Happiness is the Best Revenge

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus, L’étranger

This, from one of the darkest existential novels I read in Dr. Kinnan’s AP Lit class way back in high school. It’s true though.


(image via tvrecappersanonymous.wordpress.com)

What is the trouble with getting wrapped up in grudges and bitterness? It makes you a prisoner to your own captive heart. All you think about is how the other person treated you or failed you. Soon enough, your life becomes a memoir to broken relationships and a testament to all things dreadful. 

Is life unfair sometimes? Sure. Do we have days where we want it to thunder and rain acid on all our enemies? I suppose. Is it okay? No, not really. 

This last spring, I told you about #100daysofhappy. While I didn’t get a physical reward from the challenge, after 100 or so days, I noticed how my outlook on life started changing. It wasn’t always doom and gloom anymore. I began documenting things I learned in small group, little DIY projects, or walks on the quad. It was enjoying the small, peaceful moments in between the spastic craziness and perpetual loneliness that was my last semester in college. One little snap of my phone a day, I grew more and more optimistic. The funny thing is, all it took was one little, positive thought to change an entire day. How crazy is that? 


(image via famzee.com)

I remember my good friend in high school, Hannah, told me how much pessimistic people irritated her. We agreed that it takes a lot of courage to banish negativity to embrace a more joyful outlook on the day. Sometimes, it’s not about conquering but just surviving the moments.

All of us have love and lost, won and failed, tried and given up…but if we just got up one more time than we got knocked down, we will still be standing. 

I’ve never been in a successful relationship. Many of the ones I have been in, I was cheated on or the terms were so unclear that the whole thing just unraveled. I’ve said horrible things to my loved ones and done even worst things. I’m guilty of gossiping, resentment and lying, just to name a few. But you know what? Today, that can all change. I’m not the person I used to be. Each day, with new mercies every morning, I’m learning to be a little more selfless and a little less self-pitying, a little more helpful and a little less fed up. Day by day, thought by thought, action by action, we can pray to become more like Christ. Before you know it, you’re no longer victim to your own guilt or anger. That, my friend, is freedom.

 
(image via craftbakesewcreate.blogspot.com)

“Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV

You see, it’s not really about making ourselves happy. It’s letting joy overflow when our hearts are too full to hold it in. It’s something to be shared, to give out and to live out.

(image via doctorwho.tumblr.com)

Let out your inner happy.

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~S.

 

It’s Not Over

Jessica Keener Photography

 

From this picture, you’d think I was always happy-go-lucky and confident. Not so, friend. Not so.

Today, I decided to be brave and share about my story within God’s story. It’s been a long and winding journey, but I’m happy to say that I’m here before you today, trusting in the Lord.

I’m not sure why I’ve been reflecting so much recently, but I think it’s perhaps because of some of my more recent mistakes and encounters. However, instead of reacting, I grew numb. It was quite alarming. That, coupled with a strange, empty desperation made me remember how good God is in my life.

Forgive the post-work messy hair and second take puffy/teary eyes. Please just take a moment and let me explain…

If I had given up at 13, I would never have:

  1. learned what love is not.
  2. learned who love is.
  3. studied abroad in Hong Kong.
  4. gone to Hungary and work with amazing refugees
  5. gotten a Fulbright scholarship.
  6. heard Spoken Word.
  7. fell in love with lindy hop and dance culture.
  8. written for Buzz and Hyphen
  9. become Yelp Elite.
  10. lived and let live.

“Never, never, never give up.” That’s what one of my favorite pastors on campus said to me at a moment when I needed to hear it the most.

If you’re feeling down and need help, please don’t hesitate to ask someone or seek resources.

When I felt out of sorts, I consulted:

“You are not the answer. You are not the problem.”

Never, never, never ever quit. Even with your car alarm, smoke alarm heart, your too quick wit and your endless mistakes. You are not a mistake. You are created.

You are the type to last and to love and to create.

You are art formed by the Divine Creator.

