We Can Do Better

Am I qualified to write about difficult subjects like race? Not necessarily. But as someone who loves people and loves people the way Jesus loves people, I cannot stand aside and be silent. I do not have all the knowledge, but I have a heart and a voice; and I am called to use it.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of what I have been reflecting on for the past few days, I want to say a couple more words to get our hearts in the right place. First: whether you are Black, White, Yellow, Brown, you do not need to apologize for the color of your skin. You were beautifully born this way, into a broken and fallen world. You are a chosen child of God, even if you do not believe in Him. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in His perfect image.

 

Let’s Admit We Are Wrong

“Sometimes in order to take a stand, you must take a seat” – Steven Furtick.

One of the first things that I want to call out on myself, is not being able to admit that I’m wrong. I have a difficult time doing this on many things, but especially when it comes to moments where that if I admit that I’m wrong, then I admit that I have wronged others. But I am wrong, about so many things. Which is why I am inviting you on this journey with me as I dive deeper into my past and my inaction.

The goal is not to bring these things up to just brush it aside the next moment, to check a box and move on as if nothing has happened. It’s not so the person of color in your life can pat you on the head and give you a gold star at the end of the day. The goal is not to feel bad about our ancestors, our past, our present, or the things that are happening around us. No, that is guilt. And guilt is not a strategy of movement but rather one of reclusiveness and silence.

The goal is repentance. Admitting we are wrong, turning from our old ways and walking in the opposite direction. Repentance changes things. There is no law that can be written, no bill that can be passed, that will change the hearts of those who are racist. There has to be a change of heart: the only real change comes from inside. And if we are going to change our minds and hearts we need to be honest with how we got here in the first place. What makes us think we own everything under the sun but yet we cannot own up to own own faults, or cannot think about or speak out about race?

 

But…But…But…

I have seen a lot of excuses just on my own news feed that I’ve given some thought to:

“All lives matter.”

I’m glad you think that people matter, I think they matter too. But this not about us. By saying that all lives matter, we are dismissing and devaluing the experience of Black people. We cannot position ourselves to stand up for Black people if we are pushing our own agenda, trying to make justice for Black people in America all about us.

“Not all cops are bad cops, there’s always going to be some bad apples out there.”

Again, a very dismissive statement that brushes over the widespread racism, marginalization and privilege in America. Remember, this fight is not cop versus people of color. This is generations of systemic racism and white supremacy versus humanity.

“People need to show respect and be sentenced & held accountable for looting and setting buildings on fire.”

Are we really going to equate the value of a man’s life to the inventory at a Target store? By thinking this way, we are limiting and placing value on someone’s life. The love of Jesus does not isolate scenarios and define people based on their actions, but sees the whole person, their story, beginning to end. Instead of seeing the riots at a store He sees an entire race of people who for generations upon generations have been hurt and traumatized, instead of celebrated, seen and recognized.

 

Let’s Listen

Listen with the goal to understand, not to respond. Everyone’s life is so beautifully unique and we need to be open and available to hear from those experiences. We need to see and empathize with people’s pain, not blame people for how they act while in pain.

I am personally praying that I continue to see my brothers and sisters in Christ (and out of Christ lol) through the eyes of God. A God who gives everyone endless grace, love, and new mercies should they choose to accept it. I pray that as our country continues to walk this road together, that we become radically defined by grace. That our new narrative is how well we empathize with each other.

 

Check in on Your People

Reach out to the people of color in your lives. (And if you don’t have any people of color in your life, I suggest you open your eyes and step into new experiences). Spend some time to speak gold into their lives, to call out the truth. Make them feel seen, loved and heard in a world that does not see them. Let them know that they are worth fighting for! Encourage them the way that Jesus did. This is a small step in the right direction. The “how are you, really” text (which I’ve sent recently-oops) is not always best way to let someone know we are here for them in life’s heaviest moments. Lift someone up when they are tired and weary. When things are heavy, try to find a way to lighten the load.

Put in the Time & Do Your Homework

One of those most important things that we can do to educate ourselves is to do some homework. Yes, we are about to get schooled. Personally, I have felt overwhelmed by the amount of content that has been shoved in my face for the past week. So by taking one bite at a time, we are able to digest and fill ourselves with the knowledge and the truth about the experiences of others.

Revelation-knowledge is a delicacy, sweet like flowing honey that melts in your mouth. Eat as much of it as you can, my friend! For then you will perceive what is true wisdom, your future will be bright and this hope living within will never disappoint you. Proverbs 24: 13-14, TPT

Resources

Black voices have stories. Listen to them, read them. Take in their knowledge. Below you will find a sampling of works that have moved and impacted me. As I keep learning and growing in this area of my life, I will keep updating this list.

Books

Jacqueline Woodson: Brown Girl Dreaming

A book of simple, impactful, and poetic words. Jacqueline’s childhood memoir is extremely moving, a story full of poems that will change your perspective and soften your heart. Below, I’ve included one of my favorites. Purchase Here. 

