblings. It was refreshing because while I see my entire family on a weekly basis, it has been a while since I was able to go travel with them and have these particular family members exclusively to myself. These days my two youngest siblings are growing up extremely fast. We had a lot of conversations and adventures during this week and it seemed every other moment I was remarking to myself—wow, they are so grown up. We explored the old Fort Morgan at Fort Morgan Beach and absorbed a lot of Civil War history. My father has been a Civil War buff since his high school days. It is a miserable point in our history, to be sure, but there is also something very romantic and beautiful about the era that was lost.

We took a day trip to Mobile, AL during our stay in Gulf Shores and explored the USS Alabama Memorial. World War II is another war set against the backdrop of a romanticized era. The music. The fashion. The movies. The hairstyles. My brother Calvin and I set about to reach the highest point of the ship and the lowest. We explored the ship for more than four hours and we made it to the top or as far as they would let us go but we still were not able to see every corner of it. Ultimately we did not make it down to the engine rooms. All the while I was thinking of 2500 men aboard this ship and how much it had to stink when they were out at sea.

While driving the sixteen-some hours to Alabama and back to Oklahoma we listened to David McCollough’s Truman with music interludes provided by my Spotify playlists. The crowd favorite was my Disney playlist and I have to say Disney music was made for long car rides. Show tunes are the best kinds of tunes to sing along with and everybody always loves them. We also played this playlist quite a bit, the one I shared up above. Now this music will forever be associated with winding roads, tall pine forests, the Mississippi river, golden misty mornings, and the anticipation of adventure!

Friday, February 17, 2017

This Singular Love

This article was heavily inspired by this article and all of you beautiful, powerful, single, land-mermaids out there who have blessed me and so many with your love, passion, insight, intelligence, wisdom, and friendship. 

This week Valentine’s Day kind of snuck up on me and then slipped passed somewhat unceremoniously. I had the notion to write a “single on Valentine’s Day” article for my blog, something comforting and empowering for single women, but I simply did not have the time this last weekend or earlier this week so Valentine’s Day came and went without much fanfare. However, if you are in fact a single young woman and you spent Valentine’s Day depressed and alone then I suggest you read this wonderful article by Rachel Heffington on her site Lipstick & Gelato. She expressed all the thoughts and feelings better than I ever could and her article reflects much of what I have been thinking about myself and my life recently.

Last year I began dreaming again for the first time in a few years. But somehow my dreams always ended with “when I get married” as if all my plans and ambitions depended on whether or not I got married and when I got married. Eventually I simply stopped. I stopped planning and dreaming as though marriage was inevitable and instead I honestly asked myself the question, “What if I don’t ever get married? What if that's not what's next? Not now or ever?” I was surprised with the answer because while it is a little disappointing to think I might never marry, I also know there are so many things I can do as a single woman, things I might not be able to accomplish otherwise. I think of my nieces and nephews and how I could be a sort of benefactress to them. I think of the church and how much I could give of my time, energy, and means. I think of becoming disgustingly educated and qualified. I think of going overseas, going across the country—there is so much I could do!

Conversely, marriage should not be the end of my singular dreams, ambitions, and identity. Certainly it will affect them and maybe even change them, but not end them. Marriage offers its set of boundless possibilities, but being single comes with its own limitless set of opportunities and perhaps the two do not differ as much as we think they do. Recently I realized many of my friends are single women. Some of them are young. Some of them are middle-aged. Some of them are elderly. All of them have contributed to my life in remarkable ways. All of them have given so much to this world, to their families and loved ones, to the church. I look at their lives and I think—yeah, if that’s me in twenty years, I would be really happy. Honestly, I think I could be happy single or no, but I’m not ruling out singleness.

This past Valentine’s Day whizzed by without a lot of ceremony. I was exhausted from the previous day of work and late-night studying but I pushed through another long day of work and a long evening/night of Biology labs and finally an exam. I arrived home just as my sister-roomie got home from a marriage counseling session with her fiancée. Yeah, we have all had marriage on our minds lately. My sister had brought me some Valentine’s chocolate and some other goodies because being single should never mean missing out on chocolate. As we sat in our living room and shared my chocolate over an episode of “Friends” she remarked, “Hm, I should have gotten you more chocolate.”

Needless to say, I felt very loved on Valentine’s Day and all week and all these past months and this year. It’s not simply the love of my family and friends; it’s the love of God that has been so real, present, and active in my life these last 12 months. He has always been present and active in my life but there are definitely seasons when he is quiet and when he does not feel so near. I know it is simply my subjective human experience, but I am still thankful for the seasons when his love seems to be radiating from every sunset in the evening and through every note of praise on a Sunday morning. I also have to say that my love has also been greater this year. My love for life, for God, for my family and friends. My affection and appreciation for these has grown deeper even if it is often poorly demonstrated. I would contend that when we feel unloved and alone it is not because we are unloved and alone but it is because we have forgotten how to love, we have forgotten to love, we have forgotten everything and everyone there is to love, and we have forgotten the God and Savior we ought to always love.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sacrifice and Simplicity || New Year's Resolutions Review

This year I did not make a lot of New Year’s resolutions. I resolved to keep pursuing my education and college degree and that was about it apart from one other less-significant resolution. I resolved to stop wearing make-up. For the past six years I have worn make-up on my face on a near-daily basis. It helps to give me more confidence and makes me look less like fourteen-year-old. But lately it started to bother me. It bothered me that I spent fifteen to twenty minutes every morning painting my face instead of eating breakfast and reading my Bible. It bothered me that I was spending precious energy deciding whether I should wear eyeshadow or eyeliner in the mornings, energy that I could be using at work. And then all that work putting my face on just to wash it off at night and do it all again the next day!

