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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."

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Short story feature

I am a little envious of one of my best friends, who has some mad writing skills.  Sometimes when I'm reading her writing, I think "how on earth did she know to write that into this scene??"  She has some incredible insights about people and situations in her writing.  Her writing is realistic, descriptive, and often inspiring.  So even though I don't have the writing skills that Hannah does, I'm so glad I get to read her work.  I can't wait to see her become a published author someday so that the world can also benefit from her skill.  But for now, I'm happy to be able to introduce one of her recent short stories!
Hannah Tacci   -   1-24-2018

He had bucked teeth, was overweight, and the reek of drool, medicine, and body odor rested on him like a cloud. He didn’t often change his clothes, and his style certainly didn’t vary: T-shirt, sweat pants, and crocs. There was never a day when he wasn’t seen sporting his plastic Captain America wristwatch. He was thirteen. The kids at the school dubbed him “the Beluga,” partially for his size and partially because he was just that white. The last time he had a shower was in question, but one could guess it had been at least a week judging by his greasy hair.
That was Charlie.
No one liked him, and everyone knew why. The guy had no social boundaries or skills, no hygiene. He couldn’t even take a hint to accept the breath mint offered to him by the one nice girl in class. His classmates shoved by him in the hall, locked him in the bathroom, and barricaded him in at the top of the playground firepole, forcing him to slide down it after crying at the top for fifteen minutes.
Strangers stared at him, and his parents’ friends talked over him like he wasn’t there. “Does Charlie like ice-cream?” they’d say to his mom, even though he was sitting right there.
“Yes!” Charlie would yell, forgetting his indoor voice, forgetting he “wasn’t a part of the conversation.”
Charlie’s favorite pastime was spending hours upon hours on the computer, decoding things like Binary Numbers, learning keyboard shortcuts, and playing Chess. He could beat anyone at Chess, but no one knew because no one played with him.
But Charlie didn’t mind. He never did. He was always the first one to offer someone else his seat on the bus. He always brought his teacher a packet of stickers on the first day of school. He always prayed for the kids in his class.
Charlie would come home from school, and his mom would say, “How was your day, Char Char?”
He’d smile that buck-toothed grin and say, “Good.” He never told her that someone stuck gum on his chair in the cafeteria or that “Handsome”—the “cutest” boy in Math class—broke all his pencils. What was the point? Charlie figured that one could still get A’s with a piece of gum on their pants and half a pencil.
His mom would hug him and gently remind him to swallow.
He’d then go to his room and look at the Captain America poster on his wall. Jesus was Charlie’s first hero, but Captain America would forever be a close second. Someday, Charlie would be like Steve Rogers: picked on at first, but he wouldn’t mind. He’d still be good, and someday, he’d be great—maybe even save the world.
He never got that chance. You see, Charlie died a week before his fourteenth birthday. His brain condition slowly took over until he had no fight left. But Charlie never complained.
No one at school cared once he was gone, except maybe the teachers and the breath mint girl. The other kids just had to find someone else to pick on. Why would they care? They were all better than him. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
I wonder if the world couldn’t use more Charlies.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Writing a good thank you

I have been an obsessive letter-writer for as long as I can remember.  I clearly recall, around the age of 8, going through my parents' address book and writing a letter to basically everyone I vaguely knew.  I wrote so many letters growing up that I finally began keeping a log of every letter written each year.  (2017 was my record at 203.)  Clearly I have an unusual obsession.
I am particularly thinking about thank you cards this time of year, catching up from all the generous gifts for my birthday [from my incredible friends and family!].

Thank you's are probably the most necessary cards to write in all of life.  I often hear of people who have long ago given up on writing thank you's because it is too time consuming and hard to keep up with.  Unfortunately, our society has tried comforting themselves with the [false] belief that it's not all that important anyway.

So let me first tell you why writing thank you's is so important, even in a world converting to social media and instant messages:
A hand-written, mailed card shows greater appreciation and thoughtfulness in return.  It's true that it takes time to write something out by hand...and even more time to think of what to write first.  Even though I often write letters and thank you's, I find myself struggling every time to know just how to begin or just what to say next.  However, the person who gave you a gift or provided you with a place to stay also spent a lot of time thinking about how to make it the perfect thing for you.  Writing a personal thank you is like saying "this is how much all your effort means to me," and everybody deserves to hear that.

Now that we've established that it's well-worth your time, there are probably still a great majority who don't know what to write.  Then the note is concluded within about 4 sentences and put in the mail.  That's a great start, but stamps are expensive these days.  If you're going to mail something, you might as well make it worth every penny.  Here's how to make a letter lengthier and more meaningful:  (Not all these tips for writing are original, but I'll be happy to take credit anyway.)