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“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~Isaiah 41:10

Love, love and more love,

S.


(image via oneofthehoraios.tumblr.com)

Turn It Around

Whenever I tend to feel down about my situation or the way I’ve acted (more like reacted to things), I like to imagine being airborne. Not in the “I have wings!” type of way, but in takeoffs and landings. You know, after you’ve been taxi-ing forever on the runway and as you lift up into the air…everything looks and feels so small. Watching paper towns and lego houses disappear into cumulus towers. All of it– the rejection, the pain, the disappointment. Broken promises and gossip mongered. A speck of dust on your window. So insignificant yet vaguely familiar. When you finally come back to earth, quite literally, you feel like it’s alright to step away for awhile. You left the earth and the world did not end. You went away and came back. No one, usually, is worst for wear.

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Maybe all we ever need is a little space to call our own in the universe. Perhaps best not to find home in others. Perhaps to call home somewhere else.

That Girl.

Happy 4th! If you’re State side, I hope you’re enjoying family time resounding in happy explosions of light and color. I’ve mostly been enjoying the sounds and smells, after watching copious amounts of the awesome that is Ip Man in The Grandmaster. Fireworks are a bit unnerving in my book.

Wong Kar Wai’s movies often cycle around the destructiveness of desire and the dark underbelly of lust. Through the lush veil of his cinematography, you can see to the rotting core of debilitating human vice. I know how destructive self can be. One thing I know, I never want to be that girl. The one that’s hidden and selfishly consumed, that girl. The one that lets superficial desire consume her and caters to someone else’s whims. Whether psychologically, physically, spiritually…I refuse to be bullied into something I don’t know or experience for myself. It’s too easy to get pushed aside or run over. What I had to remember, what I still must remind myself, is that I have a voice, and I have a God-given life.

A few years ago, I was hurt in a way I don’t wish on my worst enemy. You might call it abuse or assault. During the time, I wasn’t doing too well either, seeking out comfort through meaningless relationships. I lost friends and, nearly, my sanity. Regardless, it has taken me a while to cope through, and even today I’m unsure of my complete well-being.

What I know is this.

Sometimes, you have to take back what you thought you lost in the fire. When all someone wants to leave you is hate, bitterness and sorrow, you fight back with all the strength you have. Hold onto hope. Hold onto people you love and who love you. Let go of the ones who don’t and the regrets that surround them. Persevere with the knowledge that a perfect God gave Himself that you might live. It’s never, never too late to start living the life you wish you had. 

I struggle with the same terrible habits, the temptation to believe that I’m worthless, the struggle to remember I’m more than just what others think of me.  

It’s a lie, but a convincing one sometimes.

What is truly important, what I must remind myself is that God is the Lord of the storm. He saves me from my worst enemies and myself, sometimes one and the same. He is my calm, my sanity, my all in all.

Though I am faith less, He is faithful. 

So. If you’re feeling like that girl, the one that others seem to just want to throw away or who is treated like trash. The one who feels like trash….

Remember who God is. Who He created and intended you to be. That girl. The one with second, third and infinite chances. That girl. The one He loves and prays for and blesses. That girl. The one He gave His son for. 

That girl. The one who, even when fallen, He welcomes back with open arms.

I have always been the prodigal daughter. 

What you learn from wandering away and from losing your will is that you can always return home. What is beautiful about God is that He is always waiting with mercy. No matter what I have done, the shame I carry, the people I’ve hurt…it is His love that washes me clean again.

The truth is, I’m scared of being that girl no one will ever love. That has led me to so much pain and anguish, so many attempts to compensate for that which isn’t there. What I never realize, until it’s much too late, is that the love I long for is always right there. Right where the Cross met His hands. When the stone rolled away and the tomb was empty. When He promised and delivered.

He is that God. And this girl, this girl is going to remember that.

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea,“Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them,“Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” -Mark 4:39-40 ESV

How to Conquer Life, Pre-Fulbright

I was going to write about how not to pack, but this title was far too tempting to pass up.

