Savoring Sunday

I awoke this morning to not an alarm, but to one of my favorite sounds of steady rain. I decided to stay in today – I really do hate missing my incredible times of worship and the Word at my local church – but like my mom always said, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep.” Well that, and I had to put some serious time into prepping for my supplemental instruction test review session tonight.

After a couple hours of cutting out biology vocabulary words having to do with plant sex and coming up with quiz topics on other thrilling subjects, I ventured out into the drizzle for the usual weekend grocery run. I came back and decided to throw together this glorious sandwich which was perfect for my cravings on a cool spring Sunday.IMG_4824

A shmear of honey mustard on whole wheat bread, a few slices of herb-crusted turkey, a fan of avocado strips, a slice (or two) or sharp white cheddar fresh from the deli, and finished off with a generous handful of spicy arugula and a couple turns of cracked black pepper. Into a hot oiled pan it went to sizzle and brown before the careful flipping (and inevitable loss of a few prized ingredients along the way) to finish for the perfect melt. Now that is a grilled cheese, friends. I was then informed by someone that it’s National Grilled Cheese Month. GET OUT. Be expecting a grilled cheese and wine party very soon.

To continue along on this anti-studying/anti-working out afternoon, I made these downright delicious espresso chocolate chip cookies for my students that come to the review tonight. We all know that what every stressed, bio/pre-med freshman needs is a cookie, and the caffeine can only help, right?

(This is not my photo and not my own recipe. Find it here.)Espresso-chocolate-chip-cookies-2-web

They were quality-controlled by my roommates and I, and then what did I do? Finally dig into studying the vessels of the entire cardiovascular system for my quiz Tuesday? Close, but no – I took a nap. Happy Sunday, y’all.325ddc09122dc2e12f9e63ae3ca7b826

Still Sing

I know the Lord knows what’s best for me and will always work all things together for my good, but this week I had to struggle a little to fully believe that.

A big thing that’s been on my heart and mind recently is just what my last year here at Baylor will look like, and how God is leading me to reevaluate how I spend my time. I want my priorities to shift from things I have to do to things I want to do. It might sound selfish when I say it like that, but for someone who has balanced a never-ending list of projects, obligations, and responsibilities since I’d say middle school, while still giving full attention to my schoolwork and grades, I don’t feel bad saying it. I think the Lord wants to delight in seeing me thrive and enjoy a little more all-around well-being in my final days here, so that I don’t view college as such an uphill battle but as a place that I loved. Which I do, don’t get me wrong, but a lighter load or more things just for fun never hurt anyone, right?

I mentioned in my last post how I recently was hired to work as an anatomy lab TA next year. This past week was pretty stressful trying to coordinate registering and making my class schedule for the fall to make sure I’d be available to TA two of the labs each week. I had my ideal schedule planned when I was thrown (or rather, threw myself) a curveball.

If you don’t know me that well, something you should know is that I absolutely love to sing. I’ve been in choirs all my life, a small vocal ensemble in high school, had a fun solo in a campus production last year, and even was a member of the Women’s Choir here my freshman year. I’d also say some of my best solo performances have been in my car on my long drives to and from home. My mom is a music teacher, my sister leads worship at her church, and my dad is an amazing self-taught guitarist. Music runs through  my veins.

We have a group here at Baylor called VirtuOso that’s a contemporary a cappella small group – think Pitch Perfect or the TV series The Sing-Off. They perform around campus throughout the year, but also at other venues and even compete at the ICCAs. One of my best friends has been it since it started two years ago, and I give myself the title of their number one groupie. They sing mostly pop music – JT, Lorde, Beyonce, OneRepublic – and are known to do killer mash-ups.

I saw on their Facebook page a few weeks ago that they’d be holding auditions for the coming school year. I’d be lying if I said I had never thought about trying out. I may not be a vocal performance major, but I do know I can blend, hold down some alto harmonies, read music, rock some choreo, and that I would have a blast getting to do something I love in the midst of stressful life as a science major. Come on, senior year – YOLO, right (excuse the terribly overused slang)? I did consider it for awhile, but then as we so often do, I pushed it to the back of my mind as something that could never realistically happen. At a university of several thousand students, what are the chances that I would actually make it, considering I’m not a music major and don’t have any actual a cappella experience?

Well, my friend in the group brought the question back up to me last weekend and we discussed it a little. I blame him for giving me any glimmer of hope that I could possibly make it. I told him I’d already been tentatively assigned to work the lab time that conflicted with the VirtuOso class. I then did a little more tweaking and looking at other options, and I had it where I would have the time slot open potentially if I worked the other lab times. I then even spent a significant amount of time deciding what song I would audition on and told some close friends that all encouraged me to just GO FOR IT. I emailed my prof/boss asking her if it was at all still an option. Well, after much confusion and back and forth decisions on her part and mine, she let me know that in order for me to have the job, I would have to work the Monday/Wednesday lab. Obviously, the job was priority over the audition that could have been in vain anyway, so I changed my schedule back, seriously bummed. Once again, what I had to do trumped what I wanted to do.

After some time getting over my pity party of not even having the opportunity to try for something I’ve always wanted to do, I guess I’ve come to terms about it all. I know I need and want this job, and that being in VirtuOso (as awesome as it would’ve been), would still have been just another thing on my plate to take time away from other things I want to focus on next year like making memories with my friends and being up for whatever, whenever. Not to mention how busy in the fall I’ll be traveling to [hopefully] several interviews for dental school.

God closed this door, but just how many endless ones has he opened for me? He knows my every need and exactly how he will meet those needs. He knows my love for music and would want nothing to stop me from still singing.

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little bits of happy

It’s been a week of so many small joys all intertwined that it’s hard to even know where to begin reflecting on the past few days. I’m writing tonight with an overwhelming, continual gratitude for the outpour of God’s blessings and the small and big ways He gives me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). Some small, others more significant, but all moments worth sharing.

