Risking a Normal Life

“What if your greatest risk is living a normal, average life?”

That question from an insightful chapel speaker wrecked me in my final semester of college. It’s proven to be one of the best things I’ve ever heard. Especially as it was directed at a large body of young adults steeped in a Christian culture that emphasized global outreach. Overseas missions, anti-human trafficking measures, and anti-hunger initiatives were the focal points of many individuals’ dreams and ambitions, including mine.

As Christian young adults, we need this question. It’s a burst of cool wind that wakes us up to truth. How and why?

  1. We are a globally-oriented generation.world map

Our backyards aren’t limited anymore to the places in which we grew up. Internet and technology have given us a profound, overwhelming knowledge of the world and its needs. There are a lot! We feel deeply the desperation and want to respond.

  1. Our definition of living a full life has shifted

Living a full and great life means, for many in young adult Christian circles, involving yourself heavily in global, formalized ministries. We don’t want to settle for an average life as a Christian without ever having poured ourselves into something greater than a vanilla, middle-class existence.

I’ve noticed this rising out of a pattern in Christian culture. Often, organized and global ministries are presented solely as opportunities to influence the world with God’s love. Overseas missions teams or organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ are talked up and given the spotlight. The ministry opportunities arising in normal life (“normal” defined as middle-class experience of owning a house, paying bills, having a family) aren’t discussed. Or thought of much.

I rarely hear things like forming relationships with neighbors or cooking meals for tired moms in the community glorified. They almost seem to fall through the cracks of our consideration. Pastoral ministry, teaching English as a second language overseas, and anti-poverty measures flash brightly in our vision. Simple acts of kindness (like making efforts to chat with that one co-worker who sticks to themselves) are tacked on as an afterthought – “Oh yeah, those are good too.”

In my mind, the emphasis on global ministry polarized global activism against everyday living as a Christian in America. I thought to excel in following Jesus, and live my life to the fullest, I had to jump on board the missions track. I couldn’t serve Him best by living an average life. A year of working through this speaker’s startling question brought me to three conclusions:

 

  1. The perspective flaw: The greater needs in the world are across the ocean

bridge across ocean

When we focus on global issues so heavily we can develop tunnel vision to the needs encircling us. Dare I say it, we can idolize global ministry. We can forget about the equally vital day-to-day ministries of family, friends, local community, and church.

Our friends and family need our love. So do our communities. Just take a stroll through Wal Mart and you’ll find people oozing exhaustion, people with disabilities struggling to maneuver through the crowd, people who won’t make eye contact. It’s so easy just to offer a smile, or ask if you can help a disabled person reach something from the top shelf.

Desperate needs exist all around us When we meet them, we repair our societies and pour good into the world from wherever we live. But first, our hearts must be open to identifying those needs and humble enough to meet them. Wherever people are in our lives, how can we give them kindness? Affirm their value? Be a friend?

Funny-Perspective-cartoon_zps3aa62091

  1. What’s the value of a normal, average life?

The value of a normal, average life comes from the reality that everyday ministry is on the same level as global missions work or formal ministry. We in our humanness place the last two as greater in our minds. Most overseas missionaries are doing the exact same thing we are. They’re living their everyday, normal lives, just in another country under another flag and culture. And meeting the needs they find. We have the same opportunity.

Sure, it sounds glamorous having a life resumè studded with missions trips and supporting orphans in Africa. And those are good things! However, what we do, no matter how good or admirable, doesn’t mean we are living life well. If we are neglecting relationships and overlooking hurting people in our lives, that life resumè is better used as a piece of scratch paper. Action based in love, genuine care, and compassion infuse meaning and value into the world from any corner.

  1. A risk worth taking?

Absolutely! Ordinary life is perhaps riskier than a life of full-time missions in a foreign country. It depends on how you define a great life lived for God. An average life sounds second-best if you believe overseas ministry is the highest way of fulfilling your Christian calling. You may even dread the idea of an average, normal life because it means missing out on your full potential.

