WordPress has served me well for two years, but I have moved hosts. Check me out at www.rdiane.com. Over the past 2+ years I have become more “fluent” in all of the aspects that go into making a website, thus needing space for this creativity to grow! Visit my site or click here for my most recent post.
Let’s stay connected.
Joyfully in Christ,
Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until the bags are packed and unpacked, the boxes are taped up and ripped open, and you’re sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor wondering how you’ve accumulated so many socks and realize that one is missing—potentially stuck to the wall of the dryer in your old apartment 1,700 long and looping miles away—and there is no possible way you will ever see that little pink Nike sock again.
Sometimes life doesn’t feel real until you have one of those trippy moments looking in the mirror, when you really see yourself and realize this is me. This is my life. I’m a person. I’m living. (Does everyone have these moments? Just me?) I used to have those moments all the time as a kid, where I would literally just stare into the mirror, thinking about biblical creation and evolutionary theories and the concept of forever. (Perhaps it’s fitting I study philosophy and religion….)
Life has a way of having long days and short years, with months that drag on and decades that whip by faster than you can say “Beanie Babies” (or Furby, Skip-It, BopIt, or HitClips—I swear we’re still in the ‘90s). I still write 2012 on the headings of my school papers, which was the year I graduated high school (I’m currently a junior in college), not able to digest the fact that we’re almost halfway through 2014.
It didn’t feel real, buckled into my little hybrid, the back window plastered with my sorority letters and the back seat stacked high with Tupperware bins and random, single shoes (we got to the point where my car was so full that we had to stuff clothes and shoes into every pocket of air available—very Tetris-esque). It didn’t feel real as we drained giant cups of sweet tea in Texas, Sonic slushies in New Mexico, and In’N’Out pink lemonade in Arizona (such a California tease!).
Even the lease paperwork, endless roadside gas stations/”rest stops”, getting whistled at by scary truck drivers, and the multiple hotels didn’t really solidify the fact that I was leaving Texas for good.
The road signs kept me updated as to how many thousands, hundreds, and tens of miles we had until sweet California welcomed warmly (literally), but even the giant blue “Welcome to California!” sign in a dusty corner of my favorite state didn’t make it feel real. I wasn’t reciting some sort of Texas eulogy, or caught in the thick of emotions from goodbye and change and a new hello.
I was just driving.
It wasn’t till I was sitting on my bedroom floor, exercising my inner obsessive-compulsive, domestic, perfectionist goddess, surrounded by socks and sorority shirts and a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, that I began to physically feel one chapter of life closing and the next opening. It wasn’t a sad feeling at all—just a sweet reminder that God’s hand is guiding me every day, and that I’m back in California for His purpose and by His grace.
I went to a beach bonfire with a friend last week.
After digging a fire pit in the sand (disclaimer: there was no sign saying it was illegal…although the cops showed up eventually), the fire was crackling and the s’mores ingredients were passed around (including S’moreos—s’mores Oreos—my new friend’s creation). After prayer, we all ended up singing worship songs led by a girl with a guitar and a voice that sounded “somewhere between Elvis [...or female equivalent] and angels,” to quote Hannah Brencher. With bare toes buried in the sand, a disposable camera in hand (I’m bringing them back), and the mingling song of the ocean and Jesus-loving voices, I felt the loving sovereignty of God, as he began to tie together all of the loose ends and frayed edges of my life, giving me new adventures, new hope, and new purpose.
Joyfully in Christ,
IT’S FINALS SEASON.
Laced with energy drinks, late-night swipes into the library and printers running dry of ink, finals season is the microcosm of “real world” deadlines crammed into a two-week period.
It’s like the volume dial of the stress radio was crank, crank, cranked to full blast, then broken off and stuck in position. So here we are as college students, with broken pencils, messy hair and under-eye circles, fueling caffeine addictions and nursing (or numbing) our tired minds.
Although I’m not a late night studier (I’d rather get up at 5am—perhaps a rare trait in my age group), I fit every other finals week stereotype—sleepy, swollen eyes, clothes that I fell asleep in, and a textbook never leaving the crook of my arm.
I am a school person. A perfectionist. An “oh my gosh, I only got a 96 on that test” kind of girl (although I would never admit it in a classroom setting—people who verbalize that really test my patience). Being so “schooly” has its pros (good grades) and cons (a bundle of nasty stress breakdowns/freak outs/meltdowns leading up to finals week). I make flashcards and rewrite notes, annotate books and fill the pages with sticky note flags on important bits of information.
