writing, rewriting, editing life.

My creative writing degree prepared me more for my 20s than I realized it would.

With so many of my sweet friends walking through the first months after college graduation, and even with my own continued journey through my 20s, my mind has been somersaulting over what makes this season of life seem so difficult for so many people. The post-college transition is hard. At least, it was for me. The conclusion that I have come to is that all other major transitions in my life had been baby steps, specifically through the previous four years of transitions encompassed in the high school to college realm.

My transition from high school to freshman year of college was one of the best things for me — I was removed from small school senior year drama and was put in a place where I had the chance to make a new “image” for myself. Thanks to going to small school (most of our 14-person class had been together since fifth grade), my identity seemed to fit in this little box that I couldn’t seem to break out of – it was who everyone assumed I was, and who even I assumed I was. I was always the brainy kid who competed in academic events such a spelling bees and math competitions. I played every sport. I enjoyed school. Despite my performance-based identity, though, I was insecure in my own skin. College was my chance to rediscover my interests, my passions, my personality, and I found freedom in not being expected to act a certain way or dress a certain way or be a part of a certain group.

Freshman year was an opportunity for discovering community – finding kindred-spirit friends and being loved for the “me” I had bravely begun to live out.

Sophomore year was about slightly stepping out of my freshman year comfort zone to live in a new dorm with a new roommate and to initiate with freshmen students who lived in my dorm. I started to learn to not find security in one single group of friends, but to instead become friends with a variety of people.

Junior year and living off campus found me learning to “become an adult,” per say. One who budgets and grocery shops and pays electric bills and loads a dishwasher, whether or not the dishes are hers. With a check coming each semester from the university (as a part of my scholarship), and roommates to share the load with, and parents who gave me gas money when I needed it.

Senior year allowed me to learn about priorities and decisions. Three roommates, plus leadership and commitments with a campus ministry, plus upper-level classes, plus an honors thesis, plus a boyfriend (which I was not planning on) all led to figuring out the best ways to manage my time (skip class to go out to lunch or attend class and reschedule lunch?) and how to make what were some early life-changing decisions (such as, do I even want to date this boy?). I felt the pressure of the real world right around the corner, and I feel moments of that weight, but overall the cushion of college and certainty in the next day’s activities was still there.

Then I graduated college, and it was no longer about baby steps. 

I started working full-time the week before graduation while my roommates prepared for grad school by taking the summer off. Friends moved away, whether across the state or across the world. The university stopped sending me checks for housing and food; I had to figure out how to live on my salary and say “no” if I couldn’t afford to eat out again that week. The community I had built within the college ministry disappeared, and I had to start from scratch. No longer were we classified by our age, but by our stage of life: single, married, married with kids. Grad school, part-time job, full-time job, internship. Passionate about work or still trying to figure out what to be when we grew up.  (I was in the latter category of that one, by the way.)

No longer was I pursued by older students or campus ministry staff. No longer was every conversation intentional and filled with questions from both parties. No longer was it convenient to “live life” together. Everything required planning in advance, managing time, and non-flexible work schedules. Overtime work wasn’t optional. Long-distance friendships weren’t as easy as we hoped they would be. I got kicked off my parents’ insurance and had to learn about co-pays and deductibles and HSA options. I had to find my own dentist and doctor and hairdresser instead of scheduling those back home in accordance with school breaks and weekend trips.

Sweet friend, do you feel the pressure to have it all figured out right away, that you should be able to quickly bounce back to “normal”?

Because this post-undergrad phase is not a pass-fail situation.
It’s not win/lose.
Like much of life, it’s a process.

Writing is something I would say I am passionate about. I love watching letters and words come together to tell stories and provoke emotion and provide experiential wisdom. I love playing with paragraphs breaking on a page the way a child enjoys building dams and watching creek water split against new rocks. Poetry is not my chosen profession or even my preferred written expression, but my honors thesis is one of the things I am most proud of in terms of my academic accomplishments.

I vividly remember evenings on my Park House front porch listening to the chirp of crickets, scanning the trees for glimpses of lightning bugs, and examining the delicate shape of helicopter seeds. I would hand-jot notes, phrases, synonyms, sounds transcribed into words. (Onomatopoeia was a favorite concept among our poetry workshop class.) My workstation would then move inside to my desk, fingers typing words in hope that rhythm and music came from letters and spoken sounds.

