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.

Admitting the truth, practicing humility

Humility: noun. a modest or low view of one’s own importance.

Any number of things may come to mind when you read this word: Wilbur, the famed pig in Charlotte’s Web; small towns where various celebrities started out; the story of a man taking up a towel to serve his followers by washing their feet.

Humility.

We know it’s important. We know there’s a beauty in living it out, putting others before ourselves and denying our egos. But daily, even hourly, we fail to practice humility. From grumbling about the wait at Starbucks to yelling at the car that cut us off to writing death threats to individuals we’ve never met, it’s undeniable — humility is not our native language.

I could dig into the why. I could talk about the Fall of man and the corruptive power of sin, how from birth we’re prone to hate, to slander, to seek our own at the expense of others.

But this time, I’m not going to do that. Instead — without denying the truth that our hearts are rotten inside — I’m going to admit that I don’t know everything and there’s little reason for you to read what I write.

I’m not an expert in any area. I hold no certifications. My only degree is in writing, but I still break grammar rules. I was born in 1992, which means I’ve lived through very little of history. I still bite my nails. I’m hopelessly biased. And as much as I like to think I can figure everything out, I’m as likely to shut my computer in defeat as the next person.

I have no reason to be high and mighty, so please don’t take any of the following as self-aggrandizing wisdom-sharing. You have no reason to read what I write, but if you do, this is what I’d like you to know:

The best conversations in life happen between people who have vastly different views. Some of my favorites happened behind the counters of various places I worked with people who see the world through entirely different paradigms. Our conversations were some of the most challenging and stimulating I’ve ever experienced. If you spend most of your time with like-minded people, branch out. Find people who think differently and pursue those conversations with the objective of understanding.

Don’t be intimidated by things that are difficult to understand. The most important things in life are difficult to understand. Examples: water, light, God. People who think differently can also be difficult to understand. But difficult is no synonym for impossible.

Listening is key. If someone else is talking and you are composing your response or considering how ugly they look when frustrated, you are not listening. Reposition yourself. Place your entire focus on the other person. Soak up what they’re saying, and earnestly try to put yourself in their shoes so you can understand what they mean by their words. If you find this difficult, read more fiction.

Humility is less painful than pride. Despite its initial discomfort. Why? Because humility makes room for others, as well as yourself, to grow. Pride claims you’ve grown the tallest and no one will ever reach your greatness. Being a giant in a world of dwarves is lonely — especially when you think you’re a giant, but you’re actually just as small as everyone else.

When you don’t know, admit it. When you think you know but you might be wrong, admit it. When you realize what you said before was wrong, call yourself out. Practice humility. Because anything that doesn’t come naturally requires practice — not only when you’re out and about, but also when you’re by yourself, scrolling through Instagram and judging that girl’s selfie, this dude’s muscle tone, and that barista’s latte art. Are you really better than them? Not only in photographs but in essence, in life? The correct answer is no.

It’s better to admit when you’re wrong (or did something stupid) than to hold convictions out of pride. We’ve all had those moments when understanding floods our consciousness and we realized how stupid or off-base our previous ideas/thoughts/words/actions were. In these moments, embrace the freedom that comes with saying, “Well, I feel like an idiot” and explaining why.

Don’t judge people by their opinions. Don’t decide whether or not you’ll be friends with someone based on their opinions. Opinions change. Issues come and go. People can’t be replaced. I am enormously thankful that my extended family has completely different views on practically every single political issue. It forces me to see “the other side” as human and challenges me to understand where they’re coming from with their ideas on abortion, gay marriage, the welfare state, etc. We don’t disagree because some of us are stupid, ignorant, or barbaric. We disagree because we look at the world differently. When we take time to understand each others’ worldviews, our own perspectives broaden and we grasp complexity beyond what we originally saw. And when we fail at that, we’re still family which means we have more chances to attempt understanding and love each other without seeing eye to eye.

None of us have everything figured out. Anyone who says they do is wrong. But that’s not a reason to write them off. Maybe they haven’t learned there’s nothing wrong with the answer, “I don’t know.” Take time to get to know them. Share where you are in this journey and practice being humble in their presence. Who knows, maybe they’ll catch your humility.

“I don’t know” is not a cop-out. It’s an invitation to begin an investigation. Is there a way you could know? How can you find out? We’re able to learn and reason and discover — the exact abilities necessary for knowing. So scour the libraries, consult the scholars, study Scripture and science and history. Heck, search Google. There’s no excuse to stay in the realm of unknowing once you’ve identified what you don’t know.

Whenever the opportunity arises, offer grace. But don’t let grace be an excuse to be walked over or to allow others to continue toward destruction. Grace identifies wrongs with the expectation that they will be corrected, but it doesn’t require those corrections in order to rest in its arms. This is straight out of the Gospel, so if you don’t know Jesus, here’s a taste: All other faiths of this world ask you to live up to a standard in order to enter some sort of paradise. Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived up to that standard because it’s impossible for us. The paradise is living in His presence forever. His sacrifice on the cross allows us to come before the throne of God in awe of what He’s done for hopeless sinners like us. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” When you turn to God, you don’t return to sin. He calls you higher. Sin provides only a counterfeit joy. Like pride, it provides satisfaction for a season, but soon enough it takes its toll and you’re bound to destruction. God is all about releasing those bonds so you can live in the freedom of humility with a God who humbled Himself so you could be raised out of the pit. How do I know this? I told you, I haven’t experienced much. I’m no expert on anything. But this? This I’ve experienced.

Sunset
Photo credit: Natalie Sell

Life is a journey. What are you learning?

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.