What is Culture?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately: what is culture? With the cancellation of event after event, game after game, gathering after gathering, we’ve been forced to withdraw from our collective culture piece by piece. It’s odd. Because we don’t feel like we are actively participating in culture on a daily basis. We just live our lives and run our errands and think about the next day.

But when ‘our lives’ come screeching to a halt, we realize that we were in fact participating in our country’s culture every single moment of our lives. Work is culture. Play is culture. Language is culture. School is culture. Relationships are culture. Sports are culture. The list goes on and on. It’s all encompassing. At the end of the day, we are all slaves to our culture. We don’t realize it, but we are. Having lived in Germany for over two years, I became hyper ware of the influence of culture. I actively felt like a fish out of water at all times because, well, I was.

I don’t have any particular point with this rambling post other than to say that maybe this season could be a time to reflect on our country’s culture: what about it works? What doesn’t? How can we improve it? Are we contributing positively to the collective whole or detracting from it?

And lastly, a lovely poem for you:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

–Kitty O’Meara

PS. Photo of me trying and failing to act Parisian in Paris a few years ago 🙂

Before the Internet

fullsizeoutput_4bb8Before the internet, you would stand in line for the bathroom and stare off into space without fear of looking pathetic.

Before the internet, you would make a music video to a Brittney Spears song and then leave it on the camcorder for your parents to laugh at when they found it one day in the future, because there was nowhere to post it.

Before the internet, you would move from one city to another and no one at your new school would know anything about your past unless you told them. They would have no idea you used to pee your pants when you laughed too hard or that your best friend had been a Barbie doll named Starlet.

Before the internet, if you had a disagreement with your cousin about the names of the Seven Dwarfs in Snow White, you had to simply agree to disagree, unless one of you happened to have a book on the subject on hand or could run to the library to check one out.

Before the internet, you went to the movies to see Shrek, and no one took your picture unless Mom dusted off the point-and-shoot camera and lugged it to the theater, which she never did.

Before the internet, you would write your best friend Jessica a letter and cross your fingers that she still remembered your inside jokes by the time it arrived.

Before the internet, you spent hours practicing your signature for the back of your library card, only to mess it up horribly in permanent ink and be overcome by deep regret every time you spied it in your velcro wallet.

Before the internet, when someone asked you out, you just had to use your best judgement as to whether or not they were a psychopath and go from there.

Before the internet, you would watch You’ve Got Mail on VHS every summer on repeat at your aunt and uncle’s farm in rural Iowa because you’d already exhausted conversation with all your family members and walked around everywhere and played all the games you knew.

Before the internet, you’d play Detective Agent on CD Rom every Saturday morning until your little brother scratched it beyond repair and your mom forgot where she bought it, and she couldn’t just order another one.

Before the internet, you’d sort of just sit on a park bench and hum a little ditty to yourself that you overheard while in line at Block Buster.

Before the internet, when you visited your grandmother at Christmas, you had to fill her in on everything that had happened during the last year when she asked, but could probably only truthfully recall about 10 percent and had no way of remembering the rest.

Before the internet, you’d spend your playdates creating a newspaper about the Olympics, featuring articles about gymnasts from countries you were pretty sure existed in real life because you’d overheard their names but couldn’t know for certain.

Before the internet, if you missed the newest episode of Veggie Tales on Friday night, oh well. Tough. You’d just cry and go to bed without a Silly Song from Larry.

Before the internet, the only ordering you did was off a menu.

Before the internet, when you broke up with someone, you could easily just assume they led a terrible life without you and leave it at that.

Before the internet, the only stocking you did was following your attractive older cousin around from a safe distance at every family function.

Before the internet, you almost always got lost on family road trips because your dad wanted to take the “Scenic Route” and there was no way of looking up what exactly that entailed.

Before the internet, you couldn’t really do much of anything. And it was lovely.

P.s. This post is an homage to this article from The New Yorker. And the photos are from a recent visit to my cousins’ in Nebraska.fullsizeoutput_4bb9fullsizeoutput_4bbafullsizeoutput_4bbbfullsizeoutput_4bbcfullsizeoutput_4bbefullsizeoutput_4bc0fullsizeoutput_4bc2fullsizeoutput_4bc7

 

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

Another Lesson Learned in Heidelberg

IMG_6584This summer has undoubtedly been the most violent, tumultuous periods of time in the world that I can remember in my life. It seems like every day there’s a new shooting, bombing, or terrorist attack of some kind (if not multiple). Many of these incidences are centered in Europe, and now in Germany in particular, and it breaks my heart to watch them unfold. Reading the news has become even more depressing than usual, and often leaves me posing the exasperated question, “What is this world coming to?!”

