Solid as a Rock

Union Square

I started a new job a little over a month ago. The position is at a property management company, where I travel to different buildings within the tri-state area to help leads prospective residents into apartments and plan events for current residents! Yesterday I was in Jersey City and at lunch, I took a walk along the waterfront overlooking downtown Manhattan to have some quiet time.

Every time I spend time with God, I ask him to teach me something new or maybe remind me of something I’ve forgotten. I often feel that most things I hear are things I have heard before, but they are received differently based on context, the state of my heart, what season I am in, and how mature I am.

Yesterday I just sat on a bench in solitude. No headphones, my notebook tucked away (but at the ready because you never know when you’ll have a notebook emergency). I kept staring at the Freedom Tower, completely zoned out. I’ve lived in New York for almost 8 years, jaded by the skyline, but suddenly I started to remember how the World Trade Center was built. 

The space had been unoccupied for years. City planners, government officials, and citizens alike all had something to say with how to plan out the space. It took almost 10 years to plan and build a foundation for something so symbolic, so iconic, something to stand the test of time.  It wasn’t until 2009 that the foundation was finished and construction began expanding to more than just the building itself. 

I left New York for 7 months to live in London in late 2011. By then the construction of One World Trade was barely visible- not more than 200 ft above sea level (for New York skyscraper standards, this is invisible). When I came back in 2012, it was as if the entire skyline had changed. I could see the building from miles away. One World Trade was designed to be a symbol, a hub and a place for everyone for generations to enjoy. 

When a solid foundation is formed, there’s no telling how quickly the rest of the construction will go. It was just a matter of a few months and one building completely transformed the way Downtown Manhattan looked.

One World Trade from Jersey City Waterfront

I need to continually remind myself that laying a strong foundation is the key to creating and designing something built to stand the test of time. And even when I think is going slow, that’s okay. The best foundations are laid so carefully that when it’s really time work on the rest of the construction, it goes smoothly and quickly. And even when hiccups arise, the firm foundation accounts for that, and construction will be able to resume.

As I am still in the early stages of my new job, I know that the foundation is important. The same principles I apply to my faith to learn more, to grow more, can be applied and permeate the rest of my life. Learning the software programs, the processes, the policies, the mannerisms, and the vision of the company are all a part of the bigger picture. Along with developing relationships, building a reputation with clients, setting a standard for my work of course. I know this will take time; and humbling myself, being patient, and resisting the desire to be comfortable all the time are things I need to remind myself of daily. 

While I am of course reminded of the story in Matthew of the two builders: one who built a house on rock and the other who built his house on sand (then a storm comes, but only one of the houses survives. Spoiler alert: it’s the house made of rock), I am also reminded of the following:

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed” Isiah 28:16.

It is more than okay to set standards, set goals and learn new things. I personally have to remember to keep it all within the context of grace and mercy, because I am only human.

We can only have that strong cornerstone of a foundation because we have a God who can help us withstand the weight of a blessing so big it could only come from Him. He already has carried the weight of the world on his shoulders; and whatever we experience in this life, he can help us build that firm foundation as well.

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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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The Cost of Impressionism

