College (Un)Bound Review: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting Grad School

College (Un)Bound by Jeffrey J. Selingo is a respected journalist’s look at the state of higher education, including how it arrived at its current situation, innovative developments, and strategies for the future. Selingo nicknames the period from 1999 to 2009 as “the Lost Decade” for higher education. As a new professional in the field of higher education, Selingo’s words were alternately depressing and encouraging; but always provocative.

Two major themes running through the book are the cost of education and technology. On the topic of cost, Selingo describes the factors that have led to the ever-increasing price of higher education and ballooning student loan debt. Higher education is one of a few industries, along with fine arts, that does not have much wiggle room when it comes to cutting costs. It is difficult to make education more efficient by mass production or machinery, just as it is difficult for a ballet company to cut costs by replacing ballerinas with robots. The costs of instruction remain mostly the same over time, while other costs—buildings, utilities, insurance, amenities and services, technology—increase the overall cost of college. The college raises tuition accordingly, but then offers massive discount rates to attract students. Students and their families, meanwhile, are able to take out loans to cover the rest of the cost. A college education is seen as essential in the job market.

Colleges serve as the gatekeepers of credentials—whether the credential is a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, or certificate. Job-seekers in today’s world are encouraged to have a degree on their resume and are hard-pressed to find a job without some sort of credential. This has led to higher education becoming a necessary step on the ladder to a middle class job. Add to this the cultural norm of going to college after high school and the availability of student loans paired with discount rates on tuition. Higher education appears affordable to students on the front end, and with a degree as the ticket to the workforce, more and more students are starting college. However, graduation is just one possible outcome of the college experience. Many students don’t finish a degree, while many more graduate with huge amounts of debt.

With colleges reaching the boundaries of tuition discounts, the states unable to put much money toward public institutions, and students and families increasingly resistant to the large amount of debt, other options are starting to emerge. Selingo notes a variety of new technologies and companies that are finding ways to offer education for free or very cheap. Not all of these options result in credits that could transfer into a credential, but some do. Selingo names these “unbundled” options, comparing them to the choose-your-own-amenities service offered by airlines. As students become more likely to transfer institutions, even multiple times, they can pick and choose what classes they want at particular colleges.

Beyond the typical transfer credits, MOOCs have gained a lot of attention in the media. While MOOCs are not yet able to give credit that transfers to an institution, it is quite possible that in the future students will be able to take a MOOC and count it toward their credential in some form. Hybrid and online courses are also popping up at more brick-and-mortar colleges, so that students living on campus might be taking some classes in a classroom and others online, in their dorm. With educational technology improving, these classes will become better quality. Flipping the classroom, or using out-of-class time to watch a video lecture while using in-class-time for problem-solving homework and discussion, will also be useful in improving hybrid courses.

After reading about these changes in cost and technology that will likely shift the paradigms of higher education in the coming years, I felt like many students probably feel. I’ve done all this work, and have all this debt, and there’s not a job at the end of it?! If higher education is unaffordable and the future is in learning through technology, I may have made a poor choice in going to graduate school for higher education. However, I believe there is still a (big) place for traditional, face-to-face, brick-and-mortar higher education. Selingo admits this as well, particularly in regards to traditionally-aged college students who need the college experience to help them mature as well as to learn. Cutting edge technologies are just that; cutting edge. Higher education will be slow to respond, so even though many innovative options are emerging, the conventional campus will persist. And it will persist not only out of tradition or stubbornness, but because it offers a version of higher education that students will still desire and benefit from.

I personally am excited about a future career in higher ed, working with students who are coming to college at such a transformative time in their lives. The potential impact of a traditional college experience on students can go much beyond a diploma and debt. Rather, students who seek it will find college to be a time of learning, growing pains, and equipping for the future.

When We Were On Fire: A Link-up with Addie Zierman

Addie Zierman is probably one of my favorite people I haven’t met. Most everyone on that list is a kindred spirit, whose heart or story parallel my own in some way. Addie has a brand-new book out: When We Were On Fire. It has not yet made its way to my mailbox, but I am so excited to read it, because when Addie writes it feels like she tells my story: of being “on fire” for God, of the fire going out, of wanting and not wanting to get it back, of trying and not trying to relight it. Only she’s a step ahead of me, and so her words coax me forward.

