Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Welcome, 2016



I've had "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" stuck in my head for the past two weeks. It's a lovely song, especially when sang classically. Two of my favorite covers of this song are Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt's duet and Seth MacFarlane. The former is a bit more cutesy, but Zooey has such a classical tone to her voice that it just fits so beautifully with holiday music, especially. And Seth MacFarlane is an amazing singer. Sometimes, when there isn't any noise around me or anything to distract me, I'll just burst out into the first verse until I get my kicks in again--my shower and kitchen are probably tired of me by now for that reason. I can't say I've been pushing to see 2016, but I can say that 2015 had good and bad times, and I'm ready to put them all aside right now and move on to a new year.

I'm happy with my job, my marriage, my friendships and my life overall. Some people aren't having as easy of a time. (I just hope you know that you can always come to me if you're reading this and feel like this is you.) I've got goals that I want to complete before 2016 is over. A bit ago I blogged that I wanted to tie up the loose ends of 2015 before it ends. I'm almost done with everything except one thing. I'm proud of myself for being able to say that. Beyond that, my goals for 2016 are mostly writing/editing/publishing related. Get my stuff published, get it out there, get it finished. That's the most important. The next is get fit again (because the holidays were fiercely delicious). Then small but important things like go out more with friends. I'm not looking to get wild every night, but things as simple as coffee and brunch dates with friends with important and fun conversation are so important. I did a lot of it in 2014 and the first half of 2015, but something happened and it all just abruptly stopped. Some of my best moments were those days eating brunch-y foods, laughing over something stupid, whining about work and drinking mimosas.

And I want to do more outreach--with art, friends and faith. I want to leave a mark on this world not with my face or image but with a message I can share, with arms I can use to hug people, and with sincerity that I can soothe people.

The other day, I picked up Savannah from the airport. She spent the previous week of Christmas with her family, and while I would have jumped at that opportunity, she was a little less ecstatic about the trip. Luckily I was there to greet her with hugs, the other half of a chai tea latte I ordered while there and a patty melt that I made with my own two little hands just for her--because a 5-hour flight and a 3-hour time zone leap makes for one really exhausted body. She was incredibly grateful, and I just thought about all of the times I've really needed a hug and a metaphorical patty melt and someone was there for me.

Gotta pay it forward, and keep paying it forward in 2016.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Condemnation Isn't His Likeness

John 3:17
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
I could go on a long, redundant rant about how important it is to show love always, but I feel like we've been there before; I'd rather take another approach for once.

Lyndsey and I have been swapping Bible verses lately. We want to make it part of a weekly tradition, and discuss what we've learned from the verse and debate our interpretation, if necessary. This week's verse was mine to choose, and I chose John 3:17, partly because the Christmas season just passed us (unless you believe that Christmas decorations should stay up until February like I always begged my parents to do) and partly because it's something that's always on my mind.

The New Yorker did a profile feature on a young woman who left Westboro Baptist church. Honestly, if you haven't read that story, please read it through to the very end. The last sentence brought a tear to my eye. The story touches home with me not because I'm estranged from my family and home church, but because I recognize how important it is to expand your horizons and find faith in what works for you. Your faith is yours, friends. Be mindful of what your religious text is truly teaching you, but don't forget that your relationship with God is a personal relationship for a reason. Often times, churches and Christian communities can be very focused on the condemnation called out in the Bible, but don't realize the historical context behind it. They forget about the love that the New Testament actually speaks of far more often than they should. The ending of the aforementioned profile--without giving too much away--is a message of redemption. Somehow, despite all the years of hate, love spoke through. God's love.

Essentially what Megan Phelps-Roper learned, from parting from the church, is that the world isn't as sinful and scary as she had been taught--there isn't a reason to turn your nose up in disgust at everyone and everything (to look at the world as if it's nothing more than a ball of mass in space that God will soon smite down). It's more important to keep your eyes open, to constantly learn and to constantly love. To be aware, but not to condemn. It's okay to expose yourself to the world. It's okay to relate and to appreciate the world around you.

