Holy Food

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I went to the city mission today with a group from my college. We go every week, offering our time, energy, and the biggest smiles we have to feed the hungry and worship God with them. This was our first week back. It felt good to walk down the purple flight of steps and hear the voice of the mission’s director greeting us as we came in.

It feels good to be needed. It feels like we are important, that we’re making a difference. It feels like righteousness and Jesus-ness to help the inner-city community.

Until we were driving back to campus tonight. And as we got onto the highway I looked down away from the road and saw some kids in a park behind a chain-link fence. And they were all ganged up around a boy curled up on the ground, like they had just finished kicking him down.

My stomach lurched, even though they were gone from my view in a second. There was nothing I could do, no where for us to stop and turn around, and suddenly it all felt very worthless — all this do-gooding we had been up to.

It felt a little hollow and like we were scratching the surface of poverty and violence. We could feed the hungry — but just one night a week. We could tutor the kids — but almost fifty percent of them are predicted to not graduate from high school in our city. And while we were riding in our van, laughing and singing, speeding back to the sanctuary of dorm rooms and a warm cafeterias, a little boy was getting beaten up in his own backyard.

As we drove and drove I couldn’t help but notice all the nice houses lining the streets, just minutes away from the folks who live under concrete bridges and stock up on food at a mission.

And it felt like we just weren’t making a difference.

But then we got back and watched a video that some of the people at the mission had put together. The smiling faces lit up the screen. A lot of people in the video said nice things about the mission, but one man’s words struck my ears. He talked about the food. He said the food we served and ate with them was more than just beef and bread, it was holy food. And who can think of holy food without thinking about that Holy Meal, consumed so long ago?

I haven’t had the ability to take Communion in a very long time. My church just doesn’t do it that often, so I’ve been craving Communion and the Community that I want to go hand-in-hand with it. And while no one at the mission blesses our bread like Jesus blessed His — and our cup is filled with unfiltered water that is nothing like blood-red wine — I have to think that there is a little bit of Communion in that meal. There is a little something holy in that food.

It may be eaten amidst laughter and shouting and the sounds of messy, chaotic lives, but it feels like we’re feeding more than just stomachs. Because no matter how tired and worn I am every Wednesday before I leave the campus, I always come back with more strength than when I left.

There’s still a hurting boy somewhere in that city tonight. My prayers reach out to God for him, because I don’t know what else to do tonight. I still feel so hopeless when I think of how little I am compared to the weight of the darkness all around me. But, I think feeling the community around me by eating the holy food and holding hands out in service together makes me know that this is not a battle I tackle, all alone. There is One who also sat in a room, breaking bread and drinking wine, with twelve people who did not have the tools to conquer the darkness. But He did. And, Friends, He hasn’t left us on our own. Don’t let the darkness drown out your hope.

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College Life Hacks

 

freshmen

So I’m two years into this college-thing, with two more years to go. In a few short weeks I’ll be heading back to three crazy (in a totally good way, I assure you) roommates, six college classes, and three part-time jobs. And I’m excited about that.

For those of you new to college, or those who break out in hives just thinking about classes and roommates and tight living spaces, here’s Five College-Life Hacks that have made the experience great for me, thus far.

Eat Balanced Meals. It may be tempting to eat ice-cream on a waffle for supper (I know, I did it once) because nothing else looks appealing, but you’ll be starving by eight o’clock that night, wishing you had tried to eat at least something more substantial. Focus on getting fruits or veggies onto your plate at least once a day. Also get enough protein – from meat or beans – to carry you until your next meal.

Build a Routine That Helps You Focus. Every time I need to write a research paper, I grab my stack of library books, a notebook, my laptop, and some highlighters (Note: for the notebook, not the library books!) and climb up onto my bed. While most people will advise you against working on your bed, I almost never haul my stuff up onto my top bunk for anything else – so this actually helps me focus, instead of get distracted. When I’m studying with my roommate, we make tea before we start. It’s all about the getting yourself into a mindset to focus.

Make Time for Sleep. Seriously. I know life is hectic, but try to get as much as you can. I shoot for eight hours, which helps me feel energized and awake the next day. On a side note, if you take naps during the day, try to shorten them to around twenty minutes. You won’t wake up feeling as groggy as a longer nap would make you feel.