This weekend I returned to Heidelberg, the city where I studied abroad for eight months my sophomore year of college. It is such a magical town, a town that fills me with incomparable joy every time I step across its boarders. I still can’t believe I was privileged enough to call this place home. The sheer beauty of Heidelberg is enough to take my breath away. As I strolled the charming cobble stone streets munching on a sweet from my favorite local bakery, my body was flooded with an overwhelming sense of peace. I realized that even if I were to be killed by a terrorist attack today (which is a real possibility), I would be satisfied. I have been able to experience more in my short 21 years on this earth than many people are able to in their entire lives. I am richly blessed, and all I have to do is look around to know it.

As Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” I don’t know the future, but I do know it is my duty to appreciate the present. As Christians we are set free from the crippling fear of death, for Christ says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The darkness and devastation in our world are real, and should not be overlooked, but take comfort in the fact that we can have abundant life despite the present darkness.

Thanks again Heidelberg, for teaching me exactly what I needed to hear at the exact moment I needed to hear it. You never cease to amaze me. Until next time little city!IMG_6595IMG_6570IMG_6573IMG_6579IMG_6591IMG_6604IMG_6608IMG_6617IMG_6624IMG_6628IMG_6632IMG_6639IMG_6640IMG_6655IMG_6689IMG_6693IMG_6699IMG_6705IMG_6732IMG_6739IMG_6744IMG_6753IMG_6760IMG_6768IMG_6764

My First Week Back In Germany

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Hello from the other side of the pond! I made it to Germany on Wednesday night after a long, sleep deprived journey and have begun adjusting to life here. My first stop was Hildesheim, the city in Northern Germany where I spent three months last summer. I visited old friends and even got to spend an afternoon with the family I nannied for. I’m not sure if the three little kids really remembered me, but they sure were cute and fun to play with! Then yesterday I took the bus down to Frankfurt where I met up with one of the missionary. She showed me around downtown (pictured above) and pointed out all the essentials (grocery store, subway station, park, etc.)  Frankfurt is a beautiful city. Berlin, Munich or Hamburg often come to mind when people think of German cities, but Frankfurt is a true gem! It’s totally underrated– just big enough to stay exciting but small enough to feel like you can become an expert.

My German is coming back slowly but surely– it feels good to exercise my language muscles again! The main difference I’m noticing this time around is my confidence level. I’m not as afraid to open my mouth and make mistakes as I was before. I just go for it and hope for the best!

I miss my friends and family back home already but I can tell it’s going to be a good summer.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset^The Altstadt in Hildesheim

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^A pretty garden I passed on my walk through Hildesheim

How are things with you?

 

Magnifications: Dying to Live

IMG_8990.JPGHey there friends, are you managing to stay cool? It is mighty hot in this part of the world, and we don’t have air conditioning, so It. Is. A. Struggle. But I really can’t complain about the one or two weeks of bad weather a year in California, now can I?! Today I thought I’d share with you a piece I wrote for the site Magnifications, a blog that publishes theoretical reflections written by women from the Church of Christ. My piece is a reflection on my time abroad, and how it ties in with the message in John chapter 12. Keep reading below to read the whole thing or click here to view it on the site!IMG_9019.JPGEven now, three months later, I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I stood at the entrance to my flight departure gate at LAX airport, backpack slung over my shoulder, passport in hand. I waved goodbye to my parents and turned around, just in time to hide the tears forming in my eyes. They weren’t tears of sadness as much as tears of change. I knew I’d made the right decision, and was confident God would take care of me, but I also knew this moment marked a drastic change in my life. I say so because this moment signaled the death of my old life in this world and the start of my new life in Christ. And here’s why.

The plane I boarded was bound for Hildesheim, Germany, where I would spend three months working as a youth intern for a Church of Christ. My job responsibilities included investing in the middle school and high school aged youth group members, planning events, attending summer camp, and helping fill any of the church’s needs. And while I felt extremely fulfilled and content with my work, I also felt extremely uncomfortable at times. Living in another country is a lot of things, but comfortable is certainly not one of them.

Going into the experience, I spoke hardly any German, was unfamiliar with the cultural subtleties, and knew a total of two people. The first few weeks were full of doubts, fears and frustration. I constantly found myself in awkward situations, such as accidentally buying sour creme instead of whipped creme, or calling someone pregnant instead of beautiful! In my defense, the words sound incredibly similar.