I remember, years ago, I posted on Twitter that I wanted to try yoga (wiped me out, by the way). A friend jumped on the Tweet, instantly, and said that I shouldn't because of its connections to Hinduism. I'm not trying to tempt fate with Shiva, or "open myself up to" something I shouldn't. My goal is to get fit and stretch out my body. Yoga's roots are buried in Hinduism, yes, but just like language, food and fashion, exercise and therapy is yet another thing that we have adapted from other cultures. If my friend heard that the Hindu diet included a lot of eggs and meat, would he--for fear of "mingling" with something he shouldn't--stop eating eggs and meat? Not likely. I don't intend to meditate to another deity, I intend to practice the yoga we have adapted in our society as part of relaxation and exercise. In fact, sometimes when I am doing yoga, I spend some time thinking positive thoughts, counting my blessings and praying. A couple of years before that, one of the first things I was told by my (loving) preacher when I was accepted into college was: "You be careful out there. We read stories all the time of students losing their faith when they go away to school." I definitely get what he meant, but just that fear in what he said made me feel like I was being warned more than being congratulated for my hard efforts in school. Why as Christians, if we are saved by the grace of God, should we be so afraid?

There is simply no reason to act as if this world is out to get you. Yet some are--some are so afraid to go outside of what they know because of verses in the Bible that speak of being fearful of the sins of the world. I get it, you're living by the Word, but remember what John 3:17 says? The Bible (and God) never asked you to hide away, it asked you to keep your eyes open. God never intended us to be hermits. He never wanted us to condemn the world. He wanted us to show it love and appreciate the life we do have while we're here.

As someone who has explored only a few corners of this world, all I can think about some days is how much I want to spend the rest of my life exploring even more. Perhaps that's the journalist in me. I want to try new foods, meet new people, see new places, visit anything from small village shops to large temples of greater historical value than little ol' me. I want to write about it all and share that wonder with others. God created the world and us in it. That's why it's important to show it all love. That's why it's important to remember Jesus's radical role in religion and faith and remind ourselves that the way we box ourselves in as Christians isn't healthy or wise.

How can we show God's love and spread His Word if we spend literally our entire lives confined to a small section of the world and the same people always? More importantly, how can we even determine what's right for ourselves in faith and life if someone else is always pulling our strings?

Don't be afraid of this world. Show it some love. God didn't go through all the trouble of saving it for us to shy away from it.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas with Ariel (and Tripp)

Back in Georgia, there is a girl named Ariel who is my Soul Sister. We went to college together and worked on the paper together. We even had an English class together before I knew her, and I'm so sad we didn't connect earlier that semester because it would have made that class a lot easier to get through--that professor was the worst. But no matter the amount of stress, sleep deprivation or craziness as writers we experience, Ariel has always been there with me to see me through it. Let us not forget that she's also one of the most incredible writers I've had the privilege of knowing personally.

Ariel also has a blog, by the way. There, she bakes cupcakes based on books she's read/reading (typically, this week it's just Christmas goodness). You should check her out over at Books & Batter if you haven't.


Ariel is great for many reasons, but the biggest reason of all is that she is always the person who can put a smile on your face no matter where you are in life.

We spent our Christmas Eve eve over FaceTime after she received my Christmas present of an apron with cats printed all over it (and she looked adorable in it, let me tell you). So while she baked yummy treats, I worked on a Christmas dinner for Tripp and me. Probably the most creative thing (other than cooking a black forest ham for the first time) was biscuits with stuffing in them. You heard that right.

Just as much as the holidays are about love, they are about loving food, and I got a little creative. So, here's the slopping mess before they baked:


Merry Christmas!

Christmas in this town is so beautiful and fun. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas at Work


(Photo source.)

