Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Does Time Pass or Do We? Thoughts About Another Year

You're 10 years old. Your year begins at the start of September because that's when you go to school. Your mom buys you new notebooks, and you put five freshly sharpened pencils in your backpack and take your Power Ranger lunchbox and go to the first day of school. The weather slowly gets colder, and you look forward to Christmas then New Year's. Winter is long, but eventually spring breaks through. You celebrate your birthday in April, and you're proud of the extra candle on the cake, though you don't feel older. As it gets warmer, you count the days until summer. Your older brother graduates from high school, and you assume you never will because that's forever away. Summer comes, and you rejoice. It's time for fishing and bare feet and popsicles and long, sunny days playing by the pool.

Then it's the same thing again. And again. Fall, winter, spring, summer. School, summer. School, summer. Another year older, another year past. Your parents get older, and you don't notice. You get taller, but you only know because of the marks your mom makes on the wall with a pencil every few months. You get smarter, but you only know that because you found the first term paper you wrote in fifth grade, and it was pretty unimpressive. Morning, afternoon, night. Awake, asleep. Fall, winter, spring, summer. School, summer. School, summer.

Then suddenly you have a college degree, a job, a significant other, a car, insurance, and a receding hairline. Your older brother has two kids, and your parents call you to ask you how to use an iPhone.  You don't notice you're growing up until you do. You notice it one day while you're walking from the parking garage to work, and you look down and see a 6' 0" frame, a tailored suit, polished dress shoes, one hand holding a cup of coffee and the other clutching a brief case. Is this who you are now? Are you really so different from who you were then?

When we are young, life is a circle. School, summer. Morning, afternoon, night. Fall, winter, spring, summer. Sometimes life is punctuated by great loss—like a death in the family—or a significant change—like moving across the country. But your parents or guardians are there to create reality for you, and it's a safe reality. The seasons march on. School marches on. We march on.

But when you glance down and see the tailored suit, the briefcase, and the size 11 black shoes, it makes you wonder: did the world journey around the sun 25 times, and this is the result? Did my upbringing and my environment and the passing seasons bring me here today? What in the world am I doing?

When you were young, you felt like a track athlete running lap after lap becoming stronger, smarter, better, with each circle. You weren't sure where in the bleachers your coach is sitting, but you could sometimes hear him giving you instructions. One day the track disappeared, and your sneakers fell silently onto the forest floor as you passed through a group of pine trees; you'd become a cross country runner. You realized life isn't a circle, even if it looked that way before. It's a winding path through the woods that you often have to make up as you go along. You don't know what you'll have to run through or where the finish line is, but you have to be okay with that.

The seasons still come and go. Jobs come and go. People come and go. But you're still a runner. It seemed like track before, but it was always cross country. You can't stay the same, so make sure you become better. Your Coach is the only one who is always there and doesn't change. So wake up. Each day is a new life. Nothing happens twice. Each moment is unique. A second chance is merely a chance that resembles another one. Even if you get up the same time each day and celebrate the same holidays and go the same places, you are a cross country runner, not a track runner. The path isn't a circle. It's a journey. Listen to your Coach. March on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Interstellar: Why It Should be Called Interbookcase

At the beginning of the film, we see that the world has become dusty. Just after the credits is the appropriate time to mutter, "Oh, no. Not another environmental agenda movie." After it's established that the world is running out of food, Matthew Mcconaughey runs over half the farm to catch an IFO (identified flying object).

After that, he goes to parent/teacher conferences, where the conversation is conveniently directed to explain how the world became so dusty and to show us how much Mcconaughey loves space. The inciting incident occurs when a sandstorm adds some excitement to an inherently boring game: baseball.

Mcconaughey and his children go home, where his daughter Murphy tells him the ghosts are leaving her a message. He sees the lines in the sand and assumes in about 4 seconds that they are morse code and that it reveals coordinates. What else is he to do? He hops in his truck and drives to the location.

Surprise, surprise. The coordinates lead to N.A.S.A. Fantine, who is angry and now has short hair, explains how her father Alfred—who just happens to be Mcconaughey's acquaintance—is planning to save the world through space exploration. Fifteen minutes later, they are begging this trespasser to pilot an aircraft on a suicide mission. Because they can figure out how to send space ships through a wormhole but can't communicate with the astronauts they already sent up there.

Mcconaughey hates farming so much that he decides to accept the offer. He tells his grieving daughter that it's whatever. He'll be back sometimes, and in the meantime, she can entertain herself by looking at this neato water he gave her. He doesn't bother to stick around for more than 5 minutes. It's time for space! From this point on, we will call "Mcconaughey" Astronaut Farmer.

First the astronauts sleep for a while, and I was really disappointed that no one stayed awake to draw murals on the ceiling with condiments. Then they wake up and go to the immensely creepy Water Planet. The one dude stays behind and spends 23 years contemplating black holes because that seemed like a good idea. The other 3 land on the stupid water planet and try to get themselves killed. Only one dies. They leave, and Astronaut Farmer gets really mad at Fantine. Then they return to the ship, where the other dude is super excited to tell them all of his new thoughts about the black hole.

Then they go to the Frozen Planet to rescue Jason Bourne, who at first shares an emotional moment with the Astronaut Farmer because he hasn't seen another human being in just forever. But then he tries to maroon them on the island. But he will always remember this as the day he almost outsmarted the Astronaut Farmer. Ol' Jason Bourne should have stuck to assassinations because space clearly isn't his thing. (At this point in the movie, he blows up.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Astronaut Farmer, Jr.'s, children have developed asthma. His sister Murphy, the scientist, tries to convince him that dusty-lung is very serious. When he won't let his children move to a safer location, she burns down his farm. Because that seems logical. Between shots of army trucks driving around, the farm burning down, and Murphy looking frantically at her favorite book case, we get the sense that things are really serious now. Since the movie has already been going on for 2.5 hours, it really needs to end. So we assume the world is totally going to end if Astronaut Farmer doesn't do something super sacrificial, like, right now.