Podcasts

Why Tho: Why Whites Will Not Make America Great Again Tho

I liked this episode of Tiffany Bluhm and Ashley Abercrombie’s podcast because it sheds light on how injustice is viewed in the eyes of God; and how our words and our subtleties can impact others. It provides examples of Psalms to lament to, to collectively cry out for justice to. Personally, it was eye opening to see how different ways that racism has been steeped in my life. Listen Here.

1619: The Fight for a True Democracy

Recommended by my boss, this is the first episode of an audio series hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones that dives into the beginning of American slavery. I’m still working my way through the series, but this first episode enlightened me to the ignorance and manipulation that America was founded on, but never addressed. I recommend this series if you haven’t before taken the time to learn about the timeline of slavery and the impact it had on the world we live in today. Listen Here. 

Why Tho: Why Justice is Not a Trend Tho

As Ashley and Tiffany have said: justice is not a trend, it is the heart of The Father. It is here to stay and in your every day. “But wait! We’ve had a black president! Racism doesn’t exist! Slavery was 400 years ago! None of this is biblical! Stop being political!” If any of those statements are triggering, give this episode a listen. Listen Here.

Head to Heart: Is God Really Good?

I first listened to this episode of Christa Black’s podcast a few years ago and it helped me to make sense of the old “if God is real, then why do these things happen?” question. My biggest takeaway? God is in charge, but He is not in control. I repeat this to myself when I feel helpless and hopeless in a world where there is so much hate and suffering. Listen Here.

Articles

Medium: 75 Things White People can Do For Racial Injustice

One of the many things that I love about this article (besides being incredibly practical), is that it is continually updated with current information relative. This article has challenged me to rise up and show up. Read Here.

NPR: One White Fear Being Weaponized

This was written almost 2 years ago to the day that Amy Cooper called the police on Christian Cooper this past week. “We’ve got to come up with some policies that raise the costs of bad behavior — of treating people differently than you would want to be treated. And that is a problem of white fear being weaponized, and that is a problem of police officers being a little too prickly when people are upset about having been judged harshly or inappropriately.” Read Here.

Teen Vogue: Beyond The Hashtag: How to Take Anti-Racist Action in Your Life

This article provides incredible resources and I love the way the author Zyahna Bryant challenges the existing narratives that we so often hear. Here is what they write about Black Lives Matter: “Not only is it a signal to call out the injustices that have prompted us to continue to take to the streets to defend ourselves, it is simply the act of saying that we do matter in a world where it’s obvious some people believe some lives matter more than ours.” Read Here.

Vocabulary

Hopefully (and I say hopefully with a grain of salt) we know that racism can take the form of things including but not limited to hate crimes, neo-nazism, and racial slurs. But what about subtleties and microaggressions? Before combing though the below photo and taking a look a sampling of the ways that we (we = white people) can be covertly racist, I (ashamedly) could not tell you what many of these things meant.

Photo via The Conscious Kid 

Does it take time to learn these words, to put in the work, to examine your own heart and the impact of your actions? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Even more so. On behalf of God’s creation: we cannot afford to be lazy about this. Below I have included some of the microaggressions I have felt personally convicted of over the past few weeks.

Reverse Racism. The concept that affirmative action and similar color-conscious programs for redressing racial inequality are a form of anti-white racism. That just because someone is a minority that they receive preferential treatment based on the color of their skin. At one time, I partially believed this to be true. As if affirmative action was solely an effort to create diversity, to make sure that all the boxes were checked. The truth is that this gives underrepresented people opportunities that they may not have had previously based on their qualifications and merits. We cannot celebrate diversity without addressing the disparity. I found this article from the Atlantic very helpful.

Prioritizing White Voices as Experts. This limits our point of view and perspective. One of the incredible things about this world is knowing people who come from different backgrounds. Let us use these experiences and resources at our disposal, to gain well-rounded knowledge and not a narrow mindset.

Denial of White Privilege. There are some things I knew about my privilege: being the victim of a racial joke, having bandages available in the color of my skin. But my privilege runs much deeper than that. After reading many stories, there are countless things that I don’t have to think twice about, that I can do without being afraid. Just because of the color of my skin. Things including but not limited to: driving 5 miles and hour over the speed limit, walking around my neighborhood safely, going for a run, taking out my wallet, not being afraid to talk to a cop (although that could change), the list goes on.

Assuming Good Intentions Are Enough. Without actions, intentions are nothing. Without impact, intentions are nothing. If your movements don’t make ripple effects, your intentions may as well be nonexistent. 

 

Speak Up and Take Action

It’s not enough to read over these words once. We have to study them, become familiar, so that when we are needed, we are equipped, educated and ready for action.

If you don’t know where to start start small. Every if you feel like your voice is a whisper, a drop in the bucket, say something. Have those difficult conversations with people who we are close with in our lives, people who are in our circles who are otherwise unreachable. People who will listen to and value what we have to say. And don’t stop bringing it up.

