A Perfect Plan

It is the season of thankfulness and Thanksgiving is just a few days away. I think a lot of times we don’t grasp the full meaning of giving thanks. We always say we are thankful for our family, our friends, and the food on the table. Those are excellent things to be thankful for. But I think there is so much more that we forget to be grateful for.

Sure, the people and things in our lives are awesome. We should definitely be thankful for those. But we should also be thankful for the things that come from those. Such as the experiences we are afforded because of the things in our lives. Everything God has given us intertwines to give us the really rad lives we live.

For example: My mom and dad have made me who I am and have worked to give me opportunities that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t their child. The things they give me lead to experiences that mold me and introduce me to people who make life special. Those people give me other experiences and people. My parents are more than my parents, they’re my gateway to the world. I don’t know how you even begin to thank someone for that.

It is an awesome series of perfectly lined up circumstances that brings us to where we are today. It’s these circumstances that I think we often forget we should be grateful for, both the good and the bad.

Maybe you’re not happy with where you are right now. Maybe life has got you down. But there have been a lot of awesome ups to go with the downs, and we have to remember that. If anything, an awesome series of perfectly lined up circumstances are allowing you to be breathing right now. That’s pretty incredible.

I like to reflect on the series of events that get me to certain points in my life. It’s interesting to look back and see where the decisions you and others made got you to where you are. A lot of times I can see this when I go back and read my journal entries. That’s a good place to see where things that went wrong in my opinion ended up leading me to some even better things. You know, one door closes and another opens or whatever the saying is. Too often we miss how closed doors lead us to better places.

So this holiday season I encourage others to think about the people and the things in life you’re thankful for, but also the circumstances surrounding those that have made you who you are. And then take that beyond just the season. We are some lucky people to have a temporary home here on earth with some incredible experiences in store.

In the end, the plan for our lives is perfect, and we have to be grateful for that.

*Header photo courtesy of Carlie Ross

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Handle With Care

One huge thing I have learned from camp  it is that people are oh so very broken. Everyone puts on a happy face to go through their day. We live in a social media world where people only put out their very best, and everyone feels miserable because they think everyone else has got it way better than them. Our society believes it’s not okay to not be okay.

But friends, every single one of us is very very broken.

I’ve seen a lot of really hard things at camp. I’ve watched my friends admit that they’re walking through terrible trials and temptations. I’ve had young girls tell me that they’ve never felt loved, even by their families. I’ve watched guys struggle with pornography and girls with terrible lust. I’ve seen families struggling when they look like the perfect picture of love on the outside.

My heart has been broken for what breaks The Lord’s.

Yet I continue to pray that He breaks it daily.

It is so very important to remember that we are intricate and fragile creations. We aren’t created to be perfect.

We as a society need to stop expecting people to hide their brokenness. It’s okay to battle mental illness, to come from a broken home, to feel lonely, to wrestle desire and pride. It’s okay to struggle. This life isn’t easy.

It’s okay to admit you’re broken.

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Want to know why? Because there are people who want to love you and help you heal. If we don’t admit we are broken and hurting and weak, then the people who matter in our lives can’t come alongside us and walk through that with us.

As  a camp counselor, I got to come alongside so many broken young women. Both campers and other counselors. And I also got to spend time with people who would come alongside me.

I wish everyday life viewed brokenness the way that camp does. Camp is a place where the downtrodden come to find rest. The point is to facilitate that rest and that healing and send stronger campers back home. But why can’t we do this for our friends and family every day?

We need to start asking people if they’re okay. And really meaning it and taking the time to listen. And if we get asked if we are okay, we need to be transparent and say how we really feel. We have to battle the hurt with unending love.

This year has been extremely trying. And I have been hurting bad. I tried to stuff it down for a long time, but it got too far. My mental and physical health was at stake. Admiting I was broken and lost and that I didn’t know what to do allowed some very wise people to speak truth into my life. This hard year has made me stronger.

Our world is a broken world, but we can’t begin healing it until we are transparent about that. And when that happens, we can only heal it with love.

Psalm 34:18

Read and Reflect

I think everyone knows by now that I am a huge advocate of reflection in order to grow. I love journaling and quiet time to work through my thoughts and seek self-improvement. However, I think there are more ways than these to work on reflection and better oneself.

Books.

That’s right. Reading.

I struggle big time finding time for leisure reading these days. My free time is consumed with college events and homework. And I hate that. When I do get free time, I often squander it on my phone or watching TV because I feel I need a break. I take for granted the type of break reading a good book can bring.

There’s something refreshing about leaving your own thoughts and entering those of someone else. It’s also a space where you can learn a lot. Seeing how someone else approaches their thoughts can boost your reflection.

I have a few books that I’ve been working on (when I have time). They’re mostly Christian literature. This genre of literature often blatantly prompts the reader to reflect, so I love them.

