Fear & Joy

Why do I let fear grip me? Why do I let anxiety tear at me, peeling my skin until I am exposed and shaking, freezing in the bitter, piercing cold of [the false]* reality [I choose to let myself believe in]? How can I allow my soul to be afraid when there is truly nothing to be afraid of?

I worry what others believe about me, what they feel about me. In turn, I fear their thoughts, I fear their words. I worry that my life will not be comfortable, rewarding, successful, joyful. In turn, I fear that which I cannot control. In pursuit of joy, I let my soul-shaking fear be the map and compass in a self-ravaging journey.

In order to find the joy that my fear is keeping me from, the fear must be put aside. I believe that happiness + contentment = joy. When I search for the key to contentment and hunt for the solution to happiness, I come to naught, though, because I will never find them. I may very well get close on my own, but I’ll never truly find them both, together.

I have found contentment, I have held it gently in my hand and felt the promise that in any circumstance, its presence will remain, if I do not snuff the light out. That is all well and good, but happiness (which seems to me less valuable than contentment, at this season in life) evades my grasp. It is often hard to keep contentment in one’s hand while reaching for something else, but I suppose that is expected. At times, I have also found happiness—those giddy, mischievous times growing up, when nothing else seemed to exist. The two of them, though, rarely seem to be seen together.

The truth is, the entire time I have been running from fear, looking for happiness and contentment, Jesus has been Here, waiting, holding the key in his hand, being the very key in and of himself.

The Lord (YHWH) will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Fear loses its power and every anxiety shatters in the face of YHWH, because there is nothing in this universe that holds its power under his all-pervading reign.

The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Again, why do I let fear grip me? The all-powerful, all-knowing, all-pervading God is in my very soul, the innermost part of my being. How can I begin to worry what others may think or say about me? He is my comfort and reward, he is the source of my joy. Fear doesn’t stand a chance.

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself.

I am not a good person. I am not wise. Jesus doesn’t ask me for this, though.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Jesus doesn’t expect me to stand up to my fear; he knows I can’t do that on my own. I’m weak, I doubt him, I doubt his love for me. But he has the power to banish fear. Jesus doesn’t expect me to be a paragon of joy. He knows that, without him, I will revert to a twisted, contented depression, devoid of light. But with him, my heart can be happy, and my spirit contented in him. This is how he casts out fear, bringing the light of his joy.

**Scripture quotations are from the NIV, emphasis added. Shared here are the passages Exodus 14:14, John 14:26-27, Matthew 6:34, Matthew 11:29-30. For more on Matthew 11:28-30, see Anchors: an exploration of self-love, toxic people, and Jesus. [Pronouns reffering to diety are purposefully left uncapatalized, as this may sometimes be a meaningless ritual, and in place of this sign of respect for the Godhead, other linguistic changes are often mindfully used.]

*[Words in brackets were added 3/28/18 at 5:12pm.]

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Why I Quit Social Media

You don’t need to hear more statistics or listen to a lecture about the perils of Internet use to know that social media is not the best thing to invest your time in. Yet, billions of people are attached to internet services in a way that borderlines on addiction. Many people sleep with their phones underneath their pillows or within reach of their bed, and as soon as they’re awake, they’re scrolling, checking messages, checking notifications. Here’s why I quit.

It’s basically a drug.

It’s not necessarily that we enjoy what we’re seeing; it’s more the way our brain is responding. Social medias set up pseudo goals, such as “likes,” which then release dopamine when we accomplish them. They surround us with a virtual community that affirms us and validates us, giving us a serotonin rush as we scroll, message, and share. The news we see, the memes we share, and even nit-picky debates give us endorphins. The goal of this? Addiction. Who can blame them, though? These websites make their money off of people spending time on them, seeing ads. The more people they hook, the more money they make; you’re just one of their many revenue-generating targets.

It’s a waste of time.

Think for a moment about your own social media use. Whether you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or all four. What is the combined total, all the time you spend on all of social media, every day? If you have an iPhone, head to Settings>Battery and hit the clock to see all the time that you’ve spent with these apps illuminating your screen. Or, just estimate. For most social media users, that number is almost a full hour–every day. If you’re getting enough sleep (which, most of us aren’t, because, well, social media) then that’s about 1/16 of every waking moment. If you’re okay with that number, try to be conscious about how often you mention how busy you are, how tired you are, or how you just don’t have enough time.

I spent an hour or two every day on my phone, scrolling or posting on social media, texting friends, checking my (very quiet) email inbox, et cetera. Not all of this is inherently bad–connection and community with friends and family is healthy and important. However, as mentioned previously, the ultimate goal of these websites is not to connect you with your community, but to keep your attention.

It’s not about real connection.

