Posted in life, nostalgia

Not Clemson

Life is hard. It’s hard to be responsible – both for myself and for others (I am responsible for students’ learning and that is simultaneously a great honor and so terrifying). It’s hard to be in a new place. It’s hard to grow up.

At first, moving away was exciting. There was an apartment and a classroom to set up. I was in a new place and it was fun to explore! And also, there are like three Targets in driving distance here. That’s pretty different.

But the excitement of a new place and new things slowly turned less exciting. And now, I’m still here, and this is not Clemson.

All of this has me missing home like I never have before. I miss the particulars and the Clemson-ness of it.

I miss tiger paws painted on the roads. I miss Spill the Beans on summer evenings. I miss passing cars I recognize. I miss running on the sidewalk past my dentist’s office after school. I miss being close to Camp and being able to visit whenever I want. I miss seeing my family all over town and I miss my house. I miss All In like nobody’s business.

I miss feeling like my town knows me just as much and well as I know it. I miss Clemson being my landing pad.

I knew it would be hard to be away. I lived in only one place for 22 years, and I loved it. And then I decided to leave it. So I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.

However, it’s different to know that something hard is coming in the future than to be in the middle of a hard thing and realizing that oh, this is that.

But just because life is hard and I miss my mom’s cookies doesn’t mean I should go home. Just because I wave at every Clemson-stickered car doesn’t mean I need to be there.

Hard things are often also good things. I love Clemson, but that doesn’t mean the best thing for right now would be for me to live there (by that logic, I’d probably be living in Spain).

I know that I live here but right now, Clemson has more of my heart.

The sky can be pretty here too
But: I am growing here. Small, tiny roots are sticking into the ground. It doesn’t mean I’ll be here forever, but I’d like to know that I can make it somewhere other than the one place I already have.
I know I made this choice to leave. Nobody asked me to go away from the most blessed town in creation (aka God’s country). I knew the transition wouldn’t be seamless, and this is that. I really hope it doesn’t take another 22 years to feel at home here.

But here’s something: yesterday I was at the grocery store, and I saw a friend’s car in the parking lot. I was exuberant because that is progress. 



Posted in What I Learned

What I Learned Monthly: February 2016

Here is what I did in February of 2016: student teach, and get used to the idea that college was really ending – and with that came post-grad. I started really thinking about where I would be/what kind of job I wanted to do. I asked a lot of people a lot of questions. I decided that it was time to leave Clemson, and that was a hard choice. February was a very reflective month.

What I Learned: February 2016

1. I retroactively learned that my middle school youth intern was wise when she told us not to date boys until they’re 22. This wisdom had been shared with me ten years before, but it took until February of last year for me to recognize the value of this sage advice from the great Ashley Myhal.

2. Neutral is negative – especially in teaching. Positive reinforcement is powerful because it’s encouraging and because it’s proactive. It creates an environment where people want to be.

3. When people use the word “challenge” as a noun, it’s often a euphemism. I read this is one of my textbooks: “Multiple Severe Disability (MSD) refers to people with an overwhelming number of challenges.” But really, the word “challenge” there doesn’t refer to what I might think of a challenge – that is, something to be overcome. “Challenge” in this context is really something that is debilitating to a person. Debilitation is more severe than challenge.

4. Don’t argue with children. Even if/when/though you are right, just don’t do it. Either let them try and you can know you’re right, or find a different way to communicate what you’re trying to say. You are the adult here. Don’t create an environment of bickering.

5. “Big” words aren’t just difficult to spell consolidations of ideas; they are actions and attitudes best experienced rather than explained – things like “hostile” and “inject.” I had quite a difficult time trying to explain these to third graders and I noticed the value of “big” words. They make things easier.


6. It’s nice to say “I love you” as you go to sleep, even if it’s to your boss’s dog when you’re housesitting. It’s a nice, homey, happy feeling.



Posted in life


I recently came to the realization that my heart is like an egg.

Because it’s hard yet fragile.

Because it can’t sustain itself, but it doesn’t know that.

Because putting it in a basket with all of the other eggs will not bring anybody a good outcome.

Because the inside might make you sick.

Because the only way to get life from it is to sit on it with some tender loving and then wait for it to break.

Because it’s stuck in a shell but it thinks it can fly.

Because it’s born to give more eggs and to be eaten, but all it can see is how important it must be.

Because it has to change form – from liquid in a shell to feathers with a heartbeat – just to come into the world. And because what it becomes once it’s in the world – a squawking, strutting, nosy, pecking, skinny-legged birds with wings that can’t even fly – isn’t all that extravagant.

Because it takes supernatural intervention for it to do anything worthwhile.

Eggs are kind of gross and chickens are annoying, but how beautiful is this: that my Humpty-Dumpty shaped, ooey-gooey fetus of a heart is transformed to something that has life and can be used for glory!

