Drops of Joy

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 1 John 3:16

the suzersoo

so i’m convinced that this girl can wear just about anything, not shower for 2 months, and still look like a total babe. i caved and purchased VSCO – not too familiar with it, but had fun playing around with these photos.

crossing my fingers spring is around the corner. we chose a yellow dress because 1)it’s really old and that’s pretty neat, and 2)it’s happy and sunny and we need some happy, sunny flavors to bring in spring!


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This I Believe.

MAKE-BELIEF:
When you’re five, you believe in fairies and dragons, pirates and ghosts, invisible friends and Santa Clause. The days before you are spotless pages, pleading for you to spill vivacious colors of adventure and thrill as you dance across them. Your life exists in two separate realms: the world of reality and the world of make believe, the latter usually dominating the former. You’re too young, too jazzed by the possibility and hope that these imaginary, self-fashioned entities truly exist to think otherwise. There is no time to be rational; you’re too busy being a superhero in never land. When you’re five, everything is possible because everything is believable.

BELIEF MAKING:
When you’re in high school, make believe is a lost art. You mock those few souls who still hang on to the glimmer of hope that Santa really does exist. It feels hasty to believe in anything beyond the tangible, so you forget the days of dress up and pirates and succumb to the ways of high school conduct. Your sense of who you are, or who you thought you were, becomes hazy and tainted at the mercy of what other people say about you. Much of what you believe comes from a place of obligation: your parents bring you to church where you’re told to believe in God; you’re friends bring you to a party where you’re told “everyone’s doing it,” so you believe them; you volunteer to stack canned goods at the local food bank, but only because you’re told it will increase your chances of being accepted to college. Listen, comply, listen, comply – the cycle continues and you rarely second guess the arbitrariness of it all. And the thing is, you are certain that what you believe, or rather what you have been convinced to believe, has merit. All these different worlds you play hopscotch between begin to muffle your awareness on belief. Strip away what everyone else vies for you to stand by, and what’s left? What is it that you believe, not what your brother or sister, your parents, your best friend, or the kid down the block you wish you could be believes. You begin to juggle these sorts of questions in this chapter of belief making. And you wonder how the world of imagination you were once so familiar with, the world you could manipulate and change according to your wishes, felt more believable than the world you’re currently stuck in.

REDEFINING BELIEF
When you leave home, you learn that what you thought you believed about yourself, the world, and so forth may not be what you believe at all. You are no longer surrounded by people who have known you through those years of make-belief and belief making, so you must reevaluate what you and you alone believe. And this is no simple task. In fact, it’s a task that you and I may never complete, for there is always new knowledge to stack upon the old, new truths to replace misguided ones, and new wisdom to help retain what you truly believe.

I think the beauty of moving away from home is this wonderful journey we get to embark on, one that’s inimitable and unlike anybody else’s; it’s all yours for exploring. We get to rediscover truth apart from what others have inflicted upon us since we were born. In college, we can ask the new, fresh faces we now live in community with what their past has lead them to believe; we can read books upon books written by overly-intelligent dead people who seemed to have a pretty solid grasp on what they believed and why they believed it; we can go where we want, try what we like, watch what we may, all the while constructing a sharper idea of what makes sense to us in this often messy, perplexing world.

Mark Edmundson, author and professor of literature at the University of Virginia, says in his essay “Who Are You And What Are You Doing Here:” “You may be all that the good people who raised you say you are; you may want all they have shown you is worth and wanting; you may be someone who is truly your father’s son or your mothers daughter. But then again, you may not be.” (Best American Essays 2012, p.99). To some of you, this statement may be a little haunting. To others (myself included), it’s some of the most freeing words to drink in and let quench our thirst for truth. I don’t think Edmundson is saying that everything you’ve come to believe is wrong, but rather suggesting that your little boat of belief could be rocked, and you may have to be willing to get a little wet.
I think too often we want to believe we have it all together, and this can make for a bumpy, aggressive path as you pursue clarity in what you believe. Without realizing it, we build up walls of resistance to other ways of approaching life simply because we can’t get over the idea of being wrong ourselves. Moving away from home, away from familiarity into a Narnia-like world where new discoveries, new adventures, essentially new everything exists, poses an opportunity to destroy these walls, making room for a fresh foundation, or perhaps to just get rid of some rotting pieces. By moving away, we get to redefine belief.

THIS I BELIEVE: A lifelong discovery

Indie artists Sleeping At Last wrote a song called “emphasis,” in which they gracefully explicate on my above ideas on redefining belief: “But the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard/ Is that I don’t have to have the answers,/ Just a little light to call my own.”
I’m not sure there ever comes a point in life where you are 100%, without a doubt, certain that what you believe is right. We don’t have all the answers, and we shouldn’t bank on ever having them. But that doesn’t mean we are to give up believing in and standing by the truths that bring us joy, that allow for hope, and that give us life. What we come to believe reveals what lays at the core of our being; it’s that “little light to call our own.”

*   *   *   *   *

Because I believe in belief, I decided to highlight the beliefs of a number of college students at the University of Sioux Falls. Before you graduate, students are required to take two semesters of Writing & Intellectual Traditions. One of the requirements for part II of the course is known as the Capstone Project. Basically, the capstone is an opportunity for students to reflect on what they have come to believe as an individual. Beliefs vary in gravity. You may choose to write about why you believe in Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups or going to the movies or fantasy football leagues. On the contrary, you can choose to express your belief on attending church or volunteering in the community or embracing change; where you run with the assignment is largely up to you. Sometimes, the most simple in essence beliefs are those that reveal the most about a person.

I hope you enjoy what these individuals have to say about what’s important to them, and what their journey has led them to believe.