Create a Weekend Plan. It can be so easy to get sucked into sleeping in late, wandering around in pajamas all day, and watching Netflix every Saturday. When I do this, I end up feeling unproductive and bad about myself. I totally recommend sleeping in on weekends, but still set your alarm for that later time! Then get up and do whatever you decided to do that day. Whether it was finally getting around to vacuuming the floor or scouring the library for a book, you’ll be glad you did something to make your life easier on Monday.

Thrift Stores Are Your Friend. Looking for a Halloween costume? What about something to wear for your internship? Thrift stores are great places to look for clothes and household items cheaply. While it may be tempting to hit up American Eagle for a new sweater when winter hits, you may be surprised what you can find at Goodwill for a third of the price. Plus, some thrift stores offer discounts for college students on certain days of the week.

These are just a few things that have helped me along the way. What tips have you found to help make college life go well?

Popularity Verses Platform

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I remember how excited I was when I first joined Facebook. After I made my profile I went searching for all my friends, eager to add them. It only took a minute or two to find them all. There were only a few. I remember feeling a little let down. All my friends have hundreds of friends of their own. I only have a few. Today I have 130 friends, which may sound like a lot, but by Facebook standards, is not that many. One of my friends has 228 friends on Facebook – and she only joined a few months ago.

At first it mattered a lot to me. I felt a little left out, to be honest. I wanted to be “as good as” everyone else – as if such things can be measure in friends lists, likes, or comments. The other day I was thinking about this blog, with its 33 real followers (the counter says 163, but the rest are my Facebook friends who automatically see this content whether they want to read it or not) and limited scope. For a moment I felt a little lost in the minutia of such a small blog in such a big blogosphere. I thought, do I want to be popular? Immediately, I knew that’s not what I wanted. I am an introvert, after all. But platform, that’s a word I could relate to.

We all want a space where people will hear what we have to say, but what do we want to do with it? Is it for fame or popularity? Or is it for a platform to shout something important?- Something outside of ourselves?

A platform is a place, with an audience, where I have the freedom to say unpopular things. Things like #BlackLivesMatter or Jesus is the Son of God. If I was worried about popularity, I couldn’t say those things. If I wanted more followers, I would have to cater to my audience and worry about what they want to hear. But a platform is a place to speak about the things I think God has laid on my heart. Sometimes everyone will like what I have to say and follow this blog. Sometimes they will not.

But beyond the blog, or the social media accounts, I think we all have platforms. Our lives are a platform. We are all walking, talking billboards for something. If we’re focused on popularity, though, we miss the chance to share deeply with those around us. When we’re worried about numbers we forget about people. As a platform, instead, we choose what we present as a way to reach out to those around us. And I think that’s the best PR strategy we can find.

How You (The Church) Should Respond to Tragedy

Today there was a mass shooting at a gay nightclub near Orlando. At least 50 souls were ripped from their bodies and sent flying into eternity. Just a week ago the community was celebrating its 25th year of gay pride, but today the community mourns the loss of the people they loved.

The pastor at the church I grew up in gave a sermon on grief today because we have just lost a dear pastor to cancer last week. The pastor at my church near college, whose sermon I just finished listening to online, preached on how important the lost are to Christ. He said that Jesus ate with the sinners and the tax collectors – the social outcasts with questionable morals – and we should, too. That we should pattern our lives towards reaching those who are far from God, whether we like their worldviews, morals, political affiliations, and sexual orientations or not.

Neither of my pastors mentioned the shooting in Orlando (If Pastor David did, it was not in the online portion of his message). I don’t know why our churches did not stop and pray for the people of Orlando. But since they did not, I would like to invite you to. Their lack of words left some things needing to be said, but what they did say, was very clear:

In grief, we sit with those affected and grieve with them. We do not try to give them the answers or silence their pain, but we do hold them tight. And when they want us to talk, we tell them of the only Hope that may ease their pain.

In love, we pray, invest, and invite those around us. Because every human has an inherent value to God. And if they matter to God, then they had better matter to His people. The LGBT community is one of the most shunned communities of people by the Church. As my pastor said this morning: we do not have to condone the actions or lifestyles of others to love them. Jesus did not encourage the extortion by the tax collectors when He entered their homes and ate with them. He showed them who Love is and taught them about Himself.