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Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs

This book is about getting in touch with art as a Christian and appreciating the world around you. The main message is that we can not boast in our art, but exemplify Christ through them. Barrs looks at popular works of art like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Shakespeare works, and C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen novels.

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Prayer by Timothy Keller

This selection goes in-depth at what prayer looks like and how to revolutionize your prayer life. This piece definitely pushes you into your thoughts as you are pushed to think about how you communicate with God. Keller teaches how to approach things like loss, love, and sadness in your prayer life.

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Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This book is a classic. It can either teach you about the basic thoughts of Christianity, or reaffirm your Christian foundations. Lewis makes readers rethink their moral foundations and what values have made them who they are. It’s also just a brilliant reminder of the perfect pieces that make up the Christian faith.

Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller

In this book, Keller helps readers explore where their priorities lie and what they value most in life. It’s a rude awakening to where we place our money, time, and thoughts. This is the ultimate guide to reflecting on life.

Seasons Change

I was walking in the woods with two of my favorite humans today. We started coming up with cheesy sayings about life and the leaves changing color. But while I was napping in my hammock amongst these trees, I started seriously thinking about it. I am in a season of change, and I am slowly learning to embrace it.

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I’m over the halfway point of college and people are starting to expect me to know what comes next. But I don’t. I’m in this weird limbo of not quite being a kid, but not quite being an adult. All my friends are in this limbo too, so we’re a hot mess of stress and confusion.

What I can be thankful for is that we are in it together. I can’t express enough how lucky I am to have the people I do in my life. The constant encouragement (or commiseration) that I receive from my fellow students is incredible.

I am a person who hates change. But this weird limbo is slowly forcing me to embrace it. I am learning that sometimes change is good. Change is scary, but it’s making me who I am. This is the realization I had while enjoying the fall colors today.

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Over the past few months I have gone through a lot of changes. They didn’t all seem so good at the time. I began classes that made me happier and less stressed, I made some really incredible new friends in some of my classes, I also left some friends behind. I had a relationship end that taught me a lot, I moved into my first apartment and had to start doing things for myself, I improved a lot of my routines to keep me happy and healthy.

This semester has been a growing up experience for me so far. A lot of times I feel like I can’t get a grip on one thing before it hurtles by. It stresses me out beyond belief. But when I take the time to look back, I realize how far I have come.

I am happy and healthy this semester. And this is a change I am okay with.

Cheesy, but change can make a person better like seasons changing makes leaves more beautiful.

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#Awkward

I think one of the greatest qualities camp experiences gave me was confidence. If you know me, you know I am a big introvert. Being dropped in a room full of strangers in a new environment is my worst nightmare. Icebreakers and name games never fail to make me cringe because I prefer to avoid being the center of attention at all costs.

That has all changed a little since being a camp kid for so long (mostly thanks to student council camp). I still cringe at the idea of name games, but I don’t loathe them so much anymore. I am more bold about meeting new people and starting fresh relationships. I learned that if you just embrace the awkward, it’s not so bad.

College has been an endless void of awkward experiences. Some that have happened recently (inspiration for this post). I’ve tried to work on changing my perspective though. Instead of being painfully embarrassed or uncomfortable, I figure I might as well take it in stride and learn from it.

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I once had an interview where they asked me to write a hashtag that describes me on a whiteboard in the room. When I stood up to walk over to the board and turn around to the line of people sitting across the conference table from me, I should have wanted to hide. Instead, I picked up the marker and wrote “#awkward.” The perfect description of myself. I went on to discuss how I always find myself in awkward situations, but that’s where I have done the most growing. I got called back for another round.

Being in camp-like situations, including news classes or project groups, where you have to build some bonds with total strangers is really an excellent opportunity for personal development. You get the opportunity to learn about yourself. It also shows you where you have room for improvement.

We often fail to realize where the uncomfortable experiences in life are making us better people. Sometimes it takes being forced out of your comfort zone to have an experience that causes you to grow.

A lifetime full of awkward moments is why I am the person I am today. Embarrassing accidents, uncomfortable dates, and failed conversations all add up. We just don’t always realize it. Human beings are awkward creations, but it’s each person’s awkward that makes them unique and builds their confidence.

So, embrace it.

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Gucci Bars

So lately I have been missing Kanakuk dessert a LOT. When you work in the kitchen you have a love hate relationship with camp food. But never ever Gucci Bars. There could never be any dislike for them. This chocolate and caramel dessert was the highlight of my week and there was never enough to go around. So, I decided to give them a shot.