I decided to save myself some sleep, time, energy, and money this year and simply not bother with it.

One month into this year and I have to say this resolution is by far the best I have ever made.

Foregoing make-up prompted me to think about all of the other things in my life I invest time and money in—things that do not enhance my life whatsoever. I realized that all of the resolutions I had made in the past fell through because I was going about it all wrong. I was trying to do more—read more, exercise more, eat healthier, cook more, sleep more, memorize more—without realizing that in order to do more I had to first do less. I had to make space in my life.

Maybe you are looking at your list of resolutions with regret, having already failed to follow through even after one month’s time. Or I don’t know, maybe you are an overachiever who always succeeds at everything. Whatever. But if you are one of those people who, like me, struggles to actually make substantial change in your life, if you hesitate to make resolutions for fear of inevitably disappointing yourself, maybe it is because you are focusing too much on all of the things you should be doing instead of looking for the things in your life you could stop doing.

For example, say you resolved to read 100 books this year but you already spend most of your free time binge-watching Netflix. In order to reasonably accomplish your goal you will probably have to give up watching Netflix and maybe even deactivate your Netflix account for this year until you have reached your goal. Because the truth is you do not really want something unless you are willing to make sacrifices for it.

So, before you resolve to accomplish something new this year, think about what you need to sacrifice in order to make space in your life to make your resolutions happen. Before you claim to really want something, consider what you are willing to sacrifice for it. 
“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ” 
 Henry David Thoreau

Friday, January 27, 2017

Stop Telling Me I Am Perfect || Beauty in a Broken World

Most mornings I wake up and look in the mirror with the same kind of disparaging resignation as Mia Thermopolis. I sigh and tell myself, “As always, this is as good as it’s going to get!” I have never thought of myself as particularly pretty. My facial features are square and boyish at best, closely resembling a gangly fourteen-year-old in need of some orthodontia. My consolation is that I have a great personality and sense of humor to compensate for what I lack by way of looks.

I was fortunate to have been raised by parents and siblings who valued characteristics like intelligence, independence, and integrity more than appearance. Consequently I never believed my looks were my most valuable contribution to this world. As I said, I have never thought of myself as being particularly pretty but to me this has always been a consequential rather than problematic reality. Unfortunately for a lot of women, it is a problem. Appearance is such a big concern for us that entire industries make a profit from manufacturing beauty and anti-aging products to help us defy whatever natural deficiencies we believe we have. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with beauty products or wanting to be beautiful. I appreciate any occasion to dress up and feel pretty. There is nothing wrong in taking care of your body, eating healthy, and exercising. But sometimes I think we make too much of it. We make too much of trying to retain youthful bodies and skin. We make too much of everything we lack instead of appreciating the gifts and abilities God has given us. We spend so much time trying to compensate for our deficiencies instead of realizing what we have to give and contribute to this world. We forget how brief this life is, how quickly it will be over, and how soon forever will be upon us. We forget that this life was meant to be spent not preserved. 

These days any sort of self-deprecation, especially among women, is met with an onslaught of validation and reassurance. “You are beautiful! God made you this way for a purpose and you are perfect.” I sincerely believe that God designs each of us for a specific purpose and I try to see His beautiful and good handiwork in all of His creation, but part of me also has to acknowledge that since sin, sickness, and death entered the world (Genesis 3), we have all fallen far from perfection, so far that I am not sure we would recognize perfection if we saw it.

I can look at myself in the mirror and see how not-perfect I am. We can all feel our lack of perfection whether it is in our acne, hangnails, wrinkled aging skin, aching joints or even deeper into our fears, addictions, depression, sin, and sorrow.

The reality of the imperfection in this world can be strikingly painful. I have a little brother who was born with an immune deficiency, the consequence of a genetic mutation. As a result he has contracted various diseases and has been hospitalized multiple times over the years. I have a little sister who was born with ambiguous developmental and cognitive delays. I have relatives and friends who are watching their loved ones battle cancer. And while I believe that all of these circumstances are within God’s perfect purpose I still must recognize that we are not perfect. This life is not perfect.