Susie Jones:

Eighteen years old, eighteen birthdays, eighteen times my parents have snuck into my room in the early hours of the morning, on the 17th of February, to smear butter on my nose.  Yes, eighteen times my nose has been buttered.  Nose buttering?  How strange!  Why on earth would my parents put butter on my face, especially on my birthday?  Well to help me slide through another year of course!  Currently I am sliding through my nineteenth year of life so I would say that this family tradition is working pretty well.  The buttering of one’s nose on one’s birthday started with my great grandpa buttering my grandpa’s nose, then my grandpa buttering the noses of my mom and her siblings, and now my mom and dad buttering my nose along with my siblings.  Family traditions, such as this one, are passed down from generation to generation and tie each to the next.  Family traditions provide fun for families and promote bonding; they are something to look forward to, especially on holidays and special occasions.  As life happens and I grow up, I realize the importance of these family traditions.  They are more than just something silly and fun to do, but they are part of my family’s identity.  My nose being buttered has been something I can count on every year.  No matter what has happened in that past year, what is currently going on, or what the next year has in store, on February 17th my nose gets buttered.

Taylor Boshart: 

Sitting on the couch at age 13 listening to my parents tell me that they would soon begin the divorce process will forever be a day of infamy in my life. I could not understand why God was putting my family through these hard struggles and why they couldn’t just be together. This moment in my life has shaped the way I view events that take place day in and day out whether positive or negative. I believe that everything happens for a reason.
I do not believe in coincidence, luck, or karma. Everything happens for a reason that leads us to a divine plan that He has created for us. My belief has forced me to ask some questions and find some hope in a future that is unknown because I can put my faith and trust in the Creator. Circumstances cannot be controlled. The only aspect of my life that I have control over is how hard I work at life and how I respond to the circumstances given to me. Attitude and effort and no more than that. I put complete trust that through every situation God has a plan with the best intentions for me. “For I know the plans that I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Abby Hayenga:

4-H. It is just two small characters to many, but to me, it is the reason I have come out of my shell. When I started 4-H in the 4th grade, I was a small, quiet girl. I didn’t say much and I didn’t like speaking in front of crowds. I didn’t like being in charge of anything. After being in 4-H for five years, I started becoming more involved. Before, all I would do is bring one or two crafts to the fair. When I hit my sophomore year of high school, I joined the County Council, which is the next step in 4-H. The County Council puts on workshops all over the county and helps at the fair. I learned to be the leader of all the workshops. Kids much younger than me were looking up to me. They trusted me as their leader. I was coming out of my shell. My senior year, I became the person I am today. I met my friends in 4-H and we hung out constantly. We were always doing some crazy, new thing. Together, nothing could stop us. We became the “faces” to the Lyon County 4-H. If Lyon County 4-H needed to be represented, we would be right there to step up to the job. Because of 4-H I have stepped out of my shell and become a leader.

Corrin Cook:

I believe in the importance of a smile.
It is something that we are all capable of doing, but the question is, are we willing to smile even when times get rough? A smile goes a long way. It can brighten our own day, or even the day of someone we don’t know. Not only can a smile brighten a day, it is also capable of hiding a thousand problems.
From personal experience I find this statement to be true. A few days before I left home for college my family found out that my grandfather had been diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. This was very difficult to wrap my head around because my grandfather has always been an important part of my life. He is the reason I participate in sports, and one of the main reasons why I am still attending school. When preseason for soccer began, I placed a smile on my face to show the girls that I was ready for the season, but the constant thought and worry of my grandpa never left my mind.
As the season continued, the thoughts never left. My teammates were unaware of the battles I was facing every day until I was finally defeated. I cried out for their prayers and they began to comfort me with kind words and their smiles lightened my day. A smile can go a long way, from hiding ones emotions to brightening the day of someone we may not know.

Brianna Schmidt: 

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” –Plato
Music is an extraordinary sound. There is no silence in music. It makes you move, feel the beat and listen to the words. Music isn’t just a dance party; it is the movement of self… expressing yourself while listening. Through lyrics, music speaks to us and is considered a universal language.
Whether you are old, young, male or female, you engage in music. From country to hip-hop music, everyone listens together, breaking through the silence.
Music isn’t just a sound. It ranges from vocabulary to statements. Music today has became much more expressive and tends to make a difference… especially for the younger generation. We listen to music looking for advice, guidance, or happiness. It can change a mood very quickly and dramatically. Some music can make you cry, laugh and think, drawing you into a deep focus of self-awareness.
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
–Victor Hugo

Courtney Buche:

In life, I believe that how you interact and are taught things by your family will mold the person that you become. This is illustrated by the fact that we all share common characteristics with our families. This isn’t something that we get to decide, it is just something that occurs after being involved in the environment for so long and like those characteristics or not, we share them. For example, my family is loud; very over dramatic and over reacts most of the time. Since this is the type of surroundings in which I have grown up in, this is what I have developed into. On the other hand, we are also loving, caring, and would do anything for each other.
Your family takes off your sharp edges. Growing up I was selfish, my family changed that. It was unnatural for me to think of anyone beyond myself. My family instilled in me that I was wrong for conceiving things that way and helped me change that about myself and even reminded me of these new teachings when I would begin to fall back.  Sometimes I would fight this, but because they love me they got through to me the importance of the change. Overall, family tests our patience. Being a family is hard, it’s messy and not always easy, but being a member of a family and having that group to fall back on is truly a blessing.