And how beautiful that Jesus is not a chicken, not even a little bit, not even at all.



Posted in college, literature

Love at First Bite

Bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming-of-age story.

My first trip to Philadelphia was a sort of bildungsroman. It was spring break of 2014. I was a sophomore among seniors. It was a trip free of parents or grown-ups (actually, we were the grown-ups – which is the same as saying there were no grown-ups) – just a bunch of college kids borrowing a mom’s van and getting up at the crack of dawn to go north. We ate good food and had deep life talks and listened to trendy music and explored historical sights.

But the the most enlightening and memorable moment of that trip was the part where I tried goat cheese for the first time. We went to a pub for lunch after church on Sunday. I ordered from the cheaper end of the menu and ended up with a sheep salad, which seemed fairly non-life-changing. I read that goat cheese came on it and I thought nothing of it.

 And then my salad was in front of me. It was richly green with white dairy chunks on it. I said to someone near me, “what’s this?” and they said, “probably feta.” So no big deal. I took a bold bite.

Let me just say, this was no feta.

The best way I know how to describe the first taste of goat cheese is this: it was beautiful. It was a beautiful taste. I was awestruck. I was not prepared for it. It was creamy. It was lovely. It was magical – not like in a sparks-flying kind of way, but in a steady and calm “wow” kind of way. With every bite I wanted to close my eyes and say, “mmmmmm.” It was love at first bite.

Because I had ordered a small, cheap sheep salad, it was gone pretty quickly. My stomach was still hungry, but that seemed irrelevant, because I was so blown away by goat cheese. It sounds like the silliest thing, but it was such a happy, unexpected surprise that I just wanted to laugh and say, “thank you.”

I was so surprised by goat cheese. (CS Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy – maybe mine would be Surprised by Goat Cheese. Haha.) I was a little perplexed – how could this have existed for longer than I had, yet I had never heard of or experience it? I had spent my whole life up until this one day eating cheddars and slices of American and Swisses and occasionally, when I was feeling a little zesty, some feta. But this changed the whole game. I was at a loss for words.

I felt thankful to this food for existing and I felt thankful to Philadelphia for introducing me (even though goat cheese does exist in Clemson, too, Philly is where I found it. Philly helped to culture me).

At the end of Anne of Green Gables (also a bildungsroman), Anne says, “I’m not a bit changed – not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real me – back here – is just the same. It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.”

However, the Anne saying this is a changed Anne. She is a lady. She’s not the same twelve-year-old who smacked a slate across Gilbert’s head. Her hair has turned from orange to auburn – an outward sign of her maturity.

Walking out of the pub on that chilly Sunday in Philly, I felt like Anne at the end of the first book. I felt like maybe my hair had turned from orange to auburn. I felt dignified. I felt grown-up.

There’s probably a bit of blasphemy in proclaiming my own story as a bildungsroman (especially a story about cheese), but that’s what I’m doing. I came out of the experience thinking of life in terms of before and after.

Like a good cheese, I left the experience just a little bit more matured.




Posted in What I Learned

What I Learned: January 2016

Writer/blogger Emily Freeman keeps track of what she is learning each month and posts it on her blog at the end of each season. She’s been doing this for years, and I started two years ago, but never shared what I’ve learned. Yet.

My original goal when starting to record what I was learning was to document just three things per month. But once I started thinking about it, I realized that I learn constantly. The first month I did this, I wrote down a few things that I noticed and gleaned from life around me – but each month has had increasing numbers. As I started paying attention, I saw that I am learning as much as I am looking around. Putting words to something that I already do has been an enlightening and surprising experience.

Disclaimer: it has now been two years and I still don’t know how to fold fitted sheets. There will always be more to learn.

I had to Google this because it has been a long time since algebra, but I’ve found the habit of recording what I’m learning comparable to the graph of a logarithmic function.


The line started in the negative because I was learning, but I was not recording what I learned, so it was essentially going to waste. Then the line rose and rose as I started to notice what I was learning. The line rose steadily after this dramatic jump and will continue to do so forever!

The website that educated me about logarithmic functions says, “Logarithmic functions are often used to describe quantities that vary over immense ranges.” I would say that’s true of learning – it occurs in numerous ranges of life. (To learn more about logarithmic functions, click here!)

My intention was to notice what I was learning, to use it to make wiser choices, and then to be able to look back later and make each thing relate to my right-now life. I set a rule for myself that once each month ended, I wasn’t allowed to look back at its list until one year later. It was like a fun game for myself! That’s not sarcasm. It really was and is fun.

Clearly, I enjoyed learning, and then also analyzing what I learned. Here is my (non-mathematical) theory: if what I learned in the past was true and real and sound, it should still be true and real and sound now.

