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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Reflecting on God's goodness

I wrote and erased and rewrote.  This has happened at least 5 times now.  I wish I were better at words.

Today was filled with a huge mix of emotions.  As I got up for the final day of driving home from South Carolina, I remembered getting up early to drive home on this same day 3 years ago.  Unlike today, May 8, 2015 was not blended with excitement, though.
As I drove in the driveway and saw my house again today for the first time in months, my heart was so happy and thankful.  But it was accompanied by an ache.  3 years later, I still longed--and almost expected--to walk in the front door and see my dad waiting for me.  It has been a long, difficult year at college for me, and I wish I could sit down and tell Dad about everything--about the events that made me laugh, the things that annoyed or discouraged me, the ways that I have changed and grown, the great people that God put in my life, and the daily moments that I've missed him.

Today I feel a little lost and empty, but not quite in the same way I did 3 years ago.  Today I live confident in God's goodness.  When my dad was dying, nothing about the process felt good.  Going to bed every night with fear for the morning did not compel me to thank God.  During that time God was pressing on my heart the reality of his perfect goodness, but I struggled to believe it.  My heart knew it was true, but it seemed so far away from me.  Life felt extremely unfair.  My mind didn't want to process life without Dad, one of my biggest heroes, supporters, and counselors.  That day, and for many to follow, I had to continually tell myself "God is good.  God IS good."  I hardly knew if I believed it, but I did know that I wanted to believe it with all my heart.
I still hurt today.  Yes, I even still ask "why, God?  Why?" because it doesn't feel good.  But my limited feelings don't determine the reality.  God is good in a way far beyond what our minds can even comprehend.  I don't understand it much of the time, but that doesn't mean it disappears.
His goodness is rooted in a love that is deeper than anything else we have ever known.

A lot of things have changed in the past 3 years.  I graduated high-school, bought my first car, and finished my first year of college.  My niece/nephew count went from 11 to 15.  Friends and family have entered new phases of life: relationships, weddings, transitions.  These are all big milestones in my life...milestones that I hoped and prayed my dad would be here to experience with me. I can't tell you how much I miss my dad today, 3 years later.  I would give anything to have him here with me again.  There are so many situations when I long for his advice or even just his listening ear.  I think about him every day and still wish for more drives together and bike rides.  I wish I could wake up to Dad's breakfast and go to bed to his goodnights.  I miss the way he rubbed my back when I did dishes or asked for my input.  Probably a lot will change in the coming 3 years, too.  But my love for Dad will forever be the same, and my God's goodness will not wear out.  His is a love that will never let go of me.

O Love that will not let me go, 
I rest my weary soul in thee; 
I give thee back the life I owe, 
That in thine ocean depths its flow 
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way, 
I yield my flickering torch to thee; 
My heart restores its borrowed ray, 
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day 
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain, 
I cannot close my heart to thee; 
I trace the rainbow through the rain, 
And feel the promise is not vain, 
That morn shall tearless be.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The how, when, and who of letter-writing

Figuring out how to include letter-writing time into your normal routine and determining who to write can be a challenge, especially for people with "lives."  And by that I mean jobs, kids, school, and other daily commitments. (Most of the population.) There are so many things in life that keep us constantly busy and endlessly going, but there are also so many ways we don't realize how we could use our small doses of time more effectively.
When I was just beginning my letter-writing mania as a young whippersnapper, I was willing to put anything off to write anybody--even if it was a complete stranger.  My school seriously suffered during this point of my life as my obsession dominated. (Sorry, Mom!!  I failed you more than once!)  I am not suggesting tips that would cause you to neglect another important area of your life, though.  I have since learned to prioritize much better so that letters are just a side dish to everything else, while still remaining a regular part of my week.   (Ironically I am writing this blog in an act of procrastination against school right now; but I promise I've really mostly overcome this problem!)
Here are some ideas to help you get started in becoming more consistent.

1. Set specific monthly goals
This is actually the first year that I've set specific goals for writing letters, and it's really motivated me to fit writing into the cracks of each month.  When I have a goal to meet (20 letters per month), I push myself so much harder and find that I can still get everything else done, too.  I start noticing the little moments I have when I'm not being otherwise productive.  As I become more aware of that, I can start anticipating when I'll have a little extra time so that I can even plan ahead to use it wisely instead of getting carried away with something I don't need to be doing.
When considering goal-setting, start small. Just like any goal in life, don't make it overwhelming or too difficult to reach.  Be reasonable and then stick with it.