All that commenting, sharing, status-updating, story-crafting, and keeping of snap streaks produces only a fraction of the care and involvement that comes with true connection. Sure, it’s something, and if you’re trying to stay updated in the lives of people who perhaps live far away, it may be worth it. This isn’t to say that you can’t connect with someone through your phone. Texting may not be the best way, but chatting on the phone or getting on FaceTime is practically on par with in-person conversation. While that is helpful, the constant life updates we so easily share are not improving anything. “Eating cheesecake! [insert poorly-lit, low-quality photo]”–no one cares! “Im so bored rn, hmu”–no one cares! “Ahhh this made me laugh so hard, sameee”–no one cares! “Just broke up…”–no one cares! “We’re pregnant!”–no one cares! And sure, some of these things really do matter, but please, just please put in the effort to share these things with those that it will be meaningful to. Text your old friend who loved cheesecake a picture of the cheesecake you’re enjoying, and reconnect. Message a friend who you know is going through a hard time, and have a meaningful conversation, instead of scrolling away your boredom. Share that meme with someone whom you know will appreciate it. Call up a supportive friend to talk with about your breakup. Email all the important people to let them know that you are with child, instead of spamming hundreds of innocent social media onlookers with that kind of baggage. (Just kidding…) Seek real connection, not virtual, addictive, pseudo-connection.

If you’re tired of being addicted to the drug of social media, or you just want to find some real connection, here are a few ideas.

Just quit indefinitely.

It may sound difficult, but quitting “cold-turkey” (what does that even mean?) may actually be easier than you’d assume. If you’d like to let people know before you go, make a note of it on your bio, or message a couple people before you delete the apps. But do not, under any circumstances, post on social media about leaving social media. If you do, you immediately jinx yourself into returning within days, tail between legs. (Half-joking?)

If you’re worried about comments being made without your available moderation, you can easily deactivate your Facebook account. After a bit of searching for the option, you’ll find it. After you explain why you’re leaving, and suffer through Facebook showing you the faces of loved ones and saying that “[so-and-so] will miss you” (not joking!), you can then hit the deactivate button. The upside is that this does not delete your account, which I recommend against because of the public journal your account may serve as; you can reactivate simply by re-logging in. The downside is that it will appear to the world as if you have blocked each and every one of them. This is something I am fiendishly entertained by but is often annoying, as in the case of a dear friend who worriedly texted me, asking why I had blocked them–I felt horrible. You can also deactivate your Instagram, which will produce the same effect. Your Twitter is more difficult to disable, and Snapchat will delete your account 30 days after deactivation–but the only permanent part of Snapchat, if you don’t have streaks, is your friends list, which you can recreate when/if you return.

Take a break.

If the thought of quitting scares you, figure out a good length of time to take a break. I would discourage you from taking only a week off, because weeks go by really quickly, and that’s not much time to adjust. For that matter, depending on how old you are, years go by really quickly. Hmm… Go for two or maybe three weeks. If that thought scares you, go for a month or two.

Practice moderation.

They say everything is good in moderation, right? If you’re less of an abstainer and more of a moderator (see Gretchen Rubin’s assessment), it may be a lot easier and healthier for you to scale back the time you’re spending, instead of attempting to pull away completely. Try these rules for social media moderation:

No social media in the morning. This helps you begin the day sitting with your own thoughts, without that dopamine rush. Turn your alarm off and actually get out of bed, and listen to a podcast or some music while you get ready instead of spending your first ten minutes awake checking meaningless notifications.

Eat without social media. You don’t need to mindlessly eat that sandwich while liking photos you don’t care about. Think about what you’re eating. Enjoy it. This might even help you eat healthier.

Think about what you’re doing before you open social media. To achieve this, set up a trigger, like hiding away your social media apps in the back of an obscure folder on your home screen. When you swipe through to access them, think why am I doing this? Am I filling a small pocket of boredom? If you’re just messaging a friend or looking for a specific piece of information, that’s great. If you’re trying to fill time with mindless and directionless scrolling… maybe give it a rest. Do something that you can truly enjoy, without the guilt of wasted time–read a book, call up a friend, watch something thought-provoking. Or maybe just get some much-needed sleep.

Don’t fall asleep scrolling. You already know it’s bad for your eyes, bad for your sleep, bad for your spirit–just quit. Read a book. Listen to something mildly interesting. Or just lie, thoughts in hand, until you drift off naturally. And yes, if you don’t struggle with some level of insomnia, this paragraph will seem silly to you.

Conclusion

It’s not my goal to come across as Facebook-phobic, or extremist in any way. Social media can certainly be utilized for lots of great purposes–I may return for a day or two to promote this blog post (yes, I realize the irony of that)–and I’ll certainly be back to spread the word about my book release, whenever that finally happens. However, I believe social media is mostly a huge waste of time that affects millions (if not billions) of people daily. The cost of that may never be completely measured.

P.S. As a bonus, if you leave social media, you won’t hear about Trump near as much. It’s pretty great.

Cultivating Understanding in a Severely Divided Society

Some say that everyone wants to be understood. Whether we all agree or not is secondary, and frankly, not a realistic goal to pursue. Seeking to understand, on the other hand, strengthens relational bonds and breaks down our black-and-white view of the world. At times, however, efforts to bring attention to common ground or highlight shared values often patronize one side and hold up the other, on every issue. An article you may find in a conservative magazine entitled something like “Understanding LGBTQ+ Activism” would no doubt subtly patronize members of that community and assume superiority in this area of disagreement. On the other side, a liberal article about “Understanding the Pro-Life Side” may softly treat members of this community like anti-science, unloving fear-mongers, or perhaps worse, naïve and ignorant children. Before we can seek to understand, we must put aside our differences and our subtle (and not-so-subtle) jabs at what we deem as the wrong side.

