Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Habitness

Okay, peeps. I promised myself that I would not dedicate any more posts to Harry Potter after the last one, because of social norms. But he might make a cameo at some point in the near future. WHO KNOWS. For now I’ll just tell you that I may have chased down a random employee at Universal who I *thought* was dressed as Harry (so that my little cousin could take a pic with him), but it turned out to be just a dude who works there with glasses.

We still took the photo.

Of course, just because I’m not going to keep spewing Harry analogies, doesn’t mean I’m not going to do something equally nerdy. In fact, I have to tell you about something extremely important that my sisters make fun of me for incessantly: podcasts. Or rather, one specific podcast.

In my recent pursuit of rest, I looked up a few that I thought would help me be more present and peaceful. There are some great ones that I can share via email or text, but my favorite by far has been a sermon series by John Mark Comer called Practicing the Way. The series is about living life with patience, peace, and simplicity. It surfaces a lot of stuff, but one thing stands out very clearly in my mind. John Mark suggests taking a self-inventory, and listing out your daily habits. What do you do every morning when you wake up? While driving to work? What do you do as soon as you get home, or when you’re stressed?

They heart of the question is this: What are our daily and weekly rhythms, and what do these rhythms do to our hearts? What do they do to our loves and longings and desires? How are they transforming us?

As I thought about this question, several things came to mind. I’ll explain a couple of them in case it helps you think of your own habits (but I’ll try to leave out the more awkward ones).

In the morning, I almost always wake up later than I want to. I tend to turn off my alarm and scroll through social media and blogs, looking at pictures or articles until I absolutely have to get out of bed. Sometimes these articles and posts are inspiring or helpful, but a lot of the time they’re just completely pointless (for example, “How to Attract More Butterflies to Your Garden” – I DON’T EVEN HAVE A GARDEN). After that, I usually rush to make my morning conference call, while brewing coffee or doing my hair. Sometimes I skip the hair altogether in favor of toast. I’m slowly starting to change this routine to allow for more quiet time in the mornings…but let’s just say that my default setting is: Night Owl.

This one simple bad habit is terrible for me. For one thing, the general morning chaos causes me to start my day off feeling a bit scattered and distracted. I jump into my schedule feeling like everyone is ahead of me and I have to struggle to catch up. The feeling lingers throughout the day, the anxiety building until I explode because I forgot one of my passwords or misplaced my running shoes (which actually did happen, so if anyone sees my shoes PLEASE TELL ME).

So, if we’re keeping track: so far, my habits make me anxious and distracted. Fun, right?!

The other one that popped out at me is my tendency to pull up my to-do list automatically whenever I open my laptop. First of all, I spend a LOT of time on my laptop. It has become an appendage of sorts. Second, when I constantly look at my to-do list (which, coincidentally, is never complete), I subconsciously begin to feel like there’s never any time to rest. There is ALWAYS something on the list, so how could I possibly take a break? The minute I delete something, a new task magically appears (but actually, I put it there myself because I’m insane). Instead of opening my laptop and the list of death automatically, maybe I can just chill out for a second. Maybe I can take a few minutes to pray, read, call a friend, or just sit still before springing into action. Maybe it’s okay to just breathe.

Will this make much of a difference? I still have to do most of the things on the list. I can’t just drop my responsibilities on a whim and sit in the jacuzzi. But maybe that moment of reflection will remind me that my to-do list doesn’t define me. Maybe it’ll remind me that people and conversations and intimacy and presence are far more important than productivity. And if that moment is only a reminder of what’s important, and nothing more – I still think it’s a moment worth taking.

I’m realizing more and more every day that our habits make us who we are. We so often think it’s the large accomplishments and the epic moments: the awards, the accolades, the speeches, the weddings. We focus on the moments that make it into movies – when really, the in-between stuff is just as beautiful. It’s often mundane and lonely and quiet – but who’s to say that it’s not sacred? Our daily rhythms do things to our hearts over time, and that alone is enough to make me believe that they are valuable.

What I do right when I wake up matters. It’s important because it contributes to who I am, for better or for worse – and if I have a choice in the matter, it’s probably a good idea to go with “better.”

Unless, of course, a new season of Master of None has been released – in which case all of this goes out the window.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons on Love (from Hogwarts)

Two weeks ago, I made a promise to Lisa Blair. We decided that we would each post something on our blogs by that Monday. Lisa, of course, stayed true to her word and posted some lovely thoughts right on time. I, however, procrastinated, lamented about my lack of creativity, pretended to study for my Finance midterm, and clicked repeatedly on articles with titles like “Must-Have Spring Shoes for Every Budget.”

Anyway, it’s officially April you guys. APRIL OF 2017. What is happening? WHO ALLOWED THIS?!

In January, I was one of *those* people who picked a word for the year to dwell on. In light of my recent realization that I may have some issues with performing for people (thanks to the Enneagram), I decided to choose a word that would pull me away from the constant voice of activity and pressure and work. The voice that echoes in the heads of 3’s, saying you haven’t done enough, don’t screw this up, you have to work harder, and don’t forget about your laundry. I chose a simple, small, annoyingly clear word:

REST.

The process of me trying to rest properly is hilarious. Tomorrow, from 10 to 2, I will rest. I will rest SO FREAKING HARD. I will be the most perfectly rested human that has ever existed. I will conquer this challenge called rest, damn it.

It was a bit ridiculous. After a couple of months though, I started to get the hang of it. I began reading fiction again, something I’ve loved since I was little and haven’t done much for several years. I cooked some meals instead of eating that one Southwestern Trader Joe’s salad every day. I de-cluttered my room. I said no to more things. And best of all, I went to Iceland.

Iceland was the ideal place to rest, for so many reasons. First of all, I went with amazing, kind, and super laid back people. On top of that, we didn’t have wifi all the time (so no infuriating tweets to scroll through), and most areas outside of Reykjavik were extremely peaceful and quiet. It was a beautiful week of good conversation, laughter, and stunning landscapes everywhere we turned. I was surrounded on all sides by things more beautiful than I had ever seen, and my heart had never needed it more.