Impressionist Paintings at Met

As someone who calls herself an artist, the idea of creating scenes, capturing moments, and sketching beautiful architecture came from my love for the Impressionist period of art. I love the way that Impressionists leave little interpretation to the viewer: the paintings from this era evoke an “impression” the artist carefully curated specifically in that moment, tailored for that viewer.
Winter Morning on Montmarte
Upon hearing the word Impressionism, most think of the artistic and historical definition of the word. Perhaps the lesser known term is the following (as defined by Webster’s): “the depiction of scene, emotion, or character by details intended to achieve a vividness or effectiveness more by evoking subjective and sensory impressions than by recreating an objective reality.”
This leaves me thinking: what impression am I trying to give people to leave no interpretation as to the reality I am trying to portray? In other words, am I sacrificing who I am to make sure that I impress others? To make a perfectly curated “moment,” a tailored view to seem like I am more vivid or more effective (if we are still following Webster’s definition)? At the end of the day, I may be impressing people, but at what cost?
I remember first moving to New York City in college. The magic of New York was soon traded for the need to keep up with the Jones’s. I remember coming back from my first semester during Christmas time and someone would tell me “omgsh… look who is living their best Gossip Girl life xoxo.” At the time, I had not yet seen the show,  but I knew it was about Manhattan Socialites of the Upper East Side being invited to parties and soirees and galas wearing the latest fashions off the runway. Truthfully, it felt sooooo good to hear someone say that. I felt accepted. I felt like I got the “seal of approval” from the world, something I didn’t really “get” when I was in high school. So I continued this lifestyle and persona of giving others the impression that I was always living this vibrant fabulous life (according to world, Hollywood, and socialite standards of course).
$11,000 in credit card debt later, I was struggling to really make ends meet. I worked more than 3 jobs just to keep my head above water. I felt so overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time. Overwhelmed by the burden I had placed on myself, yet underwhelmed and unimpressed with the gap between how my life actually looked and how I had expected it to look. I would even throw in the word “hustlin” to justify the fact that I had more than one job to even make rent, just to seem busy and important. Unfortunately, our society, especially New York, prides itself on the 14-hour work day and the phrase “everyday I’m hustlin” (which, is a song I still love, thanks Rick Ross). Trying to keep up the pace with someone I wasn’t was exhausting. It was a mistake that cost me money, time, real relationships, and honesty with myself & with God.
With every decision comes an opportunity cost. By choosing to engage in something, I am inherently choosing to say no to another opportunity. When I was choosing to buy into the words the world was telling me, I was giving up who I was. Why on EARTH was I giving up who God has called me to be and what plans God has for my life because I was worried about maintaining an impression that was chosen for me by the world and not by God’s design?! I was impressing people who’s density was not relevant to mine, people who weren’t encouraging, people who didn’t have my best interest at heart. And what’s worse – I was afraid to tell the people I actually cared about becuase I feel that they would think less of me, not respect me, and judge me.
Our actual reality, not the objective one we curate for other people, gives us peace and honesty in all areas of our life. I know that I never have to pretend and I never have to compromise what makes me unique. You know who is impressed with me? God. You know who’s approval I don’t have to strive for? God. And I can rest and live my life knowing that that to continue to walk in truth is the only impression I ever have to make.
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Old Thing Back

In June 2008, I took my first trip to New York City. I remember being overwhelmed by all of the architecture, the sights, the sounds: three days just wasn’t enough. Here are some of the original photos I had developed from the trip (and brought them to New York and have them 9 years later… can you say “sentimental much?!?”)

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I was on a double decker bus when I snapped a photo of Times Square. The colors, the lights, the advertisements: everything just popped out at me all at once. I was taken aback by the detail of all that was happening in the photo. It was like a real life page out of an ISpy book.

A few months later, well into my junior year in high school, I took a beginning art class. One of the pieces we had to complete at the end of the year aimed to encompass many of the techniques we had learned throughout the year (and experiment with our favorite medium). The subject was landscape. Although I do love a good Cezanne pasture scene, after visiting New York the previous summer, something about cities had really tugged my heartstrings. I knew I had to paint that image of Times Square as a cityscape, and I wanted to paint it in watercolor.

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Although it’s been a few years since I have drawn and painted regularly, I was recently inspired to start working with watercolors again. For so long, I felt that I had to be as detailed, or as good I once was. In reality, I was just “out of practice.” To start something new, to pick up something from where I left off, I didn’t need experience, I needed a stepping stone.

I can’t let the fear of not being good enough prevent me from starting in the first place. Because if I fail, there’s grace for that. 

And just like that, I got my “old thing back.” That painting I mentioned earlier now hangs in my apartment and only recently have I admired it as a reminder that you (and the world) don’t have to qualify yourself to creative and achieve wonderful things. Only God can do that.

Here’s a little Spotify playlist I made to get you in the mood to start creating new things.

