Category Archives: Living a Good Life

On resting in the good news.

You know those videos where a marathon runner’s legs buckle moments before the finish line and they wobble to the ground, so other runners have to help carry them across the finish line before transporting the poor soul to the hospital?

That was me as a first-year high school teacher, stumbling from my third week of teaching into this 3-day weekend. Teaching is incredible and a fulfillment of my lifelong dreams, but it ain’t no joke, fam.

By the grace of God, a new friend was going out of town, and her beautiful waterfront home by the bay was empty for the weekend. She invited me to come rest. “Here’s the spare key. Make yourself at home.”

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My weekend view.

(This should probably strike me as odd, that a woman I’ve met just once in person would allow me to live in her house for three days. What generous and abundant hospitality. This is uncommon. Surely I don’t deserve this. But I know that when we love Jesus, He shows us how to love extraordinarily, and my friend is simply loving me with everything she has–including her home. So this humbles me and points me to Jesus, but it no longer surprises me.)

So here I am, on a sister in Christ’s back deck overlooking the water. I’ve consumed one million bajillion calories this weekend–all of them empty, many of them alcoholic, all of them delicious–and I’ve finished three books that have sat on my shelf half-finished for months. This has been the perfect setting for Skype dates and phone calls to maintain relationships that are now separated by thousands of miles. The quiet has opened enough space for Jesus to whisper gentle reminders to me on the breeze.

Rest is so healthy and allows us to recharge to do our work to the best of our abilities. Jesus modeled this rhythm of rest and commanded us to follow His example. (This is essential doctrine, people. That’s why there are so many books and articles on it.)

And as I rest, the reminder that the Holy Spirit keeps impressing on my heart is simple: you are already loved and cherished. You cannot earn God’s love or favor. You’ve already got it.

This is hard for me to wrap my mind around as an academically-minded lifelong student with an all-American work ethic. From grade school to grad school, I constantly performed for grades and constructive feedback. As a teacher, I’m consistently being observed to ensure I meet expectations. I’m always watching the state standards to make sure I’m aligned with them. I never stop trying to prove myself to my students and even to myself.

But not so in the kingdom of God. Like the lamb in the parable of the lost sheep, I’m helpless on my own; I can’t earn the rescuing of the good Shepherd. Like the lost coin, I can’t help myself be found and treasured. Like the prodigal son, I can never do enough to prove my worth or make my Father love me.

We’re already valuable and treasured because our Father has a reckless love for each of us. No performance review will change that–either for better or worse. No failure is enough to change His love for us or change the fact that we are children of God. Yes, we should work hard to use the gifts He’s given us well, but when we mess up, He doesn’t back off.

So I don’t have to hide in shame, for His love is not contingent on how good of a teacher I am or how loving of a sister or friend I am. There are no standards I have to meet, no tests I have to pass. Thank God!

And this is true for every single person: you are already welcome at the table. Despite your screw-ups and awkwardness and history of running away. Despite your background, and despite all you’ve ever done. Even despite official church statements that determine whether you do or don’t belong.

You don’t have to have your membership up-to-date to partake in the love of God. No one but Jesus can decide who’s welcome at the table, and He has already said that everyone belongs: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, sinners and saints. He welcomes us into His presence, knowing that His words will draw us in, transform us, reorient us.

We don’t instinctively think this way. In his new book Whisper, Mark Batterson talks about how we won’t hear God’s voice if we don’t set aside time to hear it, and it won’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate rest, and deliberately seeking to know the truth through God’s Word and through His whispers.

That’s why I’m thankful for the privilege and the discipline of resting this weekend. And even as I return to another week of hard work as a teacher, striving for excellence as I living a life that I’d only dreamed of just a few years ago, I’m thankful that nothing changes how wide and deep and vast God’s love is for me.

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On control and not having any.

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I never would have labeled myself a “control freak.” I’ll change plans at the drop of a hat, let someone else plan and handle all the details while I ride along, happy to simply be. I’ve been known to put my jeans back on to go out with friends after I was already snuggling in bed for the night.

But sometimes, real life gets way out of control. I didn’t have control over the presidential election when the candidate I voted for didn’t win, and I don’t have control of what the president-elect will do. I lost my job as an adjunct professor due to new federal regulations–can’t control that. I live in a world that, in many ways, is under the control of others, and their decisions don’t always make sense.

The fallback Christian answer–in the election season, in job woes, in relationships, etc.–is that “God is in control.” I’ve said it (and sung it) myself. I’ve heard so many people remind each other, “God is still God.” As if He can become something else.