“Putting aside our differences” does not mean that we pretend that they are not important. For goodness’ sake, political and personal issues are important. If you’re a believer in global warming, your belief is that we are ruining this planet for the animals today and our great-great-grandchildren tomorrow–that’s not a small issue. If you’re pro-life, you believe that millions of pain-experiencing children, full of potential and innocence, have been killed wrongly in the womb. If you’re a gay rights activist, you believe teens and adults are pointlessly being excluded from their homes and their communities, all for the sake of an archaic value system. If you’re an advocate for religious freedom, you believe that religious adherents are being criticised and often forced to do things they shouldn’t really have to do. If you’re an anti-gun activist, you believe that fewer lives would be lost and this society would be safer if we simply banned (or severely restricted) guns.

Global warming, abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedom, and the 2nd amendment are all important issues that must be discussed in a functioning society, but when we let these issues divide us, we only create more problems. Anger, mistrust, hatred, and disrespect arise. Instead of a passionate, caring discussion about the topics that matter to us most, we divulge into arguments that (if we’re being honest) never change anyone’s mind. In fact, some say these arguments only cement our preconceived notions into our minds, so what does that help?

A common refrain you may hear from politicians or activists is that we must “find common ground.” I don’t even believe in that, because honestly, it can be quite difficult with some people, and we make a mistake if we believe it’s necessary to love and connect. A staunched pro-gay, pro-abortion, stereotypical liberal can love and appreciate a rigid anti-LGBT, pro-life, stereotypical conservative. All it takes is understanding.

How do we cultivate understanding, even with people whose ideas we are adamantly against? It starts with respect, which is why the aforementioned condescension is so unhelpful. When we acknowledge that others have reached their own separate opinion through (usually) valid thought processes, we take the first step of respect. Instead of writing off our opponents as hateful, ignorant, thoughtless, or idiotic, we see a bigger picture and recognize that justifiable thoughts, past experience, firm convictions, and concern for their world brought about these opinions.

Often, it isn’t enjoyable to see the world in the full color that it is. We would rather see it in black and white, neatly packed into boxes of right and wrong, and good and bad. While I must affirm the existence of right and wrong, and good and bad, I will clarify that mere humans cannot be simplified to such terms. We are not characters in a children’s novel; we are complicated, messy, intricate.

Seeking to understand does not mean downplaying, ignoring, or putting away differences. And it certainly doesn’t mean coming to an agreement. Lots of people feel that to change their opinion on certain issues would sacrifice their belief system, and I don’t believe that’s necessary, because it doesn’t stand in the way of kindness. A Christian can love a gay person, while believing their actions are wrong. A pro-choice advocate can love a Catholic friend, while believing that abortion is not murder. And a gun safety activist can love their gun-toting neighbor, while believing that guns are unwise. We don’t need to hold hands and pretend we all agree, or ignore our convictions. We must only seek to understand by respecting and loving others.

A Student’s Guide to Time Management

Last school year, I was a fairly average example of a high school student: if something was due Monday, I was sure to get it done by Sunday night. I might need to stay up until 1 AM and consume some sort of caffeinated beverage, but I’d get it done. Almost all of my student friends follow this same model of procrastination. Some say it works best for them, that their best work is done under pressure, and/or they can’t focus during the week. This school year, though, things changed for me in some major ways, and I think most students would appreciate this shift taking placing in their own life, even if it seems ridiculously impossible at this point. (Before I go on, I must clarify that I am homeschooled and basically attend a one-day school/co-op, but some of my methods will benefit students of all sorts.)

Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year in September, I have not done homework on a weekend. Sounds great, right? Since mid-October, however, I have not done homework on a Friday. And since early December, homework on Thursday has actually been a bit of a rarity.

Let me calm your fears before I go on. Yes, I do my homework, I study well, and none of my grades are lower than an 85% (which, particularly in a class like chemistry, is fine by me). I don’t skip more homework than most kids already do, and I’m learning thoroughly; yet, homework doesn’t loom over me constantly.

How is this possible? I’m honestly not too sure. It started as an accountability plan with one of my best friends, but at this point, it has grown way beyond what I hoped for, and he and I don’t really talk about it anymore. (I’ll also add that accountability partners have never been much of a help to me, but teachers as a form of accountability have majorly kept me on track during my high school years so far.)

As much of a mystery this is to me, there are still a few things that I know helped. I will explain them as Realization, Boxing (because I dislike the word ‘clump’), and Momentum. Parts of these methods will mostly be helpful to students attending the same style school that I do, but even if you’re attending a basic five-day school system, or even university, there will be something for you. And of course, if you’re expecting any success, you must have a good reason, a thought-out why.

