Friday, December 9, 2016

The Gift-Giving Guide || Friendship 101

I am not the best when it comes to gift-giving and gift-shopping. Unfortunately I am caught up in a crowd of siblings, friends, and relatives who always find the perfect gift, whether it’s for a birthday, Christmas, get-well-soon, or simply a spontaneous gift. Naturally I the pressure is on every Christmas season. Not only do I want to find the perfect gift for everyone, but I also have to take my limited budget into account. 

While I am no gift-giving expert, here are a few creative and budget-friendly tips I have picked up in the last few years that might help you if you are suffering from gift shopping block (it’s like writer’s block only for gift-givers).

1. Custom-Made Gifts. Do you like to knit? Crochet? Sew? Whittle? Bake? Whatever your specialty is, utilize it to give custom-made gifts this Christmas. Handcrafted gifts are the best because they take time and unique skill to make. Even something as simple as a handmade card or handwritten letter is especially meaningful.

2. Give What You Already Have. Shopping stresses me out because there are simply Too. Many. Options. Before you hit the mall, take stock of what you already have and see if you have anything stashed in the closet or the bookshelf that one of your friends or relatives would be interested in. I for one know younger sisters always appreciate hand-me-downs, especially in the form of pretty dresses and jewelry.

3. Explore Antique Malls & Resale Shops. If you are looking for a unique gift that is friendly to your budget, go and explore an antique mall or a resale shop! Antique malls are also a fantastic place to find gifts for your friends who have unique tastes *cough*hipsters*cough*.

4. Give Your Time. Instead of stuff, give someone your service or an experience you can share together. These kinds of gifts are probably my favorite to give and receive. You can’t put a price tag on service and shared memories!
  • Tickets to a concert, movie, musical, ballet...whatever your taste!
  • Coupons for household chores, meal preparations, and back-rubs (my mother always loves this)
  • A project / craft you can work on together
  • A board game or card game the whole family can have fun playing together
  • Go caroling together, bake Christmas cookies, watch all your favorite Christmas movies together, and spread the love this Christmas! 

What are some gift-giving tips you have? Does Christmas shopping stress you out? I would love to hear your ideas! And believe me...I need all the help I can get.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Sentence in the Story || 3 Years Later

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed, 
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”
Job 19:25-27

Over the last three years I have developed a close affinity with the story of Job from the Bible. In light of the devastating hurricanes and fires that have taken place in the southeast of the United States this year, I imagine many other people have come to empathize with Job’s sudden, inexplicable loss and pain. In many ways, Job is a type of Jesus Christ. He is a righteous, honest man who fears God but still suffers incredible loss and pain. Job loses everything. He loses his property, his wealth, his children, his home, and his health.  In the end all he is left with is an ash heap to sit and mourn in, a wife who resentfully tells him to “Curse God and die!” and a group of condescending “friends” who sit around trying to decipher what Job could have possibly done wrong to incur the judgment of God upon his head (2:9, 19:2-6). And what is Job’s response? He praises God , not perfectly, not without question and resentment, but his response is the response of a righteous man nonetheless (1:20-22).

In the end, Job receives back everything he lost and more (42:10-17). God gives him even more land, more livestock, a bigger house, more children, and more wealth. And this is the moral of the story, is it not? Have patience during the tough times and God will replenish your blessings two-fold soon enough! This is how I have often heard the story interpreted and understood, but when I read the book of Job I cannot help but realize how this interpretation of Job’s suffering completely undermines the severity and pain of his loss.

Job never got his children back. The suffering he experienced was never erased. What’s more, Job never received any kind of explanation from God. And that is what he ultimately wanted, wasn’t it (7:20-21, 13:24-28)? All Job really wanted was to know why. He didn’t want his wealth back as much as he wanted to be assured that the suffering was not pointless. But he never received the answer to this question. The story of Job leaves us all on a proverbial cliffhanger and I have always come away from that story wondering, like Job, “Wait, why did all of that happen? What point was God trying to prove? Was that really fair of God to set Satan loose on such a faithful servant?”