Here’s another thought: do we really think that reposting the same traumatizing video is really constructive to bringing this country together? Do we really think that posting an on-brand word art graphic saying “I stand with you” is really enough? There has to be more than just these surface-level mindless excuses for action. Words, faith, and knowledge without action is dead. Justice isn’t here today and gone tomorrow. It’s a lifestyle.

Action can be anything from signing a petition for a call to action in the face of injustice, to donating to an organization that gives Black people their voices, to speaking up in the face of an uncomfortable covertly-racist situation, to reading a book about a Black person’s life experience and how they have felt oppressed and suppressed, to supporting Black-owned businesses. It is not God’s job to be Mr. Fix It, while we sit back and do nothing. He provides the resources, and we do the work. So let us let action permeate our lives.

And please don’t wait. Why do we feel like we have to have all the facts and wrap everything in a pretty bow before speaking out, before reaching out? Why do we feel that we have to wait for someone who in our lives to be hurt in order to take action? It’s entitlement and it’s selfish and I am so guilty of this as well. We can do better.

 

“Epilogue”

At the end of the day, we can have all of the best intentions, but what matters is the impact that those intentions have. Before we jump to conclusions, before we point fingers, before we assume: think of the other human being on the receiving end of your intentions. Let us be willing to step outside of our comfort zone into someone else’s reality. It creates empathy. It creates humanity.

P.S.

I’m not here to prove anything, qualify myself, or present myself as a knowledgeable expert. I’m here to share what I have learned recently and to keep myself accountable for updating resources on this page that I have found helpful and can come back and refer to them any time I like. I share these things in the hopes that there are people who are otherwise unreachable will also repent, get curious, and learn. I pray that these words and resources are thought provoking (and convicting if necessary).

If you find anything here out of context, don’t get me started on “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

Expect the Unexpected (Part 1)

Lately God has blessed me with things that I have not expected to be blessed by. More specifically, situations that have already ended badly in my mind, yet turned out for good. The only reason I have been able to be blessed in situations that look unfavorable is because of my attitude.

Let me tell you about the Cleveland wallet story.

This past weekend, I was visiting a good friend of mine in Cleveland. We had planned to explore the downtown / Tower City area, and so when she picked me up, I rearranged all of my belongings so that I would carry a small bag around town, rather than lug around my huge Jansport backpack (which my friend immediately recognized from my nerdy high school days – they have a lifetime warranty, can you blame me?!).

Anyway, I had taken out everything: my wallet, keys, phone, the all-important umbrella, and repacked my purse and then we were off to see the moments, church, and the arcade downtown. We popped into a souvenir shoppe for some postcards and as soon as I went to pay, I noticed my wallet was missing. I must have left it on the seat of the car, I thought. I didn’t think much of it after that, and we continued to explore Downtown Cleveland.

When we had returned to the car, I noticed that my wallet was not on the front seat. Okay, play it cool, don’t panic. So I check the trunk, where my backpack was. Still not there. Okay, clearly I dropped it on the grass or something. Well, maybe someone stole it. Someone definitely stole it. It’s a dog eat dog wor–

And before I let my mind get any more down that slippery slope (and then have a full-blown panic attack), I just prayed. I probably said something like, “Okay Jesus, work your magic.” It was simple, but it was enough to calm me down. I turned to my friend and suggested we retrace our steps. She looked at me like “this cannot be a good thing,” but came along anyway.

Just as it started to rain (which, would have been a super sad scene if it wasn’t for what happened next). I received a phone call from an Ohio number. A woman had found my wallet and she was at a local bar not too far away. Overjoyed, I said I would be there momentarily and we hopped into the car to speed a full two blocks away where I found a woman who had returned my wallet. With everything inside. She said she found the wallet just lying in the middle of the parking lot.

Where I’m from, that would have been fair game. Everything would have been missing. Credit cards. Coffee punch cards. Cash money. Yet everything was just as I left it (even the butterfly necklace in the coin pouch – because, you never know when you are going to have a butterfly necklace emergency).

The whole thing was wildly unexpected. Losing the wallet. Finding the wallet, with everything inside. Even how I responded. Wildly unexpected. A year ago, I would have been in tears, probably in some sort of half tantrum, half panic attack. But I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. It took me awhile to get to that point, but the past year God has taught me so much about peace in the midst of chaos. I’m still a work in progress, but learning to train my heart and mind to be peaceful when all seems chaotic is an invaluable characteristic to have.

Here are three of my favorite Bible verses to whisper to myself when I feel I am not at peace:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philipians 4:6 ESV).

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13 ESV).

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all (2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV).

While this is just a small example of things that could happen in my life, seeing progress in this area brings me hope. And when I see that progress I can become stronger, knowing that the peace of God has helped me before, and it will help me again.

I’ll soon be sharing a video highlighting all the fun I had in Cleveland this past weekend! Some of my favorite sights were the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Cleveland Art Museum, House “Hunting” on Fairmont Road, and seeing the Orchestra (highly recommended!). Enjoy!