Realization

Before you can work up the motivation to attack your homework with Tuesday Gusto, you might have to do some math. Write down your subjects, and think through the weekly workload. How much time per week do you usually spend on the homework for this class? Does the workload vary, stay fairly constant, or diambiate [I’m leaving this word here because my brain thought it meant something, I wanted to say a word that meant ‘ebb and flow,’ but that came out…] between twenty minutes and two hours? It’s okay to make liberal estimates; even these will likely encourage you and give you a dose of reality.

Now that you have your time estimates for each class, add it all together and divide by the number of homework days you have available, excluding the weekend because you should get your rest and sleep is not a mythical concept. For me, I have four days. Once you divide this number and realize that you really only need to work on school stuff for two to three hours a day, four or five days a week, (–it’ll be different for everyone–) you might just decide voluntarily to clump box this into three days instead of four.

Boxing

Draw up a schedule of your school days, take your weekly time estimate, and distribute it. If you’re feeling adventurous, cut out Friday and see what your week would look like if you did just an hour or so more the other days of the week, to make Friday part of a three-day weekend. Simply looking at this on paper can change your work habits overnight.

For me, this looks like packing American history into Tuesday morning and (late) evening, chemistry into Tuesday (early) afternoon, geometry into Wednesday (mostly the afternoon, because the later hours work best for me) and British literature wherever it will fit. Sure, I’m pretty much eating/sleeping/doing homework/going to a church group/working 24/7 (24/2?) those two days, but I like it.

Momentum

If you had four construction projects to work on of a given week, and you knew that each one took about four hours, would you visit each site every day of the week and work on it for an hour? [Not a story problem.] You probably wouldn’t. Okay, so why do we cut our homework up into chunks, then proceed to go after one project, then *hours of Instagram or Facebook scrolling later* to the next project, and then to the next? There’s an argument that this is helpful to keep the information in your head, particularly for math, but I honestly think that idea is for elementary school. Choose a day to do all or most of the homework for a certain class, and power through it in one sitting (with maybe a twenty-minute snack-and-YouTube break). If you need to study it a bit to refresh your memory before a test coming up, the good news is that you’re basically an adult now and you can do things like setting reminders for yourself and, like, have some semblance of organization. Would you like a badge?

Why?

Why finish your homework on Thursday? Because you have something better to do Friday/Saturday/Sunday. My goal is to use my extended weekend for writing, running, practicing piano/ukulele, activities with friends, and reading. Sadly, many weeks, this extra time has mostly been utilized to sleep in, consume entertainment, burn up time on social media; the generation Z usual. There is much room for improvement, but I’m getting there.

Every situation is different, and I know some students are functioning at a level wherein there isn’t even an hour of free time, and this would be an impossible goal. Wherever you are, work to become master over your time, but be content with what you have if that is the best you can do. That’s okay.

A Note on Procrastination

Planning always beats procrastinating. It gives the fulfilling feeling of getting work done, while basically just being a better form of procrastination. However, knowing what you have to get done and how you’ll get it done will easily knock out the ambiguity that keeps us from starting. Have a paper coming up? Outline the steps you’ll have to take to finish it, and you might just find in yourself the motivation to begin. Need to study for a test? Get some index cards and do some color-coding before you write out what you need to remember.

Questions? Comments? Wild success stories? Email me using the form below.

 

 

 

The Internet

We’ve all heard the fear-mongering about the internet. “This is destroying our attention spans, our thoughts, our brains!” “Social media is a comparison trap, a breeding ground for depression!” “Hyper-connectivity has brought an end to true connection!” Some of this is a bit over-the-top, but I must admit that the internet, on the whole, does concern me in a few aspects.

For one, recent generations spend a lot of time on social media, 27 hours a week, by some accounts, almost four hours every day. Just think about your own habits–count in your Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter (for the three people who still have one…), YouTube, messaging, music, podcasts/audiobooks, game-playing, Netflix-binging, article-perusing, Googling… the list really can go on for every individual user because the Internet is as boundless and infinite as the world which it has enveloped.

What purpose does this serve, what does it give us in return for our time? Greater connection, for one thing–I have a few friends, not to mention siblings, who live quite a distance from me, but I can, of course, FaceTime them and follow their lives on Facebook and Instagram. Much of the Internet also makes life more efficient, but I think we can all agree it swallows up more of our time than it saves.