Astronaut Farmer, the Black Hole Expert, and Fantine bemoan their stereotypical space fuel deficit and try to decide what to do. First, during the Dark Night of the Soul moment, Fantine realizes that her father, Alfred, was lying to them all along and only planned on saving the embryos. Black Hole Expert points out that the secret numbers, which are hiding inside the black hole, could save the day. "We must go deeper," he said.

So they decide to fly into a black hole because it's their only chance. They release the robot to search for the codes. The robot is all like: "Are you satisfied with your care?" And Astronaut Farmer is all like: "Yeah, okay." Then, completely unexpectedly, Astronaut Farmer leaps into a little ship and loses himself in the Black Hole because "It's the only way" or whatever. Then he discovers Interbookcase, a place where every single moment of his daughter's time in her room is represented by a physical space.

First he realizes that he is his daughter's ghost and that humans from the future—not aliens—built this structure and have been leading them all along. He uses morse code to send himself the N.A.S.A. coordinates in the sand. Then he uses morse code again to send his daughter the secret numbers from the Black Hole Expert. This is all completely logical because it makes perfect sense that humans from the future can build a structure that defies the fourth dimension, but they can't think of a better way to communicate than recruiting a farmer from the past to knock over books. Astronaut Farmer floats around for a while and wakes up in a space station, where he sees the boring game of baseball happening outside his window. He finally gets to see his daughter, who is now like 400 years old. She basically tells him to go away because she has a lot of other people waiting to talk to her. So then he leaves and finds Fantine on a very earth-like planet where there is no dust, and he doesn't have to be a farmer.

The movie should have been called Interbookcase.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

'Nothing Left to Wish For': Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Before the movie Race to Witch Mountain (with Dwayne Johnson) came out in 2009, I watched the 1975 original: Escape to Witch Mountain. Two mysterious orphans—a brother and sister—possess strange powers, including telekinesis and mind reading. I felt that I had a special connection with them because I can read my sister's mind. (No, really. One time I told this kid at church I could read Katie's mind. I told the kid that Katie was thinking about a tuna fish sandwich. When we asked my sister what she was thinking about, guess what she said? A tuna fish sandwich.)

Anyway, the two kids stay temporarily in this huge mansion with these rich people. They don't know it yet, but the rich people want to steal their powers somehow. In the meantime, though, the kids have this huge house with all of these awesome toys and pretty much everything they could ever want. When I was 8, I thought the house in the movie looked like the coolest thing ever. But before the kids even figured out the nefarious motives of their adopters, the sister tells her brother why they cannot stay there. She says something like: "We have to leave. If we stay, there will be nothing left to wish for."

I didn't understand it. Didn't they want a family? Weren't all of the toys and the house enough to make them happy? Why would they leave? But they did. In my little 8-year-old mind, I thought about what it would be like to have nothing left to wish for. It didn't sound like a bad thing. So what was wrong with that concept?

Like birthdays and New Year's, Thanksgiving is often a time to reflect on the happenings of the past year. Some families might squeeze 10 people around a too-small dining room table—every inch of it covered in plates of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey, and apple pie—and take a few minutes to share what they are thankful for. We're thankful for our families, country, friends, God, education, etc.

I'm thankful for some of the same things all the time, but every year I have some new blessings to count. For instance, this year, the Lord answered three of my prayers for this semester, all in ways I did not expect. All three were cases in which I noticed something was missing from my life, and I asked God to fill it. He did.

Thankfulness is kind of like binary code. The things you have are 1's, and the things you don't are 0's. Because you have, for example, food to eat each day, you might consider what it would be like if you didn't know where your next meal would come from. On the other hand, maybe you don't have a job, and you're looking for one. You think about what it would be like to find the right job because it's something you notice that you don't have. The reason we notice we have something to be thankful for or that we don't have something we want is because the people around us either lack what we have, or they have what we desperately want.

I don't think Binary Thankfulness really covers it because that's operating under the assumption that 1) we know what we need and 2) life is only about getting what we need or want. So many of my unanswered prayers brought me to praise God years later because my requests were foolish, and the Lord had different plans. So often God provides me with blessings I didn't even ask for, and I wonder how I didn't notice the emptiness in my life beforehand. I have found new joy this year in trying to give back. We are the hands and feet of Christ, and it is a great privilege to figure out how we can show the love of Christ to others.

This year I didn't get the first summer job I applied for, but I got to do a writing job from home and spend time with my family. I don't see my parents much because they live 13 hours away. I got to do some really neat work this semester in grad school, and I made some new friends. I could write an entire blog post about all of the things I'm thankful for, but it would take years to write and probably break Blogger. I'm primarily thankful for the people in my life: my parents, sister, extended family, professors/mentors, pastors/teachers, old friends who still put up with me, and new friends. I see a little bit of Jesus in each of my Christian friends, and spending time with them makes it easier to be like Him.

For the first 22 years of life, most people I knew did the same thing: go to school, get into college, go to college, and graduate. Now, though, people are branching out and doing different things. Some people are married. Some are having kids. Others are teaching overseas or pursuing artistic goals. Still others are moving up the corporate ladder or looking for the perfect job. Then there are a few like me who are in college part 2 grad school. We all are doing different activities; we all have different blessings; we all make different contributions, and that is okay. Though it is important to use your time wisely, you don't have to do what everyone else is doing. Look at all the unique blessings the Lord has offered us!

