Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Always there, or just another post about anxiety


     This weekend, I had a bit of a breakdown. I almost cried, if that tells you anything (it should). Okay, so one or two tears may have actually fallen from my eyes. What can I say? I was stressed out. The end of the semester is upon us, and I was neither mentally nor homeworkly (new word) prepared. Naturally, I left God out of it. I got totally caught up in my dread of late-nights to come, and I forgot that my Father is the Creator of the universe, and that to him, a paper, a couple exams, and a few projects "ain't no thang" (as the cool kids would say).
     The cool part, though–the part that made this whole story blog-worthy–is the fact that even though I was all caught up in my own little stress bubble, even though I was actively ignoring the fact that saying a prayer and entrusting my situation to God would probably help me relieve some anxiety, God still took care of things. By the next day, I felt refreshed and ready to take on the world! Or at least the large amount of homework that stands between me and the end of this semester. 
     So I guess the point of this uncharacteristically short post is that even when we feel like hope is lost, when we think there's no way out and we won't possibly survive (these may or may not be some of the thoughts I had in relation to my end-of--semester workload), God is still working. Even when we don't want to trust him. Even when we are afraid to let our guard down. God makes the seemingly impossible, possible. I mean, really, if Joshua was able to bring down the wall of Jericho with excessive walking and some horns, imagine what God can do for my measly (in His eyes, not mine) pile of homework if I let him!

How's the end of the semester going for you? Are you as stressed out as me, or are you keeping your cool? Leave a comment!  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Morning Music: "Holy, Holy, Holy"

     Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is officially time to start listening to Christmas music. I admit, I started a little early this year, but now that the turkey has successfully been devoured, I can blast my merry tunes without shame. From now until Christmas, you can pretty much count on the song of the week being a Christmas song. But don't worry, I'll ease you into it. 
     "Holy, Holy, Holy" isn't even really a Christmas song, but since it's on Sufjan Stevens' Christmas album, and it has a definite Christmas-y thing going on in the piano, I thought it would be a good one to start us off with. Plus, it's just an awesome arrangement of one of my favorite hymns. Enjoy! 


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cheesy Thanksgiving


As much as I hate to be clichĂ©, I quite honestly didn't have any better ideas for a blog post today than to write something cheesy about thankfulness. 

Don't worry, I'll keep it short.

The fact of the matter is that most of the time, I'm not very thankful. I find myself surrounded by this crazy, materialistic culture that tells me I don't have enough stuff, that my life isn't cool or exciting enough, and all that jazz. But the second fact of the matter is that I have way more than a ton of people on this planet. So here are just a few of the things I am thankful for:
  1. That God is in control. He has really made a lot of things fall into place this semester, and I would not be able to get through the last couple weeks after Thanksgiving without trusting in Him to work everything out.
  2. My family. The #1 cheesy thing to be thankful for! But seriously, my family is pretty entertaining, and I can always count on some good laughs when they're around. 
  3. My friends. As Kim Possible would say, my friends are "so not the drama," and I appreciate that immensely when I hear about other people's crazy lives.
  4. My computer. I tend to forget that not everyone has their own computer that they have access to 24/7. Last week, I didn't have a functioning computer cord and I had to share with my sister and try very hard to conserve battery life (a.k.a. not use my computer as much as I normally would). It was definitely a good reminder that having a computer is a privilege, not a right.
  5. My room. Nothing beats having a space to call your own. 
  6. My phone. It's no iPhone, but it lets me communicate with people, so I really can't complain (even though I often do). 

I could, of course, elaborate on these things and add other things and create a much longer list, but these are the main things I have been feeling grateful for lately. 

How about you? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Don't be shy! I put my computer on my list, so I really don't think there is anything to be ashamed of at this point. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Saturday Morning Music: "Sister Cities"

     I have seen Doug Mains & the City Folk perform countless times, and I can honestly say that it never gets old. Doug and the band always put on a great show. Since I just had the pleasure of hearing them live once again this Thursday, and they just finished a Kick Starter campaign to raise enough money to record a live 5-song EP at GBS Detroit AND release a full-length album (!!!), I thought there couldn't possibly be a better time to feature one of their songs as a SMM selection. Here's "Sister Cities," which is a nice up-beat tune to get you going on this less-than-up-beat Saturday morning.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Priorities


