The Time That Is Given Us

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One hundred and twenty-five. That’s how many days it’s been since my last post. I’ll spare the usual exclamations about how quickly time is flying by. (But seriously. How is it possible this year is close to halfway over?)

I only counted out the days because it feels like forever and I was curious as to how long forever really is. How do you measure the moments that make a life?

The weeks that have gone by have felt mostly the same. I went to work five times a week, church two or sometimes three times, met homework deadlines (some by thin margins), and didn’t get nearly enough sleep. Thanks to my English coursework, I did more writing than I had in a long while, though it’s not visible on the blog.

Within that pattern, though, change broke through. In the midst of to-do lists and deadlines came defining moments. While I was busy submitting assignments and filing paperwork for five months, my life changed in a few defining moments.

According to dictionary.com, a defining moment is “a point at which the essential nature of a character or person is revealed or identified.”

In storytelling, defining moments are no accident. Characters are positioned, trips arranged and stages set long before the moment occurs. If you’re truly perceptive, sometimes you can guess what’s coming before it grandly arrives. My favorite scenarios, though, are when the author is masterful enough to completely surprise me. A common rule is that defining moments should be both inevitable and unexpected. When we look back, we should see how everything led to this point, but when it initially occurs, we should feel a bit stunned.

One of the early defining moments of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is when Frodo is bequeathed the One Ring from his uncle. At first glance, this doesn’t seem terribly significant. Eccentric old uncle Bilbo leaves all his possessions to his nephew and decides to become a hermit and an author. Suddenly inheriting a home in Bag End shouldn’t rearrange Frodo’s life too terribly; after all, it’s his uncle Bilbo setting off for the unknown. As anyone vaguely familiar with the Lord of the Rings can tell you, though, this moment means more for Frodo than for Bilbo.

Frodo goes from leading an ordinary, rather unadventurous life to taking on a quest with earthshaking repercussions. His calm existence is derailed by a single object… a defining moment. The consequences of this moment are drastic, leading to many other defining moments and later causing Frodo to say, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” Gandalf replies. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring) 

The time that is given us… whether that is a time of upheaval or unexciting activities.

Maybe it’s not a moment we want. Perhaps it’s one where we feel stuck and it seems like the opposite of a grand, defining moment. Maybe this instant hurts, and feels like it’s going to hurt until the end of time.

Perhaps this is a big moment and it’s terrifying. Maybe this is a decision we don’t want to make. Maybe this is a change we never asked to face.

No matter what is happening, this is the time that is given us. We don’t get to choose our own time. For better or worse, this moment is all we have to live in. This is where God has placed us. All we have to decide… Is what to do with the time that is given us.

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What I Learned in May & So Far in June

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I should really stop waiting until the month is over to write these posts… Because every time I do, I inevitably put off the task until we’re halfway into the new month. Better late than never, though, right? (I can hear you saying But never late is better. And although it’s true, I frown upon that reply.)

Aside from learning (or relearning!) that these recaps shouldn’t be neglected until the last minute and beyond, here are a few other tidbits I picked up in May and the start of June.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird really does deserve all its acclaim. I’m only a few chapters in, but already I love it. The characters, dialogue, setting… All are so rich and absorbing. I’m hoping for some time this weekend to finish  it. My only complaint is that I didn’t read Mockingbird sooner.
  2. The Loch Ness monster is an excellent writing prompt.
    No, really. I’ve had severe writer’s block for the past several months. Even simple assignments seem to take me forever. But a few nights ago, I got an email from the team at the Fangirl Initiative saying contributions for a group post were due that evening at 9 PM. (By the way, here’s the completed post.)
    nessieOriginally, I wasn’t a part of it, but since I had the night off and I was cleared to write about the Loch Ness monster, I decided to jump in. I can’t remember the last time I finished anything in under an hour, but once I started writing about Nessie, I finished in a flash. After that, I felt a chunk of my writer’s block crumble. I guess the way to get out of a writing rut is to simply write… Even if it’s about something random, and done in a rush.
  3. What I don’t write, I can’t process. When I get busy, I don’t pause to write; yet it’s precisely in the midst of the rush that I need to. Writing, especially journaling, clears my head and helps me understand my story. It gives me some perspective so I can notice God’s script unfolding. For the remainder of this month, I’m going to work towards more consistency in my journal entries, as well as my blog posts.
  4. It’s better to step out and make mistakes, than to hold back and accomplish nothing at all. Bravery begets bravery.
  5. A difference can be made, even in a mess. My last post was messy; I’m the first to admit it. Yet in that jumble, real people came alongside me. The comment section filled up with the kind words of reader and writer friends. Those comments had a theme to me: I’ve been there, too… you’re not alone, and it’s okay. What I shared wasn’t profound or even polished. The response made a difference for me, though, because it was humbling and encouraging all at once. To each of you who read that mess, and especially to those who left encouragement… Thank you. You’re a blessing, and you make a difference.
  6. Joy is a journey. It’s so much deeper than the bubbly emotion of happiness. Joy is clinging to Jesus, even when the world is crumbling; it’s having hope in the light, even when we’re plunged into darkness. Joy doesn’t mean living on a mountain; it means trusting God to sustain us and carry us from the valley. Most of all, joy is our strength.
    joy
  7. It’s the small things that matter most. Sharing pizza with a friend; revisiting my favorite childhood playground; ice cream with a brownie; tickets for a long-anticipated movie; trips to the library. Life isn’t always about the big events. We do just as much living and memory-making in the little ones.
  8. Speaking of small things, it is impossible to cram more than three people into one photo booth. But it is kind of fun trying to prove otherwise.
  9. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” -e.e.cummings. As I mentioned at #4, though, courage only comes with action. Accepting God’s plan for my life and future is scary at times, especially since there’s a lot I don’t understand. Which leads me to my final point…
  10. God is doing a new thing. New things are scary and exhilarating all at once. I usually run from change, as if I can stumble back into the past or race through the discomfort of the present. In this season, though, when my nature wants to dig in my heels, question and/or cry, I’m choosing something different. I’m choosing to be excited. God gave me a promise, and confirmed those words to me: He is doing something new in my life. And I can’t wait to see what it is.
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What have you learned in these past weeks? What new things are taking place in your life? Should all go according to plan, there will be more new content here on the blog shortly… If you have a blog, drop me a link with your newest post, too! 🙂