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. oats
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. brown sugar
  •  1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 c. butter
  • 10 oz. caramel
  • 1 c. chocolate chips

The process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Soften the butter
  3. Mix the oats, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, butter, and flour togetherimg_1453
  4. Spread 2/3 of the mixture in a 9×11 pan and press it down
  5. Spread the caramel over this “crust”IMG_1454.JPG
  6. Add a layer of chocolate chips
  7. Add the remaining 1/3 of the mixture to the topIMG_1455.JPG
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes
  9. Let stand in the refrigerator for about an hourIMG_1456.JPG
  10. Cut in and enjoy

These bars are SUPER rich and go best with a glass of milk. The company of a good friend is also suggested.

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Recipe courtesy of Kanakuk Kamps

My Happy Place

This past weekend my sorority took a trip down to Lake of the Ozarks for a sisterhood retreat. We got to our house at 5:15 am to take school buses to the retreat center. Everyone was a little tired, but spirits perked up once we saw the lake.

The weekend was full of some group activities, high/low ropes team building, and plenty of free time to build relationships and relax with friends. A lot of girls complained about no cell service and nothing to do (they weren’t nature fans). I, however, LOVED the weekend unplugged and outdoors. I had come off a crazy busy week and needed the break. I got to know a lot of my friends better and make some new friends as well. The lake was beautiful and peaceful. The hikes and walks were refreshing. It’s not often I get to sit on a dock and watch the sunset, enjoy the stars (all of them) around a campfire, and watch the sun rise the next morning. I got to just appreciate what life has given me and the people in it.

The really unique thing was that this is the camp where I have grown up. With my old church, we used to go down about every other year in elementary school for Girls in Action retreats. Then, starting in 8th grade, I have spent a week of every summer there with my current church’s youth group. This camp is the inspiration for a lot of my blog posts and the place where I would say I have done the most growing. Some of my happiest memories come from sunny days at the lodge on the lake with my best friends. Some of my most painful memories come from here too. Moments when I was convicted of where my life was and where it needed to go. I made my best friends here, got to know the three guys I’ve dated here, and watched my little sister do a lot of growing up here. This camp is like my sacred bubble where I learn about myself and how I fit in to the grand scheme of things.

It was really weird to be here with new people and not my church. So many memories flooded back, and it was hard not to want that experience of summer camp. I missed it this year to go to Kanakuk, and being back made me miss the people and the experience dearly. I finally shifted my mindset to realize this was an opportunity to make new memories and learn new things. I can’t be a kid forever, and the meaning of camp is going to evolve for me. It was really sad to have this realization.

However, it was amazing to capitalize on a weekend away and take time to appreciate the people who are in my life nowadays. I am truly blessed by the college chapter of my life. This was a helpful reminder to slow down in the chaos and take time to appreciate what I have and where I’m headed. It was also a time to remember where I came from and how grateful I should be for the journey.

So, below is a photo gallery of the weekend. There is a super cheesy video to accompany it. I hope it relays just how fun the people in my life are and how lucky I am to have them.

 

 

Retreat

It’s about that time of year that many college organizations start going on group retreats. These can be some of the best relationship building activities. Quality time not engaged with normal daily activities is the best way to work on connections.

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Veritas Fall Retreat 2015

My favorite thing about retreats is the fact that they often are in places where cell service and internet are out of reach. It forces you to unplug and remember what it’s like to just be you. I think society forces a lot of things on us. Technology encroaches on our lives to the point we feel like we can’t be away from our messages and email for more than an hour. I’ve even seen Snapchat streaks consume people’s lives. Society needs to practice being unplugged.

I think we need to spend more time away from technology. More time just appreciating life and the people in it. This can mean rearranging schedules and priorities, but I think our personal time should be priority. Quick messages are great, but can quickly consume.

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MASC Winter Energizer 2013

I am writing this post as I prepare to go on retreat in the morning. I get to go to my favorite camp with all of my sorority sisters, and I can’t wait to unplug. There’s no cell service, so it’s a forced unplug. I think spending time with these girls without our phones will be really rewarding.

Retreats are a way to rejuvenate yourself at a midpoint in the semester or the year. We lose stamina, and we have to build that back up. Taking a weekend break is often the best way to do that. It scares me to death to set all my school work and extracurriculars aside, but I’m also crazy excited. I am stressed, busy, and beaten down. This semester has been better than last in a lot of ways, but also worse in many. It kind of sounds like running away from your problems, but sometimes putting them on pause and reassessing is really the best way.

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Ignite Retreat 2014

So you can’t go on a retreat? That’s okay. Find another way to unplug. Take time for yourself and to spend time with the people around you. You may discover things about people that you never knew, and you may love them so much more for that.

Technology seems like an integral part of life, but it isn’t. People are.

 

Point Of View

Camp offers the time and space to stop and change your point of view. Your perspective. Removing yourself from everyday life and taking a break lets you stop and evaluate. We all get so caught up in the crazy schedules we create that we often forget to just stop and shift our point of view on a regular basis outside of this kind of setting.

