F O G

Foggy mountain road

Murky is your way forward.

You don’t know how or when it set in, but suddenly, the fog is more than you can bear.

Tight-fisted, it tries to choke out your breath and snuff out your heart’s intentions.

You want to feel, but you have no right feeling the way you do.

Things are too good for you to warrant despair, but your limited vision has blurred your perspective.

It’s not that bad, you tell yourself.  Yet you can’t help but feel this way–so desperately lost.

You wish you could cut through the thick cloud enveloping your consciousness, but you can’t.

Like fog, those familiar thoughts creep up on to you.  Each step seems just like the one before, unfruitful and blind, leading deeper and deeper into the soupy mess.

You have no visibility.

foggy road

Your mind’s hopeless rumination troubles you.  Unsettled, you live in the haze of unnecessary emotions.

You would have never chosen this path, but here you are, wishing you could travel when you’re more equipped for this unexpected delay.

The temptation would be to remain still–to camp out in the uncertainty because the despair is too paralyzing.

Yet you keep traveling.

It isn’t hopeless.  Clarity is but a few feet away now.

To those of you in transition or those who feel out of place, remember your life is enriched through the searching.

For those pointed in the right direction but who find the path cloaked and your way treacherous, don’t discount the climb.

We are all ascending…to where the mist is that of heaven, not earth.

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I appreciate you allowing me to indulge my creativity and try something more expressive and figurative than my usual post.  For another read of this variety, try “A Prayer of Undoing.”

Also a big thanks to my friend, Josh Bates, for letting me use his photographs with permission for this post. He’s super talented, and you can find his artsy self on Instagram at @JoshBates18.

My Five Favorite TED Talks

Apologies for being absent from the blog these last two weeks.  After my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters, I needed a bit of a breather (and I assume you probably did too).

So today I’m back today with some TED to brighten up your life!

If you’ve never heard of TED Talks, TED is an organization that stands for technology-entertainment-design.  This group hosts conferences with speakers who share powerful ideas typically in ten to twenty minute talks, known as TED Talks.

These short videos are always informative with well-researched hypotheses and discussions of real-world issues.  A lifelong learner, I turn to these videos for snippets of education and the chance to expand my mind.

So today, I’m sharing my all-time favorite TED Talks.  While they are all good, a couple of these have actually very dramatically shaped my life.

Enjoy learning along with these academic all-stars and emotionally intelligent leaders!

1) “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brene Brown

This video and the teachings of Brene Brown have healed me in ways I can’t begin to describe and caused breakthrough after breakthrough in my life regrading vulnerability, which as Brene says, is the “birthplace of creativity.”

2) “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe” by Simon Sinek

Many people at my university are disciples of Simon Sinek and his philosophy that “leaders eat last.”  I love this video because he outlines what it means to thrive in a culture where you feel protected, and I hope that we can all do our best to cultivate such environments in our spheres of influence.

3) “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Adichie  

I’ve linked to Chimamanda’s other TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” before, but I really like this one because it reminds us how we can stop stereotyping in our own lives–by never assuming the experiences of one person are normative for all people of a particular group.

4) “The Person You Really Need to Marry” by Tracy McMillan

This is a recent watch, but I love Tracy’s creative approach to self-love and self-compassion.  As always, the degree we love ourselves will be the degree to which we love others.

5) “The Optimism Bias” by Tali Sharot

I first saw this video in my psychology class, and it really surprised me because I thought all along that humans were primarily pessimistic creatures.  This video explains scientifically how we’ve actually been trained to believe the future is going to be better than the present–and how that both helps and hurts us.

Bonus:  “Are Brains Male or Female?” by Daphna Joel

Here’s an extra, since this video is less inspirational and more informative.  Once again, I was assigned to watch this for my psychology class but this time when we were talking about how differently men and women think.  This researcher asserts scientific evidence to reject the theory that there are distinctly male brains and female brains (in direct contradiction to what our patriarchal society preaches).

So enjoy, learn, and grow from these videos:  they’ve made a difference in my life.  Who knows, maybe one day you could be presenting on the TED stage yourself!

