Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Letter to the Incoming Freshmen Class at Christian Colleges

Dear Freshmen,

A few months ago you were filling out applications for college and comparing the list with your friends.  Last month you started anxiously checking the mailbox for college acceptance letters.  Your prayers may have started getting desperate: "Please, God, let me be accepted to at least ONE school!"  And then, as multiple acceptance letters came back, you realized that you had options!

All of a sudden the theoretical planning you had been doing for the last few years of high school came down to the big decision: which school are you going to choose?  

If you're reading this letter, I'm guessing that you've chosen to attend a Christian college.  Or as my alma mater put it: a Christ-Center learning community ("Because colleges can't be Christian").

I'm excited for you!!  The four years I spent at my university were some of the best of my life.  I have wonderful memories of friends, professors, dorm life, chapel and so much more.  My Christianity became more robust and profound because of friends, professors, and classes that asked me good questions and forced my worldview to stretch in necessary ways.  There is so much good that I could tell you, but I'm guessing you have heard many of those cheesy lines in the brochures and videos your prospective college sent you.  ;)

(A quick note: I've had many family members and friends attend secular universities who also loved their time in college, so I'm not saying that happy experiences are restricted to Christian colleges.  I'm simply writing from my experience.)

Now that I've been out of that the Christian college environment for a few years, I think I've gained some perspective.  I'd like to share a few tips to help you prepare for the upcoming school year.

It's Going To Cost
Christian colleges are expensive.  Many graduates (myself included) spend years paying off those bills.  If you want to reduce those costs, find out what job are available on campus.  That doesn't necessarily mean cleaning dishes in the cafeteria.  Students can join a cleaning crew, work in the library, tutor other students, run soundboards, and more.
It is an INTENSE Christian environment.
Think of Church summer camp on steroids.  It's not a bad thing, but it can feel a bit suffocating and myopic at times.

Go to Counseling.
I would say this no matter where you went to college, but it is especially true if you're attending a Christian college.  Most likely this is the last time in your life that counseling will be free so it is great to take advantage of it.  Don't feel like counseling is reserved for people with "major" issues either - most people have life issues to sort through in their early twenties.  I cannot recommend counseling enough!!  
Majors and Spirituality Don't Correlate.
People who major into Bible-related subjects are not more spiritual than the rest of us.  Some of them are doubters, some are rebels, some will eventually leave the faith, and some are truly sincere.  Knowing the Bible doesn't necessarily mean that you know Jesus.

Abide By the Rules...Most of the Time
Speaking as a former RA, please try to obey the rules, ESPECIALLY if student RAs are made to enforce them.  The RAs I knew dreaded confronting other students, but we signed a contract agreeing to do it.  Since you knew the rules before you agreed to go there, you were subjecting yourself to those rules. 
That being said, college is also about fun.  If you grew up in a strict environment and take things seriously and avoid getting into trouble, make sure you take time to have fun.  My husband's dorm made an indoor slip-n-slide down the hall (definitely against the rules).  I was late to curfew a few times (against the rules).  My husband was thrown in the lake after we got engaged (a college tradition, but still against the rules).  I drank alcohol during summer break (against the rules although I didn't know it at the time).  I made it through all four years without any demerits, but I wish I had been a little more relaxed about the rules and had more fun. 
So obey the rules.  But break a few.  But be smart about the ones you choose to break. 

You Will Be Stretched and Will (probably, hopefully) Change. 
And it's a good thing.  Admittedly having your beliefs challenged and then trying to figure out what you believe can be very uncomfortable.  It is easy to rely on the answers you've been given your whole life, but this is a time to study and question and learn.  

People Still Get Hurt.
Multiple Christian colleges are currently under investigation for mishandling sexual assault.
There are many Christian colleges currently under investigation because they dealt with rape incorrectly.  I beg of you: don't be naive!  Please don't assume that a student, faculty or staff member is safe because you are at a Christian college.
Christians Cheat and Lie and Steal.
Don't plagiarize.  Don't cheat.  Etcetera.  

Try Very Hard Not to Judge.
With so many rules, it's easy to use those rules as the markers for good and bad Christians.  Skirt an inch shorter than dress code?  Bad Christian.  Never skipped chapel?  Good Christian.  Beyond making judgement about someone based on their actions, sometimes we make them based on their theology, like this: Doesn't believe in a literal 7-day creation?  Bad Christian.
I hope that you'll come to a gracious and winsome place as a Christian.  Even if you hold tightly to your beliefs, I hope that you'll be kind to others, that you will actually listen to them and that you'll see Christ as our unifier.  
Once You Leave, All Bets Are Off.
One of my former cello teachers attended a university known for being one of the most conservative and most strict in the country.  While she loved her time there and was still very involved in the university, I remember her telling me that there was a very high divorce rate among the alumni.  She said: "They've never been given any freedom.  They went straight from a strict household to a strict college where they were told what to wear and when we go to bed.  They meet someone, graduate, and get married and suddenly realize they have freedom to do what they want."  In other words, don't confuse conformity with character.