But do I really believe that? With a dangerous man’s finger on the nuclear trigger and car and student loan bills coming in as fast as I can pay them off?

I’m not being rhetorical. I’m seriously asking. I don’t think I believe that enough to let Him have control of my life. I resist that with my whole fleshly being.

On the morning after the election, I woke up feeling like I was in a strange alternate universe where everything is wrong. A friend pointed me toward Psalm 23, and I was struck by the verbs in the psalm: he leads me. He guides me. He is with me.

I don’t understand the theological implications of the control God has in our lives, and I don’t necessarily want to. My finite little mind can only hold so much. But I know Who is leading me. I must try not to forget.

When I started college, my dance experience was limited to Wii Just Dance, the Cha Cha Slide, and Zumba.

So when my roommate and I decided to try swing dancing during our first week at Liberty University, we had no idea that it would change our lives. But here I am, four years later: I have traveled to several cities and states to dance, many of my close friends are swing dancers, and I’ve even taught lessons at my local scene in Virginia.

Swing dancing is a social activity that has made a societal comeback and now attracts dancers of all ages and places. Since joining this community, swing dancing has taught me lessons that apply to life, and ultimately, it makes me a better person. Here are a few principles I’ve gotten from swing dancing.

1. Laugh at yourself.

Too often, people are afraid of looking silly. And learning to dance sometimes makes us look… well, ridiculous. Beginner’s luck does not apply to dancing, and all beginners look awkward. Your shoes will slip off (and fly across the dance floor). You’ll stick your elbow in someone’s eye. If you take any risk at all, you’ll probably do something that will make you feel completely embarrassed while you’re on the dance floor. Doesn’t that make you want to find your nearest venue and give it a try?

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If you let your pride get in the way of your dancing, you won’t enjoy it. You’ll quit before you have a chance to learn the needed skills to enjoy social dancing. And if you make a mistake? Keep going! You will get better, but you must always stay humble enough to learn from your errors.

Once, I was dancing with a sweet teenager who was just learning to dance. Though I was enjoying the dance, he got frustrated that he couldn’t remember the steps, so halfway through the song, he said, “Sorry, I can’t do this” and began to move off the dance floor.

In the middle of our dance.

I knew he needed to persevere. So I dug my fingernails into his palms and pulled him back. His eyes widened, but he finished the dance with me with a smile. And you know what? He wasn’t that bad.

So you might feel like you’re absolutely terrible, but no matter what, keep going and don’t give up. Like in life: laugh it off, enjoy the ride, and keep going, because it’s worth it!

2. Communication is everything.

Swing dancing is a partner dance. Each partner has a role: and the leader’s job is to guide the follower through a series of moves and patterns. These actions are communicated with nonverbal cues, and actively listening to each other is paramount. Paying attention to communicating with your partner is the difference between a dislocated shoulder and a smooth move.

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If either dancer refuses to listen to the other, the dance will look and feel uncomfortable, and no one will have fun. Needless to say, good communication is a skill worth learning, both on and off the dance floor. Listen well so that you can communicate successfully. And if you have a miscommunication, swing back to #1 and laugh it off.

3. Investing in experiences is worth it.

I have met amazing people and traveled so many places because of my love for dancing. I have spent long nights losing sleep and laughing and joking and jamming with people who mean a lot to me, and I believe that’s incredibly valuable. The money I have paid for events and gas and shoes is worth every penny because of these people.

I’ve watched my swing dancing friends get fall in love and get married and experienced the community coming together around tragedy. Swing dancers have become my roommates, my confidantes, and the people I rely on. It’s more than a dating pool or a hangout: it’s a community.

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So if you love something, invest in it. Your money is not wasted on experiences and relationships.

I would love to go back to high school and tell my sweet, awkward self that someday, she would step confidently onto a dance floor, asking men she’s never met to dance with her and spinning across the floor without abandon. That young girl would flash a metallic smile through her braces and probably stammer and shake from talking to someone older than herself. Dancing has changed me, and I am eternally grateful for the community and the skills that I have found, as well as for the lessons that it has taught me.

On customer service.

I travel more than the average American. I fly two round trips a year from Utah to Virginia and back. I’ve spent two weeks of the past two summers living on a train with my family and seeing the country. I rode the city bus every day to and from school last year. I even just tried Lyft for the first time today (and lived to tell the tale), and I’m typing this on a train. The conductor just came by to scan my ticket.

