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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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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Two of the Biggest Mistakes I Have Made

Mistake No. 1: I think I can change people.

“Wait..then why do I even do what I do?” “How can I make an impact?” “What is the point?” I ask myself.
At the end of the day, the most I can be to someone is someone of influence. And that is enough. By being there, by sharing what I am passionate about, my sharing my faith, just my demeanor and presence can have an impact on someone. I can’t twist their arm, get inside their head, and create a change. Lasting change is a gift from above; and it comes from within. So in the meantime, I can be the change that I want to see in others. At the very least they will observe that I do things differently, and perhaps become influenced by the example that I set.
As it pertains to myself, I find that it is the closest circle of people I associate with that influence my actions (for the better, or the worse). Which, yes, can cause me to change overtime, but true change comes from within. I’m often a stubborn person, I don’t like change. Once I get settled into a routine, I am pretty tight fisted about it. But because I am saved by grace, there is a world of opportunity for me that exists in the sphere of change.

Mistake No. 2: I think I can’t change how I feel.

Let me start off by saying this: feelings are a good thing. It means I still have a pulse. However, when things get intense in my life, I have a tendency to be dramatic (sometimes I like to say “theatrical,” because dramatic gets a bad rep).

In the past, I have dragged out feelings and held onto moments of hurt in my life for far too long. Yet, it was my choice to do those things.
Sometimes it is hard to let go of pain from the past. For me, that pain was a crutch, a crutch that reminded me everyday that I didn’t deserve to be treated right, fairly, or respectfully. When someone does have a foot injury and has to use crutches, it is nearly impossible to go anywhere without them. With every step taken, the crutches follow. They have to. Weaning off of the crutches can be painful at first, but it is an important step to complete and total healing.
Healing is a choice, and a difficult one at that. I have this phrase that I totally made up called “wax on water.” Basically I picture pouring water on a wax candle; and how the water cannot possibly penetrate the outside layer of wax. Scientifically, it just. wont. happen. If I can make myself this wax candle, every bad situation, mean jeer, or strike that comes my way will not get under my skin and it will roll off of me like wax on water. The faster I change how I react to a situation and how I feel about something that has happened to me, the quicker it is to get over it. When I let things sit and fester, then I question myself, my actions, my worth, and my relationships.
My Dad always says “you can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.” So I ask myself: are my reactions and words the taste of something sweet or bitter? Stay on the sweet side of things. ❤
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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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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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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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The Importance of Rest

This weekend, I had the opportunity to take a quick trip out to the beach with some girl friends. For me, the goal whenever I go somewhere for the weekend, especially the beach, is to “force” myself into a slower-paced and relaxing environment. Whether it be diving deeper into reading and prayer time (or – let’s be real – a full 8 hours of sleep).

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If I’m not careful, I end up filling my schedule with back to back activity. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good full filled social day. In fact, that is what is most tempting for me: to fill my schedule with coffee-dates or rooftop cocktails with friends. When my agenda steers from the core value or rest, I am not able to reconnect with God and feel more restless when I return to the city. Matthew 11:28-29 says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Consciously setting aside quiet time allows me to rejuvenate and revitalize my life.

Now, I can’t always take a weekend trip, but I can make sure I set aside a day or two for rest and re-connection in my daily life. I’d rather give 100% effort for 5 days, than 70% for 7 days. And in case you were wondering about the math, it’s 500% v. 490% ;).

I’ve included some snapshots of Ocean Grove and Asbury Park New Jersey, where the weekend trip was. Last Saturday morning, we stumble upon a mod 60’s – 70’s era type coffeeshop called High Voltage. The decor is very East Coast beaches meet the Pacific Northwest. I recommend the iced latte. Enjoy!

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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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