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31 Things I Learned from the 31 Days Challenge

31 days of unexpected spiritual encounters

Guys, I’m really proud to announce that this is the last day of my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters!  (Hopefully, you’re still reading, but if you stopped and blocked me on all sites for blowing up your feeds, I’d totally understand.)

Most times when I have a big idea like this, something gets in the way, and I end up changing my mind.

I posted every day, with help from a few guest bloggers and the necessity of an occasional post written just before midnight.

So in celebration of completing the challenge and of never having to type the number thirty-one ever again, I’m remembering all the things I learned through this crazy period of growth.

1) Done is better than perfect (Introduction).

2) No part of our lives is off limits for an unexpected spiritual encounter (This Is My Father’s World).

3) We’re spiritual creatures, and what we do and (especially) who we are touches eternity (The Weight of Glory).

4) You can’t find your way if you’ve never been lost (The Art of Getting Lost).

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5) Your “quiet time” doesn’t have to look a specific way:  it just needs to be regular and restorative (Why I Wasted My Time in Cambridge).

6) Some days are awful and feel unredeemable, but the sooner you forget them, the happier you’ll be (Finishing Each Day).

7) The spiritual lessons you learn aren’t just for you (Fruit to Share: A Lesson from South Africa).

8) It’s important to both celebrate your own individuality as well as your role in your community (Because I’m the Only One!).

9) Sometimes we meet God most in the moments we could have never anticipated (Hospitality, Strangers, and Family).

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10) Music of any kind has a spiritual component (Spiritual Songs for Your Fall Playlist).

11) A couple minutes of daily silent serenity can help you create your own “holy place” (Sacred Silence | Holy Hush).

12) The present moment is far too precious to ignore (Practicing Mindfulness).

13) It’s easy to make excuses and to blame external negativity for our attitudes, but you’ll never uncover the real problem that way (Extenuating Circumstances).

14) We sentimentalize the past because there was always a little more good back then than we knew at the time (Golden Age–21 Things I’m Grateful For).

15) When creatives don’t create, we deny a part of ourselves (The Reason to Continue Writing).

16) You should do what you know to be best for you, even when it’s scary to do so (Venturing Out On My Own).

17) We can’t slow our lives down, but we can do our best to appreciate the moment–both during it and following it (In Memory of Fall Break).

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18) You can still hold a high view of scripture while respecting its ancient cultural context.  (Netflix Sunday and Biblical Literalism).

19) Your humanity is no surprise to God, so there’s no reason to hide from God’s accepting arms (In the Middle).

20) Life is meant to be a wild adventure bursting with everyday miracles (The Burning Bush: Costa Rica).

21) There’s never enough time in day, so it’s important to watch how you use your energies (Managing Your Energy).

22) We are all characters in God’s incredible story of redemption (Reflections from the Sea of Galilee).

Sea of Galilee

23) Even at your worst, you’re still enough (Blank Page).

24) Sabbath is a simple reminder to enjoy the world we’ve been given (A Day of Eden).

25) The measure with which you love yourself is the measure you’ll be able to give love to others (Loving Yourself As Others).

26) Your experiences are meant to be different than those of others because you are different (Comparison Kills Contentment).

27) God’s ability to speak is more reliable than ours to listen (The Road to Damascus).

28) Discomforts lose their power when you face them with gratitude and contentment (Embracing the Quiddity of Life).

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29) My generation has the power to set the oppressed free (Meeting a Civil Rights Leader).

Finding God Abroad: Weekend Away in Blaxhall

DAY 30:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Study abroad trips are most effective for broadening one’s perspective when you get significant interaction with people that actually live in that culture.

That was one of the biggest downsides of my stay in the UK:  we were studying in Cambridge, not at Cambridge, so too often we Americans were too caught up in our own world to deeply encounter the English culture.

Sure, we went to restaurants and coffee shops and stores, but those fleeting interactions didn’t give me the sort of familiarity I wanted to gain with the UK.