2. Make a written record
I really wish I'd started a written record of my letters when I first making it a regular part of my life.  In 2013 I started recording the date I received a letter and the date I responded.  Having this information all in one place helps me keep track of where I am at so that I don't forget to reply to anybody.   Besides a memory help, a notebook of records keeps me motivated to reach my goals and watch my progress.

3. Decrease use of social media
I have Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram.  Just like everyone else, I am extremely prone to letting myself get distracted with social media.  There's always YouTube, too.  These are easy places to go when I just want a mental break or when I "have just a couple minutes."  It's really easy to make the excuse that I don't have enough time to actually write a letter, but then I end up spending a lot of time on useless internet surfing and letting more time pass than I realize.
What I try to do (it doesn't always work) is to not get on certain sites until I've written a certain number of letters or a certain person that I really need to write soon.  This keeps me thinking about fitting that in instead of uselessly checking something for the 10th time.  My time gets spent so much more profitably when I limit myself and set goals on top of my goals.

4. Write people you "owe"
Someone you "owe" refers to somebody who has written you first OR someone who deserves a thank you note.  Write their name in your record book and get ready to return the letter soon.  Writing these people should be priority on your letter list.

5. Write people who have been on your mind/someone who is especially important to you
The written record is also a great place to write names of people I want to write when I don't "owe" someone a letter, which reminds me to whip out a note saying "I'm thinking about you."  Not only does this help my monthly count go up, but it also keeps me in contact with people I care about.  My mind usually keeps focusing on someone until I've taken action by calling or writing them, so I always go ahead and put their name in my record book to write after I've returned the letters I owe.

6. Don't feel obligated to write a whole letter in one sitting
People often tell me that they started a letter to somebody and then didn't get back to it until much later, when they decided it wasn't worth finishing.  Contrary to popular opinion, it's always worth finishing!!  Even if it's a month later, throw another date on that and keep writing!  Letters are just as fun if they are multi-dated and there's no reason to feel guilty.  The time to feel guilty is when you start a letter and scrap it when you think it's been too long.  Keep coming back to the letter until it's signed off, put in an envelope, and sent out into the world.

Comment below with more ideas and helps that I haven't thought of!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Southern spring

I think I blog on spring at least once every year.  Something about everything moving slowly--and somehow also simultaneously moving rapidly--into a burst of color and life gives me a feeling I can't quite explain.  Spring is the season that reminds me yet again of the perfect miracle of new life.  Nature just seems excited in the spring, and that makes me feel excited, too.
This spring is my first one spent on the east coast, and I've certainly missed experiencing this season in Washington.  However, my awe has not been lost and I have enjoyed seeing the similarities and differences between the 2 coasts.  
Even on a "bad" day, spring allows me to look out and smile because I am surrounded with the reality of LIFE.  Every season is beautiful and unique--so much so that I can't pick a favorite.  But spring energizes me in a way that is different; in a way where I can't resist taking hundreds of pictures of the same flowers and colors over and over.  It's too much to pass up.  So today I'm thankful that, even when life is mundane and exhausting, creation tells me life is actually full of bursting expression. 
I know dandelion fluff is supposed to be annoying and undesirable, but I still love these little fluff balls.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Medicine for my heart

**Excessive pictures warning!!**  I just can't help it; I love these people so much.

Spring break feels like it was AGES ago, but reality (and the calendar) tells me that it ended only a couple of weeks ago.  This spring break was met with so much enthusiasm.  After a couple months of praying and then almost losing hope, I was so immensely thankful to celebrate the few days of break with my mom and sister coming out to South Carolina! I am still thanking God for making this time together possible.

As with most things that I am insanely excited about, the count-down is painfully long and then the event itself is painfully short.  However quickly the 7 days with Mom and Tirzah may have gone, it did me so much good.  Whether grocery shopping, playing games, or roaming the city, I was satisfied as long as we were together.

Stop 1 was the Billy Graham Library in North Carolina.  I had never been there before, and, despite my numerous yawns and the scary "talking" cow, I enjoyed learning more about the history of Billy Graham and his ministry.  People like him make me wonder what I'm doing to make a difference in this needy world!

This was an accidental picture, but I just laugh every time over our faces.  This could have a really good caption, I think.
I love having sister and best friend all in the same person.
What a wonderful sight for sore eyes!!
Stop 2 was McDonald's, of all places!  None of us likes McDonald's, but we had to get the traditional Shamrock Shake for St. Patrick's Day.  One of our initiated sisters started this tradition in our family several years ago, so I was quite happy to treat us to the continuation of tradition.