Anyway, she had a link-up on her blog for others to share their stories of when we were on fire. I’m a tad late for the link-up, but couldn’t resist putting my own story in words. This is probably just the beginning of writing about it; my story has been complex and the words come slowly. But here is an initial attempt to put it into words.

synchroblog-photohome_uk

I remember the Sunday School classes: the felt board, the cut-out Bible characters, the memorization of the little orange catechism.

I remember the Jesus Freak youth group days: retreats and conferences, pranks, loving Jesus more than anything, getting up early to read my Bible. I was hungry for it and it fed me. We passed notes in the hall at school: Bible verses to encourage.

I remember the Christian college: my honest-to-goodness deep passion for discipleship and community and missions. The floor Bible studies and encouraging notes I found clipped on my dorm room door. The holy conversations with professors and friends, in offices and dorm rooms and out under the stars. I remember the incredible growth, the deep pain of depression, the healing and providence and sustenance of a good God.

I remember moving across the country to intern at a church: fresh out of college with a ministry degree, full of excitement and anticipation to be back in the church community I fell in love with during a summer internship.

I remember the depression and anxiety starting to creep up that winter, the jealousy and fear. I remember the moments of panic and claustrophobia, needing to get out of the situation, to run away from a church service up to the foothills of the Sierras.

And then–oh, then.

I remember that day. I remember going to a friend-family’s house for dinner to join in late on takeout boxes of orange chicken, beef and broccoli, fried rice.

I remember stopping with a fork halfway to my mouth, an elementary school girl asking, “Did you know that the pastor committed suicide?” I remember glancing, mouth open, to her father, my eyes questioning what on earth she was talking about. I remember his nod, the words, “It’s true…We just got a call…”

I remember the next few weeks, a nightmare of trying to go through the motions and put one foot in front of the other, just trying to survive each day. I remember thinking that if he was so strong and couldn’t beat depression, how on earth would I do it?

I remember the memorial service which I probably shouldn’t have gone to; the people saying nice things; the preacher’s reminder that spoke straight to me: just because he did this and people are saying nice things, doesn’t give you permission to do the same.

I remember going through the motions of Sunday School and children’s church, teaching tinies that God loves them and saves them. I couldn’t ask the question heavy in my heart, so I pushed it further down.

I remember finishing my internship and my other job, miraculously, because I don’t remember much else about work.

I remember leaving my host family and going to intensive therapy at a center for Christian workers. I remember the relief and terror at being alone and not having to meet anyone’s expectations. And after that, the anger.

I remember exhausting hours of counseling. I remember the art supplies strewn across the floor as I tried to process what words couldn’t explain.

I remember not going to church. It felt good.

I remember the shock and sorrow and anger at the situations that brought others to the counseling program: abuse, affairs, depression, burnout, doubt, rape, anxiety, manipulation, divorce.

I remember learning to drink and cuss and be angry with these broken, honest, seeking, hopeful missionaries and ministers.

I remember going to church again. One church new, a beautiful place that welcomed a group of us from the counseling center, broken and angry women. I cried at every service while they loved on us and spoke true things. The other church, “my” church; still reeling and trying to recover, a flock of sheep without a shepherd.

I remember leaving the counseling center, on unsteady legs, to re-enter the world. I remember living with a new family, and then another. I remember endless, fruitless job searching; hours spent in libraries or coffee shops.

I remember venturing out to the Christian Science Reading Room, a place that promised quiet and space to hold my broken pieces in peace for awhile.

I remember not getting there; the ditzy man running a red light and T-boning my car. I remember my car smashed on the street, looking dead; only a scratch on my foot, wondering why it happened like this. I remember thinking that God was punishing me for the blasphemy of attempting to go to the Christian Science Reading Room; a spiteful, mean Sovereign.

I remember the awful things that some Christians said to me. Not annoying Christians who I didn’t like; Christians who I knew and loved. They said doubt was wrong; get it together; you know better than this.