Ahem.

1. Do ridiculous pilates exercises in the living room until your father shuffles out in embarrassment for you. You’re doing it right.

Face it, I’m fabulous. (image via NPR)

2. Gourge youself on all things chocolate, fattening, fried, carbonated and caffeinated. Life is too short for diets and low cholesterol. Chocolate for breakfast. With bacon.

1836857_10203605592676304_1548004245485584465_oThis is my hangry face.

3. Pay an inordinate amount of money for dance classes. Realize you do not have the time or motivation for said dance classes. Try anyways. Realize you are a talentless blob with stilts for legs. Rejoice that you are, incrementally, getting better anyways. Hey, at least you’re working off the chocolate.

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Maybe if I close my eyes and think real hard, I’ll become a flapper. Or a lindy super star. Both are acceptable.

4. Write too many blogs. Feel too much. Realize that college life is over and post-college life is all about your lunch hour and your precious off time.

5. Signing up for ALL the Yelp Elite events. Aw yeah. Then, realize you still need to withdraw money for tips. Le sigh.

http://www.yelp.com/events/chicago-yelps-summer-of-sushi

6. Perfect your foreign accents. Because, while being PC is great and all these days, you can get away with a lot of things as a minority. Kind of. Not really at all. But here’s your chance to spite them! Confuse them with your British/Irish/Austrailian/Indian/Spanish accent to no end. It will challenge their stereotypes and broaden their horizons, all the while as you say “Good Eye Might” and “Razor Blades” in a pseudo-Aussie voice. Try ordering things, it’s the best.

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I do what I want.

7. Cry over your two degrees. No, just kidding. Wait until the slowness that was your university actually delivers your degrees.

8. Realize it could be worse.

9. Have such crazy dreams you think you live in one of the Inception realities.

10. Pine for a holiday.

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All I do is win, man.

Alright, all jokes aside, I am so ready for Fulbright. I’ve filled out all the paper work, I’m still waiting for my college to send them my proof of graduation, and I’ve done absolutely 0 packing. Which is okay, given that I still have a month. I’m still wondering if I should get my International Motorcycle/Scooter License before I head out, or if I want to take it with everyone else. Meh. Thoughts on clothing? I’ll probably need to by more summer-y things. God knows that they don’t service my size shorts abroad.

I’ll probably be applying for grad school, though I’m not sure how that will go. We shall see.

Excited for traveling, new photo adventures and teaching! Not to mention the awesome food. Night markets, local fruit stands, fancy schmancy restaurants, noodles, dumplings…yesssss.

Alright.

Packing list and other fund things to come.

Ayo ayo ayo ayo…

Chimishurri out.

It Was Only Just a Dream

So, how did you sleep last night?


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image courtesy of collider.com

I only ask because I have been having some insane dreams lately. I think this is pretty common for me, having grown up with a very active imagination. If you’ve ever seen Inception, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Twisted plots, endless action and interlacing story lines across several landscapes. 

Last night, I thought I heard three gunshots. Living on the fringe of a large city, this isn’t unheard of, but I’m still a bit weirded out. Three. I can tell you two occurred right after the other, the third a few moments later. A popping sound with the intensity of a cannon. I’m a bit scared to ask if anyone else heard it through the window last night.

A few weeks ago, I dreamt up a plot so elaborate I felt convinced I could write an entire book on the issue. I’m quite sure it had to do with impostors and wayward allegiances of some sort. I woke up, heart pattering away and convinced that I had the next bestseller. Alas, no such luck. I do remember lots of gray skies, plenty of car chases and searching for obscure clues in rundown, forgotten places. Oh, and running. Lots of that. And hiding from…someone. Hmm, perhaps I should try to write a short story or a screenplay.