1. Immediately put it on your to-do list and get it done soon
As soon as you get something in the mail or get home from receiving a gift, put it on your to-do list.  If you forget, you will also likely forget to write a note.  Keep it near the top of priorities and get it done in the near future so you can check it off.  This is a really simple, non-active task to do in the evening before bed or even mid-way through the day for a mental break from other things.

2. Don't let your opening sentence start with "Thank you for..."
This is actually a tip I learned from How Rude, a fabulous, understandable book about manners of all kinds; and it has transformed (and improved) the way that I write a thank you card.  It is a huge temptation to start out saying "Thank you for the....".  After all, that's the reason you're writing anyway.  Nonetheless, starting out with a more creative sentence is much more meaningful and interesting.
For instance, my sister recently gifted me with headphones to replace my broken pair.  I could start out by saying "As I sit here writing you, I am experiencing the luxury of hearing my music in both ears rather than just one for the first time in months."  Then I could even start the next sentence with "Thank you so much for the headphones!" and build on it from there.
If it happens to be a gift that you don't find as specifically useful or desired, that just gives you greater opportunity to get creative.  When I'm really desperate, I start the first sentence with something random (just to avoid breaking the first rule of thank you writing) like "I'm sure I just saw a polar bear run by the window."  Whatever it takes to avoid starting with "Thank you," do it.  ;)

3. Write about why the gift is special to you
Once you've gotten past the first, brain-stretching sentence (believe me, it doesn't really get easy to be creative with it), you can begin describing why the gift means so much to you.  In the case of the headphones, I could proceed to say that they will be very well-loved because I live in a dorm room and I love listening to music all the time.
A few months ago a friend gave me a beautiful painting with Psalm 139 on it.  This was meaningful to me because Psalm 139 is a chapter that my dad led the family in memorizing several years ago, so it always reminds me of him.
The point is, make some personal connection with the gift if possible.

4. Tell how you plan to use it
Some gifts are self-explanatory.  In the recurring theme of the headphones, my sister would probably not expect me to tell her that I plan to use them to tie my shoes; and I would not feel the need to tell her that I'm going to use them to listen to music.  In that sort of instance, you could rather describe how frequently it will be a useful device in your life.
If you are gifted with money, tell how you plan to spend it.  If you don't know yet, make something up that is probably close to the truth.  :D

5. Include some additional information about you/your life
This step isn't always necessary or appropriate, but it can be an enjoyable addition--especially if you know the person fairly well.  Even with thank you cards, I usually like to include something interesting about what I've been doing lately or something exciting that is on the calendar for the near future.  As I mentioned before, stamps aren't cheap, so make the most of it.  It doesn't have to be lengthy or detailed; but the person you are writing has already shown interest in your life by gifting you with something, so you might as well let them in on a few things.

6. Conclude with a restatement of your gratitude
This is where it starts to sound like you're writing an essay or research paper.  But--believe me--once you have followed the above steps, it will be far more interesting than that.
In the final sentence or 2, restate just how thankful you are.  You don't have to rename the object or be specific all over again.  It can be something as simple as "Thank you again for the thoughtful gift and card.  I'm so thankful to have you as part of my life!"

Now go dig out your cards, stamps, and envelopes.  You probably have a lot to catch up on.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Farewell address (to teenager-dom)

Where has time gone?  How did I get to be so...aged?
A few days ago I saw the last of 19 years old, and I still haven't quite gotten over it.  I (knowing that one day it would be me) always made fun of people turning 20 because it seriously sounds like an enormous number.  I'm not a 5 year old, but I still think 20 is old.
As I thought over life and expectations this week, I realized that my story-book life didn't come true, and there aren't any re-dos in life.  Is that ok?..........

At one time I thought my chance at being a teenager was still so far in the future...just barely close enough to see if I squinted really hard and imagined a little dot on the horizon.  In my mind, that distanced fantasy dot held the answers to so many expectations.  I dreamed of myself being surrounded by friends, liked by everyone, and old enough to have a license and to graduate from the misery of high school with life still looking easier and better from there.  (I mean, aren't a license and graduation from the chains of school the leading lines to a lifetime of happiness?) 

That aforementioned dot came into full view all to soon.  In approaching my 13th birthday, I didn't feel the near dread my sister had experienced.  She didn't want to be associated with the connotations of that wild posse; I guess I felt like I'd fit right in with the group. It was time to swing the door back on its hinges and stare at my conjecture in the face.  And what I soon noticed was that I was a terrible weather forecaster. Yes, I had a few close friends who proved themselves faithful and I eventually obtained the satisfaction of a driver's license and graduation.  But life seemed to get progressively harder.  In fact, the years ahead were filled with heartbreak and realities that contradicted my ideal image.