And side note: that’s okay. That’s who I am. I think a lot of college students think it’s cool to laugh about failing classes, brag about not studying, or joke about not even having the textbooks. And I say: It’s seriously cool to be smart. It’s not something to be embarrassed about.
…There is a downside, though.
Although I usually have a good turn out once finals week is over, I’m often left a little wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m so hard on myself that my emotions are usually frayed, and my self-reflecting thoughts aren’t exactly the kindest. My brain turns to mush (or is hollow with a dull humming noise vibrating off of the empty caverns). I’m sleep-deprived, exercise-deprived, and nutrition-deprived (real nutrition—my finals week diet of protein bars and water doesn’t count). And worst of all, when I get to this broken (but academically excellent) point, I’ve neglected my relationship with Christ.
It’s so easy for me to sink into the depths of my schoolwork, disappearing completely into projects, presentations, papers, and study guides.
I get so stressed out and mad at myself for not remembering that phosphorous makes red blood cells with folate and that the Rastafarian religion stemmed from the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon. I forget to brush my teeth (eww kidding…kinda) or my hair. I barely remember to take deep breaths, let alone pray.
But I’ve been realizing something this time around, when my stress is greater than ever before and when the two weeks to finals also means two weeks left in the state of Texas: God is great and I am not. Riding the rush of a good grade is sweet for a few moments, until the to-do list piles back up, there’s another test on the desk in front of you, and you’re trying to handle everything on your own. I’m realizing during this finals season how much I need God. I need someone to talk to, someone to love me when I can’t remember the stomach enzyme that breaks down lipids, and someone to calm me down when my computer crashes.
His omnipresence is a great comforter—literally a giant, soft, squishy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. With Him I’m finding the peace and joy in this finals season, and in these last two weeks at this school. I feel blessed to be able to study exactly what I love, to have a cozy apartment (with a fireplace DVD playing on loop), and to have a family that knows I’m doing my best no matter what the outcome.
He keeps me from falling. He holds my hand. And sometimes, when it’s the end of the school day but there’s still more to do, he just carries me. I’m thankful for a God like this. He is my source of strength and perseverance, my cheerleader (that’s a visual), and my Heavenly Father.
He kind of rocks, for lack of a better word.
And of course, knowing that in two little weeks I’ll be hopping in my hybrid and cruising back to California is a giant motivator.
Let’s do this, finals week.
Joyfully in Christ,
“I think people underestimate the power of tea,” my friend Cheyenne said in class the other day.
“Why can’t we just invite someone over to drink tea and talk?”
We were talking about how so many people feel like they need TV shows and movies and celebrity gossip to hold a conversation. These things provide an avenue for connectivity and give people something to talk about. The scripted drama and sharp words of reality TV shock us and provoke us; our appetites for this kind of entertainment become insatiable. (Like, Oh my gosh, did you see the newest Keeping Up with the Kardashians last night?)
But what about talking of our dreams, ideas, or favorite books? Something of substance and worth?
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” | Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s one of those quotes that everyone knows, plastered on the walls of elementary school classrooms across the nation. I’ve never actually given the quote much thought until I thought about my own conversations with classmates and friends—convicting. The content of our conversations doesn’t have to be about events or people. We don’t have to have small or average minds. Through friendship, fellowship, and conversation, we can have great minds.
I’m really fascinated by people—their quirks, dreams, accomplishments and stories. We can learn so much from one another if we simply tear down the fragmented wall of “guardedness” that we’ve built around our hearts and minds. Vulnerability can be a beautiful thing, when done carefully.
Through The Little English Girl, I’ve learned that opening up my heart and letting readers sift through my thoughts can leave them soothed and encouraged by my own related experiences and (mostly) positive words.
One of my favorite things in the world is sitting around a little table in the corner of a coffee shop, hands clasped around a steaming mug of cocoa, focused only on getting to know the person in front of me.
With our phones tucked away in our pockets, we can channel our attention onto each other, laughing over childhood stories or breathlessly talking about our dreams. This is real connectedness, when friendship is about nurturing and building each other up, rather than gossiping about Justin Bieber’s little mustache (oops) or whatever Kim Kardashian is currently up to.
People are brilliant. I am so deeply impressed by the doctors, mathematicians, chemists, software developers and app-makers of the world—I never could do what they do, nor do I have much interest in following their path. I like to think that perhaps some of those people feel the same way about artists, writers, photographers, and philosophers. Our differences are brilliant.
As I shift into a new season of life, I’m making it a goal to get to know as many people as I can, so that my worldview and horizons can continue to be stretched on a daily basis.
Let’s be pals? Delight in the sweetness of fellowship today.
