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.”

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.
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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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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