“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

My baby sister, Amy Catherine, was literally an answer to my prayers as a 2-year-old. She arrived just two weeks after my 3rd birthday, and to everyone’s surprise, I wholeheartedly accepted my role as her big sister (after all, isn’t someone you prayed into existence kinda sorta your responsibility??).

That sense of sisterly obligation never left. Yes, the girl drives me crazy sometimes, and no, we aren’t that much alike, but my parents’ admonition to watch over her supersedes these reservations.

Amy’s and my relationship has never been very reserved. It’s my fault, really, because I can’t leave things alone. I keep pushing for her to keep up, to find a strong path, to find some purpose and a means to achieve that which would show others what I know are her good qualities: her kindness, patience, and willingness to just be in a world that encourages rushing and busyness.

She is the Mary to my Martha, the Bianca to my Kate, the Yin to my Yang; she is my foil because she shows all the things I couldn’t be, by virtue of my type-A, over-bearing, passionate, can’t-shut-my-mouth, workaholic nature.

And because I have finally grown old enough to understand and accept these things, I find myself sitting on my hands because she has entered a scammy poetry contest, got “published,” and posted her copy of the book on Facebook as a kind of proof that she is going to be a writer.

When I dissect my motives, my gut reaction is to correct (“Amy, that is a total scam. That’s not how real writing works. Go back to college. Write every day. Follow this passion, but follow it with a vengeance!”). My secondary reaction is concern; I, too, entered a couple of scammy poetry contests, but I was fifteen, not twenty-three, and what if she never leaves this phase?

However, the best part of myself wonders if she isn’t onto something, being content with her words on a page as proof of her goals, rather than worrying and diminishing her accomplishments.

Seasons

“I Will Wait For You There”

I will wait for You there
Down on my knees where I met You
Give You all of my cares
Find a grace to hold onto now
I’m calling for You

I will wait for You there
far from the world and its violence
It’s left broken and bare
I need to hear You in the silence now
I’m calling for You

And with outstretched arms
I will sing out melodies
And my beating heart
Will pour out a symphony
Hallelujahs in the morning
Hallelujahs in the night
I will wait for you as long as I have life

I will wait for You there
Down On my knees where I met you
Cause life is a war fought with tears
But You are the strength I hold onto now
I’m calling for you

[CHORUS]

He is the song behind all the noise. The older I get, the easier it is to see how God is constant in His love and constant in His presence. There are days, months, years, seasons where everything shifts and I feel alone or I forget how near He is. But it’s truth.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, even if you try to forget or ignore it. It is beautiful seeing God encompass the distance when I feel as though I am barely able to keep stretching from day to day.

Beach House is coming out with a new album! And here are my abridged thoughts on gay marriage!

You’ve got to listen to the new song! I’ve always loved Zebra, so this new album looks like a no brainer.

I’ve been waiting for something like this musically. I spent about an hour yesterday listening to Blink182 and other 2000’s bands I used to love. There’s something to be said for music that stirs one because of the lyrics or techniques used.

Anyway, with the SCOTUS decision and incessant mud-slinging, I’ve been mulling it all over incessantly. What’s a little funny is that I’ve already had this conversation with a very liberal friend or five way before it got to this point.

Here’s the short notes:

1. Despite people saying otherwise (God have mercy on this writer’s soul), I believe that theologically, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. Why? References to marriage in Matthew that describes it as between a man and a woman and the passage in Romans that talks about a long list of sins that separate us from a relationship with God. To say that Jesus didn’t have any concept of homosexuality in a marriage context is to undermine His omniscience and godhood. Our sin is predictable and the future is no mystery to God. Also, see this article for an in-depth reflection of my theological beliefs on the matter.

2. That being said, I accept that not everyone will follow Christian beliefs, and that same sex couples should have legal rights.

This of course raises the question, “Well gee, Rachel, if you’re for their legal rights, how come you don’t support gay marriage?” The answer?

3. Just because I believe that individuals should have benefits via the law doesn’t mean I condone what they are doing (it’s about the same way I feel about abortion; give people safe means to do so out of compassion, but don’t condone the action). I disagree with gay marriage by definition; if I am a Christ-follower, two people of the same gender being together is not marriage. Personally, I think calling it a same-sex union would go a long way to smooth things over between those who hold that “marriage” is a holy sacred vow and those who see it as a legal distinction. I will not support/celebrate this sin in the same way I would not support my Christian friends divorcing (save for infidelity or abuse). WHY NOT?

I won’t because I love gay people and want them to know that while I will not allow others to bully or deride them, I love them enough to want more for them out of life than they currently know. God loves them and accepts them where they are, but following Him means trusting His pattern for optimal life, both here on earth and eternally. 