In every generation, there will be wastes of time. Doodling, writing letters (people did that, right?), frivolous chat, reading, talking on the telephone, watching television. And now, the internet. What’s the difference? None of these time-wasters behave like drugs, at least, not in the way the internet does. One source says “One can be neurologically addicted to technology in the same way that they can be addicted to drugs or alcohol,” and The New York Post says that what may be happening with the internet is that it “is physically addicting like a drug.” If you’re doubtful, just do a bit of Googling. Anything can be addictive–excessive eating, smoking, even exercise–but what’s addictive enough that we spend four hours or more surfing, perusing, viewing, scrolling its vastness? The internet. And that’s not an accident. Creators of entertainment platforms (whether it be social medias, news organizations, or video-streaming) know how to get you addicted, and they do it quite purposely. This action is not fueled by malicious intent (hopefully–yet), rather, they’re just men and women doing their job to increase ad revenue, for the most part. However, as these CEOs find themselves holding more and more power, you can bet they will use this to their advantage in some way. It may sound bleak and unrealistic, but I’m just going to put it out there: totalitarian dictatorships in the west are getting easier with every step forward on this new frontier. As “the internet of things” creeps in, and we connect our heater, our fridge, our locks–even our toilets–to the web, we could easily usher in a controlling regime, which cannot be threatened, under penalty of shutting off our lovely toasters. Maybe consider that the next time you find yourself willingly whispering your secrets and thoughts into the web, whether that’s in a status update, or a private message. If you feel like this is an outrageous, unrealistic claim, just consider what is already happening–huge companies are using their data on us (gathered from practically anything you do with your smartphone or laptop) to target ads and even hide certain posts to further their particular agenda.

I’m not enough of an idiot to use my online platform to scream “the internet is dangerous, run little children, run!” at the top of my lungs. But I might whisper it, because this is freaky. Just think: how many hours did you spend on Facebook ten or fifteen years ago? And how much time do you spend on it today? You may enjoy seeing pictures of your family, or that friend you met out of state two years ago. And you may appreciate gifting your wit to the world now and then. But at least consider, what else could you be doing with your time? If Instagram is your thing, are you sure all of that scrolling is really making you happier and more fulfilled? If you’re on Twitter, must you really know all the terrible news of the day that quickly? And if you’re currently sending off your Snapchat streaks for the day, stop and ask yourself why that number matters, especially if that one daily connection is a general, impersonal one. You may realize that you have been blindly taking part in a system that delivers nothing but empty endorphins.

Steps moving forward: power down all your devices, smash them with a hammer, retreat to a cave without wifi, and never speak to anyone else who is still tied to the web. It’s not safe! Steps moving forward if you’re a normal person who has to, you know, live a life and stuff: be mindful of your internet use. Ask yourself, “could I go a day without using the internet? How does the time I spend on the internet make me feel? What could I do with my extra two hours if I slashed my internet use in half?” And set goals for yourself, like “every Tuesday, I will not use [insert addictive social media, or all of them],” or “from the time I get up to the time I get home from work/school, I will not use my phone except to text, or use non-internet tools.” When it comes to the realm of entertainment, try binge-reading like we did in the ancient days of the 1900s, (instead of binge-watching,) to grow your attention span. All of these changes could literally (as in, literally, not figuratively, that’s why I used the word “literally”) impact every area of your life. Small changes can make you happier, healthier, and even bring you closer to the people you care about.

While there are many benefits to what the internet has brought us, there are also things to be concerned about, like the amount of time we spend on it, our privacy, the safety of free thought, and general wellbeing. To combat these things, we must be aware of the threat they pose, and take steps to avoid the addiction of the internet.

How do you avoid being addicted to your smartphone? What are your thoughts on the issues presented, and how do you believe we can best face them? Share your ideas below, and you may be featured in a future blog post. You may choose to be identified only by your first name, or remain anonymous.

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Why I Despise Republican and Democrat Politicians Alike

From Friday, the 22nd, to Friday, the 29th, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi three times. This is quite a feat for me, as this movie makes up about 1/5th of my theater-going, and I’ve never gone to see anything more than once. But this movie was worth each visit. I won’t get into the plot of the movie (or spoil anything for you late-comers), and I won’t defend it. If you’re under the impression that this is a disgrace to the canon, then (for one, you’re absolutely wrong, it’s the best movie so far, and for two,) just read this article.

One major theme of this movie is bringing nuance to the dark-side/light-side plot point that has driven the conflict of the Star Wars universe. This is not to say that the concepts of good and evil are cast out; only to communicate that the establishments of these parties are, perhaps, equally corrupted. And this describes my feeling towards our governmental system today. If you ask me about my views, you’ll find they align quite nicely with what would traditionally be called “Republican values.”

I believe in life, no regards to gender, sexual orientation, skin color, eye color, or current status of growth. No one has the right to take life from an innocent person. There are arguments to be had about how far this should extend, but this, as a basic idea, is what I believe.

I believe in liberty, that everyone should be able to say anything they like, whenever they like. If they spur on violent action, then they should be tried in court. But people get to say whatever they want, and no one gets to shut them up simply because it is controversial. Everyone also has a right to a gun, if their mind is intact and they’re a legal adult. Ultimately, I believe, this will prevent more crime than it creates. These two things are what protect the ability to tear down our government if that must be done, and those are the two things that, if kept, ensure that this territory is still called “The United States of America” in 100 years, even if we undergo a necessary revolution.

