Saturday, December 24, 2016

Not-So-Generic Christmas Eve Post

So I'm a pretty huge fan of the rock band Flyleaf - at least, I was when Lacey Sturm was still their lead singer (I feel like a bad person for saying this, but once she left, I just kind of...lost interest). That being said, I'm so happy that Lacey's making her own music, especially stuff like the song above.

The song is called "Mercy Tree," and it's about the Cross of Jesus's crucifixion. I guess that means this song is more appropriate for Easter rather than Christmas, but I've always been one to mix up the natural order of things.

I cry just about every time I watch this music video because of how powerful it is. Lacey sings with so much passion and joy that I can't help but get caught up in it. But the message is what captures me the most, and what I want to talk about now.

Christmas is a time of peace, of giving, of joy and gladness. It's a time for us to reflect on our Savior's birth, when God fulfilled a promise that His people had waited for through centuries of time. Our focus is fixed on the innocence of that humble baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

I like to think ahead, though, past the visions of a peaceful, hopeful, bright, happy manger scene that years of Sunday school as a little kid gave me. As sorrowing as it is, I like to think about that baby's destiny.

We're all born to eventually die, but few of us are born to be brutally crucified.

We all like to think about the part of Jesus's life that's easy to think about - His birth, happy Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, a star. But to turn our attention to the statement above, that Jesus was born to be crucified, because of the sins we can't help but commit?

That's a harder topic to reflect on.

I'm not saying that Christmas shouldn't be spent rejoicing over the birth of Christ and enjoying peace. Jesus's birth was meant to be a beautiful thing - a promise of eternal redemption, of atonement for sin, of grace upon grace. But I do think it's healthy, spiritually, to also reflect on the reason behind the promise: that we, fallen humans, would be eaten alive by our own sin if God didn't send His Son for our redemption. That we, sinners, are whom Jesus left the perfect presence of God to commune and break bread with (Mark 2:15-17). And that we, the broken, cannot mend ourselves.

Two-thousand years ago, a baby was born to die, and a promise was fulfilled. Hope entered people's hearts like a bright light, then fled at the Cross, then returned when Jesus came back to life. Two-thousand years ago, humanity was graced with a baby who was fully human, fully God, and would one day hang naked on a cross, flesh shredded, hands and feet stabbed through with nails, a crown of thorns rent onto His head as blood ran in rivulets down the rough wood.

Pure, innocent blood, the blood of a sacrifice so desperately needed to save us all.

Two-thousand years ago, a baby was born, and because of it, death met its demise, and love won.

Because of it, we're free to celebrate peace and hope.

Because of it, we're eternally redeemed. And all we have to do is believe.

So, my dear readers, merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Fifty-Two Books

For someone who wants to be a published author someday (preferably in the near future), I don't read nearly enough.

I had a decent excuse for not reading half of the library books I checked out this semester - I was in a literature class, and it required a lot of my reading time. But I don't really want to make that an excuse for not reading. I had plenty of time in which I lazily decided that scrolling my Instagram feed was more appealing.

So, despite having signed myself up for a 300-level honors literature college course, I'm making it one of my New Year's resolutions to read 52 books during the year of 2017.

That's one book a week.

I made a list of fifty-two books, but in all likelihood I'll have to trade some of those out for the books I get as reading assignments from class. That's okay - just as long as I do my best to hit the quota, I'll be satisfied. Reading is so important to me, for so many reasons - not just because I've always been a book worm, but because I'm a writer too. Thus, reading, in essence, is work, because by reading I expose myself to other writers' styles, thereby influencing and shaping my own. There are so many benefits to reading - so if you feel up to it, why don't you join me and make a list of your own? Here are a few of the books featured on mine:

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

I fell in love with this author's writing when I read two of her WWII novels, Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. I started this new novel of her's earlier this year but didn't finish it - something about it didn't grip me like the others had - yet I still want to, so of course it's on the list! 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yeah, I know...I'm pretty late on this one. But it's never too late to read a book, amiright?

Needless to say, sad teen romances are not my thing, but I broke down and watched the movie when I found it on TV recently. So naturally, the book made the list (despite the tears/pain/feels the movie caused me).

Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey

I follow this author's blog, and her writing is absolutely stunning. I heard about this book a while back and can't wait to get my hands on it. 

A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman

I had the privilege of hearing Emily P. Freeman speak at a conference in September, and my mom has been recommending this book to me ever since. I've heard it's a must for anyone whose passions lie in the art spectrum. 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Considering what I've heard about Patrick Ness's work, and that there's a movie adaption of this coming out now, I think it's about time to give it a read. 

So there you have it! Five out of fifty-two of my books for 2017. We'll see how far I get - I'll be satisfied if I even make it halfway through, just as long as I'm reading, reading, reading. 

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What books would you put on your list?


Saturday, December 17, 2016

highlights/things I learned from my first semester of college

So. I have a full semester of college under my belt now. 

