Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Legend of the Perfect Holiday

In a world where most people in this country have access to technology that allows us to constantly stay in contact with people and update them on what we are doing, there is an unspoken pressure to always be doing something exciting and making sure everyone knows just how happy we are. Our friendships, relationships, and family life better be filled with Hallmark moments, because it looks like everyone else's sure are. This pressure seems to intensify in the season that starts on Thanksgiving and lasts until New Years Eve. In addition to preparing an Instagram worthy meal for our perfectly dressed families to pose beside, arms thrown around each other in perfect familial bliss, we must respond to all of those Happy Thanksgiving texts and assure all of those people that we did indeed have the greatest day ever. That's a lot to get done in one day, especially when there's all of that food to eat!
This Thanksgiving was a little different for my family than most years. We stayed home and had a meal together, just the four of us. To an outsider, it may not have looked like anything special. But there was a fleeting moment as I was watching my family working together in the kitchen (hey,someone has to sit around and make insightful observations while everyone else works!) where I thought to myself "this is exactly what Thanksgiving is supposed to be." It wasn't the kind of family holiday you would see in those old movies they like to rerun every day this time of year, where everyone is filled with holiday cheer no matter what and everything comes together flawlessly right away, but there was something about it that just seemed right. It was imperfect, but ironically similar to what my childhood self thought the ideal family Thanksgiving must be like.
 As I get older, I am starting to realize that it's not the most important thing to have a life that looks good to the rest of the world. Nobody really has a perfect life, and it's a shame that we feel like we have to prove to everyone that we do. But when I let go of the need to have the kind of unrealistic perfect holiday that can only happen on a T.V. screen, I realized just how nice a heartfelt, slightly flawed holiday can be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guilt Free Fun

    When I was little, I used to write for fun. I would record journal entries about my day, and fictional stories that I made up. Looking at my old notebooks, I have found a detailed account of a visit to a friends house, in which I carefully listed and described each of her pets, an interesting rant about my “annoying 10 year old brother” (who is now 21 and actually not so annoying most of the time.) , and even a commendable attempt to rewrite The Sound of Music as a book. I really thought that one was going to take off and I probably thought I would be the world’s youngest bestselling author, until I realized that a 174 minute movie with frequent musical numbers makes for a really long book. By the time I had gotten Maria out of the abbey and introduced her to all 7 of those children I had lost interest.
    Those things I used to write about seem silly now, but there is something special about them to me. They represent a time when I was writing simply because I enjoyed it. I wasn't worried about what other people would think about what I wrote, or feeling guilty about not spending my time doing more productive things. I was writing because it was fun and it made me happy.
    Tonight a group that I am part of here had a game night, and I found myself looking forward to it all day. It was a block of fun built into my schedule, which is especially appreciated when finals are looming. Somewhere in my excitement it dawned on me that when you reach a certain age, fun becomes less spontaneous and more planned. Life gets busier as you get older, and fun becomes something that you make time for once everything else has been done. Now, I’m not advocating
being irresponsible, and I certainly am not suggesting that we should all skip work and school to play board games everyday, but maybe people like me could benefit from letting go of the guilty feeling that comes along when you do fun things while there are still productive things that you could be doing. Maybe as long as you’re still keeping up with your responsibilities, a little unscheduled fun isn't so bad in the end.
    This same idea applies to me writing this blog. Sometimes I feel silly writing things to put on the internet for people to read, when I could be doing some extra studying or catching u on chores. And sometimes, while trying to be wise, people pleasing, and interesting, I forget that I started this blog for fun. Sure, I wanted to improve my skills and get feedback, but I also wanted to give myself a chance to do something that I enjoy on a regular basis. Writing is fun for me, and I want it to stay that way. So, if you’re reading this, Jennie of the future, remember why you started writing when you were little. It’s fun and it makes you happy, and that’s perfectly okay.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Stop Talking About That!

