Posted in Vignettes

sunday morning.

i wake up to the deep drumming of rain on the roof, nature in surround-sound.

it is a sunday in july, meaning there is no sunday school for the month to give us teachers a break. i enjoy sleeping in on a sunday morning for once.

padding out to the kitchen, i start the electric kettle to boil water for my coffee and set out the french press, downing two glasses of water while i wait – my throat feels extra dry this morning, and i have to be ready to belt out some high notes in the song service today.

when the water is boiled, i start the blooming process, fold some laundry, and practice some of the songs we’ll be singing later. when the laundry is put away, i pour in the rest of the water and let the coffee steep. the piano is calling me, and since i have the house to myself while mom is on a trip, i have no qualms playing into the quiet of this rain-dripped morning.

my fingers trip over the keys, a halting flow. i’m glad there is no one around to hear me. when i’m sure there is no one around to be bothered, i can keep going, embracing the imperfection and trying my best to work through it. when there are listening ears, i close up, unwilling to be the nails on the chalkboard to someone else.

i find a pace and rhythm. it’s not perfect, but it’s fun. i play an old song i’d started to learn a long while ago and left off because it was too difficult. i find that i’ve grown since then – the song is coming easier now than it was a year ago. then i pull out my recent favorite, “Arwen’s Vigil” by the Piano Guys. this song has been on repeat for weeks. then i go back a couple of years and pull out my old Sense and Sensibility sheet music. i haven’t played this in years!

the coffee is finished. i press the filter-top down and pour from the french press into my every-morning mug, royal blue with a flower outline and “Be still and know that I am God” written in honey-yellow on both sides. the mug is so old that the words are beginning to wear away; one side is almost completely gone, the other is missing some words here and there. but it is the perfect shape and size, and there is comfort in steady routines, so it is still my faithful morning companion, like my dog, who is waiting patiently for her breakfast. i feed her before returning to my coffee.

i bring the mug with me back to the piano and play through the song surprisingly easily, considering i haven’t played it in years. so often, all i see are the places i mess up, the ways i don’t measure up. i press forward in discouragement that i am not as good as i feel i should be by this point. but here and now, i see a measure of growth in my piano-playing ability, “and that is an encouraging thought.”

rain, solitude, coffee, piano, growth – yes, this is a sabbath, and God is here.

Posted in Vignettes

independence day.

Mom turns on the Glenn Miller Band radio station on Spotify while we heat the oven to pre-bake the gluten-free pie crust from Kroger. From my corner in the kitchen, I close my eyes, sway to the music, and feel as though I could see one of those old wooden radios from the 1940s sitting in our living room, broadcasting those Golden Era big band tunes.

I pull out the gluten-free frozen pizza – Freschetta, the best I’ve found so far – and dollop pre-sliced green olives from the jar on top of the pepperoni and cheese. When the pie crust is done, we pull it out, set it to the side, and slide the pizza in, bumping the temperature up to 425.

Then I pull out a saucepan and turn on the burner to warm almond milk for making dairy-free chocolate pudding to fill the pie crust for an allergy-friendly desert.

My sister comes in the front door and finds me standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing measuring cups and spoons. She wraps her arm around my shoulders, squeezing me in her trademark “hello” hug. I think to myself how I’ve been irritated by this gesture in the past, not wanting to be interrupted in my tasks. And then I think to myself how those were wasted moments where I did not see the gift I had been given. I treasure her welcome home hugs, and I’m learning to not let my agenda blindside me, steal precious moments from my appreciation.

We gather for a prayer of thanksgiving over our meal and the blessing it is to live in the country we do, faults and all. There is no perfect homeland this side of heaven; we’re all pilgrims heading to Zion, and while we bellyache on the regular about the evils of our modern society, the truth is that we are so thankful for this place we live.

Laughter and music intertwine over our family meal of pizza, spicy nacho doritos, and Irish cream sodas from Kroger. Mom has brought us each home a candy from the bowl at work – kitkat for Lissi, almondjoy for her, Reese’s for me. We lick our fingers clean.

