Run hard after Him.

Uncovering lies, leaving untrustworthy excuses, and chasing God’s calling.

I was on the mat, 40 pushups behind me and gearing up for the next part of my workout, when I saw an athlete bite it on the treadmill.

He, along with three other incoming freshmen, was trying out for the men’s soccer team. The assistant coach had walked them through the treadmill settings. Time to see how fast they could go and for how long. Probably two miles, maybe 2.5.

He was running hard. That’s what you do when you’re trying to make a college team. And when you’re determined, you will push and push and push. He did well, and then his legs couldn’t keep up anymore. Next thing, he’d fallen and his limbs were flailing, trying to pull himself back up as the belt kept moving.

“You’re done,” the assistant coach said, grabbing him and setting him on the motionless floor. The athlete, out of breath and still shocked, nodded and stepped back.

He ran hard. He didn’t know yet if he’d make the team.

It’s easy to get lazy with your life.

Whether our life circumstances are simple or complicated, we can always find excuses or pseudo-spiritual platitudes to use in answering the question of why we’re living the way we’re living. Easy to spot are the countless variations of God wants me to be happy and it’ll all work out in the end (the first is untrue, the second an enormous oversimplification). Trickier are the ones that dance around fear or pride or selfishness and paint them as logical, acceptable, and rightfully normal.

Instead of calling fear, fear, and declaring the truth that it is not, nor ever will be, from God (2 Tim. 1:7), we pretend it’s not at the root of our constant hesitation and insecurity.

I’m not comfortable with going there [to that place I’ve never been, so I’m afraid of it].

I’m just not outgoing [because I’m afraid I’ll have nothing to say and people will think I’m dumb/boring/a waste of life].

Or in the case of pride, we relabel arrogance and self-infatuation as self-confidence and self-branding.

They don’t have to follow me if they don’t want. [But if they don’t, they’re missing out.]

Then there’s selfishness, which comes in so many shapes and forms — and arguably, is the root of both fear and pride.

We allow fear to rule us because, in our selfishness, we don’t want to ever be caught failing. Why risk failure when you can live up to someone else’s standards of success right where you are, never mind the fact that you are capable of improving, of pushing harder? We allow pride to take over, because when we elevate ourselves above others, we fulfill our selfish wishes to be number one at all costs.

One of my pet peeves on Pinterest are the quotes that roll around about cutting people out of your life who don’t, basically, feed your narcissism. I understand the need to create distance from people who purposefully tear you down, but the reality is that the people who are the hardest to be friends with — because their glaring insecurity makes them unpleasant and exhausting to spend time around — they actually need friendship the most. And if you embrace challenging friendships, they can grow you in ways you didn’t know you needed to grow.

To cut people out of your life because you just can’t handle them or don’t click or have nothing in common is not only self-serving — it’s wrong. Especially if you claim to be a Christian, because loving the “unlovable” is what the Creator did in sending His Son for the creations that screwed themselves up.

I’m almost halfway through reading the Bible in a year, and I just started Jeremiah, which is one of my favorite prophetical books.

Jeremiah is all about God calling His people to repent and turn back to Him with their whole hearts — not with empty words, but with the core of who they are.

“O Jerusalem,” He says in chapter 4, verse 14,

“wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your vain thoughts lodge within you?”

That question struck me.

I know that I harbor thoughts that grieve the Spirit. Fearful thoughts, prideful thoughts, selfish thoughts, impure thoughts, mocking thoughts, judgmental thoughts. My mind is always whirling with ideas and images and what I just read, and there’s always something in me that isn’t fully aligned with His purpose for His daughter.

And it’s not just my thoughts. It’s also my actions — or many times, my inactions.

“To him who knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin,” reads James 4:17, and while this verse has convicted me into taking the extra step to do small bits of good — corralling those stray grocery carts in the parking lot so they won’t hit someone’s car, holding the door open extra long to help the straggler in — there are still so many times when I shy away from doing good because it’s outside of my comfort zone or I’m just not outgoing. Never mind that I’ve been outside of my comfort zone for an entire six months and I can be outgoing if I have to (thank you, six years of working food service).

I make those excuses and I live by them, allowing false ideas of myself and my capabilities to build walls around the person Jesus died to set free.

What would the church look like if we stopped letting lies define our boundaries? How would our lives look different if we didn’t measure them with the same stick — of money, fame, comfort — that the world does?

I’m not saying we should be irresponsible, but I can honestly say that my own strong sense of responsibility in terms of my career and life trajectory often feels like chains around my neck. And not the kind you buy at a jewelry store.