Recently, it was announced that the two centers that we went to when I went to Honduras have closed down. I almost didn't write about it, because honestly I'm trying to train myself to write about things other than a 10 day trip that happened two years ago, and for once get through a story without saying the words "Honduras" and "mission trip". But when I was faced with the fact that I really won't ever get to see those children again, and possibly not have another experience like that, the way that I felt helped me realize why I still talk about that trip so much, and relieved some of the guilt I have about being so slow to move on.  I genuinely like mission trips. I'm drawn to the opportunity to do something that really feels meaningful, and feel the genuine emotions that
happen when you really start to care about something that isn't for your own personal benefit.
      I write about that experience not because I have something to prove, and not because I have nothing else to write about, but because it changed me. I was 18, fresh out of high school and not nearly as wise as I thought I was. I thought that because I have seen poverty on T.V., and heard about it in history
class, that I wouldn't really be too deeply affected by that experience. What I didn't realize is that everything changes when those faces you see on a T.V. screen become people with feelings and personalities, and stories that are often painful to hear. Those children and teens have a brand of wisdom that I could never have, because they have gone through things that I can't even begin to imagine relating to. That trip changed how I view the world, and made me more tolerant of people who are different than me. Now I know what it's like to be in a country where you don't speak the language and how confusing that is, and I no longer feel annoyed when I hear people speaking languages other than English. It helped me better understand just how much my parents love me, and made me realize that that kind of love is something that not everyone has been given by another human being. It even made me a better student. I have talked about that trip in many papers I have written, and now when I am learning about things and places outside of the United States, I feel like I can think of them in a different way because I have actually traveled outside the country and gotten to experience a small piece of what that's like. 
     I also write about it because I truly enjoyed it. There hasn't been a time since I got back from that first trip two years ago that I haven't wanted to go on another mission trip. It was my first time going out of the country, and even my first trip on an airplane, and it was really fun for me. I made new friends, and became much closer to some friends I already had.
     The fact that I went on one ten day mission trip two years ago doesn't make me better than anyone else. I don't write about it to my make myself look good, I just haven't figured out how to stop talking about it. I'm young and in college, and at times I'm going to do dumb things. But I'm certainly not going to write about those things on the internet, especially knowing that most of the people who read this are not my peers. I choose to only write about certain things because I am aware that once you put things on the internet, it's hard to completely remove them and I don't want something resurfacing twenty years from now that I will regret. That being said, I know that in the interest of good writing it's probably time to start talking about more recent and relevant things, which I have been trying to do. But the experiences I had in Honduras are something that I will always remember, and I'm sure I will still bring them up at times. Knowing that having that exact experience again isn't a possibility at all right now has made me realize just how much it meant to me, and I hope that there will be similar experiences in the near future. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where are You Taking Me?

     One of my favorite memories from when I was in high school, around the ages of 17 and 18 when I was really trying to figure out who I wanted to become in life, is attending two bible studies with my mom. These two events stick out to me because I felt so proud to be welcomed into a group of grown up, Godly women at such a confusing age, and because I was so excited to experience this with my mom, who is the greatest example of a virtuous woman that I know. I learned a lot in these studies, both from the actual material of the studies and from the women who were in the groups. Around the same time, I was becoming more active in youth group and then becoming a part of the mission team, and just feeling confident about where my faith was leading me. This particular time period was one of spiritual growth and strong faith for me, and one I can look back on happily.
     The period of faith that I am in now is not quite as idyllic. For the purpose of telling a story, I start this period on July 7. The day when my plan to go back to Honduras was replaced by my doctors plan to fix what needed to be fixed, because no matter how my young eager mind tried to get around it, having enlarged ventricles in your brain and traveling to a country with very inferior hospitals is not a good combination. This personal disappointment made me question everything I had come to believe about God's plans for me. The things that I had so eagerly prepared for were not going to happen, and instead of reuniting with our wonderful friends in Honduras and having that eye-opening experience I had been awaiting, I found myself in the operating room, and eventually at home recovering. I don't know what comes to your mind when you picture someone recovering from surgery, but I'll tell you how it was for me. Because surgery always has unexpected side effects, I ended up having to take Benadryl, which made me feel like I constantly needed to take a nap. When I was not napping, I was in a tired, grumpy haze that when added to my already present anger over not being in Honduras, was probably quite hard for people to be around. Fortunately, I am recovered now, but although my emotions surrounding the whole situation have become less intense, I still struggle with trusting God when I don't understand where He is taking me. 
     Today on my way back from the grocery store, something made me want to listen to a CD of devotionals that my mom had let me keep in the car after she had finished listening to them, in particular one by Lisa Harper who also wrote one of the Bible studies we went too. She was talking about a husband and wife from the book of Malachi, whose names I can't remember even though that was only a few hours ago. But what I do remember is a verse she quoted near the end of the story, and how it opened my eyes to my own flawed way of thinking. The verse is Malachi 3:6, and it says quite simply, "I the Lord do not change."
     The shunt that was put in my body when I was a baby broke, as they often do, and that caused the ventricles in my brain to enlarge. This meant that I needed to stay home from the mission trip in Honduras and have surgery, which changed the way I felt about my faith. But throughout all of this, God never changed, because he never does. God is exactly the same as he was when everything seemed to make sense and my faith felt strong. The circumstances of my life, which God allows to happen for reasons that only He knows right now, are not a result of some changing mood that He is having. He is not mad at me, or trying to push me away. He is actually teaching me to trust in Him, because although life will constantly change, He has promised that He never will. No matter what season of life I am going through, He is always the same, and I think that is one of the most comforting things I have ever heard.