Mom starts the electric kettle for making decaf coffee. I run to fold a load of laundry, and come back to start brewing the coffee in our French press. Lissi’s at the table, Mom’s outside with Jenna. The snap-crackle-pop of fireworks has started, and Mom is standing out looking through the trees for even a glimpse of color.

We opted to avoid crowds this year. Lissi and I like fireworks, but are not especially longing to see any this year. Mom is content to be home, but the fireworks still call out a childlike delight in her soul, evident in how she stands there in the falling blue of dusk, eyes peering through the silhouettes of trees lining our backyard. She comes in when the coffee’s ready to pick her mug.

This is always our tradition, for everyone to come to the cupboard and pick their special mug for the moment. We have an array of options.

The swing band music still plays in the background.

Mugs chosen, we pour the coffee and each fixes her preferred amount of vanilla almond milk creamer. Then we settle in to a game of bananagrams. We’re stepping out of the ordinary and playing with the party tiles for the first time tonight. With tiles like the one-legged flamingo, playing without thumbs, and wearing the banana pouch as a hat, we’re in for a ridiculous evening. Sure enough, hilarity reigns and when the game is done, we’ve laughed off all the calories we consumed at dinner.

The fireworks end in a long, rattling boompopboom, like an overflowing popcorn machine.

Ours has been a quiet, humble Independence Day celebration. Once I would’ve looked at all the social media posts, all the snapchats and instagrams and stories of the loud, exciting activities other folks have been a part of, and felt as though I’d somehow missed out.

But not this year. This year, I am thankful for freedom – because it means that I am also free to celebrate in whatever way is life-giving to me. Our small family celebration was real and joyful and delicious and filled with laughter and hugs.

Can’t ask for a better feast than that.

Photo by Jiri Wagner
Posted in Faith, Relationships, Soul

25 Things I’ve Learned in 25 Years

1. You can learn to be and do what you never thought you could.

Growing up, I was terrified of public speaking, swore I’d never wear heels or skinny jeans, and described myself as absolutely NOT a kid person. Fast forward to today: I’ve learned to love all of the above. Some of it came easy – I somehow grew confident enough to wear what I once thought I could never pull off as stylish. And some of it was a long process that required a lot of surrender – of habits, perceptions, old mentalities, surrendering to God changing my heart and mindset, particularly towards children. But still, it happened, and I am now a person I never thought I could see myself become. So can you.

2. Great art/deep relationships/healthy habits/etc. are not instant pudding.

They take time. They take practice. They take pushing through messy middles as you learn how to become a better friend, artist, human. Because the only way to learn is through failure and persistence. The long-term investment of hard work is what will produce a rich, abundant harvest later on.

3. It matters how we come through suffering.

People seem to do one of three things when they come through suffering: they become hard-hearted, self-centered jerks who take out their pain on other people, or they numb out and shut down, settling into a barely-here existence, or they let suffering be a refining fire that makes them more kind, gentle, compassionate people with depth and strength of character. It’s easy to choose one of the first two options, because hello: suffering sucks. It’s not fair. Nobody wants it. Suffering never got an invite to the party. It just decided to show up anyway and throw its burden on our shoulders. But the thing is, it doesn’t matter that we don’t want to have to deal with it: the only choice we’re given is how we’re going to deal with it. It’s like when Frodo said,

“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

And Gandalf tells him,

“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide – all that we have to decide is what to do with the time that’s given to us.”

Speaking of which,

4. Lord of the Rings is the greatest fictional story ever told.

Period. The books and the movies, this story is a literary and filmographic masterpiece that will never be surpassed. (I may or may not use it as a vetting criteria for potential friends/dates… #confessions)

5. There are good churches.

I’ll be honest, we’ve had some crappy experiences with churches. Those that didn’t cause damage with hypocrisy and major fall-outs were filled with perpetually happy people doing the “#blessed” thing that made those of us who sometimes hurt and struggle feel like we would never belong or build deep relationships. That was before we came to the church we’ve now been at since 2009, who are the most humble, real, servant-hearted, put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is group of people I’ve ever met. Because of them and what they have done for my family, my faith has been saved. I am thankful to serve alongside them, to be a part of what is truly a church-family. If you haven’t found one yet, pray and keep looking. They’re out there.

