(Writer’s Block) To see and love the wounded

This article originally ran in issue 78:11 of the Moody Standard, on May 1, 2013 as an installment of the author’s bi-monthly column, “Writer’s Block.”

It’s overwhelming.

I just walked down to the Houghton 3 lounge to give my mind a rest from writing the article on self-harm and from transcribing a student’s interview on her cutting experiences. Awhile before that I was reading some of our former columns telling stories of students’ pain. And my mind kept interrupting my writing and research; I kept thinking about the pain those closest to me are going through right now.

Then in the lounge, because of what I’ve been reading and transcribing and struggling to write, I looked up at the ceiling, imagining the floors and rooms and spaces above me filled with women who are hurting. The amount of pain and suffering contained in this building — it’s overwhelming.

There’s often an aversion to pain in Christian culture, but we’ve been doing better at Moody these past few years, haven’t we? David Ulrich’s Sackcloth and Tea column opened eyes to what’s beneath the surface of many peers’ smiles. The “Can You Relate” campus events have helped some see that others are dealing with the same issues they are. Efforts have been made, and as one of our articles pointed out, openness to vulnerability is trending.

I’ve seen it outside the Moody bubble as well. I’ve been reading more blogs these days, and have come across a few by Christians who desperately want to reveal how often pain gets pushed aside. “Letters to the Wounded {#2}” on aholyexperience.com was one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. I recommend it in a heartbeat, if you’re prepared for the likelihood of tears.

I may have fooled myself, though, and been lulled to contentment with the progress I’ve seen, both in and out of Moody, to see and address people’s pain. Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t still there, and the problem is that people are still walking around this campus shoving intense pain deep inside, sadly, to hide it from the rest of you.

So this new openness could easily be and stay just a trend. Because many of you don’t know who David Ulrich was, and certainly don’t remember his stories. The “Can You Relate” events only served to enlighten those who attended, and the rest of us had to rely on the few who ignored the request that the stories told there were not to be shared. The blogs as well are only a tiny fraction within the fraction of Christians who write and interact with blogs.

This is my last column, and I was going to write about how scared I am about my future — and I am. Desperately. And that’s something we need to talk about too, how scared we all are of the future even when we slap on happy faces and say we’ll figure it out as we go.

But this is more important right now.

You are more important right now. The people around you are more important right now — your pain and their pain, seeing it, addressing it, sharing it, loving each other in and through it, instead of despite it.

So I’m using this, my last opportunity, to tell you that it’s on you now. Look around you and realize that someone is reliving abuse right now; someone is feeling like she just can’t do it anymore; someone just started medication for severe anxiety, and all it’s done is make her nauseated; someone was emotionally abused last night; and someone has scars on his skin from last week’s razor blade.

Stop ignoring it. Stop being shocked. Start seeing it and acknowledging it.

(Article) Adoption makes God’s plan clearer for alumni

This article originally ran in issue 78:10 of the Moody Standard, on April 17, 2013.

photo courtesy the Ebenhacks

Jarod and Jennifer Ebenhack didn’t expect to spend their first three years of married life living in a men’s dorm. They also never expected their international adoption of two Haitian boys to last eight years, or that they would eventually leave Haiti with five children instead of two.

The couple met at Moody when Jarod was the RA of Jennifer’s brother floor; they were married a year after his graduation. Jarod accepted Moody’s job offer to become an RS, and they spent the next three years living in an apartment on Dryer 1. As an applied linguistics major, Jarod felt he had a clear calling to a life of international ministry — specifically in Papua New Guinea — and Jennifer was prepared to go with him. But that plan began to change when, a year into their marriage, Jarod expressed an interest in pursuing adoption. Jennifer said, “I was quick to agree that while having our own biological children would be a welcome blessing, we as believers had an incredible opportunity to reach children for Christ through the ministry of adoption.” With both of their degrees completed, the Ebenhacks began the process of submitting paperwork, having home studies done and making plans for a trip to Haiti for August 2002.

The plan was to take one to two years to complete the adoption before heading to the mission field. The couple chose Haiti specifically because the length, expenses and age restrictions of the adoption process were easier than in other countries. However, when the pros of adoption in Haiti turned into empty promises, it was clear that God had used them to bring the couple to a place they otherwise would not have gone.

