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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2018: The Year of Intention

Do you ever just make plans and then they get pushed off or put on hold due to something unexpected?

For example: last night I had planned to go out with a few girls to dinner, ring in the new year, and then dance the night away (among other things like writing this blog post and cleaning the apartment). I woke up with an incredible sinus headache and the chills. The only thing I actually did yesterday was start and finish Mindhunter on Netflix and rewatch some of my favorite episodes of Arrested Development and play HQ Trivia (no – I have not won any money yet, no I’m not bitter about it).

When I make my plans for the day, I never factor in if something goes wrong. I just assume that everything will go as planned. Over the years, that has put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. Pressure just to try and make sure that nothing goes wrong (apparently I forgot that I am a human and that the grace of God exists).

Looking back on how I have planned out my life for my previous years, I set resolutions with the expectation that everything will go according to plan. I say to myself “No, I won’t get injured and I will be able to perfectly complete my training program in time for my marathon.” Or “I don’t plan on getting sick so any money I set aside for the doctor can be automatically put into savings.”

Well unfortunately that’s not what I have encountered this past year. It has been full of disappointments and realizing that life happens and doesn’t stop just because I make plans otherwise. This year, I’m aiming to set realistic resolutions. Resolutions that I have carefully planned out with a buffer for when things don’t go exactly as planned. For me, instead of looking at the year as a whole, it means breaking the year up into 12 months to set monthly goals instead of yearly ones. Instead of calling them resolutions, I am calling them intentions. Intentions have more meaning to me: it’s saying despite what happens in my life “I intend to do this.” I’ve planned it out, I’ve planned for buffers, and I will get this accomplished.

This year, as I look at my “resolutions” “intentions,” I ask myself are these realistic? Or am I banking on the fact that “life” won’t actually happen and everything will go according to plan? Plan for your goals and dreams, but be sure to leave buffer for the unexpected too.

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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.
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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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Passion Over Distraction

Essentialism

I recently finished reading the book Essentialism and the core of the book could be summarized in the following sentence:

“Less but better” over “everything to everyone.”

So often I get caught up in saying “yes” to responsibilities without thinking because my emotions get involved. In reality, the emotions felt when you say “no” are merely temporary; and what is leftover is respect.

My current struggle is that I am haphazardly juggling too many things at once. (Living in New York City gives me a constant arbitrary pressure and guilt for the need to “keep up” and “be something” to everyone I know – or at least appear that way). I try to justify the so-called benefits to these opportunities. I say things like “but it’s more practice and experience,” “but this is a personal contact and friend, so I feel obligated to…”, or “it will look great on my resume.”

Before I know it, I have taken on more than I can handle and have left no time for me to think about my own goals, what I want, let alone spend time perusing those things with all my heart. Greg McKeown put a little chart inside the book that can be extremely helpful when it comes to making decisions:

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The top row is blank to fill out with an opportunity that could be presented to you. (This could be either personal or work-related). The second row is blank to fill out three minimum requirements and non-negotiables you have already established in order to take on the new opportunity. The second row is for three “would likes:” things that are secondary-tier requirements. Greg suggests that in order to take the opportunity, it must meet all three “must have” requirements and two of the three “would like” requirements. If the opportunity presented doesn’t meet the criteria, then it is not in line with the clear vision you have for your life.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

If I feel like I have lost my vision for my life, I meditate on this Bible verse: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phillipians 4:8). It gives me joy, challenges me and sparks creativity that is rooted in the heart of truth and the heart of purpose. It provides me with a clear vision.

I don’t often read a (secular) book that alters the way I think, but Essentialism is one I will definitely be revisiting. Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned and how it has challenged my life.

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Starting this week I am asking myself: Am I letting the distractions of this world get in the way of my clear vision and passions I have in my life? What can I say “no” to today, to help alleviate pressure? When presented with a new opportunity, does it align with my requirements? “If it isn’t a clear ‘yes,’ then it’s a clear ‘no’.”

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Livin’ the Mundane Life

More often than not, life seems very monotonous, very routine. I often find myself trying to break out of routine becuase I get bored with doing the same thing over and over. Although I am a planner by nature, I thrive on the unexpected and variety.

I have looked at monotony the way that I feel most people see it: for its negative, repetitive connotation. I’d say to myself “I’ll be stuck doing this same thing for the rest of my life,” or ask the question “what good can come out of just repeating yourself and not learning anything new?”

What I seemed to have been missing over the years is that monotony can be seen as a discipline. By doing the same task over and over (and doing it well), I have the opportunity to build a reputation for consistency, for accuracy, for reliability. Practicing the same task over and over again can be healthy, becuase it builds habits so that you have room to grow in other areas of your life. When you become disciplined through repetition, you then gain that skill and then can graduate to bigger and better things (while retaining all that you have learned). If you move on before you mastered a skill, it can feel like you’ve lost your sense of direction.

Now, I have some new questions for myself. I’ll challenge myself by asking “is there anything I’m doing now that seems mundane or tedious, but is actually building my character and/or my skill set?”

Here are some close images from one of my latest drawings. While drawing each individual square seems tedious to me at first, without each window of the building, it would be incomplete.

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Quality Alone Time

On the surface, I come across as a highly amiable and social person. Which is mostly true: few things delight me more than spending time catching up with a friend over a latte (or breakfast – I love a good avo toast). But so much of my life has been going going going that sometimes I become anxious or lose focus or I find myself saying things like “It’s almost July and I still can’t believe I haven’t finished (fill in the blank).”
I’ve slowly learned the importance of “me” time. This could be spent reading, praying, writing, walking around the city, painting, or even sleeping. All I know is that my body and my mind need rest and space.
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I’ve recently made a routine of “me” time by making matcha lattes and doing my morning reading. I look forward to it every day: it’s quality time spent reading and praying. It’s my time I don’t have to answer emails, texts, or calls. It is an important way to start my day to reset my heart, mind and spirit so I can go into the day filled with encouragement and joy,
Here is my recipe for matcha lattes (adapted from @LeeFromAmerica).
2 Teaspoons of Jade Leaf Matcha
1 scoop of Vital Proteins (optional)
A pinch of Brain Dust (yes, you read that correctly) (optional)
A dash (or four) of cinnamon
1 cup of heated almond or coconut milk
1 TBSP of coconut butter (I like Artisana Naturals)
Set aside the matcha in a small mixing bowl. Heat up the almond milk in a saucepan over the stove on low to medium heat. Put some boiling water in a tea kettle. Once boiled, let the water cool down for a minute, then pour the water into the small mixing bowl with the matcha. Whisk the matcha with a bamboo whisk (like this one) to get out any matcha clumps. Let sit for a minute. Add all ingredients to a blender (including the heated milk and matcha mix). Blend for 1-2 minutes so you get MAXIMUM foam from the coconut butter and milk froth. Pour into a mug, sip and enjoy your “you time.”
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