I remember Christians telling me “encouragements,” that God had plans to prosper me, to give me a hope and a future, that everything was in his hands. I remember not liking his hands. I remember people telling me that I was like Jonah, that God was letting me be tossed in the ocean because I wasn’t doing what he wanted.

I remember the intensity of pain and anger and confusion.

I remember a panic attack borne out of living from a duffel bag too long, and realizing that I needed to move home.

I remember the goodbyes, trying to piece things together enough to have closure. I remember being reprimanded and rejected by some, embraced and encouraged by others.

I remember trying to find a church at home, and not being able to make it through services without crying angry tears. I remember trying to read my Bible, and shoving it under the mattress, never wanting to see it again.

I remember the new church plant near my house, pastored by my Jesus Freak youth director. I remember going, feeling angry, defensive, and wary; leaving with hot tears yet not able to stay away.

Then I remember a long time of silence and space. I worked, I lived, I did what I needed to do. Slowly, painfully slowly, my heart grew less tense, less bitter, more soft. I tolerated God on the periphery of my being. He tolerated me being pissed at him. Slowly, ever so slowly, the tolerance turned to acceptance, and then to a tiny smidge of desire.

I remember when we were on fire.

I remember when I was a wet, smoldering pile of ashes.

Then a soft breath warms the ashes like bellows, keeping it alight.

Stand

lead zeppelin

image credit: @notnixon.flickr.creative commons

You said I was grounded like a lead zeppelin, a lead balloon. This was funny, because nearby, the red hot air balloon was taking people for “rides,” letting them bounce gently on the ground but never taking to the sky. Funny, but we weren’t laughing.

Image

image credit: K_Gradinger.flickr.creative commons

Across the darkening lawn of the campus, the carnival was loud and whimsical, bluegrass music drifting over on the breezes along with scents of buttery popcorn. We had wandered away from the noise, the activity, the people, for a more serious and weighty conversation than the festive atmosphere allowed for. Now I was crying, the deep and heavy tears of Depression that would not lift. We sat; I cried; you simply were, with me, like Job’s friends sitting shiva. There were no words for this.

I felt like the “dead man” that marked the sidewalk nearby, more symbols of the light-hearted college traditions continuing on around me. And I felt stuck, buried deep, weighted down beneath the waves of random, reasonless sorrow.

We couldn’t get up from our dark corner of the grass, not yet, even though night was coming on. I was wiping tears and snot on my shirt for lack of a better remedy, looking like a hot mess and unwilling to face the crowds with such a downcast face.

My tears have been my food
    day and night…

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng!

My soul is downcast within me…
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 42, excerpts from NIV and NLT

Finally the wells of my tears seemed to have run dry, and you suggested we bake cookies and color pictures to comfort the Sad. I picked myself up off the ground, body heavy, still reluctant to risk human interaction. But we stood and walked the short distance back to my apartment, stumbling into the light past the cozy and holy prayer chapel. Finding a box mix, we trooped over to your dorm, the one that felt friendly, and baked cookies in the lounge while various friends of yours stopped over to see what we were doing. You brought coloring materials from your room and as the cookies baked, we doodled in bright colors, tracing song lyrics onto the page, words of hope not yet realized:

The enemy has been defeated
And death couldn’t hold You down
We’re gonna lift our voice in victory
We’re gonna make Your praises loud

Shout unto God with a voice of triumph
Shout unto God with a voice of praise
Shout unto God with a voice of triumph
We lift Your name up
We lift Your name up

“Shout Unto God” by Hillsong United

I think you walked me back home that night, and I slipped into my apartment hoping not to be seen by my roommates’ boyfriends. You gave me the picture you drew, with my name on it, and I hung it with mine above my bed. I fell asleep looking at the colors, remembering the promises, wishing and willing the hope to be true.