In workshop the next day though, that poem would be analyzed. Entire lines would be crossed out, sentence structure rearranged, and concepts deemed as cliche. I would not have to start from scratch, but it felt close enough, and I would leave deflated.

But that’s often what it means to be a writer. And as someone who loves writing and wants to cultivate it, I have to accept that fact. If you are an architect, or a social media marketer, or any other profession whose work does not involve set formulas to be followed, then you probably understand this, too. Write, rewrite, rearrange, edit, rewrite. You don’t write a final draft on a first try, and you can’t do it on your own.

What if life – the “real world” – is this same type of process? 

Take risks. You never know what works until you try it.

Don’t be afraid of criticism. It helps you see weakness you can’t see on your own. In fact, ask for feedback from others.

Take notes. Whether it is an interview or a job or a new friendship, always have an attitude of learning and observing and question-asking.

Let go of the pressure (less likely others-originated and more than likely self-imposed) to succeed, to make all A’s, and to figure it out right away.

Three years in, I can’t say that I always know what I am doing, but I can look back and see growth. I am closer now than I have previously been to understanding myself and how I am wired and what God might have for me. I feel more daring now than I did the day after I walked across the stage in my cap and gown, and yet I feel more certain now that I don’t have it all figured out. That uncertainty keeps me running back to God with questions, and it keeps me leaning on Him.

Each day is a step in the journey, and each season brings with it a new workshop activity to help edit and revise this creative work being written as the story of my life.

I pray that if you are walking through this, as well,  you will not be discouraged by the process, but allow yourself to learn and develop and seek God wholeheartedly, since He’s the author of this whole shebang anyway.

 

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taking sabbath seriously

I just finished reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. I’ve probably been working on it for two months or so, and – I’m not gonna lie – I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the epilogue. While it was a great book, it was a very dense book, and it just took time to completely grasp some of the concepts. 

The theme of the book is faith-and-work integration; the Gospel should not only affect our decision for salvation and our relationship with God, but how we approach life, and specifically, our view of work and the way we work. The theology of work and the idea of living a fully-integrated life has been a huge theme for me and Eric over the past couple of years, and it is actually a huge piece of the puzzle for us as we join staff with Cru and prepare to work with college students. 

While there are many things I could write about, some of which I will potentially write about later, the last chapter really resonated with my heart. I will do my best to not make this like a book report, but some of the background information might be necessary in helping relate this piece to the whole.

In discussing the “power” given for work by the Gospel, the chapter addresses “the work under the work” and “the rest behind the rest”:

But the relationship between work and rest operates at a deeper level as well. All of us are haunted by the work under the work – that need to prove and save ourselves, to gain a sense of worth and identity. But if we can experience gospel-rest in our hearts, if we can e free from the need to earn our salvation through our work, we will have a deep reservoir of refreshment that continually rejuvenates us, restores our perspective, and renews our passion.

Keller and co-author Katherine Leary Alsdorf expound on the idea of rest by providing three purposes behind the idea of rest as illustrated by God’s command to obey the Sabbath.

  1. Sabbath is a celebration of our design – “Since God rested after his creation, we must also rest after ours… Overwork or underwork violates [that rhythm of work and rest] and leads to breakdown.” 
  2. Sabbath is a declaration of our freedom – “Anyone who cannot obey God’s command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. Your own heart, or our materialistic culture, or an exploitative organization, or all of the above, will be abusing you if you don’t have the ability to be disciplined in your practice of Sabbath… It is important that you learn to speak this truth to yourself with a note of triumph – otherwise you will feel guilty for taking time off, or you will be unable to truly unplug.” 
  3. Sabbath is an act of trust – “To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.” 

An act of trust – a moment to recognize that we are not in control. We are not the ones who are “making things happen.” Conviction came for me after this next section:

But by now you must see that God is there – you are not alone in your work. Jesus’ famous discourse against worry (Matthew 6:25-34) is set in the context of work. He chides us that the plants of the field are cared for, though “they do not labor or spin” (verse 28). He reminds us that we are obviously more valuable to God than plants – so we shouldn’t “run after” material things through our work (verse 32). So if you are worrying during your rest, you are not practicing Sabbath.

Yikes. I can’t count how many times I have spent my day(s) off worrying about the work I am not getting done, especially during this season of fundraising for Cru where work/rest boundaries are more blurred. The crazy thing is that it is during this season of fundraising more than any before where progress is completely dependent upon the Lord, yet I waste my energy and try to take control back by worrying about what I am doing to accomplish things by myself. 