Joyfully in Christ,
P.S.: Happy (almost) birthday to me! Only 3 hours until my teen years are completely behind me!
Hello to the big 2-0 on April 14th!
P.P.S: A picture from the birthday celebration.
“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving. I didn’t want to destroy anything or anybody. I just wanted to slip quietly out the back door, without causing any fuss or consequences, and then not stop running until I reached Greenland.” | Elizabeth Gilbert
God is doing some pretty radical stuff in my life–challenging, humbling, life-changing, heart-opening, anxiety-inducing stuff.
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Every day I am finessed and shaped and molded by God’s hand. I have been growing, blooming, and evolving. I’ll think my life is headed one direction, and God smiles, throws his head back, and laughs warmly: “My child,” he says, “you’re going the wrong way!” And he helps me readjust. He holds my hand a lot. We take baby steps. We talk constantly about the concept of direction… especially lately.
My best friend texted me this quote last week, which I knew was God’s doing:
“I think God passes by me a lot, and it serves to show me the direction he’s going. We don’t always know where he’s headed or what to expect along the way. But I think direction is the point, the part, and whole of it…Plus, I think God knows that if I found out more than just the direction He was going, I’d probably try to beat Him there.” | Bob Goff, Love Does
My life path has been a fragmented yet loopy journey from point A to point B—I’ve never done well with simple or linear.
When I came into college as a freshman, I was a little 18-year-old with too-dark hair and too much makeup, wanting nothing more than to study fashion merchandising and have a “real” college experience. I wanted to work for a magazine—TeenVogue was the goal—and live in New York City or LA. I went to mixers and parties and formals, held a can of beer in my hand just to blend in, and spent more time on my phone than in my physical surroundings. With my heart stapled to my sleeve, I was completely consumed with the thought of southern boys. I thought they would be so wonderful–so gentlemanly–opening doors and calling me miss or ma’am with a crooning, twangy accent. They would all sound exactly like the nonexistent lovechild of Scotty McCreery and Josh Turner (baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low… ♫ ♪ ♫).
Fast forward 365 days, and I’m in the first semester of my sophomore year. My halfhearted study of fashion merchandising, coupled with a wonderful religion professor and newfound love for my freshman bible class (general ed religion requirement—private Christian school, mind you) leads me to change my path completely. No longer was I studying lighting, consumers, textiles, or illustration—suddenly it was second semester, and I was immersed in Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions.
I traded my sketching pencils for the Torah, fabric swatches for karma, dharma, and bodhisattvas. The designer names on my flashcards became deities, transliterated words, and meticulous sketches of the afterlife (this week’s notes are peppered with drawings of the Mormon afterlife, beginning with the premortal world, stretching to the celestial kingdom). No longer was I examining fabric under a microscope or identifying it by its warp or waft (which is truly such a pain). Instead, I was examining relationships, ethics, and doctrines through the lens of a scholar of religion.
Suddenly I found myself on the floor of my little apartment, surrounded by cracked open textbooks and thick stacks of notes, exploring the complexities of the question: “what is religion?” and loving every soul-searching moment. It’s a native category, meaning it’s so elemental to life and society that people feel like they know what it means without having to define it. But at the same time, it’s like explaining colors to the lifelong blind, or describing how water tastes.
Fast forward one more year.
I’ll be a junior, but no longer in Texas.
My fragmented yet looping path has led me back to the place where my heart overflows—California. It’s been a long process, a quiet process, and a painful process. I believe, with every cell in my body and hair on my head, that God brought me to Texas for spiritual, emotional, and academic boot camp. It was here, and only here, that he could turn this little freshman girl, purposefully spilling warm beer into potted plants at parties to make the cup gradually empty, into a girl with a heart for philosophy and religion, dedicated to meditation and prayer. He knew that Texas could be the only setting for this radical, internal, gritty, and graceful change.
It was here when I finally learned to listen to Him… and to my own soul.
I had become so apathetic and victim-like. I saw my circumstances as permanent, not temporary. Texas was the place of my first B- (in a class called “fashion illustration,” of all things), my first severe tornado warning (yesterday, actually), my first time being set up on a date (blind dates work better in movies and books), and my first time getting 100% on a science midterm (only after a weekend of crying in the bathtub with my flashcards and eating my feelings in chocolate chips).
I loved studying religion, so I knew my academic shift was part of His plan.