Even though our guys sadly lost out of March Madness on Thursday, the Lady Bears were victorious twice this week and are now moving on to the Elite Eight! As a huge Baylor women’s basketball fan (I skipped almost a week of class my freshman year to go watch history be made as we went 40-0 and won the national championship in Denver), I’m hoping for another incredible fight to the finish from our girls.

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After I spent much of Monday night watching the women’s game when I had a marketing test and anatomy quiz on Tuesday, I still managed to pull out As on both! Maybe I should watch basketball and enjoy a little pizza and Shiner more often when I study…

Tuesday afternoon I was so incredibly happy to be able to spend some time walking trails and catching up on life with my dear friend Christen who was in town. She moved back home to Colorado at the end of last school year, so this was our first time seeing each other since that sad goodbye. It was like she never even left, and as anyone who knows her would agree, every minute spent with her simply leaves your heart full.

If that wasn’t enough to make a girl’s day, I then treated myself to the long-awaited, post-half marathon training pedicure that was worth every penny. Running all those miles week after week doesn’t help any with the springtime transition to Chacos and flip-flops, trust me.

I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently taking a social dance class as a part of my degree’s fitness requirements. Our teachers are seriously sticklers when it comes to grading our dance tests, but I finally made a 100 on our last one – on Tango of all things. Now on to the Rumba, I’m thriving in my love for hip-moves and Latin rhythms. My teacher even told me I was just such a natural for this dance. Flattered? Extremely. A little awkward? Definitely (our instructors are a 60ish-year-old couple). It still made my day.

Some exciting news came my way when I found out I will be writing as a guest blogger/contributor for ASDA’s (dental student organization) national blog soon! I sent in an interest form a month or two ago just for kicks, and now I’m actually going to be “electronically published” for the first time as well as get my name out there in the dental world. The editor said they’d like for me to talk about my dentistry-specific service involvement in college, in particular my recent trip to Panama. I have all summer to perfect my post because it won’t be until the August issue.

My college pastor started a perfectly-timed new series called Back to the Future this Wednesday about making choices for your future and following your dreams that God’s given you in the midst of cloudy indecision. It’s just too good and I’m sure will deserve its own post when the series wraps up in a few weeks. I will go ahead and share the main takeaway from the first week, though – “Without complete surrender, there can never be complete confidence.” - Truth.

After much thinking, praying, and reevaluating my plans for next year as far as a job, I am officially stepping down from being a supplemental instructor in the biology department because I was chosen to fill a position as a lab assistant for general human anatomy – the class and lab I’m in now that I absolutely love even though it never ceases to kick my butt. I promise the material is taught at a level equal to medical/dental schools (my professor did use to be on teaching faculty at UT Southwestern). I’m so excited for change, a few less weekly work hours, a chance to work with my sassy, no-nonsense, and often like-minded professor, assisting students (many who will actually be my friends!) in complicated dissections -the bulk of our lab and why I enjoy it – and not to mention reviewing gross anatomy in depth for an entire year leading up to dental school.

Last night was Formal for an organization I’m in, and it was such an enjoyable time spent with some of my favorite people. I love any excuse for a little black dress, red lipstick, and my go-to sparkly nude pumps. I took Ross, my best guy, and there’s never a dull moment when we’re together. I cherish his friendship immensely, and I always appreciate when we can actually hang out with each other since, far too often, life just gets in the way. We decided to check out a new place downtown for happy hour cocktails and live jazz before heading to the event. We scrounged up the catered leftovers when we arrived fashionably late and then easily had the most fun on the dance floor  (I taught him the Rumba in one song), almost the last to leave.

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A good formal date – fun, mad dance skills, looks good standing next to you, and it doesn’t hurt if he’s your best friend

Good luck getting this crazy trio to take a decent picture

Good luck getting this crazy trio to take a decent picture

After all that time soaking up these souvenirs of junior year this past week, today was of course spent solely catching up and studying for another round of exams coming up. At least I was at one of my favorite spots with new pens, new music, and energized from a week of so many little bits of happy. 1979696_688355041215736_1869857780_n

“Things I Don’t Do” – An Excerpt from Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet

I just finished reading my second book by my new-found favorite author - Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. I wish I could do another collection of all my favorite quotes from this book like I did for Bread and Winebut this chapter in particular really stood out to the overachiever in me that makes me think that for some reason I can do it all, all the time. Enjoy this little excerpt, and go buy her books!

“A few years ago, at the very end of my frantic twenties, I was working more than full-time, all the while pricked with invisible needles of dissatisfaction, waking up in the night longing to write, buzzing through the days on coffee and adrenaline, wearing clothes that should have been taken to the dry cleaner six wearings ago. I was trying to think about becoming a mother. I knew it would change everything, but I couldn’t picture it, because no one ever can. I couldn’t see a way through to any other way of living, but I knew that there must be one. I saw women who were older than me, who did work they believed in and parented well, and, most surprisingly, didn’t seem nearly as frantic and chronically unkempt. I wanted what they had, and I had no idea how to get it.

I love the illusion of being able to do it all, and I’m fascinated with people who seem to do that, who have challenging careers and beautiful homes and vibrant minds and well-tended abs. Throw in polite children and a garden, and I’m coming over for lessons.

Out to lunch one day with my friend Denise, I asked her about it. Denise is a mother of four, and a grandmother, and she works and writes and travels and cooks, and — most imporant to me at that time — she seems settled in some fundamental way. There’s something she knows about herself that I didn’t yet know about myself, certainly.

We were at the Blue Water Grill, on a beautiful lake, unless you’re from Grand Rapids, apparently, because then you know that it used to be a quarry, and to them it’s sort of like having lunch crater-side. But it’s beautiful to me, having only known it as a lake. We ate pesto pizza and spinach salad with red onion slivers and poppyseed dressing, and long after the food was cleared, we drank iced tea and watched the water.

And this is what Denise told me: she said it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about. Her words from that day have been rattling around inside me for years now, twisting around, whispering, taking shape. Since that time we’ve worked together, traveled together, cried together, but when I think of her, I will always think of that day, and the wind on the fake lake, and the clarity and weight of those words.

