Monday, May 23, 2016

Favorite Things || Spring 2016 Edition


During our belated spring break trip, my sister, grandmother, and I took a daytrip to South Haven, MI. My family and I have made a point of visiting Lake Michigan since the summer of 2003 and South Haven has been a particular favorite place of ours since our first summer on the lake house with all of the cousins, aunts, uncles, and our grandmother. The town of South Haven was not as crowded as I was used to during our most recent visit and the lake was not as high as it typically is in the summer, but it was still beautiful. Visiting South Haven feels like coming home. It’s a part of so many good memories, so it feels like a part of me now.

Without further ado, here is my spring edition of my favorite things!

>>eating so much good food
>>window shopping
>>waking up at Grandma’s house
>>visiting with cousins

>>riding the train (with my journal, of course!)
>>wedding shower fun!
>>fellowship with God’s people
>>Sunday school shenanigans
>>invigorating discussions with ladies Bible study
>>“Fireflies” by Future of Forestry on repeat
>>spring and summer clothes
>>sandals, flip-flops, and bare toes!
>>browsing used bookstores
>>warm sunshine and cool breezes
>>beautiful fields of green and gold
>>the smell of a rainstorm

>>long evenings
>>beautiful sunsets
>>running my FIRST 5K
>>successful student recitals & proud teacher moments 
>>watching Captain America: Civil War twice in theaters (ALL THE BUCKY FEELS!)
>>covering my favorite song (because I know I'm lucky)

What are some of your favorite things this spring? I’d love to hear about them!


Friday, May 20, 2016

What's the Issue, Dear?


A few months ago I sat down with a friend over coffee and we had a conversation. It was a good conversation that amounted to mutual feelings of friendliness and understanding. See, this friend of mine was a young man who I had grown acquainted with through my church community. We had several mutual friends and so naturally had ample opportunity to get to know each other. Over time he began to think he was interested or at least could be interested in me as more than a friend. So he talked to my dad. My dad talked to me. And then we talked with each other.

There is something amazing about sitting down with a friend and talking openly and honestly about your feelings, even if your words are not necessarily what the other person wants to hear. I know I ultimately disappointed him, but I was glad he was willing to listen to me anyway and share with me how he felt. At the start of the conversation, my friend said something to the effect of, “So, I talked to your dad and he told me you’re determined to be a single old maid for the rest of your life.”

I laughed and replied, “That’s about right.”

I have received similar phrases and questions like this from several friends and acquaintances over the last couple of years, questions like, “So I guess you have decided you want to be single for now?” As if deciding to be single forever is an unfathomable decision akin to resigning yourself to a life of agony and despair. But I can see why--to an extent--why I confuse people because my life is not void of eligible single young men, though they are rapidly becoming an extinct species, as are my single young lady friends. And if I am not overtly pursuing one of these aforementioned and soon-to-be-extinct eligible single young men, then there has to be something wrong with me, right? I’ve signed my life away to singleness.

First off, signing my life away to singleness does not sound like a fate worse than death, to me. I like being single and I'm not lying when I say that. Second, I haven’t signed my life away to being single, but I also am not dead-set on not being single and finding a husband as soon as I can. Desperation doesn't look good on anybody. Finally, I have standards and they are high standards. My standards are not superficial, materialistic standards (well, not all of them anyway). They are also not simple “check the box” standards, such as, 1) must be a Christian 2) must not live in parent's basement, etc. I guess the best way to describe my expectations is this:

The moment I meet the right man, I will simply know. It will not only be everything about him that is perfect, for me, it will be everything about the circumstances, the timing, our friendship and relationship—there will be no doubt in my mind and try as I might I won’t have any excuse to not fall in love with him instantly. My family will love him. My friends will love him. I'll love him. He'll meet every expectation I never knew I had! (I know, sounds realistic, right?) So far all the men who have come and gone in my life have been ifs and maybes. They have been nothing more than possibilities. If only he would change this about his character. If only his beliefs were different. If only he wasn’t such a loser. If only he would fight for me. And so on and so on...

I never, ever want to settle. I have said this before and I will say it again. I would sooner be single than settle because, to be honest, being single is pretty awesome.  I have met unhappy singles, singles who can't stand being single, singles who walk around with a chip on their shoulder because they’re tired of “not being good enough” for anyone, singles who inevitably settle because they are desperate, singles who rebound and rebound again because they’re not comfortable in their own skin. Maybe if I was a little more desperate, I wouldn’t be so single, but I never want to be desperate. Because I know the minute I become desperate, that’s the minute I compromise my standards and expectations. And when I say compromise my standards, I am talking about the standards I have set for myself as well as the standards I have for my hypothetical future husband.