Sometimes work Christmas parties can be a drag, but not when you work with my group of folks. We had a Super Smash Bros tournament in one corner, Rockband in another, Secret Santa, booze, Qdoba catering (yayyyyy queso!), and lots of hugs and laughs. I've worked here for 1-1/2 years now, and I just can't get over how regularly blessed I feel to know these people and get to hangout with them like this. I got all dressed up in red and spent three long hours just soaking in all of the fun.

Closer to midnight, these losers even started doing keg stands. It was nuts.

I'm not saying all Christmas/holiday parties have to be like ours, but I hope that if you observe any holidays at all that you get just as much entertainment and love from them as we do.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rejected!



This isn't my first rejection, but this is my first, physical rejection letter as an adult writer. I've thought about scrapbook-ing both my triumphs and failures, but "failures" seems too harsh of a word for a rejection letter. I put my words out there, I tried. And I shot for the moon in this case. The Sun Magazine is the ultimate goal for me. Next would probably be writing profiles for Rolling Stone Magazine, but I need a bit more experience before that happens. (Appreciate the baby steps, people.) I love the authors/writers that the aforementioned have published. The literary diversity teaches me so much about my own writing with each new issue.

I remember when I was first introduced to this magazine. I was in my junior year of college, and my professor for a creative writing course passed around several back issues. I fell in love with the design of it, the way it held in my hands--and more importantly--the content. Since delving into creative nonfiction going back 5 years now (more, if you count the years I was doing it without realizing it), I have imagined myself published as a nonfiction writer in a literary magazine. Since exploring what the editors of that North Carolinian magazine have to offer, I know I want my byline printed boldly--online and physically--in The Sun Magazine.

Have you ever had to deal with rejection? Sure, on an emotional level with maybe someone you have liked or loved, you have--everyone has, and I'm not discrediting that feeling. But what about for something that you've poured hours, days, weeks, months and maybe even years into creating? How did you handle that rejection when it came? It's hard to take it well. Perhaps in my more seasoned time as a writer I have a better perspective on things. I've seen all sides of the process from the bottom-of-the-barrel writer doing the grunt work to the editor-in-chief holding it all together. Maybe that's the real reason I can take it in stride. It's taken me a while to get here, though. Even now, some basic criticisms sometimes don't land as easily as the criticizer expects or wants.

Some have value, some don't, and I do have a tendency to want to argue my side. Something to remember: Editors are readers. They aren't just there to check for grammar and content; they are your audience, same as the eventual readers who will stumble across your work later. The same goes for anything you put out into the world. I guess you could even say that for yourself. It's a strange world when you feel like you're rejected by it. Learning how to handle the rejection with poise and confidence is the key.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Schoolin' Life

Isn't it funny when Beyoncé stands in front of the word "FEMINIST," in bright letters, women everywhere bow down? I should have known she was sending me a sign way before that.



My sophomore/junior year of college, I lived with three other females. Some of you may be gasping, wondering how I did it. But let me tell you, these women taught me something major, they had a huge hand in shaping who I am today. They taught me about self confidence and loving yourself and being empowered. They also taught me a lot of lessons about how I treat others.

For that full semester, we were a family. We clicked so quickly, even with all of us being weird, little oddballs in our own ways. Sometimes we fought, but at the core there was a bond; we truly loved each other. I like to reflect on what I learned from my roommates that year, more than what we fought about or disagreed with. We all came from different backgrounds and upbringings, even if we had a lot in common.

