(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.