What does it look like to “lay aside every weight” in an age that idolizes, in some settings, workaholism and, in other settings, pleasure? What does it look like to embrace God’s calling on our lives and “run with patience the race that is set before us“?

My current journal has a Jane Austen quote on the front:

“Know your own happiness.”

Quick interpretations outside of the quote’s context would consider this a very selfish statement to put on the cover of a book for one’s thoughts. My idea of it goes deeper:

I’m a young woman finding my way in a world that is broken but full of possibilities. I can’t measure my life by the lives of my peers or my older brothers or other people I admire. God’s call on my life is singular. His calling for me is not the same as His calling for Jeremiah or Paul or Mother Teresa or Tim Keller. His calling for me is not the same as His calling for my parents or any one of my siblings. His calling for me is not the same as His calling for each of His other writers. His calling for me is just that — His calling for me.

And that’s scary, because that means there are a lot of unknowns. There’s the freedom I have right now in singleness, which I can easily see lasting for years to come. There’s the freedom in being college-educated and debt-free and young and healthy and childless.

But see how fear paints freedom?

With fear as my contacts, I see freedom as unknown, something to tremble at and worry about. With restored vision, freedom isn’t scary. It’s exciting. It’s not something to worry about, it’s something to start marking up notebooks with all the good things that could happen by embracing freedom.

With true freedom, the only direction you won’t run is toward destruction. Which isn’t to say, I’m free so now I’m flawless, but we only take the path toward destruction when fear, pride, or selfishness is ruling our hearts. When those things are cast out, the roads we run don’t even have potholes.

Running is our calling.

What that looks like for me, what that looks like for you — it may be different, when we talk specifics, but overall it will involve love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (here’s what it won’t involve).

Those are results — the fruit — of a life spent running hard after God’s call.

I want to be that athlete on the treadmill, giving it all I’ve got until I can’t give anymore and the next thing I know, He’s telling me, “Well done.

Five ways journaling has improved my life

When I’m writing, I’m actively engaged with life. When I’m not writing, I’m just going through the motions.

Since the 29-day writing challenge I did in February (successfully writing from every daily prompt), I’ve felt

  1. more myself
  2. more at peace with life
  3. more excited about life, and
  4. more interested in the world around me.

Those daily prompts dipped me into words in a way that reminded me why I decided to be a writer in the first place. That led me back to journaling, and journaling has been huge in rehumanizing the Internet-addicted person I had become since moving back to Indiana.

First, journaling showed me how boring constantly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter makes me. Constantly ingesting other people’s thoughts, ideas, or stupid videos bereaves me of original thought. Those things in moderation, okay. But when I’m scrolling and I feel my brain go numb, I’ve been there too long. Get off and actually do something.

Second, journaling awakened me to how isolated I’d allowed myself to become. Journaling about me, me, me all the time is utterly insufferable — and not just for whoever might peek into my journals (don’t do that). It’s insufferable for me. No wonder I’d stopped doing it, outside of devotional notes, since returning to the place where I once had friends galore (thanks to college) and now have basically none (thanks to adulthood/graduations).

This spring, through journaling, I’ve admitted to myself that I am isolated, I have no solid friendships where I am, and that’s not okay. I need friends, so I need to do something about that.

Third, journaling got me thinking about more than my job and my career. It brought me back to thinking about my craft as a writer and different projects I want to work on.

Fourth, journaling has tuned me back into what I like, what I’m interested in, and reminded me that there is no life script I must live by (outside, of course, loving God and loving people). Since my senior year of college, I’ve felt this pressure to either get it together as a career woman (i.e. get your dream job, already!) or scrap the dreams and find a husband — something I’ve never considered a priority. Why either of those attitudes are wrong is another post entirely, but the point is, under that pressure, I lost sight of what excites me about living and learning and creating.

My interests are all over the place and though brand experts say choose a specialty, that just doesn’t fit who I am. That’s not a mold I was made for, and I’m not going to contort myself to fit into it (the same way I will not wear heels or makeup to live up to some arbitrary standard of female professional appearance — again, another blog post).

Journaling has tuned me back into my own interests and passions, and it’s helped me process (or start to process) a lot of thoughts about life, dreams, and the patience that both require. Which leads me to the fifth and final piece (for now):

Journaling has reminded me that I need room to breathe, not just physically, but creatively. If I pile all this pressure on myself to write like crazy, hustle, hustle, hustle, when I’m not taking time to recharge my batteries and reboot my mental hard drive, I’m going to hurt myself in my attempts to reach “success”.