6. Hygge is life.

This Danish concept is beginning to trend so you might already be familiar with it, but if not, it is basically the idea of consciously building an environment for yourself that is filled with warmth, soft, life-giving, cozy things, simple pleasures, and most importantly, COMMUNITY. It’s about the feeling of connection and healing and wellness and peace and quiet joy that comes when you fix snacks, light candles, wrap up in a fuzzy blanket, and play card games or music with friends. I highly recommend doing an internet search to learn more – this concept is changing my lifestyle and actually helping me deal with my depression and anxiety. 10/10 would recommend.

7. Feelings cannot be trusted.

Speaking of depression and anxiety, this is probably one of the biggest lessons I am still trying to live out on a daily basis. I am a chronic feeler, which is to say that I have grown up looking at feelings as my compass to help me navigate the roads of life. Trouble is, that compass is broken and has led me down some dark alleys and pits. Depression and anxiety are no joke; I have to remind myself constantly that the tidal waves I sometimes feel are not the truth. They don’t get to dictate my reality. They don’t get to bully me or suffocate me or tear me apart or drag me out to sea. They still shout and clamor and cloud my vision, but I’m learning see through them. I’m learning not to lean on them, not to trust them. And there, I’m beginning to find freedom – one step at a time.

8. The little things matter most.

Being a visionary whose imagination was fostered by a culture of “More, Bigger, Better!”, it was hard for me to see little things as worth my attention. They seemed to be not as interesting or exciting as flashier, larger-than-life things. But you know what? Small is sacred, and big moments are overrated. When we face our mortality, we look back and realize, the “little things” were what made up the most important parts of our lives:

Your dog chasing the hose of water in the summer heat. Your mom’s hugs and prayers and listening ear when you just need a safe space to spew your nonsensical fears and dreams and worries. The inside jokes, coffee dates, sleepovers, Chinese food takeouts, and movie nights with your best friends. The stories you read as a child that carried you off to another world. The glimmer of the sun coming up over the horizon. Steering wheel-drumming to your favorite song on the radio. The dark chocolate covered blueberries from Sprouts. The smell of someone’s last Sunday barbecue before the cold snap of winter. The gentle drizzle outside while you tap away on that paper due for your college class. The weekly rhythm of serving in the worship team on Sunday morning.

We build our lives, our souls, our relationships in these small moments. Let’s not take them for granted.

9. Life is more about character development than plotline.

I am a destination-driven person. Tell me where we’re going, and I’ll find you the most efficient route to get there. I’m all about the action – get me where things are moving! But God hasn’t gotten with my program. He doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get to the next destination, or even to share with me what exactly that destination is so I can run ahead there myself. No, He’s a master of storytelling, and while He’s got the plotline well under control, He knows that the real point of a good story is not what happens, but who the characters become along the way. Plot points are empty; the real treasure is found in slowing down and digging deep into relationships, into the scenery, into who we were meant to become.

10. You’re allowed to break out of the box and try new things.

I used to think that once I got to a certain point, once I had established a kind of “normal” of who I was and how I interacted with people, I wasn’t allowed to change; that if I did change, I’d be looked at strangely by the people around me, that they’d think I was being fake or stepping out of my bounds. When I decided a few years ago I wanted to be the kind of person who regularly uses terms of endearment for people (“love,” “sweetpea,” etc.), I was terrified that I’d come across as fake or pretentious. But I decided to just start doing it anyway. Was it awkward at first? Heck yes. But the more I persevered in doing it anyway, the more natural it became, till suddenly, I wasn’t thinking about it anymore – it was simply a part of who I was. It’s like a new pair of shoes – they’ll feel stiff and uncomfortable at first until you break them in through use, letting them learn how to mold to fit you.