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Year of Encouragement: Quarterly Check-In

In January, I started to encourage others to write handwritten notes (yes, snail mail is a thing) through a letter writing challenge called the Year of Encouragement. The challenge is to send a letter to someone (anyone), once a week for a year (different people), so that they may be encouraged in some way.

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Granted, I haven’t been the best example of doing my monthly check-in videos (in fact, we are 1/3 of the way through April), but my intention is to be that voice that every now and then, serves as a reminder (to myself especially) that there is someone in my life that needs to be encouraged.  To be frank, there was two weeks in March where I didn’t send out any (what I would call) encouraging letters. I was running out of things to say, and I felt like I was saying the same stuff over and over again. I had hit a writer’s block. Then I thought – sometimes the best way to lift someone’s spirits is not to keep repeating how incredible they are – although I’ve been told that helps ;), but rather to share something going on in my life that may just put a smile on their face.

Just in case I’m not the only one hitting writer’s block, I wanted to make a list of topics to write about when you get stuck:

Topics for Snail Mail Letters When You Hit Writer’s Block

  • Describe an incredible meal you recently ate
  • Tell someone about something that is on your bucket list
  • Recall a story or fond memory from your childhood and write it out
  • Share some goals that you want to accomplish over the next 60 days
  • Exercise your creative brain and write a short story!
  • Tell a story that happened on a recent trip you took
  • Share something a friend taught you recently
  • Congratulate someone on ________ (graduating, finding a new apartment, getting a dog, getting engaged, growing a year older, having a baby, making it through the week, being a stellar friend)
  • Share a list of your favorite things (favorite childhood pet, favorite park, favorite musical instrument to hear on a soundtrack, favorite genre of movie, favorite flavor of ice cream, etc).
  • Share about a book you are reading (or read recently)
  • Describe something you want to cook or bake
  • Tell someone the best part about living in the neighborhood that you live in
  • Share something you want to learn in the future (a new software skill, a foreign language)
  • Write about a fun (unusual, memorable) dream you have had
  • Share a frustration you recently went through (there was a leak in your house, your kids would not cooperate), and how you overcame it!

Here’s my video of encouragement for the month of March. Watch it here.

Happy Letter Writing Month!

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You Are Loved and Are Called to Love

Valentines Day?! You’re going to write about VALENTINE’S DAY (I can already see your eyes rolling to the back of your heads).
For some, there is so much pressure and expectation when in a relationship on this holiday. And for others, there is this stigma that if you’re not in a relationship on Valentine’s Day you’re 1) worthless 2) unlovable 3) going to die alone and become a cat hoarder. I’m here to tell you that none of these are true – especially that last one – I’d definitely become a dog hoarder first (personal preference).
But real talk (in and out of relationships): I’ve never felt truly alone in my entire life. This is why:
1. I have made it my personal mantra to give away love without expecting anything in return.
2. I don’t need someone to complete me, only complement what I’m already doing. My heart and soul are full of joy and the Spirit of Christ.

When I give for giving’s sake (out of love) it eliminates the pressure of measuring up, comparison, and unrealistic expectations.

If I live in a “me-centric” world, I have an expectation of a certain amount of attention, love, etc. And when I don’t get that, my unmet expectations create a gap in my life filled with sorrow, self-hatred, and disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong – life is full of disappointments, I experience them often. Giving love away doesn’t eliminate those. There’s a difference between being disappointed in a moment and living out of disappointment. However, when I give something away and I don’t feel obligated to receive anything, those unrealistic expectations can easily become buried.

On that note, one of the most simple ways to give away love on Valentines Day (in my opinion) is a simple little note. It doesn’t have to be someone you have romantic feelings towards (but it can be), It can even be a non-specific note that you pass out to someone on the subway, or at the grocery store.

And speaking of giving things away ….. I wanted to announce a little giveaway that I’m doing for the month of February! -YAY
It's all in the Details.
As you may have read a previous post, I wanted to do a letter writing challenge in 2018 where the call to action is to send out an encouraging letter to someone you regularly interact with or may not have seen for awhile. Each month I focus on a different “theme” and this month’s theme – you guessed it – is love. I recently launched a new product in my Etsy Shop (NYC postcards!) and I wanted to share those (and a few other little Valentine’s goodies) with everyone. The giveaway includes (1) pack of 8 NYC postcards as featured on my shop, (2) colorful markers to decorate at your heart’s desire, (1) Muji black pen – size .38mm, (3) sheets of heart stickers, and (8) “love” stamps to make sure you’ll send some Valentines this year!

There are three ways to enter:

Entering on Facebook:
*OR*
Entering on Instagram:
– Tag a friend in the comments
*OR*
Entering Through the Blog:
– Comment on this blog post with a memory of your favorite Valentine that you’ve ever received.
Made with Love <3
Each platform counts as 1 entry. 1 entry per person. Open to participants residing in the United States of America. Must be 18+ years in order to enter. Contest closes February 5th 9PM EST. Winner will be announced via The Little Big Dreamer Facebook page, Via Instagram, and though a comment on this post. Happy entering!