     Before the semester started, I created a list of all the things I wanted to make sure I got to do on a daily or weekly basis. This included everything from playing the guitar to reading to seeing my friends (yes, I have to schedule in time to see my friends). I used this list to help create my "ideal week," an idea I read about here. As I mentioned before, this was something I decided to try in order to break my procrastination habit.  And it worked for a while. I stuck to my schedule pretty well, and I had time to do the things I wanted in addition to the all things that aren't optional (a.k.a. homework). However, as the semester went on and the assignments continued to pile up, I started to get behind. I began to use this schedule–created to help me avoid procrastinating–as an excuse to procrastinate. I would tell myself "this is blogging time, I'll work on that assignment later," or, "Sunday is my day of rest, so that has to wait until Monday." However, these things couldn't always wait. Some projects simply required more time in order to be finished. My designated "homework time" wasn't enough (especially when I used half of it surfing the web, but that's another problem entirely), but I wasn't willing to sacrifice my "ideal" schedule in order to account for these new developments.
     Where I went wrong was in my priorities. I had this idealized schedule created, and yet I didn't have a list of my priorities (mental or written) to accompany it. I needed something to reference when there just weren't enough hours in the day, so I could say "I don't have enough time for all of this, so which thing is most important?" I was so focused on sticking to the schedule exactly (#typeAproblems), that I wasn't willing to deviate, even when I knew it was necessary.
     By the middle of last week, I could see the shit (pardon my French), poised and ready to hit the proverbial fan. I knew I was in for trouble (a.k.a. an all-nighter) if I didn't initiate a disaster plan immediately. I had a paper, and a project, a Saturday class, and oh-so-much more. I still made some unwise decisions over the weekend. I chose socializing over working on homework. But by Sunday, I was in full-on disaster-management mode. I created a plan for the next 4 days (my paper was due Tuesday, the project was due Wednesday). I told myself what I absolutely had to have done before I could go to sleep each night. I mentally prepared myself for getting less sleep than I would like. I decided I was not going to write a blog post for Tuesday, because I needed that extra time to get work done. And then I took action. I met all my self-set deadlines, and I finished everything on time (and still got at least 5 hours of sleep each night!). However, as relieved as I felt on Wednesday morning after turning in my project, I knew that sprint mode was going to have to last for the rest of the semester. And I also knew that if I didn't create a list of priorities for my life, I was just going to run into the same problem again in the future. 
     So I started to think about what my priorities should be, and what they currently are. And I created a list, because I love lists (another Type A thing). Things are always subject to change, but this is was what I came up with so far:
  1.  My relationship with God. This one seems kind of obvious, but it's important to put on the list as a reminder that if this isn't working, nothing else will.
  2. School. There are definitely people who struggle with idolizing school, who are GPA-obsessed perfectionists, but I think it's possible to prioritize school without turning into a 4.0 seeking monster. I put school as my second priority because I believe I need to honor the (financial and time) investment that I (and even more, my parents) have put in to my education. I don't want it to rule my life, but I too often tend to push school to the side for other things, and I often accept a quality of work from myself that I know is not my best. I need to start doing a better job of honoring God in how I approach my school work, and that starts with making it a top priority.
  3. Relationships. This is a hard one for me. I tend to be more of a lone-wolf type in that I don't need social interaction to feel energized or fulfilled in some way. But I have been realizing lately that even if I'm okay with only seeing or talking to my friends on rare occasions, those friends might not feel the same way. Though going for days, or even weeks, without talking to one of my good friends might not seem like a problem to me (we're both busy, we don't have time, right?), the other person might not feel the same way. If you look at how I've lived my life thus-far, I would say relationships would probably come in at the bottom of my list, but I want to be better at showing Christ's love through how I handle my relationships with my friends, and that is why this is number three on my list. 
  4. Community. This is a bit like relationships, but applies specifically to my Christian brothers and sisters. Whether it's leading Life Group or just attending events and hanging out with people, building and supporting my church community is something I want to continue prioritizing. 
  5. Work. As a part-time student employee, work is basically showing up for a few hours, doing some work, then leaving. There's not much outside thought or action required. Yet, this still needs to be something I consider in my priorities. I need to make money, and I shouldn't be taking off work unless one of my higher priorities is conflicting with it and there's no other way to resolve the issue.
  6. Blog. As I mentioned above, I got into the habit of putting my blog before some of the higher priorities on this list (especially school). I felt really strongly about sticking to my commitment to write twice a week. However, now that I am reevaluating my priorities, I am realizing/deciding that my blog needs to be lower on the list. I fully plan to stick to my Tuesday/Thursday (and Saturday) commitment, but if one of the first five priorities is conflicting with my blogging time, I have to be willing to sacrifice the blog (like I did this Tuesday). I hate skipping things, but time-turners aren't real, so that's just the way it has to be. 
  7. Other hobbies. I hate having to put this at the bottom, but the fact of the matter is that it has to come last. Whether it's playing the guitar, or reading books, or doing random craft projects, I need to get everything else done first. I haven't touched the guitar in a couple weeks, and it's kind of depressing, but I know that as soon as the semester is over, I will have three weeks of free time to do all the things I have been sacrificing for the past month. The fact that this is at the bottom really just provides more motivation to get everything else out of the way so that I can curl up with a good book! 
     So, that's my short list. I'm sure I could add all kinds of sub-categories and exceptions and create some sort of complicated decision-making flow-chart if you gave me enough time. But that would probably fall under "other hobbies," which means I need to focus on the first six things first. 