There was Terri, who was very quiet when we first met her, but when she opened up was a hyper trip and took no shit. She had a strong background in dance and was obsessed with shoes. She also just cut off all of her hair so she could go natural, and I learned a lot that year from her about how beautiful hair can be and also how much of a labor of love it truly is. Then there was Jessica. She was loud, laughed a lot, and strong willed and opinionated. That's probably what made her so much fun to be around, though. She transferred in from another school with the hopes of being a nurse, but soon changed that to a teacher. I knew whatever she did she would put her whole heart into. Canessa is the one I think about a lot. She taught us all something she may have never expected. Canessa is gay and was dealing with a tough long-distance relationship that was on and off again when we first met her. Watching her in pain so often made us speak out a lot about how we felt about her girlfriend. (Y'know that whole 'mind ya bidness' thing? Yeah, I should have applied it that year, for sure.) In the end, I think that hurt her the most. That's probably my biggest regret from that year. I wanted to protect her and convince her to stay away from something so negative, that I actually made things harder on her. But I had a hard time not speaking my mind when I was younger. I learned that lesson. In the end, Canessa and I probably fought the most, but it wasn't because we hated each other. I just wanted the best for her forever and ever. Of course, there was me: obnoxious, loud and just as opinionated as Jessica, but often showed it in different ways. We all had nicknames, and they called me "The Professor." I was a nerd who had a head full of knowledge, and sometimes I was more outspoken than I should have been. But hey, college is about learning lessons. I don't regret being the way I was--I was young. I only regret it when it hurt someone else. Each lesson I've learned has taught me to only love who I am now more (in a humble yet confident way, not in an arrogant one).

There were nights where all four of us would be together praising God (sometimes crying, even), watching "The Princess Frog" or "Dreamgirls" or we would be blasting music while we cleaned up the place on the weekends. We all had very different schedules and majors that demanded a lot from us. Sometimes we would be stressed, pulling out our hair during finals and yelling at each other like we were crazy, or laughing and screaming down the halls dumping water on our RA. (True story, I'm sorry Marcel. Okay, not really.) I remember us all sitting on the floor after I was verbally harassed by some boy outside of our dorm, and they held me while I cried; we swapped fuckboy war stories that night. We had the Serenity Prayer written on a wall in one of our rooms, and I remember crying over that with them as we testified how much God had done for us in our lives. We shared experiences, like when we got a friend who was 21 and had a car on campus, to get us alcohol and we had to mix it with sodas we found in the dorm's vending machines, because it was so bad. (We also blasted "Shots" by LMFAO while we attempted to guzzle it all.) There was the time that Jessica--also a dancer--wanted to choreograph a dance to a song for her boyfriend, so she and Terri spent hours for about a week in our room dancing to "Skin" by Rihanna. Eventually I was singing along while they danced on chairs in front of me, and they laughed. As far as we know, that dance went over well.

There was a lot of music and love happening that year. And one song we could all agree was the best, no matter where we were mentally or emotionally that year, was "Schoolin' Life" by Beyoncé. It was just our song. The more I hear it, the more I realize why it was so emblematic of us--girls just becoming women, owning who we are in life and love. That year, we were all trying to figure out who we were as women--even if at times we felt like we already had it figured out. Some days, when you're just a fresh 20/21 year old, you can still feel like a child in many ways. But you live for the days that you look in the mirror and feel like a grown woman. "Schoolin' Life" is a song for everyone.


This is for them twenty-somethings
Time really moves fast, you were just sixteen
This is for them thirty-somethings
That didn't turn out exactly how your mom and dad wanted you to be
This is for them forty-somethings
Well, raise up your glass and laugh like a motherfucker
This is for them fifty-somethings
Hey, you're halfway there, baby take it to the head

[...]

I'm not a teacher, babe
But I can teach you something
Not a preacher
But we can pray if you wanna
Ain't a doctor
But I can make you feel better
But I'm great at writing physical love letters
I'm a freak, all day, all night
Hot, top, flight
Boy out of sight
And I'm crazy, all day, all night
Who needs a degree when you're schoolin' life

It's a song that reminds you that you're a badass even when you forget. You turn on that song, and Beyoncé puts a hand on your shoulder and just says, "Go kill it, girl!" Whether it's on days where you're feeling sexy, or days where you're at work or with friends. Beyoncé is there to remind you, with her song, that you're schoolin' life while others are wasting theirs. You're making something of yourself. You're a rockstar. Blast that music, girl, and take that world as yours. When you're in college, I think everyone needs an anthem like this to blast in your ears or through your speakers and dance to before you start your day.