So when I pass up the chance to start dating someone and choose remaining single over the opportunity to pursue a relationship, it’s usually because of one or more of the following reasons:

1.  I’m not ready to be in a relationship. Period. I still have a ways to go, dreams to achieve, my own expectations to measure up to, that kind of thing.

2.  I simply don’t see us together. I don’t see me making you happy, so please trust me on this and move on.

3.  I might have a crush on you, but let’s face it, we wouldn’t last in the long run, so thank you, but no thank you.

4.  You don’t meet my expectations one way or another and that might be nothing against you. It might just be my necessarily principled idealistic self.

Our culture loves to make fun of chronically single people, but the fact of the matter is bullies only call names and throw stones because they’re insecure in their own skin and they can’t stand to see someone else walking alone with confidence. I would rather be the one walking alone with confidence than the person who stakes all of their happiness and self-worth on something that can’t provide any of that, something like a relationship status. So before you go crazy trying to find a significant other, learn to walk with confidence alone. Learn to measure up to your own expectations and don't sell yourself short.

What are your expectations for your relationships? What are some of your expectations for yourself? Are you/were you happy being single or do you find it difficult? Are there any ways you have been tempted to settle? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Why I Couldn't Pick a Side || [Spoiler-Free] Review of Marvel's Captain America: Civil War

Disclaimer: I kept this post as spoiler-free as I could. There are elements of the plot that I give away, but for the most part I tried to keep the main plot-points out of this post. Okay, there is one kind-of-big spoiler in the last paragraph...feel free to skip that part if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want any spoilers!


Last week I saw Captain America: Civil War in theaters for the first time and then I saw it again in theaters the next week. I rarely go to the movies. The last time I went to the movies was when Pixar’s Inside Out was in theaters. But the Marvel Avengers movies are too good to pass up and they rarely disappoint. Ever since Captain America: Winter Soldier, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the resurgence of the Cap’s old-time friend, Bucky. Nevertheless I was wary going to the theaters because I was afraid of what this Civil War meant. For weeks Marvel has propagated this movie as a civil war, duh, between the closest-knit comrades and heroes of all time and asked us which side are you on? Iron Man or Captain America? And for the past few months I have waited in anxious anticipation. How can Marvel be so cruel as to make us choose between the two? Iron Man/Tony Stark has always been my favorite but I also love the Cap and everything he stands for (“Watch your language!”)

The only thing that could change my mind is if they made Tony turn completely rogue/evil. And this was kind of what I was scared of. However, as the movie progressed I realized that more and more this movie was not about good vs. evil as much as it was about two ideals that clashed. Tony wants the Avengers to give up their independence and submit to the oversight and authority of the United Nations. Captain America believes giving up their freedom will compromise his conscience. What if the U.N. orders him to intervene in a situation or take a side that is inconsistent with his beliefs? What if the U.N. keeps him from acting in a situation where he believes he is needed. (This sounds familiar.) Both Tony and Steve act on their individual convictions and come to different conclusions.


Tony is made to face the collateral damage that is caused in every situation where the Avengers intervene. I cringe when I watch action adventure movies like The Bourne Trilogy, because all those epic car chases and explosions inevitably leave behind a trail of devastation, death, and damage that is never addressed. The hero simply walks away, unscathed or not-so-unscathed, but the point is he walks away. Super heroes are not so different. In all the battles against giant robots and hordes of alien armies, there is a significant amount of collateral death and destruction. People die. Buildings burn. Cities are traumatized. And the heroes are supposed to be allowed to just fly away from it? Someone else will clean up the mess.

In Civil War the heroes don’t get to fly away from the damage. Tony has to swallow the brunt of the guilt because he made Ultron. He invented the enemy that nearly destroyed the earth, killed countless innocent lives, and left a city destitute. His choices and actions, his power, led to this damage and suddenly he realizes he doesn’t want this kind of responsibility. He shouldn’t have this kind responsibility or power—maybe no one should. The Captain disagrees. He believes the safest hands are his own, not Tony's or the U.N. Tony decides he needs to put the Captain in check. And war breaks out between friends. The Captain is virtually forced to choose between his two friends, Tony or Bucky, and of course he chooses Bucky. He chooses his conscience and independence.


I love Bucky. Who could not love Bucky? All Tony sees in Bucky is The Winter Soldier but he doesn’t know the history Bucky and Steve have together. He never knew Bucky before Hydra and the Winter Soldier.

Bucky was the only friend who stuck up for Steve before he was Captain America, back when he was the malnourished kid from Brooklyn who got picked on and faked his medical records so he could have a chance to fight for his nation. Bucky was there for Steve when Steve was at his weakest. And now that Bucky is at his weakest, how can the Captain abandon him? What I loved most about this movie was the character development of Captain America. He was always the perfect hero (and he still is), the naïve idealistic soldier who remained faithful to his country no matter what, who saw the world in black-and-white, and the hero who uncompromisingly upheld those traditional American values. But when Bucky returns as the Winter Soldier, Captain America is forced to come face-to-face with the reality that sometimes good and evil are not so black and white, there are some American values he doesn’t want to uphold, and sometimes you have to abandon your country and your leaders and act on your individual conscience.  Sometimes the right thing is the wrong thing in everyone else’s eyes.

(I promise he's really a nice guy)
I find this tension, as opposed to the crystal clear good guy vs. bad guy, relates so much more to our world today, a world where we are constantly compromising between our individual freedoms and government oversight, a world where it’s so often a war between two ideals more than it is a war between good and evil.

I was not disappointed by Captain America: Civil War but I did not come out of the theater having picked a side, because neither party was inherently wrong. Sure, Tony was wrong about Bucky. He was wrong to want to seek personal vengeance. But was he so wrong in forfeiting the right to his power? Was he wrong in believing he was not worthy of wielding this power and bearing the responsibility that came with it? Both parties have more in common with one another than you might think. Tony and Bucky are both forced to come face-to-face with the destructive reality of their power. They are both plagued with guilt and grief. Tony’s guilt is the result of not having anyone to put him in check. Bucky’s guilt is the result of being under the control and command of wicked leaders. There are two sides to both ideals and ultimately it comes down to the goodness or lack thereof in the hearts of men.

At the end of the movie all I wanted to do was cry and give them both hugs. Please, somebody just give Tony a hug already!

a tribute of sorts | Cap and Buck by SW at a free mind
In Defense of Tony Stark from The Fangirl Initiative 
21 Times I Died During the "Captain America: Civil War" Teaser from Buzzfeed

Were you able to pick a side for Captain America: Civil War? Who is your favorite Avenger and why? Were there any elements of the movie you disliked? What parts did you particularly enjoy? 


Friday, May 13, 2016

Nobody Knows [What it Took to Believe]


A few days ago I came across a photograph of me from several years ago and I had to laugh with relief. There are so many things I miss about those years, when it was easy to be hopeful and optimistic. It was easy to boundlessly dream and believe I could do anything—I hadn’t been tested yet. But the dark days came, the days that made me feel empty and cold, the days I withdrew from the world and from everyone who loved me. Sorrow washed over me like a cold, ominous wave in a storm-tossed sea and I was not fortified or ready to resist it. I crumbled beneath the weight. In those days I held onto my memories as precious reminders of joy in my life. I clung to those golden days and years. They were tinged with sadness now because they were gone, but they were my own once, and that was comforting.

Nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen.

I had never felt this way before, so unreachable, unrepairable, and unlovable. To me it seemed things would never change. I woke up each morning not knowing what I was getting up for. I walked half-awake through every single day, unaware of my surroundings. I mingled with strangers because they didn’t come with the painful reminders, not like my pictures and the faces of my friends and family. I went where no one knew me, where no one was afraid to speak to me; afraid I might shatter if they said the wrong word or dared to speak his name.

Nobody knows the price of this dream.

Then one morning the light changed. I am not really sure what made it change. There was nothing new about the bed I was sleeping in. There was nothing particularly significant about this day. And so I knew it had to be true. Something had changed inside of me. I wanted to wake up and get out of bed, though there was nothing special to look forward to on this day. But that’s how I knew. Days had come and gone, happy special days had come, days I knew I should be excited and happy for but had still left me aching and empty. But this day was different. The ache was gone.

Nobody knows what it took to believe.

That’s the funny thing about grief. There really isn’t any cure. It’s easy to say that Jesus is the cure and while I believe he is powerful and able to wipe away our every sorrow, I don’t necessarily believe he’s guaranteed that in this life. He never promised an easy, happy, successful life in this mortal flesh. He promised to wipe away every tear on that last, glorious day when we are finally reunited with him forever. But in this life, who knows when grief will end if it ever does? I’m not sure it does. But I do know things get better. I know the sunlight does not always feel heavy and oppressive on your eyes and your head and throat will not always hurt from crying. I know God gives sleep to his loved ones and while joy does not come on this morning, it will come, even if we have to wait until eternity.

Nobody.

I found a picture taken a couple years ago, during the year I felt suffocated by sorrow, and for once I was glad to be here. It was a refreshing revelation, because up until this point I have always wanted to go back. Things were always better back then. I had never lost anything or anyone back then. I had never hurt anyone. My heart was still intact. When did it all start going downhill? And yet as I review these photographs and memories, I notice a strange correlation between myself and these events. As I turn through journal entries and read words I regret ever writing, I realize how easy it is to romanticize the past without taking into account the way each and every one of these circumstances has shaped and molded me and while I mourn everything that was lost, I don’t mourn for a second the version of me that was lost, the old man I am fighting each day to shed. God knows I still have so much to learn and so far to go, but something tells me I won’t get there without a substantial amount of suffering, loss, and regret. You can’t really get one without the other.

She wants to break free. 
                                                                       

Monday, May 9, 2016

3 Reasons I Sing the Psalms || Crown & Covenant Resources


Those of you who know me in real life probably already know that I attend a church that sings the Psalms exclusively in worship. For those of you who don't know me as well, I thought I would share a little more today about why I sing the Psalms as well as some of the resources my church uses in worship and I use for personal devotions and worship. These are a few of the personal reasons I sing the Psalms but it is by no means an exhaustive list. A couple of excellent books that explore this subject more extensively include Singing the Songs of Jesus: Revisiting the Psalms by Michael LeFebvre and War Psalms of the Prince of Peace by James E. Adams

1. I sing the Psalms because I need to. The Word of God was given to us as a light into every aspect of our life, from our words, actions, thoughts, and even our emotions. I like to think of the Psalms as the part of Scripture that instructs our emotions. It’s not always easy to know how to respond in times of confusion, pain, loss, grief, and deep sin. Moreover, I think it’s too easy to feel like these are areas of our life where God is absent and far off. But the Psalms instruct us differently. The Psalms show us that these darkest moments in our life are so often when God is nearest (Psalm 22, 42, 51). And they don’t stop there. So many Psalms also reflect moments of joy, praise, thankfulness, and abundance (Psalm 118, 136, 145). For every circumstance in life, for every downfall, loss, or mountaintop experience, God has given us a song to sing.

2. God gave us the Psalms to sing. It only makes sense that if God stuck a big book of songs in the middle of his Bible, he didn’t intend for us to simply read them. Reading the Psalms is great. We should read, meditate on, and study them. But we should also sing them, because that’s what you do with songs.

3. The Psalms are the songs of Jesus. Christians do not often equate the Psalms as being the songs of Jesus, which I find strange, because if we read the New Testament we see that the apostles frequently cite the Psalms in reference to Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-41, Hebrews 1). It’s understandable that some of the Psalms make Christians feel uncomfortable, especially the songs calling down judgment on God’s enemies. We as Christians understand that vengeance is the Lord’s (Romans 12:19). We know that it’s not our calling to go out and destroy God’s enemies and wreak violence on this earth. But we also need to remember that Christ will come in judgment and that he fully intends to right every single wrong on this earth. The Psalms containing violent imprecations might make us feel uncomfortable, but to the persecuted church suffering from gross injustice and cruelty, these are songs of desperate hope. They are a reminder that God is present in the injustice and persecution and that he never forgets or abandons us.

Besides, I’m not sure that Christianity is about making us feel comfortable all the time...

4. Resources for singing the Psalms. In regular worship my congregation uses The Book of Psalms for Worship which can be purchased in several different formats at Crown & Covenant Publications. This book contains arrangements of the Psalms set to meter and four-part vocal harmony in a format similar to a hymnal. Prefacing each Psalm selection is a New Testament reference that ties in with the meaning of the Psalm. There is also a mini-edition of this book of Psalms that is great for travel and personal use. The mini-editions also come in different colors, including green and purple. I have put a lot of miles on my mini-edition and still utilize it on a regular basis. I also recently received a complimentary edition of the words-only Psalter from Crown & Covenant. It contains the Psalms translated into meter, just like the Book of Psalms for Worship. I would be curious to know if anyone else is familiar with this edition? I personally prefer to have a Psalter with the four-part harmony in worship, but I can see how a words-only edition might be helpful for people who have bad eye-sight and need the words to the Psalms printed in large font.

See all editions of The Book of Psalms for Worship here

There are also albums containing recordings of the arrangements from The Book of Psalms for Worship. The latest of these is Deliverance, performed by Tim and Lori McCracken and their daughter Kaylee Parish. I've been enjoying listening to this album as it contains a mixture of Psalms I am closely familiar with as well as arrangements that are new to me but still beautiful. These recordings are a wonderful way to grow more familiar with these particular arrangements of the Psalms. Another favorite recording of mine is Faithfulness, performed by Tim McCracken and his daughter Kaylee. You can view these albums and all the other recordings at the following link. Psalter.org is also a fantastic resource for familiarizing yourself with the different arrangements and tunes in The Book of Psalms for Worship. This website provides recordings of the tunes for each and every Psalm selection.

Are you familiar with The Book of Psalms for Worship? How have the Psalms influenced your life? 
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