So I have decided to use these monthly tidbits of knowledge to start my first ever blog series! It will be monthly, and each monthly post will feature five of the things I learned in the corresponding month one year before. I’m super excited about this series because it will allow me to reflect on what I’ve already learned and help me to re-apply it to my life right now, as well as to force me to post at least once a month.

Here is what I learned this month, one year ago. A few things of note about January 2016: I started student teaching and it was my last semester of college. It was my third and last year living in Tillman Place 431 aka Madreland. It was when I started the job application process and started thinking about what kind of teacher I wanted to be. To say it in a melodramatic way, it was…the beginning of the end (of college).

Ta da!

What I Learned: January 2016

1. When you set a limit for yourself and then you break it once, then it’s broken. Once it’s broken once, it’s just broken. This applies to financial, physical, and dietary boundaries, as well as trying to not say bad words when you’re angry. Once you’ve done the thing once, it’s easier and tempting to continue doing the thing –  and also you can’t go back to the time before you had ever broken the limit. That time doesn’t exist anymore.

2. Part of being mature is powering through difficult times. Some adult experiences and conversations are hard and make me blush or cry or say bad words (see above), and what I really want to do is shy away and avoid these altogether. I am quick to accept immature inconvenience over squeamish and embarrassing discomfort. However, maturity has long-term vision, which can see that just because something is hard and scary does not mean it’s reasonable or going to work out well to hide from it. Maturity says it’s still okay to blush or cry (the use of certain words is still a work in progress), but that avoidance isn’t. Life is inevitable, and it hurts a lot more if you hide from it.

3. Keeping a water bottle always filled and always accessible increases the likelihood that hydration will happen. This is probably very obvious, but wasn’t to me until I was doing it.

4. God, via the Bible, tells us to be a lot of things: salt and light, followers of Christ, a good neighbor, considerate of others, fruitful, etc…but nowhere does He explicitly say, “be sweet.” “Sweet” describes food. We should aspire to be the fruit of the spirit (ironically, however, fruit is sweet). Sweetness is not a requirement laid out by the Bible. I love a lot of people who embody the fruit of the spirit but are maybe not the sweetest people I’ve known. Sweetness is not a personality obligation.

5. Just because someone can’t read your mind doesn’t mean they don’t want to know what’s going on it. People care about you and want to know how you are. It’s your job to communicate, not theirs to have x-ray knowledge of your feelings.


6. It’s hard to burp underwater. I mean, really. Try it. It’s quite a disorienting feeling.

All the roomies and boyfriends squeezed onto one couch!
Hiking with siblings and parents and grandparents…and a tree!



Posted in literature

(Anti)social Skills

Once upon a time, one of my friends told me that I cannot love books because they can’t love me back. I have been contesting that statement ever since.

Because, first of all, love does not have to be mutual to exist. A lot of heartache and a lot of good literature would never have been made possible if love had to be requited to take place.

As a “young professional” (I prefer to call myself a “baby teacher” – it’s much more fitting to where I am in life), I’ve found that I have free time in the evenings. At first I didn’t know what to do with this – I was so used to studying and living amongst college friends, and that, combined with going to class, took up my time. Finding myself now with a few precious hours of my own was a post-grad surprise.

With this time, I’ve been reunited with my old love, reading: my baby love, my high school sweetheart, the love of my life, all rolled into one. I feel as if fate has had it in store for us my whole life. I was made to ingest words. There has been no honeymoon phase because reading brings me straight goodness and happiness, all the time, forever, amen.

As a result of this jump from so little free time/reading time, to now: lots of it, I’ve been stimulated to thinking about the difference reading has made in my life. One night recently I couldn’t sleep, and I laid in bed considering the multitude of things being a reader has taught me about people and relationships.

There is a difference between reading books and being a reader. Anyone can read books. But a reader pursues books, is always reading something, and maybe even takes books to bars (I do!). Not everyone is a reader, and that is okay, in the same way that not everyone understands calculus. Also okay.

Here is what I have learned about people from being a reader:

  • New and best are not the same thing. New is great, but it doesn’t mean “best.” It mostly means that it takes longer to find familiarity. And, if I spill food on a new book, I get more frustrated than I would if the same had happened with an older, more broken-in book. It’s also true for friends: I’m much more careful not to spill food on a new friend than an old one.
  • It’s normal to want to own every book I’ve ever read or loved, but it isn’t practical (or financially responsible) to do it. However, I don’t need to have every book close to me in order for it to have an impact on my life. Sometimes a story is just passing through.
  • Sometimes, someone I love wants me to love a book. In that situation, I love the book not because I independently love it, but because I love the person. I am committed to those I love: both the people and the books.
  • The books I’ve had the longest and love the most are the ones I treat the least carefully. Their spines are cracked and they have spent quality time on the bottom of my purse and I’ve written random notes on their inside covers. I relish them, but instead of expressing it often, I treat them casually. I expect them to stick around, so I treat them as if they will. However, in spite of the familiarity and sometimes flippancy with which I tend to refer to or handle them, they’re my favorites. They’re the ones I love the most. They’re the books I am sure to own and invest in so that they can always be near me.
  • “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is sound advice. Some books don’t even have covers. The presentation and/or presence of a cover is not indicative of the value of the words inside the book.
  • All books are worthy of respect, on the principle that they are books and that they exist. However, that doesn’t mean every book needs to be my favorite. I don’t have to read every book just because it’s a book (also that’s not possible). Limits exist, and that’s reasonable, but being biased or judgmental isn’t.
  • Some people read books a lot faster than others. Some people understand books a lot better than others. Some people value books more readily than others.
  • Some people read deeply when what was written should be taken at face value, and some people take words at face value when they should be taken deeply.
  • If I read only one genre, I’ll only know about one genre. I’ll be a much more diverse, well-spoken, and educated person if I read lots of different books about lots of different things.
  • Books are written with a target audience, but the reader gets to choose what age-level books he or she reads. I can read children’s books or teen books or grown-up books (or no books at all). I’m not mandated to read the books corresponding to the age that I am.

I like this quote by Maud Casey where she says, “I was born with a reading list I will never finish.” I think that this applies both to my life in literature, and to my life with people. I want to always be on the market for new friends. As a baby teacher and a baby grown-up and a new person in a big town, I need to remind myself of this often: make lots of new friends and love the ones you have and always welcome more.

If you think about it, reading is an (anti)social skill. “Anti” because reading is done alone, and social because what a reader learns through reading enhances socialization. What fun irony!

Who knew when we were learning our letter sounds that this skill would affect more than our academic careers? Who could have predicted that reading would increase not only our IQs, but also our relational abilities and our abilities to love those around us?


Posted in Jesus, teaching

Small Thin Peace

I student taught last spring in 3rd-5th grade resource. One morning I was walking around in a 4th grade class and passed an empty desk with a strip of paper on it. The paper said “small thin peace.” I assume that the original writer meant to say “piece,” but they didn’t, and that makes all the difference.

I hadn’t been feeling specifically un-peaceful, but when I saw that strip of paper and thought about what it might mean, it felt like relief, and it stuck with me.

I considered peace. I’m not a Quaker or a hippie or a Buddhist, and I’d never thought much about peace until prompted by this curious piece of paper. I’d thought about it when reading Psalms or when feeling internally conflicted but it had always ended there.

I’ve tried to provide peace for myself (spoiler: it doesn’t work). I’ve tried to grasp control, to manage the pieces of my life. When things are out of control and unmanageable, I get frustrated and I have a hard time understanding why.

Paul in Philippians says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding.” It’s greater than what I am able to understand – and thus, control.

I think the peace of God is small and thin.

I think it can be like horseradish, how a little bit of it can bring tears to my eyes and just a taste of it affects the way everything else tastes for the rest of the day.

Small thin peace is meek. It will inherit the earth.

I came across this small thin peace during student teaching, and now I’m a first year teacher. It’s a big job. It’s bigger than me. Right now, every day of my life is a learning curve. In the midst of a learning curve, recognizing peace as small and thin is comforting. It’s not one more thing to push myself to accomplish today – instead, peace preludes everything else. It’s amazing.

Like salvation, peace requires a request and an acceptance. It requires me to admit that I can’t provide it for myself and it requires me to beg for it. It requires my ultimate thankfulness because it is provided. It requires my attachment to Christ. It requires my submission of control.

Small thin peace means that I’m not in charge. Small thin peace means that when I’m confused about what to feel, when I’ve messed up, when I feel like saltwater taffy, when everything earth-level is not okay, all is not lost. Prior to, during, and after crises and catastrophes and Mondays, the peace of God gives grace and rest. Prior to, during, and after scares and surprises and breakdowns, the peace of God gives grace and rest. Life on earth and the peace of God are not mutually exclusive. That news is grand!

Having peace in my heart, however, does not mean I don’t feel stress or want to control things; but it’s bigger than those things. Just like how God is bigger than the bogeyman, His peace is bigger than my desires and tendencies. It gives perspective to all of life.

There are always reasons to not be peaceful or to not accept peace. There are always holdups. There will not be a time where life is perfectly restful and quiet and calm and peaceful.

Peace is not contingent upon circumstance. Regardless of circumstance and regardless of understanding, when I put my faith and trust in Christ, and when I let Him be peace instead of trying to manufacture it for myself, His peace transcends my understanding. That takes off so much pressure.

Directly before Paul says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding,” He says to not be anxious in anything. He follows this with telling that the peace of God (“which surpasses all understanding,”) “will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

There is no need to say no to peace. It comes from Christ. He guards my heart and mind. I need this.