So to the people like the Texas Lieutenant Governor who tweeted that these souls “reap what they sow,” I say that I pray that you do not reap what you sow. I pray that I do not. I pray that God’s mercy will cover me – cover anyone who reaches up to God in faith. May God grant you the time yet to do that, Sir, if you have not.

God does not laugh when the lost are murdered. He rejoices when disciples go out to the lost, help them find the way, and enter into His kingdom! And, helping them “find the way” is not help them become heterosexual. It’s not convincing them that our God hates their lifestyle, so they must repent. It’s sharing that the omnipotent God of the universe decided to come to earth, live among humankind, and die for the un-measurable weight of the sins of the whole earth. That is the Gospel, and if it convicts people to change their lives, than that is the power of the Holy Spirit, beyond any of our control.

So today, I urge you to pray for the people of Orlando. If you live in the area, please donate your blood if you are able, or anything else that you may be asked to do. Do not gloss over this tragedy just because they people who died might be different from you. Every life matters to God, because He did for them. They should matter to you, too.

 

Yard Sale China and a Coconut Mocha Frappe

It’s the middle of May, which means the start of the yardsale season. I stopped at one with my mom and found a goldmine — an almost-complete set of 1940’s china. Ninety-six pieces of Homer Laughlin china, perfect for a future home, but also good for my apartment at college. For a minute I was afraid to take something so beautiful to college, but the china hasn’t been used at least since the 1990’s. And dishes are meant to be used.

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So, I spent my afternoon in the kitchen washing out dishes and making a Coconut Mocha Frappe. The dishes are clean, the frappe has been enjoyed, and it has been a lovely day. Here is the recipe for the frappe. I used this recipe as the basis for my own, but added sugar to mine, since I didn’t want to make a sugar-free drink.

Ingredients:coconut mocha frappe

1 can Unsweetened Coconut Milk (about 2 cups)

2 tsp Instant Coffee

1/2 tsp Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

1 drop Coconut Extract

2 tsp Sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until well blended. Then, put the mixture into a freezer-safe container and pop into the freezer. Take out every hour and stir with a fork so that it freezes evenly. Mine took about 5 hours to freeze completely. After it is frozen, take it out, let it soften up a bit, and then put it in a blender/food processor until it is smooth.

That’s it! Another cool, summery drink made and enjoyed on a beautiful May day.

Time for Thai

It’s summer break, which means it’s time to try new tea and coffee recipes! I’d like to try a new one each week this summer, and today was recipe number one.

Today I made my variation of Iced Thai Tea. The original comes from this post, but mine involves just plain, black tea. Authentic Thai tea is a mixture made with black tea, anise, and cardamon, but you can get by with Lipton’s black tea and a dash of cinnamon.

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Iced Thai Tea

4 black tea bags

4 cups water

3/4 cups sugar

1 cup half & half

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 3/4 cups of sugar and 4 bags of tea to the water and let steep for 3 minutes. Let the mixture cool for at least 30 minutes. The longer it cools with the tea bags in it, the better it tastes.

Next, fill 4 glasses with ice. Pour the tea over the ice until the glass is 3/4 full. Add the half & half to the top and serve.

That’s it! Enjoy a cool sip of tea and sit back and enjoy a beautiful May day.

College 201

Spring 2016

This afternoon I took my last final exam of the semester. Since it is the end of Year Two of college, I’m in the mood to reflect over the year. It was different than freshman year, of course, but some things were still the same. I look back on that post I made at the end of freshman year and smile. Yes. Frozen yogurt still fixes just about everything. (although, I have recently discovered gelato, which is my new, favorite obsession)

This year I went to Shakespearean plays, sat through long lectures, found a church that I am at home in, wrestled with ideas of identity and theology, lived with a new roommate, missed an old roommate, and agonized over kerning choices in my graphic design classes. It’s been quite a year. So, in the spirit of tradition, here’s 15 things I’ve learned my sophomore year of college:

  1. Having Printmaking before American Sign Language means that my hands are always stained when people look at my hands the most.
  2. Having ink-stained/paint-stained/xacto-cut hands can actually be an artist’s right of passage, in a way.
  3. Food comes in many forms, but chocolate is the best form.
  4. Letting go does not always mean giving up.
  5. “The economy stinks, bees are dying, and movies are pretty much all sequels now.” – Schmidt
  6. Friends don’t let friends work on art projects alone.
  7. Dancing doesn’t require that much rhythm or flexibility. It just takes confidence.
  8. Actually, most of life just takes confidence. Fake it ’til you make it, friends.
  9. Sometimes sleep is a better use of time than studying those slides one more time.
  10. Don’t wear good clothes into the studio. They will die slow, painful deaths.
  11. Friends are the people who are brave enough to tell you when you have lettuce stuck in your teeth.
  12. Even something as simple as a “little” trip into the city can be an adventure if you let it.
  13. If you find yourself laughing at a friend doing something, photograph that moment. It will make excellent blackmail later on.
  14. Long-distance relationships can thrive on Facebook messenger gifs and Pinterest memes for a ridiculously long time.
  15. Breathe. Seriously. It helps most situations.

So, that’s about it! What have you learned this year?

 

Listen to the Silence

There really is something powerful in silence.

I just came back from my American Sign Language class, where we had a full-immersion day. That means no talking, just sign, for a full 50 minutes. I love our sign-only days. Communication in sign is beautiful in its motion and its structure — how the words feel electric as they are expressed by the body. It’s also completely quiet, except for the occasional skin-on-skin sound of two hands forming a sign.

I love the silence. I’m still fully engaged in the class, still learning and participating. It’s just quiet.

While as an introvert, I appreciate silence a lot, there is also a vulnerability with silence that sometimes is not comfortable. The more we talk, the more we can control what people are thinking around us. When there’s silence, though, people are left with their thoughts.

For example, at one summer job I had I was particularly quiet because I was new and unsure of myself. But my quietness was interpreted to mean dislike and unhappiness by some of my coworkers. I had to assure them that I was perfectly fine. I just didn’t have anything to say.

Tyler Joseph expressed the power of silence in his song “Car Radio.” (It’s a little ironic that he’s talking about silence through a song, isn’t it?) The chorus and second verse say

I have these thoughts
So often I ought
To replace that slot
With what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole
My car radio
And now I just sit in silence
Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream
Reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
“I’m forced to deal with what I feel, There is no distraction to mask what is real.” Maybe that’s why some people hate silence. When there is no noise, we are left simply with our own thoughts and emotions. And that can be terrifying, honestly.
But, dealing with the silence — sorting out who we are and what this all is — is such a good thing.
I have had people tell me that I over-analyze things. What they don’t know is that I over-analyze the fact that I am over-analyzing! I spend a lot of time inside my head. So, of course, it’s good to get out of my mind once and awhile. But sitting with yourself, working things through, is important. And silence is beautiful. There is a reason that the phrase “peace and quiet” pair those two states of being together. Where there is quiet, there is at least an opportunity to find some peace.
So, my encouragement to you today is to embrace the silence. Sit beside someone and listen to the sound of their breaths. Walk across campus without your headphones in and listen to the sound of the wind above your head. Listen once and awhile to the music that’s buried in your soul. It’s worth the uncomfortableness.

The Art of Structured Stillness

There can be a lot of negative perceptions about meditation in conservative Christian circles. The term itself has become almost pejorative among certain groups, probably because meditation is not a distinctively unique Christian practice. Other ancient religions — and even some newer ones — incorporate elements of meditation into their rituals. Stripped away from any sort of pantheistic paganism, mediation can be a helpful tool that should not be ignored by Christians.

Let me define my terms, first, before I explain the importance of meditation in my own life. There are three main ways to use the term “meditate.” The Merriam-Webster simply says meditation is to “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” Of course, this definition is a catch-all for everything that meditation can mean.

The first way of using the word is how it’s used in Joshua 1:8. The Bible uses the word hagah, which we translate “meditate,” in that verse, which says, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (NIV). Hagah means to utter or to muse. It suggests the idea of focusing attention on a serious subject to study it and live it out. This is what we do when we read the Bible, discuss it with others, and apply it to our lives.

The second use of meditation is to get in touch with spiritual power or increase mindfulness. It often involves chanting. It is heavily entrenched in Buddhism and seeks to find strength and power within the body and a connection with nature. This is the type of meditation that Christians so quickly have a problem with, for several, rather conspicuous, reasons.