What I didn't know ahead of time was that God would use every day of my teen years to take me from attempting to have a flawless life to being someone who came to know real love and to long for eternity.
I would've never asked for the events that came.  But when I look back on the past 7 years, I don't see sand dunes of misfortune and letdowns anymore.  I see a lot of years and situations where God proved His perfect love and goodness.  I see where He shaped me--often painfully--into a better person.  And I wouldn't give up these life lessons to have the years I originally dreamed of.  God gave me this, and it is perfect because He is perfect.

"Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments in your life.  Keep the faith.  It will all be worth it in the end."

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 in review

It is always hard for me to look back over the entire year and pick out the highlights.  It seems as if there are either too many hard things or too many wonderful things; the reality is that there is a good bit of both, and I can’t possibly write about them all…but I like to attempt anyway.

The year started on a very pleasant note as I closed my high-school books for the last time in mid-January.   After years of set-backs, it was a relief to see that era of my life come to an end at long last.  My thoughtful family, who seems to always be on the look-out for an excuse for some kind of surprise, ought to earn a reward for the graduation open-house they threw for me in February.  Not only did my entire immediate family get to be here to celebrate, but several close friends were flown in as a surprise for the momentous occasion.  It was so special to see each of them and so humbling to be reminded of the great lengths my family goes to just for me.

While all of the family was in the same state for my graduation, we were all able to enjoy a cold, wonderful day at White Pass—an old family tradition that wants to be revived.  I am attempting to revive whatever snowboarding capabilities I used to have as well.  I always enjoy getting strapped to the board again, especially when it is alongside my brothers, who are my snowboarding heroes.

Another successful year of teaching at our local after-school program came to an end, and we entered into a very busy summer.   Throughout the summer we hosted our dog’s first litter of puppies, an enthusiastic crew of 8.  We were especially thankful that the puppies were so cute, which greatly contributed to the rapid sale of the litter.

Tirzah and I were asked to teach at our church’s VBS as well as at a local day camp over the summer.   We both enjoyed the opportunity to serve and be with so many wonderful kids from our area.  We were also kept quite busy with our housekeeping business, which requires a lot of attention in the summertime.  The freedom to work on our own schedule is an unmatched benefit of our business.  Tirzah and I are so thankful for the jobs we’ve been offered and the wonderful people we get to work with.

Amidst the pre-existing responsibilities of summer, we were able to fit in a very quick road trip to Wisconsin (as quick as possible, anyway) for the wedding of a friend/honorary family member, Ema.  Although the nights were nearly sleepless and the miles were many, my mom, Tirzah, and I were all so glad to be there in support of someone so special to us.

In August, my mom had a speaking engagement in Alaska, and Tirzah and I were able to join her there for a few days.   Between 4-wheeling, games, canoeing, and late nights, it was so good to see and catch up with several friends there.  3 months earlier Hannah and Christian had been able to visit Washington for the 3rd time, so we were glad to be able to return the favor at last.

As if our summer traveling hadn’t already hit a climax, we drove a very full car east to South Carolina at the end of August.  After spending months praying for wisdom and seeking counsel from several sources, I finally decided to take the leap into college at Bob Jones University.  A very tough semester ensued, providing a college experience that was quite different from my expectations.   Roommates proved to be an interesting (and now mostly laughable) situation, classes kept me exceptionally busy, dorms were certainly not my cozy home in the woods, and having a phone paid off as I spent approximately 20+ hours on phone calls each month.   An outstanding amount of mail/packages from family and friends as well as the company of my 2 cousins in the Greenville area eased the blow of daily life.  I really particularly enjoyed getting better acquainted with my cousins—attending church with them and benefitting from several enjoyable conversations together.  I could go on at length about the laughs, tears, frustrations, and adventures of these past 4 months, but I will not bore you with on-going details.  I learned so much about so many things in this little taste of college, which turned a hard thing into a good thing.

These past couple weeks of blissful Christmas break have hurried by in a blur.  A second litter of puppies has already arrived—but only a very fat pair of 2 this time.  Some short-lived snow gave us a white Christmas, which some people can only dream or sing about.   Family members of all sizes have filled our hearts and bedrooms in the past several days.  I am reminded of the things that matter the most in my life, and my prayer is that my focus will lie there in this coming year.   I do not know what struggles and joys 2018 holds, but I am confident that I am held fast by the One Who loves me most.

Happy New Year to all readers near and far!  May 2018 be filled with evidence of God's love for you.