Refliting

Reflite: verb. “to write down one’s reflections”

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of action, from dance performances to birthday parties to senior prom. I come back from each of these events completely overwhelmed with the friends God has given me. Senior year has been an incredible blessing — a wonderful conclusion to the challenging years of high school. I am content.

Although I embrace the contentedness I feel now, I think back to a time when I felt very alone. Very awkward. Very discontent. The fact that God redeemed those difficult moments makes me want to praise Him all the more. His work in my life and through my social interactions is proof that God does not leave us in the rough times. Life is not easy. Humans will fail us. God is always with us. I know that there will be moments in the future where I feel lonely and discontent. In those moments, I want to remember God’s blessings in the past. In the dark and ugly circumstances, I want to hold tight to the truth that God transforms brokenness into beauty.

As I reflect on the joy of senior year, I want to share a college essay I wrote earlier in the fall. The prompt read, “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?” Here is my response…

I never fit in. Each Wednesday, I would walk into a large room of a hundred teens and feel completely lost. Surrounding me were little circles of people, talking about their day, the dance coming up, or who’s dating whom. Instead of seeing fellow teenagers, all I saw were cliques. As someone who had grown up going to this church, I didn’t get it. How could I have gone from the kid who knew everybody to the awkward teen who doesn’t know who to talk to? I was lonely, confused, and discontent.

I loved politics – most teenagers could care less about who was running for office. I could talk on and on about social issues I wanted to change – most teenagers were consumed with their own circle of friends. I had big dreams, things I wanted to accomplish – most teenagers didn’t look past Friday night. I felt like I had nothing in common with everyone else at youth group. Eventually, I withdrew. I could never find anyone who understood… or at least that’s what I thought.

My feelings of discontentment transformed the summer before my senior year. Taking a leap of faith, I chose to spend a week in Costa Rica with nineteen of those same youth I felt didn’t understand me. During those days, my perspective was changed. I realized that most of the problem was me. I was so focused on finding someone just like me that I failed to see how special differences could be and how those differences could bring us together. We were all remarkably different. Some of us went to public school, others private school, and others were home schooled. Some played sports, others loved to write, and still others were talented musicians. Yet during that week, we looked past our differences and worked together. As we carried buckets of sand and mixed concrete by hand, we were yoked together by a common purpose. And slowly, as I began to see the hearts of my fellow youth, I began to develop an inexplicable connection with my youth group again.

Now, I look forward to Wednesdays. I can’t wait until that middle of the week pick-me-up. I walk into that large room of a hundred teens and feel completely content. There are still the circles of people, but now I feel confident walking over to a circle, knowing I can find something in common with them. We talk about our day at school, the latest TV show, and our plans for college. Some play dodge ball in the auditorium; others lounge on the café couches and talk. When we’re all called into the assembly room, together we worship the Creator who made each one of us unique.

After youth group, the seniors gather together to work on a dance collaboration for the student talent show. As we goof off and try to turn a group of mismatched seventeen year olds into a cohesive dancing machine, the community I have been blessed with overwhelms me. There’s a talented gymnast who is passionate about Constitutional Rights. There’s an artist who dreams about combining music with missions. There’s a cross-country runner who can break it down on the dance floor. And then there’s me, the once discontent homeschooler, who can talk for days about politics and who feels like she’s falling in love with a whole group of people at once.

Insecurities still creep back, but I am content with being an individual and not worrying about fitting a certain mold, because our differences bring us together. I’ve let go of the confines I created for my friendships. And as I’ve let go of those mental barriers, I have found fellow passionate teenagers who have big dreams. When I allowed my eyes to be opened to the hearts of my fellow teens, I found contentment in a way I never imagined.

Book Review: A Million Little Ways

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You were born to live art. This is the foundational argument behind Emily P. Freeman’s latest book, A Million Little Ways. I am a HUGE fan of Emily. I read her book Graceful a few months ago and instantly fell in love with her heart and her writing. She speaks truth and life in a powerful and beautiful way. A Million Little Ways only increased my admiration of Emily.

The book explores three main topics: Who is the artist? What is the art? How do we create that art? God created us in His own image (Genesis 1:27). God is the Creator, and therefore, we also have the ability to create beautiful things. The art is a result of the way God created us, individually and uniquely. He has set specific desires and purposes within us – that is our art. We create by living a life that brings glory to God. By giving Him thanks in the everyday and honoring Him in our responsibilities, we are living art. 

Christians often feel like they must do the hard and uncomfortable things in order to be in God’s will. If we don’t enjoy it, it must be from God. Right? Wrong. Emily argues that God wants to give us the desires of our heart. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Our dreams and desires are gifts from God. He wants us to be filled with joy and to come alive with happiness. He created each of His children unique, and as unique beings, we were designed to create different and special art.

A Million Little Ways is full of practical ways to uncover lost passions. Each way is accompanied by an action verb: desire… rescue… sink… see… listen… As I read, I took notes of my answers to some of the questions Emily posed. And as I read, I began to discover more about myself.

Injustice and hopelessness make my heart break. Stories of overcoming hardship make me cry. I question my purpose and effectiveness. I dream of change and reform.

While I was reading A Million Little Ways, I visited the University of Virginia and attended one of their Intervarsity meetings. The speaker’s message correlated perfectly with what I had been reading, so I thought it would be relevant to share it here as well. The speaker reminded us that Christians are needed in every avenue of work. There are 5 different categories of God-work she identified. The list is not exhaustive and it overlaps.

Redemptive work – social workers, counselors, public speakers, writers

Creative work – painters, sculptors, authors, graphic designers, event planners, musicians 

Justice work – lawyers, soldiers, rescue workers, analysts, politicians 

Providential work – engineers, technicians, businessmen, doctors

Revelatory work – teachers, journalists, authors, photographers

God has called people to each of these categories, and in some cases, more than one. In regard to discovering our calling, we should ask ourselves three questions: 1) What are my passions? 2) What are my gifts? 3) What is the need? 

Through Emily’s book and the IV speakers’ message, I have begun to uncover the art in my life. Words are my passion. Communication is my gift. Redemption and revelation are the needs. 

The point of our art is not recognition or perfection or success. “The point instead is to be alive in the presence of Jesus no matter who you’re with, what you’re doing, what’s gone wrong, or how much (or how little) you are paid.” God weaves Heaven into our lives on Earth in the everyday moments.

A Million Little Ways concludes with practical examples of individuals living art in their everyday responsibilities. Once again, Emily uses action verbs to illustrate the call to live art: show up… wait… offer… wonder… create… God is the Artist and we are His art. “What if we decided to believe our purpose in this world really is to reflect the glory of God?” How would that change the way we live? In becoming fully who God has created us to be, we are bringing Him glory. That is our ultimate calling.

I would encourage readers at all stages of life to pick up this book. Emily’s writing is elegant and effortless. Her message is simple yet powerful. Borrow it from a friend, check it out at the library, or better yet, buy it for yourself. It is never to late to discover God’s calling for your life. He never gives up on His art.

– – Phebe