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What I Learned in April

April

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever feel ready to write one of these posts. Each one proves that another month has come to an end. Each time I sit down to type one, I feel like the calendar has played a trick on me. Because how in the world are we more than a third of the way through this year?! It’s really not possible, but here I am staring at the month of May. And here I am, wondering what I did with April… What did I learn?

Writing these monthly reflection posts helps me to pause and figure that out. I already covered the first portion of April, in a post earlier this month.

So here’s what I learned in the rest of April.

  • Independence isn’t everything. I think a lot of us take pride in being self-sufficient; that drive for independence even shaped an entire nation. For my own part, I can take this a little too far. While I’m good at working with a team to get a job done, I try to shoulder the entire burden when it comes to my own life. Shamefully, I haven’t even allowed myself to lean on God. I’ve clung instead to my independence; my stubborn, desperate need to be in control. Needing anyone has felt like a liability. It’s caused me to shy away from relationships; to keep a safe distance from being, heaven forbid, dependent. But you know something? Independence has a downside. Sometimes I can barely stand, let alone on my own. When God formed the first human life, He didn’t stop there. He made more life, and connected those lives to each other and to Him. We were never meant to exist in isolation… Not from each other, and surely not from Him.
  • Memories are complicated. The mind is amazing, and how our past is tucked away there fascinates me. It’s incredible how the slightest thing, be it a scent or a sound, can yank one of those memories from storage.
  • Emotions take a long time to heal. Even when they do, I don’t think they’re ever the same as before they were broken. I also think that’s okay. Life won’t ever be the same as before; it seems natural that I won’t be exactly as I was, either.
  • Everything cycles through seasons. Some seasons seem to stretch on and on; others speed by. Every season has a downside. Winter is too dark and cold; I’m allergic to spring; summer can be oppressively hot at times, and fall is another round of allergies. Yet they all have upsides, too. It depends where we look. Such are the seasons of life. No matter how long they last, they do eventually change, leaving us to face another new season, mixed with ups and downs. The trick is not to wish for what’s behind us, because eventually this will be behind us, too. (Most of this post is a list of reminders for me!)
  • I like metaphors a little too much at times. See above section about the seasons.
  • In the midst of my life changing, my writing life has changed too. I’ve developed different habits, some of which I’m going to need to reshape. As I shared in another post, I haven’t felt truly ready to write, because I haven’t had the energy for my story. Now I realize it’s not just about energy. Stories preserve pieces of us, especially when we are the ones telling those stories. Every time I open my document, I’m transported back several months. I see a different person in those pages, and I’m having trouble reconciling her with the girl I feel like now. It’s almost like trying to be a co-author, except I’m attempting to team up with my past self. I have a few solutions to try my hand at, even if they may seem like temporary setbacks.
  • Don’t despise small beginnings. Even mighty redwood trees sprout from tiny seeds, buried in dirt. My dreams, towering as I imagine them to be, are little more than sprouts right now. They’re still closer to the humble earth than the vast heavens. But they are growing. And so am I, even when it’s just a meager start.