What are your priorities? Have you ever thought about it? Do you want to think about it? I'd love to hear from you in the comments! 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday Morning Music: "Autumn Tree"

     Last week when I saw The Civil Wars, I also had the pleasure of hearing the opening act, Milo Greene, for the first time. As Joy Williams described them, they are a "musical Chinese fire drill," running around the stage, trading spots and instruments as if it were totally natural to be playing tambourine one minute and bass the next. They're sound is a melting pot, from the clicking, rhythmically driven "1957" to (one of my favorites  from their set) "Autumn Tree," a guitar-driven ballad with beautiful harmonies. I believe we'll be hearing a lot more from these guys in the near future!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Winter: a rant.


     I was originally going to write a longer, more serious post for today, but it wasn't working out.  So, in light of the first snow that is falling in the area right now, I decided to write a shorter, grumpier post about the weather. I hope that's okay.
     As I have mentioned before I love dark, gloomy, rainy weather. Spring/Summer/Fall gloom is ominous and dramatic. It contrasts with the foliage and the grass and is just plain awesome. Winter gloom, on the other hand, is monochromatic and dull. Grey everywhere. No contrast. Just grey. And don't even get me started on the cold. If it could be 50 degrees with a light dusting of fluffy white stuff on the ground, I would take it. But that is not possible. So I hate strongly dislike winter. 
     Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and all that. I appreciate the beauty of slowly falling snowflakes. I could write a whole post (and probably will, come December) about the magic of the holiday season. But the problem is, winter extends beyond the first of January. Here in Michigan, it lasts for at least 3.5 months into the new year. And that's just way more frigid days than I can handle. 
     I didn't used to feel so strongly about winter. Then again, I didn't feel so strongly about a lot of things when I was a child (unless my sister was using the wrong color of imaginary paint, but that's a story for another time). Anyway, back to my feelings on winter. I have a theory as to why I developed such a loathing for the season, and I will explain it to you now: When I was younger, I would (with the exception of occasionally playing in the snow) mostly stay inside during the "cold season." I just had to be outside long enough to get from the car to a building and back again, and then I would be in a warm, enclosed space, safe from the bitter chill. However, now that I'm in college, things are a bit different. Especially these past two years, on a campus the size of Michigan State's, I have gotten to know winter up-close and personal. Fifteen to twenty minute walks across campus in temperatures in the teens? Yep. Nearly slipping and breaking a bone on a patch of ice on the poorly kept sidewalks (or, perhaps worst of all, the Union stairs)? Been there, done that. Actually slipping and falling (and not breaking anything, except my favorite pair of khaki pants)? I'm upset about it to this day. And don't even get my started on static and slush! 
     So no, I don't enjoy winter. And yes, even though I've lived here for 21 years (and even spent a winter at a school in the snow belt of Ohio), and I am aware that it snows in November, I am still going to get at least a little upset when I see the white stuff falling from the sky once again. I hope we can still be friends. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Choosing peace