It’s been five years since then, but when I think of the support I had during Depression, that night is one of the first to come to mind. You sat with me in the incurably sad silence, a show of solidarity when many would give up. But just as importantly, you stood with me and gently prompted me back towards the land of the living, baby steps of crayons and cookies. You helped me stand on unsteady legs and didn’t leave me to fend for myself just because the worst was over. You stood with me through the long darkness and patchy light, and for that I am so incredibly grateful.

for Jess

linking up with SheLoves Magazine for their July theme of Stand

Image

On granola bars, cooking, and self-care

This past winter, in an all-Student-Development-staff meeting, we talked about burnout. We talked about warning signs, how to prevent burnout, what to do if you are burnt out, ways to relax and rest. Sitting with my staff, most people said their warning signs were things like not exercising, feeling tired, snapping at their families, and so on. When they asked me about my warning sign, I had an immediate answer: when I am in a bad place, I start eating lots of granola bars and peanut butter sandwiches.

Sounds strange, to express so vehemently that too many granola bars are a sure sign that I am burnt out. But it’s true. The first time I realized this was three summers ago, in Fresno, California. I was under a lot of stress: jobless, homeless (well, kind of), and car-less. I was staying with a family I knew and sleeping on a spare mattress in their daughter’s room, taking the city bus to my temp job at a call center where I listened to phones ring for 8 hours a day. They weren’t a cooking family, which is fine. And at the time, I wasn’t really a cooking person either. But that summer, with all the pressures weighing me down, I ate a diet of mostly granola bars and peanut butter on bread. Seriously. For breakfast I had toast with peanut butter and jelly; for lunch, a peanut butter sandwich; for the short break at work, a granola bar. Maybe an apple somewhere in there. A granola bar at night when I was hungry from not eating real food all day. This went on for quite awhile, until my counselor told me I needed to be eating and sleeping healthily if I was going to work on the issues I was in counseling for. Along with some changes in environment–living with a different family in my own room, getting a used car–I was able to find a greater and healthier variety of food to eat and enjoy. 

This past year, I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment. The first month of the year was crazy busy–August is notoriously the busiest season in student affairs. I was still getting settled in my house, and our staff ate out a lot during training. After that, I found it wasn’t very motivating to cook for just myself, when there was no one else to feed; and I was still busy, trying to adjust and find a rhythm that worked for me. I cooked a little, and made sandwiches and veggie snacks for lunches. However, as spring semester rolled around, I ate more at the student center’s grille, and subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches or odds and ends for dinner. Smoothies for awhile. Pizza takeout. And granola bars.

As I’ve been home again this summer, I find myself cooking more for my parents, trying new recipes, utilizing whatever fresh garden produce we have on hand. And I’m finding the cooking process enlivening. I love using my creativity to make something that’s vital. I am creative in other ways too, but there’s something especially satisfying about the combination of hands-on, all-senses-engaged, necessary-for-life creativity that is cooking. I’ve cooked by myself and cooked with my friend Cait, finding new ways to eat vegetables and experimenting with ingredients. And then we get to eat the delicious product! It’s so fun. I love this. 

 grilled rhubarb and chicken for rhubarbeque chicken pizzaImage

I know the multitude of reasons that I didn’t cook much this past year. But I want it to be different from now on. I love cooking, and I love eating, and I love cooking for people who eat with me and enjoy the food I’ve made. I love giving to friends in this way. It’s inconceivable to me, right now, how I could just *not cook* for a whole season. Did I really eat that many granola bars? Wasn’t I hungry and tired of the same carbs over and over? I know that I was, and I feel compassion for that self, who was too overwhelmed and exhausted to change the pattern. And I also know that beyond the simple difference of better food to eat, which would have helped, the act of cooking itself is energizing and brings me back to myself. The times I was able to muster it this year–Indian butter chicken and pancakes were frequent repeats–it felt so good. I don’t want to lose that again.

 strawberry rhubarb pie, just before bakingImage

This summer, I’ve made so many yummy things. Lots of salads, rhubarb pies, vinaigrette, marinated chicken on the grill, new kinds of homemade pizza every week, enchiladas, risotto. My photo stream is once again filled with pictures of food: ingredients, recipes in process, finished products, plates. My fingernails get dirty digging things out of the garden: radishes, green onions, asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, sugar snap peas, lettuces of all sorts, mint, oregano, sage, basil, lemon balm. Then my hands get shrivel-y washing the produce and the occasional bug.

