“The Heights and the Depths:” Considering the Seasons of Life

Like a cool morning mist, fall is gradually settling on New England. Having been raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it’s a different and enjoyable experience for me to now live in a place that has proper seasons. In New Mexico, summer lingers until about mid-October. The fall leaves are lovely—mostly golden cottonwoods—and the fall temperatures last until almost Christmas. Winter lasts all of two months, if that, and it starts to feel like spring again in February. Continue reading “The Heights and the Depths:” Considering the Seasons of Life

Some Stuff I’ve Learned Since Graduating

I graduated from college about a year and a half ago, so by now I definitely know all about how life works and I’m able to pass on my infinite wisdom to this year’s grads.

I’m kidding, of course. But I have learned some things about life since I graduated, both from intaking wisdom and inspiration from others (such as this awesome piece from RELEVANT magazine or this story on NPR) and just from living life and seeing how things have been a bit different than I expected. Everything I say here is just as much a reminder to myself as it is advice to anyone else. I’m still working on getting it right, too.

This is all purely based on my personal experience and I’m sure will not apply to everyone, but since it’s graduation season I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned since I entered the “real” world.

1. You’ve got to be proactive about going out and getting what you want. No one is going to do it for you.

Want a job? Go out and get it. Want friends? Be friendly.

I know from personal experience: this is easier said than done. I spent six months applying for jobs in the field I studied in school, technical writing, and for which I had previous professional experience. I currently work as a full-time nanny. All that talk you’ve heard about the economy being bad and whatnot? Well, turns out it is very true.

I am also an introvert. When I’m spent from working or socializing a lot, my idea of a good time includes sitting on the couch, talking to no one, and watching reruns of The Walking Dead. So it can be difficult for me to take that first step required to build new relationships.

But that’s the big point I’m making here: you’ve got to practice intentionality. While you may not see results immediately, you’ve just got to be intentional about putting yourself out there. No one is going to hand you internship opportunities or job offers or ready-made friends. I didn’t realize until after I graduated just how much good stuff was pre-packaged for us students by our universities: we were assigned a dorm room with a roommate and neighbors who became our first and (sometimes) most enduring adult friendships. We were constantly invited to lectures, special events, and career fairs that someone else had already put in the time and work to organize. While in school, we were surrounded by opportunity that was, for the most part, simply handed to us.

Don’t worryyou’re still surrounded by opportunity. The difference now is that you have to make the effort to find it and take advantage of it. No one is going to check up on you to make sure you’re progressing appropriately toward your goals; there are no curriculum guides or semester charts that tell you what you’re supposed to do next. The scary and also exciting thing about life is that you have to decide for yourself what you want to do next, and then you have to figure out how to make it happen.

Practicing intentionality applies to all areas of life: do you want to be thin and healthy? Be intentional about what you eat and how you exercise. We all wish that things we desire would just magically happen for us, but in order to truly achieve what we desire, we have to consciously work toward our goals every day.

2. Get out into the world and just start doing stuff.

This is the best way to figure out what you want to do with your life, discover what you’re good at, and learn how you need to improve. You’ve already learned from professors and classmates; now you’ll learn from peers, relatives, employers, and friends about what sorts of options are out there. Expose yourself to lots of things: read books and articles, from fashion magazines to news and political outlets, from food blogs to the New York Times. Pay attention to what excites you, what you want to learn more about, and what projects and jobs other people are doing that you think sound cool. Follow those feelings, because that’s how you figure out what you’re good at and what you want to do.

Find other people who are doing stuff you admire and ask them about it: How did they get there? What do they like about it? What don’t they like about it? What can a recent college grad do to emulate them? This all ties into #1: you’ve just got to put yourself out there. Get in the world’s face, ask lots of questions, and chase after things that interest and excite you. Be curious and proactive.

And by all means, look for jobs in your field, but don’t limit yourself. If an opportunity opens up for something that doesn’t fit what you’re “supposed” to be doing, don’t dismiss it, because you never know what interests it may stir in you or what doors it may open for further opportunities.