I don't have everything. I'm not yet sure what I'm doing when I graduate (despite the 70,000 people who have asked me what I'm doing). I have so much to learn. I want to be a better writer. I want to understand people, ideas, health insurance, directions, savings accounts, taxes, and politics. I want to do things and go places and serve people and get to know God better. Who knows how much time I have left here on Earth? I want to live every day like it's the day the Lord has made. (Oh, wait... it is!) I am learning to be thankful for what I have without slowing down. How far I've come is no reason to stop. How far I have to go is no reason to complain.

Have you ever heard the saying, "If you had everything, where would you put it?" I always thought that was a stupid saying. Because if I owned everything, no one would be telling me to put my stuff away. I'd just walk around and think, "Well, I own that tower, and that beach, and that library, and that walrus. Oh, look, it's my collection of rare amphibians." But what does it mean to have everything? I'm certain that even if we all could wish for whatever we wanted, we would not be able to ascertain what is best for us.

At the end of the Escape to Witch Mountain (spoiler alert!), the two kids meet up with their long lost uncle and escape in a flying saucer. I'm pretty sure it was implied that they are from some distant planet, which is obviously different from Earth. Beside the fact that their adopters were going to try to steal their powers, the kids would not have been happy living in the Giant Mansion With Everything... because they didn't belong there. They belonged in a different world.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that we were made for another world." That is why—in this life—we will never be left with nothing else to long for. We do have Jesus now, but we don't belong in this world. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to recognize the many blessings God has given us, even in this fallen world, even when we don't deserve them, even when we don't immediately recognize them. It's a good time to become the kind of people who serve others so that they will have more to be thankful for. And it's a great time to remember that this world cannot satisfy, but one day we will be with Jesus—the reason we exist, the reason we have anything, and the reason we can be saved.

"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun."
—Amazing Grace

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I'm Jack, and I'm Here

I'm Jack, and I'm here. A bed stands between me and my life. My life is a 5'3" Norwegian woman with smudged mascara and a mound of blonde hair wadded up behind her left ear. She is shaking; she has been crying. She holds my destiny in her hand. My destiny is a gun, and it's pressed against her temple.

If she pulls the trigger, I will never want to see the sun again.

"Shannon," I say, holding out my hands. "Shannon, it's Jack. Your husband. I'm here. I'm here." I'm not sure how many times I repeat it, but it's the only thing I know for sure. I've stopped her once before. Before it was a knife. She said it was an accident. She said she wouldn't try again. Those two statements are obviously at odds with one another.

It's December 23rd, and The Accident happened four years ago today. I should have called someone. I should have known this would happen today. That's another thing I know for sure: if she pulls the trigger, it will be my fault.

"Shannon," I say again. "Just put the gun down. Talk to me. I'm here." I start to walk around the bed toward her.

"No...no!" she says, her teeth gritted and her eyes bloodshot. "Stay back!"

I stop walking, my heart beating in my ears.

"I should have been watching her," she continues. "It eats me alive. It won't leave me! It's here now, tormenting me!" She gestures wildly with both hands before jamming the gun against her head again. Fresh tears squeeze out the corners of her eyes.

When she tried the knives, I caught her in the middle of it. She said she was cutting vegetables, but I don't know how the underside of her forearm would have gotten in the way. I took her to the emergency room. I was glad I was there.

I feel myself start to cry, too. Crying is okay, as long as I don't panic. I wonder if I could call someone. But I know if I reach for the phone, it will set her off. She is determined this time.

I try to relax my stance. "It wasn't your fault," I say. "You couldn't have known! You know—Jenny—liked to get into things. It wasn't your fault." It is still hard to say her name.

Shannon lets out a sob. "Don't say that!" she yells. "I knew she liked to get into things! We needed another gate. I should have been there. It is my fault." She looks around the room as if there are others here, as if they are all pointing and accusing her.

I don't know how I can convince her. We went to all kinds of counselors and therapists and pastors. We did yoga and meditated and went to church and moved to a different town. We even lived with her parents for a few months. I held her while we sobbed. I let her throw things at me and scream. I lived alone even though she was there. I worked 60 hours per week because she wasn't fit to work anymore. I came home to her, and I came home to no one. I came home and set down my papers and took off my jacket and looked at her, sitting at the table, exactly where I left her. It was like she didn't even know I was home. I am Jack, and I have always been here.

"You're all I have!" I say. "You're all I want. Put it down. I love you. I'm here."

"I don't want to be here!" she screams. She presses the gun more forcefully into her head and squeezes her eyes shut.

I consider leaping over the bed and tackling her. But what if she pulled the trigger once I grab her? What if I could have changed her mind? I can't do that. That will never work. "She wouldn't want this," I say, feeling the panic rise in me.

"Jenny was 3! She wants her mother!" Shannon says through her teeth, shaking worse than ever now.

Four years ago, our daughter wandered into the backyard and somehow opened the child safety lock on the gate. She fell in the pool and drown while my wife was making dinner. I wasn't home. Every year this day is hard, but this is the worst it's ever been. I have never brought up trying to have more children because I'm afraid of what she would say. Most nights she goes to bed early, and I sit and watch TV until my mind is numb, and I can't keep my eyes open. She can sleep because she takes those sleeping pills the therapist gave her. I just run until everything hurts, and then I can sleep.

"That's not how it works," I say. "I'm here. I'm afraid. Don't leave me." I don't know how many times I've told her it isn't her fault. I had to go to a therapist, too, because I couldn't bear to tell her that I saw my daughter's round blue eyes in my own every time I leaned close to the mirror to shave. I don't know how many times I've made two plates of food and thrown out one because she won't eat. I don't know how many times I've begged her to leave the house for something other than therapy. I don't know how many times I've sped down the highway, screaming at God and asking why He had to take my daughter and my wife, too. I just wanted her to try to heal with me, but it's like she's not even here.