Miriah Amolins:

I believe in having an escape list.
In 2008, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. With the help of counseling and medication, I have been successful with managing these diagnoses. My counselor recommended that I make a list of things that would help me escape from anxiety or times of panic. I made a list of five things that always help me feel better, and having this list on paper has been very helpful as different situations have come into my life that are induce stress.
Life is full of stressful situations. As I get mature, I have learned to cope with obstacles. It seems as though there are always issues that cause worry. When the truly rough stuff comes around, I pull out my list. Having five guaranteed happiness boosters written down on paper, which was written when I could see the positive has helped me countess time rather than resorting to destructive coping options.
For example, when my mind continues to spin with worst case scenarios, fears, worries, and the “what ifs” of life, I do not automatically seek a sleeping pill to escape. Instead, I light a candle and insert one of my home yoga DVDs. Or, instead of going out and drinking after a difficult shift at work, a bad grade, or a plain bad day, I make a cup of hot tea and curl up with an enjoyable, non-academic book and give myself a break in a healthy way. Life sucks sometimes, but I have my list to help me when I need some help.
I have tried to encourage family, friends, and coworkers to educate themselves before casting any judges. Perhaps they will one day go through something themselves. If they do, I will be there for them, encouraging them to make their own escape list.

Dustin Vogelzang: 

I believe in heroism.
One of my first memories I have is when I was a little tyke, and I was pulling my even littler sister along in a wagon at a family gathering by a lake.  I was on a hill with a pretty good decline, and my sister and I fell over into the lake.  Only being around the age of six (give or take a year) and my sister two years younger than me, we did not know how to swim.  Luckily, my dad had been watching us and immediately swooped in and pulled us out of the lake.  I realized to two things after that moment: admiration of my dad being like superman, and hating my inability to help my sister or myself… so I had resolved from a young age that I would become like my and become a hero.
A person does not just become a hero; the person must take on a difficult task or commit to an action that seemingly changes the life of one or many people.
Today, I am not out looking for trouble while wearing a cape and fighting crime, but helping another person is never out of reach.

Amanda Putnam: 

I believe that parents’ effect on children in their home life can lead to happiness. Parent relations have a great influence on children. A child who is not happy with their home life will have trouble being satisfied when he or she grows up as well. A stable mother-father relationship shows children what they will want to find in a relationship of their own when they get older to be happy. The child learns from watching his or her parents interact, which will inevitably be how they will interact with their spouse when married. A healthy mother-father relationship will promote the child to find a spouse that they can achieve the same type of relationship with. A healthy relationship will promote happiness. A child will see how happy his or her mother and father are and urge toward that same happiness. Someone cannot have a healthy marital relationship without being happy. If one or both of the spouses is unhappy it will result in divorce. The person trying to find a relationship that will last and lead to marriage should take their time at it. It should not be rushed or forced. The person really needs to analyze if they are really happy in the current relationship or if there are things that need to be changed to achieve the full potential of happiness he or she has envisioned.
Happy relationships as a child will lead to happy relationships as an adult.

Megan Morthland:

“You are never too old for Disney,” is one of the truest sayings I have ever heard. I think many people believe there is an age limit on when you should stop watching Disney, but in my opinion and many others, you are never too old. Disney has not just given children big dreams but also has given adults big dreams. A child at heart means to me, that even those who are business men, a lawyer, etc. a person can still be a little child and enjoy getting away from the toughness and negativity of reality and feel invincible.
Disney movies are fun and bring out the child in us, and the imagination we once had. Even when we are old, we can still be a child at heart, without trying to feel made fun of or a loser for watching them. I want to make a person feel young again, through the best eyes that is Disney.
Disney movies let me be a young kid again; it’s an escape from reality. Going through a hard day, it makes me feel better. Even Walt Disney as an old man loved children’s movies. Some people will say they are childish and not meant for adults. When in reality, a lot of the humor is more for adults than children. Now I watch the movies and get the humor, and can still be a child at heart.

Jessica Hilbrands:

I believe that families should support each other. Just as the Greek god Atlas holds up the world, families hold each other up. No matter what, through sports, school, work, or church, families should be there for support. When a family member makes a bad decision, the rest of them still need to be there, whether it be to back them up or to help them figure out what he or she needs to do to fix the problem created.
A family is a team. Teams must work together. They must support what the others are doing and be there to capitalize on things that the others have done well. Not only are families the team, but they are also the cheering section. So much support comes from family members just being on the sideline. It is always good to know that someone is there to cheer and support. That lets a person know there is someone who cares. My family has always supported me in my athletics and would drop everything they are doing to drive across the country to cheer me on.
It is not all about athletics. Decisions with relationships and jobs need support as well. If a person supports his family, there is a good chance his family will be there for him the next time he needs some support. We do not want to live our lives feeling alone. We need the support of a loving family.

Bethany Nielsen:

I believe in the power of a smile and that it is a human interaction that keeps us united and healthy. I have worked with people since I got my first job as a waitress when I was 15, from then on I worked at Subway, chiropractor’s office, and two banks, currently at one now. I have learned to always greet people with a smile no matter what kind of day you are having or how rude the customer may be to me. There was a customer, when I was working at Subway, who was being very picky and rude with me while I was making their sandwich. I tried to keep a smile and be patient, but in the end it was hard. When the customer left and the next came up, she saw how rude the other one was to me. She smiled at me and made friendly conversation during the line, which made me smile. At the end I thanked her for coming; after she had left I realized how much better she made me feel about my day. Today I smile at all my customers; because they might just be having a bad day and maybe my smile can brighten it up for them, making them smile and passing it along as their day goes.

Kelli Borchardt:

I believe everyone needs a day off. The Bible states that the seventh day was a day of rest. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Sunday for everyone because that wouldn’t work; we still need certain places to be open so we can’t all have the same day. But for me and my family Sunday is our day of rest. The day off really rejuvenates you and gets you ready for your upcoming week, and for me it provides me with more family time. My job asked me to work Sundays when I first started working even though I stated on my application that I couldn’t do Sundays. Since I was new there they made me. I did it for a while but I just got burned out of everything really easily. I didn’t have my one set day to just relax and prepare for the next week. After a couple of months I finally told them I couldn’t do Sundays anymore because it was cutting into family time. Now I get my day off.