 

And Happiest Valentines Day! *inserts all heart emojis possible*
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Call It What It Is

To be honest, yesterday was a tough day for me.

I was sitting at my desk completely frustrated and defeated, knowing that while God’s hand IS on my life I have not seen the fruit of the seeds that I have sown. While I have come a long way spiritually, nothing really monumental has changed in my life and I feel like I’ve been going through the same struggle I’ve had for the past 3 years.

“I’m not really being used to my maximum capacity” and “I would have so much more to give for God’s Kingdom if He just put me somewhere else,” are things I whisper to myself multiple times daily. Anyone else feel like that from time to time? You’re not alone.

I cannot discount the season that I am in, because I have to live it day in and day out until God moves me elsewhere. I am not any less valuable because of where I’m at today. I’m not any less or more valuable because of my job title, what someone says about me, or even my past. I hope for tomorrow, but persevere and be present for today.

Romans 5:3-5 reads “Not only so, but we also praise God in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not fail us.” So I ask myself this question: What character am I building out of the suffering / disappointment / frustration am I experiencing?

In a moment of frustration, yesterday I found myself saying “How can I possibly thank God when everything around me seems to be completely draining and pulling me in a million different directions??!!!??” and “How am I supposed to give God the praise when NOTHING IN MY LIFE IS MOVING?!”

But the truth is, God can bless you anywhere.

I was listening to a timely sermon by one of my favs Steven Furtick from Elevation Church and he said that “If I say it’s a blessing, it WILL be a blessing If I say God is in it, he IS in it. If I say it is an opportunity than IT IS an opportunity. If I say it is a setup, than IT IS a setup.”

So I decide the purpose of the place by what I speak over the situation. If I say that there’s nothing to give glory to, then that is the attitude that I choose. But if I say, I’m going to find something that is a blessing in this situation and call it a blessing, then that situation WILL be blessed. When I walk away from a frustrating situation, will I become disgruntled or will I make it worthwhile by learning something?

Today I find myself saying “this opportunity is a stepping stone for something greater.” or “today is another gift from God and another opportunity to give someone a bit of encouragement.”

What can I do today to combat frustration to build character?

I DO have the power to choose to bring purpose into something that seems mundane. I DO have the power to breathe life into the lifeless because I have the Spirit of God living inside of me. If I put limits on myself, I put limits on what I believe can be done through me, when we are all called to great works no matter who or where we are.

God may have the power to redeem my time, but I have the power to call it what it is (free will, anyone?). Don’t lose heart, there is a plan.

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends

I have lived in New York for over 7 years now and I cant even believe just how fast the time has gone. When my parent first dropped my off at my dorm room in college, we kind of gave a quick hug goodbye and then I didn’t even think about seeing them again until I was home for Christmas. I never got homesick at all when I was in college, didn’t feel lonely or left out (like the way I felt in high school, but we will save that story for another day).

I have to give all the credit (well, to God of course), but also to the community He had placed me in from such an early stage in my life in New York. Now don’t get me wrong – I love my Mom and Dad, but they can’t always physically be in New York City and sometimes I just need some person to person contact / realness in my life. So I had quickly made friends with some of the people who lived on my floor freshman year of college and have been friends with them ever since. I even met my best friend Isabella within my first couple years of living in NYC. And, if we didn’t live on the opposite sides of the United States, we would be inseparable. Even now, after a couple of year of feeling lost and a couple of years of missing God-centric friendships and relationships in my life, I came to Liberty Church (by way of a referral of a friend of a friend). I’ve met some of the most incredible people of my live there (including my best friend Louisa) and I know it as not by accident.

Throughout the years, these friends have been speaking LIFE into me. By encouraging and challenging me, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and into a place where I am living life to the fullest. Just recently, I took a solo trip to Paris, which wouldn’t have even been dreamt up if I didn’t have my two best friends lead as example.

Long story, not so short, if it wasn’t for these incredible, encouraging and nurturing people in my life, I would not be doing what I am today. This year, I want to remind myself of the power of a word of encouragement towards someone and how much that can have an impact on someone’s life. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us: “Therefore, encourage one another and built each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” I want to challenge myself (and everyone who wants to take part) to do a year long writing challenge, inspired my my letter writing friend Rhea Abramson of Devoted Diarist and Mail More Love. The challenge will be to write 1 letter of encouragement a week. Now, if you’re anything like me, 1 letter a week doesn’t seem like a lot, but the challenging part will come when I have to be consistent about sending out 1 each week. To help out, I’ve made a little bit of a guide / how to / organizational tip (but seriously… the organizational tool is mainly for myself).