That’s a cage of fear we create for ourselves, however. God desires we live out the ordinary things extraordinarily, no matter where we are. That requires trust on our part that He will multiply our efforts and bring outcomes greater than our independent abilities. It makes an average, normal life a risk of faith. But it also makes it the greatest source of adventure. There’s a quote by Seth Godin that speaks to this: “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”

one grand adventure

How do you define a great life? What are some areas of need in your everyday life to which you can respond with love?

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What I Learned About Being a Type-A Creative

Back in my senior year of high school, I remember learning in my AP Psychology class the basic definitions of Type A and Type B personalities. Just in case you’ve never heard of this differentiation or need a review, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Type A Personalities are generally considered more:
    Ambitious
    -High achieving
    -Outgoing
    -Intense
  • Type B Personalities are generally considered more:
    -Relaxed
    -Creative
    -Reflective
    -Calm

This is a very rough sketch, and by no means study off of it for your next Intro to Psych exam. But this outlines the basic contrast people mean when they talk about Type A vs. Type B personalities.

Usually people are thought to lean towards one or the other in how they function. Let me tell you, my immediate thought is, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” Because I somehow by some strange sorcery am a bizarre, complicated blend of both.

I’m a creative type. I’m a writer, so little surprise there. Fictional worlds, Pinterest boards, imaginative movies, sketching, and music will keep me spellbound for hours on end. But then there’s the other side of me – the side that loves administrative work, racing against deadlines, goal-setting, and productivity.

I have met many other people who live with this weird concoction. On its own, each personality type holds its own strengths, and also its challenges. Having an even blend of both is a strength and a challenge unto itself.

For me, the particular challenge is finding my sweet spot in balancing each. My administrative, Type A side likes to dominate. This can be catastrophic for my creative side! Sometimes I pour so much of myself into “productivity” and “responsibility” that it becomes counterproductive to my writing life and I grow irresponsible in taking care of myself. It’s a struggle that I’ve had since high school, being home schooled (nearly all self-study) and involved in five extra-curriculars at once for four years. I’ve always been high-achieving, and I’ve always had oceans of creativity inside me. And I’ve always struggled with burnout.

If you relate to what I’m describing, welcome aboard the ship of Type A Creative! (Ahoy!) Like any sailing adventure, there are times of pure exhilaration, joy, and finding the fullest you. And there are other times of pure exhaustion fighting the internal storms.

So here’s what I’ve been learning from the Captain:

I am fearfully and wonderfully made
It was no mistake having creativity combined with a high-achieving nature. For the goals I have, I need both. If I lacked one of them, I can’t imagine being satisfied, much less happy in life. I couldn’t do the things I love! Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so Type A. But that isn’t the right attitude. Because my design is from God, I can not only find contentment in it, but revel and delight in it as He does.

It’s all about stewardship
Sometimes I almost get tired of hearing this word. Seems like it can be applied to everything in life! Thing is, it can. We most certainly steward our energies. When I allow my Type A side to take over, I often let my creativity fall to the wayside (i.e. I don’t write daily, or I don’t refuel my energies through music or art). God has planted creativity in me because He has things for me to do in my time on this earth through my gifts. And ultimately because they draw me closer to Him. I suffer, and it dishonors Him, when I slack in my creativeness.

The need for control
Notice I just explained how I sometimes neglect my creativity. I didn’t mention struggling to be more Type A, though. That dynamic doesn’t exist. When I fall into being productive at the expense of my creativity, it’s usually because I’m afraid. Yes, afraid. Of events not going the way I want. Of not reaching my vision for my future. Of not meeting my personal standards. Basically I put myself as God over my life. Letting myself be creative is sometimes a trust exercise, and I wish it were more instinctive. The beauty of allowing creativity into my day is that it pushes me to rest in God while He works out the details of my life.

I’m self-sufficient and independent. Or so I like to think.
Almost every time, my battle isn’t having both personality types fused inside me. It’s my pride that creates the problem. When I take on too much and put my best into it, I can say, “Wow, look at what I’ve accomplished, even under all that stress. Oh, I am good!”

At that point, I’ve run so far with my prideful striving that I collapse. Sometimes literally, on my floor curled up in a ball crying. I dangerously ignore my creativity because it requires me to surrender an illusion of self-sufficiency, and give up being a racehorse. I have to admit I have needs. I have to admit that I’m human. It requires me to depend on God by letting go of my need to be something, and to just be. But what I’ve been learning is that’s exactly what God desires: for me to be myself, as I am, as He created. That means valuing my creativity and making it a priority.