The Chapel Stage is Not a Shortcut to Heaven.
Yeah, yeah, I know.  Everyone seems to be rushing to get up there to sing or play an instrument or pray.  The people on stage get noticed a lot.  If you do end up taking part in chapel, that's great!  But if not, it's okay.  You can be known for a lot of great things on campus without ever stepping foot on the chapel stage.

You Will Absolutely, Undoubtedly See UnChristlike Behavior.

You will meet many marvelous, godly, and sincere people.  They will encourage you and challenge you and make your college years wonderful.  But you will also witness unChristlike behavior from administration, from fellow students, from professors, and staff members.  I'm warning you so that you are prepared.  It is disheartening to watch, especially when you're at a college that you love so much.  But it is a good reminder that we are called to behave like Christ (not like other Christians) even when the circumstances are skewed.  

I hope that your first year at college is fantastic.  I hope that you learn and grow and have fun.  I hope that you make friends and make a few mistakes (and realize that you can get over those mistakes).  I hope you find a gracious, welcoming community for these next four years.


p.s. If you're looking for more general college advice, you can read the letter I wrote to my younger sister upon her graduation from high school.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gossip is a Spiritual Issue

"I am a gossip.
I have spoken words about others that have been unnecessary, unkind and sometimes even untrue. I have painted others with verbal caricatures that have been unforgiving and unflatteringly. More times than I would like to admit, I have needed to beg forgiveness from God and others for my speech."

Today I'm sharing over my story over at RELEVANT magazine.  Read the rest of the article here.    

My Writing Process (a blog tour!)

I'm excited to share about my writing process today! I was tagged in a blog tour and, as I reviewed the questions, I thought they would be good for me answer and also fun for readers to get a glimpse into my head as I plan and write posts.  

I was tagged by fellow Air Force wife, Jessica of Jessica Lynn Writes.  I have been reading Jessica's blog for several years now (since before either of us had children!).  When I started reading her blog, they were stationed in Italy, which is one of the places we would love to be stationed some day.  Jessica's blog is one of my favorites and I read every post she writes!

The ladies I am tagging in this tour are fellow members of the Redbud Writers Guild, which I joined a few months ago and have found to be the most gracious and helpful group.  Julie Holly blogs at Peacequility and this post describes exactly how I felt when I first joined the Redbuds, although she says it much better than I did.

Jamie Rohrbaugh is not only a writer, but also a pianist who recently released a CD and you can listen to samples here.  I love The Weight of Glory, which is number seven.

I am moved by the writing and honesty of Melody Harrison Hanson.  Here's a line from one of my favorite posts:  "I am learning about boundaries, mostly that I am terrible with them. I do for others until I resent the doing ending up with no time to write or think or pray or sit with the Holy One."  You really should read her whole post though.

And now (finally!) to the questions!

(This picture wasn't posed and wasn't even taken with this post in mind, but I wanted to mention that on the left is a book written by another Redbud, Leslie Leyland Fields.)

What am I working on as a writer?
Consistency and Balance!  I struggle putting ample time into my blog when I'm also doing freelance articles.  I work painstakingly on the articles getting it just right and I'm glad that I do - I usually end up being very pleased with them so it is worth the effort.  However, I don't have the same attitude with my blog.  I don't agonize if I can't get a sentence just right.  I am not sure how to treat my blog writing as seriously as my freelance writing without getting bogged down.  
Also, I am working on taking myself more seriously.  I still haven't had the courage to call myself a writer aloud (other than to my husband!).  And I feel torn between wanting more time to write and (on frustrating days when I'm tired) just wanting to put my feet up and veg out to Netflix when my son naps.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I am not quite sure how to answer this one, but here's my attempt: I differ because I write broadly.  I don't fit into just one category. One day I write about military life, and the next about Christianity.  Then it will be a book review, a recipe, or a post about feminism.  I don't consider myself a mommy blogger (although I am a mama) or a lifestyle blogger (because I don't really write about everyday life) or a religion blogger (because I write many posts that don't contain a religious aspect).
Why do I write what I do?
Often I write to inform or help someone else.  My most popular post is a guide for PCSing, and I'm glad that people have found it helpful.  I'm also considering writing more on my erythromelalgia, not because I'm terribly interested in sharing more about it, but because there isn't a lot of information available about this syndrome - most doctors haven't even heard of it!  My few blog posts on the topic have generated a lot of traffic, which means people are looking for help dealing with the pain.  If I can help someone, I want to do it.
Other times I write to understand and to figure myself out.  My thoughts develop as I go through the writing process just as they used to when I journaled.
And, finally, I write to declare.  To be brave.  I write because there are things that I want to say, but I don't know how to say them aloud.  I'm always afraid that when someone meets me after reading my blog, they'll be disappointed by the real me.  I'm not particularly eloquent in person.... 
How does my writing process look?
On my phone I keep a list of ideas for blog posts.  That way wherever I am I can hurry and write it down before I forget.  Right now I have about 15-20 ideas on the list, which seems to be pretty standard.
I try to use the weekends to plan the posts for the upcoming week.  In the picture above you can see my calendar hanging behind my computer.  That's where I keep track of blog posts, guest posts and proposals.  It gives me a good visual of how many times I've posted and what type of posts they have been. 
Usually I try to have at least two posts written on the weekend so they're ready to go.  The night before they go up, I review them quickly.  Then I spend Monday and Tuesday working on posts for the last few days of the week.  I should clarify that this is my *goal*.  It doesn't always happen this way and sometimes (like last week) I end up scrambling to post something at the last minute or publishing something I just wrote.  I prefer to have posts written ahead of time so that they can sit for a few days before I review them and post them.
When I'm writing an article, I start by outlining what I think it will look like and then start filling in.  It usually ends up very different from the original. :)  The writing itself is not usually too difficult, but the editing is painstaking.  I review it countless times.  I read it aloud to myself.  I make other people read it for me.  It is a long process that I actually adore.  All my finicking and fussing is rewarded when I am able to find the right word or get the paragraph just-so.  