Stop 3 involved the park downtown.  I have written many letters that mentioned this particular park, which has provided several much-needed breaks from campus and the books.  I was excited to finally show Mom and Tirzah this place in person and explore some of the area together.
It's hard to say whether Tirzah thought she was in jail or only wished that she could be.

At least our mom is normal!
Judging by the above picture, we obviously needed some extra sugar.  I was thrilled to finally spend my Cold Stone gift card on my 2 favorite people.  It had been long saved up for this moment!

Stop 4 was new to all of us!  We got to take one afternoon away from intense game-playing to enjoy a state park.  The trails and woods of South Carolina aren't exactly comparable to Washington, but it was good to spend time out in the air trail blazing (because these trails are just too easy).

When we weren't out-and-about shopping or hitting up the town, we spent many hours relaxing, playing games, and simply enjoying each other's company....oh, and eating so much sugar.

More downtown adventures and ice cream with cousins!
Tirzah provided us with Catan but was not thrilled to lose both games.
Since I have limited breakfast options at the university, I was happy to have a few egg burritos over the course of the week.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye again.  It never seems to get much easier to let them go.  As you can see, I am extremely blessed; this refreshing week with some family is only one example.  Having my mom and Tirzah as close companions through the good and the bad is a treasure I'm happy to call my own.  The sacrifices they have both made during my year at BJU has been so humbling and wonderful, too.
"Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You."  Psalm 31:19a

Thursday, March 1, 2018

It is Well

It rained most of today...the first day of March.  And even 6 years later, the mention of today's date still makes me cringe a little because it marked the end of something big in my life.  The end of hearing Jeremiah's voice, the end of anticipating his home-coming from so many months away, the end of his animated laughing and whooping. 

As this date approached this year, I found myself thinking about it--about him--a lot more than I usually do. The car rides, tea parties, game nights, and river swims that will never happen together again feel like only a moment ago...and yet also like a thousand years in the past. I imagined my 7 year-old self jumping off the arm of the couch into his arms when he finally returned home or being carried off to bed by him when I'd fallen asleep during the family evening reading...again.  I remember him coming into my room late at night and waking me up so that I could see him as soon as he got back from months in Iraq.
Even though it's been 6 years, tears still meet me on this day and everything seems to go back to March 1, 2012.  My mind replays every detail it can remember from that day and the ones to follow.  They are moments that cut with hurt, but ones that I never want to forget.  It was then that I began to love Iraq a little like Jeremiah had.  Through the hurt, I could never have been more proud of my brother and the calling he fulfilled so well.

It's Thursday...just like March 1st 6 years ago.  On that Thursday morning, I didn't expect to wake up to "Jeremiah's been shot."  I was barely 14, and my life was already turning upside down.  And 6 years ago today, my mind turned to the words of "It is Well" over and over.  In this moment, how could I ever say that all was well with my soul?  The hymn played in my head again and again and I thought "I can't say that.  My soul is not at peace."  I didn't want to let go, and I didn't want to admit that this is what the Christian calling was really about.  I stare through the tears, and I just see God patiently loving me enough for all this hurt.  And sometimes I have to convince myself to be at peace in my very soul because that is the only fitting response to God's purposes in my life.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

It is well with my soul;
it is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control:
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend;
even so, it is well with my soul.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Funny February

At the beginning of this month I was talking to my brother about stuff, particularly about this here blog.  That developed into a challenge for each other--write down the funniest thing that happens every day in February.  Unfortunately neither of us actually fulfilled the challenge, and I missed several days of this month.  I guess I should have put this on my daily to-do list.  But when I did remember, it was a good brain exercise to recall funny events from the day.  So here's my comic relief from the month.

2: A girl on my hall routinely makes phone calls on speaker while in the shower.  She has the advantage of holding the conversation in Spanish so that it's still "private," but it always amuses me to hear someone using the phone in the shower.

3: The "funniest" thing that happened today was the fact that I spent basically all day on my bed doing homework.  Somehow I don't find that all that funny.

4: My roommate and her sister are so hilarious.  I got some good laughs out of listening to the sister bemoan her coming-up interview assignment and then proceed to seemingly forget how to even talk in full sentences.  This is the meaning of college.

