Pep talk for the buried


This is how I felt today. Buried. Individually, each of these commitments represented here are a privilege, but together they’re threatening to steal my life.

They’ll find me some day, in my philosophy sweatshirt with books piled on top of me that I haven’t finished reading, my notes opened to a page I didn’t understand the first time, my to-do list on a sticky note with at least three things not crossed off, and a stack of papers that need comments.

Are you here? I talked to at least three people today who sounded buried, behind, or barely afloat. I talked to my sister, and it turns out we’ve both got sore throats – the kind that threaten to turn into a cold.

Because my eyes want to close and though rest is a good thing, I can’t have it yet, I need a pep talk.

This is for you, too.

Hi there, friend. Yes, you there, the one hiding under the blanket, where the world seems safe. It’s going to be okay.

You’re capable. You’ve done things before – yes, you! No, of course you can’t do all those things at once. You won’t knock them off in one fell swoop, but you can do them one at a time.

Every little thing will get done. Or it might not, but will everything fall apart if it doesn’t? I know, it feels like it will. Someone will be disappointed in you. Someone will not understand that you tried your hardest. But you’ll know you did.

And the world will keep turning. People will keep getting up every morning and going to work and making new friends and falling in love and creating things and buying their groceries.

And if you don’t do something perfectly and with one hundred percent effort, it’ll be okay. Some people live their whole lives that way. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s okay to just do what you can, to give what you have when you don’t have it all. You’ll have it all again some day and be able to give all.

What you’re doing matters. Sure, the world won’t stop spinning if you don’t do it, but it might spin better if you do.

Deep breath, friend. One thing at a time. Short breaks in between. Get a snack.

You can do it.

I can do it.

Right now, it might be reading a little more then going to bed, but that’ll cap off the day just fine. And tomorrow will dawn anew, with an opportunity to try again.

Surprises and darkness

Breakfast in bed was one of our better ideas. One of my housemates, Kristin, had a birthday yesterday, so we brainstormed last week how we should celebrate. Kristin was, of course, absent, so the possibility of a surprise was within reach.

So, we met in the kitchen yesterday at 7. Because it was 7 in the morning, there is no photographic evidence. But it still happened.

Zoe made bacon. She’s discovering that the longer you leave it in the pan, the darker it gets. Also, bacon grease makes bacon look less done than it is.

Liesel and I made pancakes. Kirsten and Mia wrote a poem (of the highest quality that one can muster at that hour…) and made a beautiful card.

We tried to make the plate beautiful. It kind of worked.


So, yeah, maybe the “21” looks like “29” and the star and heart of chocolate syrup got smooshy. This is where the thought really is what counts.

Here’s the best part: we crept upstairs (we’d closed the kitchen door and tried to keep all smells and sounds from wafting upstairs… which resulted in a lot of smoke in the kitchen, so we were worried about the fire alarm going off, but it turns out we don’t have one of those downstairs, so it was okay! also, we’ll be careful not to set fires downstairs), carefully opened Kristin and Kirsten’s bedroom door, and all sneaked in. It was dark in there, and Kristin didn’t wake up when we came in.

We’d planned to sing to wake her up, but our success at getting in unnoticed surprised us, I think. Plus, the room was dark, which made it seem a little creepy to just start singing. We paused for a moment, hidden in the darkness and Kristin unawares.

I was thinking about Psalm 139 yesterday, at one of the many junctures in my day where I question the future and wonder what curveball is coming my way next.

Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me. 

You know when I sit and when I rise.

You discern my going out and my lying down.

You are familiar with all my ways.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go to the heavens, you are there.

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I fly on the wings of the dawn,

If I settle on the far side of the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,

Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, surely the darkness will hide me

And the light become night all around me,

Even the darkness will not be dark to you.

The night will shine like the day,

For darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being,

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

We don’t often intend to wander into darkness, do we? I picture my future with clarity, fully illuminated. Any darkness–whether that of uncertainty or difficulty–is absent. Perhaps sometimes we make our beds in the depths, fully aware of what we’re doing, in rebellion, but most often we walk into darkness without intending to.

The darkness is not dark to God. I most often thought of this passage in terms of a person trying to run from God (unsuccessfully), but I think that missed the point. Now I think the psalmist is imagining what could separate him from God. Could darkness? Would it hide him? And he concludes that darkness is as light to God because he is known by God.

When I don’t know what I’m doing because I can’t see, God sees.

This isn’t profound, is it? It’s something we’ve known all along because we know that God is capable of seeing what we cannot and knowing what we cannot about all situations. We know this, but then we also know that when we find ourselves in darkness, we wonder if anyone knows what’s going on. We didn’t see it coming.

Yeah, so we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. God knows what’s going on, all the time.

“Happy birthday to you…” We started singing, and Kristin stirred. After we finished singing, we turned the lights on so she could see the beautiful pancake platter. We read her the poem. She was delighted.

Birthday surprise was successful, unthwarted by lack of light.

Smoky day.