For all the hours I spend having my tickets scanned and sitting in numbered seats with armrests, I’ve encountered a lot of customer service representatives. Attendants, pilots, desk workers, phone reps, and even cleaning people.*
And while I’ve had dozens of positive experiences with amazing people (some of whom I will never forget), I remember only a handful of bad experiences.

Continue reading On customer service.

DIY: Greeting Card Booklet

This summer, I’ve been kickin’ tail on the many organizing and sorting projects that await me among all my childhood things. I’ve been reading about the practice of minimalism, but I don’t think that I could ever fully go for it… I’m just so sentimental! One of the hardest things to sort through has been the mementos I’ve kept from various celebrations and activities I’ve experienced.

For example, I graduated from Liberty University last year, and my parents came out to Virginia for graduation.

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When we came home, we had piles of event programs, magazines, photos, and cards.

So, so many cards.

I normally throw away birthday/holiday cards after I’ve read them, unless they have a very sincere, sentimental note inside. (My mom thinks I am a heartless person for this.) And I definitely throw away envelopes.

But many of the graduation cards I received were really special. These people watched me go through college, said something kind about my future, and wrote a sincere blessing and congratulations. I can’t throw those away!

So instead of letting them sit in a pile in a box, I decided to do something with them. I’ve seen this project on Pinterest plenty of times, and I finally decided to do it for myself! Here’s an explanation of what I made. It was so easy, I think it’s the best way to store greeting cards.

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These are about 20 cards that I received upon graduating college (and with my MA graduation coming up this year, I’m sure I’ll collect just as many more).

The hardest part was digging up the materials from my dad’s office: a 3-hole punch and two silver rings. We have tons of these around the house, but they can be found at an office supply store.

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The diploma and photo are for… inspiration. 🙂

After I threw all the envelopes away (which is my very favorite part), I spent about 10 minutes punching two holes in each card. I tried to keep them centered so that they’d all fit neatly, despite their varying sizes.

A few cards were so thick that I had to manually use a single hole punch, but I used the three hole punch to make a dent in the cards where I needed to punch.

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Then I slid each card onto the rings, and I was done!

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I’m so happy with how it turned out! I plan to collect various groups of cards–birthdays, holidays, and even just correspondence–so I can create more. 🙂

Now that I’ve taken a craft break, I have to go tackle more piles of stuff… Wish me luck!

10 Embarrassing Questions I’ve Asked Myself While Simplifying

I’ve recently begun to really, really evaluate the stuff I have in my bedroom at my parents’ home in Utah. My mom has done an incredible job going through years of memories and collected items, and my room demanded the same.

And it’s hard. And it requires a lot of thinking and questioning.

So here are the silliest questions I have genuinely asked myself as I’ve sorted almost 22 years of possessions:

  1. What am I supposed to do with this jewelry box drawer full of single earrings missing their pairs?
  2. Where did this t-shirt come from? I’ve never been to [exotic destination].
  3. Why did I keep this lotion & perfume set that smells like a middle school boys locker room?
  4. Did I actually purchase this green eyeshadow palette for myself?
  5. I wonder who Evelyn is and if I ever sent her a thank you for this graduation card…
  6. Why did I think this doodle on my church bulletin from 2008 was worth saving? Did I think I was creative?
  7. Seriously? A purple eyeshadow palette too?
  8. Would this restaurant still accept a coupon that expired 3 years ago?
  9. What if I need to use my 8th grade graduation cap and gown again in the future?
  10. What have I gotten myself into?

Disconnecting to Connect

Quick note: This post is a modified version of an article I wrote for the opinion section of an independent news site at Liberty in November 2013. The site has since deleted all of my articles, so I am taking the liberty to repost some of my work on my personal blog. Enjoy!

A few days ago, I sat alone in a corner booth at a diner writing a paper. As my brain slowly melted from analyzing literature, I couldn’t help but watch the people around me, and I was stunned at what I observed. As I looked around, I saw that every person at every table was looking at a glowing screen. Granted, I had my own laptop screen in front of me, so I’m not guiltless, but there were couples, groups of friends, and one-on-one conversations – all fixated on their phones instead of the living, breathing human beings in front of them. Two girls were Snapchatting their entire meal with a third party. Several people were reading aloud from the occasional Facebook post from one of those ever-popular college crushes pages. Very few were invested in meaningful conversations with each other.

Continue reading Disconnecting to Connect