Yet the enemy feeds us the lie that it is all up to me. The burden of success, whether material or spiritual, is on my shoulders, and if I am not being “productive,” then failure will follow.

Do I view both my work and my rest as sacred? As places where God resides and has the opportunity to be given glory? And, at the end of the day, do I let go of my efforts and entrust them into His hands? 

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength. —Corrie ten Boom

My desire is to take my rest – the Sabbath – more seriously. If the Israelites could take a Sabbath year every seven years to give the land a rest (Leviticus 25), and if the Lord provided for them with a whole year off, then He can most certainly provide for us if I honor Him not just with my work but also with my rest

Do you struggle with this, too? How have you learned to “take the Sabbath seriously”? 

 

observations of a substitute teacher

  • technology has changed. junior high and high school have not.
  • ninth grade girls are sweet and not snooty yet.
  • tenth grade girls are starting to become snooty.
  • ninth grade boys are still weird.
  • the above did not surprise me.
  • if you walk around with a lost look on your face, an adult is sure to take pity on you and ask if you are a sub.
  • if you walk around with a lost look on your face, kids wonder if you belong there.
  • washington irving will always be more interesting to you than to tenth graders.
  • literature will always be more interesting to you than to tenth graders.
  • when teachers don’t leave enough work for the class to do, quickly resort to games like “mafia” and “heads up, seven up.” this means you will have extended periods of silence.
  • if you don’t give junior high boys the death glare, they will zip their lunch boxes up over their heads. just to see if they can.
  • there’s always the one kid who gets excited about grammar. i was that kid, and this week i got to teach that kid.
  • someone should tell the substitute where to eat lunch.
  • if the above doesn’t happen, she will eat standing alone by a microwave in the kitchen.
  • if you have a past connection with the headmaster of the school, other faculty will ask for dirt on that headmaster. prepare beforehand, unlike me.
  • let kids discuss in groups before discussing as a class. it takes up time and they get their chattiness out so that they can actually discuss in class.
  • if no one shows up to your fourth period class, don’t panic. their regular teacher probably switched the classrooms, so she knows, but the school secretary will panic with you and help you run around checking other rooms.
  • if a boy introduces himself, and other boys grin, he is probably giving you a fake name.
  • remembering names on day two is impressive. and a method of authority.
  • ninth grade boys think the iliad is cool if you tell them about the achaeans dragging hektor’s dead body around behind a chariot.
  • thank the lord for each student who is bold enough to tell his/her classmates to chill out and pay attention.
  • i would do it again.

the gospel of my today

“We dilute the beauty of the gospel story when we divorce it from our lives, our worlds, the words and images that God is writing right now on our souls.” [Shauna NiequistBittersweet]

As I finished reading Bittersweet for the multiple-teenth time, this line convicted me. The essay discusses how essential our stories are – how our testimony is more powerful than any academic lecture. When people discuss who God is in their life, Biblical concepts become more relatable. Not only is it easier to listen to, but it is also easier to relate to.

But I don’t always want to share the messy parts of my life. Those are meant to be hid under the bed, in the basement, or on high closet shelves where I keep the rest of my stuff that I don’t want to organize or show off.

Even though that’s what the Gospel is based on. Jesus took our wreckage, and made it beautiful. His sacrifice changed us from hopeless to hopeful. If we were capable of taking care of ourselves, we would not need Him to rescue us. But I am finding I need this rescue daily. 

You could look at me right now, in this moment, and think that my life is picture perfect. I am lounging on patio furniture in our screened in porch (decorated with glowing stringed lights, of course), typing away, while my hunk of a husband serenades me with the guitar. Atypical for an Arkansas August evening, the weather feels like it is much cooler than the 89* my WeatherBug app tells me it is, and the crickets are chirping in a rhythm to match Eric’s strumming. It feels like a movie-worthy moment.

The truth, though, is that the past two weeks have felt like I am driving a car that breaks down every thirty-three miles. And never at the right exit signs. And always where there is no cell phone reception. And I could go on about how desperate I have felt at times.

Work has been a roller coaster of busyness but good conversations with coworkers but rude customers but friends leaving but small victories but stress. I don’t always handle the hard days like I should. Instead of leaning on the Lord’s strength, I choose to sulk or allow people whom I have never even met to hurt me, even though they don’t know me. And even though they are normally acting irrationally.