Finally accepting the long road between them and finalized adoption paperwork, Jennifer and Jarod made their home with their two boys, Justin and Jaden, in Haiti, waiting for the birth of their first daughter, Dora. During the ensuing eight years, the couple found a way to live out their love for international missions. Seeing a need in the adoption organization for in-country administration, they began to understand that God was turning their focus and “call” from Papua New Guinea to Haiti. “We realized that the best hope for the future of Haiti’s church was in the next generation,” Jennifer said. Over the next six years, they were led to serve with Kids Alive International, which specializes in childrens’ homes and ministry to at-risk kids across the world, and to partner with a Canadian family to establish three childrens’ homes and a school in Cap Haitien. Those years also saw the birth of their son, Brendan, and the adoption of their daughter, Daphne.

Their time in Haiti culminated in the Port-au-Prince earthquake of 2012. Sure that this was the end of any chance of completing the adoptions, the Ebenhacks were surprised when the U.S. said otherwise — orphans already chosen for adoption would be welcomed in, regardless of paperwork status. “I had only a 24-hour window of time to travel with my kids to Port-au-Prince, take the flight to Miami and claim the humanitarian parole visas the U.S. had granted,” Jennifer said. “While Jarod helped instigate critical relief efforts in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, I had the privilege of seeing God answer nine years of prayer — our Haitian children were able to enter the U.S. for the first time.”

Jarod, Jennifer, Jaden, Justin, Daphne and Dora now live in Pompano Beach, Florida, where God led them when they learned returning to Haiti could jeopardize their adoptions. The family now ministers among the Haitian population of South Florida, while Jarod teaches fifth grade at Highlands Christian Academy and Jennifer blogs at jenniferebenhack.com.

(Writer’s Block) There’s a problem here, and it’s not the feminists

This article originally ran in issue 78:9 of the Moody Standard, on March 6, 2013 as an installment of the author’s bi-monthly column, “Writer’s Block.”

I am not a feminist. Or, at least, I don’t think I am. I’ve even been guilty, in the past, of rolling my eyes at the concept.

My reaction was, in part, one I’d learned from the people around me: actually, from many of you. If I had to generalize the reactions of Moody students toward feminism, it would be ridicule, eye rolling, sarcasm, even disgust. Yes, that’s a stereotype, but it’s an overwhelmingly accurate one, as those were the immediate reactions I received upon telling people I was writing an article on the Feminisms blogging event.

Such reactions may be understandable — if they come from people who know the ins and outs of what they’re reacting to. If that’s you, if you’ve explored and read and researched feminism (specifically, here, Christian feminism), and you still believe strongly against it, then ok. I’m not addressing you. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that’s mostly not the case here. If I were to continue to generalize the atmosphere at Moody in regards to feminism, I would add ignorance — and I would include myself in that.

Why wouldn’t I call myself a feminist? It’s not because I don’t believe in the tenets of feminism, think it’s a gross movement or don’t want to be associated with the word. No, it’s because I haven’t spent enough time researching the arguments for and against it to say if I am. Do I believe that women and men are of equal value and worth as human beings? Yes. And do I believe that women should be treated as having value and worth and that our current culture doesn’t always do so? Yes again. The label of feminist, at its simplest, doesn’t seem to require much else.  

But how many of you think of feminism in terms of man-hating, equal-everything-demanding, angrily-protesting women? How often do Moodies laugh scornfully when they overhear a girl say she is a feminist? Or when she says she’s been made to feel subpar here for being a girl? How often is “feminist” used as a derogatory term, an easy insult of a strong-willed female peer?

There’s a problem here, and it’s not the feminists.

The problem is the guys who say men just don’t find feminism attractive. It’s the women who act as if feminists are an insult to their gender. It’s even me, who feels nervous writing this because part of me doesn’t want to be associated with something held in such low regard by my peers.

There are women at Moody who are passionate about feminism. There are men, both current students and alumni, who have no shame in calling themselves feminists. There are girls who don’t call themselves feminists, because they aren’t ready to take on the connotations — but they care deeply about women’s rights and wish the words “women’s rights” didn’t also receive ridicule.

And their peers mock the passion, shame the label, disregard the efforts of learning. Belittling the passions of a brother or sister in Christ is not a small issue. Making a mockery of someone’s deeply held beliefs is not a joke. And scoffing at others’ journeys to decide for themselves what they think about feminism is not our right, no matter how ridiculous one may think feminism is.