Karissa Jensen:

My whole life, my mother has been in the Air Force. She traveled around the world as a flight nurse and was often gone from home. In the year of 2010, my mother was sent on her second deployment to Afghanistan. Where she was stationed, they had a Bazaar that sold local Afghan treasures. Every Sunday my mother was at the Bazaar. It was a fun pass time on that base until it exploded in a suicide bombing one Sunday afternoon. My mother went every Sunday, at the same time every week, and it was at that time the Afghan soldier went to the Bazaar with a bomb strapped to him and blew himself up. Later that day I found out, my mother was not there. The only Sunday in nine months my mother was not at the Bazaar, it exploded, killing twenty people. My mother told me she had a very strong feeling to work out instead. That day I almost lost my mother, one of the most closest people to my heart.
I learned after that dreadful day to never take anything for granted. Life is too short and you should spend that time expressing to those you love how much you truly care about them. It is those you care about that make your short life worth living.

Dayna Vosberg: 

Many people don’t realize the impact seatbelts can have on one’s life if they are involved in an accident. I have come to realize this through the loss of a loved one that was involved in a car accident and was not wearing her seatbelt. Stina was a close friend of mine who left this world too early at the age of sixteen. She was the type of person who was full of joy, love, and lived life to the fullest. She would always wear her seatbelt when she drove, except for one day when she was running late to get to a basketball scrimmage. Not more than a mile from her home was Stina found and was involved in a one car roll over.
November 26, 2008 is a day that I won’t forget because I lost one of my dear friends that day. Seatbelts can save you from having your body thrown in the vehicle around or going through the windshield. Not only are you saving your own life by wearing your seatbelt, but you are also saving the heartache of friends and family if something were to happen to you and you didn’t have it on. A seatbelt can reduce the chance of an injury by 50% if you are involved in an accident and is proven to have a higher chance of survival as well.  This is why I believe in wearing a seatbelt when you are in a vehicle.

ECHO Kids

I had the wonderful privilege of working with this non-profit program geared towards instilling healthier lifestyles in the younger generation. I love kids, and I love athletics, and Amy Peterson (along with other helpers) does a fantastic job of creating an atmosphere that is both engaging and educational for the kids. Learn more about what ECHO kids stands for, and “LIKE” their Facebook page here —- http://www.facebook.com/echokidssf

Hope you like the video!

Blessings.

Yet another recap on Voice

The beginning of the year seems like yesterday – no, more like this morning. And yet here we are, days before Thanksgiving break and a short few weeks before the semester closes; a few short weeks until we can throw our arms up in triumphant joy, celebrating over the endless hours spent on papers and projects and tests. It’s almost here. Just. Keep. Going…

Sometimes, time happens so fast, we don’t even realize how much we’re learning, how much meaning we’re making, or how different we view the world from just a little bit ago. In this case, hindsight becomes our best friend. But what’s been new and exciting about this semester for me is having no time for hindsight. I feel like those gems of knowledge you learn from hindsight are too impatient to wait for time to elapse; they want to surface now to encourage me that growth is really brewing beneath the surface, and to whisper in my ears - you’re learning so much. Don’t let up on the gas, Julia, you’re going somewhere. It’s tough now, but it will be well worth it in the end. 

One way I’ve been growing and learning, especially as an aspiring writer, is by searching for my own crafty, distinct, and authentic voice.

Easier said than done.

The kicker about voice is, no matter how much you read up on it, or how much you know about it, your voice won’t develop, nor will it be found, until you start writing, writing, and writing some more. It’s sort of like college. I remember being told by everyone around me all these fantastic things about your college years and how much I was going to love it and yadda yadda yadda. I thought sweet. I’m so ready. Bring it on. But in all honesty I despised my first few weeks of college. No one told me about the shock of emotional lightning that strikes that first night as you sit in your new bed surrounded by the new Target dorm decorations and across from a new roommate you met only hours ago. [I know this is a stretch of a metaphor, but stick with me]. College, like voice, is part preparation and part experience. There’s only so much you can prepare for before going to college. A good majority of learning the ins and outs comes from simply living and figuring it out for yourself as you make decisions on your own, decisions no college preparation book could ever provide. Now, back to voice — the advice given in books will assist you in the development of your own voice, but it won’t do all the work. It’s critical to do the writing yourself, to start applying the things you think you know about voice into your own writing, only to discover those books you read on voice told you nothing about what the actual writing journey will unveil for you.

I read part III in Tom Romano’s book Crafting Authentic Voice. If you’re wanting to inquire about voice in writing, get your hands on this book. It will wreck every misconstrued rule in writing, and open up hundreds of doors for you to investigate as you search for creativity and voice. There’s a chapter titled “Whatever It Takes: Breaking the Rules in Style” in which Romano contrasts two different types of Grammar – Grammar A and Grammar B. Grammar A is characterized as the standard, traditional, conservative form of written English “enshrined by most publications, standardized tests, and just about ever English teacher who has ever written frag, awk, and RO, including me [Romano]” (78). This is the grammar that can potentially freeze up any and all writers. It leaves little room for originality and diminishes creativity when making meaning in writing. One of Romanos students tastefully describes Grammar B –

it’s like getting in the car and being the only one on a deserted country road, with a guarantee that you won’t be caught for speeding. There are no grammar cops in sight, so you step on the gas. A little harder. A little harder still. Before you know it you’re flying down the road with the wind in your hair, never looking back. How fast am i going? you wonder. But it doesn’t matter; you’re free. You’re creative. You’re breaking the rules in style.” Meg McKinnon, College Junior

What a relief! Romano further puts it, “Learning how to effectively break rules helps us learn awareness of rules…..When style and voice do not contribute to meaning – when they are just for show – that’s bad writing. For writers the flip side of freedom is discipline. Responsible teachers emphasize both. Good writers cherish both” (85). This section of the book covers a great deal more than just breaking the rules of traditional, formal language, but I was particularly drawn to this notion of “sticking it to the man” essentially. Romano addresses the necessity of both components (Grammar A and Grammar B). Often, we don’t throw out one or the other, but rather blend them together as we write, creating a dance out of the two and inviting the reader into the rhythm. There are certain avenues that call for the more conservative rules in writing. Learning to integrate your own voice into these forms takes practice, but will enhance the formality by adding more layers and depth to pieces that have the potential to be cold and aloof. In the same way, there are always platforms available for showcasing writing saturated with Grammar B.