The whole purpose of the Gospel is to meet an imperfect, broken world full of depraved people with real hope. The Gospel speaks life into death and repentance into sin. But it is fruitless if we refuse to acknowledge our helplessness and insufficiency in the face of sin and death. We only diminish the urgent truth and hope of Jesus Christ’s salvation when we try and downplay how imperfect this world is and how imperfect we are, when we try and reassure ourselves, "I am perfect and beautiful!". When sin entered the world it not only effected our cognitive decisions and spiritual state, it had a drastic effect on our physical condition as well. Suddenly child-bearing became horribly painful and work became exhausting and frustrating (Genesis 3). There was sickness, illness, strife, and decay. And yes, there was acne (though there was no mention of it in Genesis).

When we look in the mirror and feel we are not as beautiful as we ought to be, maybe that is because we are not. We are all never as beautiful or good as we ought to be. We are far from it. But that is not where our story ends. That is not what matters most. Our story does not end here. We can rest easy in our wars against sickness and sin. We can continue to fight with the full assurance that the battle is already won. We don't have to cling desperately to this world and our time as though it is all we have. We can end our desperation and despair over superficial standards when we acknowledge that this life is not all there is. This is not where our identity is secured. What Christ accomplished on our behalf surpasses all of our deficiencies and one day we will be made new. One day He will make all things new.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:15-17).

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Incommunicable Past || My Ántonia by Willa Cather Book Review

Few books keep me up past midnight, draw me completely in, and tug on every single one of my heartstrings but My Ántonia by Willa Cather was one of those books. Something about the nostalgic first-person reminiscing of young Jim Burden resonated with me. His memoir focuses on his childhood, the golden days of his life, with the central focus being Ántonia Shimerda, his Bohemian neighbor who emigrated from the Czech Republic to the North Dakota frontier with her family around the same time the ten-year-old Jim, newly orphaned, moved from his parents’ home in Virginia to live on his grandparents’ farm on the prairie. Jim and Ántonia share various adventures and struggles together with their friends and family on the North Dakota plains and the memories they make together are grafted into Jim's mind as the best days of his life. 

What struck me about this book is the lack of climax in the storyline. Jim’s memories are meandering and selective at best, always coming back to his Ántonia. However, there is an inherent ambiguity to Jim and Tony’s relationship and it is this lack of resolve that kept me turning the page. I kept waiting for that moment of resolution but it never came and that was perhaps the most satisfying, heartrending, realistic aspect of this novel.

The title of the book is My Ántonia but in what way is Ántonia Jim’s? You never really know. It is never explicitly defined by the narrator. Cather gives the impression that Jim and Ántonia care for each other very much and toward the end of the novel Jim confesses to Ántonia’s children that he was once in love with their mother, but you never really hear from Ántonia what Jim means to her, though it is evident she cares for him very much. One of the most interesting speeches is shared upon Jim's return home when he hears of Tony's misfortune. Ántonia is living once again on her family’s farm, laboring in the fields and living in relative solitude and shame with the child she had out of wedlock after her supposed fiancée abandons her.

“Do you know, Ántonia, since I've been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the world. I'd have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sisteranything a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don't realize it. You really are a part of me. 

Jim is disappointed in her and sad for her, but he still cares for her very much even though he is resigned to their prospective destinies that seem to constantly lead them down different paths...though always back to each other again.

There are multiple opportunities for Jim and Ántonia’s relationship to slip into the romantic realm and while the reader anticipates this, Cather bypasses each one of these opportunities and keeps their friendship platonic. While this leaves a certain amount of ambiguity to their relationship, it seemed to me that to suddenly romanticize their friendship would lessen it somehow. Ántonia was never simply Jim’s sweetheart but she was also never simply his friend. She was so much more than that.

One of the frustrating aspects of this book, at least frustrating to me, was the passiveness of Jim’s character. He obviously loves Ántonia. She influences his thoughts and opinions every day. The memory of her is his most cherished memory and he never encounters anyone else in his lifetime who could ever replace her. And yet Jim never acts on his feelings. He never asserts himself and pursues Tony. The reverse of gender roles is one of the defining characteristics of Cather’s novel. Ántonia is obviously the assertive one, assuming the manual labor of her father’s farm, boasting about her strength, maintaining her pride and independence, refusing to take orders from anyone, and ultimately carving her own path in life. Jim is the passive, almost submissive one but he is perhaps the more sensitive, empathetic, and introspective character as well.

Ántonia’s fortunes eventually change for the better, no doubt as a result of her persevering spirit and determination. But it was still difficult for me to read about her misfortunes and Jim’s disappointment without a slight disappointment in Jim. After all, might he not have prevented some of her misfortunes if he had simply come out and expressed his feelings for her and married her? And yet Ántonia never resents him for this. She never expects anyone, including Jim, to assume any responsibility for her. As with everyone she loves, she can never presume anything false or bad about Jim, even when he avoids visiting her for twenty-some years out of fear for seeing her aged. Just as Jim remembers her, Ántonia always remembers him to her many children with the utmost fondness and later welcomes him into her home as somewhat of a surrogate uncle in the family. Their relationship is never clearly defined, but this is perhaps what preserves it through the years.

“Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

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