It was a whirlwind of experiences, good, bad, stressful, fantabulistic. (I'm making that a word as of now). And by whirlwind I mean it flew by, really, really fast. And I want to take a moment to highlight some of the things that made it as good as it was - so much better than I expected, to be honest. I was homeschooled, and I thought the shift to secular college life would be a massive emotional undertaking. Turns out, I needn't have worried - it went swimmingly. 

So here are some of the highlights, and what I learned from them.

1. Honors college orientation

The week before classes started, I went to a four-day honors college orientation retreat at a camp with a couple hundred other college freshman kids. I was nervous at first, unsure about making friends and of how different they might be from the people I was used to hanging out with - how different they might be from me. Turns out, they were likewise just a bunch of kids trying to learn how to both adult and enjoy themselves in a new college setting. Those four days were spent building friendships, learning about college life, swimming in the lake, rock climbing, and staying up late with cabin mates. It ended in a giant spirit contest that involved skits and screaming the college fight song about 4,782 times around a three-story bonfire. (At least, it seemed that tall to me and was hot enough that I couldn't even get close to roast my marshmallow). The friendships that I made there were vital to my transition into college. It was an experience I'll never forget. I learned that one of the nice things about college is that when you're starting out, everyone's in the same boat. Sure, we all come from different backgrounds, but as long as you're capable of asking, "Hey, what's your name?" and "So what's your major?" you won't have trouble making friends. 

2. Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM)


Can I just.

Oh, BCM. 

I met the president of my university's BCM over the summer, and she helped me get involved with the ministry. I showed up on the night when they assigned Freshman Family Groups (Bible study/support groups with an upperclassmen "mom" and "dad" as leaders, in which you have fellow freshmen for brothers and sisters) and it just got better and better from there. If it hadn't been for my family group and the other people that I befriended at the BCM over the last 3 months, my semester would have been infinitely less fun. Not to mention, they helped me stay on track in my faith, which is even more important. 

From BCM, I learned the importance of getting involved with people who share the same values as you, and who can help you stay grounded in your beliefs. I got to witness a group of college kids actively seeking and sharing Jesus among themselves and with others. It was an amazing reminder of how much influence young people can have (1 Tim. 4:12). I can't wait to see where God takes this campus ministry. 

3. My professors

I had the coolest professors ever. And I was super nervous about that, too, going in. I thought they were all going to be either boring or intimidating. Turns out, they're just people too. And fun people, at that. My geology professor was a shorter woman with long, dark hair, who liked classic rock music and always put an inspirational quote up on the screen every Monday. "Motivational Monday" she called it. My Folk Studies professor was a really nice woman with a nose piercing and an engaging folklore course. I had two professors that were both named Dr. Kim - one, a literature professor who challenged and encouraged me in my first-ever college English class, gave me a hug the last day I saw him, and sent me one of the nicest emails I've ever received, and the other a very chill and lenient psychology professor who gave us candy before every exam. 

I learned that most professors respect you, and they notice when you respect them in turn. They notice when you listen, and when you put forth an effort. Getting to know my professors was a word of advice that I applied over the semester, and it helped me in so many ways. And they were awesome people, which made it easy. 

4. So...I had my first date. 

I met a guy at the BCM, and by the end of the semester he asked me to go ice skating with him and a couple other friends at the new ice skating rink in town. I hadn't dated up until then, and didn't quite know what I was doing, but I liked him, and I accepted. And it was fun - except we didn't get to ice skate. I had an orchestra concert that evening which they came to, but it ran late and the rink closed before we could get there. However, we went to the city square instead and meandered under the Christmas lights, talking. And then we drove around town and ended up hanging out at Steak 'n Shake until 2:30 a.m.

I'd never done anything like that before, hanging out in town with people my age until almost three in the morning. And it was so much fun. I learned once again that not everything always goes according to plan (we did get to go ice skating eventually, though), and if you just go with the flow, it can still be fun and memorable. I also learned that first dates aren't necessarily what you imagine them to be; my first date was basically us four college kids loitering at the town square and then chilling at Steak 'n Shake, chatting about everything from morality to Marvel movies and flicking sugar packets at each other over fries and milkshakes. It was fun and comfortable, and I wouldn't have changed a thing about it. 


I love my campus. It's spacious and beautiful, with countless places to hang out and study in both good and bad weather. The cafeteria serves food that meets all of my dietary needs, and once the weather turned cool I'd go there, get a hot meal in a to-go box, and hole away in a study nook in the building to do homework. Before that, when the weather was warmer, I had a routine of studying in the library between classes, then finding a bench or a flat rock to sit on and eating my lunch in the sunshine. I got to walk anywhere, drive anywhere, and ride with anyone anywhere that I wanted to go, staying out late, going places with my BCM group, and attending social events different groups at my university hosted. The newfound taste of freedom was liberating, and thankfully, I have good parents who taught me how to use it wisely. I learned that it's good to hang out past your bedtime sometimes, but there's a fine line between prioritizing your social life and prioritizing homework. As an introvert, I didn't find this too much of a challenge - eleven o'clock is when I start to wear down at social events that last late - but there were still a few times that I ended up saving homework for the morning of. (Not recommended). 