How are these actions loving? How are they excellent or praiseworthy? How are they, in any way, being used to encourage? If you want to engage in the conversation, if you still strongly disagree with the philosophy, then by all means, dialogue. But first, approach it with love, not scorn. Second, spend some time learning why these men and women, your peers, believe what they do. Their blogs, especially with Feminisms Fest having just happened, might be a great place to start. Third, talk to them instead of about them.

And if you don’t have the time, the energy or the desire to put that effort in, there’s one easy solution: don’t say anything.

(Article) Students, alumni explore personal journeys with feminism through blogs

This article originally ran in issue 78:9 of the Moody Standard, on March 6, 2013.

Feminisms Fest badge

On Feb. 26, tweets began appearing from Moody students and alumni with the hashtag #femfest. Feminisms Fest was a three day series of linkups (where one blogger hosts links to all participants’ posts) with dozens of bloggers  taking part. The blogging event was hosted by three Christian feminists on their blogs with the purpose of exploring feminism and its importance.

Each day and its topic was hosted by a different site. Day 1, hosted on J.R. Goudeau’s blogloveiswhatyoudo.com, was “Feminism and Me” and asked bloggers to write their experiences and stories and definitions of feminism.

In a post titled “Not sure (Or the scariest thing I’ve ever written),” Alyssa Hobson, sophomore pre-counseling major, explained her current journey to understanding feminism. She wrote, “I’m not sure if I’m a feminist or not. I’ve done some research, but I don’t have time to fully immerse myself in the study. There are still some things I can’t reconcile, some questions that haven’t been answered, and some implications that I’m not fully comfortable with … There are a lot of things I am sure of, though: I am sure that Jesus does not think less of me, as a woman, than he does of men.”

Kristen Mathson, 2012 alumna, in her post “Tipping My Hat to Feminism,” wrote, “[F]eminism was like a breath of fresh air … I was invited to imagine a world in which the relationships between men and women were healed, their voices restored and their purpose realized (worship!).”

In her post “Feminism and Me: When I cannot cook but I am still a person,” Emily Joy Allison, 2012 alumna, wrote about her journey in discovering Christian feminism. “To me, feminism was a soothing balm to a heart that had been battered and rejected by Christian culture for simply not looking like what they thought it should. Where the prevailing culture said you are wrong, you are dangerous, you are unsubmissive, you are undesirable, you are not enough, you are too much, feminism said you are a person.”

Day 2, Feb. 27, addressed “Why It Matters,” and on her blog, fromtwotoone.com, Christian feminist Danielle Vermeer asked participants to write why feminism is important and what is at stake.

Morgan Sutter, 2012 alumna, in a post on her blog, wrote, “I think that feminism is important because I’ve talked to far too many Christian women who’ve said the only place they’ve felt inferior as a woman was in the church.”

Eli Turrell, senior Biblical Studies major, has a different perspective on feminism’s importance — one of a man working in pediatrics. In “The Other Side of the Coin,” he wrote, “Feminism is important to me because it puts men and women into an equal playing ground … The other side of the coin is that people are just as uncomfortable with a guy in a traditionally female role. That’s not ok.”

The final day, hosted by Preston Yancey at seeprestonblog.com, prompted the topic “What You Learned.”

Rachel Rogers, 2012 alumna, finished her Feminisms Fest posts on her blog by listing what she’d learned: “I have learned that even talking about the idea of feminism really seems to make some Christians uncomfortable … that I don’t have to agree with every movement of feminism to agree with it as a whole. … But, ultimately I have learned that as a Christian, I don’t need to be afraid of the word feminism.”

Hobson (@ahobson92) summed up her experience with a single tweet: “Turns out, the community I once thought would be hard-hearted and rude is the most loving group of people I’ve ever encountered.”


Want more? Read more from a few #femfest participants:

Alyssa Hobson, sophomore pre-counseling major:
Not Sure (Or, The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Written)

Kristen Mathson, class of 2012:
Tipping My Hat to Feminism (You’re Welcome, Emily Allison)

Rachel Rogers, class of 2012:
I am a strong, independent woman
Feminism held in submission
A remedy

Emily Joy Allison, class of 2012:
Feminism and Me: When I cannot cook but I am still a person
Why It Matters: Feminism is for my little sisters
What I Learned: Like a fish needs a bicycle

Elijah Turrell, senior biblical studies major:
The Other Side of the Coin
What I Learned From #FemFest
On Being Christian, Complementarian, and Feminist

Morgan Sutter, class of 2012:

(Writer’s Block) When it doesn’t come naturally

This article originally ran in issue 78:10 of the Moody Standard, on April 17, 2013 as an installment of the author’s bi-monthly column, “Writer’s Block.”