What have you learned about including creativity in your life?

Back Home: The Final Round

A more recent life development has been one that as a teenager I promised myself would never happen. After graduation, however, it appeared inevitable.

Here it is (deep breath):

I moved back to my parents’ home.

Perhaps it’s not glamorous, but it’s the truth. I didn’t graduate with a job lined up in my field. One week after graduation, I moved to Shenandoah National Park and worked with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks for the summer. But that ended, and I had to face the music of returning home and job-searching.

I know I’m not alone. Conversations with friends who are in my same boat prove that. It takes time to establish financially, make a living, find affordable housing. Leaving the nest might be more of a process than we first expected, and certainly desired.

Moving back home may feel like a step backwards in independence. Technically, perhaps it is, but only as much as we allow it to be.

John Eldredge (one of my favorite authors) says, “We must have life, but we cannot plan for it.” It is possible to thrive where we don’t plan to be, if we choose to find the full life our situation offers.

So here are some thoughts for how to flourish if you find yourself in a final round of living at home:

1. Stay in touch with your family
Even if you’re in the same house, it can be easy to pull out of the loop of what’s going on in parents’ and siblings’ lives, especially once you land a job. Take time to find out how your family members are doing. Spend time together—do game nights with them, have lunch dates, go to siblings’ school events.

If you have extended family members, how can you connect with them? Make an intentional effort to visit relatives and help them if they have a need.

2. Be an active family member
Every family has a never-ending list of chores and projects related to the house. Put yourself out there to pitch in and help even before your parents ask. Offer to take over painting the stairway, ask if there are groceries you can buy on your way, wash dishes, take care of pets.

3. Have patience
Butting heads with parents may be a real concern. Patience may become your best friend as you wade the momentary frustrations together. Realize that you’ve essentially established yourself as an adult, and that your living habits have shifted some. Communicate with your parents about the changes you’ve adopted, and don’t assume they know what you’re thinking.

Being patient with yourself will also spur you on in establishing as a full-fledged adult. Set realistic goals for jobs and finances. Be responsible, but avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself so that you’re discouraged when you fail to meet your expectations. Give yourself the needed time, and don’t rush the journey.

4. Be a part of community
How can you give to those in your neighborhood, town, or church? Volunteer with a cause. Get to know your neighbors, the elderly, and those from other countries in your hometown.

On the flip-side, let yourself be poured into. If there are people in your community who show interest in investing in you over coffee, take them up on it. Don’t shy away from building new relationships.

5. Set good habits now
This goes beyond regular exercise, healthy eating, and consistent sleep schedules. Think about your social sphere, how you’re using your time and finding space. What balance have you struck between spending time with family and friends and having personal time? Have you made a physical space where you can rest? Explore yourself outside the context of college life, and find living habits that allow you to thrive.

What are some ways you’ve adapted to becoming an adult while living in your parents’ house? What can you think of that promotes thriving in this situation?

Leaving Narnia, a.k.a. Graduation

end of Narnia

Two months ago, I stood on the white shores at the end of Narnia, hugged beloved friends goodbye, and returned to my world. In other words, I graduated college.

By its nature, college produces some of the most potent experiences of our lives. How many times have you heard people say (usually with a far-away expression), “Those years were some of the best of my life”?

Now that I’ve stepped into alumni status, I understand why many people linger in conversation for those fleeting moments on their college years.

Tight-knit community characterized my small, liberal-arts school. My campus had a culture unto itself, with some wacky traditions that people from “the outside world” shook their heads at in bewilderment. Most everyone shared my faith, and I lived in an environment centered on knowing God. Some of my dearest friends came out of college. Through our shared experiences and wild shenanigans, our university became our kingdom, and we reigned as kings and queens in it. We came alive there. It grew into “home.”

Something about these experiences of deep belonging eclipse this world, and transport us into a world that feels more real than this one. No wonder we feel lost when these times of “home” come to an end.

It’s like when Aslan told Edmund and Lucy at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that they couldn’t come back to Narnia. They’d outgrown it. How disheartening! Who would want to go back to our world when you’ve lived in a breathtaking world of magic, wonder, and beauty?