I’m a list-keeper. I always, always have a to-do list, and it ranges from the mundane: go to the dry cleaner, go to the post office, buy batteries; to the far-reaching: stop eating Henry’s leftover Dino Bites, get over yourself, forgive nasty reviewer, wear more jewelry.

At one point, I kept adding to the list, more and more items, more and more sweeping in their scope, until I added this line: DO EVERYTHING BETTER. It was, at the time, a pretty appropriate way to capture how I felt about my life and myself fairly often. It also explains why I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t. This is how I got to that fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER.

Each of the three words has a particular flavor of poison all its own. Do: we know better than do, of course. We know that words like “be,” and “become,” and “try,” are a little less crushing and cruel, spiritually and psychologically, a little friendlier to the soul. But when we’re alone sometimes and the list is getting the best of us, we abandon all those sweet ideas, and we go straight to do, because do is power, push, aggression, plain old sweat equity. It’s not pretty, but we know that do gets the job done.

Everything is just a killer. Everything is the heart of the conversation for me, my drug of choice. Sure, I can host that party. Of course, I can bring that meal. Yes, I’d love to write that article. Yes, to everything.

This winter, I got the kind of tired that you can’t recover from, almost like something gets altered on a cellular level, and you begin to fantasize about what it would be like to just not be tired anymore. You don’t fantasize about money or men or the Italian Riviera. All you daydream about is not feeling exhausted, about neck muscles that don’t throb, about a mind that isn’t fogged every single day. I was talking to my husband about it in the car one night. I was complaining about being tired, but also bringing up the fact that lots of women travel and work and have kids. Everybody has a house to clean. Why can’t I pull it together?

He said, gently, ostensibly helpfully, something along the lines of “you know, honey, just because some other people can do all that, it doesn’t mean that you can or have to. Maybe it’s too much for you.

One tiny, almost imperceptible beat of silence. And then I yelled, viscerally, from the depths of my soul, as though possessed, “I’M NOT WEAK!”

As soon as the words came out, we looked at each other in alarm. It seemed, perhaps, we’d hit upon the heart of something. One of my core fears is that someone would think I can’t handle as much as the next person. It’s fundamental to my understanding of myself for me to be the strong one, the capable one, the busy one, the one who can bail you out, not make a fuss, bring a meal, add a few more things to the list. For me, everything becomes a lifestyle. Everything is an addiction.

And then betterBetter is a seductress. It’s so delicious to run after betterbetterbetter.Better is what keeps some women decorating and redecorating the same house for years on end, because by the time you get the last detail of the finished basement home theater just right, your countertops are just ever so slightly outdated, and so you start again. Better is what makes us go to a spinning class — or maybe two, or maybe three today, just for good measure. Better is what makes us get “just a little work done,” after the last baby, you know, or just to look a little bit fresher and more well-rested. Better is a force.

The three together, DO EVERYTHING BETTER, are a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives. And I’m the one who wrote those words on my very own to-do list. I’m in a lot of trouble with my own self for that, because the “do everything better” way of living brought me to a terrible place: tired, angry, brittle, afraid, hollow. And Denise’s words keep ringing in my ears, a song I had heard in the distance, like steel drums across the water, a song I want desperately to hear again.

She was right. Deciding what I wanted wasn’t that hard. But deciding what I’m willing to give up for those things is like yoga for your superego, stretching and pushing and ultimately healing that nasty little person inside of you who exists only for what people think.

Things I Do:

Above all else, I try to keep my faith in Christ at the very center of my life, the heart and source of everything. I trust God’s voice as my guide and Christ as my comforter. I pray, I practice confession and forgiveness, and I seek to see the world through the eyes of its Creator, believing everything can be redeemed. I’m a part of my church community, volunteering on its behalf, and working to make a better city and a better world because of our church community.

I do everything I can to make my marriage a deeply connected partnership. I work hard at being a good partner to Aaron, to walk with him and hear him and learn with him.

I give the best of my day to raise my son, and I dream about being a mother to more children someday. For the record, though, I did not and do not do very many of those super-achiever-mom things, like making baby food from scratch. I think the baby food people are doing a very nice job making baby food, and I bought it at Target.

I work hard to become a better writer with each page. I want to tell the truth as best I can, to tell the story of God and who he is and what he does, both through the way I write and the way I live. I write and read, in airports and hotel rooms and coffee shops and in the little blue room in our house. I read novels and essays and magazines and cookbooks and the Bible, and I couldn’t live well without those things.

I live in daily, honest, intimate community with a small group of people. I give my time and energy and prayer to my immediate family and close friends. To a slightly wider circle of ­people,

I give them my love and friendship through intermittent emails and very occasional visits.

Our home is a place of celebration and comfort for people we love, so I cook and entertain a lot, because it makes me feel alive and happy, the perfect counterpoint to the other part of my life — the lonely, typing part. It seems, I know, like one of the things that should be the first to go, along with novels, maybe, but I can’t live well without gathering people around our table. It gives me energy and creativity and spark, so it stays.

And then there are, of course, a few other things I do, just for being a person in America who does not have a personal assistant and is not, say, the president. This list includes, but is not limited to: trips to the DMV, laundry folding, diaper buying, and occasional flossing. Even if I did have a personal assistant, I would stipulate that I still do my own flossing, because I’m just that grounded.

So those are the things I do, things I believe in or feel called to, or just things that fall within my area of responsibility on the planetary chore list. But the more important list is the other one: the list of things I don’t do. I come back to it regularly, adding to it. The first list was easy. And then came the hard part. What am I willing to not do in order to do these things I believe in? Silence. Blank paper. More silence. Finally, a few things came to mind.

Things I Don’t Do:

I don’t garden. Our landscaping in Grand Rapids was so bad that Becky, our neighbor, came over of her own accord and dug out all our beds, partially because she’s a wonderful person and partially, I’m sure, because five years of driving past the wreckage of our front yard very nearly drove her to the brink of insanity. I’ve been feeling like sort of a loser because I don’t garden. I have friends who garden, and they talk a lot about the spiritual implications of new life springing from the earth, the deep communion with God that they experience as they lovingly tend to their herbs and flowers. But I’m going to have to miss out on all that, because, at least for now, no gardening.