You won’t figure everything out right away, or by the time you’re thirty, or maybe ever, but that’s okay, too. You’ll keep experimenting and meeting new people and trying different things, and every experience will teach you more about yourself. Life is one long work in progress, and if you’re open to it, you’ll spend the rest of your life learning, growing, seeing, feeling, and doing.

3. “Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.”

I had to steal this one from a movie I saw recently, Liberal Arts. Over the course of the film, the protagonista man putzing around in his thirties and working a job he doesn’t likelearns to stop living in the past and embrace his adulthood. The line I’ve used above comes from a conversation the protagonist has with his former professor. He confesses that while he knows he should act like an adult, he just doesn’t feel like an adult. The gruff professor replies, “Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.”

This is a great way of saying that, in life, you’re never really going to get to a place where you feel like you have everything figured out. When I was in elementary and middle school, I greatly admired my high-school-aged siblings and their friends. They just seemed so grown up. They were beautiful and funny and confident and everything I expected to be when I was in high school. Then I got to high school, and I realized that, while I was maybe more confident and better at doing my makeup, I still struggled with insecurity and anxiety about my future.

So, I turned my admiration to college students: oh, how mature they were! Listen to them talk about their term papers! Watch how they drink coffee and decorate their dorm rooms with all the grace and ease of a well-rounded adult!

You can see where I’m going with this. As I progress through each stage of life, I tend to shift my admiration to those in the next stage, which I suspect is a way of reassuring myself that, while right now things seem difficult and uncertain, soon I’ll have it all figured out.

Turns out, life doesn’t really work that way. Sure, we grow and become wiser, more mature, and better equipped to deal with things over time, but there will always be a new decision to make, a new conflict to resolve, and a set of new paths to choose from. Rather than hoping to have all the answers, I think it’s more important to strive to be our best in each stage of life while continually getting better, because for most of us, “better” is the best we can hope for. Wherever you are in life—school, early career, marriage, parenthoodyou’ve just got to own it, do your best in it, and try to learn and grow from it. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun!

4. Life is different post-grad, and that’s okay.

This one sounds pretty obvious, but I’m specifically referring to schedules and habits. In my freshman year, while juggling a demanding honors program along with all of the other challenges that come with transitioning to college life, a professor once told us students that we would never again have as much disposable time as we did during college. I laughed and returned to the five hundred-page book I had to finish by the next morning. But I look back on that now and realize that he was right. Sure, college is busy, but when again in life will you have a schedule that includes two- or three-hour chunks of free time in the middle of the afternoon every Tuesday? And good luck finding a job that gives you four weeks off for Christmas, a week off every spring, and three months off every summer (but if you do find such a job, please let me know so I can apply).

Also, eating whatever you want and staying up until two o’clock in the morning catches up with you quickly. Do yourself a favor and break whatever bad habits you have sooner rather than later, because you really can’t maintain them if you keep any semblance of a “normal” adult lifestyle. I was very surprised at how soon I noticed weight gain, or that I could barely function if I got fewer than six or seven hours of sleep. (The other night I only got four hours of sleep, and I felt exhausted for the rest of the week.)

None of this is bad. Early adulthood is just a new, different stage of life, and that’s okay. Don’t spend it longing to recapture the glory days of college; it will make you bitter and sad, and you’ll miss out on the good things you’ve got in life right now. Again, you’ve just got to own it and continue to invest in the important stuff: work that excites you, friendships, healthy habits, your family, and your relationship with God.

5. Hooray! It’s finally over! But really, this is just the beginning. 

Last weekend I attended my brother’s college graduation, and one of the student speakers shouted in celebration: “Hooray! It’s finally over!”

Yes, graduation is a big milestone that deserves celebration. You’ve accomplished a lot, and you should feel proud and relieved. But like any ending, it’s also a new beginning. As Calvin says to Hobbes in the final panels of everyone’s favorite comic strip: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy…let’s go exploring!”

6. Always remember what matters most.

I’ll end with a powerful quote from St. Isaac of Syria. While the journey of discovering who you are and what you’re interested in is a very important one in life, always remember that the foundation of your very being rests in Christ. In the midst of all of the other crazy demands and challenges of life, don’t ignore God. (I’ll be the first to admit that I’m constantly guilty of this one.) Making our souls right with him is the most important thing we humans have to do; may we not waste our life pursuing anything else above the one who gave us life in the first place.