My great-grandmother passed away this past spring. She would be 99 years old soon. I often wonder what it would be like to have her perspective. Being retired and just enjoying family, it probably allows for a lot of retrospective learning. My grandma lived such a long and joyful life, I imagine she looked back and had few regrets. She was surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who loved her dearly. Her big Irish family took care of her and always checked in. Unfortunately, my grandma’s mind was not what it used to be when she was near the end of her life, so I could never ask her about this. But wow, would 99 years of life be something great to look back on.

The thing is, we can’t all wait until the end of our lives to look back and learn. We have to remember that life isn’t about the craziness. Life is about people and moments. It’s about taking time to appreciate those things. Too often we forget this. Our society is one of busy bodies that need to constantly be doing something. We stuff our time outside of school/work with sports, clubs, concerts, gatherings and so much more. This past week I barely had time to breathe between all the appointments and study hours I had to fit in. That’s not okay.

I like to make it a goal of mine to take some time to stop and reflect. To stop and learn. And sometimes that is so very hard. We often don’t give ourselves enough time to sit in our own thoughts, uninterrupted. This is the space in which we learn the most about ourselves and life. This is where we grow.

We are all so focused on the next step, high school to college to a career to a family to retirement that I don’t think we know what to do when we make it through them all. We need to stop hurrying through life and enjoy the small time we have. God gave us people here to love and experiences to shape us, so we need to allow the love and growth.

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I am an introspective person. It’s part of being an introvert. I need that time for myself, but I am often so consumed by my busy schedule that it becomes what I think about in my quiet moments.

Here is my challenge (to myself and others): Take 10 minutes each day. Sit alone and in the silence. Think about the happy memories of the day. Think about the hard moments and what you can learn from them. Think about the people you are grateful for and what they’re doing in your life.

I think if more people took time to do this we would have a less stressed and more joyful world. We are often told to get our priorities straight, usually insinuating work or school. I think personal reflection and the people in our lives should be our priorities. So, get your priorities straight. Love yourself and others the way we were intended to do.

Mindfulness for the Season

September 12th was Mindfulness Day. How exciting that there’s a day for one of my favorite topics! I’ve mentioned before how important I’ve found this topic because of time spend working on it at camps. I haven’t talked about my healthy habits for this semester much yet. I want to let you know how I’m adjusting my mindfulness practices for a new school year and season of life.

I was beyond stressed last semester. I could barely function, so healthy habits were important to find time for in my life. I am far less stressed and busy this year (so far). It’s been easy to push healthy mental habits to the side because of that. Honestly, I use my free time to watch a lot of Private Practice. This definitely doesn’t help me stay organized and stay refreshed mentally and spiritually.

I have some things in the works that I’m working on making habits and not just sporadic behaviors. First, I’m getting back to my bullet journal. I quite using it during the summer because I was at camp and just didn’t have a lot to keep track of. Getting back to the daily planning and reflection has been hard since then. I’ve made my design a bit more simplistic and also gave my calendar more space in order to better chart my many activities.

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September in my journal before the onslaught of events being listed.

I am also working on setting times to dedicate to friends. Coffee dates, lunches, movie nights, etc. I am working on intentionally building relationships in order to make me better  and also be a better friend. People are important in life, so I want to make sure that shows in how I spend my time.

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Kayaking at Finger Lakes State Park.

Cleaning time is a new one. This sounds icky, and I’m not a big fan of cleaning. But, clean living space means clean head space. A cluttered room can often leave your mind cluttered. I am working really hard to keep my room organized and my desk empty of junk. I also do general cleaning more often. Organizing my room daily is making my space more enjoyable to be in and easier to do homework in.

This year I have room to have my cello with me at school. For me, making music has always been far more of a stress relief than listening to music. I think music is so important in life. I’m making more effort to use free time to release my emotions through my music. Even if you aren’t a musician, set aside time to find new music to listen to or time to go see some live music. Music is just plain good for the soul.

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Hillsong United’s Empires Tour in July.

One I’ve been really terrible about implementing is photography. I think it’s great to capture moments and memories with friends, yet my camera has sat dormant for a couple of weeks. I also really love editing photos, but that’s the journalism major side of me finding that relaxing. I need to collect more beautiful photos for my walls. Creating a room full of good memories can give you the right mindset to regularly go out and make new memories.

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Table Rock Lake from a July trip.

Mindfulness is defined by Google as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Or, “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” I like to view it as being in tune with your feelings and habits and focusing in on them to achieve a happier lifestyle. I don’t practice mindfulness meditation, which is a real thing, but rather try to be mindful of my thoughts and actions.

When you focus on positive living, you lead a more positive life. It helps you feel better, helps people around you feel better, and allows you to achieve more. The better you feel, the better you perform. Little habits can make for big differences.

So celebrate mindfulness with the rest of the world and make some positive changes in your life!