     Yesterday I submitted my application for a job that I really want to get. It's a payed interior design internship right here on campus, open only to juniors in the ID program. It's an awesome opportunity, and if I got it, I would have a guaranteed position until I graduate. So, obviously, I'm more than a little anxious about the whole thing. At worst, my chances are 1 in 19, but I know not every person in my class will apply, so in actuality, my odds are much better. I could spend a whole day analyzing every possibly scenario, listing which of my classmates are my steepest competition and which ones I (arrogantly believe that I) don't need to worry about. But that would get me nowhere. It wouldn't help me get the job, it wouldn't speed up the week (which I really wish it would since they already got back to me and scheduled an interview for this Friday). The only thing that will come of over analyzing the situation is increased anxiety about it.
     So, rather than working myself into a nervous wreck, I am making a conscious decision to be at peace about the whole thing. I am choosing to entrust it to God, and let him bring the outcome that will be best–because he knows much better than I do, anyway. It's hard. It is really hard not to worry. It involves a lot of repeating to myself "God will take care of this, he knows best" every time I slip into super-analyzer mode. But, miraculously enough, it's kind of working. I'm feeling more at ease. I'm not sitting around thinking that whether or not I get this job will make or break my career. I know that if this opportunity isn't the right one, God will bring another one that will be even better. 
     The most important thing to take away from this whole experience (for me and for you, even though you're probably a genius and already know all of this) is that worrying–or not–is a choice. I often find myself believing that I just need to pray and ask God to "help me not to worry" and violá! my fears and anxieties will be gone! But it doesn't really work like that. God is not a wizard casting magic spells. Don't get me wrong, prayer is a powerful tool, and it can definitely be helpful in calming our nerves, but I don't think what's happening when we pray is some sort of magical transformation. I think that it's the connection with God when we pray that comforts us. That's why it is so important to "never stop praying," as it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT). Our relationship with God works just like any other relationship: more communication means more trust, and more trust means that we don't feel quite so alone in this big, crazy world, and we don't feel like we have quite as much to worry about. 
     My challenge to you: try it. Pray and ask God for peace. And then choose not to worry. Sometimes we ask God for things, but we aren't really willing to accept them when he actually delivers. We say "God, help me to trust you in this," but in reality, we aren't ready to let go and trust him. It's a bit of a paradox, really: we can do absolutely nothing without God, and yet we also have to open our hearts and unclench our fists and let him take the reigns. And sometimes, it seems, the only way to do this is to repetitively remind yourself "God's got this" as you walk across campus in a nervous bundle of energy. Or maybe that's just me. 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday Morning Music: "From This Valley"

     If you follow me on Twitter or haven't hidden me from your Facebook news feed, then you are probably aware that I saw The Civil Wars this week in Ann Arbor. I can't even describe to you how wonderful they were, so I will just say that Joy and John Paul are pure talent. I had never heard "From this Valley" before Wednesday night, but naturally, I loved it as much as every other song this dynamic duo has written. It's a perfect up-beat, folky song to get you up and at 'em on a Saturday morning! Enjoy:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TV OCD


     The more I encounter other people, the more I realize how laid back I have become compared to how up-tight I was for the first 19 years of my life. However, despite my generally relaxed demeanor, there are still certain areas of my life where I am borderline obsessive compulsive. A good example of this (there are several) is TV shows. Once I start watching a show, I have to see every episode. There's no such thing as casually catching an episode here and there. It's all or nothing. As you can imagine, this becomes a problem when I start to find new shows that I want to follow. As my list grows, I'm adding time each week that I must spend watching these shows (because it's definitely not optional). Yes, I have a problem.
     This year, though, I did something crazy. I decided to stop watching a show. I watched the first two seasons of Glee in their entirety. But this year they stopped putting new episodes up on Hulu the day after they aired, and having already been on the fence with the musical comedy, I was forced to reevaluate. Sure, I could just wait five days or whatever it is for them to put the episodes up. Sure, I could probably find some other shady website to watch the show on. But since I was already on the edge, the Hulu thing was the straw that broke the camels back. I removed Glee from my list of shows that I follow (I really do keep a running list–another one of those Type-A things). I stopped watching. And guess what? The world is still turning! And frankly, no one is talking about Glee anymore anyway, so I'm not even missing out on some important discussion on Twitter or "the Facebook" (which, let's face it, wouldn't really have been that important anyway). 
     All this to say, I am now seeing just how overly devoted I am to these silly TV shows, and realizing that maybe I should address this issue in my life. Even without Glee, there are still plenty of other shows I still follow in a rather compulsive manner. I won't share the list because I don't want to incriminate myself, but let's just say there is about 6 hours worth of TV viewing that I keep up with every week. It sounds really bad when I type that out. But as I said before, I have a problem. Hopefully in the future I will be able to give the boot to some of the other shows that I'm really not that into–baby steps, guys, baby steps. Or, if I'm really lucky, the shows will reach their natural end and I won't have to go through the pain of a break-up. Fingers crossed! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