I don’t do major home improvement projects or scour flea markets and antique shops for the perfect home accessories. No expectation for perfect housekeeping, either — I try for clean countertops and no horrible smells, but beyond that, it’s pretty rough. At our house, “home improvement” involves clearing off the coffee table every few days and loading and unloading the dishwasher.

I don’t always change my clothes just because I’m leaving the house. I wear yoga pants 99 percent of the time, and I pretend that other people don’t notice that I’m wearing my pajamas in public.

I don’t make our bed in the morning, standing firm on the adolescent belief that there’s no sense in doing something you’re just going to undo at the end of the day.

I don’t bake. I don’t like to bake, because there’s too much math and science involved. I purchase cakes from the bakery or serve chocolates and fruit. I know baking is such a mom thing to do, and that possibly my son would be happier if the aroma of freshly baked bread or cookies woke him from his naptime slumber. But at least for now, no baking, during naptime or any other time.

Scrapbooking and photo album making are both on the list, although I do take a lot of pictures of my kid with my phone.

I only blow-dry my hair on special occasions, and my fingernails haven’t been painted since the nineties. There’s only so much time.

I don’t spend time with people who routinely make me feel like less than I am, or who spend

most of their time talking about what’s wrong with everyone else and what’s wrong with the world, or who really like to talk about other people’s money.

It’s brutal, making the list of Things I Don’t Do, especially for someone like me, who refuses most of the time to acknowledge that there is, in fact, a limit to her personal ability to get things done. But I’ve discovered that the list sets me free. I have it written in black and white, sitting on my desk, and when I’m tempted to go rogue and bake muffins because all the other moms do, I come back to both lists, and I remind myself about the important things: that time is finite, as is energy. And that one day I’ll stand before God and account for what I did with my life. There is work that is only mine to do: a child that is ours to raise, stories that are mine to tell, friends that are mine to walk with. The grandest seduction of all is the myth that DOING EVERYTHING BETTER gets us where we want to be. It gets us somewhere, certainly, but not anywhere worth being.”

More Than Conquerors

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetAs of yesterday morning around 9 am, I crossed the finish line of my second half marathon race! Specifically, the Bearathon here at Baylor that claims to be “The Toughest Half in TX.” This go around looked slightly different than my first time last year, though, for several reasons.

Much of the notorious hills portion of the course was rerouted due to construction in Cameron Park. Perfect, right? It’ll be easier! LIES. I promise it was not any less intense. Instead of maybe three or four big hills that leveled out at the top to catch your breath, this was more like constant rolling six or seven hills. There were quite a bit of unnecessary out and back loops also that weren’t my favorite, just because I would see people running the opposite direction that I knew and figured my pace wasn’t much behind them. Obviously the turnaround should be soon. Well, it was never soon enough.

Last year, I wanted to run by myself since I really poured myself into my training and had a specific time goal in mind of 2:10, and if I was really honest – 2:00. I never did training runs with friends, just me, the road, and my music. I didn’t want to have to worry about keeping up with someone too fast for me or if someone was running with me, I didn’t want to feel bad about wanting to go ahead. It worked well for me because my adrenaline allowed me to finish in 1:58 – beyond what I thought possible! Well this year, after my roommate and I had shared our training struggles the past few months (simply not enough hours in the day, medial shin splints, random allergic reactions, knee issues, and just our hearts not being in it) and figured our paces were similar enough, we decided to run it together so we could just have fun, push each other, and not be as caught up in our time.

I did still have a goal this year, though. A more realistic 2:15 all things considered, and I would be happy. The first few miles were pre-sunrise, and I was already soaked with a mixture of misty fog and sweat from 90+% humidity. Despite that, I was feeling pretty good. My playlist was definitely top notch – Switchfoot, Katy Perry, Lorde, JT, OneRepublic, Rend Collective – and so far my body and lungs seemed to be on board with this whole insane idea of running 13.1 miles.

One of my favorite parts about a race that makes it immensely better than a solitary struggle of a long training run is simply the overwhelming encouragement by all the spectators and fellow runners cheering you on at every mile. It makes it near impossible to want to even think about slowing down or walking. We continued pushing along and even came out of the butt-kicking hills section with an average pace still under our ~10 min/mile goal. Chelsea and I talked afterwards how for the first half, I let my adrenaline take free reign and pushed her hard for us to stay together and set our pace up for success. Then came the second half, when the roles shifted. I was really feeling the pain set in, and each hill I was huffing, coughing, and frequently spitting out nasty stuff (I’ve been suffering from some kind of allergies/congestion this past week). She was great at keeping our pace consistent and really made me push past my lack of enthusiasm about the last few miles.

Finally back on campus, we knew the finish line was just around the corner. Still, the last mile or two was definitely the toughest for me. I rounded the last corner and did my best to sprint the last straightaway. I did end up getting under my goal time, and I couldn’t have been prouder of Chelsea and myself. Every ounce of pain and exhaustion left my body, and I was overcome by emotion. I promise running a long race like this is immensely a mental game, and you go through such an inner battle with yourself. I was overwhelmed by all the encouragement from loved ones in the finishers’ area and so thankful that God blessed me with this incredible opportunity of honoring him with the health, strength, and endurance that He’s given me.

One of my favorite songs on my race playlist was from Rend Collective’s new album (HIGHLY recommended by the way), and it captures so well the power we have in Christ to overcome absolutely anything. These lyrics based on Romans 8:35-39 did wonders when I wanted so badly to give up and reminded me of the immeasurable power of our God to do so much beyond helping me run a simple race. He gives us strength to be victorious every day.