Rules: send out 1 letter of encouragement (snail mail) to someone every week. This doesn’t have to be a close friend. It could be anyone: your next door neighbor who just had a baby, an old classmate you used to study with, one of your coworkers who is seems to be in a bad mood all the time, the guy (or gal… this is the 21st century after all!) who mows your lawn every week, your super who legit refuses to fix your radiator (totally hypothetical situation… not at all true), or even that relative you haven’t spoken to or seen in 5 years. Remember, it doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to be thoughtful.

Tips:
-Set a reminder on your calendar (on a not busy day or the week), in the morning or evening to sit down a write your letter. It could be a short as a postcard, or it could be as long as a 5 page letter. The most important thing for me to remember is being able to take the focus off of myself to think about the future of someone else. The well being of someone else, their talents, and the potential that you see in them.

-Go to USPS (yes, the Post Office. No, not everyone is as grumpy and slow as they seem if you smile). Buy 2-3 sheets of FUN stamps (not that there is anything wrong with the American Flag Forever stamps), but you can get some fun Oscar De La Renta stamps too for the same price. So why not? 3 sheets (60 stamps total) will last you until the end of the letter writing challenge.

-Plan ahead. Make a list ahead of time of the people you want to send a little letter to. Then you have to do “the ask” aka “the address ask.” It’s sometimes weird to just send a text saying “what’s your address?” It can seem awkward. So if you’re not on that level of comfortability yet, you can say “what’s your snail mail address?” Or if you want to sneak up on them, you can ask someone close to them OR if you know where they work you can send it to their work address. (If they work for a financial services company, investment bank, accounting firm, law office, they will probably have a compliance department to read / sift through the mail so bear that in mind too).

-Make it fun. Decorate your envelope. Add some stickers. Draw on a smiley face. Buy a hilarious, beautiful card that the other person would really appreciate. (I currently justify my card budget by saying that it is technically a gift for someone else, so I’m not really spending the money on myself- lol).

Where: I’ve made a little guide to where I like to go shopping for cards! (Stores are based in LA, OC, & NYC). There are a range of different price points, so there is something for everyone!

Everywhere: Target & Michaels: Both of these stores can sometimes have a great selection of boxed cards (around 8-10 cards) for around $2-$3! I personally like the thank you ones the best, but I have gotten some generic greeting cards there as well.

Online: Etsy, The Social Type, Egg Press. You can find some great deals on Etsy for cards, especially if you are looking for something rather specific. Also, The Social Type and Egg Press both have sample sales every once in awhile (i’m talking letter press cards for $.80 people!!), so be sure to sign up for their mailing list and follow their social accounts to be the first to know about their sales.

LA: The Social Type is great (as I mentioned before- they have awesome sample sales), and they have a store-front in Los Angeles as well Another great suggestion from @writebella (aka the card whisperer in my life) is La Familia Green as well as Urbanic and Lundeen’s).

OC: Surprisingly I don’t have too many OC suggestions, but I do love Sugar Paper even though it is on the pricer side. They have a great selection of beautifully crafted cards and small gifts for any paper lover. Posh Paper in my hometown (Yorba Linda) is also excellent: they have a great selection of stationary as well.

NYC: Oh gosh. There are so many great shops here I don’t know where to begin. But I’ve narrowed it down to my favorite 2 shops Pink Olive and Paper Presentation. Pink Olive is the perfect place for any paper lover, gift lover, cute things lover (and there are 5 locations in total – including the cutest and latest addition to the family – the Cold Spring store!) There are beautiful cards for every occasion (I LOVE the selection of Rifle Paper) as well as their in house collection featuring the phrase “You Are Loved.” What incredible words to live by. Paper Presentation is a one-stop-shop. You can pick up everything from greeting cards, to wrapping paper, to custom stationary, to stickers with unicorns on them to dress up any card. I often stop here when I am running errands in the Flatiron District.

Montreal: If you happen to be in Canada, Boucle Et Papier is a a great shop. They have a wonderful selection of Sugar Paper, as well as Liberty London, which I have had a hard time coming across in the past.

Lastly: Tell people and encourage others to do the year of encouragement too! Share on your social pages and accounts with the #YearOfEncouragement to get others inspired to also send encouraging letters. The one a week letter is just to be a guideline. If there isn’t anyone to send a letter to that week or if you forget- don’t worry about it! You can always pick up from where you left off. Remember that sending even one letter out is better than not sending one at all.

I can’t wait to kick off 2018 with words of encouragement for others and taking the focus off of myself for a little while. I hope you join me in this #YearOfEncouragement

Relationship Test

I wrote this post on a flight to Paris connecting through Iceland. While I hadn’t officially started my trip, I had some difficulty getting there and wanted to share my experience.

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People say that the ultimate test of a relationship is to travel with said person. Say I’m thrown into (perhaps) foreign territory. I have endless options to choose how to spend my time: under definite time constraints (and probably money constraints). Bumps in the road are inevitable and sometimes unavoidable. It is how I choose to respond to the events of my travel experience that determine the healthiness of my relationships.