“Why do you increase your bonds? Take hold of your life before your light grows dark and you seek help and do not find it. This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Happy Endings in Love and Life: The Keys to Satisfaction

Man was never created to be an independent creature, free to do as he pleased.  In the garden, God created man to be in constant communion with him. Adam’s sole purpose was found in relationship with God. God created Eve because it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  Relationship is a core component of human nature.  Humans were made to be in constant relationship both with God and with each other. Eve broke that relationship when she took the forbidden fruit, choosing  her own way instead of God’s way, disrupting the natural state of man.  Man was no longer in constant subjection to God.  Listening to self instead of God soon became an option for living.  Obviously, this was not without consequence.  Discord and strife, instead of peace and harmony, immediately became the norm for life.  Hello to the world as we know it.

Marriage is an institution ordained by God designed to replicate the harmony in the garden.  Husband and wife entering into perfect harmony with each other; two becoming one (Genesis 2:25). However, just as it was in the garden, the husband and wife experience unity in their submission to God.  This requires mutual submission and self-sacrificial love.  Acting for yourself in opposition to your spouse results in strife.  For many, this kind of marriage seems very constraining.  It is.  You are not allowed to follow all your passions on a whim.  Marriage is a life time commitment to submitting to and loving another human being.  But in this commitment comes great joy that is not possible in relationship outside of marriage.

Desire is an important part of any relationship.  But as with any passion, desire can come and go.  Following desire can lead you down many stray paths.  Desire alone is not enough for a thriving relationship.   Commitment and security are needed.  In Song of Solomon, the bride says, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me (7:10).”  Without this firm sense of belonging, insecurity and doubt will destroy even the most passionate relationship.  Marriage provides a framework for desire where security and exclusivity allow it to blossom.

What about people in abusive marriages?  What about adultery?  There is no doubt that these will drastically affect and possibly shatter any union.  Strife and discord are inevitable in any relationship, no matter how committed the two spouses are to God and each other.  But my point here is not to write about the affects of sin on marriage.  My point is simply to present the best bet for a lasting love.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is the story of a tragic love affair.  Anna and Vronsky are destroyed by a love that cannot satisfy.  Anna soon becomes consumed with doubt and insecurity regarding Vronky’s commitment.  Without marriage, there is no assurance of commitment or belonging, thereby making insecurity overtake passion.  Vronksy strives to retain his “manly independence” and keep a life apart from Anna.  He holds onto part of himself that he refuses to give to Anna.  This too prevents them from becoming one flesh.  Chaffing is the natural result.  Destruction instead of a blossoming love becomes the outcome of their affair.  Desire outside the bounds of marriage yields nothing but strife.

Anna and Vronsky are perhaps an extreme example of something so commonplace in our culture, love outside of marriage.  Anna and Vronsky’s destruction was in part caused by their rejection by society.  Today, “living together” is a common place behavior.  While it may not be openly destructive, as with any other self-centered behavior, it can result in nothing but inward strife and discord.  It may feel good at times, but does it satisfy? True satisfaction only comes through living a life in relationship with and submission to God, and, if that life involves the love of your life, a God centered marriage.

Why is God important?  This too goes back to the garden.  God created us to be in constant relationship with him.  Thriving is only possible through this relationship.  Veering away from God might lead to earthly pleasures but will never lead to ultimate fulfillment.  Jesus came so that we might be fulfilled in a post-fall world.

Are you engaging in a self-centered behavior right now?  Whether it is an extra-marital affair, or something like excessive drinking or viewing pornography, I have to ask you, “Does it satisfy?”  Not just on the surface, but deep down inside.   Jesus tells his followers, ”The thief comes to kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”  Choose life.