homemade hawaiian pizza

Image

I need this. I need my hands moving in the kitchen, picking, washing, chopping, shredding, dicing, kneading, stirring, taking a quick picture with floury fingers. Then opening a bottle of wine, sitting down to the table, a sigh of satisfaction and a smile around at the people I love. Cooking keeps me alive, feeds me, in so many ways.

different kind of quiet

I’ve been a little quiet the last few months. Of course as an introvert, I’m pretty quiet normally; and quiet seasons are good from time to time–especially in the summer when you just need to get away from it all. But there are different kinds of quiet, and as I’m coming out of one kind, I’m realizing that it was a smothering, desperate quiet–not the settled, calm quiet of a healthy me.

Sometimes it takes entering a new season to realize that the past season actually was a season, not just a new-normal, inevitable, forever-time. This summer I’m coming alive again. The quiet of being out in the country, alone with some books, space to be away from all the crazy-making of this past semester is helping me to wake up again. The vibrant life of our yard and garden and my friends and travels is bringing me back to life and helping me see that who I am, truly, is not who I was this past semester. At the time, I felt that I was just a silent, awkward, sad and confused person by nature; that there was no escaping that reality. But really, it was just a shadow of me, the best I could muster in a grey, cold, lonely transition season. Winters suck, especially in new places.  This time, it is taking a summer to thaw me out, a change of place as well as pace to startle me back to myself.

Up until the last week of the semester, I thought I would be spending my summer at a sustainable farm near my college, with a family I adore, doing hard work and getting dirty in the garden. But things changed, suddenly, plans fell though, and I found myself falling back on the option that hadn’t been an option: going back home for the summer. And though I was sad not to be at the farm, going home suddenly seemed like the perfect thing for me, exactly what I needed and where I needed to be. It’s been slow, and relaxing, and spontaneous; and most of all, life-giving. After a semester of the cold dark, when I wasn’t sure I could count on anything or anyone, I’m back home. As Robert Frost says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Last time I moved home, it was kicking and screaming, and I ended up staying much longer than intended; and it was beautiful and restorative, and the people here–they took me in. This summer, though it’s just a short stay and I know I’ll be going away again come fall, they take me in again. These are my people: family friends who’ve known me since I was born; mentors who’ve walked with me since high school; church people, new and old, who welcomed me in when church was the last place I wanted to be. This is my home, like it or not; though I’ve made homes many places, this is the place where they’ll always, always take me in, without questions and with good coffee.

And in this home, I am free to be myself. I know I can tell the truth and be ridiculous and they will love me anyway, they will love me because of it, because it’s who I am. Free from the constraints I put upon myself this semester, free from the long to-do list of work and school and reading and planning, free from the constricting depression and the conditional relationships, I’m unfolding again into myself, like the flowers that close up at night and stretch themselves out full in the sunlight. In the expansive quiet of the country, the stillness of no schedule, the steady love of my friends, the calm of the outdoors, sunny greens and blues and pinks, this quiet is the space to be myself. Sweet moments with friends; loud laughter over cooking and coffee; unexpected embraces at church; last-minute trips, just because I can, to see places and people that enliven me and remind me who I am, and that who I am is okay. The space and distance and quiet allow for the stress and crazy and lies to drain out of me, sometimes slow and quiet, sometimes with catharsis the strength of which surprises me.

I’m finding my anthem this summer in the song that names the season: “Summertime, and the living is easy.” In the lazy days of reading and gardening and playing with my dog, in the afternoons of cooking and creating in the kitchen with music playing loud, in the occasional adventures to a friend’s farm or an art museum or Costa Rica, for heaven’s sake, the easy living is restorative to my soul in ways that I know I wouldn’t have found in a different summer agenda. Quietly, almost unnoticed, my soul and body and mind are creeping back together from the corners where I’d banished them, until suddenly I am finding myself with words darting through my head, stories half-way piecing together, creativity bursting out in spurts of cooking, desires to tell my stories making their way to the surface. In the country calm and summer space, coming back to life again, I’m still quiet; but perhaps not for long.