The trusting part is particularly difficult for everyone. If there is no recognition of that need, there is no perceived need for salvation. Many people are choosing to bash Christianity at this point (and I don’t blame them, based on some responses of hate and fear-mongering), and even more people see religion as a crutch or an imaginary friend to help individuals cope with life, but God is truth. I still grapple with the simplicity and implications of who He is, but it’s just truth; it does not change, regardless of others’ perceptions (my own included).

With all of that being said, I would much rather discuss with others than shout my opinion (which is why I’m not posting this to FB). My first response was to look at my theological beliefs, but I think that even more importantly, we just need to listen to one another and learn how to lovingly express things near to our hearts instead of bristling at them.

One of my college friends posted this response, and I think she is spot on! Let’s love! Let’s talk! Let’s go deep and know each other better.

Why I suck at Bible reading plans… and why it’s okay.

I am a perfectionist, a type-A, a self-starter, an internally motivated creature who defies laziness and human bounds of inconsistencies!

Just kidding. Although I am a lot of those things, I am totally inconsistent when it comes to reading my Bible. It’s something I want, but apparently don’t always want enough in order to situate my day around it.

I love the feeling of personal accomplishment, and I love doing every single day of a Bible reading plan. The problem is, if I can’t be perfect… sometimes I quit. It is ridiculous how I cut myself off from something with clear benefits for me out of vanity and pride.

This is not to say that I feel bad about myself; it is rather a moment of realization that God does not want perfect Christ followers. Where would His glory show through someone who has no visible flaws? Why would I want to prevent myself from seeing His grace in understanding how flawed I am?

I am also not saying that we should use humanity as an excuse to ignore our Bibles, but I am saying that God, who is awe-inspiring, can change even the mundane (not reading like we ought to) into a holy experience (accepting His grace and reading, reading, reading!).

Therefore, I’m going to attempt to improve my reading track record… but I’m not going to go crazy and try and catch up on all the days for the sake of catching up. I’m going to savor the Word and accept grace with it.

Living a Sonny Life

I lost a friend this week. I had the privilege of watching him grow from an obnoxious freshmen, to an exuberant follower of Christ who spent the time from when he was saved until his death pointing others to Christ and loving people without bounds (details for the curious).

It would be easy to say that he inspired this post entirely, but I felt more strongly that his sudden demise fueled something that has been latent in my heart for some time. When I found out this friend, newly 25 years old, had died in a house fire, I (of course) cried… but the overwhelming thought I had was: “What am I even doing? What are any of us doing?”

We live so trapped by our own desires and woes. We live in self-imposed cages that suggest there is a limit to God’s love. Even Sonny’s life is testimony to this fact; he loved others so much, and yet many people hesitated to reciprocate that love until his death. I will admit, sometimes I found him irritating (like the multiple times in China he tried to get us to like authentic Chinese breakfasts involving seafood… or the way he would awkwardly start conversations about things I didn’t want to discuss), but I loved how frank he was, and how he loved others unapologetically.

Too often I apologize when I think I step on others’ toes, when I could be loving openly and NOT be sorry about it. It’s bold, but it’s free. And you know what? When you live genuinely, people can’t help but love you, faults and all.

So be Sonny; like Sonny Wang or like the Son of God. Be unapologetic in the sharing of truth and love.

Caring

I care.

No matter what I am doing, I can’t seem to iron this out of the fibre of my being. At its best, this characteristic results in me making cupcakes (totally happening now), remembering others who might be forgotten, and sharing encouragement, even as I wrestle with my own issues.

At worst, it results in anxiety, complaints, and isolation.

Like many aspects of my life, I realize how easily some of my choices can have a dramatic impact on my day; either I will connect and build up, or isolate and tear down.

It all lies in the choice of the day. My next goal is to increase the moments I succeed at connecting with others 🙂

DON’T BE A SNEAK!

Dear World,

My name is Rachel, and I strive to not be a sneak. This means I try to be consistent in how I am to most people (although exceptions are made for the sake of keeping the peace).

I HATE it when people:

a)deliberately put themselves and others in a difficult position… and then complain about it. I feel like unless you asked me for advice and it ended up being crummy, YOU are 100% to blame! Yes, I will donate some commiseration because I’m generally an empathetic individual, but your life decisions should be well thought out. You can’t both celebrate happy milestones while whining about how poorly they were executed.

b) try to mask controlling behavior with being “nice.” Say what you mean. Give it to me straight. Don’t try to hide behind polite pretense when what you are saying is meant to be overt, pointed, and without another option.

c)attempt to pressure me into doing something. Unless you are my boss and I like my job, I usually go the opposite way when pressed. Just saying…

Good! Those are out of the way! Here is what I love:

a)When people surprise me by expressing care for me (text/call/note/etc).

b) when people share what really matters to them or ask me thought-provoking questions. Yes, I am a “deep thinker” (as one friend inquired after I was going for deeper conversation).

c)when people say awesome things about their spouses/significant others. It makes me smile.