Strange things are afoot today. I still haven’t figured this out, so I just keep telling my housemates about it.

I need answers, and I may not get them.

I put on a shirt today, as I do nearly every morning, and discovered midway through the Pope’s address that it smelled like smoke. Like tobacco smoke. Like I’d gone out back and smoked a pack then sprayed perfume on myself to cover it up.

I assumed it was the shirt. Did I go to a smoky, flowery place while I wore it last? I’m pretty sure I didn’t wear it for long last time, so I didn’t wash it. But… wouldn’t I remember that smoky place? You can hardly smoke anywhere these days. Not that I’m put out by that. I don’t smoke. So why do I smell like it? Did I hug someone who smokes? Like a really long hug?

I spent half a day in the shirt then went back home and changed, thinking that would solve the problem. I couldn’t take it any longer. It was messing with my head, making me question everything.

Changing the shirt didn’t help much. Maybe my skin absorbed it, because the new shirt and cardigan smell the same way, just a bit less strong.

My overactive imagination wonders if there’s a medical condition where you start smelling like a cigarette then spontaneously combust. Or if smelling smoke means you’re going crazy.

It’s a pervasive smell. It stuck with me, for whatever reason, and it reminded me of the day my friend Ellen spoke in chapel at my high school, probably during my junior year. She spoke of campfires and how she loves that smell. It sticks on her clothes and in her hair, and she never wants to wash anything touched by campfire smoke because she wants to be able to smell it forever.

She compared it to the way our lives should be saturated by God’s presence in it. That He should stick to us, and when people get close to us, they should smell Him. It’s a good metaphor because smoke is one of the strongest and most recognizable aromas. It’s also a good metaphor because, like the smell of smoke, it’s stuck with me all these years.

So now that I smell like smoke, I also wonder if I smell like Jesus. Hopefully the latter smell is stronger.

And hopefully the former will go away soon.

Can I take my title now?

Sometimes I feel like a little girl holding a pencil and drooling, toddling along in an effort to keep up with the other people who have claimed the title of a writer. I’m small and need a nap, so it’s hard to keep up. Plus, my pencil is heavy with the words it hasn’t written and with the weight of the responsibility. If you write, it must be good.

I clutch my work in one hand, dropping pages as I run to keep up. I can’t hold it all – I’ll only keep what might be considered good.

This isn’t everyday. Some days I sit at my computer and think I could claim my place among those who say they write and therefore are writers. Surely my work is on par with some of them. Or maybe not on par, but maybe I’m where they were when they were young and dumb and dreamy.

It’s an identity crisis, a question of whether when we claim what we think we are and tell other people about it that they may tell us we aren’t and we might believe them and have to go back to square one and be an accountant instead.

I don’t want to be an accountant.

In some ways, it’s good to have the title elude me. It retains its integrity. It’s not easy being a writer; not everyone can write well enough to be called one. But does being a writer need to be elitist? Everyone can write, given the right encouragement, subject matter, and time... and a good editor.

I don’t say this asking to be affirmed. I say this because I wonder if I’m afraid to claim what I am because someone might not agree. I can see them smirking and turning up their nose at my meager offerings of attempts at truth and clarity. But I don’t write for them, I suppose.

I’ll grow into it. Maybe I’ll tell some people that I’m a writer. Maybe I’ll entrust the knowledge to a safe few and let them hold it for me because I know they’ll believe it. I know who those people are. They’re already holding it, really.

And when it comes down to it, even if I am toddling into my title and still not strong enough to carry the weight of the pencil, that’s okay.

Ice cream ends.


It rained last night. And none of us wore rain boots though one of us thought to wear them and decided on Chacos instead and we all wore rain coats. So it poured when we got on the train. We headed out of shelter, so the rain came down harder.

We gave up hope of having nice-looking hair when we arrived. It wasn’t about the hair. It was about the ice cream. (and our hair really did look just fine)

This is where Kant might meet Friday night adventures. If you go out on a Friday night with your housemates for ice cream in exotic flavors (like pairing root beer and salted peanut butter with chocolate flecks in one cup), you are going for the sake of going. The ice cream is an end in itself, so what you look like doesn’t matter. You are not going to look good or impress anyone. If you are going to look good and impress people, then your morality is impaired, and you are getting ice cream as a means to an end and not as a means in itself. The ice cream is simply a mechanism by which you make yourself look good. Ice cream deserves better people in its company.

So maybe that last sentence goes a bit far, but I think Kant would agree that it wasn’t about how we looked or how wet our exposed feet got. It was about the ice cream and about the time spent out of the house together. It was also about the surprise $6 jeans two of the housemates found on the clearance rack near the ice cream.

The ice cream was an end in itself.

That application might not be spot on, but the experiment is good. Can one make a connection to Kant while getting ice cream? Can one talk about Kant to the same people with whom one would get ice cream – maybe without them even knowing it’s Kant they’re talking about and maybe without them getting bored and wondering if you’re looney?