11. No one expects you to have it all figured out.

I remember being terrified to sit down and tell my close extended family that I was not, after all, going to be pursuing law school after graduation from college. I was certain that they were going to see me as Irresponsible, Wasteful, Flighty. So I was shocked when they offered me encouragement that it’s okay to change plans, to not have things figured out. Turns out all those expectations? That wasn’t them. That was all on me. That was my perfectionism thinking I had to do life exactly right. Whereas the wise and experienced adults around me knew the truth: life is messy. You can never figure it out completely. All you can do is the best you can with what you’ve got right now. Take the next faithful step, and ask God to tie the pieces together.

12. It’s possible to push past fear.

Fear has always been a constant whisper in my heart, but two years ago, it showed up in new ways that I’d never experienced before. It was a season of intense loneliness and isolation. One day I decided I wanted to do something out of the ordinary: go geocaching at a little spot just down the road from my house. But as I got ready to go, fear gripped my whole body and I found my mind flooded with vivid images of horrible things happening if I stepped out my door. I’d never experienced anything that felt that real in broad daylight. I prayed and tried to figure out if this was God telling me that I shouldn’t go. But that still, small voice, more like a nudge than a word, seemed to say that I needed to push through this – that I could not let this powerful fear control me.

So I gritted my teeth and stepped out the door, every ounce of my imagination screaming Don’t do it! STAY HOME! Don’t go out there! The fear hung around like a toxic cloud until I nearly arrived at my destination. But once I got there, you know what happened? The fear dissipated. It vanished. And though I didn’t find the geocache I was looking for, I did get a peaceful moment sitting on a rock by a stream, taking photos, writing in my journal, and looking up to drink in a sweet breeze that ruffled through the leaves above. I would’ve missed it had I listened to fear’s insistent, vivid pushiness.

The same thing happened again that season when a new friend from church began inviting me over to her house to watch that particular season of Once Upon a Time. Before I left the house, that fear came back, trying to convince me that if I left the house, it would burn down, my dog would die, etc. etc. etc. It doesn’t matter that looking at those thoughts from the outside in it sounds foundless and absurd – all I knew at the time was that it felt so real (see #7 above: chronic feeler). And once again, I had to choose to push through it, even though it hung over me till 10 minutes after I arrived and sat down in their living room. Once again, the fear vanished. It was as if once it realized I would not fall for its powerful lies again, it had to leave me alone.

Push through the fear. It is a liar with a megaphone.

13. God gives directions more like a GPS than a map.

We want the whole picture. We want to be able to see the step-by-step process at a glance. But God only gives us one piece at a time. Turn here. Stay straight. Get ready to merge lanes. We have to slow ourselves down and accept one step of direction at a time.

14. Wear the red lipstick.

I’ve always been afraid of standing out, of calling attention to myself. Like Mia Thermopolis: “My expectation in life is to be invisible, and I’m good at it.” Because when you’re invisible, no one sees your faults, and I struggle against the lies of perfectionism that convince me people will see my rough edges, my vulnerable spots, my weaknesses and rawness, and they will leave. So I try to hide in neutral shades so no one can ever leave me or tell me that I don’t measure up. But then, when I do that, not only am I hiding the gifts that God has given me; I also miss out on some beautiful experiences simply because I was not bold enough to step out into them. So, I decided to stop trying to create a perfect veneer of invisibility. I’m choosing to wear the red lipstick, even though my teeth are slightly yellow from years of drinking coffee. I’m wearing the red nail polish, even though I know it’s going to start chipping within a day or two. I’m wearing the bold colors, putting out the vulnerable pieces of writing, because I want to experience all the beautiful hues of life and relationships – I want the depth that comes with imperfect vulnerability. Because there, I am really living.

15. Adventure is a mindset, not a circumstance.

Not all of us can travel the world or do exotic things in the name of adventure. But that doesn’t mean that adventure is out of our range – it just means we have to learn a new way of looking for it. It’s a matter of perspective. Trips to the local farmer’s market, the library, or even the grocery store can be adventures if you choose. Go explore the antique store around the corner or a thrift shop you haven’t been to before. Check out the little hole-in-the-wall Asian grocery store and try a new food. Explore the next town over. Go hike a trail you’ve never been on before. Adventure is right here.