Despite this slight resemblance with Republicanism, I do not identify with either party. Now more than ever, we, the people, see clearly the corruption of our governmental system. Politicians, who, perhaps, once cared about the 321 million citizens who make up this great country, spend so much time and money ascending to the top, that by the time they reach any position of power, they are rotten to the bone with corruption. They play with us like pawns. Very few of them truly care about the issues facing us, they only care about the next voting cycle, which is why so little is accomplished. If you don’t believe me, just scroll through this riveting Wikipedia page. Democrats and Republicans alike enjoy pandering to the poor, but once they are elected, they can’t be bothered. Hillary Clinton rose to become the nominee of the Democratic Party by pushing out a shriveled-up socialist (who bears much resemblance in facial features to Yoda, by the way, if we’re keeping this article about Star Wars) who would have easily beaten her out in a fair election process. Don’t believe me? Just ask Donna Brazile–she’s selling a book about it! (Oh and guess what! She’s going to make money off of it. What a surprise.) Not to mention the sexual scandals of our creep-infested Washington, from Bill Clinton to Al Franken and yes, many Republicans as well.

So what are we to do with it? We must harness our liberty, and speak out. So many before have tried to do this, but the trouble comes when we choose a side to speak out against. It’s all rancid, and it must all burn (illustratively and metaphorically, of course, FBI…), and there exists no room for bias when the flames of liberty are let loose.

Don’t buy into the pandering, the hopeful lies, the manipulation, the dogma (of either side). Keep hold of that which you value, and fight until this country manifests it. This is how our country thrived, and this is how it will thrive, for decades to come. May the force be with you.

Christmas Thoughts

Merry Christmas, friends. It’s almost difficult for me to believe that we are all here again. Another year has passed by. Freezing, snowing, hibernation… thawing, rebirth, warmth… heat, growth, sunlight… death, cold, migration. And then, back to snow. This earth has come to the end of yet another cycle around the sun, in God’s Solar System. The year has been good, and bad. Joyful, and sad. Sweet, and bitter. Peaceful, and calamitous. It’s had its moments. And we are here, ever-continuing into the next year. (We’ll never stop the System–only God can.)

About two thousand and seventeen cycles around the sun ago, in March or so, Jesus was born. Everything people say about this sounds cliché to me, so let me get this through your head. Jesus was–and is–the incarnation of God. He is not like God, he does not possess attributes of God, he is God, and there was never a moment in all of time, all of history into infinitum, that he was not God. Yes, there are other parts of God, but Jesus is not less or more God than they are. The Holy Spirit, God the Father, and God the Son (Jesus) make up what Christians refer to as the Trinity, the Godhead, the ultimate unity that created the world together. And yes, they are plural (“let us make man in our own image”), but yes, the Trinity is quite hard to understand and we don’t have to get into it now. I’m just making sure you realize this dude is God.

Anyhow–God became a child, to experience life as a man and ultimately die on the cross for our sin. Jesus came and was crushed by his father in the Godhead. It’s not fair! No seriously, think about it, this isn’t fair at all. Jesus was perfect, and loving, and caring, and sweet–not weak–but tender. His ministry to us was constantly focused on healing people, and condemning the judgmental. Somebody like this deserves to live to be 107 and then drift off in their sleep. But he was crucified for us, because he loves us, and he wants to have each and every one of us in Heaven with him someday. If you weren’t raised in the church, or that’s just confusing to you, feel free to reach out to me. But the point is, Christmas is about Jesus, Forever Saviour, loving us in such a way that prompted this humbling act. Don’t ever let yourself forget what that really means.

In addition to the birth of Jesus, Christmas is also a time of year-end reflection. For me, 2017 was mixed. Bitter moments of dark depression, contrasted with seasons of friendship and renewal. Dull, quiet days, and world-traveling days. Summer laziness, Autumn busyness. And I suppose a year is too large a span of time to not be mixed, to some degree.

But overall… it was beautiful. Mostly because of the people in my life that lit the way through the dark times. In an awful valley, a friend came, just to talk, and walk, six or seven times around the block, and be my voice, until the tears subsided, and I knew life would be okay for another few days. A friend listened to me, even though I said all the same things over and over again, because he knew I had to get it out. A friend drove thirty minutes just to sit next to me, and look into my eyes, and ask “what’s wrong?” and cry because I was crying, and hug me until I could brave the rain again. A friend let me run errands with him now and then, playing music and just finding the time to be together, because I needed advice to face issues of the week. A friend asked “how are you doing?” in a way that told me “if you need to talk, or cry, or just hug, that’s okay.” A friend walked with me for two hours at midnight in a small town in the Summer, letting me tell him how I felt and what I thought, listening and caring. A friend had coffee with me, and assured me that God really did want to have a friendship with me, to have my love, and for me to have his love. So, even though this year was one of the hardest years of my life, it was the best year of my life, because of these people. Thank you, all of you that have shown love to me. I thank God for using you in my life.

Merry Christmas, friends. I love you. And I won’t forget, no matter what, the care you have shown me.

Anchors: an exploration of self-love, toxic people, and Jesus

If the entirety of your life is to give happiness to yourself, then it’s a pretty meaningless life. Isn’t it? Some people seem to have another view. You, it appears, should be placed at the center of the Universe.