The end of trip was nearing, so I decided to do something far outside my comfort zone:  I signed up to go on a weekend retreat with a college group from a local church.

Because we were rarely in town on Sundays, I had only visited the church once and had attended only one young adult function.  I barely knew anyone there, but from the start they were incredibly welcoming.

City Church Cambridge was vibrant and thought-provoking, and being a charismatic Calvinist crew, they blew my away some of my preconceived notions about Christian denominations and doctrinal groups.

So despite some trepidation, I nervously packed up to spend a weekend in the middle of nowhere with a group of people I hardly knew.

We stayed in a hostel in the middle of a small village called Blaxhall.  There was hardly anything in the surrounding area other than a couple small farmhouses and the local pub.

It sounds rather dull, but that day and a half retreat was one of the most rejuvenating experiences I had the whole time I was in Europe.  I put thoughts of homework to the side and focused on the new people in front of me.

Many of the college-aged group were students at the University of Cambridge, and even though the university basically engulfs the whole city, it’s amazing how few of its students I’d actually met.

They were incredible.  It was such a pleasure speaking to people my age who were so highly educated yet still so faithful to Jesus.

Even though many of them hadn’t seen me before and wouldn’t see me again afterward (since I was soon leaving England), they treated me like one of their own that weekend.

This trip came in the middle of a season of extreme discontentment with the Church, but worshipping and learning with this group healed me in a way I can’t fully explain.

We learned about the sovereignty of God, sang beautiful acoustic lyrics, and prophesied over one another.  In such an intimate space as that little country hostel, I felt like I was taken back to a first-century house church.

Up late playing board games the first night, I met a dear friend, Lydia, with whom I still keep in contact via Skype.  Lydia and I are basically twins, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had let fear keep me from coming along and meeting her.

Weekend Away

My absolute favorite moment was a walk I took the last night with some of the guys.  Unplugged from technology and the bustle of the city, wandering through deserted pastures under a vast sky, we talked life and theology and found some wide-open breathing space.

Meeting new people or getting out of your comfortable routine can be hard at first, but just like a bumpy ride into the country, you’ll see a whole other side of your world that you never knew existed.

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We’re nearing the end of my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters.  You can catch up on the rest of the series here.  

Enjoy travel?  You can find more types of these stories here.

 

 

Meeting a Civil Rights Leader

DAY 29:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

“John Perkins said it right:  love is the final fight.” -Switchfoot, “The Sound”

During my senior year of high school, I was obsessed with a song by Switchfoot that told of a generation raising up a prophetic sound of love and justice for the oppressed.  “The Sound” was inspired by civil rights leader John M. Perkins.

After suffering physical abuse at the hands of law enforcement during the racial horrors of the sixties, Dr. Perkins chose not to be permanently hardened by these experiences and followed instead the path of love.  He’s dedicated his life to reconciliation and equality.

Dr. Perkins spoke at my university today, and I had the privilege of shaking his hand and thanking him for everything he had done for the oppressed.

What made his message so inspiring, though, was his insistent faith that my generation would be the one that gave prejudice and racism their fatal blow.

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This was my favorite quote from his sermon today:  “Grace is the releasing of all the redemptive qualities of God into your life.”

Let’s not just passively receive God’s grace:  let’s actively become His grace in our world until the oppressed are set free.

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We’re nearing the end of my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters.  You can catch up on the rest of the series here.  

 

 

 

Finding God Abroad: Embracing the Quiddity of Life (Wales)

Wales

DAY 28:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Studying abroad in Europe for three months taught me a lot about being adaptable and making the best of uncomfortable situations.

According to the locals, we were traveling through the U.K. during the wettest winter in twenty years.  Wet and cold combined is not a pretty picture when you’re trying to see historic outdoor sites, like we were this particular day in Wales.

This was our only shot at Wales–a one day tour to explore the ancient Roman ruins of Caerwent, the Norman Chepstow Castle, and Tintern Abbey of Wordsworth fame.  But our professors had warned us:  these sites were completely exposed to the elements, and the elements were going to be nasty.