Moral of the story is that Kant says that people are ends in themselves and never means, and I think that ice cream deserves the same treatment.

How to Nap Like a Pro

Ever since we gave up our naps in preschool, we’ve been gravitating back to a state where we want them again. I wish I could just close my eyes for ten minutes, we think as we sit at a desk and stare at our computers. I think I’m basically making a case for working from home here, where hell will not break past its bounds if you take 25 minutes to implement my professional napping advice.

I was resistant to napping at the beginning of my college career. I have been known to be resistant to intentional breaks taken during the day. Why waste the hours of daylight when there’s so much to be done? But I’ve found a way to rest briefly that doesn’t leave me groggy and helps me power through better.

Here’s how you take a catnap that will refresh you without taking too much of your precious time and will not leave your groggy for the rest of the day. If taken more than 6 hours before bedtime, it probably won’t interfere with your sleep (what do I know, though?)

  1. Find a quiet place where you can still tell it’s daylight. Don’t trick your body. It’s not night. This is a temporary nap in the middle of the day.
  2. Use the bathroom. This is a key step to relaxation.
  3. Set an alarm for 25 minutes. Assure yourself that the alarm is set. Place is in a place where you will hear it when it goes off. Right by your head is usually a good idea.
  4. Lay down.
  5. Close your eyes. This is the part where you just take what your body can give you. Don’t force sleep (as if!) or feel like you have to fall asleep quickly. This is about relaxing. If you need to fall asleep, you will.
  6. When your alarm goes off, sit up right away. Recover from the sleepy-eyed illusion there. You aren’t really quite as tired as you feel in that moment. Give it a minute.
  7. Resume your normal duties. If you wake up with the munchies (as I always do), eat something with a little protein in it to help get you going.

Now, excuse me. It’s time for my nap.

100 days

I graduate from college in 100 days. I’ve tried to imagine what that will be like. I know there will be a lot of waiting while people make speeches and other people get their diplomas. There will be a lot of hand shaking. There will be one glorious moment where they (hopefully remember to) call my name and my parents and sister and brother-in-law and scads of friends (or maybe just a few) cheer that I am still capable of walking after completing my degree program.

I’m not sure if I’m the type to fist pump after getting my diploma. No, probably not, though in some of these daydreams I do. No, I’ll probably just beam.

The cynical self inside me says it’s not that big of a deal. But then the other half of me reminds myself that it’s not about the actual accomplishment; it’s marking a significant point in your life. Graduating is about moving on. From here, we’ll go out and do something with what we’ve learned. It’s not an end but a beginning, a launchpad.

People tell me to not count down the days, but I have to. I’m not sure that was what the psalmist said when he said, “Teach me to number my days so I may gain a heart of wisdom,” but maybe it’s similar. Don’t we all need to have perspective about how much time we’ve got left?

Perspective helps us remember what’s important. It pushes me away from mindless solitude and into meaningful connection and also keeps me from overdoing it on things that don’t matter. What can you do in 100 days? Plenty. I was about to make a list, in fact, but I think that kind of defies the idea of walking with mindfulness in each moment.

Maybe there’s a difference there – being mindful in the moment rather than trying to fulfill a goal. There’s something to be said for goals, but maybe that’s not where I am right now. Maybe I’m about being here while I’m here.

Maybe that should be obvious.

Aylan and the wind

It has been so hot and sticky this whole week. I’m sticking to my computer keys as I write this. There isn’t much hope for respite, either. We’re all just sweating our brains out.

It’s stagnant, humid, and hot, the worst kind. Barely a breeze.

Have you read Ann Voskamp’s post for today?

If you haven’t, you should.

Aylan drowned trying to flee ISIS. He was three years old. That is a sentence that should never be written, not truly. “He was three years old.” Not when it means finality.

Ann wrote that he could have come to their house, played with their new pet bunny, eaten cherry tomatoes out of their garden, been welcomed in just as we were all welcomed in at some point.

But he wasn’t. He died.

And he isn’t the only one.

What do you and I do in situation like this? We sit, astonished that the horrors of our world have not yet halted but instead gotten worse. We cry. We wonder what could be done.

We give money?

I tweeted at my representatives. Meager efforts. Without a miracle, it’ll be buried in their daily correspondence and never resurface.

Without a miracle.

What would that miracle look like? Governments opening their borders, willing citizens opening their homes. It would look like safety. It would take people to do it, and it would have to start with people in power.

I thought of the red tape required for anything to get done and sighed. Then I sat back in my chair, feeling helpless.

Then a great gust of wind blew through the back porch where I’m sitting. It was cool and smelled like rain.

That’s what we need. We need a great gust of holy wind to blow these refugees to safety and relief from fear.

We need to pray.

I don’t understand prayer, not totally. But I know that God is invested in creating peace and refuge, that he cares about refugees, and that he listens to prayers.

Will you pray up a mighty wind? That our lawmakers and leaders will see how imperative it is that we welcome in these people and show them safety, that there will be a way when there seems to be none.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.