More Than Conquerors

When my hope and strength is gone
You’re the one who calls me on
You are the life
You are the fight
That’s in my soul

Oh, Your resurrection power
Burns like fire in my heart
When waters rise
I lift my eyes
Up to Your throne

We are more than conquerors, through Christ
You have overcome this world, this life
We will not bow to sin or to shame
We are defiant in Your name
You are the fire that cannot be tamed
You are the power in our veins
Our Lord, our God, our Conqueror

I will sing into the night
Christ is risen and on high
Greater is He
Living in me
Than in the world

No surrender, no retreat
We are free and we’re redeemed
We will declare
Over despair
You are the hope

Nothing is impossible
Every chain is breakable
With You, we are victorious
You are stronger than our hearts
You are greater than the dark
With You, we are victorious

We are more than conquerors, through Christ
You have overcome this world, this life
We will not bow to sin or to shame
We are defiant in Your name
You are the fire that cannot be tamed
You are the power in our veins
Our Lord, our God, our Conqueror

A smile is the same in any language

Nine days that I will never forget. After months of anticipating, stressing over deadlines, struggling to coordinate with everyone, and praying for financial provision, last Saturday the eight of us boarded a flight to Panama for a spring break like no other.

Our group was made up of only pre-dental students, freshman through juniors, all members of our student organization Baylor ASDA. We planned the dental mission trip through International Service Learning, and despite some miscommunication early on while coordinating, we absolutely loved our actual experience in Panama with our leader, Sol, and dentist, Dra. Cruz. When we arrived, we were greeted by Sol, who would end up becoming our biggest blessing and friend. One other pre-optometry student from Ohio State, Magnolia, joined us at the airport, and like Sol, by the end of the week she was one of us and made it painful to say goodbye.

IMG_3963If I had to describe the country of Panama, I’d say colorful, both urban and primitive, joyful, friendly, sweaty, slow (as in not impatient and hurried like America), and underappreciated. The people there love their families and neighbors, delicious passion-fruit and other juices, fried everything (we seriously only ate carbs, meat, and more plantains than I could imagine at every meal), soccer, and apparently massive shopping malls.

We stayed at a retreat center-hostel of sorts with no A/C or hot water. There were fans in each room, and I promise no one missed the hot water after being out in mid-90s temps all day. There was a kitchen with a sweet little lady that cooked our meals when we didn’t go out as well as a few other people that stayed there and made Spanish small talk with us every day.

IMG_3943The first full day there was dedicated to a crash course in dental Spanish and also a workshop of learning what it was we would actually be doing in clinic. Dra. Cruz was so sweet and helpful, with just a perfect amount of sass and desire to challenge us. She explained to us that their dental school education there is five years – total! No undergrad, no entrance exam…just saying right out of high school, “I think I want to be a dentist,” and boom – five years later you’re done. If they only knew how much stress we go through here about our GPA ,DAT, and getting a coveted acceptance letter after years of blood, sweat, and tears. After just one afternoon and serious bonding over getting all in each others’ mouths and practicing using explorers, mirrors, and scalers, we were proficient in diagnosing and determining types of caries, the typical timeline of dentition based on a kid’s age, loading and prepping the anesthesia injection, and how to set up the tray for general procedures.  We also got to have some fun later that night learning some traditional Panamanian folk music and dancing.

IMG_3983Before starting up the clinic, we spent a day walking around the surrounding villages (which we found out later were significantly sketchy and supposedly dangerous areas) doing house visits and conducting dental health surveys. Our clinic would be focused on ages 4-13, so we took turns asking the kids questions in Spanish – things like if they brushed their teeth or had been to the dentist before. Several answered no to each. The thought that I would be some of these kids’ first experience ever with dentistry was a huge responsibility that seemed nerve-racking but also a chance to show them that it didn’t have to be a scary thing. Not only would I be doing dental exams for the first time, but I would have to calm the fears of only Spanish-speaking four year olds. No big deal, right?

Many of the homes we were welcomed into lacked real floors, ceilings, or furniture of any kind, and yet the families all seemed so content and focused on what really mattered – being together. I thought how I would react in their situation to a bunch of wealthy American college kids in scrubs wanting to come in to my dirty home and ask me questions about my lack of dental care. Uh, no thanks. I know here at home, I am quick to make excuses about how I’m too busy or even ignore the couple of Mormons with backpacks knocking on my door or the girl scout trying to sell me her last box of cookies to reach her fundraising goal. We were not turned away by one Panamanian family.

IMG_4051I was so excited for the first day of clinic. We set up all the equipment in a small room of a local church and immediately entered business mode. We each had partners and would take turns doing the actual exam while the other person charted the cavities and treatment and held the flashlight. My first partner, Sam, and I were mostly efficient but quick to laugh at our frequent mistakes at first and moments of doubting if we actually knew what were doing. After checking for cavities, cleaning with the scaler, flossing, and mouthwashing, Dra. Cruz would come double-check and quiz us on the patient’s condition and possible treatment. Even if they had maybe seven cavities, most only received one or two fillings or extractions due to limits on time and resources. It was so neat to watch everyone and be able to see each others’ strengths while getting a glimpse at how great of dentists we all will be. Some with steadier hands, others playful and kid-loving, some intrigued by the clinical science, others able to comfort in another language, and those who loved the intense, bloody stuff. We would stay with our patient as they went to the chair for their procedure and were responsible for setting up the tray with the appropriate instruments and materials as well as assisting. There were ample criers and squirmers because of the needle or drill, and as cute as their little smiles were, some of the difficult cases confirmed my long-ago decision to not specialize in pediatrics. They were still sweet for the most part, and their parent would be so appreciative of the care we provided them. At the end of each day, knowing all the joy we were able to give just through cleaning teeth or providing preventative treatment for free solidified why I want to do this with my life. A smile is the same in any language.

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IMG_4111On the last day of clinic, Kathy and I were partnered up, and the pace of the day seemed a lot quicker than the other days. We saw about six patients between the two of us, and we each ended up doing all the steps for an entire filling except for the drilling part obviously, and (even though I shouldn’t really say it) basically an extraction each, too! It technically wasn’t a whole tooth, just a buried root tip left behind from a primary tooth, so Dra. Cruz simply looked at me and said, “Do you want to do it?” After shadowing an oral surgeon all summer and seeing endless complicated extractions, I was pretty confident that just an elevator would have that thing out in no time. Also with ISL, we as students are not liable for anything. If something were to go wrong (which nothing ever did), they are responsible. It’s up to them to just trust that we wouldn’t ever do anything we weren’t comfortable doing.