I'm Jack, and I'm here. I'm here, and yet this is her choice. No matter how hard I tried the past four years, in this moment, I cannot stop her from killing herself. I repeat empty words and beg her to stop. I tell her the truth: that I love her, that I need her. I'm here; I'm here; I'm here, I say over and over and over. Stay with me. Don't do this. Stay with me. If she's here, there's hope she will come back to me, even if it takes years. If she's gone, I am lost forever.

"I'm going to do it, Jack," she whispers. "I'm so sorry..."

"Please..." I'm panicking now. I can barely see because my eyes are making tears faster than they can escape down my face.

"I'm sorry..." she whispers. I see her hand tense, and I know I'm about to watch my wife take her own life.

And then I turn my back to her. "I can't make you live," I say, "but I'm not going to watch you die." I hear her ragged breathing continue. She cocks the gun.

I sink to my knees and start to sob. I want to cover my ears, but I know I'll hear it anyway. The next few moments feel like an eternity, and I wish I'd never been born. My human soul does not have enough room to contain the pain it will have to hold in a few moments.

Then I hear it. It sounds less like a gunshot and more like a clatter. She dropped the gun. Footsteps. My wife is beside me. She's touching my shoulder. I look over at her through my tears. "Jack?"

I take her in my arms. "I'm here," I say. "I will always be here."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Personification of Days—Which Day are You?

If you've been following these posts on facebook, thanks for humoring me. I wrote this because I believe every day is some kind of holiday. Have you noticed that the days of the week seem to have different personalities? You haven't? Well, they do. These might describe someone you know. Or someone I know. ;) Which day are you?

Once upon a time, it was Sunday. Sunday sends birthday cards to people she hasn't seen in years, eats only gluten free and vegetarians foods, and can sing even the most cantankerous baby to sleep in minutes. Sunday gives almost half her salary to charity and is the only one who is nice to Monday. Friday often calls her a "goody two-shoes." Sunday replies, "Well, that is better than a goody one-shoe." Her jokes aren't very good. Sunday is kind and pleasant all day... until around 9 p.m. when she remembers all the tasks she didn't accomplish. Then she turns crazy. Rumor has it she has even—on occasion—directed a few snide comments at Monday.
(Sunday would like to remind you that she is the first day of the week, not the last. Happy Sunday and God bless.)

Once upon a time, it was Monday. Monday is often sarcastic and is known for being cynical. He tends to brood about his past and watch his surroundings with suspicion. Sometimes he wishes he had friends, but then he remembers he would have to talk to people. And people are stupid. You know that cruel (but funny) meme you saw on the Internet? Monday probably created it. Monday enjoys sending the world into a state of panic and despair. Though the sun rises like every morning, darkness seems to shroud the minds and hearts of those who rise from this beds. But eventually they always remember that we get to move on to Tuesday, but Monday never does. We drink coffee and smile.
(Bring it on, Monday. We're not scared of you. And we know you secretly watch Disney Channel and purchase groceries for your elderly neighbor.)

Once upon a time, it was Tuesday. Now, Tuesday, is Monday's little brother. Everyone dislikes Monday so much that even if Tuesday misbehaves, no one seems to notice. Tuesday likes to pull pranks, such as telling you that you forgot to turn in work on Monday. (This is doubly fun for Tuesday because it annoys you AND Monday.) He's unnaturally energetic and doesn't like to sleep. When it's Tuesday, we might be slightly groggy from the first weekday, but we drive to work anyway, this time remembering to pack a lunch and thank the Lord we have a job. Tuesday is a little weasel; for some reason we don't mind him. We drink coffee and pretend to be productive.
(Hello, Tuesday. Do your worst.)

Once upon a time, it was Wednesday. Now, Wednesday is a bit prideful; she likes to point out that she is not only the middle of the work week but also the middle of the ENTIRE week. She is a bit snotty and vain. Wednesday loves that little children have trouble spelling her name. And she HATES that someone gave her the nickname "Hump Day." By the time Wednesday rolls around, we are in a groove, and we've accepted that we're living through a work week. Some of us may hate to admit it, but we actually like Wednesdays.
("MIKE MIKE MIKE MIKE MIKE MIKE MIKE MIKE! Guess what day it is?! HUMP DAY!" Do something, Wednesday.)

Once upon a time, it was Thursday. Thursday is the most unappreciated of the seven. He watches the world through his jet black bangs and scribbled furiously into his journal whilst listening to depressing music. Thursday doesn't cause much trouble and is actually a pretty nice guy; also, you wouldn't expect it, but he can sing impressive tenor harmony when it's applicable. We don't anticipate Thursday, but we don't dread it, either. Everyone wants to rush past poor Thursday to get to his older, cooler brother, Friday.
(I like you, Thursday. Don't listen to the haters.)

Once upon a time, it was Friday. Friday is the type of guy who can look cool doing anything, even if it's just putting on socks or eating an ice cream cone. And let's face it—NO ONE looks cool eating an ice cream cone. He gets the right number of ice cubs from the dispenser on the first try. The bus driver would wait for him, but Friday never takes the bus. The party starts when he walks in, even if originally no party was going to happen. The only girl who won't go out with him is Wednesday. The only person Friday openly hates is Rebecca Black. He's a lot of fun when he's there, but he's never around when you need him most.
(Happy Friday. Gotta love him.)