5: "Eating oranges is like eating sunshine.  It's good for you."  When it comes to rants about staying healthy, my history teacher is quite humorous.  "And DON'T drink out of the water fountains!!"

6: "I don't like mint anything.  Mint is for toothpaste.  When I see people buy mint ice cream, I wonder why they don't just eat their toothpaste.  I don't like to eat toothpaste."  ~roommate

7: "Mmmm, this food is actually warm and smells so good.  Should we just sit here and smell it until it gets to a food temperature we're used to?"  A friend and I went out to a restaurant for dinner and couldn't stop marveling over the characteristics of "real food." We were so excited to eat something hot and flavored, which isn't quite what we're used to on campus.

9: "Studying" with a friend at breakfast.  When it comes to history, we get to argue about pronunciation and talk about things completely unrelated to history.  It's always a good way to start the morning.

10: So many funny things about today, but watching faculty against students in a Family Feud on campus was pretty amazing.  It's so much fun to see the teachers outside of the classroom and in their real personalities.

11: ...studying for history?

12: I don't usually text people about tests right afterward, but today I did because I was previously joking with a friend about this specific test and my high expectations of the grade.  But I didn't feel too good about it after the test was over, so I texted her and said "that was NOT an A"....I was thankful to be proven wrong.

13: Walking downtown and exaggerating about everything is actually pretty fun.  After being within the "BJU Bubble" for so long, getting out into the world made Mariah and I notice things a lot more than usual.  "Look at those people running so slowly."  "Look at the beautiful, muddy river."  "I'm sure the color of the trees and grass are brighter out here."

16: I got some pretty wonderful mail today...a package from my mom that contained a most extraordinary object.  The grey pom-pom bird, yet unnamed, will probably always bring a huge smile to my face.

18: I got to Skype with my family--all getting together for a traditional, family Valentines party without me.  I was particularly ecstatic to "be there" for the announcement of niece/nephew #14!  As soon as I got off with my family, I had to go to my friend's room and force her to be excited with me.  "I know you don't care, but I just had to share it with someone..."

19: My bowling abilities have declined since last time I visited the alley.  My bowling experience has been minimal, but a friend and I got to go again for a special discount night nearby.  She skunked me, but we both had to laugh over our bowling skills compared to the people surrounding us.

20: I chose the wrong friend to join me in a vendor table walk-through on campus...a supposedly 20 minute limit I gave turned into an hour as she dragged me through the whole room of tables.

23: History is so much funnier with memory connectors.  And sometimes those connectors get seemingly out of hand, involving learning a German word and mispronouncing names.

24: A friend's basketball game was pretty intense with a final win by 2 points!

26: Fire drills involve breaking so many rules.  Being outside after curfew, in pajamas (!), and without shoes in some cases.

27: Realized--maybe for the first time--that the light will not come on more gradually even if I flip the switch very slowly.

28: A friend and I got in line for dinner tonight; a couple seconds later I turned to her with a confused face and said, "Umm.."  And she just says, "Yeah, I know.  I'm not sure."  The best thing is that we both know exactly what the unspoken sentences are.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

College kids in the real world

So, you know, sometimes life on campus can get really dull.  The people all start to look recognizable--even if you've never met them before--and the food is predictable.

Getting off-campus can be quite a treat.  And since it's such a special, rare occasion, I like to choose my off-campus company carefully to make the most of the event.  I never go wrong when I invite Mariah to join me for a much needed outing just to get away and enjoy life unrelated to the reality of college, which stares us in the face every morning when we get up.
She has been, undoubtedly, one of the best parts of my semester.  From ice cream to history studying to devotional accountability...I could go on.  The point is that Mariah is a lot like me, and we have thoroughly enjoyed finding out more of our similarities.  And I'm so glad she's just down the hall so I can bug her all the time, ask for her advice, and feel deprived when we go a few hours apart.

In the past few weeks Mariah and I have gotten off campus a few times, which our brains seem to like.  As we walked the sidewalk of downtown Greenville a couple weeks ago, Mariah said it well: "I feel like we have been in a movie and now we're released into the real world again."  So maybe we did look around at the tall buildings and shops like exaggerating lunatics, but it sure made it more fun.

Thankful for gift cards that enable extra special treats!

"Wow, look at that beautiful water...a real river.  It's so perfect."  In reality, the water was very muddy and brown.  Maybe we were a bit optimistic.

Although we had to return to the world of college again, it is ok as long as we are in it together.  
"Sometimes being with your friend is all the therapy you need."