I chose to attend Moody one night deep in the Shanghai skyline. Shanghai reminded me of downtown Chicago, and while walking around that Chinese city looking for last-minute souvenirs, I knew I wanted to spend the next four years under similar city lights.

But there was another underlying reason why I finally narrowed it down Moody, a reason that had already brightened and polished up the arrow pointing to the city instead of the one towards the ‘burbs: I wanted the reasons, the apologetics, the arguments. I wanted to understand my faith in God as best and as intellectually as I possibly could. I was raised in the church and given the basics, but I wanted the terms, the definitions, the logical explanations for everything the world told me was utterly ridiculous about my faith.

I thought experiencing the scholarly side would be the key to unlocking a simple faith that hadn’t come easily for me.

But it wasn’t, was it? “Faith Seeking Understanding” only goes so far; at some point it all comes back to simple faith.

I’m jealous, you see. I’m jealous of you, or at least the many of you, to whom faith comes so easily. Oh, you have just as many as struggles as I do, certainly, but the level on which we struggle with faith is somehow different. I don’t know who you are; just because someone doesn’t seem to struggle as I do in this doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t. But I know you exist, and I am jealous.

I strain to describe to you exactly what the struggle is. Those who have felt the same might already understand. Here is what it’s not: It’s not a lack of desire to feel close to God. It’s not ignoring that there is personal responsibility. Because I’ve been on the floor of the office deep at night, sobbing tears, crying out to God to just let me know him. And I’ve sent prayers to my ceiling over and over through the years, asking for a hunger for Scripture, rather than just a feeling of duty.

It is, rather, a frustration, an envy, that this deep, easy connection with God which comes easily for some does not come as naturally for me.

I don’t know why I was created this way. I don’t know why I struggle so greatly with finding the motivation to crack open my Bible when peers around me plunge into it like fresh water after a shipwreck.

But I do know a couple of things: I was, in fact, created exactly as I am, natural cynicism and all. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. I may still fight it. I may still glare at the heavens once in a while, embittered that I don’t feel it the way others do.

But I also know I should see it as a challenge to keep praying, asking, seeking, instead of giving in to unending jealousy and frustration.

My college journey began under Shanghai’s skyline, and it will end under Chicago’s. I know a lot more now, but none of those lectures, as much as they have taught me, have been the ticket to the end of my struggles with simple faith.

To you who find God easily, to whom faith has never been a real question, never take that for granted. And to you who are like me, cynics and skeptics alike, keep searching with me, keep asking with me, keep praying with and for me, and I’ll do the same.

(Writers Block) Dream a little bigger, darling

This article originally ran in issue 78:8 of the Moody Standard, on February 20, 2013 as an installment of the author’s bi-monthly column, “Writer’s Block” .

I’ve never been much of a dreamer. I’ve never had my head in the clouds, never been a castles-in-the-sky kind of girl. I didn’t grow up daydreaming about celebrity crushes or my future wedding dress, and over the past few years, I’ve started to notice more and more that I’m not a dreamer.

Now, I’m usually wary of quotations, since many of them get overused: especially of the “Live, love, laugh!” variety. But once in a while, something resonates. Recently, I was struck by the quote “Dare to dream a little bigger, darling.” I liked it. It had a ring to it, used the beautiful word “darling” and was part of a typographically-pleasing image on Pinterest.

I saved the photo and jotted down the quote. But as much as I liked it, it nagged at me. “Dare to dream a little bigger.” But what if I don’t feel like I dream at all? What if I’m so caught up in getting through the here and now that all my thoughts about the future are really only about the first few months following May?

A subtle fear crops up when I think about dreaming, or my perceived lack of it. It’s the fear of settling, of my future being less, somehow, because I’m incapable of dreaming. It’s a fear of never reaching my dreams — because they don’t exist.

But as much as I wish I could Google “how to dream,” maybe I’m better off redefining what’s ideal. While I don’t have big, specific, grand dreams, I do have ambitions. While I don’t have a clear vision of exactly what job I want to be doing in ten years, I do have a desire to find a place where I’ll be doing something I love.