I remember days when the sun would shine bright in the dorm, we had the windows wide open, we would violate several noise rules, and all of us would be either to ourselves or in the common area dancing and singing in the mirror together. That year for me was a tough one on many levels--and honestly the next year was even worse. I was carrying a lot on my plate from back at home to even what was happening right in front of me in school. But about a year after I left that dorm with those three beautiful women, and I was rooming with someone else, I suddenly realized that they were the exact women I needed to remind me of who I was as a daughter of God and as a grown woman. They taught me who to be, who not to be and kept me accountable.

Being a woman means something different for every woman. Whether you were born female and identify as a woman, or you were born another sex and identify as a woman, it really doesn't matter. You being who you are and owning it is beautiful. You taking the world by storm every day by just walking out of your house is amazing. You choosing to wear your lipstick one way or just dress down and still have that swagger that is undeniably yours is empowering. For me, it's owning my femininity without losing that tomboy child I used to be--it's knowing I look good whether I'm wearing a t-shirt and jeans or my favorite dress. It's knowing that my self worth is in the kindness I share with others and the intelligence I have. I can accept my flaws and others' and still embrace it all; I'm still strong, face against the wind, no matter what comes my way. I'm taking on the world every day, baby. Ain't no doubt about it.

One day, maybe Jessica, Terri, Canessa and I will reunite at a dinner somewhere, and we'll all be shining stars at a table laughing and praying again. I just hope they know how much I love and cherish what they taught me--I mean, hell, they put up with me for a year when I was mostly lost and confused and trying to figure my stuff out. They honestly deserve some sort of award for that. But that past doesn't matter as much as my future. Because of them, it's bright.





Thursday, December 10, 2015

Too timid to love God.

I started going to church when I was 3 years old. My mother had grown up in church, and when she married my father, she wanted to return to church and devote herself to the love, worship and praise that was there. My dad wasn't really into the idea--he wasn't completely against church, but he was adamant he wouldn't go. Against my father's wishes, my mother found a church nearby and then took me. Finally with his wife and daughter convincing him that church could be a good thing (which who knows what 3-year-old logic I used, I mean honestly), he decided to go. Not shortly thereafter, my father was Saved.

The church was a nondenominational Christian church, but all nondenominational churches in Georgia certainly still lend themselves towards a southern Baptist style--especially in the '90s. So, being Saved isn't abnormal. Neither is baptism, depending on the church, but for me baptism has never been the only path into Heaven as some denominations teach. 

My father has always been the type of man to dive head-first into something and commit as wholly as he can to it. He's always been a great example for me. When he was a teen and wanted to play guitar, he did it. He had bands, he played in the Masquerade, and he still plays today--still trying to learn new songs and styles. (He called me the other day and said he's working on "Johnny B Goode" right now, and I laughed because he's such a metal head.) When my father wanted a better job, he worked his way up from a dock worker at Watkins (which was later bought by FedEx) and became the operations manager. He's even proven himself as a cop--well, he does casework now instead of patrolling, but still--he just got officer of the year from his department. And when I was 3 years old, he did his best to learn as much Greek as he could so he could read the Greek Bible--to digest God's word as organically as it came.

Unfortunately, in recent years, I haven't followed that same example. I've learned a lot from being a member of a few churches over the years, and even visiting friends'. I know what I like, what I don't like, and I have a pretty solid idea of what I think worship should be at its core. But I've fallen off of my devotion.