Next time you sit down to write, take a deep breath, lose some of the more traditional rules of grammar that have been constraining the original ideas in your mind, and release those thoughts by whatever means possible, even if it requires throwing out the rules English teachers and grammar theorists have been stressing for years.

wrestling with the “why’s”

I don’t get it.

It’s so easy to dream at this age. i’m 20. i’m overly-enthusiastic about the future. And for so long, i’ve never considered the potential of a future that’s non-existant – i’ve never factored death into the “julia’s future” box. i’m not sure why anyone would. You are told the 20s are supposed to be “the best years of your life.” Well what if you can’t get through them? What if death sneaks up on you like the biting, relentless wind of the MidWest winter, robbing you of your breath and leaving you cold, shivering, and hollow. Are the 20s still all that glamorous?

We’ve all heard it: why do bad things happen to good people? why. why. WHY. It’s easy to give the typical cliched response of “everything happens for a reason.” But when those bad things start to permeate areas of your life, and when the people around you that you love and care about are being touched by pain and confusion, these words feel a little empty. They can almost do more damage than comfort, even if they hold merit.

It’s not fair. life was just unfolding, and the journey was cut short.

We are all equally susceptible to death’s snare. It’s an eerie thought – but it doesn’t have to be. This thought should provoke us to live out the days before us with as much zest and vitality possible. It should cause us to look people in the eye more, earnestly, with appreciation and love, and tell them how wonderful they are. It should motivate us to quit longing for the future where the days are brighter and pain is less pervasive, and instead never stop looking for ways to be thankful for the day given you.

I still don’t get it – why a life abundant in potential was taken – but i try to make sense of things that seem ineffable. I still don’t have an answer to the ‘why’ questions. But all the ‘why’s’ just make the bitterness, pain, and confusion sting more. I think it’s better to ask ‘how.’ How can we better the world before we leave it, cause the leaving part might be sooner than we anticipate.

Life is fragile. Terribly, terribly fragile. Yet it would be a shame to live in reservation – to live in fear of it being shattered. He was taken too soon, he had so much more to say, to sing, to laugh about, to learn, to add to this all-too-often bleak, uncertain world. He was not, however, afraid to live large. He wasn’t a sideline viewer of this thing called life; He was a fighter and an active participant, showing us all what it means to embrace what’s thrown at you. For that, I am thankful, even if I wasn’t able to tell him in this life. I promise I will tell him next time I see him, in a place filled with joy, a place exempt of sorrow, a place where everything is right, and where the questions that entangle our thoughts are given the clarity we hunt for.

 

 

Ingredients for Baking Voice: Tom Romano

I think Tom Romano and I would be great friends. If I had the honor of learning under his instruction, I bet he would be one of those teachers you work your tail off for, not because you need the grade, and not because you have a habit of sucking up to those in positions of authority, but the hard work was done out of respect and admiration. He strikes me as one of those few teachers you would put extra hours into the assignments for because they instill such passion in you to be a better person; they make you thirst for knowledge in a way you never knew possible. Romano approaches writing with grace and wit, with intellect and craftiness. He doesn’t seem like the kind of teacher that is ok with writing that is mediocre. He advocates for writing that is driven by crisp, authentic voice, an element of writing that is rarely addressed these days, which is really a shame if you ask me. I’ve been wrestling ferociously with voice recently. I’ve been striving to examine voice from all angles by dissecting, learning, and practicing it.

Romano’s book, Crafting Authentic Voice is composed of five different parts. This week, my primary focus has been on part II, Qualities of Voice, which include information, narrative, perception, surprise, and humor. When broken down into finer categories, you are able to better identify the function of voice in its entirety.

Information: this first component is difficult to accomplish tactfully and successfully. Informative writing typically has a negative or boring connotation attached to it. In order to have a distinct, appealing voice, you have to be invested in what you write about. Romano says, “whether you choose the topic or it is chosen for you, immerse yourself in the information. Pay attention. Learn. Gather data. This will give you an investment in what you are writing. Then use your voice to write with zest, so readers quicken to the information you offer” (28). If your aim is to inform/enlighten, be sure to write about a topic that interests you, or it will fail to interest your audience. Of course, there are always circumstances where your freedom is restricted to the requirements of your writing task. This is where your voice plays a significant role in bringing zest and life to a seemingly mundane subject.

Narrative: Not all writing calls for narrative, but story telling or small anecdotes have the ability to enhance the writing process. We are creatures that are drawn to storytelling. We like to find connections and make meaning. Narrative ads a drop of drama to our writing, and who doesn’t like a little drama every once in a while? The narrative crafts a movie in our minds as we read – “It’s life we’re seeing played out, not merely commentary about it” (31).

Perception: This may be my most favorite ingredient in voice. Perception – it’s such a beautiful thing, if you really think about it. We’re all so similar, but what’s exciting to me is not those wonderful commonalities, it’s the differences, for these are what set us apart as individuals. Over 6 billion people scatter the face of our planet, which means there are over 6 billion different perspectives. WOAH. That’s pretty awesome. I think it’s easy to tell ourselves we have nothing original to add to an overwhelmingly vast sea of knowledge and information – I do it all the time. Why should I write about this or that? But we do ourselves a disservice by assuming our perception is inadequate. Our perception matters because it’s ours, which in itself makes it original. In writing, the best way to emphasize perception through voice is by being as descriptive and vivid with your words, helping readers see what you see. And no two people take notice of the same things. “Voiceful writers report these sightings, understandings, details, and connections” (34). Don’t doubt your perception; just throw it in as you write and allow the audience to accept or reject what they please. But know your perception matters.