IMG_4052We were able to go out for dinner several nights to authentic restaurants to unwind from a long day and have some fun. Most places offered various fried carbs like yucca, cheesy potatoes, or tamales (not like the Tex Mex item you’re thinking of – more like a cornbread), and an abundance of meats and seafood. Their local beers and other drinks were also a popular thing to try. I enjoyed genuine and deep conversations as well as never-ending laughs with this group that had become like family for a week.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOn Friday, we toured Panama City’s Children’s Hospital, and we learned a lot about their health care system in general. They are the only major hospital and ER in the entire country, and they also provide treatment for everyone even if they’re unable to pay. The building was very old, in poor condition, and obviously lacking in funds, but we could tell the doctors we spoke with were in their profession for the right reason. We wrapped up the rest of the day with a visit to the canal, souvenir shopping, and another authentic dinner out.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetSaturday was our last full day in Panama, and we left at 6:20 to catch an early ferry ride to the island of Taboga for some relaxing on the beach. It was absolutely gorgeous. It definitely had a tropical Caribbean vibe, but it was mixed with an old European coastal village charm. We lounged, read, napped, and swam the bulk of the day. Despite staying in the shade of our umbrella for 90% of the time and liberally reapplying sunscreen, I still managed to get an embarrassingly random and intense sunburn on my shins and outer thighs. Before heading back we enjoyed one last meal at a beachfront bar, complete with ice cold pina coladas.

1557716_681646661886574_88545275_nWe said our reluctant goodbyes to Dra. Cruz, Sol, and Magnolia, and before we knew it, we were back in Texas on Sunday afternoon. Thinking back on how God moved in and through us throughout the week, I know that we were able to be such a witness by our acts of service to the people of Panama. We were not the only ones making a difference, though. I believe our patients and their families, Sol, Dra. Cruz, and everyone we came across  deeply impacted each and every one of us in a powerful way. Another incredible blessing was simply the friendships among us that grew richer each day, and how we are all now connected by this shared experience. God gave me such a clear confirmation that I’m following his incredible plans for my life by continuing on this journey to becoming a dentist and how global missions can play a part in that. The fact that I will get to do this for the rest of my life makes me so excited for the future. I’m extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to go to Panama, and I’ll always have the memories of this trip to carry with me.1012879_681900428527864_867512245_n

“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” – Proverbs 11:25.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

“Enjoy it. Because it’s happening.”

It’s been a flying, hectic, both fun and stress-filled 2+ weeks since my last post. I sincerely hate it when I get too bogged down by the demands of life that I feel like I can’t even sit and write for more than ten minutes. Stop. Breathe. Spring of junior year is basically halfway in the books, and there’s nothing that can change that. “Enjoy it. Because it’s happening.”

My mind (and life) right now seems like a jumbled, beautiful chaos. So many things have been going on or that I’m looking forward to- some incredible, some downright comical, some scary, others frustrating. Here’s a highly condensed version of the many things, events, and thoughts I’ve wished I could elaborate more on.

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After torturing my hair through eight rounds of curling and spraying (and impressively minimal washing), six incredible performances of All-University SING are done (if you’re not a Baylor Bear, read up on this one-of-a-kind and long running tradition). We accomplished our goals of having a blast, doing our absolute best, and I made even more rich friendships this year. It’s crazy how you can connect to a community so quickly and deeply just by uniting  through a common vision and passion. One new like-minded friend in particular is a fellow blogger who you can find here.

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My family was able to visit last weekend for our last night of performing, and it was so refreshing to see all of them again for the first time since Christmas. My baby nephew E is now crawling and even has his first two perfectly symmetrical little bottom teeth! I told my family he will be the perfect age when I’m in dental school to be my first pediatric patient for practicing examining deciduous dentition – there’s your dental vocab for the day.

After much research, I officially dropped my first college class! I already have taken a biology class that meets the biochem requirement of most dental schools, so there was no reason to waste invaluable time sitting through basically the same class again in the chemistry department (while still stressing to make the grade due to slight but significant test differences). A huge three hour unnecessary weight is now lifted.

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I’ve mastered and been tested on my mad new dancing skills in Western, Fox Trot, and Waltz. Today we started the dance of sensual tension: Tango, and to quote my teacher, “This is an intricate dance and is obviously easier when the couple is really a couple.” All the girls in my class all looked at each other and we thought, “Boys, don’t get any ideas.” It’s already my favorite one this semester, though. I guess because I can really bring out my inner Latin diva and have some fun after the stuffy ballroom dances we’ve learned. We’ll just have to imagine that all the boys in our class are really Antonio Banderas.

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I somehow managed to pull off my pre-health committee interview this past Friday. It really was nothing to even stress about at all. I actually was thinking to myself, “Why am I wearing a suit?” because my interviewer only asked me maybe four or five legitimate questions. He basically acted like it was simply a formality we had to do and that he didn’t doubt my ability to succeed in dental school one bit. He was confident and knew I was confident in myself, and I checked yet another step off on the process. Speaking of to-do lists, I also asked for my second reference letter from my cell physiology/biochem professor from last semester that I really hit it off with, and I know that she takes these very seriously. Two down, two to go!

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I’ve successfully (and unfortunately) managed to avoid Bearathon training whenever I can. I’ve made it up to ten miles for my longest run, but ice storms, family weekends, and medial shin splints are not very encouraging three weeks out from the race. As much as I didn’t want it to, running has recently turned into an obligation and not an enjoyment. My roommate is also training and feeling the same way, but we’ve told each other that we will run and we will finish. Who cares about time when everyone gets the shirt, medal, abundance of post-race treats, and a reason to go out and celebrate doing something that only a tiny fraction of the population has accomplished.