Lastly, meditation can simply involve quieting oneself — training the heart and mind to be still. This form of meditation is unlike the first definition, in that it does not involve striving to fill up the mind on some aspect of the Bible that needs to be worked on in a believer’s life. This is an incredibly good thing to do, of course, but it is not what I am getting at with the way I am using the word “meditation.” It is also not like the second definition, because it does not seek to channel internal energy or create oneness with the anything — spiritually or naturally. Yet, it is definitely a practice that takes both mindfulness and Christian principles into play.

The reason it is important to me is just this: I have a complex mind that never shuts off. I read my Bible, I talk at God, I listen to music, I talk to others, I mull over conversations that happen three years ago, and I am constantly trying to make everything fit into my schedule. My stream of consciousness never stops.

It is the hardest thing for me to simply stop, turn off the distractions, and listen. When I meditate, that is what I am doing. Meditation is emptying myself of me so that I can recenter myself on God. When I meditate I sit very still. I don’t think about anything related to my day, theology I’m trying to wrap my brain around, or what I want to talk to God about. Yet, since it is beyond my capacity to think about nothing I usually focus on a word and repeat it internally, without worrying too much about the implications of the word. Usually I choose one of the names of God.

And it helps. I refuse to stress. I refuse to think about whatever catapults into my brain during that time. I focus on breathing, and center on that word, so that I can empty myself of all the me that entangles it. It makes me vulnerable. In no other circumstance am I ever so alone with myself. In no other way would I sit for ten to thirty minutes without trying to think. Without telling God what I need, or trying to solve my life, I am just a vessel. And when I’m done, I’m finally ready for God to fill me. Sometime things come to me when I finish meditating that I would not have noticed if I wasn’t so still.

This is the meditation that Christians often miss out on. We try to fill our lives to the brink so much that we tend to forget that often miss out on Peace. We forget about tranquility. It’s not that every burden cannot be brought before Jesus — because I believe that to be very true — but it’s just a recognition that creating space within ourselves often allows a scenario for God to use us outside of what we might normally expect. And I believe that that is a precious thing.

 

My TV Role Models

When I went to college I was surprised how many people knew all the lyrics to all the Disney movies. Every girl on my floor can burst out in glorious melody to “A Whole New World.”

I guess I missed the memo. Although I watched most Disney movies as a kid, I watched them once — maybe twice — and moved on. Disney princesses were not my role models.

It’s not that I didn’t have an over-active imagination as a child. It’s just that “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid” just didn’t hold my attention. So while other girls dreamed of being a princess and living in a castle far away, I had different dreams.

I wanted to be a spy. Specifically, I wanted to be a bomb specialist named Erin Reinhart… but that is besides the point. I was determined to be the hardest, toughest, most perfect government agent ever, because my TV role models were Ziva David and Fiona Glenanne.

So, yeah. I was a different kid.

My favorite shows growing up were NCIS and Burn Notice. And these women were the stars of the show for me. One was a government agent and the other was someone who delivered justice when the FBI and police authorities failed to do their job.

I think I liked them because they were strong and independent. The other characters on the shows looked up to them. They both demanded respect and dealt roughly with people, yet had a gentle side they used with those they loved.

My other love as a child was Veggie-Tales. But they didn’t have any main characters who were female, and you can only look up to a vegetable for so long, anyway.

So Disney princesses sang their way through problems and Veggie-Tales had a girl-carrot that showed up once in a while, but NCIS had Ziva. I don’t know what other girls learned from the people they looked up to, but for me, Ziva and Fiona taught me a lot about the world. They had to deal with a lot of annoying things — working with the likes of Tony and Michael. They dealt with death, disappointment, and pain. Through it all they were fiercely independent.

Now I look back and think that Ziva must have been a lonely girl, living as a foreigner working for the American government. Fiona, in some of the seasons of Burn Notice, looks severely underweight.  The characters had to deal with their loved ones dying or simply leaving them. They were not the happy characters of their shows.

As a child I wasn’t looking for the happy characters, anyway. There is this sort of romanticization of suffering that I fully embraced, I think. They were tough, they had a hard life, but they were cool.

Of course, childhood TV role models are never perfect. They don’t embody reality. But the strength and determination that made them who they were has shaped who I am. From quiet afternoon creating “manuals” on how to de-activate bombs to the black boots that I sometimes pull on, I think of those characters with a smile.

Who were your TV role models you grew up with and what did do you think you learned from them?