The problem for us, like the Pevensies, is that we outgrow college (or at least, we’re meant to outgrow it). By the time graduation came, I knew I’d gained all I could from the rich soil of my school. Now it was time to transplant and grow in a new place. That process has taken courage. “Real life” in the “real world” of adulthood can feel gray-scaled compared to my thriving college community. But I didn’t graduate without gaining a few things, some of them on which I think this life bends.

God used college to draw me closer to Him, and to prepare me to know Him better after graduation. In Narnia, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy that in their world he has another name, and they must learn to know him by that name. They’d have to learn to know him in new ways in their world. They’d have to find their identity outside of the dear place that had shaped them eternally, and find it in knowing him.

Isn’t that the whole reason they’d been lead to Narnia? To know Aslan? It’s the same for us.

In finding a new home at college, I discovered also that our sense of home will never be fully reached here in this world. Beautiful experiences – ones where we come alive – reveal another aspect of our true nature: we were destined for a world more real than ours. If you know The Chronicles of Narnia (if not – huge spoiler coming!), you’ll remember that the world of Narnia ends, only to reveal the real Narnia afterwards. In that true Narnia, the Pevensies and all their friends spend forever together and with Aslan.

I will say that my years at college were some of the best of my life, because they prepared me to live out the best in my years to come. Now I’m more alive with the hope of the real world to come, and the joy of knowing God in new ways until I get there.

What about you? How has college prepared you to live out the best in this life?

Answers Outside the Internet

Imagine taking your Christmas vacation in Florida. What could be better than spending a December warmed in the sun, basking on beaches and visiting tourist attractions with family? How does that pleasant picture change when I tell you this: you’ll have no internet access for the entire two weeks.

I’m visiting my grandparents in Florida over Christmastime. For two weeks, I won’t have internet because my grandparents don’t have it in their home. Now, I’m not writing to complain. I’m actually looking forward to taking a break from an internet-saturated lifestyle for those couple of weeks. I see it as a bit of an experiment even.

As I’ve thought about my coming temporary break-up with the net, it’s made me think about my grandparents’ lifestyle choice. Many members of my family have tried to convince Grandma and Grandpa to connect to the internet, explaining different service options and various conveniences it holds. Still, they’ve held out. Each time, they’ve said it’s too much for them to learn at their age.

Somehow, it only just hit me: the internet intimidates my grandparents. These are my grandparents we’re talking about! They’ve seen so much of life, had so many experiences, and have crazy amounts of knowledge—and yet, they’ve avoided the internet because it’s overwhelming, even scary to them.

Isn’t this true of so many elderly people within our society? How many times as young adults do we hear, “All this new-fangled technology…I don’t understand it,” or we have a cell phone thrust by wrinkled hands at us in frustration?

Technology has created a huge divide in some ways between the young and the old. Our way of life is vastly different than what our grandparents have known. Some of the elderly have stepped into a more tech-filled lifestyle, while others shrink from it completely, thinking it’s something for “those crazy kids.” Have you ever sensed a certain disgruntlement from those above sixty who avoid the internet and technology? I have, and only recently have I begun to think about why that’s there.

Could part of it be that as we’ve moved into the technology generation, our grandparents feel somewhat useless to us? Before Google, where did we go for answers?  Those older with more understanding of the world. I think many elderly people are frustrated because we’ve replaced them with our technology for answers. In that, however, I think we often confuse knowledge with wisdom.

No matter how many answers Google holds, it can’t give the wisdom and perspective we need as young adults to live our lives well. Those who have lived more of this life have unique lessons to share with us that all the technology in the world can’t provide. I believe the elderly are becoming more of an untapped resource within our generation. We are teaching them about technology, but forgetting to seek their guidance.

As you go into the holidays, I’d encourage you to seek out the elders within your family. Ask them about their lives—for their stories and lessons. Don’t forget: we need them, and they need us.

Book Review – The Good Life

As we transition out of being a young person into being a young adult, a lot of things about us get tested along the way — our character, the things we enjoy, our relationships. We are changing and growing. The way we see the world is changing, and sometimes it’s happening without us even realizing until one day we discover we aren’t the same person from last year.