Academics aside, everyone talked of my school like it was this magical and beautiful utopia. And although the campus is gorgeous, I didn’t think these people had ever seen palm trees, tasted an acai bowl, or fell asleep on the sand with a book on their face. I didn’t think these people had ever wandered through a vineyard, climbed a mountain so lush and emerald that even Ireland is green with envy. I didn’t think these people have done yoga on a paddleboard, picked citrus from their backyards, or had a pool party birthday for every single year of their life (and every year, the wet footprints on the pavement, cannonball splashes and homemade birthday cake were even better than the last). I didn’t think these people had surfboards and boogie boards and skim boards in their garages, or had a guitar for home and a guitar for the beach, its wood coated with sand and mottled from saltwater. I didn’t think these people knew California like I did.
And that was okay. Maybe all of that wasn’t magic to them.
Who was I to assume that my paradise was theirs as well?
Maybe what was magical to them were the honey-leather cowboy boots, the buzz of the crowd on game day, all yelling and screaming at the ref in unison. Maybe these people were captivated by tall, sweating glasses of sweet tea and line dancing past midnight, hunting on the weekends, and tailgating in the back of a truck. Maybe to them, the Texas sky was a symphony, the clouds wringing themselves out at the end of the day—pink and lavender watercolors dripping down from the atmosphere. Maybe the humid nights and bright stars, the country music, and lake days made their hearts overflow with love and pride.
(And that was okay too.)
One of the sweetest blessings here in Texas was my book club—a small, deep-thinking collection of happy spirits, each with a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Unbeknownst to these girls, our tiny, monthly book club helped me come to terms with the adventures waiting at my own fingertips. This handful of creative, Elizabeth-Gilbert-loving souls, along with Elizabeth herself (via her book) gave me the courage I needed to pursue true joy.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.” | Elizabeth Gilbert; Eat, Pray, Love
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And so I’m traveling for it and swimming to it.
I’m headed back to my Californian roots where my soul can run free through nature and the sunshine can warm the tips of my toes. I’m headed back to a gentle yoga practice, uncharted beaches (for I won’t be in my well-loved yet thoroughly explored San Diego this time around), and a continuation of my religious studies, with the addition of philosophy. I’m headed back to a barefoot heart, farmers’ markets, and a strand of sea-glass-encrusted possibilities.
As Rumi said,
“Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”
And so I’m responding.
I’m taking my fragmented, looping, beautiful path to California.
Find out what excites your spirit. Seek peace and happiness and chase it–literally run to it and for it and alongside of it. If you don’t like where you are or where you’re going, pick up your roots and the hems of your pant legs and go somewhere else.
Pursue all of the world’s light and love.
You are your own limitations.
(Extra) Joyfully in Christ,
It’s been a month since I’ve used any form of social media.
Back in late February, I knew that I wanted to give up social media for Lent, but I also knew that waiting until March 5th would zap me of my motivation and inspiration. And so, slowly unclenching my palms and releasing the apps and accounts and sites that had become such a staple to my life, I let it all go. I deactivated Facebook, deleted Twitter, deleted Instagram, logged out of LinkedIn, and deleted Tumblr. (Pssst… I knew I was going to keep Pinterest, since I don’t use it in a social way: I don’t follow many people I actually know, and I don’t use the comment features. I only use it as a creative outlet and source of inspiration.)
It’s been 30 days.
I sound like an addict, really. I sound like someone hugging their knees to their chest, rocking from side-to-side in fetal position, and making tally marks on the wall of how many days it’s been, incarcerated without social media. I sound like a junkie in remission.
My social media addiction wasn’t that bad, especially when I compare it to my peers. Now when I go to dinner parties or sorority events, I notice how everyone is hunched over their phones. Everyone will pose for a picture—trying to look carefree and happy, doing the fake-laugh smile—and then frown, cropping and editing and finessing said picture for the next ten minutes.
It’s all relative. I didn’t post on Instagram frequently; a lot of people posted every day. I didn’t utilize Facebook actively; a lot of people made statuses or uploaded pictures every hour/day/week. But I knew that I did have a problem.
I had become unable to just sit—to sit and wait for a friend, to sit in the passenger seat of a car, to sit at my desk until class began.
The muscle memory was too deeply rooted, and the mental craving for a distraction/notification/confidence boost was too strong. Sitting and waiting meant pulling out my phone, my thumbs mindlessly jumping from Instagram to Facebook to Twitter to texting, all in cyclical progression. If there were no notifications on one app, I’d move to the next, and so on, until I was back to social media site #1, and the cycle began again.
Introspective as I am, and a lover of systems, I decided I wanted to be more actively in control over my thumbs, my thoughts, and what I fed to my brain. I wanted a system. I wanted a set of steps and rules to follow that would instantly transform my life. I love systems. But I didn’t want to let go. I loved social media too much and used it too often to even imagine life without it. Without social media, what would I do? How could I show everyone my quinoa breakfast bowl or my quintessential California beach sunset shot?
