A New Year’s Resolution That’s Just Write

I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. At the very least, I usually resolve to do something related to faith, something related to health, and something related to writing.

Last spring, a friend and I started a new writing routine. We live in different states, but we both woke up at 5 a.m. on weekdays to write. I felt revitalized. And I made a mental note: In 2017, I would resolve to write every single day.

Now that 2017 is actually here, my world looks a lot different than it did when I made that mental note. I have a different job, and my husband and I are getting ready to welcome our first child.  Continue reading

From jealous to joyous

It’s all too easy to get sucked in.

And suddenly, it seems there’s no way out.

You’ve got a few spare minutes, so you hop on Twitter.  Or maybe you prefer Instagram. (Or, if you’re in your 20s or older, Facebook – I’m told that most teens aren’t on Facebook these days.)

Whatever your social media of choice, you log in and start scrolling. And scrolling. And scrolling.

Some of it is fun and sweet. Look at those pictures of her lunch – delicious AND nutritious! And her fingernails are painted perfectly – she looks SO cute holding that coffee!

For a little while, it’s fun to see what your friends are up to. You like checking in.

And then, it gets mindless.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. A mindless “like” here, a “favorite” there.

And subtly, jealousy begins to set in.

You start feeling less happy for people – and less happy about yourself.

“She’s so healthy – why did I eat that huge brownie?!”

“Her hair is perfect – I’m feeling like a mess. And NOT a hot mess – just a mess!”

“She gets to go on vacation AGAIN? I wish my family would take a trip like that.”

“She has a boyfriend?! Why hasn’t anybody asked me out?”

You’re not the only one who thinks this way. I do it, too – it’s just about different things than it used to be.

First, it was boyfriends. Then “dream jobs.” Then vacations, or extended travel, or living abroad. Then engagements and weddings.

And with each life step I take, someone is always one step ahead.

My Twitter feed is still mostly news stories, since I follow a lot of journalists. I haven’t checked my Instagram in a while, but it’s probably still mostly food, dogs, and sunsets.

But my Facebook? That’s a different story. It’s covered in beautiful babies, charming new homes, and people who are exercising way more than I am.

Just the other day, I caught myself looking. At first, I enjoyed it. I took delight in my friends’ happiness. I shared their joy.

But then, without even realizing how I’d gotten there, I was jealous.

I started asking myself the question that’s always been there: “When will it be my turn?”

That’s right – even as an adult, I’m still asking this question.

But girls, listen closely to this part: We don’t have to do this to ourselves.

There is another way.

No, I’m not going to tell you to get off social media completely, because it’s fun. It can be encouraging and special, and it can allow us to connect with friends who are far away on a day-to-day basis. So, no, I’m not going to say, “Delete your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc.”

What I am going to encourage might actually be a little harder – but it will be better. You will be a better person for it. And if I can follow my own advice, so will I. Are you with me?

It’s time for us to step off the jealous cycle and get on the joyous cycle.

How do we do that?

I think it’s a combination of time and trust.

I’m beginning to notice a pattern: The more time I spend scrolling down that screen, the more my joy starts to fade – and the more jealousy starts to creep in.

But the more time I spend having actual meaningful interactions with friends, the more my joy grows. And jealousy? What’s that?

What if we spent less time “following” people, and more time actually interacting? Sometimes, that means a text conversation with ONE person: Texting my sister, my mom, or a close friends brings me a million times more joy than seeing what 100 other people are doing, or checking how many people have “liked” my picture.

And writing a letter to that one special friend – now that’s rewarding. (I’ve written about that before.)

What about phone calls, walks in the park, and coffee dates? Don’t even get me started on how AMAZING those can be! Some of my most treasured moments happen over a cup of something warm (and maybe a muffin!) at a table across from a friend.

And we don’t take a single picture.

What if we spent less time “checking up” on what other people are doing, and spent more time doing things we love to do? Instead of worrying about everyone else’s excitement, why don’t we go out and find our own?

Just staring at that screen can be draining. But reading a book, baking cookies, petting my dog – all those things help renew me.