Can I change, become a dreamer in the most-often used sense? Could I sit down tomorrow and dream about what I’ll be doing three years from now? Form that elusive five-year-plan in my mind and start chasing it? Dream bigger?

Unless I can do a Google search and find instructions, probably not. Not tomorrow, at least. Big dreams — of career and travel and successes and love —just aren’t in my DNA. But little ones are. I do have dreams and ambitions, they’re the kind for next week, for two months from now, for June.

Will I ever be a long-term, big-picture dreamer? Probably not. Will I learn how to dream bigger? Maybe. I’d like to. But for right now, I’ll be learning to pursue my short-term dreams and my right-now ambitions — and seeing where they lead me. I’ll be remembering that God has plans and a future for me, even if I’m
not a dreamer.

If you find yourself fretting about being what you aren’t, join me and stop. If you’re not a dreamer, accept it. And if you are, don’t ever feel bad about your inclination to peer around the sky above the clouds.

And, after all, the quote above was from “Inception,” and actually about bigger guns — so maybe I’ll just go to the shooting range.

(Article) Would you want to know? Your answer needs to be “Yes.”

This article originally ran in issue 78:11 of the Moody Standard on May 1, 2013.

“Prevalence of cutting at Moody revealed, myths and motivations explained”

Would you want to know about it if someone down the hall from you was being physically harmed every day? What if the person causing the pain was themselves?

According to an article published by Marquette University, a 2006 survey of 2,875 college students showed that 17% reported a history of self-injury, and that 75% of these individuals had self-harmed more than once. Forty percent reported that nobody knew about the behavior.

In his book “Helping Teens Who Cut,” Michael Hollander says, “Most self-injury begins in early adolescence, around 13 or 14, and affects an estimated 9% of the teenage population.” These numbers only reflect those willing to admit to it — it doesn’t include those who choose to keep their habit a secret.

Many of those teenagers continue cutting into their college years, and that includes Moody students. Holly Porter, counselor at Moody, said, “I would say within the last five to seven years, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of students struggling with self-injury. Most are struggling with cutting.”

Tyler Neethling, senior youth ministry major who infrequently cut between his later years of high school and his freshman year at Moody, said, “It was pretty staggering actually, how many people on campus have either dealt with it before or are currently dealing with it.”

Julie DeBoer, senior applied linguistics major, started cutting when she was 15 after two incidents of sexual abuse. It began as a manner of self-punishment for the blame she felt for the attacks, but over time, it turned into a method of both numbing and distracting herself. She said, “It kept my mind off the inner pain and put it on something that was physical.” DeBoer’s cutting lasted through the fall of her sophomore year at Moody.

One 2011 alumna began cutting as a way to accustom herself to a life of pain — something her boyfriend of the time told her was unavoidable. “He told me, and in my naïve self I believed him, that guys were turned on by inflicting pain because it gave them a power trip.” She started cutting, she said, “[because] I am going to have to go through so much pain, apparently, after I get married — I might as well start getting ready for it now.” None of her peers knew that this was going on until long after she stopped, after she ended the relationship in her junior year.

Cutting is not attempted suicide. This does not mean that cutting never accompanies suicidal thoughts, but it more often is an alternative to suicide. Cutters are often extraordinarily meticulous about their process, making shallow cuts to avoid obvious scars or excessive bleeding and carefully cleaning up afterwards. Tyler Hewson, 2012 alumnus, related his own experience with cutting in his early years at Moody: “I was smart. I used razor blades and rubbing alcohol.”

Cutting should also not be mislabeled as a mere cry for attention. While many cutters would admit to wishing someone would notice what they are doing and help them deal with it, most still hide the addiction and keep it a secret.

Despite not being as dangerous as a suicide attempt, cutting is still a legitimate issue. Porter explained, “Self-injury is an indication that the student is experiencing intense emotional distress, and he/she doesn’t know how to handle in a more effective way. ”

Hewson said, “Sometimes it was a high and it made me feel a lot better, sometimes it helped me go to sleep, sometimes I saw it as a pious act to bring me closer to God.” No matter the reason, a struggle with cutting is almost always indicative of deeper issues.

If you are suspicious that a friend might be cutting, DeBoer said, “I would always opt to say something, especially if you have a relationship with them.” Neethling said that along with ignoring someone’s struggle with cutting, another poor reaction can be an overreaction. “Don’t freak out. Don’t express shock, because that makes them feel like a freak. Take it, process it and just talk to them.”
Porter concluded, “My hope for students struggling with self-injury is that they might understand that they are not more defective than the rest of the human race, that God’s grace is available to them and that things can be different.”