But slowly God began the process of melting me down and reforming me to be stronger than ever. He led me outside my comfort zone and used my discomfort to shape and retrain me to be fully reliant on Him. I often fought the process kicking and screaming, as I tried to lean on my own understanding and failed. Previously trivial tasks like grocery shopping or holding a conversation with someone in German, became huge victories that I had no choice but to give God the credit for. In this reshaping process, God also revealed to me that I have a serious lack of self confidence, and showed me that the only lasting source of self confidence I will ever find flows from the cross.

With time, I started to notice that the further outside my comfort zone He led me, the more confident I felt. He blessed me with deep friendships, wise female mentors, and travel experiences I will never forget. He showed me how capable and worthy I am to do the work laid before me.

Jesus too had to die to this world in order to live again. In John chapter 12, he enters Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate passover, and is greeted triumphantly with palm branches and praises from the adoring crowd. A short while later, Jesus predicts his fast approaching death and ultimate glorification in front of the people, saying, “The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me” (verse 23-26).

Before my experience abroad, I was only a single seed, serving no one but myself. I had to fall to the ground by saying goodbye to my southern California life and everything I knew, in order to produce more seeds. The conversations I’ve had with the youth group members here are not more than seeds at this point, but I’m confident they will one day grow and bloom into beautiful plants.

If we claim to follow Jesus, then we are obliged to actually follow Him, whether that be to another country or right next door. The statement, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” has never rung truer. I was called to follow Him half way across the globe because, contrary to what I sometimes believe, Jesus is not American. He is universal, and is actively working in every heart, in every country.

Friends, I encourage you to examine your life today. Is Jesus calling you to follow Him in some new direction? Does it make you uncomfortable? Thats probably a good sign you’re headed down the right path! Jesus does his best work when you are completely and totally reliant on Him. Maybe that looks like asking someone you usually don’t converse with out to coffee, or signing up for that mission trip you’ve been thinking about. Perhaps you need to die to part of yourself in order to bring glory to Christ, and that death is precisely the place you will find new life.

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

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Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Micah. She was your typical little girl- silly, energetic, curious. One day, someone asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Smiling up at them, she replied without hesitation, “A Princess, of course!” The person laughed and patted her on the head. “Don’t we all,” they chuckled. In that moment, Micah’s dream of being a professional princess was shattered. Perhaps she would have to find something else to do when she grew up. But what?

As she grew older, her peers began letting go of their “princess dreams” and striving for new ones. Some wanted to be doctors, others teachers, lawyers, therapists. And while Micah eventually realized she too must relinquish her princess dream and replace it with a realistic career, she had no idea which one fit her.

Fast forward to high school graduation. Waiting in line before the ceremony processional, Micah hears fellow classmates chat excitedly about their plans: pre-med, art school, theater programs. Everyone seemed to have their major and corresponding career path figured out. In fear of being asked, what are your plans?, Micah hides under her over-sized graduation cap.

And now’s the part where I switch to first person. If you haven’t guessed, this story is about me! During my time here in Germany, I’ve often found myself thinking about my next two years of college and the future beyond. And while I am a notorious worrier, my recent thoughts on the subject have not been worries so much as questions. 

I’m almost grown up, but I still don’t know exactly what I want to be…what does that say about me?

I think it says a few things. First, the fact that I could never envision myself with a typical job title like doctor, teacher, or lawyer means I don’t want an already established career. I want a job title with multiple words, something that takes a bit of explanation, something like, “Creative Director of Content and Photography” or “Editor of Written Communication.” What the what do those even mean? Exactly.

Second, titles like that aren’t attained through a traditional career path. I see myself following a circuitous path, full of twists and turns and trial and errors. Some people love following a step by step path to their future career- first college, then graduate school, then training of some sort, and then work. But I’ve always been okay with uncertainty where my career is concerned. I like not knowing what my post-graduation plans. It is strangely liberating and exciting! It allows me space to be my creative, unique, crazy self.

Lastly, I don’t want to mold myself to fit a career. Sometime people change themselves to fit into the ‘doctor mold,’ for example, adjusting to what they think a doctor should be. But I want to be myself, and mold my career to fit me. Now I know that’s not always possible, or at least not right away. I will undoubtedly have to go through a few jobs that don’t quite fit until I reach the job that fits me like a glove. Sometime you have to figure out what you don’t want to do first before you can figure out what you do want to do. I’ve already checked quite a few options off the list, and continue narrowing it down with each new experience.

So, in conclusion to this ridiculously long post, I want to offer a few words of wisdom to my past self. Little Micah, it’s perfectly okay to have no idea what you want to do. You will likely spend the rest of your life figuring it out. But chances are, you won’t become a professional princess. That’s too conventional for you anyways.

Thanks for reading friends, have a great week!