What I’m Into: June 2013 Edition (Link-up with Hopeful Leigh)

Linking up again with Hopeful Leigh

In June, summer got into full swing–which for me, meant lots of time outdoors, spontaneous travels, garden adventures, and a trip to Costa Rica with my family to see my sister. While I’ve still been reading a lot (trying hard catch up at 52 in 52) the screen time has been minimal, which is a welcome change. Here’s what I’ve been into:

Books:

  • Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist. This is fantastic. Go buy it and read it. Now. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Shauna’s writing and I’ve probably referred them to her blog or books multiple times. Bread and Wine is essentially a food memoir/spiritual memoir rolled into one, with recipes. By one of my favorite authors. So it’s no surprise I loved it. But this is why you might love it: Shauna writes with such an easy, conversational style that you feel like you know her, and have sat down at her table for meals or coffee to chat about life. She is an excellent story-teller who gets her point across through stories, rather than just telling you the point. Shauna holds a wonderful balance between the bitter and sweet parts of life (check out another of her books, Bittersweet) and is honest about the messiness, the life-y-ness, of life. I feel like I’ve joined her with her family and friends at her table and been encouraged by them. Also, the recipes look amazing and are very easy to follow; plus most are gluten-free. So far I’ve only tried the risotto, which was an experience in itself, but next up are Annette’s Enchiladas and the Blueberry Crisp.
  • Continuing on the food writing, Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone was another on my reading list after I heard about it at Jubilee 2013. I was so excited for it because a look at the table of contents showed that it would cover topics from our relationship with food and obsession with diets to the value of eating together to the ethics of how our food is grown and comes to us–all of which are things I find fascinating. In the back she includes some further reading lists which can point you on towards books on just one of those topics. Eat With Joy is definitely a more straight-foward read than Bread and Wine but I appreciate the more academic tone and culmination of her research. It’s a great read for someone looking to get a basic overview of how people relate to food and why it matters. It also includes recipes, which look simple and tasty, and table prayers which I am excited to start using.
  • Other books I read: Costa Rica Culture Smart, Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead, Prototype by Jonathan Martin, and still chugging along in The Story of Christianity, Vol. 2 by Justo Gonzalez. That one is hefty but so, so good. I thought I would have to force myself to keep reading this church history tome but it’s rather exciting and really helpful to get an idea of what happened in the Church from the Reformation to present-day.

I also developed a minor obsession with rhubarb during June. Typically a spring thing, the “pie plant” as it is also known will grow into June and even July, so I just kept pulling it and chopping it and baking it and cooking it and….I made rhubarb pie, rhubarb viniagrette, even rhubarbeque chicken pizza. Yeah. That last one tasted amazing and I came up with it myself! And I tweaked and perfected the pie recipe till it was to my liking. 

Also on the food front, but in Costa Rica: We had SO MUCH delicious, fresh pineapple. I was beside myself. And a variety of forms of rice and beans: casados (meals of rice, beans, choice of meat, and salad), arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), arroz con camarones (rice and shrimp), gallo pinto (breakfast rice and beans, mixed together and seasoned). Oh, and ceviche, a dish of raw fish marinated in lime juice, which is eaten with chips. Fantastic.

Oh yeah, I went to Costa Rica! My parents and I made the international trek (their first ever!) to spend some time with my sister, who lives on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It was bizarre to combine family vacation with international travel, but a very good trip. We spent a bit of time in the capital, San Jose, and also visited Tenorio National Park to see a waterfall and blue lagoon and Arenal Volcano, which is, as it sounds, a volcano. I especially enjoyed driving through the mountain countryside on our way to and from the national parks. We also saw howler monkeys, which would be more aptly named barking monkeys, and many small crabs and lizards. And a giant ceiba tree–which, I had to admit, seemed bigger than the sequoia trees in my beloved Yosemite.

I was also able to do a last-minute trip with my dear friend to her family’s farmhouse in northwestern Illinois and another trip to Indiana to see college friends, one of whom just returned from a year in Papua New Guinea. So great to see them!!

So to sum up, I basically spent June cooking, eating, reading, gardening, and traveling. Is it any wonder that I’m loving this summer?