I thought back to a quote I posted awhile back:
“We can’t jump off of bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach, and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure, and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check in, and hashtag.” | Jeremy Glass
Why couldn’t I let go of social media? Why did I like it? Seeing that my acquaintance got 300 likes on the picture she posted of her coffee (a made-up scenario, but still relevant) wasn’t doing anything for me. What was I gaining? Bruised self-esteem? Jealousy? Comparison is the thief of joy, but also the thief of productivity, self-love, and confidence.
So it was good-bye, Instagram. I needed to learn how to enjoy the sunset or breakfast without counting whether sixty, seventy, or eighty people also thought it was neat.
Although I didn’t use Facebook actively to make statuses or upload pictures, I did post my blog links, respond to friend requests or comments or messages, check people’s birthdays and RSVP for events. I didn’t necessarily like Facebook, but I loved the little red notifications. They made me feel important and worthy and cool.
And so, it was good-bye to Facebook. I needed to learn how to feel important and worthy and cool on my own, outside of the computer screen.
Social media makes us hyper-connected. As Millennials (and other generations), we have a handful of accounts and sites. We have Twitters and Tumblrs. We have Facebooks and Flickrs and Instagrams. We have GroupMe and Google+, YouTube channels and LinkedIn pages. We have every avenue for every type of interaction possible, and more often than not, we utilize them all.
This hyper-connectedness leaves us hyper-available.
School doesn’t end when class ends—not when your teacher can email you at all hours of the day and change the directions for the project, add more pages to the reading, or assign something completely new. Work no longer lives within the parameters of 9am-5pm—not when the boss can request that chart or that document at any time of morning or night (or when the boss’ boss can ask if you could, by chance, get this totally impossible task done by morning.). Social time never ends. We don’t have alone time when we’re connected to 2,000 of our closest friends through a screen, with the ability to message any of them with one click of a button and a few taps on the keys. We read on our iPads but don’t get very far, distracted by the little seducing notifications swooping down from the top of the page. (A new friend request? Who could it be? I better check right now, or I will probably shrivel up and die.)
The hardest part for me, once accounts were gone and the apps deleted, was figuring out how to fill my time. Part of me was in mourning—rest in peace, social life—because I knew that I would probably miss out on more without all of the avenues for connectivity. The other part of me—the sassy, independent part—reminded me that if someone really really wanted to hangout, they could call me on the phone. It’s not like I fell off the planet and into the inky darkness of the galaxies. I was still very much present without my sites. I was more present without my sites.
I made a list (I told you, I love systems) of activities to do when I get bored (although my homework load this semester has kindly made sure that I don’t get bored often):
o Host a game night
o Call someone to talk
o Do yoga
o Write out prayers
o Go on a walk
o Drink a glass of water
o Play guitar/piano
o Explore a new neighborhood
o Stretch gently
o Plan a trip—a real, physical, plausible, actually-will-happen trip
o Floss (I have a major teeth fetish, and it really frightens me to think how many people don’t floss)
o Watch an old/foreign film (La Vita E Bella is my favorite. I literally weep everytime I watch it, and it’s not even in English! Thank you God for wonderful Italian films with subtitles.)
o Read outside
o Make treats for someone
o Read the Bible
o Do supplementary research on something I’m curious about
o Write letters
30 days later, and I have not missed social media at all.
Oddly enough, my fear of missing out became non-existent. My productivity levels skyrocketed (last week: two presentations, two midterms, and a 10-paged original fiction work). My conversations got deeper. My flighty, unfocused mind was mellower without such an extreme information overload. (I struggle with Inattentive ADHD [ADHD encompasses two types: Hyperactive-Impulsive and Inattentive]). I read articles from the newspaper that my mom would send via snail mail. I read multiple books.
I’m not sure what I’ll do when Lent is over, because I am so much happier without social media. I miss being able to show my pictures online, but I think I really just miss the likes on my pictures. It’s been so refreshing to live life without the siren call of notifications and the sinking feeling of being left out of plans. Letting go of social media gave me more control over my life, my mind, and time.
You may have zero problems with social media. You may be so much better at moderation than I am. But if you do find yourself sheepishly looking down at your toes right now, I challenge you. Give. It. Up. Maybe just for one day, maybe for two months. When you let go of being hyper-connected and hyper-available, you may just find that that is where life happens.
It wasn’t the first time I found myself being yelled at in Sudanese Arabic.