If you yourself are struggling with cutting or other forms of self-harm, take the first step: tell someone — a friend, a mentor or someone you know has gone through this. Moody students who are interested in counseling can contact Steve Brasel, who coordinates requests for individual counseling, at steve.brasel@moody.edu.

Writer’s Block: Pitting “well-rounded” against authenticity

originally published in The Moody Standard, issue 78.2, on September 26, 2012

Authenticity is a struggle in both writing and editing. Every writer thinks and writes differently, and when I edit an article, I have to remember that my voice is not the writer’s voice. The writer’s voice is the one that should be heard.

I’ve run into the same issue after reading an author with a strong, unique voice. If I write anything immediately afterwards I catch myself trying to mimic the cadence of another’s words – and typically failing.

I’ve found that my writing is strongest when it is my own and no one else’s, and our newspaper is richer when each piece clearly communicates from within the parameters of each writer’s style.

I’m learning that my life, like my writing voice, is fuller and richer when I’m not striving to be some other girl.

There’s a culture among many women today, the newest incarnation of the “Renaissance man” of ages past. I’m tempted to call it the Pinterest culture, but it’s a prevailing theme on the internet at large and seeps into our everyday lives when we’re not looking.

According to the internet, women are supposed to be extraordinarily well-rounded. And when I say well-rounded, I mean a crafty, resourceful seamstress who knows how to scrapbook and crochet while preparing seven-layer rainbow cake for a baby shower she planned and decorated after updating her knowledge with the latest movies and all the books  she reads while visiting all the most important landmarks in her respective city.

For a Moody girl, this might mean being well educated on both historically significant and current theologians; being well versed in current Christian and classic literature; having strong healthy relationships with your floor, your brother floor, your boyfriend, and at least a third of the rest of campus; and decorating your living space in a way that shows just how crafty you are. It can mean maintaining good grades; dressing well, yet creatively; cooking for the boys at open house; working out regularly in Solheim; and accessorizing your French-braided hair every day.

Oh, and don’t forget about knowing where the best secret coffee shops are, being deeply passionate about at least a few current issues, and being witty enough to get a few laughs at every SDR meal.

And despite this attitude being perpetuated the most by female-dominated websites like Pinterest, Moody men could probably compile in half a minute a similar list of all the things they feel expected to do and be. It’s not a gender-specific issue.

I’ve come to realize that this “be all-do all” attitude essentially steals much of life’s joy. I’m learning that I don’t have to do everything a so-called well-rounded person does. No, I don’t know a lot about the latest theologians. I’m can’t make a card for everyone who has a birthday this week. I don’t knit anymore, and I’m not going to cook a complicated dinner for anyone anytime soon. I can’t make it to every Joe’s event, floor event or conference.

But I am learning to cook a few small things. I’m using the year to read a lot of fiction. I’m enjoying my new job even when I’m editing into the wee hours of the night. And I’m excited to start attending a small group with my church on the weeks that I can.

There’s no sense in thinking that I must be good at, participate in, and enjoy the things someone else is. I can’t be all.  I  can’t do all.

Because when I seek to do everything that everyone else does, the only result is a parody of a life – a caricature of all the shiny people in the internet and on the streets.

If instead I focus on what I actually like to do, the activities I’m skilled at, and the ministries I have time to pour energy into – the things God has given me a penchant for – I have more time and energy to fully enjoy them and do them as best I can.

From now on, Pinterest can still be an interesting three-minute break from homework once in awhile – but it will no longer dictate my to-do list.


Writer’s Block: Stepping beyond shallow questions

originally published in The Moody Standard, issue 78.1, on September 12, 2012

When writing a profile for the newspaper, I interview the subject from a long list of prepared questions—basic questions, unexpected questions, questions intended to guide our conversation—so I’ll have as much information as I could possibly need when I begin writing. Yet some of the most interesting information often arises from questions that aren’t actually on my list of introductory questions, ones that naturally lead from our dialogue, that take a path far from shallow conversation.

You can get to know a lot about a person when you stop asking shallow, rote questions in an interview.

Yet so often we just stick to the shallow, easy questions in real life. How often do we move from a quick “Hey, how are you?” to the deeper “What are you dealing with?” or even “Do you want to talk about it?” How often do we ask about pains and passions, struggles and personal triumphs?