Small Beginnings

And because I’ve been almost mainly serious on the blog for a while, here are a couple of random, fun things I also learned in April. 🙂

  • Loki and I could take over the world together. I know, we just talked about small beginnings. World domination doesn’t fit that description. But I found a random quiz, and apparently Loki is the villain I would work best with. I didn’t need a test to tell me that… Now I just need to figure out if I should be worried what this says about me.
  • Speaking of quizzes, I put one together for the Fangirl Initiative last week. It was to see “Which Avengers Man is Your True Love?” I didn’t expect such a response, but it became extremely popular! That was a pretty fantastic feeling, and I learned that I’m not the only one who likes quirky little quizzes! Though it’s possibly cheating to take my own quiz, I did and confirmed something. Captain America would be my match! It makes sense, given my love for vintage things… 😉Avengers Quiz
  • Wishes do come true! Ever since I first experienced the music of the Phantom of the Opera, I’ve wanted Josh Groban to sing it. Particularly the song, All I Ask of You. And this week it happened. Since his new album released, I’ve had that one track on loop. I make no apologies. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to it and enjoy four angelic minutes. You’re welcome.

What did you take away from last month? If you write reflection posts like this, drop a link in the comments! Much as I enjoy sharing my learning, I like reading about yours even more. If you want to read some other Learning posts from April, take a look at the link-up on Chatting at the SkyAnd be sure to check out the rest of that inspiring blog- it’s one of my favorites.

May your May be marvelous!

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What I Learned in March, and in April So Far

March April

Hello, friends. How is your springtime coming along? Partly because of the indecisive weather, and partly because of everything else clouding my mind, I can hardly remember that it even is spring. But according to the calendar, near continual rain, and budding flowers, it’s spring whether I remember it or not.

The past several years, I haven’t been overly fond of spring. The temperature is too fickle, swinging from January to July; allergy triggers are at an all-time high; and bugs emerge in droves.

This year, though, spring speaks something else to me. It whispers a promise. After the snow and sleep of winter, life is springing out again. After a long stretch of darkness, day is breaking. This year, after one of the hardest and darkest seasons of my life, that promise means more to me. It feels realer… truer. Through the gloom, it gives me something to hold onto.

That promise is what’s helping me type these words. After a month away from blogging, I’m not sure if this is the right time to come back. But then I’m not sure there ever will be a right time, or if I’ll ever feel fully ready. So I’ve decided just to start again, much the same way I started the blog in the first place. I’m not quite sure how to get back into the swing of things, so I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned while I’ve been away.

Here is what I learned in March, and what I’ve learned so far in April.

  • There is a time for everything, and the time is not always now. If it’s meant to be, it will be, even if it might not be for a while.
  • Everything isn’t predictable. Sometimes what we expect to last forever comes to an end; sometimes the things we thought would end are the ones that endure. In the last eighteen or so months, my best opportunities and experiences have fallen from seemingly nowhere. The most predictable thing about my life lately is that it’s so unpredictable. There are multiple stories I could share on that score, but for now I’ll just say, I’m really just learning as I go. I think we all are.
  • There’s a tense balance between oversharing, hiding, and being honest. I tend to swing too far towards hiding. I once admitted to a friend, that I always try to have it together and when I can’t, I don’t know how to handle it. It’s partly why I needed this time off. I felt so exposed in all my emotions, that they flooded my screen every time I sat down to type. My fear is always to overshare, and I couldn’t find the right balance of honesty. I’m not sure I’ve found it yet, but I won’t be able to return to writing until I share something. So here’s to honesty- even in small doses.
  • Writing requires rawness. This is the real reason I’ve been coming up blank, other than in my journal. Last month, I was emotionally open but after the initial shock, I didn’t feel like sharing anymore. I closed off so I could heal some. I couldn’t write as I normally would, so I retreated inward. My journal is filled with the only words I could write, and the entries are long and disjointed. There isn’t a single sentence that I could turn into a blog post, and I haven’t touched my novel because storytelling requires all my emotional energy. Usually, I crave the opportunity to spill myself into the story, but for the past several weeks, I haven’t had the energy to spare.
  • Excuses are not inherently bad. Sometimes, there are reasonable, good ones. Sometimes, we need to be excused from certain things. As much as we’d like to stick to the philosophy of no-excuses, we aren’t machines. We can’t be put back together and pushed forward. It’s okay. It’s part of being human, and it’s not a weakness.
  • As much as we try to solve and fix problems, not all of them can be. There isn’t a clear solution for everything, even in the age of information. I can’t find all the answers through Google, and it isn’t always the right time for God to reveal those answers. Sometimes the answer is simply to wait. Wait and see.
  • Brokenness isn’t a bad thing. It’s unpredictable, and uncomfortable, and downright painful. But it’s not bad. Sometimes broken is right where I’m supposed to be.