I still don’t know the answer to these questions. Like Job, I have been there. I have asked God, “Why?” and I still do. Unfortunately we do not all get a Clarence like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. We don’t all get a cliché explanation for why some people live and others die. We don’t get that revelation moment that suddenly makes all of the misery clear. At least, we don’t get that in this life. I do not have the answer to Job’s question, but I think I understand the moral of his story.

God never tells Job to be patient and wait for his good blessings to come back around again. God simply reveals himself to Job. He rebukes Job and Job in turn praises God and repents (chapters 40-42). God tells Job to stop asking the question why, because he is not going to get an answer, because God is God and Job is not. God is God and he does not owe any of us an explanation. He is not subject to our scrutiny, though he condescends to lovingly hear our prayers, complaints, and questions all the same.

Job is a type of Christ, a righteous man who suffered, but he obviously was not perfect like our God-Man Savior. At some point or another we are all like Job, believing God must have got it wrong and he had better have a good explanation for this. I know a little about loss, enough to know that all the blessings Job received in his lifetime never made up for everything he suffered and lost. All the wealth, children, livestock, and peace could never satisfy that question—why?

The Book of Job is about patience, but not about waiting patiently for the good times to come back around in this life. It’s a book about waiting for eternity. It's a book about never doubting the goodness of God even as we suffer. We never get the answers in this lifetime, but one day when we look into the eyes of our Redeemer, we will know the answers, and everything will become clear. But until then we have to wait. We have to hope. We have to faithfully plod on in obedience with the joy of future glory in our hearts.

The waiting is hard. The waiting feels like forever. The waiting feels like losing, like giving up everything we feel we have a right to. The waiting feels like dying, dying to ourselves, dying to everything we want. The waiting is God being silent when we want answers. But we do not wait without hope. We do not wait without assurance. We do not wait without joy and comfort and we never wait alone. And one day, the waiting will be over.

“These many years of waiting will only be a sentence in the story. This long day will come to an end, and I believe it will end in glory, when we will shine like suns and stride the green hills with those we love and the One who loves.” —Andrew Peterson

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and the Lessons They Teach

The holiday season is one of my favorite seasons of the year. While many people rail against the Christmas paraphernalia littering the supermarkets and grocery stores and the Christmas music playing on the radio, even though it is not even Thanksgiving yet, I am one of those people who believes Christmas cannot come soon enough. I love Christmas for the truth and story behind it, the celebration of our Savior humbling himself and taking on flesh to know our pain and become a merciful and faithful high priest to make propitiation for our sins. I love it for the warmth it brings into the cold winter season, for the smell of pine and evergreen it brings into the home, and I love how this holiday prompts families and friends to come together and celebrate. 

For the past couple of months I have been involved in a local theatre production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I love this story and this play for so many reasons, for the beautiful redemption and salvation of Ebenezer Scrooge and for the many wonderful memories associated with this play. Needless to say I could not have chosen a better way to anticipate the Christmas season.

This story tugs on all the heart strings. It is full of laughter and merriment, loss and tragedy, family, love, and redemption. Dickens provides a mirror for all of humanity in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. He prompts us to solemnly consider our past, present, and future and to learn the lessons they teach us. Over the past few weeks I have thought hard about what it means to keep Christmas in my heart all year long. I have thought of how all of us have ghosts in our lives, ghosts and regrets from the past, and how we so often fail to learn from our ghosts. 

What are the regrets we have from the past? And what ought we to learn from those? What is the trajectory of our future? Where is our current path, our present, leading us?

My baby brother Calvin has been the virtual equivalent of Tiny Tim in my family. Thanks to his immune deficiency, he combatted juvenile arthritis when he was six years old and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when he was eleven. I remember the holidays when he was hobbling around on his stiff painful joints with the help of his walker, the months when he was connected to a feeding tube when his Crohn’s disease viciously flared up, and all the many times his life was completely uncertain, seemingly hanging by a feeble thread.