So there you have it. Five highlights. There were many more - weekly lunches with friends, interesting class projects, and some very exciting educational opportunities, to name a few. There were also lots of stressful, not-so-good moments, of course. But overall, my first taste of college completely surpassed my expectations in the best ways, and my heart is full to the brim with gratitude toward my faithful God for that. I was more than ready for my winter break when finals ended, but I already miss my new friends, and look forward to what next semester holds.


Monday, December 5, 2016

The One About Worship

"Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell in it;" 

Psalm 98:7

In my morning devotion today, I ran into this verse that I've encountered so many times. I love it. There's something untamed and poetic about it. The passage it comes from is praise-focused, and it's one of those verses at the end that just jumps out at you. 

It got me thinking. For a long time growing up, I didn't realize what worship really is. In fact, my understanding of it is still a work in progress. What I knew of worship as a kid was that it meant gripping the back of the pew in front of me and singing a lot of the same hymns on repeat. Same verses, too. My church wasn't rigid, but the attendants weren't the hand-raising type, either. For a distracted kid who was a little bored and a little hungry and not listening to the message like she should have been, it left me with an imprint that worship was mundane. 

Then I started going to Christian concerts and youth conferences. That elevated my understanding of worship to a whole new level. People sang at the top of their lungs, raised their hands, closed their eyes, swayed, danced. At first it seemed real (and I'm not saying it wasn't). I thought, Surely they're all experiencing the presence of God, surely what they're doing is right, but I'm not feeling it. So, what's wrong with me?

After a few years, I stopped trying to fit in. If I wasn't moved, if I didn't feel like raising my hands or singing at the top of my lungs, I didn't. Because worship isn't being a copycat. It's much more authentic and personal than that. 

So what is it? 

Deciding to not follow the crowd at concerts, to seek my own attitude and spirit of worship, changed things for me. It made me search. It made me question myself, be honest with myself: Am I not a good Christian because I don't always feel like raising my hands? Because I don't always feel like dancing? 

Nope. That wasn't the case. And it took a small group of people on my college campus and a few timely Bible studies/verses for me to realize it. 

I'm a college freshman, and I've gotten involved with the BCM (Baptist Campus Ministry) at my university. Because of my orchestra schedule, I'm not able to go to their evenings of worship and study, but there was one night that orchestra was cancelled and I was able to attend. It was a smaller group than usual, and I'd gotten to know several of the people there well. It was also election day. Needless to say, we all needed to de-stress. 

The evening didn't follow the usual format. There was no speaker, so the worship team led us in several songs, and we broke off for prayer in the middle. I found a dark corner and prayed, and prayed, my soul a little stale from weeks of classes and poor time management and haphazard prayer and Bible study. Then we were called back to the stage, and there were only maybe thirty of us and the musicians. We gathered close at the front, and as we started singing again, something clicked. Something about it felt so right for me, and I was able to close my eyes and sing at the top of my lungs. I didn't worry about raising my hands, I just did what felt natural. I sang to Jesus among my brothers and sisters, and listened to their voices too, and there was something so real and connecting and passionate about it that I felt a sensation I hadn't felt for a long time - rapture. 

For me, it bubbles up from my chest in a laugh that makes my throat ache when I try to suppress it. It has to come out in at least a huge smile. It's unstoppable, and it fills whatever cavities of emptiness the world has clawed open inside me. I felt it then, and I knew I was worshiping for real - with sincere people, with the right crowd, with beautiful, honest music. 

I try to be cautious when it comes to personal interpretations. As humans, we often want to twist Biblical truths to accommodate our own agenda. But I believe that worship was made to be personal. God speaks to us all in different ways. He may speak to someone at a loud Hillsong concert in the middle of a crowd of singers and dancers, just as easily as He may speak to someone as they sit at home in the quiet, over a cup of coffee and a devotional book. No matter the situation, we need to be listening for what God is speaking to our hearts. Sometimes He may whisper, I know your heart. Worship me with it quietly. You don't have to do what everyone else is doing. And other times He's whispering, Now's the time to worship Me like the ocean; crash against the shorelines of fear and shame that try to hem you in and keep you from praising Me. Don't be afraid to hold back." 

Worship can be found in so many places. In a smile when you realize a Bible verse was meant for you. In a song you sing with your church. In offering help to a stranger. In stopping to smell a rose bud and remember the One who gave it fragrance. 

Or it can be as free and wild and raw and untamed as the sea and all its fullness. 

Ultimately, it's about God's voice, and how you respond. It's not about structure, or about the people who are watching. No, it's about Jesus, the beautiful center of worship and of everything else. 

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What does worship mean to you?