Once upon a time, it was Saturday. Saturday has lots of friends, loves Nutella, and believes in the healing power of Netflix. She has started 52 Pinterest crafts but never finished one. (Expect for that one time her sister Sunday made Pinterest cupcakes shaped liked Cookie Monster. Saturday "finished" those.) Saturday falls asleep during movies, class and occasionally rock concerts. But she doesn't often go to rock concerts unless she can wear her pajamas. She has never been awake before noon.
(Hello, Saturday, We like you even though you only last 8 hours. It's not your fault.)

I'm Tuesday. ;)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

10 Things You Probably Have to be Thankful For

If you have said or thought any of the following things in the last 24 hours, you should read this post:

A. Ugh, I have to go to work today.
B. Ugh, there's no wifi here.
C. Ugh, this food tastes terrible.

If you're a word enthusiast like me—or even if you're not—you're probably wondering, "Does the title mean '10 things I SHOULD be Thankful for' or '10 things I OWN that I can be Thankful for'?" I meant both. Don't hurt yourself.

Albert Einstein once said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Or, as I'm going to paraphrase him: "There are only two ways to live your life: one—taking everything for granted, or two—taking nothing for granted."

And without further ado, I present to you, 10 things you probably have to be thankful for:

1. When you're hungry, you can get off your cushiony Sitting Device in the room designed just to sit in and walk into an adjoining room built for the sole purpose of containing sustenance. Then you can open the magic Sustenance Box, and a light comes on to illuminate your choices. Then you can remove some sustenance, put it in a Zapping Machine, and it will automatically warm up for you.

2. When you have to relieve yourself, you can step into a clean, private little room and sit on a white Porcelain Throne. You can use special soft paper conveniently stored on a roll next to the Porcelain Throne. Then you can gleefully pull the lever, and the waste swirls down through the floor and into the earth. DOWN INTO THE EARTH.

3. If you miss someone, you can pick up this mystical Talking Device and push some buttons. Then you can throw your voice through it and speak to someone, even if he or she is on the other side of the world.

4. If you get bored of your own life, you can take a flat, Shiny Doughnut and put it into a Shiny Doughnut Box. Then you can watch other people's lives—with special effects, background music, and trite dialogue—on a black square right in the comfort of your Sitting Room.

5. If you want to continue hating your life or participating in activities—either necessary or pointless—after dark, you can flick the magic switch on a Light Machine, and Thomas Edison's brainchild will spring to life, illuminating your Sitting Room.

6. If you want to go somewhere farther than a few miles away, you can step into Four-wheeled Box and speed 70 mph or faster to your destination. And this is considered normal.

7. If you get tired, you can walk upstairs to the room specifically designated for holding all the stuff you never use and lie down on the big, cushy Sleep Rectangle that literally only exists for you to sleep on—even though you also use it to hold clothes, your guitar, and 17 stuffed animals.

8. If you need to know something—anything—you can look at an Electrical Information Box or a Paper Rectangle and examine 26 random little shapes and understand what they mean. You can learn almost anything in this way. Because you are educated.

9. You can keep trying to do anything you want to do for as long as you want because there is no limitation on how many times you are allowed to fail. You can change your mind and do something else. You can waste your life or not. It's really up to you.

10. If you feel like talking to the God of the universe, you can just do it right now, no matter where you are. No long-distance fee, and no age, race, or occupation restrictions.

I do not believe in belittling people's struggles. I mean, I really hate it when people talk during the movie at the theater. I hate it when parents let their children scream in the library. I'm 23 years old, and I still hate waking up before 9 a.m. We all have our little pet peeves. I just wanted to remind you that you have a lot to be thankful for, just like me.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Eventual 78 Degrees of Happy

This was a hard winter. My hands froze nearly every day, and the heat stopped working in my apartment several times. I woke up cold, drove to work cold, walked to my building cold, came home cold, and went to bed cold. I felt fortunate to have a place to live and warm clothes to wear, but it was still miserable. Generally I hate cold weather unless it snows, but this year I just wanted the wintry precipitation to stop. On two separate occasions it was snowy and icy to the point that my brakes wouldn't work, and the roads were often really bad. I didn't feel well; getting anywhere was difficult; and frankly consistently deplorable weather eventually depresses me. It was the worst winter (weather-wise) I can remember, and I felt like it would ever end.

Yesterday I sat on the porch in my bathing suit under the sun then went swimming. The puffy white-clouded sky boasted an unreal shade of blue, and a light breeze gently moved the branches of surrounding trees. It was perfect. Summer has come. Today it is mid-70s and beautiful. I thought about how the weather transitioned from -11 degrees, two-pairs-of-mittens, slick sidewalks, and biting wind to 78 degrees, shorts, sunny skies, and barefoot ventures into the grass. But I couldn't exactly picture the progression. It didn't happen overnight, the temperatures randomly skyrocketing 90 degrees. Slowly but surely, the seasons changed, and now I can walk outside without wondering if my nose will still be attached to my face after I finish getting the mail.

Times of grief, misery, and pain are often like that. They say time heals everything, but we want instant results. Time doesn't move fast enough, but we know we shouldn't rush it. We pray for our winter to disappear with the rising sun, but the stupid groundhog keeps seeing its shadow. And we might yell at the sky and say we don't care if there's a time for everything; we don't want to experience the time for pain. But look at the ground; a patch of four-leaf clovers grows where before only rocks rested. You have overcome past difficulties. You've forgotten former pain; you need only look back and remember.

Winter changes slowly into spring. Pain often turns slowly into joy. You just can't predict your victories and defeats and pain and happiness on a calendar the way you can usually predict the seasons. But look back and see what the Lord has done and appreciate the four-leaf clovers. Know that the winters serve a purpose, too, and even in sub-zero temperatures, the Lord is good. One day soon the ice will melt into joy, and you'll be 78 degrees of happy once again.