Life is good. Be happy!

2K15: 15 things I did this year, 15 realizations, and 15 goals.

Let’s get straight to the punch! 2014 is drawing to a close!

15 THINGS I DID THIS YEAR!

1. Tried scallops! I loved them! After watching too much Hell’s Kitchen with my Topher, I decided it was time while we are here in Florida! (For those of you who don’t know, scallops seem to be a staple for Chef Ramsay. Maybe we’ll try beef wellingtons next year!)

2. Went camping/hiking several times. Lovely sights and adventures (like that one time we forgot our bag of clothes, it rained, and took forever to start a fire/warm up/cook dinner. Second runner up is when Chris almost slid off a cliff. Third runner up is the weekend I went camping with a sinus infection. Yuck.).

3. Chaperoned Homecoming. It’s just as glamorous as it sounds, but it was a weird thing on my young teacher bucket list. Neeeerrrrrrrd. I know.

4. Played CaH with my co-workers. Hilarious! So thankful I have awesome people to work with!

5. Taught summer school (and have had quite a few summer school students in class since then). I got to teach Night, one of my all-time favorite reads.

6. Spent a weekend celebrating our anniversary with the hubs at Eureka Springs and got to stay in a Tree House Cabin! AMAZING! Thorn Crown Chapel was also pretty cool.

7. Went to Florida TWICE! The first trip was a 2 week stint to help the in-laws move. It was challenging but rewarding! We are enjoying the new place right now!

8. Roomed with one of my brother-in-laws. It’s not what it sounds like; during said moving process, everyone present stayed in two hotel rooms. But I did enjoy getting to know him better (even if he did address me as “Laundry Goblin” the majority of the time; let that just show you the quality of the humor on this guy).

9. Learned how to supervise Student Council kids while helping run Razorback parking for a fundraiser. Even in the pouring rain, I enjoy spending time with my students! They were champs in the bad weather!

10. We have had many more visits, outings, and dinners with people from Chris’s workplace. What a blessing! Many of our other friends from when we first moved here have moved on already. We were bummed, but glad Chris gained some awesome co-workers.

11. I GOT AN IPHONE! I know it sounds vapid, but I retired my 2009 flip phone. It’s kind of a big deal. This was definitely the year for various upgrades! Yay for employment!

12. Umm… I kicked scoliosis! My hips are now even again, and all that’s left is my poor neck. It’s a work in progress, but I am definitely feeling better!

13. Broke down and got allergy tested. It turns out I am allergic to ALL THE THINGS they tested me for. So far so good with shots. I can already tell from this visit to Florida that they are working (I am not sick!).

14. Broke down and got a flu shot. After 2 members on my team and a host of ill children at school, I took the plunge. Still not sure if I’ll get it every year, but this year seemed particularly virulent. Pretty proud I have not passed out due to shots at ALL this year!

15. Visited my grandparents and aunt/uncle/cousins several times this year. How I treasure these visits all the more dearly as time marches on!

15 REALIZATIONS I HAVE RUMINATED ABOUT THIS YEAR:

1. No matter how kind you are, there will be those who exclude, ignore, and/or misunderstand you to varying degrees. Expect nothing, and love them anyway.

2. I have never wanted to swear as much as I have post-teaching. No, I don’t sound like a sailor, but I have had my days.

3. Don’t apologize for who you are BUT DO APOLOGIZE when you’re a jerk.

4. Stick up for what is right, even when it’s the unpopular voice in the room. It sounds a little “after-school special” but it’s true. It is more difficult to be the voice of reason when it is someone who is your senior or boss.

5. I HATE HATE HATE NOT HAVING ALL THE DETAILS! I do not know how I didn’t piece this together before now, but putting a face to the negative feelings I have concerning the bureaucratic aspects of my job has been surprisingly helpful, even if it doesn’t fix the issues.

6. Do what is required of you, but do more than the minimum to make sure you are doing what is required of you well. It makes me happy to do so.

7. Cleaning is still cathartic, whether it’s clearing out old school papers, folding laundry, or cleaning the apartment. PUT YOUR RAGE INTO THAT WASHRAG!

8. Everybody needs a buddy. You never know when you’ll need one, so be one to your colleagues whenever possible. Yes, it does take a few extra coveted morning minutes to print off sub. plans and check in on the sub., but it’s worth it. Lord knows we’ll all be out at some point in the year and will need the same! Share the love!

9. Don’t let your desire to control the events of your day steal joy when the unexpected intervenes.

10. Ignoring one’s phone after work hours is always a good choice. Unplug, unwind, take a breather! The texts and emails will still be there later.

11. It is hard to eat vegetables, but it is good to do so anyway. This applies to a lot of life situations. EAT UP IT’S GOOD FOR YOU!