The world is broken in too many pieces

But the brokenness is beautiful, it’s beautiful

My heart is broken by beauty’s mysteries

But the brokenness is beautiful, it’s beautiful

{Broken (Beautiful) by Chris Sligh}

What have you been learning this spring? Can you relate to any of the things I’ve learned?

With love,

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What I Learned in February and the Beginning of March

February

I sat down to write this post on the final day of February, in a few snatches of time here and there. I barely had an opening before I was pulled away, so I left my laptop in hibernation and intended to come back later that night.

It’s the early hours of March 3rd now, and it’s the first time I’ve touched my keyboard since. In a way, I can barely believe I’m even typing these words now. I’m not quite sure why I’m doing it. This time, it isn’t because I have a particular point to make, or I feel witty, or even that the blog stats are down. I think maybe it’s because I need to empty my heart, but my journal pages are already tear-soaked and inky. Maybe it’s because even though my heart feels like it’s shattering, I believe someone will understand what little bits of it I scatter here. For once, I don’t know why I’m writing a post, and I don’t have the energy to figure it out.

February 28th and then March 1st were the hardest days of my life. I can’t remember what I learned in the other 27 days of February, because they seem so distant and blurred now. Anything I do vaguely recall doesn’t feel important anymore. On February 28th, I realized my dear grandmother wasn’t going to make it through the night. And then within the first hour of March’s first day, she was gone. After fighting a terminal illness for ten years, she was called home to Heaven. I know she’s overjoyed right now; I can imagine her running down gold-paved streets, smelling the most fragrant roses and breathing deeply at last. I can hear her telling me to be happy for her, and I am relieved to know she isn’t suffering anymore. But it still hurts. It’s supposed to hurt, because I loved her so much. That’s one of the things I’ve learned, I guess.

Usually, I make a list for this type of post, but there’s another lesson: Life doesn’t fit in lists. Sometimes, the smaller things do, but the desperate, gritty moments are impossible to pin down, or even fully understand.

In the last few days, I learned that words don’t always matter. The writer in me always wants to find the perfect ones, but they don’t always exist. The night Mom-mom passed away, I don’t remember much of what was said. I just remember the family gathering around; the way we blended sorrow and hope; and the moments when someone would hold me tight when I couldn’t hold myself together. The things I really remember, the things that truly mattered, I can’t put in words. They’re too sacred and raw to be contained in a few sentences.

Until this point, I had only watched true grief from the fringes. I had been the one trying to offer comfort for others’ losses; the one unsure what to say, if anything. Now the tables have turned, and I’ve learned what it means to grieve. I have learned we all process sorrow differently. I think it’s because we all love differently; we’re all created differently, and that spills into mourning and coping and going on. Yet despite doing it uniquely, we can’t do it alone. I’ve felt like being alone too much in the last few days, and so I’ve learned not to trust my feelings in this valley. Because isolation won’t help me heal. Yes, I need solitude but I also need the circle of people I can hold onto. Grief is dark and lonely enough as it is, and being constantly alone doesn’t make it any lighter.

I’ve learned that a little gesture can go a long way. Although words aren’t everything, the right ones can help. I shared the news of my grandmother’s passing on my social media first, and the comments and messages I received helped me feel a little less alone. It’s not always a big thing; sometimes the smallest things convey the greatest love. Like a friend sending me a text to make sure I’m okay, or getting me out of the house so I can get away from everything for a while; those things have been lifelines to me.

Something else I learned is that laughter is truly medicine. I’d always liked that Proverb, because I love to laugh, but it wasn’t until this week that I considered laughter medicine. I wondered if I would ever laugh again when Mom-mom passed away, but I have. Even until my sides ached. I felt guilty the first time, but she was a lady who laughed easily and often, so the sound of laughter makes me feel close to her again. And laughing seems to heal a little bit of the fracture in my heart. I think there’s a reason the Proverb compares laughter to medicine. Medicine isn’t taken unless you’re sick; laughter is needed most when you’re hurting.

The last lesson I learned was really more of a reminder: God keeps His promises. His Word promises healing, and my mom-mom has hers at last, in a place far better than this earth. She’s living the promise of Revelation 21:4-5 now:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. (Rev. 21:4-5, KJV)

And even in my sadness, I take comfort in knowing I will see her again.

One day, when all things are new.

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P.S. One last thing: It probably goes without saying, but I don’t know how soon I’ll be back to posting regularly. February was an unsteady month as Mom-mom’s health declined, and I know March will be difficult for me as well. I didn’t take a formal “leave” from the blog last month, but I am for some time this month. Writing is therapeutic for me, and I do truly enjoy sharing with you here, so it may not be overly long. But I don’t have the emotional capacity to pressure myself, so I’m not setting an official timeline. I’ll look forward to sharing life again with you when I return! Thank you for being here, and reading this far. It truly means a great deal to me. ❤ — Sarah