B-I-B-L-E


     In high school, I received a One Year Bible at HS Leadership Training, and, being on a spiritual high after the conference, I told myself I was going to read the Bible in a year! Guess what? I failed. I don't think I even made it one month. At that time in my life, even just a couple pages of scripture a day were more than I had the attention span for. Not to mention I couldn't process most of it. I didn't understand the relevance. I knew that Christians were supposed to read their Bibles on a regular basis, but I'm not sure I understood why. All I knew was that I would rather be reading Harry Potter. 
     After a couple more failed attempts, I pretty much gave up on trying to read any significant part of God's word. I might look up the occasional verse, but my Bible mostly collected dust for the rest of high school. As I have mentioned before, I wasn't all that interested in church or spiritual things, and my feelings toward scripture weren't any different. 
     My faith began to grow during my freshman and sophomore years of college, but I still wasn't all that interested or motivated to pick up my Bible. I tried another reading plan (my church's Text Project), but again found myself more interested in other things (a.k.a. surfing the web) than taking even 5 or 10 minutes to read a chapter of the New Testament. As soon as I started to get behind, I gave up yet again.
     At this point, I had a maybe I don't have what it takes mentality. What I didn't realize was that I was taking God out of the equation. I was thinking it was up to me to somehow become a super-devoted, super-spiritual person (because people who read their Bible every day are obviously excessively spiritual). I thought that it was my job to figure out how to force myself to read the Bible every day. I was right where the enemy wanted me: thinking that I was alone, weak, and incapable of changing. I was caught in a lie.
     So at the start of 2011, I decide I was going to try the Text Project again. I admit, I did not come to this decision because I realized I was believing a lie (I figured that out later–hind sight is 20/20, you know). In fact, I would say my biggest reason for "having another whack at it," as the Brits say, was the fact that I was going to be leading a Life Group and I felt like I should probably be a little more familiar with the stuff I would be discussing with the girls in my group. There was definitely a subtle-but-present "I want to know God's Word" thing going on, but the biggest motivator was undoubtedly my self-centered need to feel like a qualified leader.  
     Fast forward ten months, and I am proud to say that I have not missed a single reading, and when January 1, 2012 rolls around, I will have read the entire New Testament for the first time in my life. Sure, it's not the whole Bible or anything, but I could not be more excited about this accomplishment. I'm not sure I have ever committed to doing something for an entire year, and it feels so good to know that I stuck to it. Even more exciting is the love for the Word that I developed as a result of this process. What started as "I should probably do this" turned into "I want to do this," and "how could I not?" 
     Now, I know there are some of you out there who had, are having, or will have, the same problems I had when it comes to reading the Bible. Here are a few things I figured out that (again, in hindsight) really made it possible for me to accomplish this goal:
  1. Know what you can handle. The One Year Bible readings were too much for me. Not only was I overwhelmed by the time it took to finish each reading, I wasn't able to really absorb what I was reading because I was so focused on just getting through it. I found that doing one chapter a day worked well for me, but everyone is different. Maybe you need to start with just one verse a day. Start small and build up to more if you feel you can, but remember: if you try to do more than you can handle, you will just get frustrated and quit, as I did many a time.
  2. Be patient.  (Kind of a sub-point to #1). Slow and steady wins the race. Don't get overly excited and decide you want to tackle the entire book of Revelation in a couple days! Example: now that I've gotten into a groove with my reading schedule, I have found myself thinking "maybe I can finish the Old Testament in a couple months!" The thought of having to wait another whole year to be able to say I've read the whole Bible really doesn't appeal to the competitive, go-getter part of myself. But I also know that if I'm really going to allow it to sink in, I need to take it slow and not bite off more than I can chew–so I've settled on a one-year plan to finish the Old Testament. 
  3. Find the right time.  Finding the right time of day to read is key. And don't be afraid to  change it depending on your schedule or the time of the year. During spring semester, I usually read during my lunch break between classes, but once summer started, I found it was easier to read at night before bed. This semester, reading in the morning has worked best. Don't be afraid to experiment with different times, but I highly recommend choosing a regular time once you figure out what works. If it's as much a part of your routine as brushing your teeth (maybe you should read the Bible while brushing your teeth?), it's much easier to remember to do, especially if you aren't already in the habit.  
     Those are my totally non-professional thoughts/tips on spending time in the Word. If you have any input on the matter, leave a comment below!