16. It’s never a waste of time to do the things that refuel our souls.

I’m honestly not sure why there is a tremendous amount of guilt and second-guessing that plagues my attempts to do things that are refueling for my soul: reading a children’s story. Taking time to doodle with watercolors just for fun or braid a friendship bracelet or play on the piano or go for a walk through my neighborhood or sitting quietly on my bed with the windows open to just drink in stillness. But I’m learning to push through that and do it anyway – because even though it’s not “productive” in traditional terms, so what? I am not a factory, my soul is not a tool. I need the recharge of doing these kinds of life-giving, restful things for no result other than the joy they bring me in the doing.

17. It’s okay to take things seriously.

Our culture loves to mock things. It is very shallow most of the time, and anyone who demonstrates any kind of appreciation or reverence for what is sacred is often torn down as being “too serious,” as though it is a flaw, as though “serious” is the opposite of joy. But it is not. It is simply the opposite of mockery. According to the dictionary, serious means “acting or speaking sincerely, in earnest (synonymous with “wholehearted” and “genuine”),” “of, showing, or characterized by deep thought,” and “implies a concern for what really matters.” It’s okay to take things seriously – to look out for people who are hurting, to be wholehearted and genuine, to think deeply about things, to treat with reverence the things of faith and beauty, to uphold standards of holiness, to care about the things that really matter. To take something seriously is a good and beautiful thing.

18. You need a home team.

As Shauna Niequist calls it. No one can do life alone, and if you are part of the body of Christ, God definitely did not intend for you to do life on your own. Community can be hard to find and cultivate, but it is well worth the effort. It often doesn’t look like what we think it should, though, so don’t try to put it into a box. I used to look at people I follow on social media and think that my community needed to be a local group of peers all shaking the world and doing big things, chasing dreams, etc. and wondered why I couldn’t find anyone like that. Turns out my home team is a combination of people near and far – most of my closest friends do not know each other. They all come from different walks, are pursuing different goals, etc. But they are all there for me wholeheartedly in different ways. All that matters in the end is that they love Jesus and they love me, and we fight for one another and show up for one another in our own unique ways, and we find what works for us. Your community does not need to look like other people’s.

19. Idealistic expectations prevent us from seeing the beauty of imperfect reality.

This goes for what I said above regarding community; it also applies to how we see ourselves, the work we do, the houses we live in, the lives we build.

20. God’s words are like time-release tablets.

You won’t get the full impact until later. If you look even through the Old Testament or when Jesus was teaching His disciples, people usually couldn’t figure out what He meant at first. It took time for them to gain understanding. Choose to stick around and wait for the explanation. Only those who stay after class and ask questions get the fullest interpretation.

21. Not everyone will support you or like you, and that’s okay.

If you know that people disliking you is inevitable, it helps you face opposition with a healthier perspective. People might simply disagree, and that’s okay. Disagreement is not the end of the world. And let’s be honest, trolls do exist, and they wear human cloaks. Even the most talented musicians and filmographers on YouTube have a fair number of “dislikes” on their work. It’s going to happen; but you don’t have to let it ruin your day or your work or your heart.

22. Not everyone will leave you or break your heart.

When it’s all you’ve known, you start holding back, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But there are still good people out there. There are still people you can trust, who will support and encourage and be there for you when you need them. People who choose you and pursue you and love you. Don’t miss out on them because you’re letting the memories of past people’s hurtful choices ruin your future.

23. Everyone’s life is on a different timetable, and only God knows what that is for each of us.

So I’m 25 and everyone around me my age, and younger even, are married and having babies, and I’m not. So what? Our lives are not made to be carbon copies of each other. Even in classrooms, we recognize that students learn on different time-tables from each other. Keep your eyes on Jesus and trust that He knows the perfect timing of your life.

24. Your identity is found in Christ.

Not in what you wear, what you weigh, what you look like, or what you do or don’t do or say.