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The dental mission trip to Panama (and start of SPRING BREAK) is THIS Saturday! I’m running around crazy this last week trying to tie up all the loose ends, but I am beyond excited for this incredible opportunity. God was faithful to provide like ALWAYS, and I ended up raising just enough funds the last week our full payment was due! I’m incredibly thankful to my parents, family, friends, and dentist mentors for helping support me financially so I can go on this adventure of reaching the underserved people of Panama through the priceless gift of dental care. I’m also looking forward for more of a hands-on dental experience beyond the shadowing and limited assisting I’ve done here. Don’t worry, I won’t be breaking laws and pulling teeth, but I am pretty sure we will play a major role in assisting in procedures and doing cleanings and exams in the clinics.

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On one of my struggles of a run last week through the vast and beautiful cemetery across the street, the song “How Much More” started playing on my iPhone, I stopped running (not just because my inner lower legs were killing), and was moved to tears. I don’t really know if these were sad or happy tears, but they happened. I simply was overwhelmed with how blessed and loved I am by the Lord even through times when I feel like I’m drowning in never-ending tasks and can only complain. When I’m weary, He always fills my need and then some.

With a daunting anatomy lab practical (completely fill in the blank and every last bit of information we’ve learned since the first day) fast approaching, I’ve got to get some sleep and rest up for an intense next couple of days. Many blessings to all of you reading this, and I pray that you all feel God’s presence in the midst of whatever beautiful chaos you’re in.

The Reality of College Singleness

With tomorrow being the inevitable and overly-sappy one day a year that people feel obligated to go out and buy an overpriced box of chocolate covered mysteries for their valentine while all the singles try to treat it like any other month’s 14th day, I thought I’d write a little on what it’s really like to live life as a joyful single but who still sometimes struggles with the waiting game.

First things first – a healthy dose of funny V-day quotes and memes for all my fellow single folks to appreciate.

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I promise I’m not going to go off on some bitter couple-hating rant (I’m seriously SO happy for all my friends in great relationships and my parents, my sis and bro-n-law, and others who are still in so much love!), but I just want to give my honest two cents on this whole concept of “singleness” as a twenty-one year old college student. Every day for the past three years I’ve been surrounded by thousands of people of the opposite sex that are my age, driven and intelligent (well, some), following wholeheartedly after God, easy on the eyes, and just overall cool folks. Granted, a portion are overly cocky frat daddies, lazy slackers relying on parents’ credit cards, unattractively-heavy drinkers and partiers, and of course just some that I’m not interested in at all. A significant amount, though, are great guys that thousands of girls would be lucky to call their other half one day.

***An entirely separate blog post needs to be devoted to how messed-up my generation (and maybe specifically my university) treats the foreign idea of “DATING.” It doesn’t exist anymore, and I really wish I lived in a different era of actually asking a girl out to get to know her instead of this extreme scale of casual and shallow texting/”talking” to the high-pressure atmosphere of everyone thinking every interaction is with the frame of marriage in mind from day one. I’m not kidding when I say an unmentioned guy friend’s family asked him if he realized he only had another year left to find a wife at Baylor. New flash, boys, we don’t all care about that ring by spring, and we might just want to go on a date or two because we’re in college and want to have a memorable social life with a fun and respectable guy every now and then (sure, the END goal will be looking for potential spouses but don’t be so scared of us..step up and be a man if you simply want to get to know a girl better). Can we please make this so much less weird and not treat it like the elephant in the room? (guess what – it’s only going to be harder once we’re out in the real world)***.

Also, have you ever actually looked around and seen all the single people at Baylor? The odds should be in our favor. I’d say it’s safe to say the majority of my friends (and obviously myself) are single and by no means “should” be. This is what society tells us: that if we’re attractive, intelligent, driven, confident, passionate, caring, fun, etc, then of course it would be absurd for us not to be dating. That is not what God tells us, though. His timing is perfect, and we can question and doubt it all we want, but the truth is He knows what’s best for us through every phase of our lives.

My entire life I have taken pride in being an independent woman who does not need to find identity solely in a man. My identity is in Christ, and I know I am a daughter of the King; I am not and will not be only defined as a girlfriend, a wife, a student, a dentist, a surgeon, a student, a musician, a chef, a blogger. My heart breaks for the countless girls my age that place so much of their value and purpose in being someone’s significant other with no real focus on their own spiritual and emotional health, not to mention a riddance of any real dreams they might have had for their own individual lives. I never had the intention of going off to college for the purpose of finding my husband, getting married, and being a non-working mom relying on my husband’s income. My future career will be extremely rewarding both generally speaking as well as financially, while still granting me the flexibility to have a family one day if that is what God has for me. I should have no problem providing for myself and even being more of the bread-winner than my husband if that ends up being the case. We live in a different time than our parents and that is just that. I’m not on some hunt for a guy that will be able to support shopping sprees and luxury cars. Sadly, I don’t think I can say the same for all the girls here at my school, and we have a notorious phrase, “Ring by Spring” that is incredibly accurate.

I have never been in a relationship before, so I’m very good at this whole single thing. It’s all I’ve ever known. In high school, I can probably point it to the fact that I grew up in a very small town and went to a pretty small school (with very limited options), and while I’m not trying to be overly confident, I’m pretty sure I simply intimidated guys at my school with just being the way that I am. Through all these years of not being tied up in another person, I’ve had so much time to discover myself, my interests/hobbies/passions, and how God is leading me to become even more of the woman I’m made to be. Also, a lot of my academic success is probably due to the fact that I haven’t had someone stealing my attention from studying when I need to.

If I’m being honest with myself, right now (and in my future long path of professional schooling), it seems like I don’t have the actual time to invest in a relationship even if I wanted to. I barely have enough time as it is to eat, shower, and rest myself, let alone think about another person’s needs and desires. Having said that, I don’t at all mean that it’s not something I want. Sure, I’m perfectly content to remain single for the time being and have time for myself to do things I want (I am pretty selfish of my “me-time”) as well as stay focused on the rest of my education, but I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about what it would be like to be in a relationship right now. How it would feel to have flowers waiting for me when I get home from class tomorrow, occasional handwritten letters in my mailbox just because, having someone in mind when I sing love songs by my favorite artists, or just someone to cook me a nice meal for once. Every girl wants that. Period.