While this is all straightforward when traveling with others, what about the event that I go on a solo trip? (Like the one I’m currently on in Paris? Well, I’m still on the way, I have a layover in Iceland- we’ll get to that part in a bit). I firmly believe that how I respond to the events of my solo travel (be them good or bad) can reflect some underlying characteristics.

So I’m on my way to Paris. I booked this trip a couple of months ago because I found a reasonably priced airfare and have had the itch to go to Paris every single day since I left the city 5 years ago. (Not kidding: every single day). The hype is so real at this point: I had a full itinerary planned down to the hour (including things like picking up vintage postage stamps for my postcards that I preaddressed- YES PREADDRESSED). I was listening to my Parisian-themed playlist, featuring the likes of the Ratatouille & Midnight in Paris soundtracks. AND I was wearing the perfect minimalist athlesure outfit I could pull out of my closet for an “effortless chic” travel look. I did all of the things.

Then, things turned from 100 to 0. Real quick. Real freakin’ quick. Long & tiring story short, our flight was delayed for more than 48 hours total. Luckily by this time I had amazing friends who took me into their home, took me rock climbing, fed me, prayed with me, and acted as my travel agents to help me to book another flight to Paris. (THESE are the kind of people I like to have in my life).

During this whole process I felt so much distress. Why tho? Whyyyy?! Disappointment? Sure, of course. Sad? Absolutely. But by the time I had received that fourth delay text, my body was physically shaking and I felt ill. Part of me was torn and sad and not even wanting to go, after all this time. But the other part of me was picturing myself having an almond croissant at Cafe de Flore. It was that simple image of what was to come that kept me going, that made me wipe off hours of tears and drag my sore body to the airport on the other side of town to make this flight.

When I’m under distress- what am I saying over myself? Am I crumbling under the stress? Or am I saying that despite the circumstances that have come my way I can see the finish line and get through this with God’s patience and strength. How am I treating myself and the people around me? Am I snapping easily? Or am I the example of peace to comfort others who are under distress. Traveling alone is a relationship test for my relationship with myself and with that with strangers.

 

I can tell you right now, these last 24 hours were not hours of peace for me. There were many tears, lightheadedness, confusion. Not to mention several passive aggressive tweets (and active aggressive ones) at the airline I had originally booked.

Yes, I need to be practical. I don’t have unlimited resources to get to Paris. But I do have a will, a way, determination, and a God who is able to provide opportunities & deliver me from the stress that had consumed me. Right now, I am living out that example: I’m at peace knowing that every person I meet on this trip is a new opportunity to overwrite the stress that came earlier.

When I was waiting for the first flight, I wrote in my journal (as one does when needing to relieve some stress): “200 years ago, leisure travel wasn’t a thing. I’m so grateful that I am able to travel the world for fun because back in the day it would have taken over 2 years to get to Paris.” Whatever life throws at me, I have the choice to respond in a proactive and constructive way. I can see obstacles and a stopping point, or I can view them as another way to get a new “skill” under my belt.

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Lost in the Sauce

Everyone says be true to yourself, be who you want to be. While this is great vague advice, it often leaves me wondering what that really means. I find it so easy to jump into trends, and gravitate to what is popular, what everyone else is doing. Nothing wrong with a good third wave coffeeshop, but sometimes I take a step back and I feel like a clone. A couple years ago, I could look in the mirror and see everyone else: everyone else and not myself.

A few years ago, one of my best friends, Isabella, gave me this piece of paper to fill out. She called it an “essence matrix.” You fill in each “box” with three things for each category. (Categories are: Music, Moving Image, Avocations, Colors, Flavors, Textures,  Visuals, Plays, Literature). The end-product looks something like the picture below (or better, if your handwriting is more legible than mine!) Every six months or so, I make a new one and fill it in again. It’s interesting to see how (and if) my answers have changed over time. It is a really nice way to explore the things which impact my decisions that I simply don’t think about every day.

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“Be true to yourself. Be true to yourself,” I whisper and ponder. What did I use to love that I stopped doing becuase I was afraid I was too different, afraid the world would judge me?

More importantly what does God say about me, who I am and who I should be? At the end of the day, God’s judgement of me is the only one that matters. Not my peers, not my friends, not even my family. Do the people speaking into my life have my best interest at heart as it relates to your God-given destiny? Because trust me, my best interest for myself is not always what is best for myself.

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1 Corinthians 3:12-13 says that “now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” How I am picturing this is a house made of wood; and there is a bonfire next to the house. When the foundation of a house is built of wood, of hay, or of stubble- how does it stand against the fire? A quick change of the wind in the wrong direction and it sets the house ablaze. Once that fire finishes burning, the home owner is left with nothing.

The ways of the world are like an unpredictable wind. We do not know what the next trends will be, how the dollar will value against other currencies tomorrow, or what life changing invention will come into play. Instead of being subject to the wind- build a house on truth, what is everlasting, and what makes you grounded. If you are rooted in the ground and in truth, and the strongest winds of the world come your way, you will not be shaken.