12. It’s okay to demand quiet work time every once in awhile.

13. In the words of Taylor Swift:

“Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off!”

14. Reading good books reminds me that there is still literature in the world, and I am not alone in my pursuit of eloquent expression.

15. Make a conscious decision each day to have a good day, love others, accept whatever happens, and laugh about it as much as possible. For everything there is a season.

15 GOALS FOR 2015!

1. Ready for this? WORK OUT MORE! I am not joining a gym, but I am going to suck it up and go running outdoors if this snowless/iceless weather continues. Otherwise, it’s apartment workout room. This includes weight/strength training of some sort. Bone density is vital, yo!

2. GET SHIT DONE! This means doing whatever it takes to be more organized and focused on the content rather than the busyness of the semester. It means folding laundry when I’m tired. It means working instead of whining. SUCK IT UP SISTA! (I am speaking to myself, here. Self-talk is healthy, right?)

3. Read the Bible more often. I am seriously better adjusted and more considerate of others when I do.

4. Instead of just being sad about friends I don’t get to see very often, I’m going to call, write, text or do whatever it takes to focus on spreading warm wishes instead of having a pity party.

5. Make more concise blog posts. I just realized I should have done 5 for each category but don’t want to go back and redo all of the categories. Whoops!

6. Leave my house more often during the summer, even when I’m lonely because Chris is gone. No lazy for daysies!

7. Decide what to do for my Masters. Now? Later? Degree choice?

8. Come up with a better system for reminding students of classroom respect and behavior.

9. Remember to post and refer to essential questions….

10. Accept PARCC (common core assessment) as a reality and not become irrationally angry at “the man” and the pressures of high stakes testing.

11. Watch what I eat a little more closely. More veggies, less crap!

12. Make breakfast for Chris more often. I don’t like big breakfasts, but he does, so I want to do it as an act of love.

13. Accept that we are in a 2 bedroom apartment stage of life: it is cramped, a little inconvenient, but okay because Chris will get his PhD, I am employed, and SOMEDAY we’ll have a house, a dog, and some kids 🙂 God, who is rich in mercy, does not abandon those who love Him.

14. Respect Chris’s decision to walk or not walk for his Master’s degree. I reeeeeaaaaaallllllly want him to, but that darn awesome humility tells him it’s not a big deal (even though it SO is! All he does is win! What a rockstar!*).

15. Enjoy this season of my life. It may not be what I think I want, but it definitely has its pros.

*Chris would like you to know he doesn’t think of himself this way and he is mildly alarmed at all the nicknames I have for him. This is what 2.5 years of marriage will do to you, people!

Remember to Whisper to Yourself

I wonder why people forget who they are. I myself am guilty of it, but I have difficulty remembering the how and why of where I am.

It never happens all at once. Change is a slow dance that sheds layers of inhibitions and prior judgement. Change is falling off the wall of indecision. Perhaps you picked the right side of where to fall, perhaps not, but it has happened. Only time will tell. Change is sipping a hot cup of tea down to the dregs. It doesn’t feel like much, but it filters through one with a sigh.

I am learning to accept this strange companion, because he is a hopeless tag-along in my life. Although I am annoyed with his being slow, I also cry when he goes too fast and leaves me bewildered.

Perhaps we can still be lovers. Perhaps he can find a way to woo me without ultimately making me feel impatient or lost. I wish he would talk to me.

What I am certain of is his constancy, loathe as I am to admit that. I am also comforted by the parts of me that feel unrecognized, curled up and tucked away from the world. There are glimpses of these things that make me think that perhaps change has some surprises in store.

In the meantime, remember to whisper to yourself. Gather up the parts that you miss that have been lost with change. Cling to the good present and the good yet to come. Take a conscious step toward remembering who you set out to be.

Yet another dichotomy

How do I temper my personal feelings with that of others? I don’t think it’s wrong to be happy, and I’m glad to share in my friends’ joy, but I notice that what hurts the most is when someone else is complaining about something that is a heck of a lot more than I have going on.

I feel affronted, but then I remember how much I have, and am accordingly humbled. When I think about the collective of human suffering and joy, I feel as though it all runs together and becomes a brownish mush of bittersweet experiences; and averaging of highs and lows that amounts to an average of peace.

How can I, in light of everyone else, accept my personal joy and suffering without being narcissistic? How can I enjoy my joy or embrace sorrow when I understand that I am a part of a larger spectrum?

I think the answer ought to be that each individual should embrace all emotions and cherish them for what they are (the human condition), but I still don’t feel that way. Most of my strong emotions end badly, either damaging relationships or leading people to skirt the issue altogether.

I think the core of it is that I’m lonely and short on friends these days. We’ve been here for almost 2 years, and I’m still uncomfortable. It’s like wearing shoes that are functional, but don’t quite fit.