One aspect of transition that has surprised me is how my faith is changing. Surprised is maybe to nice a word — stirred up might be a better phrase for the feeling. Over the course of college, I’ve  looked at my faith and seen that it isn’t the same as it was when I was a kid, or even in high school. Sure, it’s not supposed to be. We’re supposed to keep growing. Part of me has wondered at times, though, will my faith stand the test of time? And even scarier, will my faith push me to act more and more in ways that define a great life?

If you’ve ever wrestled with these questions, let me tell you about a book I read this summer that helped give me perspective.

the good lifeThe Good Life by Charles Colson is a collection of stories showing the contrast of what makes up a great life versus a life that lacks true depth and meaning. Colson discusses these stories head on, pointing out characteristics from each story (such as community and self-sacrificial love) that define a truly good life. He includes stories as well that show, by contrast, the sadness of what our lives can look like when we leave truth by the wayside.

Colson was a politician during Nixon’s presidency. He had climbed his way to the top into Nixon’s inner circle by the time of Watergate, and for his involvement in that  scandal, he was imprisoned. Being stripped of his power and honor, Colson hit rock bottom, and in prison became a Christian (his book Born Again is the account of his journey).

The Good Life is written by a man who experienced both sides of life. Colson knew all to well how the competition for political power drained his life of meaning when he was part of the White House. Yet he also discovered paradoxically how being brought low gave him the chance to find meaning and restore him at his deepest.

This book encouraged me by showing me that is many ways I am seeking the truly good things out of life. However, this book is not a feel-good book in the least. It challenged me even as it encouraged to keep striving and to never give up fighting for the best in life, even when it’s hard. Going by the stories in The Good Life, it often is hard. But it’s worth it.

Give it a read! It will shape your thinking and inspire you in the best possible ways.

God’s Thumbprint, Our Passions

I went to the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson, Indiana this weekend. From it, I learned enough to keep me journaling for an entire day! My goal was to share advice I learned from it about stepping into professional scenarios in which we’re the minority as young people. However, what I learned isn’t a tidy list of tips, but deeper truth about our passions.

Do you remember the birth of your passions? I do. Every day growing up, I felt them steadily vibrating like violin strings in my soul. When I thought about what I loved – writing and ministry – I felt physical hunger. I dreamed about using my gifts, and imagined people being changed for the better by them. These passions drove me to seek the highest from life, to give others the love we all crave with my gifts.

This drive came from the internal assumption that my gifts and desires had power – that I had abilities to reach into people’s lives in ways no one else could.

Along the way I’d lost sight of that. I doubted the worth of my passions and dreams.

At my college, I’m surrounded by people who share that same drive to have impact. I began to lose sight of how my particular passions and dreams were unique. What if there were people who could do the things I hoped to accomplish better than I?

Until the conference, I hadn’t even realized I’d begun to think this way. All I could sense was this dullness in my spirit, a sort of monotony and mundaneness. My internal zest was diminished. The conference jumpstarted my passions because it reminded me of God’s thumbprint expressed uniquely in me.

God’s thumbprint…it’s on every person who has ever lived – His image in all of us. Yet, universally, that thumbprint varies with everyone. How does this contradiction work? Because He is infinite. We are all expressions of who He is, and these expressions extend from his infinity, going on forever. There are infinite versions of how God expresses Himself in us, so none of us can be the same.

At the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference, I was surrounded for two days by people who had the exact same heart passion as me: writing. Yet, in that also, I saw how each of us was vastly different. My own skill and gifts stood out because I was surrounded by people who were so similar to me. I saw how God chose to put his thumbprint on my being with something that only I could fulfill with the passions He’s put in my heart. I felt urgency to live with the calling to live out God’s independent expression of His image in me.

As we grow into adults, we often fear that our dreams and desires for doing good, wonderful things fall short. Our passions are precious, but do they really have potential? If God has given us a unique expression of Himself, how could our passions not have potential?

Overwhelmed by the Horizon

plane 2

Knowing that I’m about to graduate college, I feel like I’m facing the horizon of the rest of my life. I can go anywhere, do about anything (within the boundaries of my financial situation with school loans, of course).  I felt the same way in my senior year of high school. And completely overwhelmed.