(Actually, it definitely was.)
I wasn’t sure if the taxi driver was yelling at me to get out of the taxi—perhaps he wasn’t available—or to get in and close the door. So there I was, perched in an uncomfortable squat, half-sitting in his taxi, half-standing on the pavement. Eventually he managed the word “door” in English, and motioned to the phone clenched to his ear. Enlightened but thoroughly annoyed, I closed the door and sat back in the grimy taxi van seat, embarking on my overpriced journey from the airport to my college campus.
Once he got off the phone, he told me that he was from Sudan. It had been his wife calling from overseas, so he couldn’t hang up when I climbed into his taxi. He was here in Texas and driving this van to support his family back in Africa. At one point he fluidly shifted from English to Sudanese Arabic, forgetting that I was just a little English (speaking) girl—pun intended. In fragmented sentences and broken English, he talked about war, uprisings, and water. When I got to my apartment that night, and took a drawn-out shower and left the sink running too long, I thought of Mr. Taxi Driver’s wife, and a Sudanese water purification struggle.
Sometimes my world gets a little too small.
As it shrinks, my own problems metastasize. My rapidly narrowing perspective makes running out of coffee into a disaster, an imperfect outfit or homework assignment into a tragedy, and the male barista not winking and paying for my latte into heartbreak. Sometimes it takes a little bit of exaggeration to make a point. Obviously these things are not disasters, tragedies, or heartbreaks, but I will sheepishly admit that I let extremely mild annoyances turn into mildly extreme problems. (Clarification: A barista has never paid for my coffee before, but a girl can dream…right?)
It’s like the love-hate relationship I have with my major.
I love my major because I’m a thinker. My brain loves to finesse complex ideas and break down multifaceted concepts. I’m passionate about happiness—the science of it, the thoughts behind it, and the way to get to it. Through my major, I learn about the Buddhist “Six Perfections” that a bodhisattva must practice to become enlightened. I love relationships and examining all that comes with them. I can explore the tensions between the four branches of Judaism, or the many Christian denominations. It’s fascinating to me—I devour the words in my religion textbook like they were tiny, chocolate-laced pastries doused in powdered sugar or sprinkled with sea salt. But other times… I hate my major; studying other people and cultures is a harsh reminder of how small my own world and problems are. I’m glad for this wake up call, but it doesn’t always feel good.
I’m passionate about so many things—healthy oceans and beaches (Surfrider Foundation), nutrition, rainforest preservation, and animal treatment—so how is it that my fading tan and minor stress breakout were all I really thought about today? The older I get, the more aware I am of my little world. I want to preserve it, nurturing and protecting my “innocent” mind, and staying safe within the boundaries of a white picket fence and trimmed rose hedges. At the same time, my empathetic nature makes me hurt for impoverished people I will never meet, abused pups I will never play with, and oil-drenched oceans I will never visit.
And so here I am, back in the uncomfortable squatting position. I am half-sitting in a taxi that promises to show me a beautiful, corrupt world, and half-standing on the pavement, where life is safe and feet are rooted to the ground.
My anxious, wandering spirit craves both comfort and chaos. My feet and heart and mind want to roam; my body doesn’t want to get out of bed. And here you are, feeling the same way. Or maybe you’re rolling your eyes, yelling at me through the screen to buy a plane ticket to Sudan–I received an email a few months ago asking me if I had ever stopped to think about the children in Africa, because certainly that is the only meaningful issue in the world. I beg to differ. Although I feel stuck, unsure if I want to venture into the world or stay with my feet on the ground, I know that meaning can be found in daily life. Though some of my worries today were laughable (how did my leggings get so see-through?!), I think you and I can really make some positive change happen here. Here. Where we are. Now. Gandhi said: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” He was right. Ask someone how they’re doing–how they are really, genuinely doing. Challenge yourself to not engage in gossip. Send someone a letter if their corner of the world is feeling a little broken and gloomy. Hop off the social media and do something productive. Go to the beach and pick up every styrofoam fragment and bottle you can find (recycle when applicable, of course). Buy someone sunflowers. Talk to the cashier (working in retail taught me that small talk is, indeed, meaningful). Find something you’re passionate about and pursue it. Do something today that is productive and positive–something that helps someone other than yourself. Besides, those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.
(It all began being yelled at in Sudanese Arabic.)
Joyfully in Christ,
Pinterest is my sun and moon and angelic, devilish, omnipresent companion.