Roommates and guests alike have commented on my strange sleeping habits. Many note how I talk in my sleep. Others have commented on how I’ve talked directly to them. Yikes. (That includes random exasperated commands.) Of course, I snore, but that’s relatively normal compared to the other things that have happened. I’ve woken up crying and incredibly sad, laughing hysterically and scared out of my wits. It’s as if my dream life is an extension of or an entirely other life that I live.

Sometimes, it seems so much more desirable. Like, my superhero or secret agent dreams, where I always catch the villain. Or, you know, when I can fly. Other times, it’s a relief to wake up to the comfortable reality of the everyday. Like, when I’m being chased by a serial killer or hunted down by an enemy of the state.

Regardless, I think I’ll be keeping a dream journal from now on. Just to catch some interesting plotlines and such. And possibly figure out why I’m always so tired after my active dreaming.

Many ZzzzZzzZz’s,

S.

Shadowboxing.

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Once upon a time, I fell in love. “Slowly, then all at once.” It wasn’t planned or perfect or convenient. It was lovely and terrible all at the same time. He held out his umbrella for me in the rain, we stargazed on rooftops and took long walks through winding streets. Really, everything you want from a whirlwind romance.

The problem was the entire relationship was built on a lie. The problem was I was honest with my feelings and reactions. He decided not to be. Not to say that I have any bitterness against this person now. It’s taken hundreds of runs, crying in the dark and unhealthy coping mechanisms to realize he was just a person who made a mistake. I, too, made the mistake of trusting someone too quickly. I wanted him so badly to be better than anyone I had met before that he became my idol. I chose to look the other way when questionable motives arose or grey area actions came into play. Instead of seeing who he truly was, faults and all, I created a porcelain veneer to set on top of his humanity. 

Once upon a time, I fell in love. “Slowly, then all at once.” I doubted He cared about me. It seemed foolish, given how much I sinned and lusted, how much I hated everything and everyone. It was planned and perfect and all I had to do was say yes. To grace. To life. To someone worth living for. He held me back from jumping, we spent late nights talking and took long runs witnessing His handiwork. The best part is, He chose me. He was my first love. Sometimes, I wonder how He can still accept me, how I betray Him so often. It is because His love is so grand, so vast, so boundless that my sins are flecks of dust in sunlight. Even something plain and worthless becomes beautiful in marvelous light.

It’s not easy. Life lived beyond the shadows of guilt and regret often feels brave at best, brash at worst. But, today, I can say it’s worth it. Today, the ashes of my life dance in light, dust transformed into flesh once more. A wise man once said that the past is not fate, but it is a record. It does not foreshadow our futures, only where we come from. I have spent too much of life coping, drawing life from the drone of a TV screen or the fantasies sold by man. It is time to fall back in love with who truly matters.

I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made this life. This monstrous, dark thing–a house of horrors. But I believe that your light surpasses all understanding and will set me free. So please, I’m chasing after you again, like you chased after me.

Once upon a time, He fell in love. “Slowly, then all at once.” About 3 years of ministry with a few close friends and a generous following. At the eleventh hour, He seemed terribly alone yet still wanted to love and forgive. In the end, He rose again. It was planned and perfect and excruciating. He let them touch the wounds in His hands. He loved, forgave and had fish with them by the lake.  It was true love. It’s hope that tomorrow, even through wounds, death, betrayal and suffering, we can love.

“Out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

One.

I think there is something very underrated about being alone. I have spent way too long listening to people give me the “better half” speech or to just wait for that “special someone.”

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I walk in my own shoes.

No. Just, no.

I am fine and content in the person that God made me to be. I don’t need another person to complete me, I need the grace of God which I intend to seek everyday. It’s not as if my life starts when I meet someone. It starts when I open my eyes and embrace the life I’m given. We are each blessed with the impossible forgiveness of a fresh start, a new day that unveils itself at the blush of dawn every morning. Adventures brimming with anticipation and excitement. Sometimes, it might just be a solo journey.