Instead of wondering why we don’t have the special moments that others have, what if we learn to see the beauty and joy in our own circumstances?

Yeah, you might not have a boyfriend. But I bet you’ve got some pretty great girls in your friend group. Yes, you will have bad hair days – but what’s so wrong with having a messy ponytail because you ran through the park, or simply because you were too busy doing other things to care? (The answer: Nothing is wrong with that!) You might not have the same talents and adventures as others, but you’ve got other great things in your life.

One of my favorite things to do – and I don’t do it enough – is to find the gifts in each day. It’s an idea from one of my favorite Christian devotional writers, Ann Voskamp. Every month, she has a new list of 3 “gifts” to look for each day – things like, “3 gifts read,” “A gift small, smaller, smallest,” or “3 gifts undervalued.” It’s like a scavenger hunt for blessings.

That brings me to the other part of the answer to “What do we do about this jealousy thing?”

We trust.

When we get so caught up in what other people have or do that we become jealous, and when we ignore the blessings that surround us, it’s like saying that what God has given us isn’t good enough.

When it really comes down to it, I think there’s a fear at the heart of all that jealousy. We ask when it will be our turn, and we compare ourselves to others, but underneath, we’re worried: Will it EVER happen to me?

I know trust is WAY easier said than done. It’s hard to trust – really hard, especially when you’re tired and overwhelmed, and everyone else is Tweeting about what a GREAT day they’re having.

But we have to learn to trust that God has something great out there for us – and that He has us where we are for a reason.

And that fear, it won’t help us. It’s like a cloud that doesn’t let us see the twinkling stars at night, or that blocks the warm sunshine during the day.

When we can see past that fear and embrace the moment we’re living in, and when we can stop the cycle of comparison and begin to really live our lives – the lives that God has created us for – that’s when life is sweet.


P.S. I’ve just shared this post on holleygerth.com, where writer Holley Gerth brings women together for some encouragement with “Coffee for Your Heart.”  

Dateless on dance night

IMG_1468_2There are boys dressed like knights and white horses, boxes of doughnuts with poems in them, and cute handmade signs in the commons. There are roses and sidewalk chalk and Hershey’s kisses.

But none of them are for you.

It’s the season of the much-anticipated Homecoming dance, and it’s all anybody talks about these days. The girl who sits in front of you sneaks a peek at sparkly dresses on her computer, pretending to take notes. The boys behind you whisper not-so-quietly about who they’re going to invite.

And you sit in between, just trying to get your work done, but unable to focus, because it’s all just too much. You try to learn the difference between reflexive and intensive pronouns, but all you can think about is the difference between you and all those other girls.

You might go to the dance with your group of other dateless friends – after all, the dance is for everyone, and you don’t want to miss a chance to get dressed up. But inside, you feel a twinge of pain.

It’ll be me and all the rest of the girls who weren’t quite good enough.

You might just avoid the whole thing and stay home with your mom.

I’ll just make my own fun plans. Who needs a dance, anyway?

Trust me, I understand.

I’ve been to that place of longing, and I remember it well: Homecoming, junior year of high school.

I remember wishing Homecoming weren’t such a formal affair – couldn’t we all just go in our jeans and celebrate after the football game? And why did people have to have dates, anyway? And why the dramatic asking – whatever happened to a simple face-to-face invitation? It was all too much pressure. It was silly.

But deep in my heart, I wanted to get asked just as much as everyone else did. I watched and waited.

Even getting picked for one slow song at a casual all-school dances was a big deal. Three minutes with a cute boy’s hands on my waist as we swayed back and forth were like waltzing on pink clouds. But getting asked to go as someone’s date for an entire evening – that would be a fairy tale.

When will it be my turn?

On the day of the dance, my sister got a kitten named Truffle. We picked it up from a family acquaintance, who told us some shocking news: A boy from school had thought about asking me to the dance! But this wasn’t just any boy. He was a football player.