There were too many wonderful things about Iceland to count, but my favorite was our “secret” hot spring. We ran into some fellow travelers one day while getting lunch, and they gave us directions to this little spot, tucked away in the midst of some hills, invisible to cars on the main road. It was somewhere around 30 degrees outside, and the wind whipped at us while we changed and ran from our truck to the pool. It's a perfect memory: sitting in a little hole in a mountain, surrounded by cold wind and mud, but encased in a warm, comfortable cocoon. Safe and sound in the hot water, (which I still can’t wrap my mind around – science, am I right?) and flushed with happiness because we were in each other’s company.

As we continued to drive around the country in our camper van, I would pull out a book to read every now and then (because as we have established, I’m a nerd). On this trip I happened to be re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This book was actually my favorite of the series to read this time around, because there’s just so much packed into it. While parts of it are very painful and sad, a level of depth is added to the characters that really pulls at your heart. In fact, I’d advise particularly sensitive readers not to finish it while alone on a plane – you may burst into tears and alarm other passengers.

Yes, I did that EVEN THOUGH I HAD ALREADY READ IT.

What I love about this book is that it highlights deep, ever-developing bonds between Harry and many of the other characters. It’s in this book that Harry experiences yet another horrible loss, after all of the trauma he’s already faced. Throughout this one, he’s moody and irritable. He constantly yells or snaps at his friends, choosing not to accept their help. He says things he regrets, and doesn’t listen when he’s given advice. But strangely, the more he lashes out, the more his friends and mentors rally around him. In spite of his behavior, they make sure he has their support, because they know he needs it now more than ever.

Although this is a “children’s” series, the themes have hit me so deeply in so many places. I think it’s partly because the characters are so perfectly flawed. Every single character in this story, no matter how brave or heroic or brilliant, messes up terribly at some point. And yet, the solidarity of the Order never dissolves. Harry and his friends would do anything for each other, and will always reconcile – no matter how horrible the offense.

I mean, just look at them.

**The fan art is a black hole, you guys.

**The fan art is a black hole, you guys.

Ever since I've started resting and trying to calm down about impressing people, this reminder has been running through my mind over and over, like a familiar song I had almost forgotten.

Failure is inevitable. You are not, and will never be, perfect. But don’t despair; you do not have to be perfect to be loved.

You can be a weirdo who takes giant books on vacation with you, and still be loved.

You can say the wrong thing, or make a mistake at work, and still be loved.

You can look or dress or speak a certain way – maybe in an unusual Luna Lovegood sort of way – and still be loved.

You can disagree strongly with someone close to you – and still be loved.

You can annoy someone, hurt someone, even turn your back on someone, and still be deeply, unconditionally, permanently loved.

As someone who likes to earn things, this concept is baffling to me. But perhaps J.K. Rowling was right about love. Perhaps love is the gift given freely, sacrificially, and selflessly. The thing that we never deserve, but always need. The thing that gives us hope, courage, and protection from all the darkness. The thing that keeps us safe.

Rather than a prize to be won, love is the simple choice to stay by someone's side. To say with confidence, you drive me insane sometimes, but my life is richer and more meaningful and more beautiful when you are in it.

I have people in my life who have chosen to do this for me - when I've been annoying, difficult, impatient, and selfish. These people, more than any others, have helped me understand true love. They've helped me see that I don't have to work for it, or strive for it, or chase after it desperately in panic. I don't have to perform or achieve goals or do anything heroic to get it.

And neither do you.

So if you need me anytime soon - I'll be resting.

Can we (really) celebrate 2016?

Well hello there, all of you lovely Internet people. It’s been awhile. Mostly because business school has been pounding me into the ground a bit, but also because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired. I kept starting posts and promptly deleting them, going to the kitchen for a snack, or getting distracted by Stranger Things. I would then proceed to dramatically text a friend about how I probably have ADD and will never succeed at life. But I digress.

Several weeks ago, I read another tweet that killed me. For some reason, tweets seem to be instrumental in my life lately. This one read, “Have we tried unplugging 2016, waiting ten seconds, and then plugging it back in?”

I died.

This year seems to have been difficult not only for our country (and the world) as a whole, but also for so many people in my life. While there have been lots of lovely things, there have also been tears and goodbyes and transitions. There have been senseless shootings and mean-spirited debates and devastating explosions. There’s been rampant racism. I’ve watched friends of mine grow in incredible ways, and I’ve also seen them endure some really painful things.

On top of all this, I personally tend to get a little overwhelmed every year around this particular season. The end of a calendar year feels like a deadline – and my mind starts to race with thoughts of all the things I haven’t yet been able to accomplish.

Of course, this is a bit ridiculous. If I really think about the year in detail, there were beautiful and life-changing things that happened. I started business school, moved into a new house, and I SAW HAMILTON. It was a wonderful year full of so many things to be thankful for. And yet, there’s this voice that starts to creep in at this time year. A voice that tries to convince me that it’s not enough, that everything I’ve been trying to work toward is out of reach, that I haven’t grown or healed or made forward progress. That I’ve failed.

The feeling isn’t necessarily specific to December and January, but it gets magnified at certain times. I think we all feel it, in various ways. The restlessness consumes us and we run around recklessly, trying to be more and do more and give more. If, like me, you test as an Achiever (3) on the Enneagram (which has been a huge topic of conversation in our house lately), you might hear it a little more often than usual. We feel it individually, but also collectively. Have we made any progress at all towards being more kind, more loving, more brave? Are we doomed as a country and as people to repeating our mistakes? Will I ever become the person I want to be, or reach the goals I've been running toward? The questions ring in our ears obnoxiously, waiting for us to crumble. But all the while, God is working, gently redeeming all things and bringing beauty out of our striving. And so often, we fail to see that beauty because our attention is turned toward that annoying little voice.

A few weeks ago, I drove to LA in the pouring rain with a car full of my cousins, to play board games at Gamehaus. Just like every other basic California girl, I am obsessed with rain. But unfortunately I couldn’t take an artsy Instagram photo because I was driving and that would be illegal. So instead, I thought about why I love it so much. It just calms me down in a way that few things do – it’s like the water’s telling me Shhhhh, don’t worry love, just relax, everything will be fine. In the end all of this will be washed away, so don’t rush so much, just rest and laugh and love people. Just live. 

ufomxgheugk-todd-diemer.jpg

Of course, this touching moment didn’t last that long because there was general chaos in the car and I was trying to force everyone to listen to Hamilton. But I kept thinking about it for awhile. What does it mean to truly rest and enjoy life? To just let go, even for a moment, of our need to accomplish, to win, to improve? To stop living in desperation and start living in joy?

I don’t actually know yet. In everyday life, it’s really, really hard for me to put this into practice. But in 2017, I am going to try.

I want to start thinking of the end of the year as more of a celebration. Instead of a deadline, a magnifying glass for our unmet expectations, or just a chaotic time of year where we’re all obsessed with shopping, perhaps we can think of it as a time to honor the year that has passed. Maybe we can acknowledge the hard things – the pain and the longing and the heartache – but also celebrate the love and beauty and healing that sprung up from it all. Maybe there’s plenty of space for us to do both.

Sometimes I hesitate to lean into the celebration because I’m afraid that I’ll forget all the things that still need to change. It’s as if I somehow forfeit my prayers and goals and dreams for the new year if I stop long enough look back with happiness on the old one. But really, it’s probably the other way around.

When we embrace the good, when we choose to dwell on it and let it fill us up – it changes us. It transforms our perspective and it gives us hope. It reminds us that every year brings it’s own kind of magic – and that every year in which we get to live, work, cry, and love each other is truly a gift.

So go ahead, make some New Year’s resolutions. Don’t stop dreaming or growing, ever. But make sure you pause every once in awhile next year to just lie down and look at the moon, to let a conversation linger for a few minutes longer than usual, or to create something beautiful for absolutely no reason. It’s hard to find the time, but when you do, it feels glorious.


PS: Just for fun (and in the spirit of celebration), I put together a list below of some things that brought me joy via pop culture in 2016 (in no particular order). Check it out if you’re into that sort of thing, and send me your recommendations because I probably forgot lots of things. We can all be cheesy and reminisce together.

  • Sherlock Special (The Abominable Bride): This episode was a little weird, but I honestly didn’t care because I had Sherlock withdrawals. Those two could read the phone book together and I would watch it beginning to end.
  • House of Cards (Season 4): I got a little bored during Season 3, but this one delivered. That moment at the end. I can’t.
  • The Hamilton Mixtape: If you listen to only one song on the Mixtape, it has to be Immigrants (We Get the Job Done). But this whole album is one of the most creative projects I’ve ever seen. I’m obsessed.
  • Zootopia: I’m not usually into animated movies, but this one was surprisingly deep and moving. Also, Shakira plays a pop star who happens to be a gazelle. What more can you want?
  • Captain America (Civil War): This was so different from other Marvel movies. Lots of interesting character development (which I am a sucker for). I can’t get over how charming and perfect Tom Holland is as Spiderman.
  • Nine Track Mind (Charlie Puth): Just a ridiculously catchy pop album.
  • This is Acting (Sia): Sia’s voice kills me. I often try (and fail) to emulate her in the car.
  • Phase (Jack Garrett): Amazing, amazing album. I listened to “Worry” probably 200 times on repeat.
  • Arrival: This movie was beautiful. The themes of language and communication and understanding wrecked me.
  • The Jungle Book: Visually amazing. Jon Favreau is a genius.
  • Hail, Ceasar!: I didn’t know much about this one before going in, but it turned out to be super charming, unique and funny. Also, Alden.
  • Stranger Things: No explanation needed.
  • Lemonade (Beyonce): Now this list is just becoming obvious things that everyone loves. I’M NOT THAT ORIGINAL, OKAY.
  • Jane the Virgin (Seasons 2 and 3): Hilarious, unique, and moving. Gina Rodriguez is like, legitimately one of my heroes.
  • Georgica Pond (Johnnyswim): This duo’s harmonies are insane. “Summertime Romance” was on repeat for weeks.
  • HERE (Alicia Keys): SHE’S BACK (insert the emoji that cries happy tears).
  • Darkness and Light (John Legend): I’m starting to run out of interesting adjectives now. But this album is seriously…magical.
  • The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (Amy Schumer): I would not recommend this to everyone, as parts of it are pretty rough. But overall I thought it was inspiring and funny. I also listened to the audio version, which Amy narrated herself. It was like she was in the car with me.
  • Caves (Caves): I randomly discovered this worship album and couldn’t stop listening to King of My Heart. The drummer is (running out of adjectives again)…prodigious.
  • Live Sessions, Vol. 2 (For All Seasons): FAS led worship at EvFree for Easter and it was wonderful. I’ve been stalking them ever since.
  • I’m Alone, No You’re Not (Joseph): Three sisters who have heavenly voices. Like Haim, but a little better.
  • The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah): A beautiful WWII story (I can never resist those) about two sisters who respond to the war very differently.
  • Gilmore Girls (A Year in the Life): With the amount of expectation placed on this reunion, I was genuinely afraid to watch it. But it turned out to be amazing. I watched it all in one day with two of my best friends while eating pop tarts and pizza. Afterwards we went out to debrief and simultaneously ate more food.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 3): This is just the kind of ridiculous comedy I can’t resist. Gina Linetti is my spirit animal.
  • Coloring Book (Chance the Rapper): I recently discovered that Chance is 23. TWENTY THREE, PEOPLE. I need to rethink my entire life.
  • Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids: This Netflix special is insane. The band is so talented, and they all look like they’re having the time of their lives. Besides being a childhood favorite, JT has to be one of the best performers I’ve ever seen.
  • VEEP: Again, I would not recommend this to everyone but it is hilarious. Julia Louis-Dreyfus KILLS me. #JONAHRYAN4CONGRESS
  • Talk 30 to Me: I may be biased because it was co-created by my best friend, but I genuinely think this is one of the most warm and endearing podcasts I’ve ever heard. If you’re a 30 Rock fan and just want to hear other fans talk about how much they love it, this will be your jam.
  • Silicon Valley, Season 3: I think I especially love this show because I work in tech, but it’s also just incredibly smart and funny. And it’s full of lines like this.

That’s all I can think of for now. Send me your list if, like me, you’re on winter break and have time for such things. And if I don’t get myself to post again before January – Merry Christmas. Thank you for reading this. It’s been one of the highlights of my year to start writing and engage in some wonderful conversations as a result.

Here’s to a new year of risks and joy and rest. And hopefully a little more rain (because I hear we’re in a drought).

When You Realize You Have Zero Chill

I’ve recently noticed that the best conversations tend to happen over food.

Maybe that should have been obvious, but it struck me last week while my team and I celebrated a birthday with sushi. We often joke about how much we love food – in fact, we tend to talk about it with each other in an extremely involved way while we’re eating (as in, we will individually list our favorite types of pizza while we are, at the same moment, literally stuffing our faces with pizza).

We sometimes deviate from this important topic to talk about something more meaningful. This time, my friend Andrew asked Michael what he had learned during his 23rd year of life. I enjoy celebrating birthdays with people for this reason - there is something really cool about hearing a friend reflect on another year of life: the joys, the challenges, the inevitable changing seasons, and the ways we grow through them. Michael shared a bit about his last year, which was filled with a lot of exciting things, and also told us what he would like to be true about himself in the future. He then turned the tables and asked us what we had each learned in the past year. 

I’m a sucker for deep conversations and questions. If it was socially acceptable to walk around with one of those “Table Topic” card decks, I would keep one with me at all times. I leaned back in my chair and listened as Andrew told us about a simple but powerful shift in his thinking about life goals: ask yourself compelling questions that will engage your thinking, instead of simply making to-do lists or setting routines. Or, if you really want to make a to-do list, ask yourself what the purpose of it is before making it. It helps you center yourself around the why behind what you do – instead of running around maniacally trying to accomplish 249,187,312 things (as I often do).

After finishing my spicy tuna roll and letting the conversation simmer in my mind for a bit, I decided to try this new technique. I picked a question that a good friend and mentor of mine had asked me earlier in the summer:

What kind of person do I want to be?

I know. Why start with – literally – the most difficult question possible, Sam? I don’t know. I have issues.

The idea behind asking yourself a question like this is to let the answer dictate how you prioritize your life. For example, if I want to be someone who is disciplined, it helps to remember that goal when I need to study for my Accounting midterm. If I want to be someone who is kind and loving, it helps to remember that goal when I decide whether to react to someone with frustration or with love. Keeping the question at the forefront of my mind and revisiting it periodically serves to remind me of why I do the things I do.

Upon choosing this particular question, I promptly forgot about it and got distracted by work, school, and the news. A certain recording of a certain Presidential candidate had surfaced (you probably haven’t heard about it – minor issue), and I was so upset about it that I could barely focus. I scrolled through Twitter in a haze of irritation, letting it feed my frustration like a drug. I added fuel to the fire, drinking in all of the angry reactions and allowing them to magnify my own. I stewed. In fact, I even started playing the piano like an angsty teenager (which I only do when I’m feeling particularly emo). My sister, who was home from college for the weekend, gave me a look later in the day – a look that said, “You are being super weird. Please stop.”

Of course, my frustration wasn’t connected only to the issue at hand. As horrible as it was, the audio recording had simply pushed me over the edge. There were other little things under the surface – things I had pushed down instead of dealing with them, things that had bothered me and wounded me and confused me – and instead of processing them the mature way, I had held onto them. I didn’t want to let them go, because part of me wanted to believe I was a victim. I had allowed the resentment and bitterness in my heart to grow like a weed, and all of a sudden, it was choking out anything else that could become lovely or bright or wholesome. It was clouding my vision, and everything around me was tinted red.

I continued to sit in my cloud of anger until I realized that it was starting to feel suffocating. So I did what I often do when I’m stuck. I called my dad.

My dad did what he normally does in such situations – he listened patiently, asked a few questions, and then gave me something to read. It was an article about a familiar story: the tale of the prodigal son.

The article took a unique position, and focused on the heart of the older brother. The one who felt left out, ignored, and misunderstood. The one who didn’t get as much attention as he thought he deserved, compared to the brother who had gone astray. As an older sister, I had always sympathized with him a bit. The poor dude was doing everything “right”, and no one was noticing it. He was justified in his anger…right?

But all of a sudden, the question I had chosen to focus on floated to the forefront of my mind: What kind of person do I want to be?

Do I want to be the kind of person who lives in pride, bitterness, and jealousy? Do I want to be the kind of person who focuses solely on her own needs? Do I want to be the kind of person who instantly judges others before thinking about what I might be doing wrong?

Most of the time, I am that person. My thoughts and actions reflect what's in my heart like a mirror, revealing all kinds of gross stuff. But once I see it, I can take small steps towards patience, humility, self-control, and love.

On Wednesday, my team and I watched a documentary called The White Helmets. The film is about a group of Syrian nationals who spend their time voluntarily conducting rescue missions in areas riddled by bombings. It was inspiring and humbling to watch these men risk their lives to bring hope and healing into broken places. They can't stop the bombings from happening, but they focus on what they can control - and it frees them up to do brave and beautiful things.

I’ll end with a few words from a book I love, called The Screwtape Letters. It’s a fictional set of notes from the devil to one of his minions:

My Dear Wormwood,
Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is "out there" in the "broken system" rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself. Keep up the good work.

Uncle Screwtape

Let's try to prevent this from happening. It seems like our energy could be much better used elsewhere.

The Tweet that Wrecked Me (in a good way)

I have always loved the first day of school. It’s a little weird and admittedly nerdy. But I love a new challenge, and the first day of school tends to push that button. There’s a certain thrill that I get when I’m starting something new – the feeling of possibility, expectation, and adventure.

The problem with being such an idealist, though, is that sometimes the new “thing” doesn’t go exactly as you pictured it in your mind.

Part of our MBA program involves two weekend intensives that take place before our regular classes officially start. The intensives are aptly named – they’re extremely dense, and full of complex material delivered over long hours. We studied Competitive Strategy, which I loved – but as the hours wore on and the available space in my brain started to wane, the thrill of something new began to fade. I was tired, and couldn’t wait to get home and collapse on my bed.

During the second weekend, each group is given is a “case” to analyze on Saturday at 4pm. We’re then asked to present on that case at 8am the following day.

Yeah, I can’t believe I signed up for this either.

My group and I stocked up on coffee and pizza, changed out of our business attire into sweats, and reconvened after class in the lobby of our hotel. I’ll spare you the details of our late night analysis, but let’s just say that a little (okay, more than a little) extra concealer was necessary around the eyes on Sunday morning.

It was honestly pretty exhausting to have to work on a project like that after two full days of class, with people we didn’t know very well. But the next day, in spite of our lack of sleep, our class was all smiles.

We stumbled into the presentation hall, rubbing our eyes and awkwardly trying to balance our breakfast plates while chugging coffee as if we were dying. And we laughed together, because we had made it. The worst (at least, the worst part of the summer) was over, and we felt a sweet sense of camaraderie, accomplishment, and peace.

As summer starts to wind down into the gentle glow of fall, I’ve been thinking a lot about seasons.

It started as many of my streams of thought do: with a tweet from the one and only Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I took a screenshot of the aforementioned tweet, and sent it to a friend a couple of months ago when she was having a rough day. Afterwards, I found myself coming back to it in my mind every now and then, just dwelling on the words. I would sometimes sit on the couch at the end of a long day full of heartbreaking headlines, unexpected transitions, and emotional phone calls – and I would just let the words sink in like rain on parched ground.

The world changes / The ground shifts / We still make plans / We still find gifts.

I would think about how beautiful it is that our lives mirror the rest of creation. Our days are marked by change: we grow, we hurt, we heal, and we are renewed. We put to death old parts of ourselves, and they give way to rebirth. All the while, it’s the way we navigate the seasons of this life that determines who we will eventually become.

Soon after I started thinking about seasons and change, the theme started popping up everywhere. I started seeing it in blog posts I read, in my Scripture reading plan, and in movies. It kept creeping up in conversations with friends and in podcasts or audiobooks. Everywhere I went, I couldn’t escape what God was reminding me of. In the midst of my frenzied grad student existence, my tears, and my longings, He gently whispered over and over, “You can have hope, because I am always making things new.”

I’ve clung to these words with all of my heart this summer. Partly because it was 100 degrees, I was hot and sweaty a lot of the time, and I **literally** could not wait for fall. Partly because I have to take Accounting this quarter and I already can’t wait for it to be over. But also because it brings me comfort to know that if we let them transform us, the hard things will always give way to something new and bright and beautiful.

At the beginning of the summer, I moved in with one of my best friends. We started praying together at least once a week, and God started bringing things to the surface. At first, I was a bit irritated. "Haven’t I already worked through all of this stuff? Why is it popping up again and getting in my way? UGH."

My friend is wired quite differently than I am, and wasn’t phased by all the turmoil. Things were coming to the surface for her too, but she calmly continued on with life, doing yoga and making kombucha and journaling. One day, I came home in a general state of angst, threw myself onto the couch and complained to her for a good twenty minutes. She listened patiently, then announced, “Sam, this is a summer of healing.”

I was a bit perturbed, because I felt like I should have already been healed. It had been long enough, and I was tired of waiting. I’m an ENFP, and we have all the patience of a child in kindergarten. But deep down, I knew she was right.

So I decided to lean into it. I wrote down a list of some people that I knew would help me move in the right direction, and I started calling them (perhaps a little too often). We all know those people – the ones who are always filled with deep joy and light, the ones who radiate kindness and warmth and confidence every time you see them. The ones who seem to always be at peace, even when their circumstances are messy or painful. The ones who glow.

I learned a lot of things from these people, and I’ll have to write about them another time – but one thing that stood out to me was the fact that each of them had made a choice. A choice to let the unpredictable seasons of life transform them into something new.

Instead of giving in to despair or numbing themselves from the pain of growth, they had leaned in and allowed the waves to wash over them, smoothing out the rough edges and revealing a dazzling inner light.

I’m still in the process of finding that light for myself. I catch glimpses of it here and there – moments when my soul is at peace, moments when I’m able to see beyond this temporary life to something more eternal. Moments when I can let go and rest. More often than not, my edges are still rough – but every day brings me closer. Every day brings each of us closer. And someday, light will be the only thing we see. 

 

I Just Want to Be Perfectly Confident All the Time (and other unreasonable requests)

At the beginning of June, my friend Kimmie and I made a trip to the east coast. We took a red eye (which we always do, and then regret the next morning) to see Hamilton, and spent a perfect first day in New York City. Washington Square Park was full of kids splashing around in its huge fountain, and the sunlight kept forming rainbows in the air around us as we watched. We laid on the grass and read, we talked, and we ate bagels. It was heavenly.

The next few days were a blur of laughter and history and culture and good conversation. In both DC and Philly, we were met with wonderful friends who took great care of us. We escaped from the everyday grind into a wonderland where Uber drivers or buses took us everywhere, and we didn’t have to cook our own meals or navigate difficult work decisions or make small talk. We were with people who knew us and loved us, and we felt safe.

A few days after we got home, I received an email from the USC Marshall School of Business (to which I had applied last winter). One of the administrators had reached out to me requesting a phone call, and it sounded like he was interviewing candidates for an open spot. I called the number in the email without very high expectations, since it was already June 13th and seemed far too late for new students to be admitted to the MBA program.

Instead of interviewing me, the man asked me a few logistical questions, then promptly announced that he wanted to offer me acceptance into the program. I (very) awkwardly thanked him, hung up the phone, and tried not to throw up.

Of course, I was thrilled and thankful and honored. But I also felt something else – an overwhelming sense of fear.

The safe little vacation bubble had been popped, and I suddenly felt the weight of decisions and insecurity weighing on me like a ton of bricks.

For the next week, I floated around in a bit of a daze while trying to make a decision. I robotically packed up my room and moved into a new house, trying to pretend I was totally fine when people around me expressed their congratulations and excitement about this new season of life. I continued to go about life as usual, spending time with friends and getting organized in my new home, but under the surface I felt fragile - as if a single gust of wind could knock me over at any given moment, and I would crumble onto the ground.

The feeling continued to persist throughout the month. I accepted the offer with genuine excitement, and made some changes to my work schedule in order to ensure enough time for studying. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. I started having trouble sleeping (which, if you know me, is extremely rare) and focusing. In an attempt to make the fear go away, I started running more and desperately prayed for it to be lifted. I pleaded with God, essentially asking Him to snap His fingers and get rid of that frustrating voice in the back of my head, but it didn’t work. And I was annoyed.

Sometimes fear hits us out of the blue, and makes it hard to breathe. Other times it creeps up on us slowly, a hidden force that paralyzes us with its incriminating questions: am I good enough? Smart enough? Strong enough? What if I’m not really the person that all of these people think I am? What if I fail?

As frustrating as it is though, it’s not all bad. Fear tells us when we need to be careful or protect ourselves or slow down. And if we listen closely, we can start to understand which fears make sense and which ones don’t.

I recently listened to a great episode of TED Radio Hour, in which various speakers explained their fears and how they addressed them. One of the speakers, a writer named Karen Thompson Walker, suggested a concept that was eye-opening for me: since we were created as beings with emotions, what if we chose to “read” our fears rather than shutting them down? What if we chose to pause, listen to them, and let them speak before classifying them as a nuisance? Perhaps we would learn some important things about ourselves, our pasts, our wounds, and our hearts by doing so.

As the oldest child in my family, I grew up doing my best to squish fear down into the ground whenever it showed up. To me, it felt like a sign of weakness - and I didn’t have time to be afraid. I liked feeling like I was in control, confident and calm. But as with any emotion, when you don’t listen to your fear, it starts to bubble up like a volcano, and you eventually start to lose it. You start reacting to the emotion -  allowing it (and only it) to dictate your decisions, your direction, and your level of joy.

I finally decided it was time for me to suck it up and let my emotions speak. So last night at community group, I forced myself to open my mouth and tell the 15 people sitting in front of me that I was afraid.

When I acknowledged it, the fear shrunk down to about half its original size. It’s still there, but it doesn’t hold the same power. When I finally listened to it speak, it didn’t seem like an enemy anymore – it sounded like a protective friend who wanted to make sure I was ready.

I knew that the protective friend, though he had valid things to say, wouldn’t keep me from moving forward if I actually listened to him. He would come with me for a bit – to make sure I was okay – and at the right time, he would let me go on without him.

And somehow, I felt safer than ever.

Breakfast and Other Moments

A couple of weeks ago, I got together with two of my dearest friends, and we had a sleepover.

We’re not teenagers anymore, but for some reason, sleepovers are still thrilling. They’re full of secrets and snacks and movies and laughter. Ours also involved Beyonce.

There’s something indescribable about being with friends who’ve been a part of your life for years. These are two of the people who know me best, and when we get together, we put everything on the table. Even if it’s heavy, we know we can talk about anything, and it’s going to be safe.

It’s been a pretty hectic and draining season for each of us, so we care deeply about the time we have together. We talked about our weeks, we went to a comedy show, we made breakfast together, and we watched Silicon Valley. There were some tears shed and some words of comfort spoken. There were stories told that were heartbreaking, and there were stories told that were hilarious. There were photos taken (some of our food and some of my friend’s cat), and there was reminiscing. Obviously, there was also coffee.

A few days later, I received a call from one of those friends: she had been in an accident, and she was in a lot of pain. Thankfully, she was physically okay. But the accident had come at the worst possible time, and she was at the end of her rope.

A simple group text went up like the bat signal, and we were all at her house that night.

We surrounded her like a battalion, armed with food and funny gifs. My heart ached so deeply for my friend. But as we all sat on the floor around her coffee table and ate cookies together – alternating between heavy conversation and fits of laughter -- I remember thinking (in a rare moment of clarity), “I don’t want to ever forget this night.”

It was a moment in time tinged with deep sorrow, but with even deeper compassion and love. There was an unspoken sense of camaraderie, purpose, and resolution – an agreement that we were not going to let our friend go through pain without our support. In spite of the sadness we felt because of what she was going through, our hearts were knitted even more closely together that night, and in that we felt joy. It was yet another reminder to me of a lesson I’ve been learning over the past couple of years: no matter what life throws at you -- and since we live in a broken world, it will often chuck some uncomfortably heavy objects in your direction -- there are always moments of indescribable beauty laced in among the pain.

I tend to be the type of person who writes things off as “cheesy” fairly often. Count your blessings? Cheesy. Cherish every moment? Cheesy. Live as if there’s no tomorrow? So. So. So. So. Cheesy.

I think part of the reason I’m like this is because I don’t like feeling vulnerable. It’s easier to pretend that things don’t move me emotionally, because then I don’t have to risk getting wounded. If I never allow something to speak to me --  if I never open up my heart to experience life at it’s fullest – then I might be seen as cool, aloof, calm, independent and worldly. But I will miss out on some truly important valuable moments.

When we first moved into our building at work, there were only a few of us on the team and I was often alone in my office. In an attempt to give the space some color, I started adding random photos and prints to the wall above my desk. At first, I tried to make sure everything on the wall was hip. Nothing cheesy. Everything had to consist of vague phrases with perfect beaches in the background, or hipster typography featuring mountains. I wanted to give off that “I’m effortlessly cool and not at all basic or corny” vibe. It was a great plan.

However, that soon proved to be pretty lame because none of it really inspired me – so I gave in to the cheese. I love my wall now because it’s full of reminders to deeply value those special moments. It’s covered with all of the most ridiculously sappy quotes – and I never want to take them down (I still refuse to use the word Wanderlust though). 

If there’s anything that I was reminded of that night when I sat around the table with my friends, it’s that all of life is a gift.

There are gifts every morning and every night. Sometimes they’re hidden behind some fog, but they’re still there. They come in the form of tender phone conversations, dance parties with your baby cousins, group texts that make you double over laughing, and late night jacuzzi sessions. They come in the form of spontaneous trips, shared playlists, and sushi. And we let the sweet moments pass us by because we’re running at full speed.

The problem is that we desperately need those moments. Because as much as life is a gift, it’s also a marathon. And at some point, we’ll each trip and fall down for a bit.

Those are the times when the gifts are all the more important to hold onto.

They keep us going until we can start running again.

What Hamilton Taught Me About Living a Good Story

When you’re in your 20’s, a lot of thought goes into what type of story you’re living. There are some heavy questions that most of humanity faces, but they start to float around more obnoxiously in your mind during this stage of life: What is my purpose? What am I meant to accomplish in my life? What do I actually want? Once you think you know the answers to those, more follow: if this is my purpose, how the hell am I supposed to accomplish it? I don’t have time. I have to pay my bills, do my laundry, and keep up with the world on social media so I can feel included and stuff. And really, all I want to do is take a nap.

The questions are typically accompanied by some frantic attempts to distract ourselves. We all do it differently. It’s sometimes terrifying to think through the real stuff, so we desperately latch onto things that might let us hide for a bit. But I don’t think this is always a bad thing. Sometimes the very things we run to – Netflix, Hulu, movies, fantasy, and fiction – subtly point us back to what we’re really looking for: an epic and meaningful story to emulate.

Growing up, I always loved stories. There was something magical about staying up late reading on a school night, getting completely immersed in different land, a different time, and a different place. It was an escape, but it was also so much more than that: it was inspiration, enlightenment, and therapy. I loved those characters, and I connected with them. I felt empathy, longing, joy, fear, and hope when I read. All of those stories became a part of me, and I used them to slowly figure out my own. And isn’t this what we all do? Even if you were a bit more social than I was as a child, you have your own stories that you hold onto dearly, because they’ve shaped who you are – and you’ll never forget them.

When I first heard about Hamilton from a friend of mine last summer, I was a little confused at all the hype. Of course, I felt that it was important for me to be caught up on pop culture and what not, so I immediately visited my usual sources: Google, Wikipedia, and my cool LA friend Kimmie Lucas. I figured out that this was a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, with strong hip-hop /rap influence and an extremely diverse cast. I definitely thought it sounded creative and fun, but I had no idea how powerful it would turn out to be. In the past year, it’s become the most adored musical of the decade, loved by all kinds of people with many different tastes. It’s been on Broadway for less than a year, and has already won a Grammy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, along with many other accolades. In its first six weeks on Broadway alone, the show made almost $9 million and attracted dozens of celebrities. All in all, its success is completely and utterly insane.

If you've listened to the cast album at all (which is likely if you and I have hung out in the past couple of weeks), you'll understand why it’s so adored. I might be listening to it as I write this, actually, and it’s not working out too well because I keep getting distracted and focusing too hard on the lyrics.

There are way too many mind-blowing things about Hamilton to comment on – so much so that if I started, I would probably keep going for weeks and post an annoyingly long entry that would put you to sleep. So I’ll focus on the things that amazed me the most. The first is this: Lin-Manuel Miranda spent seven full years writing the music and lyrics for the show. Seven years. That’s longer than I’ve ever worked on anything in my entire life. The music is so complex that 144 words are packed into each minute on average, almost twice as many as the average musical. In the fastest song, Guns and Ships, Daveed Diggs raps at a pace of over 6 words PER SECOND. On top of that, the show is almost entirely historically accurate, meaning that it required many hours of research. Some lines are taken directly from letters that Hamilton and his friends wrote to one another, and even minor details (such as the location where Philip Hamilton challenged George Eacker to a duel, or the court case that rivals Hamilton and Aaron Burr worked on together) are reflected accurately in the lyrics of each song.

The story is actually pretty cool to me because it resembles a startup experience: Miranda experimented with working versions of The Hamilton Mixtape (as it was known in the beginning) for years, collaborating with various friends to do test runs and obtain feedback. The amount of work that he poured into this project is unbelievable. All along, he couldn’t have possibly known that it would be met with so much success and adoration. But he believed in the story, so he kept working on it anyway. In fact, he spent an entire year writing the first song, and then another year on the second one.

One. Whole. Year. On one song. I can’t even.

I’m convinced that this deep level of passion and determination on Miranda’s part is what makes Hamilton so incredible. And isn’t it true of all the stories we love?

Every single one requires sacrifice and risk on the part of the storyteller. And in the end, this is what makes us fall in love with them so deeply. I’m sure Miranda experienced moments of fear and wondered whether all the work would be worth it – but if he hadn’t pushed through, the world would have missed out on something revolutionary (there’s a fun history pun for you).

Living a good story is going to take some passion, determination and discipline on our parts. We’ll need to take some risks. But if Alexander Hamilton could create our financial system, start a newspaper that’s still running today, invent the Coast Guard, and write 51 essays defending the Constitution (after losing both parents, leaving behind everything he ever knew, and fighting a war), I think we can suck it up.

After all, we each only have so much time.

All the Light

A few years ago, I found myself sitting in front of a sweet older woman who had been qualified by a well-known Christian university as a Spiritual Director. She had studied theology and worked with dozens of people who were seeking a deeper connection with God. She was kind, warm, and gentle – and she was reading a Psalm to me patiently while we sat in her backyard. Surrounded by a pond, flowers, and some beautiful trees with white blossoms floating down around us, I sat with my eyes closed and I waited.

We had tried talking through the doubts and the anger and the questions, but every attempt had left me feeling overwhelmed because I couldn’t seem to break through the heavy wall in my mind and heart. All the “right” answers kept hitting me in painful and tender places, and I was tired of getting bruised. But in spite of how furious I was, I couldn’t deny that I was simultaneously desperate for God. I couldn’t stop wanting Him, even when I tried.

So after observing my anguish, this angel of a woman said to me, “Why don’t I just read a Psalm to you, and you can listen? I’ll just keep reading it, and you can tell me when you want me to stop.”

I double over on the bench with my head in my hands, tears streaming down my face. And I waited.

She must have read the Psalm at least twelve times, and verse by verse, I waited. Finally, I couldn’t bear the silence any longer so I asked her to stop. She prayed for me with compassion in her eyes, and after a few minutes I left. I remember thinking, this is it. I’ve tried everything there is to try, and if He’s still not coming for me, then maybe He just doesn’t care much about whether we’re close after all. 

For the millionth time that year, I was ready to abandon my search for intimacy with God. He just felt so incredibly far away. Every time I tried to pray, waves of anger would wash over me. What was the point? Was He even listening? I didn’t understand why my own resentment kept getting in the way of my relationship with Him – and ultimately, why He wouldn’t take it away so that we could be at peace again.

I tried everything. I read books, listened to podcasts, and went to prayer meetings. I wrote in my journal and met with Spiritual Directors and went on long, holy, solitary walks. But all my efforts were (seemingly) in vain, and I was just so tired.

I often wondered during that time if God actually loved me enough to make sure that our relationship was intimate and warm and real. Having spoken about it with various people over the last few years, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s experienced a deep sense of spiritual disillusionment. Theologians sometimes refer to this as a “dark night of the soul” – a period during which God seems distant and indifferent. A period during which questions and darkness abound – with no real signs of relief.

I don’t think there’s a black-and-white answer for why it happens. It could be any combination of things – incorrect theology about God’s character, a chemical imbalance, a tragic loss, or spiritual warfare. All of our spiritual journeys are unique. But I think it’s safe to say that for all of us, at one point or another, there’s an occasional sense that God is just distant. Far away. Removed.

And yet, we know we need Him. We simultaneously long for Him and push Him away. We desperately hope that He will reveal Himself, and when He does, we struggle to accept His ways. We cry because we think we’re waiting for Him, when really – He is always waiting for us.

With patience and warmth, He waits for us to wrestle through our fears and our doubts and our insecurities. Instead of making them instantly disappear, He gently helps us break through the walls that we’ve put up – picking up the heavier pieces for us, letting us carry some on our own – and in the process, we start to bond more deeply with Him.

The walls start to crumble, and light trickles in. We start to realize that He is on our side after all. He fights with us and for us.  And He always will, until the end of time.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen describes it this way:

"For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life--pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures--and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not "How am I to find God?" but How am I to let myself be found by Him?" The question is not "How am I to know God?" but "How am I to let myself be known by God?" And, finally, the question is not "How am I to love God?" but "How am I to let myself be loved by God?" God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home."

Many months after I met with my Spiritual Director, I remember dragging my feet to church one evening and sitting on my own off to the side of the room. I braced myself for the familiar feeling of detachment that would come when everyone around me started singing. I was used to feeling like the only person in the room who wasn’t head-over-heels in love with God – but this time, something felt different.

I actually wanted to sing, and I didn’t want to stop.

The thing is, there wasn’t one specific moment that changed everything for me – but slowly and steadily, those moments of connection started to outweigh the moments of distance – and I gradually fell back into a place of tenderness and trust and warmth. My teammate even caught me listening to a worship song on repeat the other day at work. Who am I?!

On some days, I feel that distance creeping back in, but it scares me a little less now than it did before. I know He’s still here – and He always will be. If I can’t feel Him for a bit, it’s just because He’s working on another part of the wall – so I’ll keep working on breaking down the part that’s in front of me, and at some point we’ll run into each other again.

And we’ll just keep doing that, brick by brick - until someday, the whole thing comes crashing down. And all the light will come pouring in.

sun-trees.jpg

The Startup Series, Part 3: Everyone Please Calm Down (We're All In Process)

At Co.tribute, we go through whiteboard markers like there’s no tomorrow. I have countless pictures on my phone containing lists that we’ve made, notes from brainstorming sessions, and campaign execution plans (because for some reason I feel the need to take 10 of the exact same photo every time we erase anything). We LIVE on our whiteboards. In fact, my team and I recently started writing on our own window because we got tired of constantly walking over to the board in the conference room (which is a torturous 20 feet away). Sometimes you have to tilt your head at a strange angle to read things and your neck starts to hurt, but it makes us seem cool and creative - so I’ve decided it’s worth it.

Often, the window starts to look pretty chaotic. It’s full of abbreviations, random arrows, and complex diagrams. Sometimes I arrive in the morning and read a note that I wrote the day before, only to realize that it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. But regardless, I love that messy and complicated window because it perfectly represents the sweet chaos of good things that are in process.

The window is full of our goals, dreams, and plans. It’s full of amazing and terrible ideas. We’re constantly learning new lessons, and every week we erase some of the stuff we’ve finished, re-organize what’s left on the list, and keep pushing forward. All the while, we keep our eyes on the goals we wrote out in the top right corner – and we celebrate every time we get a little closer. We enjoy the thrill of the journey, because we’re on it together – and because we know we’re headed somewhere that’s going to be even more epic, more beautiful, and more fulfilling than where we are now.

**Not the actual window (just a cool hipster one I found)

**Not the actual window (just a cool hipster one I found)

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships after writing about why we need each other. Some friends and I have been reading through Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (one of my all-time favorites), and we just got to the sections about forgiveness, marriage, sex, pride, and love. The whole book is incredible, but this part in particular cuts straight to the heart. It’s all about the hard stuff – loving people when they hurt you, seeing the best in others, thinking of yourself less, and staying committed when the emotions aren’t there. It’s everything we’ve heard before, but need to hear over and over and over again – because we so easily forget.

It’s easy to forget these things because we’re constantly fed the lie that relationships should be easy. They’re supposed to be fun, picture-perfect, and simple. They’re supposed to look more like an organized, color-coded spreadsheet than an overcrowded whiteboard. But in spite of what the media and Instagram tries to tell us, deep down I think we know the truth: that when you authentically connect with people, things often get complicated.

This isn’t exactly new information – most of us have grown up being told, especially in the church, that relationships are hard. We’re warned about how difficult marriage is, we’re told that we need to forgive, and we get the fact that as broken people, we’re going to hurt each other. We have countless books, seminars, and Buzzfeed articles on how to navigate conflict and set good boundaries (some more helpful than others). Apparently Biola even has a new chapel series on the best way to DTR.

What I think we don’t focus on enough, though, is the fact that sometimes in spite of your best efforts to go through all the “right” steps, things remain just a little more messy than you want them to be. And as long as we’re headed in the right direction together – as long as we keep our eyes on the goal – the messiness is more than okay, and we should all just try to calm down about it.

Of course, if you’re in an abusive or emotionally unhealthy relationship, it’s wise to remove yourself from it. It’s important to choose well when you’re surrounding yourself with people, because you will become like them. What I’m referring to here is the idea that being in process is actually normal – and if we stop being so afraid of it, if we stop panicking every time we have a difficult conversation or an awkward encounter – perhaps we could find a little more freedom to enjoy the journey, and all the chaos that it brings, without living in fear.

But how exactly are we supposed to do this?

As it does with most things of this nature, I’m pretty sure that the solution starts internally. When I realize that I myself am always going to be in process, it frees me up to let others be in the same boat. And if we’re all in the same boat, we might as well relax and have fun while we’re on it together.

I’d like to propose two ways to start:

  • Constantly keep our own needs for grace in view: and in doing so, humble ourselves enough to relate to those around us. This doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree, but it does mean that we’ll be less quick to judge or criticize because we’re aware of our own weaknesses.
  • Keep our eyes on the ultimate goal, which is not to be “right” or to figure out the formula for easy relationships. It is to love people authentically, and point them towards a Love that is more fierce and patient and unconditional than ours could ever be. When this is the goal, all the little things that would typically offend us start to slowly fade away.

The most well-researched series of tips on conflict resolution will never work for me if I don’t realize that I myself am broken – and that in this life, I always will be.

The important thing is that, as someone who is broken, I enter into community with other broken people who are forever committed to growth, forgiveness, humility, and love. As long as we’re all crystal clear on the goals – in this case, healthy relationships, deeper connection, and lives that honor Christ – all the stuff in between will fall into place. It will get frustrating and exhausting at times, and it might become more messy than we want it to be, but in the end it will turn out to be the most amazing adventure.