I usually love Pinterest, gathering recipes and craft ideas with each swift scroll of the page. I choose who I follow wisely, almost babying myself to ensure I don’t accidentally stumble across a fragmented, sleazy corner of the internet. I follow a joyful, deep thinking, creative crowd, peppered with fashionistas, writers, and chefs.
Pinterest is my siren call and my lotus flower. For those not studying literature, Homer’s Odyssey explores the Greek mythology of the lotus-eaters on an island off of North Africa. The lotus flower was a narcotic; if a person consumed a lotus blossom, he would drift into the dreamiest, softest, most lethargic sleep imaginable.
Pinterest inspires me, but entices me, pulling me deeper and deeper through the computer screen until I am practically inside the website, losing sight of my surroundings completely. For some people it’s Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Pinterest is my bittersweet bride (groom).
And then the other day I saw it. Tucked away in a little corner of my newsfeed was a picture of a handwritten quote. It looked humble and simple, but those are often the best kinds, so I clicked. I wish I hadn’t.
I knew it wasn’t mean spirited by nature. I knew it wasn’t an attack on me. I knew all of these things. So why did it feel like I was kneed in the stomach?
As a writer who loves taking pictures and making art, I felt convicted and attacked. Contrary to what I thought about myself, or what my parents, friends and professors thought about me,
…I felt like my passions were no longer legitimate.
I felt as though my words and paints and pictures just swirled into the creative efforts of the rest of the right-brained world, muddling and mixing until nothing of worth was left.
It’s like when you mixed every hue from your kindergarten watercolor set back in the utopian days of naptime and snack time. Your teacher told you that you’d get a swampy brownish-black if you mixed them all together, but your little five-year-old heart still believed that you would, indeed, be left with a rainbow color. I felt like the five-year-old—the world was saying “I told you so,” and I felt cheated of the respect I thought I deserved for at least trying to be innovative.
It’s like how EVERYONE has a blog.
Everyone and their mother have a blog—often literally (pssst… I know “their” is incorrect in that sentence. It’s a cliché… work with me here!). When I began The Little English Girl in high school, blogging wasn’t foreign, but it certainly was not cool or mainstream. These days, my Facebook newsfeed (when I did have a Facebook, anyway) is littered with the same Buzzfeeds and Gifs and trivial articles as usual, but the feed is no longer sprinkled with blogs—it’s saturated with them.
When I began to see this influx within my own friends and acquaintances, I felt a little jaded. I didn’t want to be spiteful, but blogging was my thing—wasn’t it? I quickly realized that being possessive over blogging illustrated the same irrationality of being possessive over painting, using Pinterest, or once being a cheerleader and competitive swimmer. All of these things were “my” passions, but did that mean I would be offended the next time someone picked up a paintbrush, pinned a picture, did a toe touch, or dove into the water?
As for the legitimacy of my passions, I didn’t have an answer.
I didn’t want to turn to my parents. I knew they would tell me that yes; I am more than legitimate and enough. They would tell me that I am their gifted, creative, sensitive daughter—yes Rachel, you are special. I didn’t want to turn to God (out of my own stupid stubbornness). I knew He would tell me the same thing… except… He didn’t. Even though I didn’t give my insecurities to Him, He still knew my thoughts. He knew that telling me I was special would only fall upon deaf ears—the idea that “if everyone is special then no one is” was the entire crux of my argument. He knew I wasn’t ready to dive into the thick of the topic, and so he soothed my mind in the moment and I went on with my day.
It wasn’t until today that I got my answer.
This month, my book club and I are exploring the novel Eat Pray Love, dipping our toes in the cultures of Italy, India, and Indonesia. I have read this book a handful of times for a handful of reasons. I really connect with Liz Gilbert’s writing style. Equal parts witty and insightful, each line drips with subtle humor and beautiful language. I also connect to Liz as a person (maybe a little more than I care to admit). Her longing to escape the mediocre and mundane speaks to my own dreaming heart. Her personal depth, need for support, empathy and affection (I think at one point she refers to herself as somewhere between a Golden Retriever and a barnacle), and her love of the little things in life mirrors my own spirit. It’s a thoroughly wonderful book overflowing with whimsy and experience.
Reading the book for the 4th, maybe 5th time, proved deeply satisfying. Even though I know the characters and plotline by heart, I began to unearth some really interesting bits of narrator commentary that I hadn’t previously noticed. This one, I knew, was God’s doing:
“Because the world is so corrupted, misspoken, unstable, exaggerated and unfair, one should trust only what one can experience with one’s own senses, and THIS makes the senses stronger in Italy than anywhere in Europe. This is why, Barzini says, Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captain of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors… In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted. Only artistic excellence is incorruptible. Pleasure cannot be bargained down. And sometimes the meal is the only currency that is real.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
And with that, stitching together words, smearing paint on canvas, building a lyrical sanctuary through verses and music, and taking pictures of His creation is 100% legitimate. I no longer had to (have to) bitterly envy those who posses different gifts and talents than me—the finance majors, engineers, mathematicians, and chemists, fluent in Latin and fortified with intelligence and prestige. My right-brained, religion-and-English-studying mind need not fret no longer.