New York City is a constant space of inspiration, influence, and change. It is all to easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing with their lives. Comparing my life to others not only hardens my heart, but it takes the focus off of myself. I no longer am focusing on the truth that God is speaking into my life, nor am I living out my unique calling, the things I feel uncomfortable doing because I am under the influence of what the world wants me to be. If I am not too careful, New York can be a place of “sinspiration,” a place distracting from truth. The only reason I am tempted at times is because my heart hasn’t changed. Those who are truly filled with the spirit of Christ cannot be tempted, just as Christ cannot be tempted. Rather, they can stare temptation and the things that are not of truth – things that do not speak to who the truly are – and say “be gone.”

While we all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, sin is not in the nature of those who have devoted their lives to Christ. So while I can be true to myself, I am also subject to the nature of what I have chosen to devote my life to, what I have built my house on, and who I tell myself that I am. So what brings me joy? What brings me closer to Him? What draws others to see that Christ-like nature in me? That is what is most true to myself. Don’t get lost in the sauce: build your house on solid rock.

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Season for Everything

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Madison Square Park Fall

“Seasons” is such an overused word, especially in Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, I use the word often, but I try to use it in proper context.

What do I mean by that? Cultural context gives a season a fixed period of time. Winter, for example. Winter happens once a year, 3 months out of the year, every year. It’s often cold, unless you live in Southern California. But the season is expected and everyone knows it will eventually end; and then Spring will come and it will get warmer outside.

This is just me, but I use the word “seasons” too often in the context of that fixed period of time. When Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 starts off by saying “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven,” it is a great reminder that after war comes peace, after weeping comes laughter.

And while I know “this too shall pass” is a great way to encourage in those times of weeping, I can’t help but wonder when it will pass. Those “seasons” of weeping, feeling lost, being frustrated after waiting so long, working relentlessly but getting nowhere can seem to never end. But these seasons aren’t fixed. We don’t know when they are going to end. And that’s a really really hard pill to swallow. There are two archaic (aka Bible times) definition for seasons (neither of which are “comforting”). First is “a proper or suitable time.” The second is “an indefinite or unspecified period of time; a while.” A while. A WHILE?! How long is a while? 5 minutes? 5 weeks? 5 years? I’m gonna need a little more context than that Jesus.

So let’s look at context. A little beyond the popular opening of Ecclesiastes is the following: “What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).

He has made everything beautiful in its time. So in any one given “season” (aka endless and undefined time period in my life) while there might be war, there will also be laughter. The laughter has nothing to do with the war happening in my life but can alleviate the pain of the war. Right now, well actually for the past three years, I have felt extreme frustration and worthlessness in one area of my life. I couldn’t even imagine if I let the last three years of my life be labeled as “worthless” or “unfruitful.” There are so many other areas of my life where I can see God moving and blessings pouring out daily. When this “season” of my life is over (whenever that may be), I can look back and label it the very opposite of how I feel about that one frustrating situation of my life. I can call this season “fruitful” in my relationships. I can call this seasons”growth” with my walk in my faith. I can call this season “joyous” when I rediscovered my love to draw. While every “season” in our life presents challenges, it can produce joy at the same time. As Ecclesiastes 3:13 says we CAN “find satisfaction in the toil.” Thank God for multifaceted seasons. Thank GOD!

Right now, I’m looking out my window at work. It’s the same view I’ve had for over a year. When I first started, I noticed this plastic takeout bag caught in one of the trees out my window (littering is a conversation I’ll save for another day). Over time, through the winds of Autumn and snowfalls of Winter, the bag slowly wore out over time. All that remains there now are tiny pieces of plastic wrapped about the same branch, blowing in the direction of the wind like a dreamcatcher. A couple weeks ago, another plastic bag made it’s way into the same tree. Not that trash in a tree represents anything positive, but it just made me think of how things will often find their way back. That groove Stella thought she lost? It came back! When I was full of sorrow and I couldn’t seem to find any source of happiness? My joy came back! That rut I never thought I was going to get out of? I got out of it!

So while I wait for the despair to pass, for the weeping to stop, for the pain to go away, I can turn and choose to focus on the area in my current season that I am blessed. But it is hard. It is hard to not become disappointed while I am trying to be patient waiting for the good to come. I love how the early Drake puts it in his song Over: “I really can’t see the end getting any closer. But I’ll probably still be the man when everything is over…If you thinking I’mma quit before I die, dream on.” Have peace in your mind that no one truly knows when their tough season is going to end, not even Drake. But know that through all of that, when we choose to not quit and we choose to stay faithful, God will place blessings in our lives that will give us joy in the midst of heardship. (Also that was far-fetched illustration but that song has been stuck in my head and I wanted to make it work soooooo…)

When I actively choose to praise God for the multifaceted season, I am praising him for everything: the good, the bad, the ugly. AND I am acknowledging that even in the midst of the bad, He is good. He is above all things and above all circumstances.

And speaking of seasons, here are some Fall pictures from Central Park last year. Just waiting for the leaves to turn again soon!

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