"And now I'm sunny with a high of 75 since you took my heavy heart and made it light. And it's funny how you find you enjoy your life when you're happy to be alive." —Relient K

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Real Meaning Behind 5 Slang Terms You Hear All the Time

Ever wonder where those strange words and phrases that kids are using these days came from? I don't have time to explain all of them, but hopefully this will help you out.

1. _______, they said. It will be fun, they said.

Go to work, they said. It will be fun, they said. You've all heard it, but you have no idea where it came from.

Several years ago, an anonymous writer associated with DreamWorks wrote a script for an animated movie about three penguins who sojourn from the South Pole to the North Pole because they do not believe that no penguins live on the other side of the earth. The sidekick character, Penelope Penguin, will not do anything unless she is certain it will be fun. Therefore, the other two penguins spend most of the movie telling her things like, "Come to the North Pole with us. It will be fun!" When the activities they suggest later cause the dark night of the soul moment near the conclusion of the film when Penelope is hanging over a volcano and she has an existential crisis, she says things like, "Go on a road trip with us, they said. It will be fun, they said."

Unfortunately, the movie was never produced. I'm not sure why. I thought it sounded interesting.

2. YOLO.

"Yolo!" the young whippersnapper shouts as he walks into the classroom to take the test he did not study for. Why does he say this? I'll tell you.

It all began with an elementary school-aged child who spent most of his time begging on the streets in New York City. He didn't have many clothes to wear, and the rags he had resembled pirate clothes. He became known as the Pirate. No one knew where his parents were, and he never attended school, so he didn't speak very well. In fact, the only word he ever said was, "Yo-ho." Whenever he said it, people began singing, "Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!" Then they'd laugh and throw a few coins into his jar.

The kid did not respond as expected, however. Instead of expressing gratitude for their generosity, he became more and more frustrated, yelling, "YO-HO! YO-HO!" One day he totally lost it and attacked someone on the street. Then he was taken into custody. After years of therapy paid for by a wealthy benefactor, it was discovered that the only thing the poor chap wanted was a yo-yo, but he didn't know how to pronounce it.

Today we use "YOLO" before doing something crazy because poor little Pip yelled it one last time before beating a random passerby with a moldy sandwich.

3. Much ______. So ______. Very wow.

This one began when one of Miley Cyrus's best friends tried to start her own line of clothing. She originally got some funding because of her status as Miley's bestie. But when her fashion consultant tried to ask her about her vision for the clothing line, everything went downhill. She pushed her purple hair behind one ear and clear her throat. "I'm thinking, like, much artfully. And so sparkles. Just, like, very wow." Unfortunately, her command of the English language left something to be desired. But the fashion consultant wrote about the experience on her blog, popularizing the alterable saying and pairing it with a picture of her strangely expressive dog, which was only overly expressive because it had just tasted Taco Bell for the first time.

4. Cray.

Perhaps the most commonly used in this list, cray has actually been around the longest. Back when the Pilgrims first landed in Eastern Kentucky, the untouched areas around the beautifully green rivers seemed to smell of promise. But when the settlers tried to harvest the gold they heard was hidden there, they instead encountered impossibly ginormous lobster-like creatures known only as crayfish. They were close to five feet long and absolutely vicious. When the brave first four settlers ventured too close to the river, the crayfish mercilessly devoured three of them, leaving the fourth one traumatized and only able to utter a single word: "cray."

That, my friends, is why people say "cray" when something is, like, totally out of control.

5. I can't even.

This term began as a simple way to express a complex process of mathematics used only in Scandinavian Derivatives. The Norwegians have invented an entire number system (known as Absolute Negation Rationalization) that operates without acknowledging the existence of "0," the only number that is neither even nor odd. Mathematicians use this phrase to explain to students the necessity to utilize that system.

Unfortunately, Americans have begun using it to explain utter shock, horror, or disbelief of various circumstances, usually resulting from a lack of better words to describe the gravity of the situation.

I hope this list was helpful to you. Especially if you had trouble connecting with the younger folks, this should make you feel really relevant. Who knows, one of the young chaps might be unaware of the origins of these handy phrases. Why not share one of these stories? You'll probably impress those Millennials with your extensive knowledge about what is hip and awesome.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Post-grad Year One: 8 Things I Wish I'd Thought About Sooner

When I graduated from college, I didn't have much idea what to expect. During the first 22 years of life, the path is obvious for most people like me. You go to high school, go to college, pick a major, and learn stuff. Then you graduate. The first year of post-grad is hard for a lot of people because it doesn't turn out like they hoped. (I know that because I had a lot of friends a year or two older than I who thought so.) And of course, I went to grad school, so some people would argue that my supposed "post-grad" isn't post-grad at all. But I don't have time for naysayers, so I present to you: 8 things I wish I'd known before I graduated from college.

1. Despite what people say, college is part of the legendary"real world." 
"College is not the real world," well-intentioned people said to me a lot during my four-year time at my first University. Actually, college isn't another dimension; it's a part of life. I get it—they were trying to say that college is different from having a full-time job. Well, then say that. Stop saying it's not the "real world" like earning a four-year degree is akin to spending time in the Twilight Zone. (Besides, I worked in college, so I feel like that made my experience quite different from what some people do: take 15 credits and spend the rest of the time getting slobbering drunk and making poor decisions.)

2. Everything you experience is both a part of life and a preparation for something else.
People often say: "College is a preparation time for the rest of your life." True, but high school was a preparation for college. And your first years in the business world will be your preparation for years later in your career. All the years leading up to college graduation are not solely preparation, while the day after graduation the "real thing" magically starts. The truth is, everything—including college—is both a part of life and a preparation for something else. I think it's important to both live in the present and prepare for the future.