Tell me about your writing process?  Do you have any tips for me?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Whole30 Meal Plan AND recipe

We're doing another Whole30! Our last attempt was derailed by a nasty stomach bug, but we are currently on Day 4 and going strong!  It helps, I think, that we're doing it with friends this time.  Per yesterday's post, we're doing this because we have found that we feel better when we eat better.   

Since it is the first time our friends have done Whole30, I made a meal plan to share with them.  I planned two weeks worth of meals which we will alternate (i.e. Weeks 1 and 3 of Whole30 we will eat the same meals).  Included are links to most the recipes I list!  You can access the meal plan here.

A few notes:

1. Please do your own research about Whole30 before starting.  My meal list might be a great resource for you, but it doesn't take the place of knowing what the "rules" are of Whole30.  Additionally, if a recipe calls for something like mustard, I'm assuming that you'll check the back of yours to make sure it is Whole30 approved.

2.  I have tried to do a different protein each day of the week so that you aren't eating chicken for every meal.

3.  On the last page of the meal list I've listed several alternate meals in case you didn't like one, couldn't find the right ingredients, or just needed a fresh idea.  I've also listed some ideas for snacks and add-ons to meals.

4.  I have listed things you can eat at a few chain restaurants, but (as always) you should check with your local restaurant before ordering it.

5.  You can access my Pinterest board of Whole30 foods if you need more inspiration!  Also, here is an old blog post where I listed some favorite meals from our first Whole30.   

Speaking of meal inspiration, last night we had one of our favorite Whole30 meals! We like it so much that we eat it often when we're not even doing Whole30!  I love that it is simple to prepare and I can easily run to the store to pick up salmon, a lemon, squash, and zucchini and have a delicious and healthy meal in a short amount of time.  :)

I have said it before and I will say it again: I am not a photographer, not a *food* photographer, and not good at writing recipes, but this meal is easy enough to prepare that you shouldn't need too many instructions.  If you do have questions, however, leave a comment and I'll try to get you a clear answer!

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Place fresh salmon on a large sheet of aluminum foil (skin side down).  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add lemon slices on top.  Fold aluminum around salmon.  Bake for 20-35 minutes (depending on how thick your piece is).  Salmon should be light pink and flaky when it comes out.  Open packet and remove lemons.

Wash squash and zucchini and remove the ends.  Cut into 1/2 inch slices, then cut each slice into four pieces.  Toss in bowl with olive oil, a very generous tablespoon of garlic (or more if you're like me!), salt, and pepper.  Place in baking pan and cook for 20 minutes (turning the pieces a few times during the cooking time).

I usually prepare the salmon first and stick it in the oven to start cooking.  Then I quickly prepare the squash and zucchini and put them in the oven as well.  20ish minutes later, both are done cooking at the same time and the meal is ready to eat!

Let me know what you think if you try this!  And if you have any favorite paleo/Whole30 meals, I'd love to hear about them!

P.S. The blog is likely to be a bit quiet this week as we're sick and I'm working on another project! :)

Monday, April 14, 2014

When Numbers Define Us.

(photo source Chrisoph on Flickr via Creative Commons license)

Last year I had a startling revelation.  In the course of one week, I had casual conversations with seven different women and noticed that every single one of them mentioned wanting to lose weight.