I wrote about it in my journal that afternoon. I’ve changed his name, but other than that, the words are the same: “There was a boy who was going to ask me to Homecoming! It was Devin Trapp – what a surprise!!! I’ve only ever had a grand total of 2 classes (wait – maybe 3 or 4) with him, and I don’t really know him that well. I’m just in shock that I’m the kind of person he would ask . . . He was seriously thinking of me? . . . When in P.E. with him, I just figured he’s thinking, ‘What a loser.’ Wow!”

He hadn’t actually asked me, of course, and I don’t remember if I ever found out why. But knowing I had crossed someone’s mind, made it onto his “maybe” list, was exhilarating. I didn’t get asked, but I had been noticed. I had been NOTICED!

One of my friends did get asked – not by him, but by another guy we both knew. He then asked if I wanted to go with a friend of his who didn’t go to our school, but I said no. Who wants to go to a formal dance as a favor with a complete stranger? No, thank you.

I remember helping my friend get ready. As I curled the layers of her hair and pinned them up in place, I forced my emotions down.

Keep calm. Stay composed. Don’t cry. This is fun, right?

She was Cinderella, and I wasn’t even part of the story.

How come she got asked and I didn’t?

I sat at home that night with my mom and sister and watched Nicholas Nickleby, a movie based on a Charles Dickens novel – not exactly your typical movie for a girls’ night in. Overall, I had a good night. But I couldn’t shake the thought that somewhere, people were dancing.

It took me a long time to realize that high school dances aren’t as important as we think they are.

IMG_0002

My favorite hair accessories – not from a dance, but from my wedding.

Yes, they can be sweet and special. I’m not anti-dance – I enjoyed the casual all-school dances, and eventually, I did go to a couple of formals with a guy friend of mine. There’s something to be said for the fun of putting on a sparkly dress and spectacular shoes.

There’s also nothing wrong with wanting to be desired. That’s part of being human. We want to be praised, admired, and loved. That’s natural.

The problem starts when we start to think there’s something wrong with us because Mr. Cute Brown Eyes over there hasn’t asked us to the dance.

When we focus too much on what others think of us and whether we have a date to the dance, we start to view ourselves as less than what we are.

Read this carefully: Not having a date doesn’t make you any less beautiful, smart, funny, sweet, talented, or special than anybody else. It doesn’t mean nobody likes you. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.

It just means, well – actually, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just a fact of life. Sometimes, it’s just not your turn, and that’s OK.

Is it rough? Sure it is. During one casual all-school dance, I cried to friends in the bathroom because a guy I’d been hoping to dance with on “ladies choice” got snatched up by someone else.

At another casual dance, I was so desperate for a slow song with one particular guy that not only did I request a song, but I disobeyed my parents and stayed at the dance later than I was supposed to.

I’m not proud of those moments. But I share them because I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in who’s paying attention to you – and who’s not.

Trust me on this: Your worth is not determined by whether you have a date to this dance, or the next one, or any other dance.

It comes from simply being YOU.

When I re-read that journal entry about being on someone’s “maybe” list, my first thought wasn’t “Whoa, that guy almost asked me!” Instead, it was, “Who was that guy, and why did he matter so much?” I couldn’t even picture his face.

I’ll let you in on a secret: Most of the women I know have similar stories of staying home. I know it seems like “everyone” goes, but you’d be surprised by how many sweet, successful women didn’t have dates to high school dances.

And you know what? Life went on, and we learned that confidence doesn’t come from chocolate and roses and white horses that turn into dance invitations. It comes from knowing who you are. The best dance isn’t the one you get invited to in high school – it’s the one you do yourself as you move through life.

When I look back at that Homecoming night, I remember the pain of not going. But more than that, I remember the love I felt from my mom and sister. I didn’t spend the evening with a guy I kind of liked – I spent it with two of the people in the world who I loved most, and who loved me right back. Years later, that’s a much sweeter memory than any dance could ever be.

. . .

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.”

– Psalm 139:14

An envelope full of heart

My box of stationery and notecards, kept within easy reach.

My box of stationery and note cards.

I pick out a pretty piece of stationery, gather a few extra sheets of paper, and find a favorite pen.

The words flow naturally from my fingertips, through the pen, spilling onto the paper.

“Dear Kim . . .”