3. Budgeting is awesome, and even a little saving can go a long way.
In college, I didn't budget much because I didn't really have money. But now that I occasionally have enough money to buy a stick of gum, budgeting is one of my favorite things. When I first moved into my apartment, I constructed a rigid budget I intended to follow. For five months I kept track of literally every penny I spent. Once I was confident I was going to be able to suppress random urges to buy a ticket to New Zealand over fall break, I stopped keeping track of the money I spent. Now when I want to buy coffee or something, I don't feel guilty about it.

4. You aren't obligated to move away from your college town.
For some reason in college I thought that graduating from my University meant I was obligated to get a job in my field in some other state and live in an apartment by myself hundreds of miles from anyone I knew. Stupid, right? If you want to do that, great! If not, that's fine, too. One of my friends said it well (paraphrased): "We spent all this time building a community and forming connections here; why move away if we don't want to?" Also, the first place you move after college doesn't have to be where you stay forever. Which brings me to...

5. The first thing you do after college doesn't have to be what you do forever.
"What are you going to do after college?" the well-intentioned people ask. What I heard was: "How do you want to spend the next 40 years of your life?" Silly, right? Yes. Don't know what to do after college? Pick something! Don't like it? Do something else! That's totally allowed.

6. Graduating from college doesn't mean the fun is over or that you have to be boring.
Yes, I know. If you work 40 hours per week, especially if you have to get up early all the time, you might be too tired to go on Taco Bell runs at 2 a.m. like you did in college. And yes, in college, socializing, having fun, and doing a variety of activities is really easy. But now you just have to make time for what is important to you and be intentional about it. I don't exactly hit up 4 parties every week, but I don't spend 30 hours per week watching TV alone and wonder why friends don't magically materialize in my living room.

7. Leaving college doesn't mean you automatically have everything in order and never make a mistake again.
I know, I know. Some people graduate college and immediately marry the perfect person, move into a lovely apartment, and immediately get an awesome job. But even those people will have hardships and make mistakes. Some of us will graduate from college and apply to 35 jobs and not hear back from any of them. Some of us will have no idea what we want to do and subsequently spend a year working as an alpaca farmer in a foreign country. Some of us will forget to pay a bill or oversleep or burn the grilled cheese or mess up a presentation. It happens. It's okay.

8. Post-grad can be awesome!
It seems like older people try to scare college students about post-grad by talking about bills and full-time jobs and complications, etc. Sure, there are bad things about the years following college, but there were annoying things about college, too, remember? Like studying for 13 hours for exams, writing papers on topics you didn't care about, and having to buy the dollar shampoo because you couldn't afford anything else. Each part of life has pros and cons. Make post-grad awesome.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to Deal With Piano Bench Kickers

I imagine that your first question upon reading the title of this post is: "What is a Piano Bench Kicker?" Then perhaps: "Am I a Piano Bench Kicker?" I can answer the first question. A Piano Bench Kicker is someone who does annoying and/or rude things that interrupt your life. A key characteristic of a Piano Bench Kicker is that he or she should know better. I'm sure all of us have been a Piano Bench Kicker at one point or another. First stop being one... then learn how to deal with them.

Where did this strange term originate? I'll tell you. I took piano lessons all the way through my senior year of high school. As a hard-working slightly perfectionist person who had OCD even as a child, performing well in piano recitals was a HUGE deal, particularly before high school. I practiced every day for months. I wanted to do the best I possibly could, and it probably mattered way more to me than it should have.

Anyway, I remember one particular Christmas recital that was held in this really pretty church. The only unfortunate fact about the setting was the location of the piano. It was just a little too close to the front row. Because a ton of people were there, people even sat on the very front row. The piano keys faced the audience so that the performer's back would be to those in attendance. 

When the recital began, I watched as each pianist approached the bench and played his or her pieces, dazzling the audience. I wanted to do just as well. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the front, trying not to look as nervous as I felt. The whole place was silent, and I waited a moment before I began to play The Hallelujah Chorus, part of Handel's Messiah. Rhythm and emphasis were really important in this particular piece, and when I started out with the right tempo, I was relieved. I played the first few lines without incident.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The entire piano bench began shifting beneath me every few moments for some unknown reason, and it was totally throwing off my rhythm. Panicking, I tried to figure out the source of the interruption. It didn't stop. I wasn't anywhere close to the end of my song. I hadn't messed up yet, but if the bench-jerking didn't stop immediately, I was sure I would.

Then I remembered how close the front row was to the bench and realized someone behind me was repeatedly kicking the piano bench with the force David Beckham applies to his direct kicks from outside the penalty box. It wasn't just a light tap: it was BAD. I could HEAR it. I couldn't stop halfway through the song, but I couldn't go on like this. I did the only thing I could think of: I hastily memorized the next few bars and without stopping, turned around and located the kid who had been kicking my bench. Then I gave him the nastiest glare I could muster. I turned back to the piano without missing a note. Now, mind you, the offending Piano Bench Kicker was about my age, probably 11 or 12, and his parents were right there. (They should have told him to cut it out.) Regardless, my expression was the universal sign for "Stop this idiocy right now or else," so he stopped kicking my bench immediately.