Surprise: Writing is like going on a road trip. You pack up the car, stop for gas and snacks on the way out of town, and hit the open highway with no way of telling what adventures you’ll run into along the way. Road trips are typically loosely planned and invite flexibility. It’s not much different with writing. When we write, it’s smart to map out a general direction, maybe identify some main points necessary for executing the piece effectively, but almost always, our writing will take turns and pit stops we never anticipated. Our writing teaches us our piece is about this and not that. And that’s ok. Welcome those surprises as you write. Surprises are fun for you as the writer and keep the reader glued to your voice.

Humor: In academic writing especially, I find it challenging to successfully incorporate humor into my writing. For some writers, humor plays the prominent role in crafting their voice. For such writers, their wit is so authentic and real, we can’t help but crave more. Humorous touches to our writing depends highly on our personalities. If being light and playful in more formal writing constrictions is out of your element, don’t force it. “Playfulness and humor might not be for your authentic voice. Maybe you think writing and life are too serious to be playful. Or maybe not. Maybe you think writing and life are too serious not to be playful” (42). At any rate, don’t be afraid to toy with the act of humorous writing. We could all use a little more levity amongst a society that too often feels overbearing.

Information. Narrative. Perception. Surprise. Humor. Think about the way you are using these rudiments as you attempt to bolster your own authentic writing voice.

*All quotations come from Part II of Tom Romano’s book, Crafting Authentic Voice.

 

 

 

City Senses.

The Midwest is heavenly during the fall. Leaves are vibrant. The weather is pristine. People seem more jubilant and enthused about life. I love it. This past weekend, a friend and I explored Minneapolis, a city neither of us are too acquainted with, making it all the more enticing to meander through and about. There’s something so life-infusing about the metropolis in all its vastness, and it’s crazy to think that we, the people breathing life into it, have created its enormity. I love the city because it reminds me how small I am, but how big of a God we have.

The experience of the city brought with it a plethora of sensory stimulating components. Smell. Sound. Touch. Sight. Taste. They’re all so powerful, so thought-provoking.

Smell: The city smells like musty urine (at least in the really grimy, sketchy parts), decrepit bricks, and density — the air simply has a thickness to it as it crawls up the nose and slips between the small crack of the lips. Car exhaust. Caramel fudge. Sophisticated perfume on a business women. They all come together to form a very distinct cornucopia of smells. Neighborhoods, apartment buildings, museums, and parks lay just outside the heart of the city. We crunched our way through the symphony of fallen leaves in the park and embraced the crisp aroma from autumn.   The smells are intense and unavoidable in the city.

Sound: When it comes to sound, there’s no telling what types of noises the city will leak. I would love to sit on a busy street for an entire day without opening my eyes and just rely on the sounds to inform me of my surroundings. Across the street, children are filling outside of their school, screaming and yelling, mostly for no other reason than to add to the noise. 

After the kids, I’m alerted by the group of men dominating the street just up from where we are. They’re far away in nature, but the boom of their voices is enough to rattle my insides (or maybe that was the image I brought upon myself out of intimidation). Of course there is the ever so consistant honking and screeching as cars push their way in and out of each other, much like a school of aggressive fish. If you’re searching for solitude, the city would fail to provide such a need.

Touch: No matter what city you go to, each one has its own flare, its own unique ambiance. No two cities feel the same. The restaurants, the people, the functionality – they all give the city a different touch. 

This is a photo taken from inside the Guthrie Theater. I think it gives a quality representation of the special touch of Minneapolis.

Sight:

Much of the architecture was splattered with ancient chains of ivy — if it wasn’t ivy, it was the abundance of yellows, oranges, and reds from a successful fall.

I found myself constantly wondering what people’s stories are. What is this man contemplating? Does he have a family, a life, a hopeful future? I don’t know, we didn’t talk to him. But I was intrigued. And he is positioned perfectly under an umbrella of yellow leaves, which provided an excellent snapshat moment. There are so many people like this in the city; you never know what their agendas are,  what motivates their actions, or if they know about a God who offers hope and life and love. The sights stick with you.

Taste: Sometimes the city tastes lovely, sometimes the taste is enough to make me queasy. But you can’t taste a city without being immersed within it. 

The combination of the stylish woman on the curb, the graffiti, and the news show the tastefulness of the urban city.

That was just a glimpse of the day. I’m energized from the adventures of Minneapolis.

VOICE. We all have one, but where?

The moment I fell in love with writing was when I realized that I could be myself and write like I was talking to the reader. – Lisa Hollins, College Junior

Donald Miller, one of my all-time favorite authors, has greatly impacted the way I approach writing. What I find so beautiful about Miller’s writing is his vulnerability, his authenticity, and his raw thoughts scattered on paper. I feel like I’m right there conversing with Miller while I sip on a cup of rich coffee, knees tucked, ears perked, eyes attentive to everything he’s describing. As I read, there’s a sense of kinship, and that’s a pretty rare occurrence of today’s writers. The fact that I actually don’t know the first thing about Miller’s real, every day life doesn’t cross my mind when I read his thoughts; they’re that powerful, that real. 