It made me a bit sick.

This wasn't a unique week and those women weren't unique either.  These are the same words I have heard my entire life from all different women.  And they are the same words I have said many times.  I had simply started paying attention.

This is the narrative we know as women, isn't it?  If we follow the social script, we should always be talking about how we are trying to lose weight.

But I am tired of this narrative and I'm throwing away that script.

I am disgusted because we are doing this to ourselves and we are doing it to our children.  Our daughters are learning the patterns that they will repeat: to despise their bodies and focus on their numbers instead of their strengths.  Our sons are learning that women's bodies should always be smaller.  Smaller, smaller, and smaller.  They are learning that women should take up as little space as possible.  This is dangerous for all of us.

When we live focused on losing weight, we have already lost.

I want to make better lifestyle choices because of what I gain, not because of what I want to lose.

I want to make better food choices because it makes me feel better.  Because my body function best when it has the proper fuel.  And I want to exercise so that I will be stronger and more agile.

Instead of trying to shrink the number on the scale, I can focus on gaining energy and strength and a clear mind.

Is it just the number on the scale, though?  Or do I let other numbers define me?

Last week I watched several popular bloggers engage in a Twitter conversation.  They were discussing ways to get more followers and being more effective bloggers.

I was shocked.  Truly.

In my mind, these ladies had all "arrived."  They have written books and spoken at conferences.  They have had large companies as sponsors.  They have thousands of followers.  Their platforms are the type that no-name bloggers that me can only dream of.  And yet...they were all still looking for more readers and ways to be better bloggers.

I don't blame them for wanting more readers.  This is the truth of social media: It is all about the numbers.

As much as writers hate it, our platform matters.  It is all a game of how many followers and likes and page views and retweets we can get.

But when numbers are king, no one wins.

There is never a correct number.  Never, ever, ever.  You will always want more (or less).  You will always be focused on the next number.

I, too, fall into this trap and play this game.  But I know this to be supremely true: Humans cannot be quantified.

My worth has no correlation to the number on the scale or the number inside my waistband.  My value is not measured by the number of comments and page views I receive.

And so, my friends and my sisters, can we please stop with this game of numbers?  Can we rewrite the social scripts for our children?  Can we live in the freedom that numbers don't matter in life?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Day I Was Published. (And Why I Need to Get Thicker Skin)

Two weeks ago I had my very first article get published at RELEVANT.  It is such a tiny step in a lot of ways - there are so many wonderful writers in the world who get published all the time.  But this first time was special to me.  It was special, but it was also a bit crazy and scary.

It was a very normal day.  I did laundry.  I ran to Target.  I got a migraine.  I picked up the toddler's food off the floor.  I skipped writing to huddle in bed watching Sherlock and tried to get rid of the shakes that accompanied the migraine.

But at the same time I was watching the article and seeing as people read it and responded.  It absolutely astounded me to see my words valued and see that my story resonated with people.

Most amazing to me was the fact that men (PASTORS, even) shared my article.  I know it is silly since I'm both a feminist and an egalitarian, but it is still a surprise to me when Christian men think I have valuable thoughts and bring something to the table.  That's sad, right?  I so deeply want my (imaginary) daughter to grow up feeling valued and important in Church and to know that her words matter.

When the article went live, I knew, of course, that I would get negative comments.  What I didn't know is how much they would sting.  I didn't know that sharing my story gave people permission to comment on my marriage and my life and make assumptions based on what they read.  But that's what they did.

A few days after it was published, one of the negative comments was still bothering me.  Every time I thought about that comment, it was as if those words were being etched into my heart.  I cried in the car, feeling vastly misunderstood and mostly worrying about the negative words affecting my family.  My husband had read and approved the article before I submitted it because I knew that this story wasn't just about me.  But had I made the right choice in sharing our story?  

As I drove, I kept listening to Aubrey Assad's song "I Shall Not Want" and the line where she asks to be delivered "from the need to be understood."  It resonated with me that day as I just wished I could sit down with those negative commenters and tell them all the bits of the story that didn't fit in the article.  I was sure they would understand then.  I needed them to understand.

The image of the negative words being etched into my heart wouldn't leave my mind.  But then, in an uncharacteristic Charismatic moment, I felt God tell me something.  I was suddenly sure that those words weren't allowed to remain on my heart and burn their way into my life.   My identity is found in Christ and he has already told me what he thinks of me.

I know that the more I wrote, the more negative comments I will receive.  And I also know that I need to let them go.  Writing has connected me to God and has been a way for me to "work through my salvation with fear and with trembling."  Writing has connected me to people, both other writers and people who have resonated with my story.  And, truthfully, I've always been a writer in some form or another.  In the past it has just been in the form of journals.  I am healthy and happy when I write.  And that is the reason I continue to write.

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