Stitching together syllables and examining theological underpinnings is important to the world because it is important to me. Though I am a stark contrast to my biochemistry, computer science, business and finance-laced family, creating beautiful things—as sometimes only beauty can be trusted—is more than enough.
P.S.: You may or may not have noticed I no longer utilize social media. More on that later. If you’d like to contact me, follow the “write me” tab at the top of the page and fill out an email form.
Being San Diego bred, my soul is naturally infused with those hippie, sea-salt-encrusted, save-the-whales, be-one-with-the-earth type of beliefs.
“You’re so Cali,” people in Texas tell me.
I cringe and stare down at my mint Vans or chocolate brown Rainbows. Never say Cali in my presence. It is truly not a real word, but it is the best indicator of who is not from California. I can just feel all of my California readers fervently nodding their heads along to the rhythm of this paragraph. Cali is a horrible, horrible word. But alas, we are all rooted to different corners of the Earth, and so things like this are forgivable (when I push my little California attitude aside).
I cannot, however, push my California soul aside.
I am a free spirit, a dreamer, and a happy soul seeker. I crave sunshine as others do richly hued wine. The ocean nourishes, recharges, and refreshes me; it is my medication and meditation. Wading to my knees or slicing through waves, the ocean is everything—a place for solitude, gathering, thinking, laughing. The ocean is core work, balance and breathing techniques, subtle scares of seaweed around the ankle, and melting layers of sunscreen. The water is liquid magic. It is like this icy radiance that swirls around my body, enveloping me in sloppy, lapping hugs and salty kisses. Navy water is stitched with white foam, spilling over from wave to wave.
Overcome by the brilliance of creation, I think of the artist Himself: “The Earth is full of His unfailing love. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars. He puts the deep into storehouses.” (Psalms 33:5-7)
I am (unabashedly) a Christian. I am also a religion major, and so it is my “job” to examine a multitude of religious traditions utilizing epoche, a way to bracket off personal biases. Being so firm in my faith and my adoration of Christ, I am able to see other people’s religious traditions as just that—other people’s religious traditions, which neither offend nor threaten me or my beliefs. There are certainly practices that I am uncomfortable with or don’t understand, but the beauty of Christ is that he loves everyone, so I strive to cultivate the same loving, open mindset when I explore these traditions.
As a scholar of religion, I delight in drawing similarities between Buddha’s teachings (500 years before Jesus), and the teachings of Christ—my rock and salvation and gentle shepherd. One of the things I love about Buddhism is the Eightfold Path, as part of the Fourth Noble Truth (the path to the end of suffering). The Eightfold Path is divided into three sections:
- Mindfulness: Meditation practice
- Virtue: Morals and being a good little earthling and buddy to others
- Wisdom: Learning, blooming, growing, and evolving every day
The other thing I love about Buddhism is the strong emphasis on the Earth—preserving it, loving it, nurturing it. Way back when (and potentially still in some areas), Buddhist monks and nuns were not allowed to travel during rainy season, for fear that they would accidentally step on insects and other creatures lodged in the mud (the same is true in Jainism; Jains believe all sentient beings have “jivas,” or living souls).
“Everything in the universe is pulsating and vibrating – nothing is really standing still. The sound Om, when chanted, vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which is the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. As such AUM is the basic sound of the universe; so by chanting it we are symbolically and physically tuning in to that sound and acknowledging our connection to all other living beings, nature and the universe.”
The way I see it, living beings, nature, and the universe are all created by God. This element of creation binds us in relationship with the Earth—just as God cares for us, he cares for how the lilies grow.
And so, in a sort of “Beach Buddha” manner, I leave you with this nugget of wisdom (let’s say crystal of wisdom, and make me even more of a hippie soul):
“With each inhale, lift your heart closer to the sun. With each exhale, root your feet more deeply in the ground (or perhaps… the sand).”
Be in this world, not of it. Believe in the magic of creation. Be gentle to the earth. And while you’re at it, eat wholesome and clean foods, seeds instead of grains, lots of leafy greens, and meet me at the beach.
Joyfully in Christ,
(And happily en route to California for spring break)