But…that is not the season of life where I find myself currently. I am smack dab in singleness and spending time preparing my heart to be more like Christ’s every day, so I will know more how to love like Him whenever that guy does come along. My college pastor spoke last week on dating, and he said some really refreshing things that shed some light on the tricky topic of Godly dating in college. To loosely paraphrase some of his points…

When I was looking for a girl to date I would picture me running after God. I would look around at the people keeping up and say “Hey, how’s it going?” I would pick up speed and when I saw a girl going faster than me, I’d ask her out.

Ask yourself, “Am I the kind of person that the person I’m looking for is looking for?” and “Do they love Jesus more than me?”

I was being overly cautious and ridiculously careless and that just led to WEIRD.

He was looking for her and she didn’t even know it (in reference to the passage in Genesis 24). 

A lot of guys ask me when is it OK to kiss her, and my answer is always, “If you’re looking at porn, NEVER.” 

The 4 gauges of Commitment, Time, Communication, and Physical – When one goes up, they need to then all be at the same level. 

One of the funniest/most right-on things he said was, “Not that I’m advocating getting married young/while in college, but guys, if you graduate Baylor and leave this college ministry without your future wife, IT IS NOT MY FAULT! Take a look around at all these beautiful, Godly, servant-hearted, passionate women of God and ASK THEM OUT! Girls, since I’m telling them to put their necks out there, you will say YES.” 

Now that I’ve taken the time to just put my heart out there about how I feel on this day, I guess I will spend this holiday stereotypical-single-ladies style: maybe have my own chocolate-covered strawberries and red wine, curled up on the couch in my pjs and quite possibly studying. Not out of self pity or bitterness towards people in love today, but because this is simply where I find myself and that I’m accepting exactly where I am – full of love for my family and friends and the love which comes from the Father – a divine romance like none other on this earth.

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I’m waiting so I’m this excited one day

Saying NO so I can say YES

One of my resolutions this year was to say no to more things while saying yes more to other things. (to read up on the rest of aspirations for 2014 see here.) So far, I think I’m actually holding up to this one pretty well. As far as the rest, ask me about those later…

What I mean by that statement is realizing what really is important and what can simply go undone on a given day.

Today I read a post from one of my favorite bloggers/authors, Shauna Niequist, titled “More Love, Less Hustle.” (By the way, I highly recommend following her blog, reading every one of her books, and joining the club of hopeful invitees to her dinner parties). It sparked such a passion in me to want to live this out in my own life, and it paralleled my No/Yes resolution. She says, “But saying NO lets me say YES to the most important things.” Another phrase that seemed to jump from the screen and speak to my heart was her own realization that Tough is not something I want to be. Hard is not something I aspire to.” 

I thought of how that applied to my own life in the current stage I find myself. Do I add activity, title, and responsibility after another to my plate because I really do enjoy it, or is it just a way of living up to my extremely high expectations I have of myself to be everything, everywhere, all the time? I’ve always said things like I thrive when under pressure, following busy schedules, or facing and overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. If I’m truly being honest with myself, do I really, though? Part of me exclaims a resounding yes – I literally go stir-crazy after about two or three days of having nothing to do, nowhere to be, no projects to accomplish. I’m striving for a fast-paced, exciting, and always challenging career as an oral surgeon or dentist because I could never just sit at a desk all day. The other part of me wonders exactly how healthily managing the demanding schedule of a dental student, and potentially a medical resident, will look like. Without a doubt, I am setting myself up for aspiring to “hard” things that obviously will demand me to be “tough.” Would I rather be worn ragged at the end of a never-ending day, knowing I squeezed out every ounce of energy and life I had in me, or does an actual free hour or two to fill doing whatever I wanted do me good every now and then (for example, blogging at midnight)?

I believe it is all about keeping a crucial balance of striving for excellence to fulfill our passions and purposes on the earth, while still keeping our focus on things that truly satisfy our soul and go beyond the taxing demands of this temporary, material life. Things like relationships, joy, and time actually cherished, not just used efficiently. I’m not saying I’m going to completely abandon my qualities of typical type A, extremely driven, and goal oriented, but I am going to slow down from the hustle to take a breath occasionally, live my life with a clearer perspective, and strive to follow a kingdom-oriented mindset.

What exactly has this “saying no so I can say yes” mantra looked like so far? Here are just a few instances…

Saying no to staying up until 2 a.m. because I don’t need to worry about over-preparing for a anatomy or biochem quiz so I can ace another one; saying yes to anti-perfectionism.

Saying no to staying in yet another Saturday night and yes to hanging out with a friend that I rarely get to see by going to a basketball game and out for late night pizza after.

Saying no to apprehension and yes to boldly chatting with all of my professors outside of class so they can know me as a person with real dreams and deep thoughts, not just a student shallowly striving to get the grade and move past their class.

Saying no to fear of being vulnerable or honest about where exactly I am in my walk with God and yes to discipleship alongside one of my closest friends.

Saying no to thinking I have to come up with a perfect conclusion to this post and yes to sleep.

What could your life look like with “more love, less hustle?”

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Dishonest and Void of Creativity: Michael Gungor on The Problem with the Christian Music Industry

“The point is that the industry that labels things as Christian and sells them to you has far more to do with marketing then Christianity.”

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My roommate recommended I read this, and because she knows me so well, I loved it and had to pass it along. This blog post written by Michael Gungor (of the band Gungor) has been severely criticized by many, shared on social media by the thousands, and I think really sheds some thought-provoking truth on the tricky topic of “Christian” music. It reminded me a lot of Jon Foreman’s comments about how Switchfoot doesn’t sing “Christian” songs.

Just take my word for it – it’s worth your time to check it out. I agree with a lot of what he says even if it might ruffle the feathers of some of the people in my very conservative small hometown and church because I believe in the powerful and worshipful art of real music and hold such a deep appreciation for artists like Gungor and others that don’t just follow the crowd of (in his words) “musical zombies.” It’s about so much more than being classified in a certain genre on iTunes.

Click here to read.