A dream, an ambition, should not be a burden. It should be a motivator, something — like a good song — that excites you to get out of bed in the morning. If they’re burdens, they’re probably idols, because you think you can’t live without them.

So journal. Because it’s good. Because it’s healthy. Because it helps you examine and ponder pieces of life that would otherwise go unchecked. And because journaling is a way of showing yourself, I’m here and I’m good.

Good Reads: Risks people take for fishing poles, philosophies, and friendship

This post is part of a series recommending narrative, longform journalism and nonfiction pieces.

Is it worth it?

It could be anything. A dive into alligator-infested waters, a move away from everything you know, a climb up a stretch of rock others have labelled unclimbable. Is it worth the risk?

Sometimes, we step up to the forks in life’s road and decide to do what terrifies us, because our decisions shouldn’t be driven by fear. Right? But why do we fear things in the first place? Couldn’t there be a seed of truth buried deep in that overwhelming sense of fright?

These recommended reads all have an aspect of risk. Decide for yourself whether the decisions were worth it.

Unclimbable by Eva Holland, SB Nation

Eva Holland’s knee was in bad shape when she went to the Cirque of the Unclimbables, a trip she’d been anticipating for quite some time. Three Colorado College graduates had just received a grant for a similar trip, also the Unclimbables, when their good friend died in an avalanche. To go or not go? And if they go, how hard should they push?

The Friend by Matthew Teague, Esquire

When Matthew Teague’s wife was dying of cancer, a mutual close friend of he and his wife decided to move in and help. This piece is a heartfelt account of Teague seeing the friend give up nearly everything to meet the needs of him and his wife.

My Dad Tried to Kill Me with an Alligator by Harrison Scott Key, Outside

Lighter and more humorous than the previous two, this piece examines fatherhood through the lens of Harrison’s terrified childhood and, toward the end, his own fathering experience. A fast-paced read that will make you laugh. Unless you’ve decided not to.

And for a fairly accurate (and hilarious) portrayal of the consensus on truth in nonfiction:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Truth in Nonfiction But Were Afraid to Ask: A Bad Advice Cartoon Essay by Dave Gessner

No description needed. Just go read it. Seriously.

Sitting in the dark, eating ice cream by myself

Ice cream is no fun by yourself.

That’s what I thought last night as I sat with my little bowl of orange sherbet carved from the brick of Turkey Hill I bought last week for $4.99. I was sitting alone on the first floor of the house I live in, where all the lights are on timers to make it look like people are home when we could be anywhere in a hundred mile radius.

It was probably the fifth time I had ice cream last week, other times eating it straight out of the container because you can do that when it’s all yours and you’re never expecting company because the few friends you have in the City either already live with you or wouldn’t come visit because it’s too far for them and you wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting them over to a space that isn’t really yours.

Ice cream. By oneself.

Even when it’s eaten for the joy of the flavor, temp, and texture, it feels like I’m eating it out of loneliness or depression — eating my feelings — when I eat it by myself. Food, it occurs to me, is a social activity. It’s not just me, my mouth, and whatever’s on my plate. It’s meant to be enjoyed in the presence of others.

Considering my upbringing, this only makes sense. Food (especially dinner and, almost more so, ice cream) was always a family affair, something we gathered around in some sort of order, everyone in their seats, places set, eyes on the serving dishes, thoughts on their stomachs. It was almost a contest to see who could get the most — seconds, thirds — and with ice cream this was especially apparent (though seconds were only a possibility with my grandparents).

“One. Ha ha.”

“Three. Ha ha.”

“Six. Ha ha.”

Different voices called out, boasting the number of mini peanut butter cups they’d gotten in their two small scoops of Peanut Butter Moose Tracks.

Some kids collected their candies, licked clean of ice cream, on the table, not squeamish at all about the bacteria that could potentially latch on from the tablecloth. Others ate as they counted, leaving no proof to their claims of “Nine. Ha ha.” Sometimes, it got competitive and ended with tears and insults and Mom yelling at us to “go to bed!” More often, it fell into hilarity, my older brother and I poking fun at the younger ones and laughingly calling out our own tallies: “Four. Ha ha.” “Two. Ha ha.” An enjoyable, laughter-filled way to cap off our day together as a family.

Nothing like sitting in near darkness with a bowl of ice cream and no one beside myself, not even a picture of someone to look at or an animal to talk to.

