welcoming 2018

“For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I thought about dwelling on 2017, on the hardships I experienced, the heartache and desolation that was felt sometimes, the brokenness that occurred early in the year. There was more than that though. I thought about writing about my successes in research, getting published, changing my major, finding my purpose (or trying to). I thought to write about the relationships I formed, the ones that came with me from 2016 and blossomed even more, the new ones that helped me love myself and others more, and the romantic one that I could have never predicted but am so thankful for. I thought about writing of my personal journey, the one where I felt empowered, then small, loved, then lonely, invincible, then broken, and the roller coaster that it was. I thought about writing about how I’ve changed (a lot) in good and bad ways, because it is arrogant and mistaken to say that we always only change in good ways (though I hope the good greatly outweighs the bad). I thought about the memories, the rich and vibrant memories of places I went (England! Ireland! Boston! Atlanta! The Gulf Coast! How blessed I am to see the world). My eyes took in some impeccable places with some amazing people.

I thought about it all, about 2017. It was painful. It was momentous. It was beautiful. Every day something happened, sometimes I wrote it down, but I mostly tried to store it away up top with failure more than I wished (we always overestimate the ability of our memory). I did write some though, mostly prayers in pen tucked away in a book filled with empty pages and my deepest hopes and dreams and concerns and questions. I thought a lot, about what love actually is, and whether it can actually last, and what I believe and who I am and where I belong and what I will do for the rest of my life. I worried a bit too, about the latter questions and if I will find happiness in what I am pursuing and the life I am building. I thought about my future. I thought about the present, whether I was making the right decisions. I thought about my friends, how truly blessed and favored I am, how God always takes care of me. I thought about faith, my journey, my flaws, my strengths. I thought about my blessings. I tried to think of them more than my problems, insecurities, and heartaches. They were abundantly more in the past year than those anyways. There were nights I cried, full of questioning, and nights where my heart wanted to leap out of my chest for happiness and overwhelming peace. I can’t explain 2017, but it was a mysterious thing with some of the hardest and best times of my life. A year of true lows and glorious highs. To write of it would take a novel, to think of it would take a journey, but to appreciate it takes very little. I appreciate who I was this time last year and who my experiences over the last year have made me. I am indebted to those who have prayed for me, offered me their love, and walked with me through the past year. I am incredibly thankful to those who I’ve met who have accepted me and cherished me. Finally, I look to God for all He has done for me. I’ve experienced lovely, magnificent things because of Him, and my perspective on a difficult life change was crafted in His hands. What a year it has been. Here is to 2018 – another year of magical, unpredictable, eventful, and beautiful memories with those I love.

 

finish line

You’ve got people in your corner. You may not know who they are yet, or maybe you do, but they are there. There are people out there that want to see you succeed as bad as you do. They support you, encourage you, market you to other professionals, love you in your flaws. They see your worth, even if you don’t. They recognize your talent, even when you don’t. Something about you inspires them, and you feed off their success and hunger for life. You have people that are your cheerleader. They rejoice with you when you do great things and they fall hard with you when you don’t. They are acutely aware of your life goals and dreams, and they can see what lights your eyes up and sets your heart ablaze mid-conversation. They tell you that they know what you were made for. They are happy for you. They are there for you. They are rooting for you. It may be your mom, teacher, co-worker, best friend, mentor, stranger, boss, dad, roommate, or just a passing face – but somehow they know you and believe in you. People are rooting for you. They don’t wish to see you fail, wish to see you find trouble, but are instead genuinely happy for you! These are true friends. Real friends that you find strength in. Friends that you reciprocate this feeling of pride, excitement, and overwhelming love for. Forget yourself and remember the people that are rooting for you. Those people will be the first people you hug whenever you cross the finish line.

-Me, to myself, when self doubt infiltrates my thoughts on the beautiful things God has given me.

valuable

It’s a Sunday, and I am currently making French press coffee. I have at least 20 things I need to be doing (many of them including coursework and cleaning), but I ardently miss writing so I decided to stop in the midst of my endless to-do list and do something that I truly love. I decided to write.

One of my great ambitions in this life is to show people that they can be who they are without trying to gain acceptance of the world. Through interactions, words, and actions, I hope I can be a testament to the freeing, empowering, and abundant mercy that God can shed upon a life. I was once in desperate need of worldly acceptance and affection. I deeply desired the pursuit of a boy and shaped my values, ideas, and philosophy on how to attract the people that would accept me. My entire set of values were, at one point, conformed to the eyes of the sinful world we live in. I had very little self value and self respect. I wore things that were disrespectful to my body and to my Father, I said things that didn’t reflect the values that had been instilled in me by my parents, and I was a person that had been molded by the world. I cared very little of the qualities that are valuable to life. I desired not to be seen as a woman of character and depth, but I valued the superficial and artificial acceptance of others. I settled for the promises of society and once I achieved those things, I found them empty and I found myself unhappy. I didn’t value my mind or the gifts that God had given me. I valued the way I looked and presented myself. I didn’t see importance in generosity, altruism, equality, or love-fueled sacrifices. I was blind to the truly beautiful qualities in this world. I lived a life that was shallow. I say these personal things about myself because I think I can I relate to many, many other girls right now.

It is an unfortunate circumstance that our lives are consumed by social media. I know personally that Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat subject my own thoughts to comparison of others. We see the hand-painted, perfectly edited, and flawless versions of the lives that we “follow”, and we become vaguely self-aware of our own lives. In my opinion, this type of self-awareness is extraordinarily detrimental. We see perfectly slender bodies, flawlessly applied makeup, and seemingly unshakable relationships. We see the lives we desire and our own become a shade less exciting and important. We observe achievements and success in the lives of others and our own successes become less honorary. We are captivated by comparison and begin living a watered-down version of the beautiful, unique, and meaningful life that God has given us.

I connect these two anecdotal points by this: I see many girls that I feel are where I was many years ago. Trapped by beauty and aesthetic pleasure. In the constant need of affection and love from a boy. I see women with talent and intelligence and creativity abandon it all for superficial external satisfaction. I know that social media contributes to this (because I am a victim as well!), and I just hope and pray that these beautiful, strong women are saved like I was. It is a tiring life, trying to be everything that the girl beside you is. It is hurtful. It is full of disappointments. But I’m here to tell you it truly doesn’t have to be that way. I am a living example of this!

He restores. He gives purpose. He fills you with self-love. With a love deeper, wider, and more genuine than any love you have experienced before. He replaces your yearning for acceptance with a desire to make others feel accepted and loved. He restores self-worth, self-respect, and self-values. He has given you a spiritual gift. He has given you a calling in this life. Only in restoration will you see your value to the world. I once desired worldly acceptance.

I am now restored from these empty desires. After many years of being loved the way I was supposed to be and giving the love I was called to give, I have peace. I have purpose. I have talent. I lead a meaningful life because God has shown me what matters. Not only has He given me a unique talent, but He has paved the way for so many opportunities for me. He replaced my loneliness with abundant friends. He replaced my yearning with a satisfaction. He made me valuable, and I know He has done the same for so many others. You can be beautifully complex, incredibly valuable, and perpetually loved all by being the natural, authentic you. Someone much more important than me has made that promise.

a reflection

Written below is an essay I was required to read for one of my classes. I always enjoy reading these essays, because even if they are not very enlightening, or liberating, or moderately interesting, they always provide me with some kind of insight – either positive or negative, but always advantageous to some degree. This essay, Happy Like God, is written by Simon Critchley, professor and chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research.

“What is happiness? How does one get a grip on this most elusive, intractable and perhaps unanswerable of questions?

I teach philosophy for a living, so let me begin with a philosophical answer. For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view. Our lives are filled with the endless distractions of cell phones, car alarms, commuter woes and the traffic in Bangalore. The rhythm of modern life is punctuated by beeps, bleeps and a generalized attention deficit disorder.

But is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous? Might there not be something in it? I am reminded of the following extraordinary passage from Rousseau’s final book and his third (count them — he still beats Obama 3-to-2) autobiography, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker”:

If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. (emphases mine)

This is as close to a description of happiness as I can imagine. Rousseau is describing the experience of floating in a little rowing boat on the Lake of Bienne close to Neuchâtel in his native Switzerland. He particularly loved visiting the Île Saint Pierre, where he used to enjoy going for exploratory walks when the weather was fine and he could indulge in the great passion of his last years: botany. He would walk with a copy of Linneaus under his arm, happily identifying plants in areas of the deserted island that he had divided for this purpose into small squares.

Our lives are filled with endless distractions, but is the idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation really so ridiculous?

On the way to the island, he would pull in the oars and just let the boat drift where it wished, for hours at a time. Rousseau would lie down in the boat and plunge into a deep reverie. How does one describe the experience of reverie: one is awake, but half asleep, thinking, but not in an instrumental, calculative or ordered way, simply letting the thoughts happen, as they will.

Happiness is not quantitative or measurable and it is not the object of any science, old or new. It cannot be gleaned from empirical surveys or programmed into individuals through a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. If it consists in anything, then I think that happiness is this feeling of existence, this sentiment of momentary self-sufficiency that is bound up with the experience of time

Look at what Rousseau writes above: floating in a boat in fine weather, lying down with one’s eyes open to the clouds and birds or closed in reverie, one feels neither the pull of the past nor does one reach into the future. Time is nothing, or rather time is nothing but the experience of the present through which one passes without hurry, but without regret. As Wittgenstein writes in what must be the most intriguing remark in the “Tractatus,” “the eternal life is given to those who live in the present.” Or ,as Whitman writes in “Leaves of Grass”: “Happiness is not in another place, but in this place…not for another hour…but this hour.”

Rousseau asks, “What is the source of our happiness in such a state?” He answers that it is nothing external to us and nothing apart from our own existence. However frenetic our environment, such a feeling of existence can be achieved. He then goes on, amazingly, to conclude, “as long as this state lasts we are self-sufficient like God.”

God-like, then. To which one might reply: Who? Me? Us? Like God? Dare we? But think about it: If anyone is happy, then one imagines that God is pretty happy, and to be happy is to be like God. But consider what this means, for it might not be as ludicrous, hybristic or heretical as one might imagine. To be like God is to be without time, or rather in time with no concern for time, free of the passions and troubles of the soul, experiencing something like calm in the face of things and of oneself.

Why should happiness be bound up with the presence and movement of water? This is the case for Rousseau and I must confess that if I think back over those experiences of blissful reverie that are close to what Rousseau is describing then it is often in proximity to water, although usually saltwater rather than fresh. For me, it is not so much the stillness of a lake (I tend to see lakes as decaffeinated seas), but rather the never-ending drone of the surf, sitting by the sea in fair weather or foul and feeling time disappear into tide, into the endless pendulum of the tidal range. At moments like this, one can sink into deep reverie, a motionlessness that is not sleep, but where one is somehow held by the sound of the surf, lulled by the tidal movement.

Is all happiness solitary? Of course not. But one can be happy alone and this might even be the key to being happy with others. Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud when walking with his sister. However, I think that one can also experience this feeling of existence in the experience of love, in being intimate with one’s lover, feeling the world close around one and time slips away in its passing. Rousseau’s rowing boat becomes the lovers’ bed and one bids the world farewell as one slides into the shared selfishness of intimacy.

…And then it is over. Time passes, the reverie ends and the feeling for existence fades. The cell phone rings, the e-mail beeps and one is sucked back into the world’s relentless hum and our accompanying anxiety.”

Essay found on NYtimes.com.

pieces

Two nights ago I went restorative Yin Yoga at Shakti before my first day of classes yesterday. During one of the periods of long, extensive stretching I let my mind navigate to the place it wanted to go without my own coercing. During this small period of tabula rasa, I saw a girl trying to move very large puzzle pieces, almost as large as she was. At first I thought that the girl was actually a child and the puzzle pieces were indeed gigantic. Later I decided that the girl was not a child, but that the puzzle pieces were much larger than I had imagined. In this depiction of these large puzzle pieces, I was soon enlightened to find that the pieces were all different. Some of the pieces were people. Some of the pieces were experiences. Some of the pieces were memories. Some were ideas. Some were bright; some were dark. But the girl was trying so hard to put the puzzle pieces together. Fit this one here, put that one there. But she was struggling, for reasons unknown to me.

Until later.

We are boxes of puzzle pieces. My puzzle, the one specially designed for me, holds many different pieces than yours does. Mine is not any less than yours or better; just different. My pieces have my family, the people who have really taught me to grow, taught me to imagine, taught me to live, and most importantly taught me to love. Each piece is a sister, a mother, a father, a cousin, a brother-in-law, an aunt, a grandmother, a grandfather, a nephew, and the list continues seemingly infinitely. Each person has marked me like a sneaky, steady stream erodes the rock. The results are irreversible, good or bad. There are smaller pieces to my puzzle that are acquaintances, friends, and passers-by. Teachers, preachers, and leavers. The point is, each person I have encountered in my life is special to me because they have made me who I am, without me knowing it. It may be scary (and it is) that I really have limited control over whom becomes a new piece to my dynamic and changing puzzle. My experiences, memories, ideas, beliefs, successes, and failures are all essential elements of what makes my puzzle interesting and unique. They were all there, being ran over with the eyes of a girl trying to figure out where they all fit.

What differentiates me from the eggs, milk, chocolate chips, and flour sitting in a bowl? Why am I different than the neutrons, protons, and electrons out in the universe waiting to collide? How are these elements, when in combination with each other made whole, different from me? What makes me different is beautiful. I am different because I am not a bunch of puzzle pieces sitting in a box. I am not even puzzle pieces sporadically laid out on a table. I may sometimes be a girl trying to fit the pieces together in a way that looks satisfying to my own eye. But most profoundly, I am the daughter of the one interfering with my efforts. I am different from the cookies and the atoms because I am being actively formed. I am not just sitting, waiting to be combined or collided. I am a creation. My efforts are useless. My efforts cause me nothing but confusion. One of the major downfalls to my perception of this reality is that I see only a portion of my puzzle; whereas my Maker sees everything. He understands why some really ugly pieces are there. He knows with utter comprehension why a certain undesirable experience occurred. He knows, not because he sees the final picture, but because He created the final picture. He knows where every person will fit, not because He sees where the pieces should fit (this is the mistaken perception I have), but because He created those pieces to fit together. Some may disagree with this philosophy. And if you do, that is fine. But I would love for you to ascertain the idea that I wholeheartedly believe that you, too, are being created with intention and purpose.

So after seeing my obvious difficulties in trying to solve the puzzle, basically blindly, I have surrendered my efforts. I see the pieces, I acknowledge their importance. My Creator will create me. My Maker will make me. My role in this game is the accept the changes. The good ones. The bad ones. I don’t know what my puzzle will look like, and truthfully I don’t want to know. Because I know that God never creates anything less than perfect. And I rest assuredly in that. So God, take my pieces. And make them perfect in You.

 

namaste

My own health and fitness journey has been somewhat of a hilly ride. Ups and downs of oscillating between being feeling good and feeling like I’m not good enough. I can definitely say that I have learned a lot about my own body, my own boundaries, and my own ways to balance a healthy life. 2015 was my year of finding this balance. I used to spend hours upon hours in the gym lifting weights, doing squats, doing crunches, and running miles on the treadmill. At the time, I thought I was happy. I thought that I was okay with letting an exterior appearance determine so much of my happiness. But I found myself with a lot of anxiety. I was undoubtedly physically stronger. But my mental strength was on the other end of the continuum. I valued appearing strong, appearing fit, and appearing invincible over the truly invaluable qualities of mental happiness and manifesting a physical health that will help me live a long life that is absent of health complications. Fast forward to May of this year, at a place called Glow Yoga in Gulf Shores, AL.

I am infatuated with cardiovascular medicine. The heart is so amazing to me, and it is even more extraordinary how much control we have over the cardiac complications we can develop. For this reason, living a healthy lifestyle means more to me than looking thin in a dress or being happy with the person I see in the mirror. Health to me means finding strength internally and externally. A healthy lifestyle means I try to make healthy choices daily, but I don’t obsess over eating bad. I try to choose the better option for my body, but I don’t get anxiety if I eat something full of sugar and totally not-healthy.

I took my first yoga class in Gulf Shores. I had been trying to do it at home but I had not been using the best resources. But I wanted to try something new, I had just bought new yoga pants and what better place than the beach? So I attended my first hot yoga session and it was HOT and HARD. Truthfully, I almost passed out because of dehydration (sweating a lot with only one bottle of water in me) and temperatures of around 90 degrees in the humidity of a southern summer. But it was wonderful. It was challenging. It was invigorating. It was refreshing. It made me feel strong and whole. That began my love affair with yoga.

Being a college student is tough. There are a lot of demands; most from academic courses, others from social life, spiritual development, clubs, and trying to stay fit. Yoga is my time during the week to strengthen my body physically (I have lost around 9 pounds in college!) and help my mind pause in the midst of a chaotic life. I would recommend yoga to anyone that is trying to overcome workout-related anxiety, gain mental happiness, become healthier for life, strengthen and elongate muscles, gain stability and control, and essentially anyone just curious about a new workout! I want to include some of the resources I find really useful for yoga at home and yoga beginners!

  1. Podcasts. If you’re interested in doing yoga from home but still want to feel like you’re at a class, podcasts are a wonderful resource. I prefer going to class for the group camaraderie but sometimes staying home is the only option! Some of favorites are 502 Power Yoga : Louisville, KY  and Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga with Kinndli. YouTube videos are also always a great option!
  2. A yoga mat. Yoga is possible without a mat, but it definitely makes it easier! A cute mat makes it that much more enjoyable, too. I got mine from here.
  3. Tight fitting clothes. It is difficult to do yoga when your clothes are flopping around everywhere! Tight pants and a form fitting tank top with a sports bra are usually the best options. I love Lululemon apparel (found here) but for more affordable options look at places like Forever 21 (here).
  4. Hot towel and hand towel. If you’re going to try hot yoga (which I would recommend after you have practiced yoga and feel comfortable with some of the poses!),  you will need a towel. I like mat towels because my mat doesn’t stay dry whenever I sweat a lot. Mat towels and hand towels come in a variety of beautiful colors and patterns. I like Yogitoes by Manduka! Find them here.

Here is a video from Reflexion Yoga on YouTube that explains some of the fundamental poses that are essential to grow your practice.

The new year is a perfect time to begin your decision to choose a healthy life! I have found my balance and peace in doing yoga to maintain a fit life and sound mind. Let me know if I can help you with your practice anytime!

plastic hands

flower envelope.

I started college this past week, and I already have the addition of so many unique experiences. I have been to an outdoor free concert in downtown Nashville, I have exchanged “hellos” with more people than I thought imaginable, I have made friends that I plan to hold onto, I have ran and explored around my magical campus, I have had moments of homesickness, I have attended interesting lectures, I have attended boring lectures, I have eaten at amazing restaurants, I have heard fantastic musicians, and I have most recently spent quite a bit of time in my dorm reading and writing notes and trying to decipher scientific text into simpler terms for my own understanding. But tonight as I write notes over chemistry concepts, my thoughts keep navigating towards neuroscience…

Plasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt to change and conform to new environments, new demands, and new experiences. It is a rather novel concept but to me it is absolutely awe inspiring. Our mind is the single most complex organism on our planet and remains the most complex system even when we extend to the Milky Way that envelops us in its gravitational embrace. Our minds, the envy of computational and electrical engineers across the world, is able to physically adapt to change. It is living, growing, and becoming more dynamic with every encounter we have and every memory we form. Your neural connections are on fire as you read this very sentence. Your brain is processing every bit and piece of information and deciding instantaneously where it is to be stored. Why does all of this fascinate me? Because I sometimes feel we as humans forget that we too have this plasticity feature. We are not supposed to remain complacent or dormant. We are not encouraged to become comfortable as the character we were cast for the play of Life. If the brain has the unique quality of changing when needed, of becoming better adapted for the role that it is required to fill, then we need to replicate this quality in our everyday lives. Open up your mind, your home, your heart, and your eyes and look for ways you can become an asset to the vast world around you. Find your passion and fall deeply in love with what it takes to pursue it. Be adaptable. Be the moldable human being God designed you to be. Stretch your beliefs, stretch out your hands to others, and stretch yourself vehemently in ways previously unthinkable. It is my belief that when we use our plasticity as humans, and as lovers, and as sons and daughters, and as warriors, and as citizens, that we have moved towards the bright and hopeful road of satisfying the great Creator.

So go out here. Look for the changes you need to make to be a better person, to make better decisions, and to make the world a better place.

I pray you find your ability to change and use it.

“His master replied, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'” Matthew 25:23.