Rooted in Love–What We Can Learn From the Flowers

Humans have an innate appreciation for nature.  Except for the occasional bee sting or troublesome allergies, nature often enchants all of our senses.  Smelling the crisp scent of evergreens, tasting the salty sea air, feeling the soft grass against our toes, hearing the chirping of the birds, and seeing the beauty of God’s creation around us are a few examples of how we experience and enjoy nature.  It is natural and good that we thank God for giving us these good things.  But to stop with gratitude would be to limit ourselves to self-centered appreciation of God’s creation.  We should step away from our own experience of nature and engage with something much bigger than ourselves.  If we allow ourselves to listen, the flowers remind us of the vanity of our own existence and the reality of our eternal value in Christ.

Christina Rossetti, a 19th century poet, is widely known for her gloomy, yet biblically centered poetry.  Hope and despair are prevalent themes in her writing.  While Rossetti often despairs about earthly griefs, she remains grounded in her eternal hope.  In her poetry, Rossetti constantly uses nature to re-ground herself in her hope. In “Consider the Lilies of the Field (p24,25), she writes:

“Flowers preach to us if we will hear…
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read…”

Anyone can smell the flowers and take pleasure in it.  However, very few actually learn from the flowers.  Learning from the flowers takes humility and a willingness to experience nature in a way much bigger than our own personal enjoyment.  It is easiest to view the flowers in their relation to us.  “Thank you God for allowing us to enjoy these beautiful flowers.”  And that response is perfectly acceptable.  However, the flowers can teach us so much more rather than just reinforcing a me-centered existence.

It is the natural human tendency to think of our existence in terms of ourselves.  Well, duh, you may say, we are the ones existing.  However, in a God-centered universe, we are never the main focus.  We may be the ones doing the actual living, but nothing we do can give value to our lives.  Yet we are never perfect at living a God-centered life.  We forget how fleeting and invaluable we are on our own.

This is not a new problem.  In Psalm 90:12, the Psalmist asks God on behalf of the Israelites, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Israel forgot how short their life was.  Disobedience to God’s commands is the natural result of forgetting your place in eternity.  After experiencing punishment for embarking on a self-centered lifestyle, they come crawling back to God asking him to help them remember.  In a God-centered universe, a self-centered lifestyle does not satisfy.  Especially when you are being directly punished by God!

Isaiah says, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades… surely the people are grass… but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8). The quickly fading flower reminds us that our “blossom” is but a brief moment in eternity.  Hopeless can often be the result of this realization if we view our brief existence simply in terms of our life here on earth.  However, investing in an eternal hope through Jesus Christ allows us to live a hope-filled life while here on earth.  We live full lives here on earth, all the while knowing our ultimate value is not found in this world.  Nature can remind us of how small we are on our own and allow us to re-ground ourselves in truth—that true value can only come through God.

But the flowers’ teaching does not stop there.  They remind us of something much greater than our own insignificance.  They remind us of God’s great love for us in spite of our puny existence.  In Luke, Jesus says “If God so clothes the grass.. how much more will he clothe you(Luke 12:28).”  Nature IS beautiful! Even though a flower only blooms for a short time, it is none the less beautiful! So it is with us.  Even though we are seemingly insignificant, God values us.  Even though our life is but a moment, God concerns himself with the details of our life.

In her poem, “Consider the Lilies of the Field,” Rossetti continues,

“Flowers ….
Tell of his love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.”

The flowers do not just tell us truths about ourselves, but truths about God, too!

Contrary to what you may be thinking, this is not just a happy go lucky post.   Life is not just daisies and roses.  Even with a firm understanding of your eternal value and God’s love for you, life sucks sometimes.  Sadness is a natural part of life.  From Rossetti’s poetry, it seems like she was seriously depressed most of the time.  We would be lying to ourselves if we tried to never experience sadness.  Even Jesus wept.  But at the same time, we should never be guided by our emotions.  When experiencing despair, we should always anchor ourselves in our eternal hope.  Rossetti got through her darkest moments because of her eternal hope.  So also should we, in moments of despair, cling to the One that can never be taken away from us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Taking a moment to listen to the flowers can help reground you in what is truly valuable.

Whether it’s in the simple hustle and bustle of everyday life or one of your darkest moments, grounding yourself in Christ’s deep love for you gives you strength to carry on.  However, being reminded of your true value in Christ is worthless if your actions do not change.   Taking a moment to listen to the flowers can help you live your life in a meaningful way.