You see, it’s the mentality of wanting, of never having enough, of misplaced desire that usually gets me into messy places in the first place. I get it into my head that somehow I don’t have all that I need, a lonely black hole overtaking where my heart used to be. It’s not only sad, I think it’s kind of selfish. What kind of one-sided lover, self-proclaimed romantic lives only to receive love?

No, I want to learn to give. To give and not expect to receive. Not in some pitiful stepping-stone way, but in freedom. I want to learn to overflow so much with love that it can’t help but runneth over, splashing and spilling everywhere in its wake. To love freely, just because God is love. 

I think what I once defined as love was only desire. I wanted what others had or creature comfort or someone to briefly silence the roar of loneliness. It was all shying away from facing my demons. 

Yes, I am single. No, I don’t want to apologize for it. I don’t want to get in a relationship just on the whim of lust or the whimper of loneliness. Love is bigger than two people, it’s bigger than one. It takes God. It takes sacrifice. Most of all, it means facing our own worst sides, our least lovable selves. Until I’ve reckoned with those dimensions of my character, until I’m ready to release them…I’m not sure bringing someone else into the ring would be my brightest idea.

I’ve heard singleness described as suffering. I’ve heard people call it pain or imprisonment, even torture. Waiting, some have said.

No, I think singleness, being one, is a gift. It’s quiet mornings and hot coffee. It’s long runs through any detours you like in the midst of a raging downpour. It’s reading the Word like you know your life depends on it, like God singing in your ear; quietly, sweetly. It’s the strength of Mother Theresa and the tenderness of calm. Being single means tackling your laziness, your unquiet temper and your unsung glories. It’s never really pretty, but it’s a freedom and blessing in its own right.

So, here is to the best and brightest and most single out there. Stand your ground, live your dreams, dive into passions. Know that you are complete, a masterpiece in God’s eyes, only to be re-figured by one Author. To no one else do you need bow down, find or search for. I am loved by God. Everyone else is just stardust. Beautiful, but just as fleeting.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:35-39

Fulbright Taiwan ETA

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April 21st will always be a date of second chances for me. A week before, I was wait-listed as a candidate for the ETA Fulbright Taiwan program. I felt completely gutted, feeling I had failed to fulfill a dream. However, I picked myself off the floor and soldiered on. I began investigating alternative teaching positions, extending my summer marketing internship, anything to keep me from dwelling on the devastating news I received.

Everything took a turn for the better April 21st, just two days ago. I checked my e-mail to find the executive director for the East Asian-Pacific US Program contacted me directly and asked that I call him for some news about my status. I grabbed the phone and, within a matter of minutes, my status changed from alternate to principle. I could not believe my ears.

For me, this has to do a lot about faith. Many of you might not agree, but I still want to tell you my story. Prior to Easter, I was feeling incredibly apathetic. I had a horrible weekend spent in bed watching Torchwood, a Doctor Who spinoff, and not doing any work on my thesis. I stared at the ceiling and longed to be someone, anyone else. In some ways, I felt deserted by friends and incredibly lonely. I relied on the dream of Fulbright to escape my senioritis plateau and general anxiety about life after college. Sunday changed everything. I heard testimony after testimony about God’s faithfulness and His steadfast love. My heart began to change. Once cemented closed, it cracked open and began feeling again. I realized it didn’t matter what others thought of me or what I thought of myself, but rather what God thinks of me. I needed that reminder about who Christ is and what He has done in my life. I can not pinpoint exactly what changed in those few hours watching people get baptized, but I can tell you my perspective on the future changed completely. As tears streamed down my face, it washed away the fog of seeing myself through other people’s eyes and opinions. I began to trust that God knew exactly what to do.

How strange and beautiful, that the next day I received such impossible news. I believe God wanted me to see Him first, plans second. In terms of leaps of faith, this wasn’t a huge, bounding jump. A skip and a hop later, I found myself on an entire different horizon. Trust God to throw me a curveball, eh?

I wouldn’t want life any other way.

Here’s to 11 months of crazy adventures in Taiwan, blog in tow.

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ~Philippians 4:12-13

S.