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Life-Giving Life

When your mind, body, and soul are operating on the same page, meaning, there is a common goal, beautiful things happen. If you put your mind into a cause or a project where your heart is and your actions follow, passion ignites and things actually start to get done.
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What’s more, when you are operating within God’s will, you are on an accelerated path for the Kingdom, and you become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. When your goals align with kingdom destiny, your goals become on a fast-track.

Philippians 1:21 says “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I paused for a moment to meditate on the “to live is Christ” portion. “Is” in this context is a direct metaphor for life. Nothing you do can separate you from God, so why would you try? I am reminded of that Steven Curtis Chapman song, Jesus is Life. “The air I’m breathing, Why my heart is beating, Everything I’m needing, Jesus is life, Jesus is life.”

Jesus IS life. All encompassing, ever-dependent life. The goal is to operate as one mind, one body, and one spirit: totally and completely in sync with your God-planned purpose. “Be no longer conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test God’s will. His good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2. Just rest in those thoughts, knowing that God WANTS you to know His perfect and pleasing will for your life and He WANTS to be involved. 

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1 + 1 = 7

Things aren’t adding up.
So many times in my life I have got a great momentum going and then I’ll stop for a bit and ask myself how I got there or where I am going next. I’ve reached a dead end and suddenly everything I have been doing doesn’t seem to add up. I have reached a point where my sense of direction is a bit cloudy. Anyone else with me on this?
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Well, first I am reminded of the story when Jesus first meets His disciples and asks them to drop everything they are doing to become “fishers of men.” Without questions, the disciples stop everything to follow Jesus, to complete their mission. But fish for men? That doesn’t make “logical” sense. To me. Let’s talk about the time when Jesus told the disciples to fish on the other side of the boat even after they had not caught anything all day (as if that would have changed something – and it DID! They caught so many fish that their nets began to break). Or, my personal favorite, the time He asked the Israelites to walk around the city of Jericho 7 days in a row (including 7 times on the 7th day) until the city walls fell down. On the surface, on paper, it just doesn’t make total and complete sense.
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If what you are doing today doesn’t make sense, it’s okay. If your vision is cloudy, ask for God’s wisdom. His eyes and His guiding hand for will provide discernment over your life. You will often experience months, even years of life where things don’t add up. It is only when your kingdom assignment is complete that you will be able to understand more the cloudy seasons of life.
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You have to have blind trust: even when the outcome isn’t quite clear or you really don’t see what is happening, you trust anyway. Becuase on the other side of blind trust, is the promise.
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Consistency is Key

In every area of your life it pays to be consistent. To say you will do something and follow through with it. Repeatedly.
901 Broadway
I’ve noticed for me that consistency leads to growth and developing new habits. This can go either way: maybe I consistently go for a run and develop that habit. Or I could consistently come back home and watch TV for 2 hours after work and develop that habit. (For the record, I’ve done both).
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Challenge yourself starting today by asking: are the habits and choices that you are consistently making leading you towards a life that you want to live? Towards a life that will help you grow in your faith? I know I personally can be better about how I spend my time and my money. What changes can you make today that will help you tomorrow, in five years, and in ten years?
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This series of drawings is of a cast- iron building in New York City on 901 Broadway. It was built in 1870, and was formerly a Lord and Taylor dry goods shop.
Enjoy!
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New Territory

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Lately I have been experimenting with different forms of art: taking pictures, making videos, getting back into watercolors. By no means am I a professional, but I guess the only way to improve is through experience. I get nervous about sharing things that I create for a few reasons.
1) I don’t want to come across as someone who knows it all. After all, the more you learn the more you find out how much more there is to learn.
2) To try something new is nerving.To try something new in the public eye is even scarier. (Even if that public is just your friends and family).
But you know what? I tell myself that taking small steps to pushing boundaries is key to getting rid of fear when it comes to much more important things. Like going on that interview for a job you feel unqualified for, or taking a trip alone for the first time, or signing up for that foreign language course that seems intimidating.
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With every small act of faith you will be rewarded. I am reminded of this verse: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

Check out some of the recent experimental videos that I have been working on here:
Enjoy!
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