The secret to Miller’s mesmerizing style? Voice. It’s easy to intermix the two, voice and style, but there is, I believe, a stark difference. I’m still learning what distinguishes one from the other, but with the help of Tom Romano in his book Crafting Authentic Voice, I am starting to get a firmer grasp on what separates the two. A writer’s style has the potential to be imitated. Style has been referred to as something that can be bought of the shelf and used as our own. Copycatting, essentially. It’s hard to ride solely on style to carry a given piece of writing – it needs more than solid style.  If, however, a writer has a voice that is explicit, lucid, and conspicuous, it will pierce the reader in powerful ways. Voice has the ability to accentuate the effectiveness of a whole piece of writing. Voice makes a piece believable. Voice brings authenticity into writing, and in a world where being fickle, fake, and uncanny are, sadly, common traits, authenticity is what we thirst for.

But what is voice? And if it is so necessary, where is it found? How can we as writers find a voice that is our own, that people can without a doubt identify as our writing? As writer and teacher Don Murray eloquently puts it; “Voice is the magical heard quality in writing. Voice is what allows the reader’s eyes to move over silent print and hear the writer speaking. Voice is the quality in writing, more than any other, that makes the reader read on, that makes the reader interested in what is being siad and makes the reader trust the person who is saying it. We return to the columns, articles, poems, books we like because of the writer’s individual voice. Voice is the music of language”

More than fluffy vocabulary, more than precise grammar, more than organization even, writing needs a convincing, vivid, and authentic voice. Sometimes I fight so hard to have a colorful vocabulary and am more concerned with sounding smart than I am about developing an identifiable voice and my writing suffers as a result. Readers will pay no attention to the impressive, creative use of language if the voice is dry and transparent. It’s as if voice is the skeleton of our writing: it needs all the other components to function, but those other components are nothing but a puddle of dysfunctional soup without the firm base of skeletal voice.

***

Last summer I spent a solid two months discovering the magical wonders of small town Franklin, Tennessee. I lived with a wonderful couple and spent my days nannying their four-year-old daughter, Reagan, that is if you call playing ponies, singing Disney princess  songs and basking by the poolside “nannying.” I didn’t know a soul in Franklin outside of this darling family I lived with, so Reagan became my best friend for the summer, my sidekick. She had a way of turning every ordinary day into an extraordinary adventure. I love this about her. She is fearless, whimsical, and spunky. I learned a great deal about four-year-olds during my summer with Reagan. I want to approach life more like this little gem – with open arms, fascination, and confidence that the world has much to offer despite its fraudulence. What I love so much about four-year-olds is their assuredness. When they speak, their words might not fit together perfectly and their ideas more often than not are ludicrous, but four-year-olds speak with certainty. Kindergartners have some of the most pronounced voices when writing. Do they always make logical sense? Rarely. Do they write pieces that will be framed in museums for their impeccable quality? I doubt it. But one thing is certain; children know their voice, and they aren’t afraid to proclaim it vividly and with confidence. Perhaps we should be looking more to our small friends from some big ideas.

 

Inspired by lettersofnote.com

To my (future) Granddaughter (possible date….2070)

The lights are low, just giving off enough light to read without being put to sleep. The walls are jazzed with a display of old vinyl covers; a touch of a time that is now a lost art – a time of saxophones and stockings and late night dancing on saturday evenings. A time with substantial noise, real noise, not the kind that is created in an elusive, intangible, virtual world. In the corner of the room sits a scuffed, sky-blue suitcase – a discounted grab from a local thrift store sale – adding to the warmth of a reminiscent past. A tower of old, tattered books sits on the window sill. Their pages are rough and worn, proving they served their purpose in delivering words that needed to be consumed. When I sniff them, I nearly float on a cloud of imagination. The possibilities of the places  these bound pages have been and the lives they have been introduced to are untold. They remind me every morning of potential; they remind me that scuffs and stains paired with an intoxicating smell of attic dust and nostalgia bring forth beauty, for these are the things that represent experience. My ears engulf a plethora of hit songs from the era my own grandmother lived through: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby – the goods. My heart smiles. The combination of the vintage ambiance and the tunes of another century provide the perfect mood for imagining what life once was. ..

Perhaps I have allowed my fascination of the past, a lifestyle I ache to experience and recreate, take away from the here and now. I’ve always wondered what my grandmother’s thoughts were when she was my age. Did she have to consciously remind herself, as I do, to be present, to ignore the urge to constantly give in to the magnetic pull of cell phones and social networks? Was there a need for the mind to be incessantly stimulated, or is this one of the repercussions of a digital nation?

I tell you these things, child, for I’m worried about the direction our culture seems to be going in. I can’t say whether this future we are cannon-balling into is completely destructive, or if it’s in fact imperative to our survival as a people. I suppose this is a question you will know the answer to when reading this. For now, I remain fickle.

I find it a difficult task to describe living in 21st century America. I read in a magazine that “there are more cell phones than people on the planet now, almost (ten mobiles for every one at the beginning of the century)”(Pico Iyer, Portland Magazine). When I stand in line at the grocery store, I can count on there being multiple people fixated on their mobile devices, blind to the happenings of the crowd around them, creating a culture that is desensitized to others and idolizes the individual over the masses. At social gatherings, it’s nearly impossible for us (my peers and myself alike), to simply be, and to refrain from continuing our virtual conversations with individuals that are not present. When I started my education nearly 15 years ago, classrooms consisted of the basics; colored pencils, chalk boards, a symphony of books…the basics. What’s it like for you? I’ve seen glimpses, or visions shall I say, of the future of our schools and the places technology can take the succeeding generations. Is it really what they predicted? I’m sure my grandmother doubted society could advance anymore than what seemed new and exciting during her youth. I simply cannot fathom the further advancements to come as we push forward in a sea of technological hysteria, nor do I want to.

I am doubtful the Facebook craze will touch your generation. And for this I am thankful. However, it would be optimistic of me to think social networks will dissolve altogether. Perhaps they will only get more creative in their tactics, furthering the superficial relationship building that social networks are so successful at doing. Remember, child, that nothing can surpass the richness and realness of a tangible relationship manifested outside of digital assistance.