Last night, I became acutely aware of how often I am alone. Not in the “woe is me,” Mr. Lonely sort of way, not in a God-forsaken way because I know and believe He will not forsake me, but just a human alone-ness. I’m fine with independence; I’m fine with doing my own thing, but some things are better with others. Especially food, especially bus rides, especially movies and reruns of Friends, and especially ice cream.

Girl Meets World has already disappointed me, and I’m not holding my breath for it to get any better

I’m not a negative person. Typically, I’m the first to spot a cloud’s silver lining and the spark from lightning that lights up the rainforest in a good way. But Girl Meets World, in its premiere episode, made me cringe enough to turn the TV off as soon as the ending credits rolled and decide no, this was not worth my time.

It’s a valiant effort, taking a much-loved sitcom (Boy Meets World) and building a reincarnation, complete with actors from the original. When I first heard about the possibility of Girl Meets World, I was excited. I grew up watching BMW and, in recent years, enjoyed its early-morning reruns playing in the background as I worked the loner opening shift at a deli in upstate New York.

BMW presents life as it is for the majority of the population: one day after another, trying to figure out relationships, family, school, and what to do with this thing called life. Fame isn’t on the characters’ radars — Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and the rest of the gang have bigger fish to fry, namely tomorrow’s homework, Shawn’s trailer park family, and Topanga’s fear of love and commitment because of her parents’ divorce. Held up beside today’s shows — especially those Disney produces for a similar demographic — BMW tackles much bigger issues and aims not only to entertain, but also to inform. Each episode is replete with life lessons, courtesy of Mr. Feeny.

I think that’s why there was so much excitement about bringing BMW back as Girl Meets World. Again we’d have a show that not only makes us laugh, but also makes us think and grow and makes our nieces and nephews and children think and grow. Yes, please, make GMW a thing.

So much potential.

But one twenty-minute episode, and I’m already disappointed. Let’s ignore the garish colors and the subway car that’s oh-so-fake (not to mention, too clean).

Continue reading.

NYC Week Fourteen: 10 things I miss about home and school (aka rural America)

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

I’d just settled on the bench, purse and my bag of leftover food from work on my lap, one per leg. Done with work, time to wait for the F train and go home.

“Meredith?”

I looked up to see a familiar face, soft round features I recognized but couldn’t place. Danny’s, I knew that’s where I knew her from but . . . I felt my brain sputtering to find a name. None came.

“It’s Kyle,” she said.

Kyle. Yes. That’s right. The name I was trying to remember was wrong — I was thinking of her doppelganger who’d worked nextdoor.

“Is this for real?” she asked, half smiling.

“Yeah.” My only word. Still in shock.

“Do you live in the city?”

The M train screeched to a stop. The doors opened.

“Yeah.” Again, all I could manage.

“All right — me, too. I have to get on this train, but it’s good to see you.”

“Yeah.”

She climbed aboard. I stayed where I was, smelling tbsp on me, thinking of Danny’s, and trying to soak in what just happened.

In a city of 8 million strangers, I’d run into someone I knew from home.

Growing up in small town America — “small town” meaning a town with two main intersecting roads and no traffic light — running into someone I knew required only that I step out the front door. Or the back door. Neighbors, even if I didn’t know them well, I always greeted with a “how’s it going” when I passed them in their driveways on my way to the library, bank, post office, or park. I only didn’t vocally greet neighbors if I was running or if they were the creepy ones. But I took for granted that I’d see people I knew — even if I traveled 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart, I expected to run into a familiar face.

It’s not like that here. There’s one older short, black man I end up on the same bus and train with every once in a while. We nod our acknowledgements and occasionally shrug our shoulders at each other in response to weirdos on the F. But that’s it. And my not seeing people I know isn’t just because I don’t know anyone — even New York natives are surprised when they run into a friend on the street.

There are a lot of things I miss about home and school, living in the City. Most of them have to do with fundamental differences between rural America and urban life, and most of them I rarely thought about before living here. Running into familiar faces is one. Below are nine more.

1. Going “the back way” on quiet dirt roads canopied by trees.

There’s nothing like following a long day of work with a quiet drive through the hills. The roads are narrow — I typically pray the whole time that no one will come the other way — but the silence, the scenery, and the dirt and stones your tires kick up as you ride over hole after hole is well worth it.

2. Air that smells like water, dirt, and trees — not exhaust fumes, smoke, and dust.

Because even the exhaust coming out the back of your little 2001 Corolla doesn’t ruin what the trees and creeks are giving back. And let’s face it — people, even when they try to smell good, still smell bad.