2 Timothy 1:7(NLT) 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

When I moved out of the Bible Belt, it was a stranger experience than I thought it would be. God and religion is pretty heavily encountered in the South--even if it's just something people say, like "Thank God," or "Bless your heart," those expressions come from a rooted upbringing and culture devoted to Christianity (or at least, religions that observe the same God, typically). You don't really understand how different it can be until you're not there. We make jokes that we're in the Bible Belt, but it really can be a culture shock to be out. And because I was out, I suddenly wasn't around the Bible like I had been. And even more than I ever did in college, I ran into way more people who didn't believe or were vehemently against religion here. It's hard to find comradery in faith when you look around and there is none. That's when all of the fault of your faith lies on just your shoulders.

Just as the verse above says, God didn't give us a timid spirit, He didn't raise us to not be in control of who we are and what we do. He wants empowerment. I want to make Him proud. You know when your parents say "I'm disappointed in you," and it's the worst thing they could ever say? I never want to hear those words from God. I do my best to live with love, and that is the Bible incarnate, but if I'm also not carrying his Word on my tongue then I'm only doing a fraction of the work.

I don't speak much of my faith here (on this blog or in this city), because I didn't want to step on toes--that's not a good enough reason to just not say anything, to not stick up for yourself. We're so passive as people, but we have to learn to be active and involved. And I have to learn that with and through God. My church is my home, my Bible the Word and my God my everything. I need to take that more seriously, and stop acting as if God will understand if I just stop praying as much and keep my mouth shut.

I've written about what the song "Amazing Love" means to me before. The words are as follows:

I'm forgiven cause You were forsaken
I'm accepted, You were condemned
I am alive and well, Your spirit is within me
'Cause You died and rose again 

Amazing love, how can it be?
That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love, I know it's true
It's my joy to honor You
In all I do, I honor You

Devotion to God can come in many forms: praying every day, praising God in the moments you are reminded you are blessed, reading the Bible, singing worship songs in church or in your most intimate moments, and sharing the Word with others. I still believe that everyone should experience faith, religion and/or spirituality at their own pace--even if in the end they decide that it's just not for them. I still believe, and God believes, that we all deserve that freedom. But I'm tired of being afraid to serve God. How could I possibly be with the love He has shown me?



You may also want to read: "Your Word, My Word, The Word, a Word," "Have Faith" and "Amazing Love"

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Copper boom!"



Luke: That's too strong.
Lorelai: No, it's not.
Luke: No, it's too strong
Lorelai: You're on the phone.
Luke: Not everybody likes it that strong.
Lorelai: Well, then I shall convert them, I am the Jehovah's coffee girl.
 

I'm a brew-my-own-tea kind of gal, but when it comes to coffee, I prefer to put my trust in someone else's hands. I mean, I can make a mean coffee when I want, but usually I go for my coffee when I'm at work or out and about. When I'm at home, tea does just what I need. If I do make myself coffee in the morning or noon before work (because I am a later shift), I will get a little creative--a dash of nutmeg here, maybe top it with some foam and cinnamon for some fun. But I mean, who really has time to get that creative when you're too busy smearing your lipstick in the mirror and frantically trying to find your phone before rushing out the door? I sure don't.

My two favorite coffee orders come from two coffee shops. At the coffee stand at work, it's a hot, white mocha with nonfat milk and a flavor shot of coconut. At the coffee shop downtown, it's an Almond Joy latte with almond milk. When I was in college, religiously, I would order a venti (trenta during finals) iced coffee with half and half and a shot of toffee nut from the Starbucks stand on campus. I think I've told this story beforeIt was an order that I picked up from my friend. Senior year was rough, to say the least. (Sometimes I dared for the shot of hazelnut instead. I was dreamer in my youth.)

I've mellowed out some with my old age. That and my body rebelled on me furiously the last time I tried to partake in as much coffee as I had during my college years. (I seriously sound elderly today for a 25-year-old.) Today when I stepped up to the cafe stand at work, I was greeted with a smile from a sweet barista and a full cup of white mocha with that flavor shot of coconut that makes me smile every time. Sometimes on rainy days, when you're trudging along, begrudgingly, with an umbrella dragging behind you into work--and all you really want is for one day of winter sun--a cup of coffee can really do wonders.