I choose to push forward on my own, convincing myself that I am tough enough, but at the end of the day, I repeatedly find that I have failed.

Eric and I had a rough week last week. Out of  the five weekday evenings, we spent four with other friends. We had separate plans every single morning before work. We had separate lunch plans almost every day. Eric had a couple of interviews which seemed unfruitful, and I didn’t know how to respond. We probably didn’t communicate like we could have. One night, I waited until he fell asleep then crept out to the living room to journal, because I was too embarrassed to admit to him how tired and distant I was feeling.

So where is the Gospel in this?

Right now. This redemptive moment. My day wasn’t any easier at work. My husband has two more interviews tomorrow.  We have lots more to sort out when it comes to our next steps together in life direction.

In the midst of what is the biggest storm we have experienced together through this point in our marriage (today is our nine month anniversary, by the way), we get to end the evening quietly. God is good. Though we are two broken people, we have a marriage that works despite difficulty. We are well taken care of and provided for. We have not given up in the midst of failures, and we are forgiven for our selfishness.

Redemption doesn’t always mean that you have reached the “happily ever after” ending of a story. Redemption happens while the story is still going on. Redemption happens even without a found resolution.

My story is certainly not over. But the Gospel is being played out daily, as I realize more and more how big God is, and more and more how much I need Him. I am going to be more honest about the state of my life, no matter how unorganized and out of tune it may seem, because I need to continually focus on the composition God is arranging and rearranging.

e-commerce christmas

Christmas has felt kind of off for me this year.

I have been working in the customer service department of an e-commerce company. We run 11 online retail stores, a few of which have become very successful. However, as I am sure those who work in physical retail stores can attest, the days leading from Thanksgiving to Christmas are absolutely mad. (Side note: I would say that e-commerce is worse, but we don’t have to deal face-to-face with people. And I have never worked this time of year in physical retail, so really, I have no right to declare which is worse. Of course, I think people are more awful over the phone or e-mail, as they can ignore social rules of conduct and courtesy. But, I digress.)

There are people who are absolutely crazy this time of year! The Christmas presents they are buying seem as important as life itself! If an item was back ordered or their order wouldn’t get to them in time for Christmas because they misread the information on the website (ships in 2-5 days does not mean it arrives in 2-5 days), they threw a fit. Their fourteen year old son would not be able to wait two extra days for the $150.00 pair of boots.

I had a lady tell me that, because a pair of “foot undeez” (basically, half-socks) was back ordered until February, I was ruining her daughter’s Christmas.

For four weeks, we worked ten+ hours straight in order to answer phones and respond to e-mails of customers who all had one question on their mind: “Will I get it in time for Christmas?”

We bent over backwards for many customers, calling manufacturers and suggesting products and checking availability and even redirecting packages after they had already shipped out, which is not easy to do. And we did have some very thankful customers. A couple who apologize for their nasty behavior. But, in general, people forgot that we are people too. That mistakes happen, whether on our end or theirs. Their Christmas was dependent on our products, and if we could not get their order to them within three days (it’s amazing that people in Oregon think a package can ship from Arkansas to them within two days) then we deserved to be yelled at, cussed at, called names, whatever their form of venting released.

And that’s what I saw of pre-Christmas preparation. Not the fun Christmas music playing in cute little shopping centers with people dressed in red and white and smiling at each other. I am sure that was out there, or at least in the movies, but I saw a very greedy, very materialistic view of Christmas, where their happiness depended on a sweatshirt that of course has been on continuous back order.

That’s when I think all of us decided that we never wanted Christmas to be like that for us. For these people, it no longer seemed like it was about family and thankfulness and a time to reflect – Christ was no where near their Christmases.

I don’t want to value the presents so much that our happiness depends on them. I don’t want to raise children who are going to be extremely disappointed and upset that the pair of $20.00 socks is not in their stocking. I want the presents to be a fun, minimal feature of Christmas, and I pray that Christ is the forefront.

And this morning, as I woke up at 7 and came to the living room, I was happy that Eric and I only bought one present for each other. I bought fun little stocking stuffers as a surprise, but it’s mostly candy (and bb’s for his new bb gun he walked away from a Christmas party with – and the green army men for him to use as targets – in the basement not the living room). I sat down on the couch and read a chapter in the book we are reading together, given to us as a wedding present. It’s about the life of Jesus, and we are still near the beginning, so we have gotten to read some really great historical background and insights into the birth of Christ.