3. Local food that’s actually local, as in you picked it yourself in your backyard or your neighbor’s field.

If it’s not in season, it’s not fresh and it’s not local. Strawberries are one of the first crops to ripen. Then raspberries, then tomatoes, then blueberries, apples, corn, potatoes. Picking, processing, and freezing things yourself is the best (though labor-intensive).

4. Backyards with enough room to play volleyball, soccer, and run through a sprinkler — all with their own space.

This would be my backyard at home. And a lot of my neighbors’. Plus, there’s a park two blocks away with basketball court, playground, baseball diamond, and enough grass for casual soccer and football games to take place simultaneously. When I’m home for less than 24 hours in a week and a half, I’m going to find some grass and roll in it.

5. Fresh roadkill venison you don’t think twice about eating because you know who hit it and when.

I grew up eating more deer meat than beef, and I miss it like crazy. It’s a meat you eat and still feel healthy afterward. At least, I do. And yes, a lot of what I ate was hit by someone’s car. These things happen on dark, curvy roads at night. No reason to let the animal go to waste.

6. Open fields, open roads, and open roads next to open fields.

One of my favorite views is driving home south on 205, where the road runs along the hillside and the valley lies spread out beside it, trees, fields, a barn here and there. You realize how big this one corner of the world is, and then how big the world must be in comparison, and how small you are. And you quiet.

7. Quiet.

No trains rumbling past. No airplanes or helicopters flying low overhead. Cars, but few buses, little honking, screeching brakes typically belonging to teenagers or a tractor-trailer or that guy nobody likes. Sirens, but not constantly and always making way for a crew of emergency personnel you trust, because you know them. They live down the street.

8. Trees. Good for climbing or just sitting under.

Maybe an evergreen or a maple. And if it’s maple, best if someone taps it in the spring for sap — thus, real maple syrup. Trees are everywhere: the front, back, and side yards; the edges of the park, all over the hills that border you on every side. In the fall, they’re the best: orange, yellow, red, evergreen. In the winter: snow-tipped, the pines looking like frosted shredded wheat or something equally sugary and delicious. In the spring: new leaves, like a new page of a new life, budding from thickening branches. In the summer: green, green, green. All shades.

9. A clear, cool creek you can wade in barefoot and follow under the road and into town in one direction, or up the hill and into the woods the other way.

Toward what we like to call “civilization” or away from it, into what actually looks more orderly and less chaotic than anything people put together. No honking bus drivers or swearing cabbies, no swerving around or weaving through slow-but-not-really lanes of traffic, no derailing trains or flooding subway stations — because there aren’t any. Just you and creation. And the reality that, yes, this is good.

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Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church. Worked out (my route in 10:38 plus sprints and various other things).

Monday: Internship. Worked out (included 51 push-ups).

Tuesday: Work. Worked out (sprints with my housemate, plus core).

Wednesday: Internship. Worked a catering event for Spoon.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Made a specific goal of applying to writing jobs this weekend. Ran into Kyle while waiting for the train to come home.

Saturday: Mother’s Day brunch at church (always a weird thing to be part of as a woman who’s nowhere near motherhood). Choir. Worked out (highlight: box jumps on the front step). Did laundry. Read narrative nonfiction/longform articles (reading recommendations coming tomorrow). Wrote this blog post.

When the perfect job becomes a total nightmare

Some things shouldn’t change. My first job was one that did.

Last week, I posted this piece on Medium. I wrote it last semester for Advanced Creative Writing and have been holding onto it, waiting to be sure I wasn’t returning to my old job and wanting to be careful about where I shared it and how.

Names have been changed, but those who know me know the place and the people — all of which still mean a lot to me. Read and feel free to comment, keeping in mind that this story is close to my heart.

When the perfect job becomes a total nightmare: Some things shouldn’t change. My first job was one that did.

I miss the dragon kite. I miss the picnic table in the back parking lot, the neat stacks of Coca-Cola trays, the recyclables organized next to the green dumpster with April’s butcher paper note forbidding residents of the Ironclad Building from putting their trash in Benny’s dumpster. I miss the parmesan bread twists, the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and homemade Focaccia bread. I miss the muffin-offs, setting Brett’s strawberry cheesecake muffins against my blueberry lemon poppy. I miss the fresh produce: crisp and tart apples, blueberries the size of your thumbnail, peaches whose juice drips down your arm and off your elbow.

I miss Benny’s Market as I first knew it. I miss the Benny’s that was all of this.

I only know Benny’s from behind the counter. The first time I stepped inside, I was job-hunting with my best friend. I’d never been there before and our 90-second stop furnished me with only . . . READ MORE.