What I’m Into: May 2013 (link up with Hopeful Leigh)

This month I’m starting what will hopefully be a continual practice of taking some time to pay attention to, well, what’s got my attention. New finds in music, what I’m reading, TV shows or movies that I’ve seen, etc. Linking up with Hopeful Leigh.

What I'm Into

May has been a bit of a crazy month: finishing up my first year of grad school, wrapping up work at my assistantship for the summer, getting ready to move to a farm for a summer internship, then my summer plans falling through and moving home to my parents’ house instead. But in the midst of that craziness, these are a few things I’ve been loving.

Books:

I finished off the hefty volume The Shaping of American Higher Education by Cohen and Kisker for my History of Higher Education class. Lengthy but generally pretty interesting and informative.

books-1

Another higher ed read was The Idea of a Christian College by Arthur Holmes. Holmes taught at Wheaton College, and this short book lays out a great foundation for why a Christian liberal arts college is important. Lots of really thought-provoking pieces; I read through it quickly for a book discussion, but am looking forward to reading through it slower and really chewing over some parts.

images

 

Now that’s school’s out for the summer, I have a massive summer reading list. So far I’ve finished two:

Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction by Richard Mouw. Kuyper is the father of the Dutch Reformed tradition, which Geneva College comes from. People reference Kuyper frequently, and I never heard of him till this past year, so I decided it was time to brush up. This is not exactly biography so much as a short summary of Kuyper’s theology and philosophy, followed by some applications for today. Nice intro to Kuyper. I’m still confused about all the strains of Reformed and Calvinist traditions out there.

Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan E. Isaacs. I loved this memoir! Susan Isaacs is an actor/comedian/writer who tells the story of how God torched her life and she took him to marriage counseling. I’ve read part of it before, but couldn’t get through the parts that felt painfully similar to my own story (the torching part, not the actor/comedian part) so it got shoved under the far corner of my mattress for awhile. But I’m glad to have reread it and finished it this time. A great book for anyone who wrestles with or gets angry with God, and for those who know them. (So basically anyone–just read it.)

Angry-Conversations-With-God

 

Next up on the summer reading list: Prototype by Jonathan Martin, Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist, Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson, Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone, and continuing in The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez.

 

Music:

This month I’ve been loving The Tallest Man On Earth and The Wailin’ Jennys. I love the sound of both–I would place it somewhere in the folk genre, but at any rate they are characterized by unique, wistful vocals and a sweet variety of instruments accompanying. TTMOE is particularly clever in some of the lyrics; check out King of Spain and The Gardener for starters. A friend turned me on to The Wailin’ Jennys’ album “40 Days.” Full of great songs, and I’ve branched out from there.

TV:

I am absolutely captivated by Scandal! Usually I stick to comedies, and lawyer shows or political thrillers don’t interest me at all. But somehow I got in on the first few shows of Scandal, and I am hooked. Every episode is full of plot twists and character development, and leaves me hanging and waiting on the edge of my sofa for the next week’s episode. Definitely check it out. Season 2 just finished but Season 1 is on Netflix.

Other things I love:

Super new friends in Beaver Falls, and a girls’ Disney night. (Can you believe I hadn’t seen The Karate Kid before?!)

Getting to play with my dog Buddy again. So happy!

IMG_0005

Being in rural Illinois again. I love going for walks out in the country and having people in cars stop to talk to me in the middle of the road: friends, neighbors, strangers, even a former piano student who I haven’t seen in years. Gotta love the country life!

on cinnamon rolls and sanctification

my friend–
jessie, the writer–
wrote me a letter of encouragement
a manifesto for us idealists
to inspire courage as we live in the un-ideal, the un-idyllic.

she says that we–
impertinent, pesky idealists–
want magical, fairy-dusted, warm cinnamon rolls
good things, best things
perfection, now
heaven on earth

she says
sometimes we get cinnamon rolls
but mostly the kitchen is closed.
the idealists beat on the doors
why can’t heaven roll down, now?

my other friend–
the realist-idealist with stubborn hope springing eternal–
sees another truth and speaks.
heaven-come-down rolls out the refining fire
to purify the dross
burn the chaff
to make the ideal of our character and our world.
only then can the cinnamon rolls last forever
otherwise they mold.

the fire hurts.
it burns
the pain
too great to bear,
seemingly.

but the Baker is baking
slow and steady
patient
fervent
kneading the resistance right out of me
with hands firm but full of grace.

into the oven
(out of the frying pan into the fire?)
one fire or another
self-chosen or Wisdom-picked
either way i’ll burn
either way

you choose, He whispers
take your time.
I’ll be
in the kitchen–
closed, quiet–
only dough
rising.

is this a grace in itself–
heaven, here and now
a burnt cinnamon roll

what is saving my life right now?