I don’t know what sort of world you will be living in when you stumble across this. I wonder if you, in much the same way I perceive the life my grandmother grew up in, will stubbornly be wishing to experience the “good ‘ol days” of the early new millenium. If you take away only one thing from this letter, I hope it is this: we must be present, for the days given us are gifts. No matter how deep your desire is to be living in the days of your dear, old grandmother, you are needed in the current state of things. Your presence, every bit of it, is necessary to bettering a world that often feels polluted and desolate. I will do the same, and maybe, just maybe, I can have a small impact in making the world a little sweeter.

All my love, Child,

Sincerely your Grandmother, Julia Joy

 

Oh, for the love of words

Words enthrall me. The way common words can be arranged in a beautiful way to create a string of originality never ceases to amaze me. It’s fascinating, don’t you think, that words are the only thing we humans have as a threshold for articulating our most intimate thoughts and emotions. Think about it: what if our language was stripped from us, leaving us isolated from the main avenue that bridges relationship?  I often dwell on the fact that the art of eloquently delivering a thought rides on our ability or inability to transmit such feelings into words. No wonder we so often misunderstand each other. It’s as if our mind is a massive iceberg. Yes, iceberg’s are freakishly large (I think the Titanic vindicated this for us all), but what’s visible of an iceberg to the naked eye is roughly 10 %…ten. percent. of its entirety, with the remaining 90% below the water. I envision the mind being where 90% of our emotions and thoughts are found frozen; the other 10% is our visible feelings, the ones that melt above the surface and drip off the ends of our words. Our words do their best to carry buckets full of the rich emotion that’s such a challenge to accurately articulate, but they can only do so much. So in order to really relate to one another and graciously accept the views of those around us, whether we agree or not, we must adopt this image of the iceberg. We must remember there is more, way, way more, than meets the eye. Our words our powerful; but often times they fail to accurately convey everything constricted in the crevices of our conscious.

But we continue to do our best at searching for the most descriptive, most, expressive words to articulate our suppressed thoughts, all in an effort to better understand one another. Yet, you see, because our thoughts and emotions derive strictly from past memories, experiences, and the influence of others, it’s impossible for a specific word (or stream of words) to mean the same thing to everyone. Perhaps we need to be a little more tolerant of others by taking every word with a grain of salt, knowing that such words being communicated were born out of stored experience…

 In What a Writer Needs, Ralph Fletcher provides a plethora of tactful strategies for students and people alike to develop and discover who they are as writers. One of his chapters is all about how words are the only tools writers have to work with, and a love for words is imperative to growing as an effective writer. He ends this section with a variety of words that trigger vivid memories of his past, pairing such memories to anecdotal examples of the power of words. “For some words, the conventional meaning hides a secret trapdoor that leads down to an unexpected or previously forgotten layer of memory underneath. The mere mention of such a word is enough to bring it all back in a flood.” Fletcher.

I love how words, much like an intoxicating smell or a reminiscent song, hold the magic to ignite a flame of memories in the soul, taking us to a place in our past where peace and order reign.

Legacy. A word I can’t hear without thinking of sweet Grandpa Bud.

My Grandpa Bud is one of my favorite people in the world. I’m not just saying that because it’s customary to be overly fond of your grandparents. I say this with sheer honesty. He is a man of fervor and flavor. Growing up, there wasn’t a Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July (the list of holiday’s goes on, but for the sake of everyone I will end there) where Grandpa Bud failed to expresses his adoration and pride for us grandchildren. Still to this day, without announcing or sounding any sort of artificial alarm to gather everyone’s attention, he simply begins his infamous “Bud speeches” impromptu. The distinct crackling tone of such a thick, powerful voice is enough to demand all ears to listen, and the noise of the room quickly dwindles into soft hums and whispers as he proceeds to deliver his familiar, yet persistently rich, words of wisdom. If there’s one thing Grandpa Bud is knowledgable on it’s creating a legacy. He always emphasizes that we, his children and grandchildren, are his legacy; that we are the reason he keeps kickin’ it with his four mile walks every morning, even after hitting his 90th birthday. Grandpa Bud has played a major role in my life and in the way I strive to live a better story. I have him to thank for my hope in creating the foundations of a powerful, Christ-fueled legacy. It would take me three million words to even begin to describe the fundamentals of Grandpa Bud’s impecable legacy. But I will say this, his legacy begins, and prevails to this day, with fervor and flavor. Grandpa Bud has lived everyday of his life exuding fervor in everything he did; from confidently pursuing my Grandma to fighting for our country to adoring his children and grandchildren, he did it all with fervor. As for the flavor part, I just think it perfectly paints his demeanor. He’s got more pizazz than any 90 year old I know. Simply put, he’s got flavor. Fervor and flavor, the ingredients to Grandpa Bud’s legacy. 

It’s in these moments of listening to Grandpa Bud gush over his legacy that I feel the most at peace. It’s in these moments that I am able to drink in the people around me, the people who fully embody warmth and beauty and delight. And I can know, really know, that God desires to see us fashion or our own, striking legacy. He wants us to hold tightly to things that make us overflow with joy and passion and zest, because these are the things that will foster a legacy full of whimsy. No two legacies look the same, but it’s up to us to combine our own fervor and flavor, creating a legacy of our own.

Legacy. It’s one of those words. Words are powerful. This is why I love words.

A writer becomes vulnerable  by revealing part of her inner life. This is the fine print in the reader-writer agreement: When we read, we expect to learn something about the writer and, through the writer, about ourselves.” – Ralph Fletcher

Shout out to Grandpa Bud. Just bein’ awesome and perfect, soaking in the goodness of Jesus on Christmas morning…