I’ve written those words for almost 10 years now – words to an old friend from high school. Before our senior year, I moved away, and we’ve kept in touch with letters.

Handwritten letters have held us together.

Looking back, there’s always been at least one person with whom I’ve exchanged letters.

As a child, I wrote “Dear Kyle . . .” before placing a few fun items, like pencils or erasers or gum, inside a plastic fish. (That’s right, a plastic fish — it made for some fun mail!)

As a teenager, I corresponded with one of my cousins: “Dear Anna . . . ”

Time passes, people move to and fro, and there are more names to add to the list.

“Dear Liz . . .”

“Dear Alicia . . .”

“Dear Makenna . . .”

The first word says it all, really: “Dear.”

Dear. 

My friend, you are dear to me. We are dear to each other. And that is why we write.

We’ve written a lot over the years. I have a box full of handwritten notes I’ve kept – and that’s not even all of them. They came on different kinds of paper in different sizes of envelopes from different zip codes.

A box of letters – my treasure box.

A box of letters – my treasure box.

We could fill novels with those letters.

And yet, we rarely see each other. Most of the people with whom I exchange letters are those I haven’t seen for the longest time. It’s been 2, 3, even 4 years. And with most of them, letters are our primary way of communicating.

We talk on the phone or Skype once a year, maybe twice, if a lot has happened. We might text once in a while, just for fun. We rarely use Facebook with each other — some of my close friends aren’t even on Facebook.

And yet, we’re close.

You don’t have to live close to be close. And you don’t have talk all the time to know each other’s hearts.

In precious letters, my friends and I share things we’d never dream of posting on Facebook. Things the world doesn’t need to know. Things that are too big to be summed up in a few hastily typed words.

We don’t know each other’s daily activities — I couldn’t tell you what some of my friends ate for dinner, which movie they just saw five minutes ago, or which character some Internet quiz says they are most like.

But we do know each other’s deepest struggles and greatest joys.

And we know them because we’ve chosen to share them, one-on-one, with each other.

When I hold a handwritten letter, it feels as if I’ve been given a piece of someone else’s heart. Someone else has taken the time to choose her words, for my eyes only. She has written them down, sealed them up, and sent them to me.

When I open that envelope full of words and pull out those lovingly penned pages, I don’t want to just read it quickly and send a fast reply. I want to savor it, like the treat that it is, and read over each word carefully. I want to take my time in crafting a response.

But it’s more than words that get sent in the mail. When we take the time to write to each other, and write authentically, it’s like entrusting little bits and pieces of our hearts with those we know will protect them.

Certainly, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are fun, but one letter that shows up in my mailbox is worth more than 1,000 “likes” or comments. If I had to choose, I’d rather have five friends with whom I write letters than 500 Facebook friends.

And sure, I enjoy the convenience of technology, but there’s something about a handwritten letter that no technology will ever be able to replace. There’s an intimacy. An authenticity. A tangibility.

And what history we have in letters! In my letter box, I have mini-histories of friendships that show they have blossomed over time. Letters of great historical figures give us a glimpse into people’s lives outside of the public’s eyes.

And think of the Bible — several books of the New Testament were originally written as letters, shared across the miles to teach people and build them up in Christ’s love. I love reading the greetings at the beginning of Paul’s letters, like this one, in Philippians 1:1-5:

“Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now.”

What an incredible letter that is! (And not just the beginning, but the whole book — I love Philippians.) On a larger scale, I’ve heard the Bible referred to as God’s letter to all of us. Truly, what a gift.

Thinking about all the people who have written letters throughout history inspires me to write more — and to write more meaningfully. The intimacy of letters makes them the perfect place to share our hopes and our fears, to provide encouragement for each other, and to remind each other not to give up.

As long as there is a postal service, I will write letters. My friends will send me little pieces of their hearts, and I will write back, sharing mine, because my friends — my friends are dear to me. We are dear to each other. And so we write, “Dear friend . . . ”

When was the last time you wrote a letter – the old-fashioned kind you drop in the mailbox? I challenge you – find some paper and a pen, and write one. Even if you don’t get a reply right away, I guarantee that you’ll brighten someone’s day.