I finished the song without making a mistake. Then I returned to my seat. That is how you deal with Piano Bench Kickers. (I mean, sometimes you will have to tell them to stop, but if a nasty glare will suffice—which is usually the case because people like that know better—go for it.) If you are a Piano Bench Kicker, stop it. If your offspring is one, tell him or her to stop it. If (when) you come across Piano Bench Kickers, don't let them interrupt your groove.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

10 Things my 19th Year of School Taught Me

I realized the other day that if I count preschool, kindergarten, 1st-12th grade, four years of college, and one year of grad school, then I have been in school for NINETEEN consecutive years. That means next year will be my 20th year. It may also be my last school year—or, at least, my last consecutive year—depending on if/when I decide to get a Ph.D. My 19th year of school taught me some really important things. I thought I'd share them with you.

1. Sometimes your car battery will die in a McDonald's parking lot when you're supposed to go to a doctor's appointment. Then, because you don't know where the doctor's office is, you'll have to run there using the GPS as a guide. Then later you'll have to wait 2 hours for AAA to save you. But it's nice when a friend shows up to wait with you. :)

2. Living in an apartment is cool and stuff, but you can't have many pets. So it's a really good idea to get a Betta fish. First of all, they live forever. (Mine has been alive for over seven months.) Second, they don't mind if you name them after a famous communication scholar. (Mine is named Judee K. Burgoon). Third, they can survive a 13-hour road trip inside a water bottle. (Twice.)

3. It's all fun and games until your professor falls out of his chair onto the floor in the middle of class, and you have to try really hard not to laugh.

4. Katie (my sister) is a really fun roommate. If I'm ever sad, she can ALWAYS make me laugh. We can talk about anything. And I can always count on her!

5. Sometimes you enter a contest to win Casting Crowns concert tickets and somehow know you're going to win. Then you win and go to the concert.

6. Grad school research proposals are surprisingly similar to science fair. If you went to high school with me or ever did science fair, you'll know what I'm talking about. Background research paper, question, hypothesis, experiment, results, etc.? Yeah, that's kind of like introduction, literature review, methods, results, conclusion. Just when I thought I was done with science fair, I, like, wasn't. Life is weird that way.

7. "Grown-ups" don't know what they're doing, either. Although older people can advise you because they've been where you've been, they're still experiencing stages of life for the first time, too. Everyone feels inadequate sometimes, and a lot of people really are just making it up as they go along. It's easier if you're a Christian, though, because you can search for God's purpose in your life rather than just feeling lost all the time.

8. A 25-minute commute is a great opportunity to pray or learn every single song on the radio.

9. It is pretty easy to read two to three hundred pages in a week. Reading the equivalent of a novel every seven days seemed crazy at first, but now those 20-page reading assignments I got in undergrad just seem ridiculous. I think I learned to read faster. I also think about 12.7% of my brain is comprised of information about scholarly communication articles now.

10. Post-grad can be really cool. Just because I'm done with college doesn't mean I have to be boring. I mean, my boss laughs at my stupid jokes. Road trips are still the bomb-diggity. Sometimes I stay up until 4 a.m. Sometimes I eat ice cream for dinner. And tax returns are awesome. That, too.

Bring it on, 20th year of school!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cyclical vs. Sustainable: How to Feel/Be More Accomplished

Have you ever noticed that you sometimes work all day and still feel like you didn't actually accomplish anything? Maybe you've tried making lists and checking things off. Maybe you've organized your day by splitting time into segments to work on various tasks. All of those strategies can work very well, but let me add another idea that you may not have considered. I think there are two kinds of work: cyclical and sustainable. At first glance, it will look like I've split it into "short-term" work and "long-term" work, but it's more basic than that. And these aren't two completely separate categories; it's a scale. Some tasks will fall in between the two categories.

1. Cyclical.

Cyclical tasks are ones that no matter how many times you complete them, you're going to have to do the same tasks—or other tasks very like them—again and again and again. They are often immediate, which means they must be done—and done often—to maintain your life.  For example, washing the dishes, taking a shower, driving to work, paying bills, making dinner, and brushing your teeth. In some ways, doing work activities like teaching or writing or scheduling appointments or making phone calls or anything else you have to do for your job can also be cyclical tasks—if you approach them the same way every time or don't learn from them.

Essentially, cyclical tasks help you stay afloat. They maintain your house, your health, your job, etc. They help you stay where you are. If you like where you are, it is probably okay to do a greater number of cyclical tasks. But remember: if you're not going forward, you're going backward.

Just because it is immediate does not mean it's what is most important. I'm not suggesting you stop brushing your teeth. I'm just saying you will probably never think back to that time you were brushing your teeth on November 6th, 2008, and think about all the plaque you prevented.

2. Sustainable.
A sustainable task is one that involves working toward something greater than what you have now. For example, learning to speak Spanish. Some of the activities you'd have to do to learn a language would seem cyclical, but the final product is sustainable. See the difference?

Sustainability can also mean doing it right the first time like your mother said. Building the shed won't be a cyclical activity if you build it well enough that the roof doesn't cave in when it snows. This category is pretty broad, and in a moment you'll see why I said some activities could fall between the two categories. Examples of sustainable tasks might be: building a fence, making a friend, learning a new skill, applying for a new job, writing a book, teaching a kid to be kind to others, giving a gift, etc.

(Notice how I included "writing a book?" I love that even though I have to get up and go to work every morning no matter what I did today, I can open my computer, and the chapter I wrote yesterday will still be there. Sustainability.)

What's my point? That sustainable activities are always better than cyclical activities? No. I'm saying that if you do mostly cyclical activities, you won't move forward. But if you do all sustainable activities, you'll probably sink. I'm suggesting a balance between the two. Also, if you recognize that cyclical activities strung together can often lead to something more sustainable, you're halfway there. Next time you feel like you didn't accomplish anything (or you're planning tomorrow's schedule), think about what you can do to include both cyclical and sustainable activities into your life.