Approximately three years ago, the Christmas of 2013, my family was hurting from the fresh wound of the unexpected loss of our dear son and brother. But it wasn't our Tiny Tim that we lost. It was my brother Ben who was seventeen years old at the time, strong, healthy, on the verge of graduating high school, and full of ambition. 

Our loss seemed even more starkly painful during the season of Christmas, because Ben was always the one who navigated the holidays with all of the enthusiasm and energy that came so naturally and easy to him. We always said when Ben was gone from the house, it seemed radically quiet. And despite all of the people who were there that Christmas, it was still painfully quiet without Ben.

Many of my best memories of Ben come from the holidays—Valentine’s Day when my brothers and dad woke up extra early to prepare breakfast for all of us—Thanksgiving when Ben took it upon himself to fix all our broken cars and be the main server at the family dinner table—Christmas when Ben made sure to always find the largest Christmas tree imaginable, spent arduous hours of labor untangling all our old Christmas lights, and baked pans of Gingerbread men and decorated them all with a unique personality and character.

Celebrating Christmas the year he died—celebrating anything—seemed nigh impossible. But our family came together nonetheless, a matter of days following my brother’s funeral, and we kept Christmas.

The days following my brother’s death, I remember my father encouraging all of us to stay close to one another, nobody be alone for too long.  As much as I love my family, it was hard to be with them after Ben died. For about a year it seemed every time we came together was a painful reminder of Ben’s absence. But we did all the same. We kept coming together, kept attending worship together, kept celebrating the holidays together. And slowly we started to heal. 

Last year my oldest sister Elizabeth got married. My sister’s wedding was one of the most beautiful I have ever seen and the most festive I have attended. The whole world was in a mood to celebrate already, thanks to the holiday season, and it felt right contributing to the festivities with a wedding. There was so much mistletoe left over from the wedding and my family took it all and littered our Christmas celebration with it the following week. My sister hung the mistletoe in the house and stuffed everyone’s stocking with it, a sweet representation of how much love our whole family seemed to be bursting with that year.

This year my now fifteen-year-old brother Calvin towers over me, approximately 6’ tall and growing fast. He is strong and healthy and none of us really expected him to come this far but thanks to modern medication and the good providence of God, here he is. Three years ago we lost our young, energetic, and ambitious brother and since then we have gained a son-in-law, a granddaughter and grandson, a baby-on-the-way, and a son-in-law-to-be (my sister Ruth got engaged!). Our family seems to be growing exponentially. Yes, life is a strange, beautiful mixture of victory, loss, joy, and sorrow.

Perhaps this is why the Christmas season is important to me. It has always served as a gauge in my life for where I have been and how far I have come and it has always been a reminder of everything that is most important in my life—or more like, everyone who is most important. It is a time to remember the ghosts of my past, the beauty and joy of the present, and to take into careful consideration my future and the trajectory of my life. 

Do you celebrate Christmas? Thanksgiving? If so, how and why? What are some things you love about this season of the year? Share in the comments below! 

Friday, November 11, 2016

While the Nations Rage || My Response to the 2016 Presidential Election

For those of you who were less than impressed with the nation’s response to the results of this week’s presidential election, I hope you find this article helpful. I was not happy to see a godless man elected president and I was less-than-enthusiastic with our selection of candidates this year (yeah, I felt a little nauseous seeing those names on my ballot). But I guess my pessimism was for the better since it meant I didn’t have high expectations going into the election, so my hopes were not utterly crushed by the results.

I do not want to make this a political post about how you should respond to this election or how you should have voted. I do not want to lecture or criticize any political party. All I want to do is offer some helpful, pragmatic suggestions as well as some hope. Feel free to take or leave my advice as you please. Also, I would love it if you shared your own suggestions below in the comments!

Make a cup of tea. Whenever I feel anxious, making a cup of tea always helps to soothe whatever worry I face. A good cup of tea remedies all ills—well, at least most ills.

Other pragmatic solutions for recovering from the anxiety of this election include: 
  • A trip to the beach 
  • Weekend road trip with your bestie
  • Music jam session with friends
  • Spend time with family and close friends
  • Pray, pray, and pray some more
  • Pray with fellow saints
  • Sing the Psalms 
  • Read and memorize Scripture
I fully intend to do every single one of these things. 

Put things in perspective. It is easy to give into anxiety, to think of the uncertainty of the future of our nation, and to assume the worst will inevitably happen or already has happened. Remember that many presidents have come and gone, many empires have risen and fallen, and many far more wicked rulers have elevated themselves over nations and where are they all now? Remember that our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents saw far more troubling times and yet here you are. Just because this is a scary and new ordeal for you does not mean it is new to the world or more importantly, to God.

Take it a step further. Put things in an eternal perspective. I am a Christian and I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God, that his perfect will guides and governs every detail of this world from his plan of salvation for his people down to the smallest sparrow. I believe God can be taken at his Word—the Bible—and that his promises are sure and true. I believe that, thanks to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for my sin, I can look forward to enjoying eternal life with my Heavenly Father! And there is nothing on this earth that can take this hope away, not even death. My hope is not in this nation or its leaders and so it cannot be shaken, even though every corner of this world might rage and crumble. I suggest you read Psalm 2 and Psalm 10 this week if you have not already. These events do not surprise or frighten our God and they should not surprise us.

Listen to people and gain understanding. I have seen a lot of terrible names and labels flying around social media as well as violence and rioting in the news and it upsets me, to say the least. I tend to take a diplomatic and moderate approach to basically everything and I am always in favor of hearing both sides of the story and seeking understanding before I make any sort of judgments, especially blanket judgments. Generalizations may contain grains of truth, but are typically inaccurate when applied on an individual level. I have seen good people with strong convictions and love for their country and their fellow man on both sides of this election and it is not fair or just to label one side as inherently evil and the other as good.

Unfortunately social media provides us with a platform to sling mud at one another while distancing ourselves from the reality of our words. Would you think twice about calling names and pronouncing curses and judgments on people if they were standing in front of you? Well some of us could care less, but I hope you would. And I hope you would remember that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Some things are worth mourning and some things are not. Take it from someone who has had to seriously grieve. This election, no matter how scary the results might be, is not worth your tears. It might be worth your prayers, your action, your discernment, your voice, your kindness—but not your tears and certainly not your anxiety. Save your tears for something that is really devastating. In the meantime, if you really want to see things change, well then get to work figuring out how you want to change them and do something. For the record, broadcasting your opinion via Facebook statuses and social media doesn’t count as doing something, though there’s nothing wrong with sharing your opinion.

I always tell myself that if I do not have a helpful solution to a problem, then I have no right to complain about the problem. If there is nothing you are willing to do or nothing you are able to do to remedy the situation then please refrain from broadcasting your complaints until you have a constructive solution. We are all so apathetic until it comes time to be outraged about something.

Love your neighbor. An alternative to passively voicing your opinion on social media is going out and loving your neighbor, loving your enemies, and most importantly loving and obeying God. Jesus once instructed us to remove the plank from our own eye before we try and remove the speck from our brother’s (Matthew 7:1-5). I think we could all stand to heed his command. We are all guilty of harboring hatred in our hearts. We are all guilty of unkindness and injustice. We all need more grace than we could ever know. It’s not always easy to remember this, but it is so very necessary, especially now.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:36-40). 

What are some helpful things you have done in response to this election? What has been your assurance and hope this week? I would love to hear anything you would add to my list of suggestions. 

Friday, November 4, 2016


The moment you all have been waiting for is finally here! Last week my friend Nathan released the video for our debut song, a cover of Bastian Baker’s song “Lucky”!!

This project has been in the making for months now, which sounds funny to say because it honestly does not feel like much time has passed at all. We put this together with whatever equipment we had on hand and whatever limited time we had, which between both of our schedules, classes, work, and other obligations was no easy task! 

A big thanks goes to our friends, Hannah who helped us film, and Braydon who filmed and edited the video for us. We could not have done this without you both! Thanks for making the filming process so fun and for working with our rather, hem, spontaneous film schedule. 

Let me know in the comments below what you all think of our little music video. Here’s to small beginnings and future collaborative creative projects!

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