These transition points we reach in young adulthood feel broad. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you know how you can see roads threading in a grid underneath just before landing. The pilot knows where the runway is, but technically any one of those roads could be a viable for landing. Imagine that you’re the pilot, and you have to choose one of those roads as a runway. Which one do you choose? Which one looks like the smoothest? Which one will be closest to your destination?

Transition points can feel like that – whether you’re choosing a college, a career-path, a location to start independently living. Notice that I use the word feel, though. A lot of worries we have about significant decisions as a young adult are based on a feeling called fear. At times, I’ve felt so insecure about making the “right” decisions that I can’t decide anything at all. Here are some reminders I go over when I find those anxieties creeping into my thoughts:

  1. There are few life-altering decisions. My Dad told me this in high school. Few choices we make in life will drastically change the course of our lives. Deciding what school to attend probably won’t affect the rest of your life for years to come. Whom you marry is life-changing, which is why people spend (or should spend) a lot of time and energy getting to know someone while dating. When you think of most decisions being non-binding, it’s relieving and exciting. You’re free to experiment – you don’t have to have everything figured out. You’re free to take risks knowing you can make adjustments as you go.
  2. Actually, you do have direction. When I feel overwhelmed by the broad possibilities of what I could do, I have to stop myself and think about the guiding points I have. These include my desires and passions: where does my heart gravitate? What skills do I have? What dreams have been formed in me over time and where can they lead? What experiences have shaped me and given me drive for a cause? God doesn’t leave us helpless in discovering our callings.
  3. Your timeline doesn’t have to (and probably won’t) be the same as others’. It’s easy to get caught up in looking at others and evaluating “where they are at” in life. Yet it’s hard to use others as a standard for comparing ourselves because everyone is so different and doing different things. Wait for the right best things for you to come in life, and don’t rush into decisions based on where you think you ought to be. Someone once told me, “The good and the better are the enemy of the best.”

Why “In Dependence”? My Blog’s Purpose

I’m 22 years old. While I know that’s not an incredibly long time to have lived, in some ways I feel like I’ve lived through a lot already. Really, a lot! Maybe you’re around my age, and maybe you feel the same way. Sometimes I’ve wondered why it feels that way. Maybe you have too.

It’s hard to look at others and gauge whether or not we’ve been through more or less than they have. In fact, it’s basically impossible because everyone has such different experiences and stories. There are some things others have experienced that I can’t imagine going through, and there are things I’ve been through that others tell me they can’t imagine experiencing.

No matter what various experiences we go through as young adults (in high school, college, or post-college), there is one thing that equalizes us: we are all in transition. Mentally, emotionally, situationally, geographically – you name it. It all happens so fast. Many experiences we have during these years we’re having for the first time. Nothing prepares us for them. There is no handbook to guide us. Everything around us is changing, and inside ourselves we’re changing. And it’s scary!

I realize this blog could focus on nothing but a really deep, emotionally heavy, and even moody discussion of how tough life can be as a young adult. That’s not what I want it to be, though. I don’t think it can be either. Because, let’s face it, there are just too many funny moments that arise from being in new situations. Absolutely hilarious! Beyond moments worth laughing at, so many of the best things in life grow out of being a young adult. Things like joy, dreams, wild shenanigans, life-long friendships, identity, wisdom.

With the amount and the pace of change in our lives through high school, into college, and into adulthood, everything can feel overwhelming. The further in I swim into the ocean of adulthood, the more I realize I can’t make it on my own. I will drown! Yet everyone expects me to be a basically independent adult by now. I feel more dependent than ever.

But one day I realized that was a good thing.

The only way I’m going to ever become an independent adult is to learn to depend more on others and on God. I wasn’t made to do life on my own.

The purpose of my blog is to talk about what I’m learning as a young adult. About what I’ve learned healthy dependence in relationships looks like. About my relationship with God. To talk about the new experiences, the highs and lows. About the lessons, about growing pains, and about all the wonderful new joys and excitements.

For me, a large part of how I process the transition into adulthood is through my writing, especially in my fiction. What outlets do you have that help you in your transition? How can you use your talents and creative outlets to help you process?