25. Ghost cats are everywhere.

The term ‘ghost cat’ is from Walter Mitty (one of my favorite films – do yourself a favor and go see it stat!) – basically, ghost cats (besides being a name for snow leopards) are the beautiful ordinary people who might not even know they are beautiful, but they just go through life doing their thing anyway. They don’t ask for attention. They just are. And when you come across them, they take your breath away and inspire you. They are the humble souls pouring themselves out in anonymous acts of kindness, staying faithful when everyone else would turn away, choosing the trenches of love over the stages of glamor, making the most beautiful art even though they still don’t have a large audience. Look for them. Appreciate them. Be one of them.

Image Credits: Pixabay & Unsplash

Posted in Soul

on turning 25 & pretending i’m a Hobbit (which means a Birthday Giveaway!)

I remember the days when my best friend and I would giggle over the phone as we imagined what life would be like when we turned *gasp* 16! Occasionally, we’d stretch out to catch an imaginary glimpse of 18, but 21? That was ancient! Forget anything beyond that!

Those ages seemed so unreal, it didn’t seem like we’d ever actually get there – they were just imaginary milestones tucked away in Neverland.

Oh, how different the world appears when you are twelve.

And here today, I celebrate a quarter of a century.

Halfway through the 20’s.

Old enough to rent a car and check in to my own hotel room at Disney World, which means I’ve officially made it to Adulthood.

And it’s nothing like I never imagined.

See, it’s funny: even if you don’t have an idea of what something is going to be like, it still ends up being different than what you know you would have potentially imagined.

25 is weird. I feel like I should somehow have my life together, but I just don’t. I’m muddling through a giant pile of question marks one day at a time.

Some days I still feel 16 inside. Other days I wake up feeling 42. Those average out to 29, so I guess maybe I’m sorta tracking.

I think what has been most disorienting about turning this age is that my life isn’t following the path that I see laid out for so many of my peers.

I am not married or even in a relationship (so obviously kids are out of the question).
There aren’t any prospects on the horizon that I can see, either, so that’s probably not in the cards for awhile.
I have not published or recorded anything.
I am not pursuing academia as a career.
I’m not a lawyer or a human rights advocate or anything else I thought I would become.
My teaching career is unorthodox and falls into the part-time job category.

In short, I am not where I ever thought I’d be at 25.

This has been deeply discouraging sometimes, I’ll be honest.

But I’m reminded of all my favorite stories. Not one of them could foresee the end from the beginning. That’s what made it an adventure.

I want to look ahead at the unknown as a great adventure. I may not know where I’m going, but I know my Guide. And He will not leave me alone in the wilderness.

 

~*~

When I first came across this song, I fell in love. But being a slow processor, I didn’t really know why. I just knew it touched somewhere deep inside me. It felt like a comfort and an anthem at the same time.

Now, the pieces have come together and my slow soul finally sees: it is a theme song that tells me it’s okay to not know where I’m going.

Maybe the wilderness is just the way home.

So all I have to do is keep moving, trusting that home will find me as I step into the wild.

~*~

Because it is my Golden Birthday (25 on the 25th) and in homage to one of my favorite storytellers, J.R.R. Tolkien, I am offering a birthday giveaway. See, Hobbits have a sweet habit of celebrating their birthdays by giving presents to OTHER people. So here’s what one lucky winner is gonna get:

  • “All the Things” Ashley Brooke Designs notebook
  • A set of InkJoy gel pens (my favorite)
  • This gorgeous copy of “Pride & Prejudice”
  • “Coffee. Reading. Writing.” pastels coffee mug
  • and a hard copy of these two prints I designed

There are three ways you can enter:

  • Sign up to follow my blog (“Priority Mail” widget on the sidebar->)
  • Follow me on instagram
  • Comment on the above image post on instagram tagging at least 2 people.

The giveaway runs until 5pm Friday April 28th. The winner will be announced that evening, when I post “25 Lesson I’ve Learned in 25 Years.”

May the odds be ever in your favor 😉

Update: @jessicacelelli was the winner!

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt