What Love Means

001.full_50.jpgSometimes I wonder what love means.

Once I overheard my father telling my mother how much he loved the scented autumn candle she’d purchased- the way it filled and warmed the house on rainy evenings, when overhead lights just didn’t seem quite right.

The thing is, he would never in a million years have thought to buy a candle himself. Those type of things just didn’t cross his mind. In fact, he never knew he liked them until my mother showed him.

Once I heard my brother say to his girlfriend, “I love the shower curtain you bought me.” He lived with a fellow bachelor roommate, and they had been showering without a shower curtain for months, just accepting a wet bathroom floor as a part of life. Finally his girlfriend remedied the situation with something so simple and, well, tasteful. He too didn’t know what he was missing until she showed him.

And that, I think, is one of the meanings of love. Sometime you don’t know how lovely life can be until someone shows you a different way. It doesn’t have to be big- the smaller the better- but it is new and strange and wonderful.

The Power of Loneliness

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I recently started reading “The Lonely City” by Olivia Laing, and it got me thinking about the concept of loneliness. I am no stranger to loneliness. There have been moments and seasons in my life where I’ve felt loneliness as an overwhelming force, and others where I’ve sensed it simply as a dull, constant ache. The word has taken on a negative connotation in our culture and is often stigmatized– if you’re lonely, there must be something wrong with you or what you’re doing. People are slow to empathize with you because they view it as a self-inflicted pain, as if it’s your fault for choosing not to be social.

But that description never fit me. I have plenty of lovely friends, I am ambitious, I pour into the activities and people around me. I have a caring family. Essentially, I’m not some sort of social pariah or outcast. I have never chosen to be lonely. I am utterly normal. Still, I get lonely.

Of course there is a marked difference between being lonely and being alone. People often say defensively, “I’m alone but I’m not lonely!” as if being lonely were the worst thing in the world. As an introvert, I love being alone. Sometimes I’m alone and could not be more happy! Who doesn’t love a nice coffee date with yourself once in a while? But other times I am alone and feel the deep, pervasive melancholy of loneliness.

Laing says, “A long time back, I used to listen to a song by Dennis Wilson. It was from Pacific Ocean Blue, the album he made after The Beach Boys fell apart. There was a line in it I loved: Loneliness is a very special place…It isn’t always easy to see the truth of Wilson’s statement, but over the course of my travels I’ve come to believe that he was right, that loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need. Many marvelous things have emerged from the lonely city: things forged in loneliness, but also things that function to redeem it.”

I agree that loneliness can indeed be a very special place. In fact, some of my best writing was produced in a state of loneliness. It is often when I think most deeply, observe most thoroughly and feel most creative. Of course, it is a writer’s job to make sure they can produce work in all emotional states, but loneliness should not be discounted as one of them! On the other hand, I’ve also made some of the worst decisions while lonely, whether it be an impulsive purchase, an ill-advised romance or an over commitment to something. That’s the thing about loneliness: it’s a double edged sword.

Laing goes on to say that there is a certain flavor of urban loneliness, when you are surrounded by countless people yet lack intimate human connection. I see this all the time at my university. Pepperdine actually ranks above the national average for loneliness on college campuses. It is one of the main issues here and can easily be sensed among the student body, particularly Freshmen and Sophomores. Pepperdine is an acquaintance culture, fraught with ‘we should hang out sometime’ but lacking real substance.

I remember Sunday nights were particularly lonely my freshman year. Back home, Sundays were always been a family day. My dad and brothers would play basketball after church while my mom and I enjoyed an afternoon ‘just us girls.’ Then we’d eat a meal together followed by an episode of “60 Minutes” while eating ice cream. Now I sat in the empty college cafeteria trying to remember if I’d finished all my homework and feeling that I was somehow missing out on this ‘quintessential college experience’ everyone else was privy to.

Another lonely time was when I first arrived in Frankfurt, Germany last summer. I didn’t know anyone and the city was large and unfamiliar. I would walk the streets quietly, trying to familiarize myself with the place, stopping in a café for lunch, trying my best to order in broken German. My book was my best friend those first few weeks, a barrier between myself and the scary unknown.

But honestly, I would not trade those experiences for the world. Those times built character, perseverance and competency. I wouldn’t so proud of how far I’ve come if I’d never had anything large to overcome. Times when I feel most loved and connected with others are made infinitely more sweet because I know what it’s like to feel the exact opposite. Now that I am familiar with loneliness, it is that much easier to identify, accept and deal with.

If you are lonely right now, let me encourage you. It is not your fault, there is nothing wrong with you. Your only fault is being human. Everyone feels lonely at some point or another, whether they admit it or not. I don’t care if you’re married with children or the most popular kid in school, no one feels satisfied and fulfilled 100% of the time. If you are lonely, hang in there. Push through and recognize the positive sides of this emotion. There will come a time when your loneliness will depart as swiftly as it came.

P.s. Photo from here

Hidden in Plain Sight

IMG_0503.JPGSince the time I started thinking about college around age sixteen, I’ve been obsessed with the concept of finding “God’s will for my life.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the word vocation during my years in the christian community, and at my university in particular. In my mind, God’s will was this giant, life-altering thing that was up to me to decipher, and if I missed the mark, might as well just throw in the towel on the good life right now.

The thing is, up until a few weeks ago I wasn’t even allowed to legally drink alcohol in America, so how could I be trusted to discern God’s will for my entire life at age 21?! It seemed an impossible task for a flawed human like me. Couldn’t someone else just tell me what God wants for me?

Then when I arrived in Germany I started reading the book “Follow Me” by David Plath as part of my summer internship. Plath’s writing is filled with convicting, even radical, truths about the Christian life– truths moderns cultural Christianity often wishes it could just ignore. He writes:

“With good intentions, we try hard to use various methods to find God’s will. But what if God’s will was never intended to be found? In fact, what if it was never hidden from us in the first place? What is God the Father has not sent his children on a cosmic Easter egg hunt to discover his will while he sit back in heaven saying, ‘You’re getting colder…warmer…colder…’? And what if searching for God’s will like this actually misses the entire point of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus?…God has a will, and he has made it clear. From cover to cover in the Bible, God wills is to redeem men and women from every nation, tribe, language, and people by his grace and from his glory.”

Lightbulb! It’s so simple, why didn’t I realize it sooner? God has no specific will for my life. Yes he created me with unique gifts and talents, but he also created me with a functioning brain and free will. We don’t have to ask God to reveal anything to us, he has already revealed his will for all of us. We just have to ask him to help us align our lives to his will. His will is not something intended to be found, but rather to be followed.

I no longer have to stay up at night nervously asking God, “Do you want me to live in Germany or America? Should I major in Creative Writing or Journalism? Should I date this person or wait for you to show me someone else?”

The holy spirit lives in us and is constantly in the process of shaping us to be more like Christ. Therefore, our decisions should naturally be coming ever more and more in line with Christ’s decisions and our lives organically looking more like his. When you are in constant relationship with Jesus, you experience total liberation, ease and delight knowing that if you make a wrong decision he will check you. And if he does check you, stop at once, reassess, and keep moving forward. To be able to do that is a sign of true spiritual maturity and friendship with God. And who doesn’t want that?

I hope this was somewhat interesting and helpful! I would highly recommend reading “Follow Me” if you get the chance. Have a good one friends.

 

 

Are We Sluts Or Prudes?

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The other day I watched the iconic movie Mean Girls and one of the scenes (pictured above) got me thinking.

Usually the opposite of a negative is a positive– dark vs. light, evil vs. good, sad vs. happy, you get the picture. But where female sexuality is concerned, the opposite of a negative is another negative. If you’re not considered a slut, you’re a prude. Both terms have negative connotations and force girls to constantly walk the blurry line between experience and inexperience.

Women are extremely over sexualized in our culture, but often they don’t know what to do when faced with an actual sexual situation. The media places unrealistic expectations on them as if they’re normal. Their partners in turn place these expectations on them or they place them on themselves. Talk about mixed messages! I’ve heard girls my age say, “I’m proud of my body and will show off as much of it as I want to!” But that confidence soon comes off with their clothes. It’s not more than skin deep.

I recently read the article, “On Girls and Sex: The Importance of Talking to Girls about Pleasure” by Peggy Orenstein. She has spent the last 25 years interviewing girls on their sex lives and gained some interesting insights. She says girls are not having intercourse at a younger age, but they are engaging in other sexual behaviors such as oral sex earlier. Many girls saw giving oral sex as a way to postpone actual intercourse or maintain power and control. A particularly interesting finding was that while most men tend to measure their own pleasure based on their own pleasure, most women tend to measure their own pleasure based on their partner’s pleasure. Girls do not receive oral sex nearly as often as they give it, and end up largely ignoring their own wants and needs in the process. Maybe that’s why Orenstein reports that women in homosexual relationships orgasm more regularly than women in heterosexual relationships.

Like many things in life, children start learning these lessons at an early age. Orenstein says:

Parents don’t tend to name their infant baby’s genitals if they’re girls. For boys, they’ll say, “Here’s your nose, here’s your shoulders, here’s your waist, here’s your pee pee,” whatever. But with girls, there’s this sort of blank space — it’s right from navel to knees, and not naming something makes it quite literally unspeakable. Then they go into puberty education class, and girls have periods and unwanted pregnancy, and you see only the inside anatomy — that thing that looks like a steer head, with the ovaries and everything — and then it grays out between the legs, so we never talk about the vulva, we never talk about the clitoris. Very few girls explore, there’s no self-knowledge, and then they go into their sexual experiences and we expect them to be able to have some sense of entitlement, some sense of knowledge, to be able to assert themselves, to have some sense of equality, and it’s just not realistic that that’s going to happen.

If girls don’t even understand their own anatomy, what makes us think they are going to be able to tell their partner what they enjoy or don’t enjoy?! Interestingly enough, the idea of one’s ‘loss of virginity’ still carries weight in our culture. It is a symbol of maturation and one of the entry points into adulthood. But several of the girls Orenstein interviewed said they viewed it as ‘something to get over with,’ not necessarily to enjoy. Many of them didn’t lose it with someone they loved or even mildly cared about, and it wasn’t a physically pleasurable experience.

So my question is, what if we redefined the idea of ‘loss of virginity’ to include multiple virginities? What if we placed just as much emphasis on oral sex, or anything that produces the same physical response (i.e. certain hormone release), as we do on intercourse? Or what if we broadened it to include the first time you orgasm with a partner? The traditional, narrow definition is not doing young people any favors.

As someone who grew up in the church, I believe I bring a unique perspective to this conversation. I do believe sex should be saved until marriage. But I also believe it should be talked about more within the church before marriage. It’s clear the church doesn’t like saying the S-E-X word, so they just preach abstinence and move on with their sermon. But the Bible never says explicitly don’t have sex, it says avoid sexual immorality. Now that’s a much vaguer and broader concept that needs to be explored.

It’s so easy to justify your behavior by saying, “I didn’t have actual sex, I just gave him head, so I’m good.” Are you really good? Do you know what that act means for your body and your relationship? I know it’s a hard topic and there are no clear cut answers to these questions, but can’t we at least talk about it like adults?  The church needs to stop throwing around antiquated terms like ‘purity’ and ‘wholeness’ and get down to the nitty gritty details.

So parents, talk to your children about sex. And women in particular, talk to the young women in your life about their own pleasure. Fight the social taboos and tell them they are neither a victim nor an object nor a slut nor a prude and never will be, no matter what. Chances are the conversation will bring you two closer in the end and she will feel less confused and alone. And isn’t that worth a little initial awkwardness?

I believe wholeheartedly that it is.

Now Is The Best Stage.

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When I tell people I’m in college, they often respond with something like, “Enjoy it, because it’s the best four years of your life.” They talk about the drudgery of work or the burden of adult responsibilities, as if it’s all down hill from here. And honestly, I used to believe them. The future no longer seemed like an exciting adventure, but a gloomy fate. I was terrified of wasting my time in college and put pressure on myself to be happy all the time.

Then one day someone said something that changed my outlook entirely. They said, “I didn’t get married in college. I didn’t hold my new born children in college. I didn’t achieve professional success or buy my first house in college. I didn’t achieve the sweetness of financial independence and stability in college. I didn’t garner a deep understanding of my self in college, and I certainly didn’t learn how to love other people well in college.”

This answer made so much sense to me. There’s no such thing as the best time of your life. Every season has it’s ups and downs and it’s naive to think otherwise. Every season of life has pros and cons, challenges and rewards. I’m often tempted to look back on my year in abroad in Heidelberg as the pinnacle of my existence, but I realize now how absurd that is! It’s okay to look back on a particular season with nostalgia and fondness, but try not to over romanticize it either.

College is great, no ones arguing that! But it’s also incredibly stressful and uncertain and full of huge decisions. It’s not perfect. There is so much still to look forward to in life. I can’t wait to experience every single stage of life: young professional, girlfriend, fiancé, newly wed, new mom, established writer, grandmother– the list goes on and on. How lucky are we to get to play so many roles?

Let’s all try to see whatever stage we’re in as a gift, fleeting but precious.

P.s. Photo via here

Have We Forgotten How To Be Vulnerable?

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The other day I needed some boy advice. So, loyal daughter that I am, I turned to my mother. I showed her a text he’d sent me and asked, “What does he really mean by this?” My mom, who is eternally wise and calm and beautiful, looked at me with a blank stare and said, “I have no idea.”

It was then that I realized just how vast the generational divide is when it comes to dating. Gone are the “face-to-face, find your spouse in college, talk on the phone for hours” days of my parent’s generation. That begs the question: what exactly has taken their place?

As a 20 year old college female and proud Millennial, I can safely say I am utterly confused. I grew up hearing stories about my parent’s various relationships and escapades in college and I always thought one day that will be me. Well, I’m almost a senior now and haven’t been in a single romantic relationship. You might be thinking it’s just me– maybe I’m undatable. Oh contrare. I could list the couples I know at school on one hand, while the list of attractive, smart, funny single people like myself goes on and on. From where I stand, it seems like the century old practice of dating in the traditional sense is breaking down entirely. As melodramatic as that sounds, it’s true. Hear me out.

According to The Atlantic, “Americans are getting married later and later. The average age of first marriage in the United States is 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 23 for women and 26 for men in 1990 and 20 and 22 in 1960.” Perhaps people in college aren’t dating because they aren’t looking to get married until they’ve already established their careers. And sure, that’s understandable. But I’m convinced it’s deeper than that.

Human nature hasn’t changed much in the last billion or so years. We all still crave love, belonging, acceptance and yes, even sex. The difference with young people today is that they aren’t meeting those needs in committed relationships. Hook-up culture is at an all time high. Vulnerability is seen as clingy, needy and desperate, so people have casual sex and walk away. Independence has become so highly valued in our culture that we are terrified of admitting to someone else that we actually want to be attached to them. We crave intimacy but are too afraid to risk asking for it.

Technology of course plays a huge role in this problem. At some point ‘having the last word’ stopped being a sign of power and finality and started meaning your text isn’t worthy responding to– you aren’t worth my time. We learn to encode our true feelings into empty words and emojis on a tiny screen. Our reactions are not genuine but rather calculated, masking our hurt feelings with a quick “no worries” text because its easier than honesty. I get it, it’s normal these days. But where there is no risk, there is no reward.

I’ve had personal experience with this crippling fear. I went on a Tinder date not too long ago (#haters gonna hate). I really liked the guy and we ended up kissing. As things were winding down and he was preparing to leave, I almost said, “Hey, I really like you. I want more than just something physical. I want to see you again.” But I stopped myself short for fear of sounding pathetic or immature. And you know what? We never went out again.

How things might have turned out differently if I were transparent with him about my feelings. Now I will never know. I was too busy trying to ‘play the game’ to realize I had already lost.

Take risks. Be vulnerable. Mean what you say. Don’t settle for casual, hold out for serious. It is not desperate, it’s courageous. It’s easier to be independent, but not nearly as rewarding. Talk to the person face-to-face or, crazy as it might sound, ask them on a real life date. I believe we are better than this. And as much as we youngsters hate to admit it, maybe we could all stand to learn a thing or two from our parents after all!

P.S. Photo via here and here is another similar post I wrote

A Case of the Screw-It’s

IMG_0526IMG_0528IMG_0529IMG_0540IMG_0544IMG_0554IMG_0555IMG_0559IMG_0562IMG_0570IMG_0574IMG_0595IMG_0604IMG_0607Have you ever woken up with a case of the Screw-It’s? Symptoms include apathy, procrastination, and generally not giving a crap. Severely afflicted patients may feel the urge to stay in their pajamas all day and watch Netflix on the couch instead of being productive. It’s serious stuff. Unfortunately, I think I’ve recently fallen ill with a case of the Screw It’s. I show all the signs:

Research paper due tomorrow?
Screw it.
Bedroom is so messy it looks like a hurricane hit? Screw-it.
That rats nest I call hair hasn’t been brushed in two days? Screw it.

I am terribly ill indeed, and showing no signs of improvement. In fact, I’m not sure I want to fully recover. You see, I’ve been caring about things too much my entire life. I work myself up over the most trivial matters until I’m stressed out of my mind and so paralyzed by anxiety that I can’t accomplish anything.

I’ve always been obsessed with my grades. Actually the word addicted is more accurate, because I can’t quit the grades ‘Stress Cycle’ no matter how hard I try. The logical side of my brain knows that getting a sub-average grade on a quiz or paper is not that big a deal, but the emotional side of my brain can’t get with the program!

Maybe if I cared a little less, I’d be healthier and happier. Now, I’m by no means advocating total apathy or indifference in life, but I am recognizing the danger of caring so much it  harms instead of helps. Passion and ambition and investment are all wonderful qualities to have. But they are finite resources- you only have so much of them to use before you are spread too thin. Maybe instead of trying to care deeply about everything I do, I should only care about a few specific things and let the others sort themselves out. Not every paper I write has to be A+ material, I don’t have to apply for every internship on the face of the earth, I don’t have to be über close with all my friends. Being able to discern what is truly important to me in life and what I can safely say Screw-It to is the key to success!

Perhaps being infected with a case of the Screw-It’s isn’t so bad after all. I hear it’s contagious- you might just come down with it one of these days. If you do, don’t hesitate to join me in my crusade against over-caring!

P.s. These photos are from my time at the Malibu Pier!

Question of the Day
Do you ever care so much about something it stresses you out? Please tell me I’m not alone!

Inspiration Owes You Nothing

vsco-photo-9.jpgI’ve been sitting in front of my computer screen for the past two days, racking my brain for post ideas. I kept hoping inspiration would strike in time to meet my self-imposed deadline, and that the perfect words would simply flow from my fingers like magic. After staring at the blank page for long enough to admit defeat, I decided to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, The Lively Show, in hopes that it might spark my creativity. The guest being interviewed was Elizabeth Gilbert, acclaimed author of Eat Pray Love, among many other titles. She said something that plucked at my heart strings and really forced me to think. She said:

“Inspiration owes you absolutely nothing, other than the pleasure of its company. Honor your creativity so much and love your creativity so much that you do not place upon it the demand to provide for your entire life. That is too much of a burden to put on such an ephemeral thing…keep this thing sacrosanct. And make sure you are diligently paying attention to unfolding your creativity however and wherever you can.”

I do not always pay my creativity the respect it deserves. Instead, I often bully it into a corner and force it to do things it simply doesn’t want to. Elizabeth goes on to talk about how she didn’t quit her day job until after she’d published her fourth best-selling book. Even when it looked world like she was obviously successful by the world’s standards, she didn’t want to destroy her creativity by insisting it provide.
My generation seems to think we need to strike out on our own to follow our passion, or else we’re not really living up to our full potential. Everyone and their mom is becoming an entrepreneur, struggling to make their hobby pay the bills! Don’t chase the statement Do what you love so hard and fast that you let your work become anxiety producing.

Elizabeth comments on the countless artists she’s watched destroy their creativity because they insist it isn’t real unless it makes ends meet. And when it doesn’t, they become enraged and embittered, and eventually quit their creativity all together. Putting your entire heart and soul into something doesn’t mean you have to risk ruining everything else in the process.

Freshman year of college, I was a Fine Art major. I’ve always enjoyed making art, so naturally I thought I should study it. But eighteen year old Micah didn’t realize that making art for fun and making art for a living are two entirely different things. Of course you should study something you enjoy to an extent, but make sure that enjoyment can withstand the harsh reality of hard work and criticism. In other words, are you okay if a little bit of your enjoyment might be sacrificed in the process to arrive at the final result? For me, being a successful artist wasn’t worth it if it meant my genuine love of art even slightly diminished along the way. I decided to keep art as a sacred hobby, something that can certainly influence my other endeavors, but isn’t relied upon to earn an A in class!

This is not to say deadlines and structure are unimportant- they certainly are! Nothing would ever get done if we didn’t just power through once in a while. Just remember to keep some perspective when you feel frustrated, and allow yourself to pursue other things you enjoy, even if they aren’t traditionally labeled ‘creative’. Who knows, perhaps inspiration is lying silently in wait, ready to pounce when you least expect it. As much as we’d like it to, creativity doesn’t always perform on cue. It is a precious gift that graces us with its presence every so often. This podcast was a much needed reminder to protect my creativity like I would my own child, even if that means only publishing a blog post twice a week instead of three times. I am blessed with ample amounts of creativity, so it’s my job to live a life that cultivates and cares for it!

Question of the Day
Have you ever put so much pressure on one of your creative outlets that it no longer brought you pleasure?

The College Experience: Fact or Fiction?

IMG_5034.JPGFor most people, the expression The College Experience engenders images of toga parties, cafeteria food, and late night cram sessions. The concept of college in America has taken on a life of its own. And to be a college student in America is to be a part of that definitive college experience. But that’s just it- can the college experience really be defined? And if so, how do you know if you’ve done college right? In my two years of college thus far, I’ve deduced that there is no one college experience. The only thing you’ll have at the end of those four years is your unique experience. You’ll have debt, a diploma, and a lifetime of memories.

As freshman year got underway, I quickly found myself miserable. I was so focused on having the “traditional college experience,” that I missed out on my current experience. I worried I was not making enough life long friends, that my roommate and I weren’t bonding like we should, and I wasn’t dating any enough guys. I stayed in my room more times than not, and struggled to find my niche in the community. I felt as though I were wasting this precious, once in a lifetime opportunity, not to mention my parent’s money! How could I not be enjoying myself? Millions of kids would kill for this experience. Combine the guilt, frustration, and lack of sleep, and you get one depressed eighteen year old.

So, after first semester freshman year, I considered transferring. Over Christmas break, I timidly expressed to my parents how unhappy I was, and they reacted with firm compassion. They told me I needed to stick it out until the end of freshman year, and then we could reevaluate. At the time, I was not satisfied with their answer, but looking back, it was the push I needed. So after a Christmas break ‘reboot,’ I headed back for second semester with a heavy but hopeful heart.

And slowly, things began to turn around. I forced myself to attend campus events, which led to new friendships. I applied for a Resident Advisor position for sophomore year and got it, which boosted my self confidence immensely. I took four classes instead of five, cutting down on my stress and anxiety. But most of all, I stopped comparing my experience to the college experience. I stopped comparing my experience to that of my parents, brother, and friends. I stopped worrying about what I thought I should be doing and feeling, and accepted what I was actually doing and feeling.

Many people nostalgically say, “College is the best four years of your life.” Yes, college is wonderful in so many ways, but they never tell you how hard it can be. They say, “It’s your chance to start over, to turn a blank page.” But they often fail to mention that that can also lead to a loss of self-identity. For instance, when you’ve been a passionate baseball player for the past twelve years and suddenly no longer have baseball, it’s easy to get lost. There are two sides to every coin.

So parents, I encourage you to share your complete, well-rounded college stories with your children. Talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly- don’t leave anything out. And students, take the pressure off yourselves! Remember that your experience is personal, there is no wrong way to do college. Whether you look back on four years of toga parties, cafeteria food, and late night cram sessions, or pajama parties, Ramen noodles, and Netflix, you will look back on them fondly because you lived them. Only you can know how special they truly were.

Happy back to school experience friends, hope it’s a good one!
IMG_5041.JPG^A few photos from my brother’s graduation.IMG_5091.JPG