So next time you are outside, stop and listen to the flowers.  What are they saying to you?

“In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

*Quotations taken from “Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems.”  Penguin Classics.




US Policy on Syria: Courage or Cowardice

Press releases from the UN, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and even the front lines of Syria itself, universally signaling Syria’s present instability, make one thing clear:  Syria’s future is not clear.   Should the world do anything to improve this situation?  Or should we cowardly sit back and watch Syria burn?  If world leaders, like the US, have the ability to control situations like this, shouldn’t they also have the responsibility to courageously improve it?

The civil war that now rages in Syria started two years ago when civilian protests and military suppression quickly escalated into bloodbaths killing thousands on both sides.  America quickly took an official but under-committed stand with the rebels, and on September 21, 2013 the whole world resounded with the cry to end Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people.

The reason world powers, like the US, have not come to Syria’s aid is clearer than Syria’s uncertain future.  The conflict that rages within has two divisions:

1) The rebels against the government.  The civilians despise the way Assad brutally mistreats them.  They have therefore taken up arms against him and his regime.

2) The rebels against themselves.  Up until a few days ago the rebellion groups, representing the hostile and diverse nature of Syria itself, fought each other with the same fervor they used against Assad.  For now rebellion groups have framed an alliance contract evidently undersigned by the leadership of 75% of Syrian rebellion forces.

There is little hope for a positive outcome from US intervention.  The US must justified its intervention before it actually intervenes.  Just as the UN employed moral justification to commit to the destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons, so too could America justify supporting the rebels on moral grounds, by saying “We protect human life.”

But support a side in Syria does not necessarily protect more lives than the current status quo.  Allying with Assad sends the message that the US cares little for human rights. Assad’s utter indifference for the lives of Syrians sparked the rebellion in the first place.  But allying with the coalition of rebellion forces promises more evils than it remedies.  The rebels’ present alliance in opposition to Assad paints over the rebel differences but does not make those differences disappear.  There is no reason to believe that giving the rebels the victory they want will result in respect for human life.  But there is much reason to believe it will result in a more vicious and sectarian civil war over Syrian power.  The US and other world powers must either leave things as they are or risk worse upheaval and bloodshed by intervening.

We should not charge America with abandoning its courage by choosing not to seek justice against Assad’s violations of human rights.  Such a charge demands a bad form of courage.  In the words of G. K Chesterton, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”  Yes, the US must be willing to risk life in order to preserve life, even Syrian life.  Nevertheless, as Chesterton points out, courage as a principle has two extremes that are not courage:  living for nothing and dying for nothing.  That is, courage is the midpoint between the two extremes timidity and rashness.  Thus, present conditions matter just as much as the intended end result.  As Obama articulated so clearly to the UN, “The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.”  America has not abandoned courage to stand up for justice in Syria, but it has abandoned “courage” pursued unwisely through rash, unclear decision-making.

The present situation, therefore, stays as it is.  The temptations to err on the side of foolhardiness or faintheartedness also remain.  External pressures discourage the US from true courage by reminding us of an obligation to virtue.  They say that America has the power to both envision and realize a more positive future for Syria.  And that power should not be left untapped.

Still, the idea that we can guarantee an improved future is a self-deception.  The United States can do nothing to ensure Syria’s future improvement.  The future is always unclear, though marginally predictable.  Our work as humans is not to enforce a re-envisioned future, but live excellently given the conditions present to us. Perhaps being a courageous world leader is less about what you do and more about when and how you do what you do. We must pursue good decisions not decisions that try to show how good we are.

We, as well as the people of Syria, must be courageous enough not to be tight-fisted, white-knuckled humans preoccupied with the future’s vast unknown.  Rather we should allow the present realization of our own helplessness, even smallness, lead us to trust in a God that both orchestrates and improves.

To best safeguard our future we must begin with our limited influence upon it.  The temptation to seek justice badly is too great for us to presume clear vision.  We alone cannot see; therefore let us be bold enough to trust in the One who does.