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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“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.”

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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“Favorable conditions never come…”

Well folks, it’s that time of year again.  My lack of posts recently is directly related to the never-ending demands of the final stretch of the semester.  Group projects put off until the last month, presentations, annihilating exams, apartment leasing, preparing my S.I. biology students for their last test and final, holiday parties, personal statement writing, and trying to not blow all my hard work this semester simply because my motivation tank’s running on empty. I don’t really have time right now to update you all on my whirlwind adventures, but I’m sure throughout dead days and exams I’ll take occasional blogging study breaks. This article I read was worthy of a post in and of itself.  It really hit home for me, and it’s such a good reminder that we all need I’m sure.

“Finals Week, first things, and unfavorable times”

The quote from C.S. Lewis, “Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future,” is so applicable to me as a single college student seeking a long but rewarding career path.  I’ve always been future and goal-oriented, and much of my college has been centered on my ambition to become a dentist or even possibly an oral surgeon, and doing everything it takes to get me there. “Just if I can make it through these finals, this week, this semester, this year…” There’s also the sense of anticipation of my future spouse and what my life might look like down the road. I need to appreciate every day, focus on what really matters, and choose joy and contentment now.  There’s no use waiting until that day when all my challenging schooling is finally over or when I’ll own my private practice and come home to the Godly husband I’m praying for.  Who knows how much time and opportunities we could be wasting always thinking that the next phase of our life will somehow surpass the current one we’re in? What could God be wanting to reveal to us right now that we are missing out on because we assure ourselves we’ll have time to grow deeper in our relationship with Him tomorrow, next week, next month…Life is never really going to get any easier, so why not “prioritize the health of your soul now?”

Time will always bring new challenges, and “favorable conditions never come.

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Evolution

I bet I caught your attention with that post title.  No, I’m not actually writing about a fundamental biological process, although I could write a lengthy explanation on everything I believe on the subject as a believing Christian with a scientific mind that would probably spark some healthy debate among my readers.  Instead, I’m referring to the idea that I’ve had recently that I might gradually shift this blog’s focus and purpose from solely healthy recipes and food inspiration into something more all-encompassing and better representative of the things that I’m passionate about day-to-day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enthralled with all things food and especially convincing people that eating fresh, healthy, and from-the-earth can be the farthest thing from boring.  I do still want to occasionally share recipes and my meals that are just too darn good to keep to myself.  However, I don’t want to showcase false advertising that this is only a “healthy cooking blog” with the name and description, only for readers to be annoyed with my venting about the stresses of school, elaborating on my dream to be a dentist/oral surgeon, or just my random amusing stories along the way.

As I get older (and I’d like to say this is true of everyone), my passions and priorities do evolve over time.  Thinking back to high school,  for example, I was so wrapped up in all my extra-curricular activities such as marching band, varsity sports, piano lessons, UIL academics, school clubs, and other endless time-suckers.  Of course all these experiences shaped me into the person I am today through my teachers and mentors, making memories with my friends, practicing and perfecting skills, and the sometimes hard lessons learned over the years.

I was very consumed with maintaining my image as the girl who did it all, and did it all well.  I also thought about what I ate and how much I exercised probably more than I should’ve, and I can admit now that I was too small back then (I think athletic curves and confidence trumps skinny any day) .  Now I enjoy my food a little more and appreciate the muscle and curves I’ve gained the past few years (even if they came with more pounds).

Things I devote my time and energy to now include things like the never-ending cycle of studying for exams and writing research papers (both of which I should be doing right now), working, dental school applications, laughing and late night library shenanigans, spending time whenever I can with my family and new nephew, fulfilling my goals to become a life-changing doctor, and living life with my group of on-fire-for-God friends that encourage and challenge me every day.  Of course I still cherish the little time I make to get in the kitchen and create a beautiful meal start to finish for people I love, it’s just that in the grand scheme of things, it’s sometimes hard to keep up a consistent recipe pool for blogging.  Thanks to all my readers (however few of you there are) for sticking it out through all my off-topic rambling, and be on the lookout for a possible new name and theme…