Some of you are good at this – and you’re welcome to stop reading now.  But I’m terrible at asking the right questions: knowing what to ask, how much to ask, when to ask. I tend to feel like I don’t have the right to snoop into someone’s life, because after all, why would you want to tell me?

There are an awful lot of us who avoid asking these heavier questions, and there’s danger in this, especially when we avoid asking about pain. I tend to think people don’t want to talk about – or even think about – the pain in their lives, the struggles, the fears. And if they don’t want to think or talk about it, why would I bring it up by asking? Why would I remind someone of something that hurts?

But that’s not actually how it works for the majority of people, is it? Yes, there will be times that we’re not ready to speak of certain things. We have the right to decline to answer. And we can respect that in others, certainly.

But this year, my last year here at Moody, I want to personally explore the idea that there is no harm in asking. Which is worse, after all? Caring enough to ask and being quietly denied, or never asking at all in a situation where discourse is sorely needed?

As humans, we need each other as we go through the things in life that don’t come up in small talk, topics we avoid in shallow conversation. We need to talk to each other. We need to vent our frustrations, share our pains, console and comfort, and receive strength and prayer. We need to be able to rejoice in battles won, lessons learned, and emotional gains. We all need it to different degrees, but we need it.

So what happens when we don’t ask? Some people will share anyways. I’m like that. Sometimes I’ll share my hurts with friends even without their asking, because I know I need it, because I’m willing to request that listening ear.

And not everyone will do so.

There are many secret pains here at Moody. Some people put on a happy face because they’d rather you thought they had it together. Some hide what ails them because their reputation is precious, and no one seems to care enough to ask, to promise a safe place from judgment. Others don’t think you’ll believe them.

But if we don’t ask, it often just looks like we don’t care.

So let’s get past the blocks in our minds that stop us from broaching the questions that matter. Let’s stop giving those in pain the biggest reason to keep it locked inside – that no one asked. The facades we use to blanket our struggles and fears and hurts can engulf our relationships, and I suggest we help one another set them aside.

It’s time to walk past “What’s up?” and step into each other’s lives.

Writer’s Block

originally published in The Moody Standard, issue 77.11, in May, 2012, as my first column as editor-in-chief of The Moody Standard

I have never really stopped being surrounded by words. My grandfather worked as an editor for the majority of his career, and my mother is a freelance writer and editor. The love of words is in my blood.

At age four, “words” began to fascinate me, and before long, reading became my passion. By the time I graduated from high school, I had established a class newsletter and spent a summer working for a local Christian newspaper. Fast forward to today: by choosing to major in communications, work for the newspaper, and pursue internships in the communications field, I have condemned myself to never escaping this world.

Luckily, I am okay with that. I chose to be in a love affair with words and grammar, but not because of my heritage or because it seemed like the established path for me. I chose it because I loved it.

For a long time, I kept up a blog. I wrote to entertain myself, and it was just a bonus if anyone else enjoyed it. I also wrote for The Moody Standard and for my mom’s freelancing businesses.

But at some point in the past year, I stopped writing as much. Once in a while I would go back, click through 20 or so partial drafts and flirt with the idea of finishing a few. Every time, I would ultimately click the little gray “x” on my browser window, and my blog would stay in a lonely, cold corner of the Internet, unchanged.

Granted, writing itself has never been my particular passion in the broad world of communications. In fact, writing and I have an ongoing love-hate relationship.

Incomprehensible to most people, I actually prefer editing. I prefer critiquing someone else’s work to creating my own from scratch—not (entirely) because I love to criticize, but because I enjoy making someone else’s writing better. Although if I am honest, it is also because I love geeking out about grammar, logical sentence structure and improper uses of certain mischievous punctuation marks (I am looking at you, ellipses and hyphens).

But writing, wonderful and dreadful writing, is intertwined with editing, and I have not really engaged in either activity for quite some time. I would like to be able to explain why I stopped, but I do not actually know. What I do know is that I have been ignoring something huge in my life, something for which I have a God-given passion. And that missing piece has generated a distinct feeling of being half-baked, unfinished.

This fall I will be entering into a new role on the newspaper staff as editor-in-chief. I am terrified of it. But I am also excited. It is an opportunity, a reason, to write and edit constantly—and I know that in the process I will inevitably reignite an old love.