Last summer, I had just come across Sarah Bessey’s blog when she asked readers, What is saving your life right now? What’s keeping you going and sane and thriving right this minute? A great question, one which I forgot about over a few months until Brenna D was reflecting on it just a few weeks ago. So I’ve been asking myself that question often lately: what is saving my life right now? And if I feel more in need of saving, what needs to be saving my life right now?

What has been saving my life these last few weeks?

  • my supervisor and friend, Missy
  • @Virtual_Abbey and their morning and evening prayers on Twitter
  • caring for some friends who are also in need sometimes
  • Gilmore Girls and knitting
  • dear friend Jess, always only a phone call away
  • Paxil (and this post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary)
  • reading Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

What do I need in February to help save my life?

  • GRACE with myself.
  • a haircut (check–and did it myself)
  • fewer to-do lists
  • exercise that is manageable
  • coffee date moments
  • time to process and come to conclusions
  • healing habits: freedom to do them, not pressure
  • less mindless internet time and more “mindless” relaxation time: coloring, knitting, piano–to let my mind wander and unwind while creating something
  • old friends and new friends to know me and help me re-center

dwell

I began January 2013 at home in Illinois, well-rested from a long Christmas break and excited to get back to my Pennsylvania home and school and work. But that didn’t last long before the bone-chilling cold crept up on me and the grey monotony of winter set in: emotionally as well as physically. I am not a stranger to winter, to the harsh landscapes of depression; but even so, weathering January was unexpected and hard. Now, while the snow is still falling soft and pixie-like, I am lighter of heart and mind. After years of long winters, I am quicker to notice when something is wrong and better able to both live with it and change it. I am gladly welcoming February, a new month with new chances, and a month that always seems a bit warmer–if only because of the warm-hued valentine themes. 

In mid-January, I found myself curled on my bed, looking at my one word that I had written on a dry-erase board: “placed.” At that moment, “placed” seemed more like a curse than a call or even a blessing. And as the month continued, the stormy moments confirmed that the word “placed” is full of pressure for me, to be happy where I find myself whether I like it or not. So while it may be “cheating,” I’m changing my one word for 2013 to something a little less pressurized, a lot more grace-filled, which captures the same things I loved about being placed: dwell.

Dwell retains the idea that place matters. It also speaks to the significance of staying where you are, being where you are, sitting in it awhile: be it sunny summer or wild winter. I may not be happy there, but I can still dwell right where I am, sticking it out, and have a heart that is dwelling in grace regardless of where my body is dwelling. I had originally considered dwell when thinking about my one word. The definitions are as follows:

  • to live as a resident; reside
  • to remain for a time; stay
  • to exist or live in a given place or state
  • to fasten one’s attention, keep the attention directed
  • to linger over, emphasize, or ponder
  • to speak or write insistently

I like the variations on a theme. Dwelling is more than where I am physically placed or what situations I find myself in; I do dwell in Beaver Falls and sometimes I dwell in situations I don’t like: winter, of any sort. But at the same time that I am dwelling there, I can seek to dwell in joy, in grace, in peace: in a state which does not waver. I also love the focus on attention.  A pastor once told me, “Our ability to pay attention is sacred,” and I believe this to be hugely true. Paying attention to our lives, to our selves, to those around us, to the movements of God in our lives, to the gifts he is giving us, keeps us grounded in what is true and life-giving. And as I attempt more writing this year, I liked the last definition as well.

So there it is. A new year is still very new; I am starting a new month with new tools and habits and perspective, seeking to dwell in grace in 2013.