Love who you are, embrace who you are. Love yourself. When you love yourself, people can kind of pick up on that: they can see confidence, they can see self-esteem, and naturally, people gravitate towards you. – Lilly Singh, YouTube personality

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world. – Lucille Ball, American actress and comedienne

Is there a bit of truth in this? Sure. (Maybe a little.) And I realize that these quotes address millions of people (across many generations) who really just don’t like themselves, and that’s sad. To loathe oneself can be an exhausting and depressing habit. But the cure for self-loathing or self-annoyance has never been (and will never be, no matter how much people preach it) “self-love.” Or, perhaps as a better term, self-obsession. There is a time for introspection, of course. And you’ll notice that much of what I believe on this is pinpointed on a fine line between two extremes. But here, I believe, is where you will find joy.

The natural step to take, in an effort to become less focused on yourself, is to focus on others. Pour into others. Love others. Expend time, energy, and other resources on showing people how much you care for them. But then, more problems arise. What do we do when that person turns less-lovable? What do we do when something flips and that person becomes a source of negativity? If you’re part of this Millennial/Z generation, then your answer is immediate. (1) You label that person as “toxic,” (2) call them out as that to everyone in your friend group, and (3) proceed to ignore them! (For good measure, block them on social media.) Problem solved, right? After all, just like toxic chemicals, there’s really no healthy reason to expose yourself to them.

But isn’t this just running directly back to the dogma that brought us quotes like, “Love yourself and everything else falls into line?”

So where is the middle ground? How does one maintain a healthy level of self-care and confidence, while reaching out to a broken world? Do we sacrifice our happiness and health on an altar of ministry? Or do we forget the world and seek self-love, self-knowledge, and, in the end, selfishness?

No. Neither one is the answer, and you can tell because I set up strawmen representing both sides, simply to prove my argument. (That’s a joke–I don’t want to confuse you, but I want to be honest about how I’m arguing it.) Here’s the answer: Jesus.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus, Matthew 11:28

Oh, goodness. Aren’t we all weary? Don’t we all need rest? I think part of the cultural saying, “I’m tired” that we seem to repeat as often as the word “good,” is, at its core, not an expression of physical fatigue, but one of emotional, relational, spiritual fatigue. Sure, we’re tired because we stay up late, get up too early, and run on caffeine. But we’re also tired because our souls are weary.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that the sweetest bit of poetry you’ve ever heard? This God that created the Universe and loves each and every weary soul on this planet, says he will give you rest!

Ugh, I’ve been distracted from the point. This verse gets me every time.

How does Jesus give us rest from the relational difficulties of the world?

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

When we take his yoke upon us, and let him pull our burden with us (which is a deeply difficult thing to do, sometimes!) we learn from him. We become gentle and humble. Instead of loving ourselves or hating ourselves, we begin to care less what we think about ourselves in the first place, (a “self-forgetfulness” that C.S. Lewis and other writers talk about,) and learn to develop a healthy way of viewing ourselves that is profoundly informed by how Jesus views us.

As with all truth, though, it doesn’t stop with us. We then carry this to others. We take this rest to those in our lives and become anchors of Jesus’ undying compassion and love. Others can sway with the tide, expelling negative forces from their lives. Well-intentioned loving, caring people can pour into the lives of others until they are pushed away or burn out, exhausted. But when we rest in Jesus, he gives us strength.

We all know we can’t do it on our own. We all know we’re tired in a way that sleep isn’t going to repair. Why don’t we admit it? Why don’t we let Jesus take this burden of life with us? Why don’t we just forget about ourselves now and then? And why don’t we let Jesus love broken people through us?

It’s not easy. As soon as we make an attempt to do this, we catch ourselves going back to our instincts of self-reliance. But you can’t love her. You can’t love him. And you can’t really love yourself. You’ll never know what real love is until you let Jesus supply that love.

To be very clear with you, I’m not writing this as a display of my perfect ability to anchor the love of Jesus in the lives of others. I’m writing this because my thoughts have been spinning around this topic for months, and I believe that these words of Jesus in Matthew 11 resonate with this human struggle.

Think of someone in your life that is hard for you to love. Here’s the thing: it’s hard for you to love them, but Jesus loves them immensely more than you ever could. And on the opposite side, think of how you feel about yourself. You may not think highly of your eccentricities and intricacies. And that’s okay. Because you don’t need to think about yourself. Just be an anchor of Jesus’ love. It’s enough. You can always find rest in him. Always.

 

 

 

2017 WC – 3rd Place: Brooklynn Coopers

This post has been removed.

2017 WC – 2nd Place: Madison Edwards

“Be grateful for another day. Not everybody made it, so don’t take it for granted.” It was on a bright, humid day in the stunningly beautiful city of Naples, Florida, that I made my first kill. Looking back, I have only regret, shame, and the haunting memories that still stick with me.

The sun was blazing overhead, the sand was scorching, and the salty waves lightly lapped against the sand, a typical day at the beach in Naples, located on the Gulf of Mexico’s glittering waters. I lazily enjoyed the view from my perch on a beach chair. I could see my brothers and dad playing football, moving at a hurried pace to keep the sand from burning their feet, my mother floating in the pool half asleep, and my friend, Abby, sprawled out listening to music beside me as the sun bathed us both in its sultry rays. I was completely relaxed, having no premonition of what was to come.