By the end of it, after multiple stops and changes of clothes, we were tired and somehow still soaking wet underneath all our layers of clothing.

Wales

About this time in the semester, we were studying about C.S. Lewis’s life and teachings.  One distinct personality trait of Lewis was that he didn’t mind rain:  he found absolute joy in things like weather because it always does exactly what it is intended to do.

In Suprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, author Terry Lindvall writes:

“To surrender to the quiddity of life–which means, to surrender to whatever life sends you–can be an adventure of unexpected and neglected delight.  The commonplace becomes quite startling and marvelous when one actually pays attention to it and forgets oneself.”

Despite the bad conditions that day, it’s amazing how much fun we had!  Once we embraced the fact that the weather was going to be less than pleasant, it didn’t bother us all that much.

Rain is rain, it’s meant to be wet, and there’s nothing we could really do about it.

Wales

Chepstow Castle, sitting up above the overflowing River Wye, was a treasure trove of secret passages and winding staircases, and as we walked the ramparts pretending to be kings and queens, the rain evaporated in our minds.

In fact, to celebrate how much fun we were having, a couple of us decided to let out some energy by running and dancing in the rain.  It was a moment of pure freedom and delight that will always be the predominant memory of my short time in Wales.

That’s not to say I was always able to look on the bright side.  There were assuredly difficult days when I just couldn’t find the right bus or when the distance from home seemed unbearable.

But those difficulties, when faced with an attitude of contentment and gratitude, couldn’t override the ecstasy of being fully alive in the present moment–welcoming whatever may come.

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We’re nearing the end of my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters.  You can catch up on the rest of the series here.  

Enjoy travel?  You can find more types of these stories here.

 

 

The Road to Damascus

the road to damascus

DAY 27:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

My parents and I spent fall break in Abingdon, Virginia, and journeyed seventeen miles down a mountain via bike on the spectacular Virginia Creeper Trail.

As a person who was raised in church and who currently attends a Christian university, I laughed when I saw the name of the small town we ended up in–Damascus, Virginia.

In the Christian scriptures, a religious extremist named Saul is traveling to Damascus to kill Christians when a light blinds him and he encounters Jesus.

Saul was a scholar and devout man:  it would seem that he trying to be his best to please God.  But when we strip away his cultural presumptions about God, we can easily see that his brutal persecution of Christians was wrong and, in fact, counter to what God was doing at that time.

I’m constantly haunted by fears about this sort of thing.

What if the things I think I know about God aren’t actually consistent with His character?   How do I know I’m not just making a god in my own image?  What if the reason I’m a Christian is only because of the country and time I was born and the family that raised me?

Or the scariest of them all:  what if I just made all of this up?

We could ask these questions forever, rationalizing our beliefs away as nothing but unfounded or unreasonable, but the simple fact is that we can’t and won’t ever understand all that is God.

That’s the beauty of faith:  giving into something bigger than your own understanding.

I’ve learned to find confidence in a God who won’t zap me if, in the end, one detail of my doctrine is incorrect.  I’ve surrendered to a force that could judge or condemn me if He wished but instead, out of the overflowing love of His heart, embraces and reassures me.

Study and striving for understanding are almost a good thing, but at some point, we must accept the leading of our spiritual eyes and follow our flashlight of trust in the dark unknown, one step at a time.

My favorite podcast at the moment is from Michael Gungor’s project, The Liturgists.  In the most recent episode, liturgist Science Mike said this (which I absolutely love):

“The opposite of faith is not doubt:  it’s certainty.  What need do the certain have for faith?”

As I was coasting down that mountain on my way to Damascus, my revelation didn’t come in a flash of light but instead of peaceful echo in my mind:  “You have to trust my ability to speak more than your ability to listen.”

Paul gave finding God his most religious efforts, but it wasn’t until God found him that he actually changed.  Let’s have faith that, in the midst of our doubt and our doctrine, that Jesus will reveal Himself to us.

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I’m almost done with my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters.  You can catch up on the rest of the series here.