So this morning, as I sip my Earl Grey and await for Eric to wake up and open the new sleeping bag I bought him for our camping trips this coming spring, I am excited to give him a gift, but more than that I am thankful for the God of the universe choosing to live with us and die for us, of his own free will, because of how He loves us.

making a mess

Sometimes, when things are a mess, I think we have to make them into an even bigger mess before they can be organized.

Eric and I are in the midst of unpacking and settling into our new home together. I have this inability to relax when things are not all in their place, so he might be able to sit on the couch after work and unwind from the day – but I sit next to him, fidgeting and thinking through all the things I need to get done that evening. (That, by the way, is the reason our bedroom is the one place without boxes and piles of stuff. Growing up, I could never go to sleep if my room was a mess, so I am insisting that the bedroom be free of clutter so it can be the one place we relax.)

While Eric was working late one evening, I decided to make some much-needed headway on unpacking and condensing. However, that condensing turned into a pile of clothes on the bed, a pile of unwanted items in the living room to give to a local thrift store, and a quickly-being-filled trash can of items that fit into neither of the previous categories. I walked through our house (which doesn’t take long – you can stand in one room and see into all the others) and felt like I had made no progress.

But I know that I did. I moved things around to get them one step closer to their final destination, whether it be closet or dumpster. It’s overwhelming to look at a room full of items needing to be sifted through, and it’s hard when you start sifting and feel like you have moved the mess from one room to multiple rooms, but from there it gets easier to put things away.

 

Doesn’t life seem like that? I feel like I am in that place right now career-wise. I had such clear goals for my life leading up to college graduation, or at least an idea of where I thought I was gifted. Now I am six months into a job and, even though I am blessed to be working at this company, I feel like I am no where near where I want to end up. I don’t know that I am using my strengths, but I don’t even know that I could recognize my strengths right now. I went into the job thinking I was exactly where I should be. Then I switched positions. Twice. And I feel further than ever from hitting the sweet spot.

But, the truth is, I have learned a lot in this process. It’s like unpacking – I am learning what I want to keep, what I want to avoid, and what I want to let go of, even if it is something I thought I would want at one point.

So I might feel like I am making even more of a mess of things and getting further from that settled state, but through this journey I am sorting things out and trying to accept that everything is getting clearer. Even if it doesn’t look that way from the outside.

one of the joys of wedding planning

Wedding planning has not all been a breeze. I quickly learned that it was not just picking colors and making decorations. The logistics are frustrating, and there are days where I am sick of planning and am just ready to be married.

And maybe that’s a good thing – that I am excited about my wedding day, but I am more excited to be married to Eric. I am planning a simple wedding, low-budget, not only because that is my and my family’s financial situation, but also because to me it’s more important to have the people in my life there than it is to limit a guest list so that we can serve fancy food or be in the most elaborate venue. In fact, I am asking my in-town friends to bring food for the reception, since it’s in-between meal times.

{If you haven’t been to our wedding website yet, it’s http://www.mywedding.com/ericlovessamantha. Cute, right?}

However, one of the really fun things about preparing for a wedding is registering for wedding gifts! Eric and I have next to nothing in terms of what you need for a house, so it is such a blessing that we have friends who want to bless us.

Also, it’s fun to daydream about the kind of house I want to have. And the kind of kitchen. I am getting so excited about putting a home together! Earlier this week, Eric and I received our first wedding gift – a blender!

My company recently started a cooking supply store, and I have been eyeing many of the products. Mostly daydreaming, as most of it is higher-end products that will probably be things I invest in over time. Such as the KitchenAid Artisan mixer. This is on my wish list in cobalt blue, though if I had seen the yellow pepper color first I probably would have registered for that since it is so bright and cheery, and would be a great accent for my planned blue-and-white kitchen colors.

I also registered for Calphalon’s Simply Nonstick cookware set,  and I am so excited to cook with matching pots and pans that are not the hodgepodge set of a college student. I also registered for silicone cooking utensils, since I am so worried about damaging my cookware. I am sure that, after a few scratches, it will become less important, but to start with I am excited to take my time and keeping it pretty.

If I were to keep daydreaming about my kitchen, it would include names like Emile Henry and Le Creuset. But if I got all of that now, there would be no fun upgrades later in life.