I reveled in this beautiful day as the previous one had been threateningly gray, with strong winds and torrents of rain. Today no signs of the storms of days past remained. Or so I thought.

As the heat from the sizzling sun became almost unbearable, I gently shook Abby and asked if she would like to walk along the ocean shore, look for shells that sprinkled the sand, and wade in the ocean to cool off. She readily agreed. After a quick reapplication of sunscreen, we headed off.

As we reached the water with our small pail to collect shells, we saw one of the remnants of yesterday’s tempest. About four feet into the alkaline waters rested many beautiful conch shells, shifted close to shore by the churning waves of yesterday. Abby and I, having a special affinity for conch shells, felt absolutely elated. I set down the small green pail so I could wade in with Abby and pick up a few of the alluring shells. We grabbed two shells each, placing them in our bucket. Euphoric with our good luck, we each grabbed two more shells to carry up to our condo for safe keeping. We made the short trek back to the condo building. We clambered into the elevator that would take us to the seventh floor, where our lodgings were located. As the elevator climbed we chattered excitedly about the shells that stood apart from our usual finds. As we reached the seventh floor a cold, sharp object poked at my hand. Panicked, I looked down to discover that our stunning shells still had living inhabitants which had finally figured out that they were no longer in their aquatic home and had begun to stick their single, clawed foot out in protest. A strangled sound of horror escaped my throat as their slimy, oozing, hideous bodies began to emerge from their beautiful shells, attempting to find water but instead wrapping around my fingers. It took Abby only seconds to discover the cause of my panic as the shells in her hands were also coming alive.

As the elevator doors opened, we sprinted to the door of our condo, immediately dropping the shells and their repulsive dwellers. We quickly collected ourselves and found a bucket big enough to safely hold our eight conchs. Once they had been safely contained, we debated on whether to return them to their rightful home in the ocean or selfishly let them die and keep the shells. Unfortunately, our love of unique shells won out. We left all eight shells in the bucket, without water, and returned to the beach, assuming they would perish by the time we returned. The soothing sun quickly erased any thought of the suffering conchs, and we enjoyed the rest of our beach day without guilt. After the sun had set, we returned to our condo. Suddenly, we remembered our tortured conchs when the bucket came into view. We cautiously approached the bucket. No movement occurred from within. I gently prodded the bucket with my toe, and the bucket came alive with frantic clawing as they tried, in vain, to escape their confines. A shriek emerged from my throat, and I realized they weren’t dead as I had assumed they would be after hours without water. It turns out conchs, very similar to snails, have a protective layer of slime to preserve their skin and allow them to survive outside of water for many hours. As the regret and foolishness of our earlier decision sank in, I realized there was no going back on our decision. The beach closed at sundown, and the conchs wouldn’t make it until the morning. They were clearly suffering. So, we decided to put the poor, innocent creatures out of their misery.

After searching the condo, we decided to pour a mixture of bleach and water on the conchs to end this whole horrible ordeal. In a moment of steely courage, we booked it outside and dumped the potent mixture in the bucket. As the sounds of a frantic struggling from within the bucket reached our ears, we ran back into the condo, unable to bear the sounds of our mistake. A few hours later, we emerged to see if the bleach had done the trick. As I shook the bucket there were no signs of life, a small relief. However, knowing how hardy these creatures are, we decided to freeze them to be 100% sure they were completely dead. After tentatively removing them from the bucket and placing them on paper plates, we inserted them into the freezer and went to bed. The knowledge of what had transpired weighed heavily on us.

Eventually, morning came, and we opened the freezer. The conchs appeared to be in the same spot as we had left them. It was time. We needed to remove the dead creatures from the shells we had so desperately wanted the day before. However, you cannot simply pluck a frozen conch from its shell. You must boil them first.

We heated up a pot of water, our stomachs turning at the thought of what we must do. Using a pair of tongs, I dropped the icy shells into the scalding water with a small hiss. As the conchs unfroze, a vile yellow-green foam rose to the top of the water, releasing a horrendous smell. As everybody choked and gagged at the smell, we turned off the stove top. The time had come to remove the conchs. We gathered a trash bag, paper towels, and a pair of tweezers to pull the conchs out. Neither Abby nor I could bring ourselves to complete this final stage. We bribed my little brother into doing it with the promise of two of the lovely shells. He readily agreed, always one to be involved in something others considered gross or unpleasant. It turns out that conchs really do not like being removed from their homes, even when dead. Despite having been soaked in bleach, then frozen, then boiled, those little warriors were not giving their shells up easily, even from beyond the grave. After a solid half an hour of yanking, they wouldn’t come out. We boiled them again, the same noxious foam and smell rising. Finally, nearly twenty-four hours after we unknowingly plucked the conchs from the sea, the conchs were removed from the shells. The moment, void of victory, was a moment of realization that we had just intentionally murdered eight ocean creatures. A fact that still haunts our consciences.

The conch shells sit on a shelf in my room, surrounded by many other trip souvenirs with much less violence behind them. Every time I pass the beautiful shells, it is a weighty reminder of the Great Conch Debacle of 2015.